Columnist (33)

For some 70 to 80 percent of our waking hours, we are involved in some form of communication. Of that, just 40 percent is spent listening. And from my experience, that’s a pretty generous statistic.

I think that equation should be reversed.

Recommit to listening. Listening is a big part of being a leader. Here’s how to start:

  • Minimize distractions (internal and external). Turn off your cell phone and close your email.
  • Get up from your desk and move to a conference table. For a quicker exchange, just stand up.
  • Show support with your body language. Lean forward and face the speaker. Maintain eye contact.
  • Listen with the sole purpose of understanding and connecting. Keep an open mind.
  • Don’t make assumptions. Ask questions to deepen your understanding. Demonstrate that you understand with smiles and nods, follow up and provide feedback. 

Be real

Stop trying to be a better leader and be more authentic.

Why fear being authentically you? Most fears of revealing the true self are built around failing or losing status or power. It’s ironic. Effective leaders create natural power by virtue of their authenticity, while managers who conform or exert artificial power fool no one.

Successful leaders act according to what they say and feel in their hearts:

  • Know your strengths and weaknesses and dare to admit them.
  • Clarify your purpose and values.
  • Speak up and provide honest feedback.
  • Respect the needs of others.
  • Work in an environment that supports relationships and builds strong emotional bonds with people who share your visions and values. 

Lead from below

A successful mid-level manager advances when he takes the right amount of initiative, concedes an appropriate amount of recognition and makes his way up the corporate ladder.

How can you lead up? Lead from below with purpose, earning the right to leadership by taking small steps. Organize, learn and lay a foundation. Reflect credit and embrace blame. Create a reputation and an environment where the people around you are transformed.

When you do this with intention and authenticity, it becomes second nature, and you become a leader from the ground up. 

Know a little about a lot

It has been said, “Intelligence is the combination of knowing a lot about a little, while you also know a little about a lot.”

Thus it’s impossible to be smart without also being aware of the wider world. The Internet has made us all well aware of how much there is to know. The challenge today is knowing a little about a lot. And it’s pretty tempting to spend a lot of time pursuing that goal.

Becoming an expert with deep understanding in your domain remains just as important and just as difficult to achieve as it used to be. Deep understanding of a system, domain, territory or culture helps you create analyses and then apply them to new systems you encounter.

First, figure out what types of complementary or multi-function skills will help you do your job better — and might lead to other work if your present job disappears. In other words, become more “T-shaped” with your skill development.

Know your chosen domain deeply, and be open to knowing a little about a lot more. It’s the random interactions and surprising coincidences of these “littles” together with your “lot” that will help you successfully and interestingly navigate your daily life. ● 

David Harding is president and CEO of HardingPoorman Group, a locally owned and operated graphic communications firm consisting of several integrated companies all under one roof. The company has been voted as one of the “Best Places to Work” in Indiana by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Harding can be reached at dharding@hardingpoorman.com. For more information, visit www.hardingpoorman.com.

 

Monday, 30 September 2013 08:00

Understanding your ‘natural instincts’

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The animal kingdom has long been instrumental in teaching children about appropriate behavior.

A rabbit named Peter educated us on the importance of conflict resolution. For better or worse, Curious George was habitually inquisitive and, in separate incidents, three bears and three pigs taught us the importance of home security.

But despite a literary reputation as “big” and “bad,” according to Jack Hanna, “A wolf will feed the sick, the old and the young first.”

That’s a pretty impressive character trait for a creature so often maligned by the human race. Over the years, however, we’ve learned to expect Hanna to set the record straight on an important part of our world that most of us will never experience firsthand.

 

Following the footsteps of a legend

Inspired by wildlife pioneer Marlin Perkins, Hanna parlayed a fascination with animals and a position leading the Columbus Zoo into a television empire spanning 30 years. He’s had countless TV appearances on popular shows such as “Good Morning America” and “The Late Show with David Letterman.” In addition, he currently helms two television programs, “Jack Hanna’s Wild Countdown” and “Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild.”

Not surprisingly, Hanna’s high regard for the animal population is also reflected in his view of the public’s acceptance of the animal kingdom: “Most people who say they don’t like animals don’t like people much either.”

Phil Beuth, former president of “Good Morning America,” observes, “With Jack, what you see is what you get — he’s a genuine gentleman.”

Hanna has set a simple benchmark for appropriate professional behavior, “I operate by The Golden Rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Of course, humans are animals too — complete with instincts, genetic predispositions, unique skill sets and laws to keep us from acting like predatory animals. Yet, prey we do — leveraged buyouts, hostile takeovers, foreclosures, etc.

 

Comparing workforces of nature

When asked about lessons human worker bees can glean from the animal kingdom, Hanna enthusiastically says, “Just look at ants and termites. They each have specific jobs to do.” By performing specific tasks every day, these creatures work solely to serve the greater good — ostensibly without complaining.

Animals = 1 Humans = 0

Hanna also points to an innate respect in the wild that does not always translate into the land of the bipeds: “The animal world does not waste food and animals do not abuse their own children. For example, gorillas may fight but they still work together.”

Working through issues to achieve top performance is apparently part of the natural order of things. It’s about survival. As the concept of business survival has never been more prominent, shouldn’t cooperation receive equal billing?

Animals = 2 Humans = 0

Though Hanna also marvels at the mysteries behind the instinctual and highly effective way animals communicate, many in the office marvel at some people’s overwhelming lack of communication skills.

Animals = 3 Humans = 0

Specifically, according to Hanna, “The elephant is one of the most intelligent creatures on the planet.”

So yes, it seems that without the benefit of an iPhone, Twitter or Outlook, an elephant truly never forgets.

Time to hire me an elephant. The Laws of Nature win every time. ●

 

Speaker, writer and professional storyteller Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of RediscoverCourtesy.org and the president of MindZoo, a marketing communications firm in Naples, Fla. For more information, visit randallkennethjones.com.

Twitter: @randallkjones

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A marketing epidemic, to put it mildly, has been impacting most businesses — and it’s time to think about keeping your message simple if you haven’t already done so.

The roots of this epidemic can be traced back to two events.

First, during the economic fall of 2008, as businesses looked for ways to preserve revenue streams, companies hunkered down and focused on sales to preserve existing customers. Many cutoff or significantly reduced marketing budgets, and others shifted to digital media as a “low-cost alternative.”

The second event was the rapid spread of social media and the skyrocketing use of smartphones and tablets, which provide instant access to relationships, information and communication.

The social media craze and businesses’ desire to market on the cheap led companies to flood the marketing channels with content. Sales sheets, photos, videos, web pages — companies were suddenly all things to all people because they could push content to digital channels for “free.”

The problem — our marketing channels are now very noisy. As consumers of information, we respond to this noise with limited attention spans. The result — companies have sent confusing messages to the marketplace and people aren’t listening.

This current epidemic of marketing noise distributed across all channels leads to a common marketing need for all businesses — simplification.

 

Keeping it simple

So how do you achieve message simplification? It all ties back to the business. Here are seven steps to help get you started:

1. Identify three to four key business objectives for the next two years. Do you want regional growth or growth in a new industry? Do you want to sell more to existing customers?

2. Prioritize your objectives by placing dollars or number of opportunities next to them. This will help you focus on the most important areas.

3. Brainstorm a list of marketing tactics that can help you achieve each objective. Can you generate more leads from trade shows, your website, your existing customer list? What tactics do you need to adopt?

4. Write a succinct summary, or “elevator pitch.” This should be one to three sentences on how you benefit the people you are targeting in your objectives.

5. Compare your elevator pitch to your marketing tactics and existing materials. Review your website, brochures, email newsletter, social media accounts, videos, trade show collateral, etc. Notice how many “extra” things you say in an effort to cover all your bases.

6. Rework your message. Focus on the audiences for your key objectives. Identify the benefits for these audiences. Your marketing message should speak directly to these audiences so they can understand your value and usefulness to them.

7. Prioritize your marketing tactics. It’s tempting to be trendy and market on social media or through video, just remember to consider which tactics will best reach your audiences. You don’t need to be in every marketing channel, just the ones where your customers and prospects will hear you.

 

Finally, once you’ve simplified your message, stick to it! It is important so that people understand the benefits and value that you deliver. While it might seem repetitive to you, your audience will appreciate the clarity and with time, will remember what your business does best. ●

 

Kristy Amy is director of marketing strategy for SBN Interactive. Reach her at mailto:kamy@sbninteractive.com or (440) 250-7011.

Life has a way of presenting us with difficult circumstances. Sometimes it’s in our personal lives, and sometimes it’s in our business.

If the circumstance is severe enough, it can create a crisis, which can often cause a feeling of hopelessness. When things outside your control come at you in droves, it becomes difficult to cope with them. Entire organizations can be overwhelmed and pulled down by external circumstances, which if not dealt with promptly and correctly, can destroy the company.

The CEO’s role is to right the ship and rally everyone around a solution — and it most likely won’t be easy. People are always looking for the easy way out, but that path is rarely an option. When facing a difficult situation, you have to play the ball where it lies, which means the resources you have in people, dollars or equipment are all you may have to work with.

But challenges also present opportunities. Faced with a crisis, you and your leadership team will be forced to look at your assets in new ways. You’ll be required to take a careful look at your customer base, your market and your processes. This kind of in-depth evaluation may uncover not only a possible solution to your problem, but it may open your eyes to markets or applications you never considered before.

Take Netflix for example. The company was the king of DVD-by-mail, and had already knocked off the once mighty Blockbuster. With the increase in streaming video content, however, customers began moving away from DVDs, threatening Netflix’s main revenue channel. It reacted by creating not only streaming content, but also by creating its own unique content. Customers can stream video from many outlets, but it’s tough to beat Netflix’s reputation and ease of use.

Often, the resources you need are already at hand; they just need to be used in new ways. Netflix already had the capabilities; it just needed to apply them differently.

You may find that after assessing what you have, you have started to create a new path that leads away from the crisis.

At the beginning of a difficult time, you may not be able to see a way out, which can lead to despair. By starting with an initial step and continuing, however, you’ll soon see the light. Start by calling your bank or suppliers to ask for better terms or whatever it is you need, and then build from there.

No matter what you do, though, don’t compromise your integrity. Always do the right thing in the wrong circumstances, because depending on how severe your crisis is, your reputation might be the only thing you have to negotiate with.

If you work hard, do the right thing and stay positive, a solution will likely present itself. It may not always be in a form that you anticipated — you may need to change your products or your market — but if you keep an open mind and work with what you have, everything will work itself out. ●

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.

Would you rather own a McDonald’s or an independent burger stand? At Bob’s burgers, who’s responsible for worrying about attracting customers? Who unlocks the doors? Who cooks? The answer to all of these questions is Bob, the owner, because he is focused on working in the business and in turn is becoming enslaved to it.

OK, now where is the McDonald’s owner? The McDonald’s owner is on a beach somewhere relaxing while his business makes money for him or traveling between the 10 stores he owns being the leader that he is.

The fact that McDonald’s can serve billions of their products each year is a true testament to the power of systems. The systems and processes work, so the owner doesn’t have to.

Build it like a franchise

Whether or not your business is a franchise, I encourage you to build it like one. This type of mentality forces the entrepreneur/owner to work on the business versus in the business. Now, let me break down the differences:

On the business: Owner is creating critical processes, writing scripts, standardizing forms, reviewing and editing systems to make sure they are the absolute best they can be.

In the business: Owner is answering the phone, making the sale and filling the order.

The No. 1 goal for an entrepreneur/owner is to work on the business. This is your unique talent. This is how you’re going to grow your business and also maintain your quality of life.

When I first started Defender Direct, I was blessed to study “The E-Myth” by Michael Gerber. Now, 15 years later, a day doesn’t go by without my reflection on this book and how it helped me understand how the business works versus working in the business.

Passionate entrepreneurs often get so caught up in the technical aspect of the job, and doing everything themselves that they ultimately wake up to a nightmare versus the dream.

Know your talents

When I started Defender Direct in 1998, luckily I didn’t know how to install or sell security systems. I quickly realized that my role as the entrepreneur was to work with the techs, who knew how to do the technical work. This is how I knew I could best contribute to growing our business.

I began spending the majority of my time developing the best system/process to install. One million-plus security systems later, I’m proud to say that I couldn’t, and didn’t, install any of them. That’s the power of systems!

This next example fits every part of your business. In the early days of Defender, I made it a point to never do anything without a notepad in hand. With every task, I was simultaneously creating a Standard Operating Procedure so I could eventually hand off the chore and the newly created SOP for someone else to do. Then I could continue working on more processes.

Author Gerber states, “Entrepreneurs create the system. Managers assure that the systems are used and Frontline workers use the systems.” Walk into any McDonald’s in the world, and you’ll witness this phenomenon. Too often we hire the flashy managers, pay them a lot of money and then ask them to create the systems. This leads to disjointed and unrepeatable processes.

It is the entrepreneur’s job to own the responsibility of creating the systems for the manager to share. When you look at the manager’s job in the light of Gerber’s definition, you begin to hire differently. You need a responsible manager who will hire the best team to assure that your systems always will be used.

So, the next time you encounter a large business issue, don’t dive head first into solving the problem at hand. Remember: systems are the solution!

Dave Lindsey is the founder, board member and chief missions officer of Defender Direct, a leading dealer for a portfolio of home security and digital communication brands including ADT and DISH Network. The company Direct employs more than 2,000 individuals in 50 states with more than 100 branch offices nationwide. Visit www.defenderdirect.com for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

You will never get it all done!

My first job out of grad school was managing one product line, no people and a “to do” list that was a mile long.

I remember breaking down to my dad one night, who at that time was a bank executive who managed multiple divisions, hundreds of people and a lot more responsibility than I could ever comprehend. I was beyond frustrated working 70+ hour workweeks yet I couldn’t manage to get everything done, and my to-do list kept growing!

That’s when Dad gave me some of the best advice that I have ever received. He said, “David, they don’t pay you to get it all done. They pay you to get the most important things done.” Wow! That simple phrase changed my life.

Let me clarify by saying that some jobs, entry level specifically, do warrant the employee to get everything done; all phones need to be answered, hamburgers cooked, etc. prior to leaving for the day.

But as we begin to move up the ranks of responsibility we don’t want to take this mentality with us. When we are managing people, places or things, the options of what we spend our time on grows exponentially. We can conduct training, print a new catalogue, go to a meeting ... the list goes on and on. 

Learn to focus

There are so many options and requests on our time and soon, we find that we can never get it all done. This is why it is imperative that as we grow in our positions, we learn to focus on the right things.

The power of prioritization is undeniable in terms of your future success. In order to be exponentially successful, you must learn how to differentiate time management from prioritization.

Peter Drucker says it best: “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” Don’t waste your energy just crossing things off your “to do” list. Instead, spend some time prioritizing. Then pour your energy into the projects and tasks that you have deemed to be the most important things to complete today.

In the early days of Defender, I was a young entrepreneur obsessed with thoughts about how I could grow our business. As Defender grew, our team members were presented with new opportunities everywhere we turned.

While sometimes it was hard to turn away from an opportunity to sell what was presented as the “next big thing,” early on I took a step back to really evaluate our business. Every time we said yes to a new idea or product, it meant more training, more options, more complexity. 

Stay in focus

Success does create more and new opportunities, but that means we must stay focused and say no more often! Otherwise, our team and focus will fragment and slow us down.

I hear so many stressed out business leaders say, “But it’s all important!” However, by definition, if everything is important, then nothing is important.

If you want to be the leader of a high performance, fast-growth business, then your No. 1 job is to figure out what is most important and to “keep the main thing as the main thing.”

Still, today I divide my to-do list into A, B, C and D priorities and every morning I write my top three A priorities on a Post-It note, which I carry with me throughout the day as a reminder to keep me focused.

If each day I can get my top three most important things done among the chaos of life, I figure I'll have a pretty successful life.

Remember, there will always be more things to do than there is time to do them. You’ll never get it all done and your “to do” list will never be empty. Let this philosophy release you from the stress of trying to get it all done and put that new energy into getting the right things done today.

Dave Lindsey is the founder, board member and chief missions officer of Defender Direct, a leading dealer for a portfolio of home security and digital communication brands including ADT and DISH Network. The company employs more than 2,000 individuals in 50 states with more than 100 branch offices nationwide. Visit www.defenderdirect.com for more information.

Would you rather own a McDonald’s or an independent burger stand? At Bob’s burgers, who’s responsible for worrying about attracting customers? Who unlocks the doors? Who cooks? The answer to all of these questions is Bob, the owner, because he is focused on working in the business and in turn is becoming enslaved to it.

OK, now where is the McDonald’s owner? The McDonald’s owner is on a beach somewhere relaxing while his business makes money for him, or he’s traveling between the 10 stores he owns being the leader that he is.

The fact that McDonald’s can serve billions of their products each year is a true testament to the power of systems. The systems and processes work, so the owner doesn’t have to. 

Build it like a franchise

Whether or not your business is a franchise, I encourage you to build it like one. This type of mentality forces the entrepreneur/owner to work on the business versus in the business. Now, let me break down the differences:

■  On the business: Owner is creating critical processes, writing scripts, standardizing forms, reviewing and editing systems to make sure they are the absolute best they can be.

■  In the business: Owner is answering the phone, making the sale and filling the order.

The No. 1 goal for an entrepreneur/owner is to work on the business. This is your unique talent. This is how you’re going to grow your business and also maintain your quality of life.

When I first started Defender Direct, I was blessed to study “The E Myth: Why Most Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It” by Michael Gerber. Now, 15 years later, a day doesn’t go by without my reflection on this book and how it helped me understand how the business works versus working in the business.

Passionate entrepreneurs often get so caught up in the technical aspect of the job, and doing everything themselves, that they ultimately wake up to a nightmare rather than a dream. 

Know your talents

When Defender Direct launched in 1998, I didn’t know how to install or sell security systems. I quickly realized that my role as the entrepreneur was to work with the techs that knew how to do the technical work. This is how I knew I could best contribute to growing our business.

I began spending the majority of my time developing the best system/process to install. One million-plus security systems later, I’m proud to say that I couldn’t, and didn’t, install any of them. That’s the power of systems!

This next example fits every part of your business. In the early days of Defender, I made it a point to never do anything without a notepad in hand. With every task, I was simultaneously creating a Standard Operating Procedure so I could eventually hand off the chore and the newly created SOP for someone else to do. Then I could continue working on more processes.

Gerber states, “Entrepreneurs create the system. Managers assure that the systems are used and frontline workers use the systems.” Walk into any McDonald’s in the world, and you’ll witness this phenomenon. Too often we hire the flashy managers, pay them a lot of money and then ask them to create the systems. This leads to disjointed and unrepeatable processes.

It is the entrepreneur’s job to own the responsibility of creating the systems for the manager to share. When you look at the manager’s job in the light of Gerber’s definition, you begin to hire differently. You need a responsible manager who will hire the best team to assure that your systems always will be used.

So, the next time you encounter a large business issue, don’t dive headfirst into solving the problem at hand. Remember: systems are the solution!

Dave Lindsey is the founder, board member and chief missions officer of Defender Direct, a leading dealer for a portfolio of home security and digital communication brands including ADT and DISH Network. The company employs more than 2,000 individuals in 50 states with more than 100 branch offices nationwide. Visit www.defenderdirect.com for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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