Detroit (1202)

Tuesday, 12 June 2012 15:49

The case for humor

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Knock Knock! Who’s there? Iowa. Iowa who? Iowa lot of money for my marketing programs. Okay, so that might not be the funniest joke ever but it serves well for exploring humor as an effective business tool.

As people communicate more individually in areas of presentation and electronic media, many focus on creating a “professional” image, which simply means making it look like what’s expected. Sadly this often results in boring and forgettable websites, PowerPoint and videos. It doesn’t help the presenter connect emotionally nor differentiate from the other “professional” offerings.

Rarely do you hear people coming out of a business presentation saying: “That person was hysterical!” More often presenters attempt connection by tugging emotional heartstrings creating small trauma. In most film festivals, dramas outnumber, comedies by 20 to 1. Why? The great 18th century actor Edmund Kean answered us as he lay dying: “Death is easy, comedy is hard.”

Still, humor is a worthy aspiration, accomplishing tasks seldom achieved by serious approach.

  • Humor establishes rapport – Almost all people love to laugh. Non-offensive jokes can easily establish likeability and trust. A joke related to a difficult situation can disarm a prospect or client when delivering “tough medicine.”  Relationships are often built on experiences of shared humor. People do business with people they like, and if they smile and laugh every time you are near they associate you with happiness. Combined with knowledge, humor enhances expertise, demonstrating confidence and strength.
  • Humor triggers memorability – Many strive to create “AHA! moments” in customer’s minds.  This occurs when one is thinking one way and you turn their head to think another. Those are the very mechanics of a joke punch-line. In our example I suggest a Midwestern state and quickly turn it to a statement of finances. The unexpected wordplay registers in the brain as humor, which triggers endorphins that encode for memory. This is why a childhood joke exists in our repertoire decades after introduction.
  • Humor creates alignment – A joke is based upon shared experience. Humor works well when there is communal understanding of the issues at hand. By identifying a common problem and creating a punch-line around it, insiders will adopt the punch-line as a trigger representing the issue. So when no one remembers to turn off the lights when leaving, a giant light switch painted on the wall makes people laugh and remember their responsibility without embarrassment.

Exploring humor research can be beneficial to creating memorable marketing, particularly in video. But suffice it to say if you just want people to like and remember you in a consistent and productive manner, simply follow the words of the late, great Donald Oconnor and “Make ‘em laugh! Make ‘em laugh! Make ‘em laugh!

An Inc. 500 entrepreneur with a more than $1 billion sales and marketing track record, Kevin Daum is the best selling author of Video Marketing For Dummies. and ROAR! Get Heard in the Sales and Marketing Jungle. Visit him at KevinDaum.com or @awesomeroar

Monday, 30 April 2012 20:01

Reliable counsel

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How often do CEOs need to talk to their accountants in order to effectively manage their company’s finances? Obviously, this question can’t be answered with a simple blanket statement: “X times a year for a total of Y hours should do the trick.” There are too many different types of businesses, each with different amounts of expertise and unique needs of their own.

But if you talk to even a small number experts in the accounting field, a couple of themes emerge. One is that when CEOs are contemplating unusual transactions, it’s always better to err on the side of having too much contact with their accountant than not enough. Another refrain is that any time a CEO has any doubts or unease about an upcoming transaction, it’s definitely time to call your accountant to let him or her know you have something you need to talk about.

“Typically, in a larger company, the CFO would take on that role,” says Mark Koziel, vice president of firm services and global alliances for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. “But what about the CEO who doesn’t have the C-suite and the finance function inside their organization? That’s where, in particular, we talk a lot about being the trusted business adviser for that CEO. Especially in family-owned businesses, you see this a lot. You need that financial adviser, but you may not need them full time, so you can lean on your CPA on a regular basis throughout the year.

“They should be there for part of the strategic planning sessions. If the CPA knows what’s going on throughout the year and is present for discussions about important things like expansion, employment and succession, then they can be better informed for when they do the year-end planning and consulting.”

The benefits of touching base periodically with clients throughout the year, not just at year end, is a common theme among those with experience in the accounting field.

“When you meet with clients during the year, you can go over their financial statements, among many other things,” says Sharon Cook, president of the National Society of Accountants. “You can make sure they are doing everything properly. And you can make suggestions about some of the other things they need to do, for taxes and for other financial purposes.”

Think, talk, transact

Talking to your financial team throughout the year enables your experts to make suggestions in advance of key transactions that can greatly alter the tax and financial impact of those decisions.

“When you get to year end, depending on what the CPA is doing for you — if it’s a compiled financial statement, an audited financial statement, a tax return — there are definite tax implications that could be affected,” Koziel says. “And maybe some decisions would have been made another way if the CEO had considered the tax implications of what they were about to do.”

Making assumptions on your own rather than asking professionals for guidance can lead to unpleasant surprises. Accountants come across these types of situations frequently in their daily interactions with clients.

“A situation that I find clients often have problems with is, for example, in a year in which they’re expecting a large profit, they want to be able to reduce that,” Cook says. “So one of the first things they think about buying is a car, because they think they’re going to be able to write that car off in full in the first year. Then, by the time you get the books and you’re ready to do the tax return, you have to tell them, ‘Guess what — you’re not going to be able to do that. You’re going to have some limits in terms of what you can deduct this year.’”

For many types of nonroutine transactions, getting advice beforehand from your accountant or finance team is almost always the wisest course for business executives to follow.

“Some of the types of transactions that should be discussed ahead of time would be, for instance, any type of big-dollar purchases that they’re looking at,” Koziel says. “Buying versus leasing is one that needs to be looked at carefully, such as whether you want to buy or lease a building. Another important one is business expansion: If they’re looking to buy a business or even sell their business, the whole M&A transaction and how that will take place is a very important thing to consider.

“Major investment decisions along the way could have significant impact. And succession of the business — that’s another huge issue. You should be having big-time conversations about that early on.”

Other nonroutine transactions that should be reviewed carefully ahead of time include borrowing money, major equipment purchases and like-kind exchanges.

“Before you do a like-kind exchange, you should definitely talk to your accountant to make sure it’s done properly so it won’t be disallowed somewhere down the line,” says Cook. “There are many types of like-kind exchanges. It could involve property that they own. A lot of times, especially in smaller businesses, it may involve cars or equipment that they have around, where they can exchange it and therefore not pay the tax that they would have had to pay if they had sold it directly to someone else.

“Any time a CEO wants to make a big expenditure on any kind of equipment, they need to talk to their accountant to make sure they’re getting the benefit of everything they have, especially if they want to borrow money to pay for it. Because if they want to borrow money, they’ve got to figure out, ‘What is that going to do to my bottom line? Is this something I really need to do, and is it right for me?’”

Multifaceted advice

An accountant’s value to a CEO or a client company isn’t limited to figuring out the tax effects of transactions before they’re entered into. There are many other types of general business issues for which an accountant can provide valuable advice.

“Strategic planning is a big one,” Koziel says. “One of the best services a CPA can provide to a CEO is to just get them in a room for a day and sit down and talk about the business. Do a strategic planning session. Make it formal, kind of like a board of directors meeting.

“Having frequent conversations throughout the year is useful in many ways. The beauty of the CPA environment is you gain a lot of knowledge about particular industries. Take construction, for example. Typically, the CPA has more than one construction contractor client, so they see good habits and bad habits that are out there, based on other businesses in that market. And they also can sometimes translate things to other types of businesses. Maybe it’s a customer service strategy in a certain retail business that could be replicated in, let’s say, a not-for-profit that you might have as a client.

“The ability to observe how a variety of different businesses operate and being able to assess the good habits from the bad habits and recommending the good habits to other types of businesses that are in their client base — these are valuable services that CPAs are in a position to offer.”

Another important service that accountants can provide is keeping tabs on key financial line items to watch for significant changes, then investigating those changes to determine the factors that are causing them, and, if needed, recommending ways to counteract the changes.

“If you keep in close contact with your clients, especially if they’re doing their own accounting in-house, one of the things you can do is review their gross profit percentages,” Cook says. “Are they staying consistent? Are they changing dramatically from one period to another? What’s the cause of that? And you can sit down and go over that with them and see if there’s a problem. It may be in their inventory control, if they have inventory. Or is the cost of their regular purchases going up? And if so, what do they need to do to offset that? Does that mean that they need to find a way to increase sales? Or do they need to have better controls on what’s in inventory and how it’s coming out of inventory?”

The definition of trust

One of the accountant’s main goals is to achieve trusted business adviser status with his or her clients. It’s a prestigious standing, and it must be earned over time.

“It’s about giving your clients the absolute best service you can provide,” Cook says. “To be able to review and make sure they’re handling their affairs properly, to produce good financial statements, to have the best possible relationship between the accountant and the CEO, and ultimately, to make sure that their business prospers. That’s the key. That’s what you aim for.”

Koziel concluded by telling a story — “the ultimate story of a CPA as a trusted adviser,” as he calls it.

“I was at lunch with a CPA friend of mine about a month ago, and he says to me — because he’s heard me say time and again: ‘Trusted adviser, trusted adviser’ — he says, ‘You know, I never really understood the meaning of “trusted adviser” until just this past weekend. I got a call from the wife of a client of mine. The client is a construction contractor; he owns a construction business.’

“This guy was a huge car buff and had a warehouse full of antique cars. He was in the warehouse tinkering one day, and he fell to his death off of a ladder — changing a light bulb, of all things. So he says to me, ‘I’m sitting there last weekend, and this client’s wife calls me. … A little while later, I’m in her living room. It’s the wife, the two daughters, the two son-in-laws and me.’ He says, ‘That is the trusted adviser relationship. That’s exactly what you’ve been talking about. The only one that they felt comfortable enough with — the only one they felt confident enough with as the outside consultant to the family — was me. It’s almost like I was part of the family.’

“That’s the type of relationship that you start to see in these businesses with their CPAs,” Koziel says. “And as a CEO, if you don’t have that trusted adviser relationship now — well, we’re talking about your life’s savings. Whether it’s invested all in the business or whether it’s held in other types of assets — these are your life’s savings. Who are you going to trust with those types of decisions? And you’d better have that person with you year-round, to help you make better decisions all along the way.”

HOW TO REACH: American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, www.aicpa.org; National Society of Accountants, www.nsacct.org

Friday, 01 June 2012 10:43

The happy and effective executive

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As an executive, your overall well-being consists of your effectiveness combined with your happiness. Effectiveness means that you are able to produce desired results; happiness means that you are in a state of well-being and contentment.

Most executives spend a good amount of their time worrying about effectiveness. They set tough goals and push hard each day to achieve them in the most effective manner. They are results driven, and any thought of happiness comes only after the results are achieved.

This begs the question: Can a busy, hardworking executive be both effective and happy?

I believe the answer is yes. In fact, I am convinced that better results stem from increased happiness. With this in mind, here are some tips to consider that will increase your happiness as an executive:

Start with a happiness exercise

Take out a piece of paper right now and list all the things in life that make you happy. DO NOT censor them. List them as they come to mind. Let it free flow from your mind and heart. List as many people, places, situations, causes, activities, feelings and opportunities as you can possibly dream up.

Now, get in touch with your mind and heart and begin to narrow the list down. In the end, you want to have a list of no more than four things that make you happy.

You now have within your grasp the areas where you should focus your energy, time and resources. The items on the list are at the very core of your personal happiness.

Happiness in all areas of your life is the key that unlocks great measures of effectiveness. Once discovered, your personal happiness will have a direct effect on your business effectiveness.

Take this exercise seriously. Be open, honest and determined. You will be surprised at the results.

Stay happy through ongoing education

Never stop learning.

We must be surrounded with people who know more than we do. They must be a part of what we do with our life and business.

Successful, effective executives know that education does not have an expiration date.

When was the last time you put a teacher or coach into your business goals and plans?

What new thing have you learned lately? Are you willing to stretch your mind to consider more than you already know?

Happiness can be found in a good teacher, trainer or mentor. Look for someone who helps you develop new skill sets and fosters your growth. Allow them to push you to consider new ideas, thoughts and ways of working, acting and leading.

Eliminate stress

I know this is easier said than done, but consider the fact that stress is the #1 killer of a healthy body and mind. Stress eats away at the foundation of your happiness. It distracts you, wears on you and drags you down.

Meditation, yoga, hiking, exercise and deep breathing exercises help reduce and even eliminate stress. Each of these has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and other ailments.

Do not overwhelm yourself with the thought of adding each of these to your life. Pick one that interests you and do it. Make a deliberate choice to incorporate a stress reducing activity into your daily life.

Consider this: The absence of stress brings on the presence of happiness.

Have an attitude of gratitude

Our attitude of gratitude serves to focus our minds on the things we have and the things we want, desire and need to live an even fuller, more meaningful and happier life.

In the end, gratitude is not just an attitude – it is a choice.

When we choose to be grateful and to express that gratefulness, we find our lives being shaped by its power. When that happens, we move our life to greater heights of happiness and effectiveness as an executive.

The basis of this article is that a hardworking, results-driven, empowered executive can find ways to be both effective in his or her work and experience happiness in their life. Although we see it far too often in the workplace, the two do not have to be mutually exclusive.

An executive that takes the time to think and dream about the things that truly make them happy, who is willing to stay fresh through ongoing education and who works hard to eliminate stress is an executive who has found the secret to being both happy and effective.

I wish you all the best.

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.

If you’re like most CEOs, your day is spent rushing around from appointment to appointment, both internal and off-site, meeting people, solving problems and plotting strategy. The hours fly by, days blur into weeks, and the years start to blend together into a nonstop race against time.

Take a moment to ask yourself if this lifestyle makes any sense. What race are you hoping to win? What’s the reward when you get to the finish line, assuming you even know where the finish line is?

John Ortberg, author of “The Life You’ve Always Wanted,” says it’s important to ruthlessly eliminate the hurry from our lives. If you are in a hurry, there is little time to care about people. We need to slow down, even to the point of solitude.

While we are running our nonstop race, the people that suffer the most are those around us. Friends, family, colleagues and employees are often ignored as relationships are neglected in favor of the next big deal.

Ortberg suggests forcing yourself to slow down and put yourself in a position to wait. For instance, pick the longest line at the grocery store or take the long way to work. Doing so will help train yourself to slow down and be patient.

You are the person that sets the pace in your company, so if you slow down and make sure things are done right, others will do the same.

Working at a pace that’s too fast typically results in things being overlooked — things like employee recognition. When you don’t recognize and reward your employees, their job satisfaction can decline and they may leave. For every person who leaves, you and your staff have to dedicate more time to finding a capable replacement, resulting in an even faster pace as time is lost to recruiting and training. It can quickly become a vicious cycle.

Enjoy life by slowing your pace and being more productive, both at work and at home. Slowing down doesn’t mean you aren’t getting things done, it means you are doing things right and building relationships with people.

Not every transaction will turn a profit in business, but you can bet that almost every relationship you have with people will pay off in the long run. Isn’t it time you started investing in those relationships by taking the time to slow down and build them?

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

Emanuel Rosen is the author of the national bestseller “The Anatomy of Buzz” (Doubleday, 2000) and “The Anatomy of Buzz Revisited: Real-life Lessons in Word-of-Mouth Marketing” (Doubleday, 2009). Prior to writing these books, he was vice president of marketing at Niles Software where he was responsible for launching and marketing the company’s flagship product, EndNote. He holds an MBA from the University of San Francisco. In this interview, he brings us up to speed on the techniques for generating buzz that every small business owner must master.

Q: Going back to fundamentals, why do people talk about products and services at all?

A: Buzzing is in our genes. We are programmed to share information with friends about where to find our next meal and about the tiger who’s about to have us as his next meal. We talk to connect, so when my daughter tells her friends about the new sweater she bought, she’s also establishing and maintaining her social ties. We buzz to talk about ourselves. If I tell you about a 10-day dog sledding trip in Alaska, I’m also telling you how adventurous I am.

Q: Which comes first, buzz or ink?

A: Usually it starts with some buzz that is followed by press coverage, which can take the buzz to a whole new level. Grassroots support can actually help you get ink — sometimes buzz is the best press release because it gives journalists this warm and fuzzy feeling that your story is for real and that there’s true excitement for it. Don’t get me wrong, if CNN calls you before your product is out, don’t tell them that you’re waiting for some grassroots buzz to build, but usually it doesn’t happen that way.

Q: Which comes first, buzz or sales?

A: There are some highly anticipated products — Halo 3 comes to mind — that get tons of buzz before a single sale. This is the exception. Since product recommendation usually starts with product experience, you need to have some people out there who use the product and hopefully get excited about it. How do you get these early customers? Part of it comes from word-of-mouth marketing methods, like seeding and sneak previews, but it also comes from traditional sales and marketing techniques. If your product is contagious in some way, then these early users will start buzzing about it.

Q: What are the essential elements of seeding a product?

A: The key point to understand is that although we’re all connected to each other, information about new products rarely spreads like a wild fire. Information tends to get stuck because we live in somewhat isolated social clusters. To accelerate buzz, companies seed their product in many different clusters. The ideal seeding campaign is done on a large scale and lets people have a firsthand experience with the product. You want to reduce the price barrier as much as possible, so the product is given for free or at a reduced price.

Q: How do you seed a website or free service?

A: The good news is that the price barrier doesn’t exist. The bad news is that the thing you’re seeding is less tangible. The basic idea is the same. You identify clusters of people by geography, area of interest, by academic discipline or whatever other classification makes sense in your case. You then approach some people in each cluster trying to engage them with the service. This is a challenge that is shared by other products. The fact that a publisher seeds the market with advance copies of a book doesn’t guarantee that people will read it. But with some follow up and encouragement and some buzz from fellow users, some more people eventually try the product and start buzzing about it too.

Q: What are the characteristics of a contagious product?

A: The best buzz comes not from publicity stunts but rather from the product itself. A product or service that makes you say, ‘Wow!’ when you use it for the first time is the classic contagious product. Other examples: products that evoke strong emotions — “The Blair Witch Project” — or reward you for talking about them — Facebook.

Products that are visible can be contagious as well — think of the first time you saw someone with an iPod. Even abstract ideas can become contagious this way. The idea of living with cancer was translated into the LiveStrong yellow wristband, which started millions of conversations about the topic.

Q: What can stop the spread of buzz?

A: Since I just mentioned LiveStrong, let me tell you about an interesting study. A research team at Stanford sold LiveStrong wristbands to students who lived in one dorm on campus. A week later, they started selling these wristbands in a neighboring dorm that had a reputation as a ‘geek’ dorm with a stronger academic focus.

What happened once the ‘geeks’ started wearing the wristbands? A week later, the research team measured a 32 percent drop in students wearing the bands at the first dorm. So sometimes, when we detect that ‘the wrong people’ are using your product, we stop using it and buzzing about it. This is true especially for products that have to do with our identity.

The most common forces that block buzz are noise, inertia and forgetting. We’re distracted by competing messages, we like to stick to ‘the good old way’ of doing things, and we forget what our friends told us. It is one reason why buzz needs to be accelerated. Even delighted customers might forget about your product and run out of opportunities to talk about it.

Q: What should you do if someone who has never used your product is bad mouthing it?

A: One of the things that surprised me most as I was working on the new edition of my book was that this type of negative buzz is quite common. One study found that 30 percent of negative word-of-mouth was by people who never owned the product. If you can identify the person who’s bad mouthing your brand, you might want to let them try the product. The problem is that you usually don’t know who they are, which brings us to another reason for why word-of-mouth marketing is so important. You have to counterbalance this constant trickle of negative comments with honest, positive recommendations from happy customers.

Q: What should you do if someone who has used your product is bad mouthing it?

A: First, listen to what they are saying. Our natural tendency when we’re attacked is to fight back, but negative comments may come from an actual bad experience. This gives you an opportunity to do two things. Solve that customer’s problem, which will often turn her from a detractor to a promoter. Even more important, it may help you identify a problem in your system, fix it and reduce negative buzz from others.

Q: Who is more likely in these Internet days to talk about your product: someone who’s had a good experience or a bad one?

A: There are two types of bad experience. There’s ‘I didn’t like this hotel too much,’ and there’s ‘The guy at the reception insulted me when I asked for towels and then sent up a dirty one.’ Frustrated customers are very likely to share their experience. However, it turns out that most buzz among consumers is positive. This may seem like a contradiction, but it has some simple explanations. One of them is that most of our experiences as consumers are actually positive.

Q: What is the role of old-fashioned advertising these days?

A: It is fashionable to say that advertising is dead, but I don’t agree. Very few products can live on buzz alone. Advertising can help a lot — at least good advertising can help a lot. First, in creating awareness and building the pool of people who can buzz about the product. Second, a good ad can prompt me to tell my friends about the product. Third, a good, authentic ad that brings in real people can stimulate buzz.

Q: How has technology changed buzz and word-of-mouth marketing?

A: It hasn’t really changed what we talk about. We still talk about ourselves, we brag, we seek advice, we gossip, we connect. The Internet’s biggest effect is that it accelerates buzz. In addition, it doesn’t only let us tell our friends about the products we use, but also lets us show them these products through videos and photos. It has enabled aggregation tools such as Yelp or TripAdvisor. In essence, it gives more people more opportunities to share information with others, which directly translates to more buzz.

Q: How can a company effectively measure the buzz it’s generating?

A: The simplest method is to ask your customers how they heard about you. You can measure the daily mentions you get on blogs and on Twitter. You can supplement this with traditional marketing research to learn what customers who don’t use these services are saying. Whatever method you choose though, you need to measure on an ongoing basis, if you want to detect any effects. Companies such as ChatThreads, The Keller Fay Group and Nielsen Online provide buzz measuring services. WOMMA, the Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association, offers lots of resources on the subject.

Q: Do you believe that there are key influencers who companies should focus on because of their insight, power and prestige — that is, an ability to lead a market as their wisdom trickles down?

A: The importance of influencers varies by industry. I suspect that they are more important in the pharmaceutical industry than in the yo-yo industry. Regarding the ‘trickle-down’ theory — this is not the way that buzz flows — especially today, buzz flows in all directions. I use the term hubs to describe people who talk more than average, and I make a distinction between social hubs and expert hubs. Both can definitely help a company spread the word, but companies should encourage everyone to talk, not only hubs.

Q: Where do you draw the ethical line on generating buzz and word-of-mouth marketing?

A: One key idea here is disclosure. Word-of-mouth marketing is not about tricking people. It’s about openly inviting them to try the product and talk about it. WOMMA offers a code of ethics that can help. When you’re trying to build buzz, you want to push the envelope and think outside of the box. And when you look for original ideas, you can’t police your thoughts. But after the brainstorming, you have to change your attitude dramatically. This is best done the morning after — over some strong coffee. Think again about your wild new idea. Ask other people what they think. Ask your customers and people in the community if you are crossing the line.

Guy Kawasaki is the co-founder of Alltop.com, an “online magazine rack” of popular topics on the Web, and a founding partner at Garage Technology Ventures. Previously, he was the chief evangelist of Apple. Kawasaki is the author of 10 books including “Enchantment,” “Reality Check” and “The Art of the Start.” He appears courtesy of a partnership with HVACR Business, where this column was originally published. Reach Kawasaki through www.guykawasaki.com or at kawasaki@garage.com.

There’s a classic line from the 1970 movie “Love Story” that has become a part of our popular culture. In the drama, the dying heroine played by Ali MacGraw says to her husband, played by actor Ryan O’Neal, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” as he apologizes for his anger. It is certainly a memorable and tear-jerking line, but is saying, “You’re sorry” all that bad if it can soothe a wound caused by someone speaking or acting out before thinking?

Disagreements and anger are a reality in the workplace and in life in general. Various people react in different ways when under pressure. Some lose their cool completely and say things they instantly regret, while others launch into tormenting the perceived offender with the silent treatment. No matter the technique used to punish, all of these methods quickly become tiresome and, more importantly, adversely affect the workplace.

Too frequently in the work environment, many people just can’t suck it up and utter the two simple words, “I’m sorry,” even when they know they’re dead wrong. It’s not a macho thing either, as women don’t behave much differently when they feel put upon. What’s a boss to do when this stubbornness becomes problematic?

In a word: intervene. When not controlled, these unreasonable, obstinate antics can become time-consuming and disruptive. It could all start with an impetuous negative e-mail or a less-than-mature voice mail left in the heat of battle that cascades into a futile distraction, as otherwise effective and seemingly sensible employees act out as if they’re in a 20- or 30-year time warp, behaving as if they’re back in the third grade rather than adults in the workplace.

The most expeditious method that works with either the protagonist or antagonist in an office drama is to call a spade a spade, so to speak, and get the feuding parties together and cut to the chase, making each person agree to bury the hatchet but preferably not in each other’s skull. If employees’ anger management issues are left to fester, they can easily result in other people in the same work environment taking sides, and in short order, you will find yourself in the midst of a Civil War. The only thing guaranteed when this occurs is that there will be casualties. It is incumbent on the ruling manager to make sure that the company doesn’t wind up as the victim, incurring a loss of productivity and causing everyone around the two factions to feel as if they’re walking on pins and needles.

While many times it would be easier for the boss to ask one of the warring participants to approach the other to work out their differences, this tactic just takes too much time and the outcome can be iffy. It really doesn’t matter who is right or wrong but that the nonsense is stopped dead in its tracks. The best way to accomplish this is to make it more than abundantly clear that anger in the workplace is a nonstarter and could be a career-inhibitor.

Allowing employees to exhibit a lack of civility will cause a domino effect that will lead to no good. Civility does not just apply to peers. Instead, it’s applicable to all who must work together, including superiors, subordinates and even fellow board members. Don’t confuse civility with agreeing or disagreeing with someone. It also doesn’t mean one has to believe that someone is effective in his or her role. Instead, what must be required is that those within an organization, no matter what level, simply take the higher road and respect not necessarily the person but the role and make the assumption that everyone has a part in working toward shared goals, until it is proven otherwise.

Once everybody knows the rules of engagement, many times the negative engagement suddenly ends and it’s back to business as usual. When that doesn’t happen, it’s time for offenders to be forced to go to their respective corners so as not to do each other or the company any more harm.

To promote coexistence when no one wants to take the first step and say, “I’m sorry,” it’s up to the adult in the room — and that would be you, the boss — to step into the fray with your whistle to call a permanent timeout to these types of disruptive shenanigans.

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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Friday, 01 June 2012 09:58

Why do projects fail?

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Launching a new venture is probably one of the most thrilling moments for any entrepreneur. It’s a birth that often brings forth a long-standing dream for the founders and is steeped in joy, pride and egotism. However, for many new captains of industry, the dream vanishes like smoke shortly thereafter. In fact, just half of all businesses survive the first five years, and only one-third survive 10 years, according to U.S. Small Business Administration statistics. Thus, it’s worth investigating why projects fail.

In a large majority of cases, the business owners failed to raise sufficient capital to fund the labor, marketing, taxes, insurance, legal expenses, bookkeeping, supplies and costs of goods for the business. Oftentimes, they underestimated expenses and overestimated how quickly revenues would increase. In other cases, they knowingly entered the market with insufficient cash because of limited credit and savings.

Other failures are caused by an implosion from within. Specifically, the founding partners reach a point at which they disagree on how to build the business and then fail to come to a consensus that leaves all parties feeling invested in the project. Or the business develops naturally in a way that calls for the founding partners to take on roles they don't want to assume. In either scenario, the remaining partners must buy out the exiting partners in order to stay in business or fold up shop.

In the worst collapses, the venture was just poorly conceived. The founders developed a business concept based mostly on their own personal experiences or anecdotal evidence. They failed to conduct or acquire scientific research on whether there was sufficient demand for their proposed products or services. They made a cursory study of the competition. Or they made assumptions about what drives potential customers to buy when designing marketing campaigns, rather than collecting data that revealed true trends in buyer motivations.

In these cases, the founders could have mitigated their chances of failure with some thoughtful planning before the shingle was hung. Would-be entrepreneurs should clearly write out their vision with detailed specifications and the cash that will be needed to complete it. They should plan contingencies for overcoming potential obstacles.

They also should identify the strengths and weaknesses in any potential management team and seek out individuals who can fill the holes. For instance, a visionary leader who prefers to focus on the big picture will usually need someone on board who loves the details in order to ensure the project is thoroughly vetted and structured.

Patricia Adams is the CEO of Zeitgeist Expressions and the author of “ABCs of Change: Three Building Blocks to Happy Relationships.” In 2011, she was named one of Ernst & Young LLP’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women, one of Enterprising Women Magazine’s Enterprising Women of the Year Award and the SBA’s Small Business Person of the Year for Region VI. Her company, Zeitgeist Wellness Group, offers a full-service Employee Assistance Program to businesses in the San Antonio region. For more information, visit www.zwgroup.net.

Let’s face it: We all want to be liked. But when it comes to being liked in the social media space — specifically Facebook — many companies make the mistake of measuring the quantity of the “likes” they receive as opposed to the quality.

The reality is that the quality of the likes is often much more important and relevant than the quantity of likes. That fact was driven home to me by the case of one of our clients.

Recently, the client told us that it want to gather more than 1 million likes on its Facebook page. The client’s page receives a steady viral increase of 500 to 700 weekly new likes, and the likes are “quality” likes with relevance to its company. They are coming from individuals who have a special interest in the company, who want to participate in conversations and are actively sharing our client’s posts on their personal Facebook pages and within their social contact spheres.

Looking at the analytics of the individuals who like our client’s page, we’re finding that in addition to being highly activated and engaged, they are also target-market and geographically relevant. The likes are happening because customers are actively sharing the content, pushing new people to discover the page, engaging in relevant discussions and are coming from people specifically seeking the company online in order to socially connect.

Thus far there have been no ad buys and there have been no contests launched to also supplement growth efforts. Their collection of likes — now in excess of 50,000 — has come through social networking efforts.

But internally, our client is facing the same struggle that thousands of companies currently face when it comes to evaluating their social media ROI. Managers within their organization feel that in order to justify the relevance of social media in their marketing mix, they have to obtain as many likes as possible. But getting people to simply click the “like” icon on a Facebook page is not difficult.

There are many ways to quickly inflate page likes. Contests spike likes but most of the entrants are only interested in winning the prize and not in making a purchase. You can buy packages of page likes but the majority of “purchased” likes are typically not buyers and are not geographically relevant.

Facebook ad campaigns, which are similar to Google pay-per-click advertising, can also help drive new likes. Facebook ads allow an advertiser to drill down to target potential brand loyalists and customers by a variety of geographic and psychographic denominators.

The issue is that once you stop the contest or the advertising campaign, your number of new likes will drop off considerably. You potentially will see an exponential increase in likes during the campaign period.

But what good are these new likes if people liking you possibly only visit your page once? If they initially like you and then never come back, they aren’t paying attention to what you’re saying, they’re not engaging with you and they have no interest in buying your product or service — or telling others to buy your product or service.

The relevancy in social media is to have people talking about you and with you, and ultimately becoming your brand evangelists. Statistics have shown that 90 percent of consumers trust peer recommendations and 70 percent of consumers trust recommendations online.

Companies need to turn their attention away from trying to use likes as a popularity contest. As a company leader, you need to realize that if you have a Facebook community of 1,000 consumers who are actively engaged, with analytics showing huge impression rates, it is much more valuable than a community of 10,000 who visit your page, click “like” one time, then seldom — or never — come back.

Adrienne Lenhoff is president and CEO of Buzzphoria Social Media, Shazaaam PR and Marketing Communications, and Promo Marketing Team, which conducts product sampling, mobile tours and events. She can be reached at alenhoff@shazaaam.com.

The recession was going in the Dumpster.

No, not just figuratively — it was physically going to be thrown in the Dumpster.

On a windy day in the fall of 2009, Kim Yost, then the newly named CEO of Art Van Furniture Inc., carried a large sign bearing the word “recession” to a large waste disposal bin at the back of the main warehouse.

“I literally threw it in the Dumpster,” says Yost. “I then went back to the Dumpster several months later and threw the word ‘no’ into it.”

Yost did it because Art Van needed to get its momentum back. Like countless businesses across the country, the home furnishings retailer was sagging under the weight of the recession. Like countless businesses across southeast Michigan, Art Van’s problems were exacerbated by a local economy that wasn’t in great shape even before the recession. The faltering economy was compounding the crisis – acting as a refrigerator dropped on top the piano that Michigan businesses were already carrying on their backs.

When it is an arduous grind to merely slow the rate of damage, most business leaders are not just going to feel the result when looking at their balance sheets. They’re going to see it and hear it in the attitude of their employees.

Despite a decades-long reputation as one of the region’s and country’s leading home furnishings retailers, Art Van wasn’t immune to the recession’s effects, at the cash register, sales floor or the water cooler. It was up to Yost to make a series of bold moves to re-energize all 2,600 employees at Art Van, in spite of the economic environment in which the business was operating.

“We had to get the organization to go in a completely different direction,” Yost says. “The first thing we had to do was get our attitude completely to the point where we were no longer going to participate in the recession. I went out and publicly announced across the entire organization that the recession was over at Art Van, and we had to take our minds, our hearts and our business in a new direction.”

As Yost fashioned a new direction for Art Van, he kept one overarching belief in mind: small wins in the short term can generate big wins in the long term.

Seize the opportunity

Taking over as CEO in the October 2009, Yost was able to find a potential win simply by turning the page on his calendar. November means Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving immediately precedes Black Friday and the Christmas shopping season.

“We immediately attacked the possibility of breaking an all-time company record for Black Friday sales in 2009,” Yost says.

Yost wanted to turn the Black Friday sales mark into a universal company goal. He wanted to create a companywide buzz around breaking the record. And, above all, he wanted his employees to leave the thunderclouds of the recession outside, bringing a sunny disposition inside the walls at every Art Van location.

“What we did were three things,” he says. “We started to act and perform as if the economy was terrific, as if we were back in the early 2000s. We developed our flier, our television campaign and the look of our stores to consistently resemble what we did in the early 2000s — say, the year 2001. From a marketing point of view, that was what we did when the economy was at its best.

“Second, we had a series of sales contests and sales promotions internally to encourage everybody to break the record. We were moving in a new direction, so we had to get that small win really early. The last thing we did was we created a game book. I have been playing sports since I was young, and I had a history in my professional career of creating game books that are unique. So we put together a Black Friday record-breaking game book for November 2009 and used that as our checklist.”

There were 32 steps the company needed to complete in order to break the record. Yost and his leadership team educated the work force on each step, what it would take to address each step and, in turn, break the sales record.

The methodical and comprehensive approach to staff motivation had the desired effect. Not only did Art Van’s associates focus on breaking the Black Friday sales record, they stepped up their game overall. Art Van broke the sales record, and the momentum from the campaign carried over to ensuing big-sale days.

“In November 2009, not only did we eclipse our company record, we did it again the day after Christmas, which is another very important sale date,” Yost says. “Then on New Year’s Day, which is another very big-event promotion for us, we broke another record. So by the time we had Black Friday, the day after Christmas and New Year’s Day, we were now creating momentum.”

After the rapid-fire success of the three sales events, the seeds for a long-term culture shift had been planted. It was up to Yost and his leadership team to feed and water the seeds until they started to sprout, then bloom, then bear fruit. Yost sent his team to all Art Van locations to recap the success of the campaign and illustrate a plan to sustain and increase the momentum moving forward.

“The leadership went out to all our stores and went through detailed discussions on how we were able to change the momentum,” Yost says. “We showed videos centered on inspiration and motivation, our tactics and strategies, we went over the success of the three promotions and what it took to do it. We literally spoke to every employee about what we were trying to accomplish.”

Write the book      

The information exchanged at the on-site meetings helped to produce the company’s first annual game book. The offspring of the game book used to launch the Black Friday sales campaign, Art Van’s first annual game book, “Clarity of Purpose,” took the motivational concepts used to spur the success of the sales campaign and extended it to motivate employees to accomplish the company’s goals for the whole year in 2010.

“In the three years that we have now been going in a different direction, we have produced three annual game books — one for 2010, one for 2011 and one for 2012,” Yost says. “Every single person in the organization was aligned behind the business plan. We re-enacted that same business plan for our 2011 game book, ‘The Next Level,’ and for 2012, which is called ‘Act Now.’ So we have made three separate roadmaps to success for each of the past three years.”

The game books for each year have been written by Art Van’s 16-member executive leadership team through a collaborative process. Each book outlines a series of specific initiatives that will receive the lion’s share of the company’s resources.

“We only have three resources that we can put into motion: time, money and effort,” Yost says. “Those key initiatives get all three of those resources for 12 months. We build on it, we communicate on it, we execute on it. But the focus has been that all 16 of us worked with collaboration to identify those key initiatives, and more importantly, to develop initiatives right throughout the organization, getting absolute alignment from stock room to board room, putting us all on the same path.”

Art Van has 2,600 direct employees, but once you factor in external support staff that also needs alignment on the vision and goals of the company — such as those who work for the company’s advertising agency, suppliers and key product providers — the number is closer to 3,000, according to Yost. That means the messages in Art Van’s annual game books have to reach a vast audience working at many different locations both inside and outside the company’s hierarchy.

“When you make the decision to park the recession in the Dumpster, as we did back in the fall of 2009, you make the decision to embark on a new course,” Yost says. “That means you have to get everybody marching alongside you. It takes a lot of heavy lifting, and a lot of triggering and communication, to get people to where they need to be.”

Yost and his team launched Art Van Television to help increase the profile of the company’s strategy. The in-house television network broadcasts in all Art Van locations, keeping employees updated on company events and promotions, and other information pertinent to the strategic direction of the company.

“We have over 100 50-inch flat-panel television screens all across our organization,” Yost says. “We are now able to broadcast all of our daily happenings to the organization in real time. Special events, activities, different promotions we are working on, the launch of our brand promise, which is a new program we just launched for our new brand initiative. All of that is communicated daily on AVTV. The screens are all throughout our corporate office, our distribution network and our 40 stores. All employees get exposed to it on a daily basis.”

Get interactive

Conveying your strategic plan and objectives comprises a large part of what it takes to point your company in a new direction. But it’s not the whole story. You need to give your employees a chance to have their say. If you don’t give your employees at all levels and locations a chance to voice their opinions and offer feedback, you can’t expect total engagement in the future direction of the organization.

When he began to fashion Art Van’s new direction in late 2009, Yost didn’t want to just physically prod his work force to sell more. He wanted to mentally stimulate them to think about how things could work better – how internal systems could improve, how new promotions could bring customers into the stores, how Yost and his leadership team could do their jobs more efficiently and effectively.

The answer for Yost wasn’t just about more sales and marketing muscle. It was about a better attitude and thousands of employees coming to work each day empowered to do their best work.

“If you’re going to aim your company in a new direction, you first need to capture the minds and hearts of your team,” he says. “That is why I literally needed to park the word ‘recession’ in the Dumpster. It was because we needed to change our vocabulary. We needed to get rid of words like ‘no’ and embrace change. And it’s all going to start with the leadership.”

As the leadership goes, so goes the rest of your company. You and your leadership team have to be the ones to set the example, develop the proper attitude, reach out to employees and keep the dialogue moving. If you don’t lead from the front, you can’t expect anyone else to step up and do it.

“We have a saying here that goes, ‘Speed of the leader, speed of the team, quality of the leader, quality of the team,’” Yost says. “We, here at Art Van and as leaders overall, get the team we deserve. As much as I’d like to give you the magic bullet that you can put to any business and it will miraculously start to improve, it is all about leadership. Every day, our leaders come to work inspired and motivated to take their teams to the next level.

“To have leadership that is motivated and inspired, you have to have them winning. When they are winning, it’s much easier to keep the momentum, and then you have to challenge them, every day, every week, every month. Another thing we say around here is ‘Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to is.’ There can be no complacency. You have to want to win every day.”

How to reach: Art Van Furniture Inc., (586) 939-0800 or www.artvan.com

The Yost file

Born: Red Deer, Alberta, Canada

Other projects: Yost is the author of “Pumptitude: Pump Up Your Attitude and Gain Altitude,” available at www.pumptitude.com.

Yost on managing growth: Speed wins, slow loses. But you have to have controlled and profitable growth, and each organization has a different ability to adapt. What I’ve found so terrific about our team is that this is a team of very fast and quick-adapting individuals. We have 91 leadership-level individuals, including sales managers and store managers. They enjoy the speed and the tempo.

But you can get to a point where you have to judge how much your team can absorb and execute to the degree of quality, and you have to pace yourself. This is a marathon, not a sprint. You do that by giving them achievable goals within short term ranges, and give them the ability to relish the success of that goal — maybe a bit of a breather — and then you get on to the next one.

If you are in dense enough forest, you have to give your team the ability to get a little bit of a clearing. They catch up, get organized and regroup, and make another little clearing. Then you let them catch up and regroup, and they hit the forest again, and so forth. So we have been very careful to watch our tempo and manage our speed, to manage out some of the things we have done to balance out the execution.

Yost on how the recession has changed the business world: I tend to refer to this recessionary time as the ‘brave new world.’ It is not going to go away even in the distant future, and we need to embrace the fact that it is here now and it exists, and so instead of going out of business, we need to go out for business. We have gained market share over the last three years consecutively, we have nine quarters of same-store sales increase, and nine quarters of consistent market share growth.

Thursday, 31 May 2012 21:01

How to meet your duty of care requirements

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Traveling and working abroad often comes with risks, and savvy employers recognize that having employees overseas heightens their corporate liability. By protecting employees against the risks of global travel, employers can manage risks to their business, finances and reputation.

“In today’s litigious society, corporate governance and duty of care are paramount to a company’s crisis management strategy,” says Justin Priestley, executive director for Aon Crisis Management. “Businesses need to react to incidents in a timely and consistent manner, protecting their people, assets, balance sheet and brand reputation.”

Smart Business spoke with Priestley and Kevin J. Pastoor, CPCU, managing director of Aon Risk Solutions, about how to keep your employees safe abroad.

 

How can businesses ensure that they are meeting their duty of care requirements?

There is a lot of complicated case law on this subject, but the issues are simple. There are three things businesses should consider, and by doing so, they will meet their duty of care.

The first step is actively trying to understand what the risks are for your people, and that means doing a formal assessment of risk. If you say you didn’t know about it, that’s not good enough. You could have tried to find out.

The second thing you need to do is come up with appropriate risk management measures that are matched to the risks you think exist. You need to demonstrate that the plan you are coming up with is appropriate for the risks your employees are facing.

Third, organizations should have a plan and discuss it. Talk about appropriate levels of insurance and how employees are going to get to the airport if there is a problem. Broadly speaking, those steps together provide organizations with a much better opportunity to demonstrate that they are meeting duty of care.

How can businesses ensure they are prepared for travel emergencies?

An adviser can match what it delivers to what it thinks are the main pillars of activity. So up front, it would provide information to travelers so they are aware of the risks in a particular area. An adviser can also provide some basic-level training for travelers.

Another thing a consultant can do, if people are traveling to an elevated risk location — somewhere like Mexico or India — is conduct an independent risk assessment of that proposed journey. It can be done quite quickly; it’s not some long, laborious process. It provides the concerned organization with a third-party independent review for a journey before it is booked, which backs them up in their assessment.

What type of training and education should employers provide for traveling employees?

There are two types of training. E-learning allows organizations to show that people have done the training. We also do an elevated risk course, which is instructor-led.

That course tends to be more specific to a particular client. Another option is an elevated risk course, in which the threats and risks are determined for where someone is going, and then travelers are trained to understand them. For instance, if you are in Central America, kidnapping is one of the major risks, and this is how it happens.

Then a consultant can offer advice on situational awareness. Many people understand what to look for and how to notice if something suspicious is happening. There is some really basic advice on risk mitigation strategies, like not wearing your Rolex watch if you’re traveling in more interesting parts of the world.

It’s important to focus on sensible, pragmatic advice that businesspeople need to understand.

 

What innovative services can help business travelers?

Mobile technology enables a traveler to see a country’s risk information on the go. Putting that information in people’s pockets is actually quite useful.

It doesn’t produce 20 pages of data on each country. It’s short, concise and condensed. Most people don’t want to read for 30 minutes to understand an issue. They want to read it in two minutes.

Second, there is a nice travel management system for risk managers or corporate security that enables them to know at the push of a button where their people are on a day-to-day basis and what the risk exposure is for those people.

Aon WorldAware, our online country information service, grades risks by looking at what is going on in that country, the capability of the terrorist organizations and their modus operandi. It gives ratings of 1 through 5, on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, and they can print a report showing how many people they have in low-risk countries, or Level 4 or 5 countries, how many incidents they have had and where those incidents occurred.

It is an independent assessment. A partner has people constantly reviewing every country. There are 10 factors, including terrorism, civil disobedience, kidnap and ransom, street crime. All 10 factors for every country are assessed and scored 1 through 5.

Countries rated 1 through 3 are appropriate for routine business travel. For countries 4 and 5, you have to consider the risks a bit more. To put that into context, Level 5 countries like Iraq, Somalia, or Afghanistan have extreme risks.

The system monitors what happens in the world on a daily basis, and the countries are updated as the risk profile changes.

 

Justin Priestley is executive director for Aon Crisis Management. Reach him at 44 (0)20 7882 0478 or justin.priestley@aon.co.uk. Kevin J. Pastoor, CPCU, is managing director of Aon Risk Solutions. Reach him at (248) 936-5346 or kevin.pastoor@aon.com.

Insights Risk Management is brought to you by Aon Risk Solutions