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A client called me in a heightened state of frustration. Her business group recently made major decisions regarding strategy and future direction. While she was enthusiastic about what lay ahead, her team members weren’t. They were exhibiting signs of dissatisfaction and sowing the seeds of subversion. She needed to act quickly, but she didn’t know how.

Without knowing anything more, I could already guess the root of the problem: the team hadn’t felt included in the strategy-level decision-making. As I dug deeper, my suspicions were confirmed. Leadership had a history of asking for input and then stifling open and honest dialogue.

Another client recently went through a major restructuring. In the process, the company left employees in the dark by failing to communicate what was happening and why. By the time the client called Bright Side, it was facing a debilitating backlash.

Whether it’s leadership consistently disregarding (or failing to solicit) employee feedback or neglecting to communicate significant changes — the result is always the same: Employees end up feeling disrespected and devalued. Resentment simmers and eventually boils over.

Don’t misunderstand me. I know that not every decision can be subject to employee feedback. But, all too often, leadership loses sight of the organization’s most valued asset: its people. With a single-minded focus on the bottom line, leaders make the mistake of treating employees like automatons rather than people.

In the rush of getting the job done, leaders must remember these core truths: All people want to feel valued and respected for the work they do, to know that their contributions matter and to feel heard. When we overlook these principles, employees become disheartened, discouraged and disengaged. One way or another, the discontent manifests itself and everyone suffers.

The solution is to stay connected. Stay connected to your employees daily by cultivating honest person-to-person (rather than person-to-object) relationships, where respect and communication are the cornerstones. Demonstrate through your words and your actions that you value their work, that their input matters and that you believe in transparency. That doesn’t mean, of course, that you won’t at times make decisions that they don’t agree with. It means that the conversation will have happened — they’ll have spoken, you’ll have listened, and no one will be in the dark.

Create opportunities daily to demonstrate that employee feedback is valued. How? For starters, listen more and talk less. A good way to do that is to ask more questions. If you don’t like what you hear, don’t get defensive. A defensive reaction will only shut the conversation down and signal that you aren’t really interested in what others have to say. Instead, ask more questions to clarify and don’t take disagreement personally.

Intentionally seek out viewpoints that are different than your own. If you only talk to people who agree with you or tell you what you want to hear, then you’ll create a false sense of reality.

Lastly, be transparent. I can’t emphasize this enough. So many problems arise when leaders fail to be transparent in their decision-making. Don’t leave people guessing about important matters that impact them.

Resolve to actively practice these behaviors in meetings and routine interactions. Ask team members to follow suit. By doing so, you’ll demonstrate your willingness to learn and to be engaged. Morale will improve and you’ll head off unnecessary revolts and insurrections.

Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger for Smart Business. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a transformational change catalyst company that has partnered with more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, please visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae Smith at donnarae@bright-side.com.

Published in Cleveland

Tony Mercurio had a lot on his mind just a few months after he became CEO at Vanliner Insurance Co.

He had a group of employees who were looking to him for both direction and for answers to their many questions after his employer, National Interstate Corp., had bought their company.

In addition, Vanliner had been purchased from UniGroup Inc., which just happened to be its largest customer. To make it even more fun for Mercurio, UniGroup was now his landlord at Vanliner’s offices in St. Louis.

“Their CEO is down the hall from me,” Mercurio says, referring to the CEO of UniGroup. “That entered into the perspective of how we went about the first six to eight months managing and changing the company.”

The due diligence process took a little under a year and confirmed to National Interstate that the acquisition of Vanliner was a good idea. But that was on paper. It was up to Mercurio to make it happen in the real world and seamlessly blend the things Vanliner did well with the practices that worked best for National Interstate.

“Neither culture or approach to the business was good or bad, per se,” Mercurio says. “But the way we run our business, certainly the way we’ve run it out of Ohio and now how we do it in St. Louis was very different than how old Vanliner had handled its business in the past.”

Tough choices would need to be made as Mercurio worked through those differences to build one cohesive organization. Personnel redundancies were one of the first issues to be addressed, but there were other concerns that he faced in trying to bring everyone together at the company, which now has about 125 employees.

It was enough to leave him feeling a little scared but not enough to make him question for even a moment his ability to make it all work in the end.

“It’s OK to run scared a little bit,” Mercurio says. “Sometimes people think it’s the opposite of confidence and it’s not. I was running scared, but I decided if I just kept getting up every morning and going to bed late at night and kept putting the time in, as long as I didn’t skip my 4-mile run because that’s where I kept my sanity each day, as long as I did all that, we’d get through it.

“In hindsight, I don’t think I’d do it any other way. I’m glad I was afraid. Being afraid to fail and having that be your motivator is not always a bad thing. I felt it, absolutely I did.”

Live your plan

As Mercurio saw the uncertainty in the eyes of his employees a few months into the integration process of the new Vanliner, he remained confident. He had a plan in mind for how the new company would come together, and he believed in it. He just needed to convince everyone else that it would work.

“I had a seven- or eight-page outline that I did that took us all the way through Dec. 31, 2011, down to what our final results would be on the first full year of ownership,” Mercurio says.

“Several things changed along the way, but if you don’t set the expectations, if you don’t have the objectives, if you don’t write them down and if you don’t hold yourself accountable, it’s much harder to achieve the success you’re looking for.”

Despite the extensive planning, he knew that success wouldn’t be easy to achieve. If anyone understood impatience, it was Mercurio.

“It’s not in my personality to stay patient,” Mercurio says. “I feel urgent about performance and about accomplishing our objectives. But this was a situation that needed time. It wasn’t going to be years, but it needed to be months to let it play out and let the people here who I knew, ultimately, we could trust and depend on see it and feel it and be part of it as we steered it in a different direction.”

Mercurio made two promises that he felt very confident could be fulfilled.

“Hollow promises are about the worst thing,” Mercurio says. “Making a promise that you can’t pull through if you have a group that is looking to you to be their leader, that’s about the worst thing that can happen. The promises we made were pretty calculated.”

Mercurio wanted to put something on the table that his people could point to and shoot for that would make all the work and struggle they were going through in the transition process seem worthwhile.

The first promise involved a new targeted alternative risk solution for moving agents aligned with the Allied Agents Association. He promised that this new product would be a success and make the company better.

“The other thing I promised was that within six months, the workload and results, the numbers, would improve if everybody hung in there and believed in what we were doing,” Mercurio says. “That was at the same time that we took away flex hours and did some other things that were just different organizationally. So it was hard to get people to buy in. There were a few sleepless nights as you make promises like that.”

Fortunately, the new product and the idea that things could get better soon proved to be great motivators and a great way to identify who was truly on board with Mercurio’s vision for the new company.

“The best people love to be challenged and love to be pushed to what they believe are their limits,” Mercurio says. “Sometimes, they do not give themselves enough credit to know that their limits are higher than where they have set them. I’m not just talking about workload. I’m talking about being challenged to be creative, to take a little risk and get outside of their comfort zone. Those kinds of things, especially when the results go along with it, are rewarded in our system.”

Give people a chance

Mercurio had the power and wherewithal to take over this new company and fill spots with his own handpicked employees brought over from National Interstate. They would be people he worked with before and was comfortable with and he wouldn’t have to spend time getting to know them.

But that couldn’t be further from the approach that Mercurio took in this particular situation.

“We only brought four people from the National Interstate office to the Vanliner Insurance Co.,” Mercurio says. “We needed to leverage the talent that is here. A lot of people on the staff had several years of moving and storage experience and the people from Cleveland had zero. We had other insurance experiences and captive alternative risk transfer experiences to bring.

“But we decided that we weren’t going to integrate with 30 people.”

Mercurio knew he had talent at his disposal that had worked for the previous Vanliner entity. Who was he to come in and tell people they didn’t cut it just because he had never worked with them before?

“We brought in the claims vice president from the parent company to help interview and assess the claims people,” Mercurio says. “We brought in the IT management and project management people to help assess the IT people. We did that in every area. My background is marketing, underwriting and sales, so I took that lead. But we had other folks I knew we could count on assess individuals as we went through the first six months of the tenure.”

His philosophy in appraising the skills of these people was to find out what they could do for the company. Mercurio gave them a chance to sell their skills or their ability to learn new skills and took that into consideration when decisions needed to be made.

“The way to empower employees, whether they’ve worked for you for three days or 13 years is let them write their own objectives,” Mercurio says.

“Let them tell you what they’re going to do for the organization. You may have to tweak them and you sit down and go through a collaborative effort and you get to the end result that both believe would be the right set of objectives for the year.

“But let them take the first crack. It’s amazing how people own what the objectives are and hold themselves accountable if they are the ones who get to come up with it.”

He adds that you might be surprised how similar your list is with the list of objectives your employees will come up with, if you give them the chance to do it.

“You’ll be surprised as to how close the two lists are if they’ve lived in your culture for even a short amount of time,” Mercurio says. “But secondly and more importantly, the ownership level goes way up. Too many managers miss that. They tell people what they have to do instead of letting their people tell them what they are going to do.”

By taking this approach, Mercurio was able to find jobs for people in the company who didn’t fit in their previous roles.

“So instead of them going elsewhere to seek employment or us letting them go, we decided because they were talented, because they were eager and we felt like they were motivated and objective-driven, we put them in a different role,” Mercurio says. “They are flourishing. They love it, and we’re getting from them the effort and result we need to be successful.”

Take responsibility

Mercurio did not miss many opportunities to get in front of his people and in front of potential clients and customers to talk about the future of Vanliner Insurance Co.

“I did most of the large sales calls with some of our salespeople with me, I did all the shareholder presentations to the various Vanliner boards, I was the speaker on most of the agendas at the conferences for the major moving van lines in the country,” Mercurio says.

“I was the one out shaking hands. It certainly wears on you, and ultimately, I probably could have spread a little bit of that out. But we were going to have a certain complexion in the marketplace and I wanted that to be my responsibility.”

It’s one thing, of course, to be exuberant and excited about your company and polished in your speaking style. If there is no substance behind it, no results to match your promises, it will wear thin with your people very quickly.

So if the pressure had not eased and the work had not gone from overwhelming to just busy as Mercurio had promised it would, he would have had a problem. Fortunately for him, his vision came true.

“The claims group really had it tough for a while,” Mercurio says. “But we just asked them to hang in there and it was like clockwork. Once we reached that six-month mark, the number of new claims coming in was dropping dramatically and the number of files that were closing was going up dramatically. It was shrinking by the day and they could feel it. They felt the relief.”

As he looks ahead, Mercurio says he prefers “urgent” over “running scared” when describing his philosophy on how he and his employees get things done.

“If you’re urgent about what you’re doing, you’ll succeed in our organization,” Mercurio says. “We have a saying that I’ve used for a lot of years. Effort keeps you in the lineup. If you work really hard, you’ll stay in the lineup. But results move you up in the batting order.”

How to reach: Vanliner Insurance Co., (800) 325-3619

or www.vanliner.com

The Mercurio File

Tony Mercurio, CEO, Vanliner Insurance Co.

Born: Lorain, Ohio

Education: Bachelor’s degree in business and economics, University of Mount Union, Alliance, Ohio; MBA, Cleveland State University

Who has been the most influential person in your life?

My father, who passed away a few years ago. He was never afraid to take a risk. He ran a lot of different kinds of companies and tried a lot of things. He was never a 9-to-5 guy. It was a different time and different types of businesses that he ran. It was probably more that I saw him be excited about what he did for a living all the time and live it.

I don’t mind being defined at least somewhat by who I am at work and what I do for a living. That was my biggest lesson. You can enjoy what you do and be successful at it, even if it wasn’t being the starting left guard for the Cleveland Browns.

What did you love about playing football?

Football is hard. I love that not everyone could do it. Everybody has a different role on each play. They all have different steps to take each day but in the end, if we want to score more points than the competitor, everybody has to do their job.

How do you relax away from work?

My wife and two kids, that’s just been a blessing. I married up. Beyond that, just a couple of personal things.

I used to think I was an athlete back in my college years and maybe my first few years after college. These days I don’t feel that way, and I don’t care necessarily if I run fast. It’s the mental release and the confidence that I get out of exercise.

Takeaways:

Take the time to get your plan in writing.

Don’t underestimate the abilities of your people.

Don’t promise what you can’t fulfill.

Published in St. Louis

Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you.

? Roger Ebert, film critic

The 2012 State of St. Louis Workforce Report says that the No. 1 shortcoming of recent hires is the “lack of communication or interpersonal skills.” Also in the top 10 were a “lack of teamwork and collaboration” and “lack of willingness and ability to learn.”

Commissioned by Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College and conducted in partnership with the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, the report seems to suggest that elements of what we often call emotional intelligence are valued but lacking in recent hires.

Why is this important to leaders? There are several reasons.

First, it should give us pause to examine how well we as leaders stack up. Are we exhibiting the qualities we deem lacking in others?

Secondly, it suggests that we should seriously think about whether or not these are the talent deficits we see in our business. If these are the deficits, what will we do about them? How do our attraction efforts need to change? How do our employee development initiatives need to change?

What is emotional intelligence?

In “Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, the authors’ definition of “how leaders handle themselves and their relationships” is expanded through the explanation of four domains of emotional intelligence and their associated competencies.

At this point, some leaders may think that while this is interesting, they still just need to hire smart leaders who want to work hard.

Fair enough, as we certainly need to do that. But, the authors suggest that emotional intelligence “contributes 80 to 90 percent of the competencies that distinguish outstanding from average leaders — and sometimes more.”

They admit that this is a “rule of thumb” and a precise measure is dependent on many factors. But we know, as leaders, that we’ve seen great ideas flounder or die because advocates weren’t aware of how they were coming across or hadn’t built up the people capital necessary to support the idea.

Regardless of the ratios involved, the authors are onto something: Emotional intelligence is a significant aspect of leadership.

So, how does one incorporate recognition of the importance of emotional intelligence into leadership development efforts? If a leader needs to develop an aspect of emotional intelligence, is it even possible for that person to change?

What are emotional styles?

Dr. Richard J. Davidson and Sharon Begley, authors of “The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live — and How You Can Change Them,” suggest that it is possible for people to adapt certain emotional patterns.

Using his 30 years of research in affective neuroscience, Davidson has identified six “emotional styles.”

Resilience: How rapidly or slowly does one recover from adversity?

Outlook: How long does positive emotion persist following a joyful event?

Social Intuition:  How accurate is one in detecting the non-verbal social cues of others?

Context: How well do you regulate your emotions to take your context into account?

Self-Awareness: How aware are you of bodily signals that constitute emotion?

Attention: How focused are you?

Even a cursory review of the six emotional styles will lead one to see connections to important dimensions of emotional intelligence. What if you could help your team members bounce back more quickly from setbacks? What if you could keep a positive attitude that helps keep the troops motivated and promotes creativity? How could you become either more focused or less single-minded? Each point should have relevance to you. Would that be worth some time and effort for you to explore?

Andy Kanefield is the founder of Dialect Inc. and co-author of “Uncommon Sense: One CEO’s Tale of Getting in Sync.” Dialect helps organizations improve alignment and translation of organizational identity. To explore how to use the principles of neuroscience to promote better organizational alignment, you may reach Andy at (314) 863-4400 or andy@dialect.com.

Published in St. Louis

We recently met a defense attorney who chatted with us about wooing a potential client who had a big case against a “whistle-blower.” What was our free, unsolicited advice for that meeting?

Stop calling the plaintiff’s key witness a whistle-blower. A whistle-blower is someone who comes into the case with a distinct credibility advantage, and therefore is someone jurors want to protect.

Instead, we suggested he describe it as a lawsuit filed by a “disgruntled employee.” Rather than ramping up that person’s believability, this language calls into question his or her motives for testifying.

Defining the language allows you to control the debate. Instead of allowing others to control the conversation with their potentially biased vocabulary, set your own terms with language that tells your story.

Control the terms

This is how so many companies became the leaders in their markets, because they controlled the terms: Kleenex for tissue, Chapstick for lip balm, Xerox for photocopy — and Starbucks for the Tall, Grande and Venti sizing system that most of us still use even when we’re buying coffee from a competitor.

Groupon’s catchy name — short for “group coupon” — has now become the word of choice to describe any online daily deal. Perhaps this is why, according to a Bloomberg report released this in August, Groupon still holds the majority of the market share in its industry.

Language can also be used to help you connect with others on a fundamental level. We recently worked with an emergency room doctor whose humility was in sharp contrast to the stereotypes about arrogant, presumptuous physicians. When he described his background, we were immediately taken in by his story of growing up in rural Kentucky and eventually going to medical school overseas.

But a few descriptors painted an even more appealing picture: This doctor was raised by an apple farmer and a schoolteacher, and after helping with the farm for several years when his father died, was named a Rhodes Scholar and earned his medical degree in London. Just a few more words, but the portrait is much more captivating — and his testimony that much more credible.

Watch for connotations

Language also worked — and didn’t work — for health care providers we met with in North Carolina. When we asked a doctor involved in a medical malpractice childbirth case why he chose his specialty, he gruffly replied, “It had the shortest residency.”

The answer might be 100 percent accurate, but it is also 100 percent likely to turn off a jury. A nurse at this same hospital had by far the better response to why she chose to work in labor and delivery: “I wanted to be there for that miracle.” Even we cynical jury consultants melted — and when she testified a month later, so did those jurors.

Your ability to define and control the language, whether it’s for a product, service or telling your side of the story in the courtroom allows you to own the terms of the discussion.

For example, Best Buy’s Geek Squad is so newsworthy that the media even reports when it switched its fleet of Geekmobiles from VW Beetles to Ford vans.

The Apple Store and its Genius Bar attract millions of visitors each year, and they’re not just gawking at smartphones. The Apple Store chain’s 2011 sales of $3,085 per square foot ranked first among U.S. retailers in terms of sales per unit area in 2011, almost double that of second-place retailer Tiffany & Co., according to a story by David Segal in The New York Times.

Whether in business, the courtroom or in the coffee shop, owning the language means your product or service is the one people will remember.

Chris St. Hilaire is the author (with Lynette Padwa) of 27 Powers of Persuasion: Simple Strategies to Seduce Audiences and Win Allies (Prentice Hall Press). He is an award-winning message strategist who has developed communications programs for some of the nation’s most powerful corporations, legal teams, and politicians.

Published in Los Angeles

Adam Miller could not afford to waste any more time at Cornerstone OnDemand Inc. He had just become a father, and if he was going to spend time away from his first child, he decided that it had better be time well spent.

“I realized while I was out with the baby that we could keep trudging along or we could try to make this into something meaningful,” says Miller, the company’s founder, president and CEO. “It was at that point that I decided we were going to try to really grow the business and not just limp along.”

Cornerstone was launched in 1999 as a technology company and now provides cloud-based talent management software solutions to users in 180 countries. The company grew gross revenue from $10.9 million in 2007 to $75.5 million in 2011.

It’s been a success story, going from 150,000 subscribers to 8.2 million. But it took the birth of Miller’s son in 2005 to get him to realize that, up to that point, his company had not lived up to its full potential.

“You have to say you’re either going to do this or you’re not going to do this,” Miller says. “It was pretty severe. We made a lot of changes to the business in that year. We kept the same basic format of what we were doing and we kept the same product, but we made a lot of organizational changes, and those are things that we would not have done had this not happened.”

One of the biggest changes was a complete replacement of the company’s sales team.

“It was just the wrong people for what we were trying to sell,” Miller says. “We realized to be effective, we needed to be doing solution-selling, and we didn’t have the right skills or people to do that kind of solution-selling.”

So what’s the key to taking the big idea and the significant changes that you have in your head and making them a reality in your business? Miller says it comes down to making sure you don’t blindside your people, even when you’re doing something as big as replacing your entire sales team.

“If you suddenly come in one day and you start acting completely differently and you start making all these changes without conveying why you’re doing it or how it’s happening, all you’re going to do is create massive confusion and create essentially a culture of fear,” Miller says. “People won’t know what’s going on or why it’s happening. You don’t want to do that. You want people to be supportive of what you’re doing.”

Here are some of the things Miller did to get people to support his plan and help take Cornerstone to greater heights than it had ever achieved.

Don’t take shortcuts

It may seem like it takes too much time to sit down and talk with people about your ideas, especially when you’re so charged up to put those ideas in place to see how they work out. But it’s something you’ve got to make the time to do if you want a cohesive team.

“A big part of leadership is taking the time to get the buy-in to support your objectives, even when you don’t have a lot of time and it seems like perhaps a waste of your time or an inefficient use of your time,” Miller says. “In the long run, it’s an excellent use of your time. If you take shortcuts at the beginning of that kind of change or strategic reorganization or reprioritization, you’re going to pay for it over the long term. If you take the time, you get the benefit over the long term.”

That doesn’t mean you have to talk to every last person in your organization. If you have a smaller business and that’s possible, go for it. But if not, focus on the key people who hold positions of influence in your company in the areas you’re looking to affect change.

“Those could be the direct reports to the CEO or those could be people much further down in the organization who have pivotal positions or are somehow critical to the organization, but it’s incredibly important to take the time to get buy-in from all of the key players,” Miller says.

“That is typically the critical mistake people make. They don’t take the time to get buy-in and people don’t understand why changes are being made or feel like the management team is being arbitrary and that leads to lack of support, lack of focus and ultimately lack of execution, which causes the strategies to fail.”

When you sit down with people, don’t just make it about whether or not they like your plan. Talk to them about how it might affect them and use the opportunity to gauge how they feel about their role in the company at that point in time.

“You have to know enough about the person to understand how to have that conversation,” Miller says. “You have to know, what are their personal interests in what you’re talking about? What are their career aspirations? How does what they want connect to what you’re talking about? How does what you’re working on connect to what they’re working on? How do they fit into this model that you’re proposing?”

You’ve got to take the time to show employees what’s in it for them. Don’t just make it about the company and how your idea is going to help your company make more money. Even if you try to have a culture in which it’s not your company, but it’s their company, you’ve still got to make it personal for your people.

“You need to understand the employee’s motivations,” Miller says. “Why would they support the idea? How does it impact them? Does it mean that they have to work harder or less hard? Does it mean they’ll be able to move closer to their career aspiration? Or does it take them further away from that? If you’re talking about reorganization, did one of their peers get promoted and they did not. Do they view that as something good for another person or bad for them?

“There are a lot of different and often competing motivations and perceptions that people will have about something. Trying to walk in their shoes and understand how it’s going to really impact them helps you to better present what you are proposing.”

Be approachable

It was more of a symbolic move than anything else, but it did send just the right message to his employees. As Miller embarked on his big change plan for Cornerstone, he began by firing himself as CEO.

“I came in one day and said, ‘Let’s pretend that I’m the new CEO,’ even though I was also the old CEO,” Miller says. “But I started thinking about the business as if it was my first day on the job with no preconceived notions, loyalties, expectations, anything. At that point, I was able to really transform the business because everything was up for grabs.”

Miller didn’t want the perception to be out there that he was blaming his employees for the company’s complacency. He wanted them to know that he held himself as responsible as anyone for what the company had failed to achieve.

So his move to fire himself drove home the message of Miller admitting his faults and looking for a second chance to succeed. And it helped make him more approachable in the eyes of his people.

“You need the organization to support what you’re doing or you won’t be successful,” Miller says. “There are some organizations that succeed in spite of their leader. But a true leader is able to get buy-in and commitment to achieve their vision.”

That commitment is achieved when you take steps to make people feel more comfortable about coming up to you and talking to you about their jobs or the business as a whole.

So if you request a meeting with an employee, don’t be mysterious about what you want to talk to them about.

“If you IM somebody to come into your office, it’s like getting called to the principal’s office,” Miller says. “It creates panic. Explain in the IM why you’re asking them to come to your office.

“Spend the time to get to know your people and also listen. Hear the feedback. Understand what other people think about things.

“Some of buy-in is letting them participate in the strategy and participate in the tactics and objectives of what you’re trying to do. At the end of the day, no company is run by a single person.”

You’ll also go a long way toward earning support from your employees if you follow up with them and show that their meeting with you wasn’t just for show, but that it actually meant something to you.

“Follow up,” Miller says. “Check in. Sometimes a check-in can be very quick and simple: a quick email or a phone call or drop by in person just to ensure that the people are still committed and to answer any questions or get any feedback on ideas.”

If you take the mindset that your people are there to help you and your business and that they have talents that can help you, you’ll be a lot better off.

“Everybody, regardless of their position, can have good ideas and have creative suggestions that can be very useful,” Miller says. “So everybody’s input is important. Just because somebody is in a junior role doesn’t mean they don’t understand the business or the strategy or can’t contribute to the business or the strategy. A lot of it is just about respect.”

As much as you focus on respect, you’ve also got to bring your enthusiasm to the office every day.

“It’s impossible to be an entrepreneur and not be an optimist,” Miller says. “So you have to remember the reason you started the business and the reason you’ve had the success you’ve had is because you’ve been able to maintain discipline and stay positive, even when things looked a little more difficult or even when everyone else says no.

“Being able to stay positive is a key factor of success because not only do you have to stay positive, but you have to keep your people positive. If you’re going to have doubts, you should have those doubts in private. Keep people focused on the potential for success.”

Hopefully, those setbacks are few and you have more opportunities to demonstrate enthusiasm and use that positive energy to sell your plan.

“Persuasiveness is an incredibly important job of a leader, to get people to buy in to the strategy and buy in to the tactics to get it done,” Miller says. “I just view that as fundamental to leadership — being able to paint a vision for people and getting them to support that vision.” <<

How to reach: Cornerstone OnDemand Inc., (888) 365-2763 or www.cornerstoneondemand.com

The Miller File

Adam Miller, co-founder, president and CEO, Cornerstone OnDemand Inc.

Born: New York

Education: Bachelor of science degree, Wharton School; Bachelor of arts degree, University of Pennsylvania; juris doctorate degree, UCLA School of Law; MBA, Anderson School of Business; certified public accountant

What was your very first job and what did you learn from it?

I was a stock boy at A&P, the grocery store. I was 16. The summer before I went to college, my dad was a controller at a steel company. He had me work in the steel factory so that I knew what would happen if I didn’t do well in school.

It was a very interesting experience. I got really involved on the labor side and became a big advocate for the workers in the factory. I thought that was a really interesting experience. That taught me a lot about everybody being important to the organization.

Who has been the biggest influence on you?

I would probably say my parents, but I haven’t had a single mentor the way I think some people do. My parents have always been extremely supportive and that’s given me both the sense of optimism that is important in being an entrepreneur and the willingness to take risks.

What would you say has been the best part of being a father?

I love being a father. I have three kids, two boys and a girl. My favorite part is watching them learn and being a part of their learning and experience.

Takeaways:

Don’t be afraid to make dramatic changes.

Get feedback on your plan.

Make sure your people know where they stand.

Published in Los Angeles

When leaders reach the C-suite, they focus on competencies that drive business outcomes. Leaders believe they add the most value through their work on concepts such as visioning, strategic execution, global mindset and change management.

They would be right — and wrong.

Some C-suite leaders have not mastered basic core competencies, such as effective interpersonal skills, relationship building, collaboration and even something as straightforward as mutual respect.

Any inappropriate behaviors or lapses in focus in these core competencies can derail the leader and foster a toxic environment as well as unhealthy relationships systemwide.

In contrast, if a leader pays continual attention to mastering and executing these core competencies, he or she can set a tone in the culture that helps the organization to flourish in the long term.

Let’s look at mutual respect, for example. It is human nature to want to feel valued, included and recognized as having a place of significance. It is here where engagement and commitment are at their highest. When individuals feel devalued and disconnected, they compensate with a focus more on themselves than the success of the community.

Psychologist Alfred Adler emphasized these ideas almost 90 years ago. Yet, today, many organizations tend to misunderstand and misuse these concepts.

One aspect of mutual respect is inclusion. Many leaders make all major company decisions behind closed doors and justify this through the idea that confidentiality protects the company’s competitive advantage. Or at a minimum, that it minimizes resistance or conflict.

However, it is well documented that diversity of opinions leads to better outcomes. One example is in Jeff Howe’s seminal 2009 work “Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business,” which highlighted the collective power of a diverse group to enhance business decisions. Employees often feel disconnected from the company even though they are the closest to the customers and might have a clear sense of needs and business opportunities.

Employers often impose goals on employees because of broader corporate strategy. Employees might react with discouragement if the goals are unrealistic and if they hear month after month that they must do better.

Also, employees may even see company leaders apply arbitrary rules or give incentives to some groups while other groups are excluded from the opportunity. In Daniel Pink’s 2009 book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” he discussed doing away with incentives altogether. Instead, Pink emphasized giving employees a real choice, allowing them to continue to improve in areas that really matter and to have a sense of purpose by focusing on something larger than themselves.

Employees must feel respected and included to clearly understand where the organization is heading. They also must know what role they can play in its ultimate success. Leaders would do well to consider more transparency and engage employees as true partners.

When employees don’t feel respected, they justify their personal strivings. This adds substantial risks, including an exodus of talent and/or intellectual capital from the organization, increased ethical lapses, dissatisfied customers and transformational efforts that fall flat.

Mutual respect starts with truly listening to employees and engaging them as valued partners. It also requires the competency of facilitation, which goes well beyond running meetings to true inclusion.

Mastering core competencies means continually applying them, especially after assuming a C-suite role. Leaders would do well to add metrics to ensure that they actively practice and model these skills.

Jay Colker, DM, MBA, MA, is core faculty for the master’s in counseling and organizational psychology program at the Adler School of Professional Psychology. Dr. Colker also maintains a human capital consulting practice and may be reached at jcolker@adler.edu or at (312) 213-3421.

Published in Chicago

To become a PPO (no, not that one — rather, a “peak performance organization”), it is a precondition to hire and retain A players. It is just that simple.

No matter the state of the economy, it is never easy to find A players who possess an insatiable appetite for curiosity and a “lifelong learning” mentality. You need to know, first and foremost, what to look for and how to attract them and then, how to inspire and motivate them as professionals. Here are a few steps your organization can take.

Step 1: Identify stretch goals.

PPO associates need to be inspired by their managers to continuously perform at the highest level. They want to be kept on their toes and be challenged. They must want to develop themselves, to achieve the best they can and, because of this, contribute to the success of the organization — again, lifelong learners.

PPO managers, therefore, should consciously inspire their associates by giving them interesting work, challenging tasks and increased responsibilities and stressing that they should be proud of their own achievements and those of the organization. They stimulate self-confidence, an entrepreneurial attitude, firmness, a can-do attitude and a winning mindset in associates.

PPO managers raise the performance of their people and themselves by simply setting high standards and stretch goals. It’s easier said than done, but it works.

Step 2: Start inspiring associates.

There are two main ways to inspire your associates: by changing your own behavior to be more inspirational, and by creating conditions for your associates that increase their motivation. Below are some ideas for both techniques.

Five proven tips on how to begin the process:

1. Be passionate about the goals of the organization, show emotion and generate enthusiasm for these traits in your associates.

2. Be connected with your associates by showing real interest in them and finding out what motivates and inspires them and actively looking for their ideas and opinions.

3. Be (somewhat) unconventional and take personal risks by doing things differently and operating outside “normal” organizational boundaries and outside your comfort zone and letting your associates do the same.

4. Be a good listener with your associates. They have more insight than you give them credit for.

5. Be a great storyteller who is able to package messages in a more appealing format that captivates associates.

Now that you have “inspired,” how do you move on to “motivating” your associates?

That is step three. Below are five proven tips to motivate your people — who are your most valuable unlisted assets.

Step 3: Motivate your associates.

1. Paint your associates an attractive picture of the future of the organization and their place in it. Put another way, explain the “whats” and the “whys” of how their hard work is benefitting the company.

2. Create an environment of trust and openness with management. Be willing to share with them the good, the bad and the ugly of your organization.

3. Give your associates work that challenges and recharges them. Allow them to take risks and learn from the experiences.

4. Provide your associates with the opportunity to get into contact with the beneficiaries of their work (such as the customers). The dividends will be immense.

5. Recognition, recognition, recognition. We never say thank you enough. Recognize your associates’ many achievements in public. Let everyone know of his or her achievements and advancements. Do it, and it will motivate that individual but also others around him or her to do better.

Put these 10 tips to work in your organization and watch your performance and profitability skyrocket.

G. A. Taylor Fernley is president and CEO of Fernley & Fernley, an association management company providing professional management services to nonprofit organizations since 1886. He can be reached at tfernley@fernley.com, or for more information, visit www.fernley.com.

Published in Philadelphia

Richard Reif is well-versed on the subject of health care reform — and he should be. He had a 13-year head start on the government.

In 1997, more than a decade before President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law, Reif worked with the leadership team at Doylestown Hospital to build a strategic plan around a series of building blocks designed to promote many of the same areas of emphasis now outlined in the federal act.

Reif, the hospital’s longtime president and CEO who will retire in December, wanted to build an organization in which health care providers believe they have a duty to preserve health as much as they have an obligation to cure illness.

He wanted an organization that fostered alignment among all staff members who came in contact with a given patient — doctors, nurses and support staff all united with a common goal of providing a high-quality and seamless patient experience.

“We had a series of building blocks that I believed would be paramount to our long-term success,” Reif says. “I testified before Congress that year on the issue of how we needed to transform health care. It was the origin of a lot of things that were proposed in the (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act). We have used those fundamental building blocks to help drive who we are, always coming back to what benefits the patient and the patient’s family.”

But building that kind of organization wasn’t as simple as posting a mission statement over the entrance door. It required Reif and his team to define what Doylestown Hospital stood for as both a business and a health care entity and what it meant to work for the hospital. He then had to focus 2,000 associates and 900 volunteers on those core beliefs, keeping the message in front of existing staff and introducing the message to new staff.

In short, it took consistent and tireless communication.

Know who you are

Every business has an identity. Defining that identity, however, can be a difficult and ongoing process. Organizations, like the people who comprise them, don’t easily fit into prefabricated molds.

But defining what you are as an organization is essential to developing your mission and core values.

At Doylestown Hospital, Reif draws heavily on the organization’s history to chart a course for the future. The Village Improvement Association, a local women’s group that still owns the hospital, founded the hospital in 1923. The hospital was founded as a product of one of the association’s missions — to promote health and wellness in the Doylestown community.

With that as a guiding beacon, Reif put his effort into preserving and improving the hospital as a resource for health and wellness in the immediate area, closely embracing that identity.

“We don’t do a lot of teaching and we don’t do a lot of research,” Reif says. “We do a bit of both, but that isn’t our primary emphasis. We want to stay focused on our patients and serving them to the best of our ability.”

Often, companies and organizations try to define themselves by the business they conduct instead of the people they serve. Your list of clients might be impressive, your product might be cutting-edge and your services might have helped you carve out a lucrative niche.

But if you can’t identify the positive impact your company makes on the people you ultimately serve, you’re not doing a good job of identifying your company’s reason for being, which in turn, could have a damaging effect on your ability to promote your culture and motivate your employees to do their best work.

“Whether I’m relating the concept to people in this area or outside this area, you tend to find a universal problem in that people can have a tendency to lose where their focus is meant to be,” Reif says.

“Sometimes, you worry more about the business scale of what you’re doing as opposed to what and who you are ultimately impacting. That’s especially important in our field due to the nature of our work. Hospitals and schools are two great examples of organizations in which you should know what you should be doing.”

Reif learned the value of developing and maintaining an organizational identity early in his career, when he worked at a pair of Quaker hospitals.

“I came to learn a lot about myself as well, as well as what you need to do to emphasize the importance and value of the people you serve,” he says. “I believe my job is to create an environment where those people can achieve their sense of inspiration.”

To build an organizational identity around developing relationships and serving your customers, you need to give your employees — especially the employees who directly face your customers — the tools and resources necessary to foster those relationships and maintain them over the long haul.

“One of the things we do and communicate is the whole issue of our values and our responsiveness and giving the people the tools they need to be successful,” Reif says. “It can be continuing education, it can be the right equipment, it can be the right work environment. It can be that you try to cultivate a sense of respect between departments or a sense of functional respect between doctors and associates. But you’re ultimately trying to focus on a series of things that are all related back to the mission and the core values.”

Live the culture

Reif couldn’t build an organization that promotes alignment and accountability without a strong culture to serve as its backbone. Building and maintaining the culture was an essential first step.

A company’s culture lives and breathes through the actions of its employees. But you don’t get the desired actions without employees who have a firm belief in the mission and values of the organization. It needs to start with the hiring process, when you identify the job candidates who you think have the personality and individual values needed to mesh with your organizational values.

But if you don’t seed and cultivate your culture within those people, all you’ll ever have is raw materials and a workforce full of unrealized potential.

That’s why Reif gets involved in the training of new Doylestown Hospital employees from their first week on the job.

“I am in my 24th year now in this position, and I do virtually every new associate orientation,” Reif says. “We start with the premise that we are all aimed in the same direction, and I emphasize our sense of responsibility to our mission and our values. We reinforce that in any way we possibly can, no matter what topic. Where we are, how people are evaluated, how we make decisions — it always comes back to the mission.”

Once new employees are up to speed with how health care and business are conducted at the hospital, Reif further reinforces the culture through the stories of patients — the consumers of the hospital’s end products and services. By putting a human face on the ultimate product of the work each employee does, you demonstrate the ultimate benefit that the work of each person has to the end consumer.

“We have a major fundraiser every spring, and this year, we had 80 to 100 women involved,” Reif says. “As I was thanking them for their involvement in the effort, I reminded them why we were raising the money. This year, it happened to be that they’re raising money for a maternity unit, so in my presentation, I put pictures of four newborn babies on the screen.

“Another time, at the end of our budget approval for the following fiscal year, we had a board meeting. I showed our board 10 pictures of patients living with cancer. They’re people who we are treating, who agreed to be photographed for this presentation. I put their pictures in front of everyone and told their story. In both cases, showing the babies we delivered and the cancer patients we’re treating, it reminds us why we’re here as an organization.

“We share stories of patient successes, and even the times when we fail a patient. We need to learn from those stories as well. It always comes back to who we are serving.”

Reif says the real-life examples serve as a means of showing empathy. Effective leaders need to foster a sense of empathy within their organizations. That includes empathy between employees and management and empathy between those inside and outside the company.

If management does a good job of instilling a sense of empathy within the culture, that feeling will trickle down to the relationship your employees have with the people you serve — be they customers, clients or, in the case of Doylestown Hospital, patients.

“You have to be empathetic to your people,” Reif says. “You have to listen. If I’m showing empathy to the people who work here, the associates and why we value that, they are going to be more empathetic with regard to their relationship with the patients.

“If I remember who is providing the patient care and I treat them with respect, they’re going to continue that relationship with the people they come into contact with, which includes the patients and their families. Again, it’s always coming back to who you serve and what you are as an organization.” <<

How to reach: Doylestown Hospital, (215) 345-2200

or www.dh.org

Richard Reif, president and CEO, Doylestown Hospital

The Reif file

Born: I was born in Baltimore. I actually went on to become the CEO of the hospital I was born in, Union Memorial Hospital.

Education: Zoology degree from the University of Maryland; Hospital administration degree from the Medical College of Virginia (now VCU Medical Center).

First job: My first real job was as a Good Humor truck driver when I was 18. The following year I started working in hospitals.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

I learned to be genuine and be yourself, and find an organization that values you. Those are the two most important things: be sincere and fit the organization.

What traits or skills are essential for a leader?

Empathy, listening and consensus-building. Those are three things that Quakers do very well. In my time at Quaker hospitals, I learned to conceptualize, think long-term and be a steward to the community.

What is your definition of success?

It is a statement more than a set of criteria, and I can quote it from you. My wife and I both live by it: “I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness or abilities that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer it or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” (Attributed to William Penn.)

Published in Philadelphia

A little over a year ago, Randy Highland came back home.

He had been away from the California division of McCarthy Building Cos. Inc. for nearly eight years, heading the company’s Nevada/Utah division in Las Vegas. In 2011, he accepted an offer to return to the company’s Newport Beach office as the president of the California region. It’s a place where he had served the construction contractor in a variety of roles for 16 years before leaving for Las Vegas in 2004.

But when you leave as a subordinate and return as the man in charge, the perspective changes.

“There is obviously a big challenge getting yourself familiarized with all our people here,” Highland says. “There are a lot of new folks here who weren’t here seven and eight years ago. So, initially, I was taking a lot of time to get acquainted with them, understanding everybody’s strengths and making sure all of the new folks who didn’t know me from my first stint here got an opportunity to meet me and ask whatever questions they might have.”

But it wasn’t as simple as handshakes and introductions. As the regional president, Highland needed to form a vision for the future of McCarthy in California, help form a plan for executing the vision, create buy-in on the plan and see it all through to completion.

“When you step into a role like this, you need a plan, and then the biggest challenge is making sure you are adequately communicating the vision,” Highland says. “I needed to make sure it was communicated accurately and frequently, and that I was getting multiple touches with all of our folks in all the areas where we operate.

“They say you can never overcommunicate, and I think it’s true. You need to take the opportunity to communicate that vision and your strategic direction for the company at all times.”

Form the vision

As the president of a division within a larger organization, Highland is in the position of ensuring that the goals of his region fall in line with the goals of the company at large.

When he took over as the president of McCarthy’s California operations — which generated $950 million in revenue last year — Highland began a period of internal assessment. He wanted to know where the region stood, so he could form the best possible plan for where it needed to go.

“There is obviously a direction for the division and goals and objectives for the division that already exist,” he says. “And there is a strategic vision for the division. So you come in, you assess where everything stands, and you form an adequate time frame for the transition to the new leadership. That is one thing I think we did extremely well.”

Instead of an abrupt switch — picking a day and switching the nameplate on the president’s office door — Highland worked with retiring regional president Carter Chappell over eight months to help smooth the transition process. Highland officially assumed total capacity of the president’s role this past February.

“The last thing you want in a transition like this is for it to have a negative impact on the division’s goals and financial results for the year,” Highland says. “So you want to make sure you don’t take a step backward because you’re spending all your time on the transition while failing to keep your eye on the ball.”

During the first half of the transition, Highland served as something of an apprentice to Chappell, shadowing the outgoing president to begin meeting employees and learning the processes that are employed throughout the region.

Over time, Highland took increasing control of responsibilities and decision-making. During the second half of the transition, Highland effectively served as the president, with Chappell as his adviser.

As Highland assumed more control, he began to fashion a new direction for the region. His vision didn’t differ from Chappell’s vision on a fundamental level, but there were some new areas Highland wanted to explore.

“Certainly, my predecessor had a vision, and for the most part, there is agreement in the overall vision,” he says. “But there are going to be some tweaks on what I see as our vision and where I want us to head as an organization.”

Specifically, Highland wanted to focus his efforts on driving McCarthy’s California region to $1 billion in annual revenue. He also wanted to commit resources to the company’s San Diego-area operations with the goal of becoming the top commercial construction contractor in San Diego.

“It’s a vision that has both short-term and long-term aspects,” he says. “It is important to set the stage of where you see the organization in five years and beyond. You definitely want to spend time thinking about the big-picture objectives surrounding the long-term vision.

“Then, you spend time formulating the short-term strategies that will help you ultimately achieve those longer-term goals. That stuff is a little more tactical, as opposed to strategic.”

Once you have formed a detailed vision for where you want to take your company, the next crucial step is to get everyone in the organization on board with it. You do that through a multifaceted communication strategy that encourages dialogue and feedback.

Create buy-in

Throughout his first year as regional president, Highland has repeatedly stressed the importance of utilizing a communication strategy that offers multiple interaction points between him and his management team and the hundreds of employees who work both at the regional home office and at job sites throughout the state.

The interface opportunities come in a variety of methods and settings, including formal seminars, informal social functions, person-to-person meetings and electronic avenues.

“As far as the big-picture opportunities go, we perform a divisional seminar twice a year,” Highland says. “It’s an update on both the division and the entire company. The seminars are a mechanism for me to set the vision for where we are headed and do so in front of everyone in the region.

“Last October, when I was still in my transitional period, we had one of those seminars, and that is one of the first places where I laid down my vision for the region and set up the goals and objectives for the whole group.

“However, you still need multiple touches, because you can’t expect all of this to happen in one get-together. You need numerous opportunities throughout the year.

“Another thing we’ll do is have quarterly updates within the division. Those are different from the twice-yearly seminars in that they’re constructed as informal social hours. We try to have a little fun with those. It’s kind of like a happy hour where I’ll get everyone in the office here and bring them together, and we’ll just talk about the current division highlights, then take any questions that the group may have.

“Those gatherings are smaller than the seminars, where we can have 400 to 500 people. The smaller groups offer more of an opportunity to take questions and give updates.”

The formal, twice-yearly gatherings allow Highland and his leadership team a chance to roll out large-scale presentations. The smaller, informal gatherings are a chance to inform the staff of smaller-scale tweaks and alterations to the plan, along with any other changes that have come up in the interim. It allows the leadership to drill down on areas that might need a more detailed explanation.

It’s those areas of detail that allow for dialogue between management and employees, which is a critical aspect to his communication strategy because McCarthy is constructed as an employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP, — a company structure that allows employees to have an ownership interest.

With an ESOP structure, employee input becomes necessary regarding the company’s future, since employees are stakeholders.

“There were a couple of questions at the first meeting about what work, exactly, we are going to do within our commercial business unit,” Highland says. “We talked a bit about one market that we are definitely going to chase in that unit, which is the wastewater market. We talked about a few other areas in those markets, including detention and correctional facilities, hospitality and entertainment, and airport work.

“So creating those opportunities for dialoguing is just another way to connect the dots throughout the whole organization, getting everybody to understand what the tactical approaches are going to be for executing on the strategic vision — meaning, what markets we are going to attack.”

In addition to his own personal contact with employees, Highland utilizes communication avenues that don’t require him to be in the room. It’s an important aspect of communication for any CEO or president, particularly if your company covers a large geography. You can’t be everywhere at once, but your message still needs to resonate with all employees at all locations.

Highland uses email blasts to inform the staff of events, new hires and promotions, and various other accomplishments within the division.

But Highland believes a computer screen can’t be the only other face of the company besides his, so he relies heavily on his management team to keep the messages clear and the dialogue moving. He enables his management team and middle managers to communicate the vision, but he also wants feedback to ensure that the message is reaching everyone’s eyes and ears in the form he intended.

That’s why he checks in regularly with many of his managers, asking them what feedback they’re getting from their teams.

“It is important that you take the time to have touches with those people, so that you’re getting a sense at all levels of the company about what the pulse is out there, how people are responding to the direction you are headed, and it gives you another opportunity to see if the communication is getting through.

“You kind of do an ‘end-around.’ You might think you’re communicating well, but it’s always good to go back and see if the message really resonates, if people understand it. Are your midmanagers communicating the message effectively to all members of the organization? It’s kind of a trust-but-verify approach.”

Highland will often ask his managers what types of questions they’re receiving from their teams. It’s often a good barometer for determining whether the message is getting through clearly as it passes through the various levels of the company.

“Just by the questions that folks have, you can get a read on whether the message was communicated accurately,” he says. “You can find out if some folks legitimately have a point or an issue with what we’re doing, if it’s something we need to address.

“My direct reports and the layer under them understand that part of their job is to make sure they take the time and make the effort to take the pulse of the company, find out what folks are saying about the information they’re hearing. That is a key part of communication and making sure everyone is on board with your vision.” <<

How to reach: McCarthy Building Cos. Inc., (949) 851-8383 or www.mccarthy.com

The Highland file

Randy Highland

President, California region

McCarthy Building Cos. Inc.

Born: Lansing, Ill.

Education: Civil engineering degree from Bradley University, Peoria, Ill.

First job: I was a paperboy for a paper called the Village Press. I’ll never forget it, because it wasn’t a subscription paper — it went to everybody. So I had to deliver like 600 papers twice a week on my bike. Obviously, that teaches you that hard work pays off.

It also demonstrates something that I try to teach our younger people: Try to ace everything. Sometimes you’ll be asked to do things you don’t want to do, but even if you’re not passionate about it, it’s a short-term thing, and what is important is that you ace it. If you do that, you’ll be recognized earlier in your career as someone who has the ability to do a lot of different things successfully.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

I have two. One is the importance of communicating the strategic vision to your folks, getting the right people on the bus, give them the support to be successful and then stay out of their way. Another is to take a genuine interest in the development of your people. You are only as good as the folks around you.

What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?

If you don’t have honesty and integrity, people are going to see right through you. You also have to be a good communicator, a solid evaluator of talent and you need to be willing to put the interests of other ahead of your own.

What is your definition of success?

Achieving the goals that you set is my most basic definition of success. But it’s also watching your people grow and develop, and becoming successful themselves – and having a little bit of fun while you’re at it.

Published in Orange County
Sunday, 30 September 2012 20:01

Adrienne Lenhoff: To blog or not to blog?

Thinking about blogging? Below are the major topics I discuss with CEOs who are considering setting up a blog.

To blog or not to blog

Do you have the time to commit to blogging? A successful blog, whether CEO- or company-driven, takes a time commitment, not only to allocate to the writing of compelling and interesting topics but to also map out an ongoing strategy of what you want the blog to accomplish.

Consider whether or not you are going to actually enjoy blogging. If you end up considering the blog a chore or burden, you will ultimately abandon the blog.

Before beginning to blog, check out what other CEOs are writing about. There are a ton of lists of CEO blogs that can be accessed by doing a quick Google search, along with reviews of who’s doing it right or wrong — and why.

Done right, CEO blogs help establish a voice for the company, create dialogues with internal and external stakeholders, build awareness and educate about your industry and its trends and challenges and establish you as an intelligent and strategic thought leader.

Blogging frequency

Newspapers are typically published anywhere from daily to weekly. TV news is typically broadcast a minimum of three times daily. To attract readers and grow and retain repeat visitors, determine how fast you want to grow a meaningful readership base.

For maximum growth, many experts say you need to post multiple times daily. The reality is that as a CEO, if you or a ghostwriter is blogging more than one to three days per week, it is a stretch of your time and content commitment.

To ensure your blog doesn’t become an afterthought, map out your blogging topics and posting dates four to eight weeks in advance.

Blogging candor

Social media — whether in the form of a blog, discussion groups or pages on popular social platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest and others — is based on the premise of transparency and authenticity. Be timely and candid with your posts.

People might not always agree with what you have to say, so be ready to accept differing opinions. Remember that anything you post is out there for life. Even if later you decide to take the blog down, chances are that posts may have been archived and reposted somewhere else.

What to blog

Your blog shouldn’t be about what you sell. If you do the blog right, it will end up translating to new business. Write about what you know and the platforms and podiums for which you want to be known. Do you have compelling or thought-provoking insights on leadership, lessons learned, industry trends or other topics attractive to your target readership? Get to the point in your blog posts and save fluff and selling for your advertising and annual reports.

Blog posts don’t have to be novels or dissertations. As long as you are publishing content of interest to your readers, they can be short and sweet.

Consider posting some video entries and posting photos to go along with your written word to add variety.

Private or public blog

Are you planning an internal employee-focused blog, or are you planning a blog to be viewed by the world at large, which includes existing and prospective customers, your competitors and the media?

If your focus is to motivate and educate your employees, a private company blog would be most appropriate. Remember that anything you blog whether on a private, public or invitation-only blog has the potential to be republished and shared with others.

Adrienne Lenhoff is president and CEO of Buzzphoria Social Media Marketing and Online Reputation Management, 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.

Published in Detroit