Columnist (42)

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

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

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

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

 

Notice the details

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Turn an idea into a product

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

 

Fleeting thoughts have value

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take steps to ensure conversion

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

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

■  Online chat capabilities in real time

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

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

Keep it simple and swift

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Leading with honor™ by Lee Ellis

As a prisoner of war in the camps of North Vietnam for five years, I believe that my comrades and I saw the purest examples of leadership possible. Our senior leaders put their country and teammates above their own well-being to fulfill their responsibilities. They held themselves accountable first, which inspired us to follow. In the camps, life and death were at stake, but all leaders hold sway over the destiny of others.

As I travel today speaking and consulting, I repeatedly hear complaints about the dearth of courageous leaders — not managers or personalities — but leaders who will take responsibility for their actions and for those under them. Without accountability, organizations and people get off track, miss their goals and everything begins to deteriorate.

Can you think of some recent examples in the news or your personal situation? We all can!

Witness the unhealthy abuse and misuse of power, misappropriation of funds, mistakes in judgment and misinformation used for cover-ups. Surely something is amiss in our culture. We want the easy way out, and we don’t like doing difficult things.

Likewise, when we deviate from standards, our first reaction can be to deny or cover up to protect our image and reputation.

Accountability is not easy — it takes energy and a plan — and it requires courage to take difficult but necessary actions.

Accountable leaders are committed to their duty and their organizational values. They lay out expectations and then follow through to ensure things get done properly. What is needed is leadership founded on character, integrity and accountability in every sector of society. Here are three steps that will help restore the practice of healthy accountability. 

Communicate with clarity

Whether it’s a POW camp or a Fortune 500 company, leaders must go the extra mile to clarify and overcommunicate expectations at every level. From top to bottom, everyone should know the organization’s mission and values and be able to align with them. Leaders at every level must regularly clarify standards and performance expectations.

With clear communication, there should be no surprises in what’s expected. 

Demand responsibility

Each team member has a unique role to play to ensure that goals are accomplished and standards are met. Everyone must own his or her portion of the assigned goal and execute his or her personal duty.

If you have people reporting to you, make sure that they have been given the resources to accomplish that goal. Coach, mentor, develop and resource them as needed, and you will have done your part. Then, your people must do theirs or be held accountable. 

Act with courage

Leadership takes courage, and that means leaning into the pain of your fears to do what you know is right even when it doesn’t feel natural or safe.

A lack of courage in holding people accountable to standards is ripping gashes in our institutions — think of the issues at Penn State, the Atlanta Public School System, the Internal Revenue Service, Congress, Arthur Andersen, etc.

Remember, personal accountability comes first. Whether you’re a leader or a future leader, it begins with personal accountability. POW leaders where I was held went first into the crucibles of torture and suffering, setting the example for the rest of us. Likewise all leaders must set the example of what is expected.

Will you have the courage to do the “right” thing by obeying the laws of the land and putting your people and our country first before your own selfish goals and ambitions? Will you make sure the right things are happening for the right reasons?

If so, you will make a difference in the lives of those you lead — and in our country. We need your help.

Lee Ellis is a speaker and author of the award-winning book, “Leading With Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton,” in which he shares his experiences as a Vietnam prisoner of war and highlights leadership lessons learned in the camps. He is president of Leadership Freedom LLC and consults with Fortune 500 senior executives in the areas of hiring, team-building, executive development and succession planning. For more information, visit www.leadingwithhonor.com.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013 05:41

Move beyond “shiny and new”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Innovation organizations

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

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

Tuesday, 27 August 2013 18:48

Missed opportunities

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take steps to ensure conversion

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

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

■  Online chat capabilities in real time

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

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

Keep it simple and swift

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Wednesday, 28 August 2013 02:34

F.U. or else!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Wednesday, 28 August 2013 06:24

Ready, set, think

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Thinkers solve problems.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of my favorite business books, which also made it as a Broadway play and a big-screen movie, is “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” written by L. Frank Baum in 1900. My hero in this story is not the young orphaned Dorothy, nor the Cowardly Lion, the desperately in-need-of-some WD-40 Tin Man, nor even the Scarecrow in search of a brain.

Instead it is the Wizard. To understand why the dubious Wizard is my favorite character, one must get past the portrayal of him as scheming, phony and at times nasty.

To appreciate the man behind the curtain, recognize that he is a very effective presenter, though at times this ex-circus performer behaved a bit threatening. OK, he was a jerk, but the point of this column is to take you down the yellow brick road on the way to the enchanted Emerald City and corporate success.

From this tale there is a lesson that one can say all sorts of things, not be visible, and yet still have a meaningful impact.

Another takeaway is that playing this role provides plausible deniability. This absence of visual recognition is particularly beneficial in negotiating when you, as the boss, use a vicar, aka a mouthpiece, to speak on your behalf. This allows you to have things said to others that you as the head honcho could never utter without backing yourself into a corner.

Another plus is you can always throw your mouthpiece under the bus if necessary, of course, with his or her upfront understanding that sometimes there must be a sacrificial lamb. This is not only character-building for your stand-in, but also many times presents an unprecedented opportunity for him or her to learn in real time.

Perhaps the Wizard was the first behind-the-curtain decision-maker, but today this role is used frequently in business and government. In a similar vein, the “voice” of Charlie from the well-known 1970s TV series “Charlie’s Angels” was always heard, but he was never seen.

Frequently there is much to be said for using anonymity to float a trial balloon just to get a reaction. Think about a son having his mom test the waters by talking to dad before the son tells him he wants to drop out of junior high school to join the circus. Maybe that’s even how our former circus-drifter-turned-Wizard-of-Oz got his start.

In the negotiating process it is important to have a fallback when the talks hit a rough patch by instructing your vicar to backpedal, saying that he or she has just talked to the chief and the benevolent boss said, “I was overreaching with my request.”

This also serves to build a persona for the boss-behind-the-curtain as someone who is fair-minded and flexible. All the while, of course, it’s the boss who is calling the shots and maneuvering through the process without getting his or her hands dirty.

The value of using this clean-hands technique is that it enables the real decision-maker to come in as the closer who projects the voice of reason, instead of the overeager hard charger who at times seems to have gone rogue.

It actually takes a bigger person to play a secondary role behind the curtain rather than always be in the limelight. It also takes a hands-on coach and counselor to maneuver a protégé through the minefields to achieve the objective.

However, accomplishing the difficult tasks through others is true management and the No. 1 job of a leader who must be a master teacher.

After you have guided a handful of up-and-comers a few times through thorny negotiations, you will gain much more satisfaction than if you had done it yourself, while engendering the respect and gratitude of your pupils. They in turn will have learned by doing, even though they were not really steering the ship alone.

The final step is to let the subordinate take credit for getting the big job done. This will also elevate you to rock star status, at least in his or her eyes. Soon those who you’ve taught will emerge as teachers too, and the big benefit is that you will populate your organization with a stellar team of doers, not just watchers.

So, forget about the Wicked Witch of the West and move backstage for the greater good of the organization. 

Thursday, 15 August 2013 07:28

Make it count

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A few years ago, one of my friends embarked on what he deemed an ambitious, yet simple plan: Write a New York Times Best Seller.

“Ed” had reason to be optimistic: His first two books had sold well and he had successfully leveraged them to launch a burgeoning consulting practice. Ed also had a nationally known book publisher to handle distribution for this book, and he had developed a comprehensive marketing and promotions plan for the launch.

Ed felt all the pieces were in place and was sure he would succeed. His goals were two-fold: break out from the pack and grow his business, and hit the New York Times Best Seller’s list. While his head told him the first goal was more realistic, his heart was set on the second — publicly claiming it was his only true benchmark of success.

Needless to say, Ed’s book didn’t make the list. Few books do. That doesn’t mean Ed’s book was a failure. Quite the contrary, it was a huge success.

As a result of Ed’s book, he landed numerous speaking engagements with organizations and companies around the world. He began to command four- and five-figure speaking fees from those engagements, and his book was purchased and distributed to every attendee.

Further, Ed’s speaking engagements lead to dozens of private companies hiring him to provide one- and two-day seminars, where he taught executive teams how to implement the ideas he espoused in the book. Ed was also presented with numerous business opportunities for new and existing clients to tackle initiatives beyond the book’s subject matter that he had not previously considered but were related to his expertise.

Finally, Ed did sell thousands upon thousands of copies of his book in bookstores nationwide and online through booksellers like Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. His book was in the hands of the right people — and lots of them — and he had established a national profile.

Viewed through this lens, there is little doubt that Ed’s book was wildly successful — even if it wasn’t a New York Times Best Seller and even if it didn’t stack up to his primary benchmark.

This is the reality of book publishing. Each month, I speak with dozens of entrepreneurs and CEOs about their nascent book ideas and the possibility of having Smart Business Books handle development and publication of their stories and manuscripts. I begin every conversation the exact same way: “If your goal is to have a New York Times Best Seller, we’re not the right option for you.”

That’s because you should write books for the right reasons. If your only goal is getting on a best-seller’s list, then your ambitions are off the mark. Writing and publishing a book is not like a professional sports team’s season — there isn’t one winner who takes the championship and a bunch of losers who fall short. Publishing a book is not an all-or-nothing proposition.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t aim high with your goals, and having your book become a best-seller is certainly one way to measure success. Setting reasonable expectations, however, is essential.

So why write a book?

One of the most important questions you should be able to answer when thinking about writing a book is, “Who is going to read it and why?”

As Ed’s story demonstrates, a book is a very useful business development tool. It is an immediate conversation starter, an excellent credibility builder and one heck of a leave-behind. If you’re engaged in marketing, why not capture your expertise through a book?

Another reason is to celebrate a milestone or establish a legacy piece. It could be for a 50th or 100th anniversary, or to recognize the history of an organization upon the founder’s retirement or death.

And, if you are interested in helping others succeed, a book is a great way to share your expertise or what makes you and your organization special. For example, if you’ve built an amazing corporate culture where productivity blossoms and innovation flourishes, the “how” and “why” are good subjects for a book. And if you’ve been involved with several mergers and acquisitions, consider sharing what worked and what didn’t, and the lessons learned along the way.

Whatever your story, the key is having a reason to share it with others. The bottom line: It’s your story. Make it count.

As businesspeople, we have a fiduciary responsibility to ourselves and to our companies to measure the investments we make.

Investments include acquisitions, funding new expansion initiatives, inventory, office space, equipment, even employees. Too often, we don’t have benchmarks in place to really measure the return on these investments.

Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, loved measurements, and is well-known for culling the bottom 10 percent of performers and emphasizing that businesses need to measure key areas to get things done. He had an excellent track record as a result. Not every company is GE, but the principle applies to any business, particularly when it comes to investments that require a lot of cash.

By not measuring the success or failure of the ideas we implement, we put ourselves in a vulnerable position. If too many investments are made at once, cash flow can quickly dry up if they don’t pay off. People and resources will be diverted to unproductive projects, while money-making ventures sit idle or never become as lucrative as they should.

With no tangible measurements, it becomes easy to spread our resources, especially capital, too thin while working on too many projects at once.

Here are several suggestions to help you avoid this mistake.

 

1. Set goals and establish a timeline for a return on each investment. Be realistic, because some things take time to mature. Make sure the company is financially sound and can handle the downside of any investment you make. In other words, don’t bet the farm on a deal.

Be prepared for the worst-case scenario. You’ll be able to manage better knowing that your company is prepared, allowing you to focus on creating success rather than avoiding failure. One deal shouldn’t put your company at risk.

2. Put it in writing and share it with the right people. Give employees the information they need to do their jobs, and let them know how you want them to measure progress.

Employees need to understand your goals. If they are not clear about the goals, you risk them pushing the idea in the wrong direction.

3. Make yourself and your employees accountable through key performance measures reported on a periodic basis to assess your progress. This helps keep key people informed on how the company is progressing toward achieving its goals. Keep regular tabs on why projects are or are not working as predicted, and make the necessary adjustments.

4. If you are not receiving a return on an investmentweigh your options. If the return is there, continue funding. If it is not, don’t delay in making the difficult decisions. There are many reasons something looked good to start with, then soured. Economic conditions change, key employees leave, new competitors enter the field.

5. Make decisions that are in the best interest of the companies well being. Leadership falls on you. Reassess why things aren’t working and pull the plug, if necessary, then refocus that capital on more promising projects.

As your company grows, the need to establish benchmarks to measure progress grows with it. Benchmarks provide vital information on which to base your business decisions and give you quantifiable data as to which projects are worth pursuing.

With a tightening economy, it’s more important than ever to carefully manage every dollar. Take the time to establish benchmarks now, so you can continually evaluate performance.

If push comes to shove, you’ll know exactly what needs pushing and what needs shoving. 

 

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