How women sabotage their communication in the workplace

In building a successful career, women must improve their communication skills

Forget the glass ceiling. The fact is women communicate differently than men and too often to their own detriment. They tend to speak up less, apologize more, downplay their achievements and use less-powerful body language, all of which impact their career success.

This seed is often planted in early childhood, when women learn to avoid visibility and recognition. According to linguist Deborah Tannen, men learn to display their abilities and knowledge and emphasize their status, while women learn to downplay ways they’re better than others in order to build rapport. As a result, women solicit and receive less recognition than men.

Not surprisingly, women tend to fall into the same patterns in the workplace. They’re reluctant to divulge their achievements, yet avoiding such discussion hinders their opportunities for recognition and advancement. So, how do women sabotage their communication in the workplace?

Communicating Indirectly

Women tend to have an indirect communication style, using softening devices such as hedges and questions to soften their words’ impact. This tactic, however, lacks a sense of assertiveness and authority. For example, saying, “If you get a chance, will you please draft and send me the meeting notes at your convenience?” is an entirely different statement than, “Please draft and send me the meeting notes tomorrow.” By being more direct, women typically find the results to be more aligned with their intent.

Downplaying Achievements

Women often have a fear of self-promotion. Part of the problem, according to Flynn Heath Holt Leadership, is that women are too modest — they believe accomplishments should speak for themselves. While men are more attuned to the power dynamics of a conversation, women focus more on the rapport elements. For example, to avoid seeming boastful, a woman may use the term “we” when referring to an achievement she actually performed on her own. By being specific and direct about their contributions, while giving appropriate credit to the team, women can ensure they receive the recognition they deserve.

Taking the One-Down Position

The traditional gender roles of business can relegate women to an impossible and perpetual one-down position, according to Tannen. A mismatch in how common rituals among women, such as exchanging compliments, play out can confuse exchanges in the workplace. For example, a woman might take the one-down position (“I don’t think my speech went well”) assuming the other person will recognize the ritualistic nature of the self-denigration and pull them back up (“Really? I thought you did great!”). Men, however, are more likely to respond with advice (“Well, you can always get a public speaking coach”). Similarly, women are socialized to downplay their certainties, while men are socialized to minimize their doubts. The problem for women is that the norms of business are based primarily on a male style of interaction. As such, a perception of indecision or uncertainty damages a woman’s credibility.

Apologizing More

Apologies are often used by women as a conversational ritual to establish rapport. However, apologies tend to be regarded differently by men, who focus more on the status implications of an apology. A 2010 study by psychologists Karina Schumann and Michael Ross found that women apologize more often than men and have a lower threshold for what warrants an apology. For instance, women tend to apologize for situations that aren’t their fault or are out of their control. But excessive apologizing leads to women being perceived as weak ,and as a result, limits their influence and opportunities. As such, women must learn to recognize when an apology is and is not necessary.

Using Less-Powerful Body Language

Men naturally take up more space and convey a sense of power. By using less-powerful body language — such as folded arms, indirect eye contact or a weak handshake — when interacting with others, women are putting themselves at a disadvantage by conveying a sense of inferiority. Instead, they should make a point to practice body language that conveys a sense of confidence and authority.

By recognizing these communication nuances and the role they place in hindering career advancement, women can better equip themselves for achieving success both in the workplace and in their personal lives.

Lindsay Musser Hough is a Principal at Deloitte Consulting LLP she is co-author of “A Woman’s Framework for a Successful Career and Life” and coaches women on career navigation, networking, work-life fit and personal branding.

James Hamerstone is an Assistant Professor of Management at Gettysburg College. He is co-author of “A Woman’s Framework for a Successful Career and Life” and a frequent speaker on the topic of women and work.

Communication starts at the top — leaders are both messenger and message

It’s not enough to just have a strong message. How a leader portrays that message is equally important.

An effective leadership message has the right words based on the right actions and is delivered with the right attitude.

For example, a leader might know the content backward and forward but send a message of surliness in the delivery of that message. Attitude of the messenger is a fundamental building block of messaging.

It’s essential in any stakeholder interaction that the messenger looks and acts like they believe in the message they are conveying. Even though interacting with a particular person (employee, customer, vendor or plant neighbor) may be the last thing you want to do, it’s important to psyche up for every conversation.

What do you really want to say?

If you could just say one thing in the meeting you’re about to have and you only had a few words to say it, what would that be? And, if you could say a second thing what would that be?

That’s half the battle. The other half is to identify the specific examples that drive home the point you need to make. A message that is not supported by examples is nothing more than empty words.

If the message is, “We absolutely have to improve quality,” then the example might be that “11 percent of what we shipped out the door the last quarter came back because of defects.”

If the message is, “We need to stop operating as silos,” then the example might be, “Effective today, we are creating five cross-functional teams to address key parts of our annual plan.” 

Everyone has to know the “elevator speech”

You might be surprised at how many leaders (including CEOs) cannot explain their organization in a clear and concise manner. They can’t connect the thoughts and the words. Every leader absolutely must be able to address these five topics:

  1. Who we are.
  2. What we do.
  3. What we stand for.
  4. Why we’re distinctive.
  5. Where we’re heading.

These five topics speak to the issue of being able to explain your company clearly and concisely.

There’s an additional cornerstone of good messaging. The best messengers are almost always upbeat. Be relentlessly positive — truthful, but always positive.

Remember, when you’re delivering a message, you are the company.  You are all that people see and hear. That’s something to always keep in mind.

Davis Young is principal of DY Author & Speaker LLC. To learn more about best practices in communication, visit www.dyauthorandspeaker.com.

Five steps for better customer communications you can take right now

Having been involved with technology most of my career, I was very interested in the evolution of the Apple Watch. Along with designing an amazing interface, Apple studied Swiss watch designers to find out what would make people want to strap something like this on their arm. What they gleaned from this study is that people like to have different options, not just one-size fits all.

Implementing personalization behind the design of the Apple Watch doesn’t seem that surprising. It’s actually the thought that most likely should be behind the business model of every company—deliver the experience each customer wants, and how they want it.

We all know the importance of creating communications that recognize customers as individuals and acknowledge their interactions. However, achieving this throughout the client relationship is becoming more challenging as customers now expect high levels of service through a multitude of channels.

And the challenge is not only inside the walls of the business. Customers can also be challenged with overly complex communications sent to them. The last thing a person wants to do is spend time calling customer service with questions regarding their latest invoice, statement, or health care document. And the last thing a company wants is a prospect or customer that doesn’t respond to a marketing offer or pay a bill on time because the transactional document wasn’t clear.

Just like Apple, being able to offer a personalized experience with a competitive edge requires having the capability to deliver the superior service that customers expect and the technology to make it possible. However, communicating with customers in a way that is meaningful to them is not as complicated as one might think. Below are five initial steps that every business can take right now toward enhancing customer communications—and it starts with the customer.

  1. Get the customer’s perspective. Each communication sent to your customers should be reviewed from their customer’s point-of-view prior to delivery. Too often companies send correspondence that doesn’t take into consideration the needs and expectations of individual customers — a perfect example where one size does not fit all. Take the time to gather some of your favorite customers together and ask them how they like to receive correspondence from your company — and how easily is the information you send understood. This activity is the first step in ensuring the creations of communications that are clear and provide information the way — and through the delivery channel — customers want.
  2. Find a technology platform that easily accomplishes your goals. The good news is affordable technology now exists that makes it possible for a company to easily link all its customers’ information together and provide customized communications that address specific customer interests. They are solutions that can be deployed either on premise or in the cloud and enable a company to communicate complex information in a relevant, consistent way through a customer’s channels of choice.
  3. Hire experts to help you enhance your correspondence. There are firms that specialize in the design and language of customer communications and can help facilitate customer focus groups, conduct surveys and build internal agreement on direction. Their accumulated knowledge and experience in this field will go a long way to avoid many common mistakes, offer solutions for saving costs in printing and mailing and create a correspondence that is clear to the recipient and easily deployed through all channels.
  4. Initiate a soft launch of the newly designed correspondence to a subset of your customer base. In spite of your best efforts to create the perfect template needed to correspond effectively, there will always be things not caught that can result in continued confusion. Invite “alpha testers” in different segments or regions of your customer base to view and provide feedback that you can implement before the actual launch of your new communications.
  5. Be prepared for questions. Change, whether it is good or bad, always results in some level of upset or confusion. Be prepared when introducing anything new for the call volume to increase, especially if they involve transactions of any type. However, this initial period will subside and soon you can expect happier customers due to better understanding and readability of the communications you are sending them.

Back to my fascination with Apple. In reality, Apple is not a software company or a hardware company. It’s an experience company. While we can’t all be Apple, at the least a positive customer experience should be the goal of every company.

With a laser focus on how we communicate in a way that addresses customer differences as much as possible, and the technology to make it happen, every business can be in the enviable positions of establishing long-term and profitable relationships with customers through the simple act of communicating with them on their own terms.

Sohail Malik is business product manager with Elixir Technologies. Visit www.elixir.com for more information.

How Timothy Yager led a strategy to get Revol Wireless winning again in the prepaid provider space

Timothy Yager, President and CEO, Revol Wireless

Timothy Yager, President and CEO, Revol Wireless

When Timothy Yager started at Revol Wireless in the fall of 2011, the company had been losing customers every month for an extended period of time. Late 2009 through the first half of 2011 were tough years for the organization — rumors of bankruptcy and new ownership were being floated around and the wireless communications provider was in desperate need of change.

“The company was having some financial issues,” says Yager, president and CEO. “So my arrival was a chance to hit the reset button for Revol, not only for our customers, but for our employees and say, ‘It’s a new day. The ownership change has happened and they’ve brought in new management and we’re going to focus the company on winning.’”

When Revol was first launched, it was a more than 300-employee, $100 million company. It had a reputation as being on the cutting edge of the prepaid wireless industry.

“Revol had a lot of success early on because it offered unlimited voice and those kinds of things on a prepaid platform,” Yager says. “They were the only provider in the footprint offering that type of service.”

In 2008 and 2009, other prepaid providers started moving in and the competitive forces grew. In a hypercompetitive industry such as wireless, Revol wasn’t as competitive as it should have been and it quickly began to fall behind.

“They needed some help getting the business turned around,” Yager says.

Here’s how Yager reinvigorated Revol Wireless with a strategy to get the prepaid provider winning again.

Evaluate the business

Prior to Yager’s arrival, Revol’s strategy and day-to-day operations were hindered by its capital structure, which brought about a slow-to-react atmosphere. Once the company was free from that structure, there were a lot of people who were looking for strong guidance, enthusiastic leadership and setting of general objectives to get the company back on track.

When Yager was first introduced to the team, it was a transformation in enthusiasm, direction and general motivation. Everybody suddenly had a place to go and a job to do. Yager brought a lot of that enthusiasm and direction to the table, and that’s exactly what people needed.

“Those first few days and weeks were really about analyzing the team that was here and where the strengths and weaknesses were,” Yager says. “The other thing was trying to change the focus and mindset of the company.”

Yager wanted to instill a strategy that said the company was in it to win it. It didn’t happen overnight, but employees started to recognize that there was a new philosophy.

“Revol had gotten mired in the minutia and a lot of times in companies that are struggling, people retreat from making decisions,” he says. “One of the biggest things I did was come in and start making decisions.”

Simple things like “yes and no” decisions went a long way toward starting to improve morale and helped employees realize there was a new sheriff in town. Yager represented new ownership, new direction and new thought.

“I think people started to feel empowered to be successful,” he says. “In a turnaround situation, one of the biggest things you’ve got to do is make decisions. So often companies get polarized with the fear of making the wrong decision that they make no decision, and I firmly believe that sometimes a wrong decision is better than no decision.

“If people are just constantly treading water and they don’t know whether they’re going up, down, right or left, it zaps the life out of a company.”

People respect leaders who come into a company and lay out a plan of attack, are upfront about the plan and who are forceful.

“I can remember that first meeting and saying, ‘I’m not going to do everything right and I’m not going to pretend to do everything right, but we’re going to make decisions, have short meetings, focus on what needs to get done and we’re going to get it done,’” Yager says. “In our wireless industry, where it is so competitive, we don’t have the luxury of taking six months to analyze everything.

“Sometimes you’ve got to look at the facts, make a decision and move on.”

Be decisive

Revol started 2012 losing customers every month, just as it had been the year prior, but with Yager on board the wheels were in motion for the company to move forward.

“When I came in, one of the first things I did was put some extra incentives out there to our dealers to sell some phones,” Yager says. “I was trying to buy some enthusiasm from our partners to get reinvigorated about selling the Revol brand.”

Another key decision Yager made was to get out in the field and visit a lot of the company’s owned doors and indirect doors to help get the message across that it’s a new Revol and a new day.

“Those were things that didn’t cost a lot of money, but helped move the business forward because it put a face with a name they were starting to see on emails,” he says. “It also gave them a chance to meet me and realize that I’m a relatively aggressive guy.

“When you’ve got five to eight competitors in a marketplace, you’ve got to be aggressive, and by people meeting me and realizing that I wasn’t just saying we were playing to win, they could tell by meeting with me that we want to win the game.”

One of the most crucial issues that Revol and Yager identified that needed to be changed was their network.

“Revol was still operating on an older technology called 1X and had slower data speeds,” he says. “In today’s world of smartphones, Androids and everything else, data is key.”

Shortly after Yager joined the company, the board approved a plan to upgrade the network to a 3G network.

“Our key initiative in 2012 was the company deploying 3G,” he says. “We launched that service in September last year and noticed an immediate uptick in our sales to customers as well as a stickiness of our existing customers.”

Move forward

Yager’s key to helping Revol right the ship was his ability to deliver on his decisions. He was careful not to promise too much.

“I came in and made a few simple promises — two or three key things and then I spent a year beating the drum on those things to do it,” Yager says. “Too often people come in and make a laundry list of 26 items they’re going to promise. No one can get that done in a reasonable timeframe and you lose credibility. Pick and choose what needs to get done and then deliver on it.”

In 2012 Revol was all about getting 3G launched. In 2013 the company is all about selling phones and keeping customers happy.

“When we launched our 3G network we saw an immediate turnaround to our gross sales and our net sales,” he says. “We have more than doubled our sales in January 2013 from January 2012. We’ve really seen that the successes are bearing out.”

Everyone at Revol had to put in the hard work to get the pieces in place, but now that that’s done, the company has seen noticeable improvement. To continue to see those sales and revenue numbers increase, the company has to keep a focus on growing its customers.

“I’m happy to report they are growing,” Yager says. “I’m excited about what we can achieve this year. Last year we had a hard time competing from a sales perspective because we hadn’t upgraded the network. This year we’ve got those key ground-level type things in place, so I’m looking forward to being able to execute and win.

“We have almost a singular focus in 2013, which is to grow the business. There’s really only one way to grow the business, and that’s to be successful in adding new subscribers and keeping existing subscribers.”

How to reach: Revol Wireless, (800) 738-6547 or www.revol.com

How Steve Bilt positioned Smile Brands to give patients the best dental care they can get

Steve Bilt, co-founder, president and CEO, Smile Brands Group Inc.

Steve Bilt, co-founder, president and CEO, Smile Brands Group Inc.

There are lots of ways to run a successful dental practice, which became one of the biggest challenges facing Steve Bilt and his leadership team as they contemplated the future of Smile Brands Group Inc.

“Defining a simple agenda that supports what your customer wants and needs, understanding who that customer is and then delivering that value has been a big challenge,” says Bilt, the $600 million company’s co-founder, president and CEO.

“I could look inside the 400 different units we support and say, ‘OK, you can find every model under the sun in some way, shape or form working. But if we’re going to continue to expand and refine our services and systems to better serve and support those units, there has to be more consistency in what we do.’”

It’s a question that any business with units spread across the country or around the world must answer for itself. Bilt says it’s only getting harder to come up with the right answer because the market and customer needs are constantly evolving.

“So what may have been a focused-enough strategy five years ago is a path to doom five years from now,” Bilt says.

But as the members of Bilt’s team began to wrap their minds around what needed to be done for the company’s 3,800 employees, more than 1,300 affiliated doctors and hygienists, and their patients, they kept coming back to one philosophical belief.

“There’s no one absolutely right answer, but the right answer is one answer,” Bilt says. “If you think that through, it’s not saying my way is better than your way. You don’t have to make that call. You just have to say, ‘Look. We have to decide on one way, which might be a hybrid of models with each of us bringing something to the table.

“‘But what we have to do as a team is decide on one way and pursue that one way and make sure our systems support that one way and our talk and our attitude and everything we do down to our DNA supports that one way of us adding value into the marketplace.’”

Provide the best service

The operational evolution at Smile Brands was a four-year process that included a number of different opinions, ideas and suggestions. But one of the core ideals that the group settled on was finding the best way to harness all the dental skill that existed in the organization in order for customers to receive the best care.

“We used to say let’s just create a cocoon of support around this doctor so they can just be a doctor, period,” Bilt says. “Don’t have any other level of resource for them other than the fact that they get all the freedom to be a doctor.”

The problem with that type of practice in today’s world is it wastes so much potential to share expertise and solve problems.

“Any peer group is going to have some people who excel at one thing and have a lot of experience,” Bilt says. “But if you’re out in the dental office by yourself staring at a problem you haven’t seen before, you say, ‘Oh boy, I’ll figure this out by trial and error,’ which is what you would do 15 years ago. Or you’d pick up the phone and say, ‘Here’s what I’m looking at. What do you think?’”

Bilt felt Smile Brands had the capability and thus needed to make it possible for dentists who encountered these unique problems to be able to connect with a colleague in real time and reach a solution in minutes.

“There’s this opportunity in this digital age to create an incredible peer group in a lonely profession,” Bilt says.

The ability to use technology to solve problems or even for training purposes was just something that was too good to pass up. And the best part, Bilt says, is that the integration of the right technology at Smile Brands would also reduce expenses.

“The customer has somebody who has access to stuff that is so much more powerful,” Bilt says. “That gives the doctor the ability to charge less, which is great for the consumer as well. The combination of doctors being able to be just dentists so that they can see more patients means they have an ability to charge less because they have higher volume, and all the technology helps them lever their cost structure down.”

Stay focused

You get a great idea for your business and everyone is energized to make it happen. It’s at this point where trouble can be lurking.

“We all love that rush of the initial front-end strategy planning and brainstorming session that we all do,” Bilt says. “What we don’t tend to love is the concept of change management and how do you get from here to there?”

It takes work and effort to make a change happen and some of that work can be painful. This can very easily lead to the drifting of attention away from one project that has suddenly become a lot of work to another project that seems so much more fun to talk about.

“You allow another shiny strategic initiative to start while the change management and implementation of the prior one is incomplete,” Bilt says. “You don’t go back and measure whether the first shiny initiative did what it was supposed to do and then you get distracted with the next one and forget about ever measuring the prior one. That cycle can go on for decades. That gets people into a lot of trouble.”

One key to avoiding stress and keeping your organization focused is to let people who have expertise in certain areas apply that skill to get the work done and isolate the flaws before full implementation.

Listen to their needs, their suggestions and their feedback on the best way to implement your new system.

“The docs are our thoroughbreds, and we’re the plow horses,” Bilt says. “If we’re doing it right, the plow horses plow and the thoroughbreds run. That’s really the point of the model. Let them be the thoroughbreds they are and let us plow the fields or build the track. That’s what we’re supposed to do.”

Define what you want to accomplish and get it into a plan that everyone understands and agrees to. Make sure they are aware that while there will be highs and lows along the way, the end goal will make it all worthwhile.

“My role is to help provide some vision for what we’re trying to do,” Bilt says. “What do we hope to accomplish? I try to provide support for people executing it so that they can do it properly to make sure the phases are properly led, staffed and resourced to have some level of establishing accountability for the results of each phase.”

Be a good communicator

Another major step in the transformation of Smile Brands was figuring out how to roll out the changes at each of the 400 locations. Who goes first? Who needs the upgrade most? Which locations will be the hardest to change?

Bilt says there’s no perfect way to roll out a big change. But he says communication is always the key to making it work.

“Most people are less attached to the outcome that they want in terms of where they are in the order of priority than they are in understanding why you made the decision you made,” Bilt says. “I love to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. That shows respect for me. Then I want to know how I’m impacted. Are you getting to me and if you are, when? What should I expect?”

Bilt poses a scenario in which somebody might feel strongly that his or her location should be the first to be upgraded because it is the company’s most profitable unit.

“You could say, ‘You know what, I agree with you,’” Bilt says. “‘That’s why you’re going last. You are the best market. You want to go first because you’re the best. I’m saying you go last because I’m not going to mess with you. I can’t afford it and it’s too risky.

“‘So I’m going to the worst market because if we screw it up, it costs us the least.’ We could have the exact same rationale and the exact opposite conclusion.”

Explain to people your thought process behind the implementation of change and they’ll be much more likely to be onboard with you.

“You have to do it multiple ways,” Bilt says. “I always say the rule of three when it comes to communication. If you have a new concept or an important concept, you better give it three passes to get it communicated because there is always a gap between what we think we’re saying and what people are hearing.

“It just takes multiple passes to get it right and allow them to process it and understand it.”

As Bilt looks back on the process, he says there are always things that could have been done better.

“Everything is a journey,” Bilt says. “So how did we go along that journey and how did we carry ourselves and how did we perform and how did we pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off when it got tougher than it was supposed to get? Those are the stories that make a career.”

How to reach: Smile Brands Group Inc., (714) 668-1300 or www.smilebrands.com

The Bilt File

Steve Bilt

co-founder, president and CEO

Smile Brands Group Inc.

Born: New York City

What was your very first job?

Delivering The Denver Post in the snow. Back then, it was a crazy job for a kid. You took capital risk. You had to buy your newspapers from the newspaper. You had to deliver them, collect your own money, then pay back your cost of the newspapers and you kept your margin. So if a grumpy old neighbor didn’t want to pay for the paper, it was the 13-year-old kid losing out and not the newspaper. So I learned a lot of lessons on that job.

Who has been your biggest influence?

I have to give a lot of early credit to my dad. He helped me when I was going to fall down too far in the newspaper job by helping me fold the Sunday paper or pull the cart through the snow when it was too deep to physically move it. He did help with that job to make sure I had some success or at least got that job done.

The other thing is he was really good about not knowing all the answers to the stuff he was dealing with in business. He’d actually bring up a lot of the questions he was facing at the dinner table and let me opine.

I got this notion that a business is a living, breathing thing that had to be managed and cared for and fed. It was very formative from that perspective to be able to hear and listen and participate in some of those conversations about what makes a business go and how does it go and how do you do it and how do you care for it?

Takeaways

Don’t try to do it all.

Communicate at every turn.

Finish the job.

How Lyndon Faulkner repositioned his team at Pelican Products for a new opportunity

Lyndon Faulkner, president and CEO, Pelican Products Inc.

Lyndon Faulkner, president and CEO, Pelican Products Inc.

As one company after another made dramatic spending cuts in response to the recession five years ago, Pelican Products Inc. found itself headed in the opposite direction.

It was December 2008 and Pelican had acquired its nearest competitor, Hardigg Industries, doubling its size to become the largest manufacturer of equipment protection cases in the world. Life was good at Pelican, but Lyndon Faulkner knew it couldn’t last.

“We always expected the growth rate to moderate because you couldn’t keep growing at those figures every year,” says Faulkner, the 1,300-employee company’s president and CEO.

The moderation began about two years later and unfolded more quickly than anyone had expected.

Government and military spending was a big part of Pelican’s business and a key factor in the company’s dramatic growth. It was obviously great news from a human perspective that the U.S. began to scale down its involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it was trouble for Pelican’s military business, which was shrinking fast.

“It was happening bigger than we ever thought it would and over a longer sustained period than we thought it would,” Faulkner says. “These were things that instead of being in control of them, we would have to react to them.”

Faulkner gathered his leadership team to come up with an appropriate response.

“Managing the implications of a big portion of business going into decline behind five years of growth was something we had to work on with management and leadership,” Faulkner says. “It’s everything associated with that. It’s the emotion and management of those dynamics within a business that affects everybody.”

The effort to diversify the business was to some degree already underway. But as the decline in military spending continued to accelerate, the urgency to achieve more diversity became that much greater.

Develop an action plan

Faulkner gathered his leadership team and opened a frank discussion to get everyone on the same page with both the problem and the options the company had to fix it.

“You have to get what’s happening to the company out on the table to its fullest so you’re able to recognize the impact of the problem,” Faulkner says.

“It was nobody’s fault. It wasn’t a bad plan or something that we were doing badly from an implementation perspective. It was something nobody could have done anything about.”

You can prepare and hold meetings and draw up strategic roadmaps every week. But the reality is at some point, you’re going to face a situation that you didn’t see coming.

“Things are going to happen,” Faulkner says. “Being in control of the things you can be is all fine, well and good. But you need to make sure you are doing all the preparation you can around the things in your control and make sure that you are reacting properly to things that are not in your control.”

When it comes to dealing with things not in your control, such as what had transpired at Pelican, you need to make sure your people view these issues as opportunities filled with potential rather than challenges fraught with risk.

“You just sit down and discuss the problem and you discuss the impact of the problem versus just burying your head in the sand about it,” Faulkner says. “Find the opportunity. I wouldn’t say give up on the business because it was still a very important business stream to us. But accelerate your thinking on how we could offset the decline in that business.”

The pursuit of new product segments was clearly the way to go.

But Faulkner needed to bring structure to the conversation so that his team didn’t stray from what Pelican does best. This can become a challenge for companies as you try to toe the line between branching out into new areas and reaching beyond your ability to do it well.

“We understand our protective cases are used in the transportation of things in the military and with first responders, things of that nature,” Faulkner says. “But then we look at things like medical devices. We realize in the medical device business, they are shipping products that could easily have been converted to Pelican-type products because we have a better product for moving their devices around and the transportation of them.”

Another potential market to expand into was consumer electronics. There was great opportunity, but also great risk for Pelican in this space.

“We were able to bring out a product for the iPhone 5 that has all the DNA of Pelican,” Faulkner says. “It carries protection, it looks good, it’s well-known, it’s well-made. You can drop a product with it, and it’s going to protect the product. That would be true to our brand and that’s what people expect from us.

“However, bringing out a protective case with a million shiny beads on it or something with ‘Hello Kitty’ would not be true to our brand and would not be what Pelican is all about. So in that scenario, that’s a classic way we drew the line.”

Pelican understood that its customers look to the company for protective products, not ones with lots of bling.

Lend a helping hand

The next step in the Pelican transition was the people side of the business. When you’ve been doing one thing and you’ve done it well, it’s not always easy to put a stop to it and tell those people that they now need to start doing something else.

“A lot of the people who were working on the military stuff did not have the skill set or muscles for the consumer market,” Faulkner says. “So what we’ve done there is we were able to move some of the military guys to the commercial space, industrial and things like that.

“Safety markets and first responders were not an issue for them. But as it relates to starting the new businesses up, we had to do that with a lot of new people or people who we brought on board from the business sector. They just speak a different language.”

It’s a clear illustration of why so much thought needs to go into making changes in your business. You can sit in your office and think about how easy it would be to start selling this widget when you’ve already been making that one. But it’s usually not as easy to make the change in actual practice.

“We’re finding the work we have to do for the consumer business — marketing, selling, product development, bringing products to market — it does have a very different clock speed and language than what Pelican has had before,” Faulkner says.

When you decide you want to expand your business in a certain direction, it’s your responsibility to get people the training they need.

“That’s part of your schedule,” Faulkner says. “I don’t think you’re busy and then you have to do that on top. Part of your busy schedule is to make sure you’re working with people so they are developing themselves. That’s just a basic fundamental of what I’m here to do and recognize if they don’t have the runway for that growth.”

At Pelican, this meant creating shadowing opportunities for people who wanted to be part of the new organization.

“So we had sales people, people who sold to the military extensively who have now gone out and shadowed people in the commercial space,” Faulkner says. “Most people have learned their trade by going to work with somebody in the other divisions.”

Strive to be the best

One of the lessons learned going forward was the need to hire individuals with more diverse skill sets and to make sure training is ongoing to develop more skills in the people already onboard at Pelican.

“If I’m a guy and all I’ve been doing my whole life is building products that can be dropped out of a helicopter and now I’m being told I’ve got to build great products, but they don’t have to be dropped out of helicopters anymore,” Faulkner says. “and if I make a case for that market that is made to be dropped out of a helicopter, it won’t sell.

“It’s something you have to instill and educate and teach because it’s not the way they’ve been working. It doesn’t mean that they can’t work that way. It just means they haven’t been asked to work that way.”

Regardless of what Pelican does, Faulkner says his expectation will never change. He wants it to be the best.

“People say what sort of company are you,” Faulkner says. “Are you a product company? Are you a sales company? Are you a marketing company? Are you a technology company? Are you driven more by operations, technology or finance? When we look at the different disciplines of the business, we charge our guys, the heads of each department, with being world class in everything.

“If we’re good in sales and product and marketing, we don’t expect our operations guy to just be there for the ride,” Faulkner says. “We expect our operations guy to have his own plans for being best in class in operations. What you’re doing is building the best in breed in everything. That’s what really floats the performance of the company.”

How to reach: Pelican Products Inc., (800) 473-5422 or www.pelican.com

The Faulkner File

Born: Newport, Wales. I was born at the Celtic Manor Resort, which is where they played the last Ryder Cup.

What was your very first job?

My very first jobs were a paper route and milk rounds. They used to deliver milk in those days in the U.K. and you would earn extra money by helping the milkman deliver milk. My first real job was coming out of school when I worked on construction in the summer months. It was making tea, doing errands and driving the dump truck around. But it was primarily making coffee and tea for everybody.

Who has been your biggest influence?

It starts at home with your parenting and your upbringing. I had parents and brothers and sisters who were very aspirational in trying to do better and do more. I had parents that instilled hard work in us all. None of us were frightened of going out and working hard and making things happen for ourselves instead of hoping things would happen.

How does competitiveness in sports compare to business?

In team sports, you have to have everybody pulling together and you can’t have a lot of people pulling in the wrong direction or in a different direction. That goes with attitude as well. You want everybody of a similar attitude and a similar style working with each other to help each other out. That’s a style I like to see instilled in a business. That breeds success.

Takeaways:

Focus on the opportunity.

Give people the right tools.

Always strive to be the best.

Rodger Roeser: Get out of my social media sandbox

It’s a new marketing communications argument — which “discipline” should manage the new medium of social media? Should Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn be handled by PR, advertising, HR or something else?

Agencies are springing up that specialize in social media management and any manner of blogging, tweeting, Facebooking and the like. It’s become a verb. We need more friends, more likes, more this and more that.

“Who” is managing your social media is far less important than “what” is being managed. You are trying to engage, to enlighten, to share. You are not trying to sell, although long term and softly that will be the ultimate reward. Social media, by its very definition, is controlled by those who are engaged and those who are sharing their thoughts and their views on any manner of issues or challenges we face as consumers or as businesses. So why the fight as to who “controls” it? Money and power.

The debate brews

Certainly, advertising agencies believe they should manage the discipline because it must be creative and part of your overall marketing mix of clever hooks and fresh ideas. However, your PR agency believes it should manage this as it is the master of sharing a story and providing clarity to your consumers in the written word. Both will invoice you fairly for their time, effort and strategy, and will provide good ideas and fresh thinking to drive traffic.

What you truly need is insight, and the confidence and ability to trust in yourself or that so-called “expert.” Who really “controls” social media? If you’re smart — it’s the 3Cs — clients, customers and constituents. You control your social media, whether you’re hiring a firm or you attempt to manage it in-house.

A good agency, regardless of being PR or advertising, will advise you to craft a solid brand and brand communications strategy, then utilize the virtually unlimited universe of social media and its many outlets to share that brand and tell your story. From there you engage your publics to some desired form of action or activity.

Manage the infinite?

Managing social media is, by my definition, attempting to manage the infinite. Rather, you must discuss what your end goal is and how that particular social media tactic will fit into, support and drive content from your overall marketing communications objective. It is not the answer; it is an option.

Should your business, regardless of what that business is, “do” social media? Of course! The question and the strategy is why are we doing social media and what exactly are we trying to achieve. How does it support our branding initiatives? How does it help our sales team? How does it make our candidate or our issue more accessible?

Social media allows you to fulfill the most basic and sacred tenant of public relations — the ability to have open, ongoing and one-to-one communications directly with your publics in an attempt to foster a shared conversation and engagement.

You want to hear from an unhappy customer so you can fix it, not spin it. You want to offer ideas and specials and promotions to those that value it most. You want your business to be the best it can be so you value the ideas, conversations and suggestions of your target publics and foster that.

Stop worrying about who manages your social media. Most likely it’s you. It is your choice to do or not do, to engage or let others talk about your business without your response. Social media happens regardless of whether you want it to or not. If you lack a social media strategy, it’s time to get a social media plan of action.

 

Rodger Roeser is owner, president and CEO of The Eisen Agency. He is also the national chairman of The Public Relations Agency Owner’s Association and works with other PR firms across the country to assist in their operations and profitability. He can be reached at [email protected]

G.A. Taylor Fernley – Why your people need to be reminded of your core values at every turn

G.A. Taylor Fernley

G.A. Taylor Fernley, president and CEO, Fernley & Fernley

It is all well and good to have organizational values. That’s the easy part. How do you keep them alive? How do you position them to be a living, breathing part of your company’s DNA? That’s the hard part.

Organizational values can provide a moral foundation for taking the high ground in tough times or when temptation comes knocking. They reflect and reinforce organizational culture. Put another way, they are the anchors of your business.

Many organizational leaders spend countless hours coming up with an explicit set of values that reflect the beliefs and aspirations of their company. Often, they are inspirational, professing integrity, leadership, teamwork and collaboration. When asked about organizational values, it is often determined that the executives are enthusiastic and supportive of them. Why? Because they were instrumental in their creation.

Although there may be a lot of energy put into selecting the perfect set of values for your organization, don’t get trapped into thinking that once they are communicated everyone will remember and abide by them. Simply put, they won’t. Mistakes and misinterpretations will be made, but as an organizational leader, you can increase your chances of having your values front and center by adopting four basic principles:

Principle No. 1: Keep them memorable

Long drawn-out lists containing complex descriptions are a thing of the past.

In today’s world, people don’t read and are even less likely to remember. Make the list brief, two to four values max, and make the descriptions simple so they are memorable, aim for six to 10 words max. Print them on business cards and post them around the office in strategic locations. Keep them front and center in the eyes of your associates.

Principle No. 2: Lead by example

Make sure that you personally keep your organizational values in the forefront of the decisions and actions you take. Refer to them liberally at company meetings and acknowledge your associates who have “lived” them.

Don’t be reluctant to ask for regular feedback on whether your firm is in proper alignment.

Principle No. 3: Build your values into every message

At the expense of being redundant, when you are speaking with others in your organization, refer to those values to make your case. Give examples of how you’ve observed employees embodying those values. Tell stories about how they are being followed in other areas of your company.

Connect the dots for employees about how following the values make your workplace and your company better.

Principle No. 4: Observe when values aren’t being followed

Provide timely feedback to those who have strayed and remind them of the specific value(s) they’ve strayed from. Let them know what impact this has on you, others and the organization.

Keep your organizational values alive and in the forefront of each and every one of your actions. Make sure you are modeling them and expect the same from your associates by infusing them into your communication, recognition and feedback process. And then, sit back and relax. Watch them bring energy and commitment to your organization’s culture and future success.

G.A. Taylor Fernley is president and CEO of Fernley & Fernley, an association management company providing professional management services to non-profit organizations since 1886. He can be reached at [email protected], or for more information, visit www.fernley.com.

Joe Takash: Four tips on how to have a productive confrontation with your boss

Joe Takash, president, Victory Consulting

Joe Takash, president, Victory Consulting

Art was 58 when he realized that his company might have passed him by. He had been with the same employer for 35 years. He still loved the business, enjoyed the young up-and-comers and genuinely respected his boss. Yet, he did not feel like as valuable of a contributor to his company as he was in years past, and it bothered him.

Finally, Art’s friend Peter asked him what bothered him most. Art replied, “The thought of being viewed as obsolete. It scares me from a career standpoint and hurts me personally. I don’t know how to say this to my boss.”

Peter’s response was spot-on — “You just said it, but I’m not your boss.”

Perhaps the deepest need in corporate America that even senior executives and CEOs experience on a regular basis is a toolbox for being productively confrontational. Most employees don’t know how to manage their boss and often work from a place of fear of resentment.

Many managers will not confront administrative assistants who are short and even rude to clients. Talk about underachievement! What does this do for individual performance, organizational results and professional reputations?

The following are important steps necessary for confronting others in a manner that creates stronger relationships and increased productivity:

Change the name and your attitude

Too many people look at difficult conversations as negative and counterproductive; hence, they avoid and dance around them as often as possible.

Instead of difficult conversation, use productive confrontation. The words you choose create the path you use. Knowing that the intended result is to help, not hurt, may make it easier to find the courage to step-up and approach others. Frame it appropriately.

Put it on paper

Before the meeting, prepare a bullet-point structure (not script!) in writing. Be sure that it allows you to communicate your viewpoint in a logical order that is easy to understand and follow for the other person.

Clarifying your points with concrete examples builds momentum and makes a stronger case for being heard with respect.

Be as clinical as possible

Whether you’re intimidated, angered, hurt or resentful, try to consider the impact of how both parties will feel and focus on how everyone can benefit. This will allow you to assume a third-party, objective perspective and maturely manage the confrontation.

Agree on a resolution

At the conclusion of the meeting, discuss what the next step should be for follow-up. This agreement serves as a strategic road map for a stronger working relationship going forward.

Art did approach his boss honestly with concerns and after his boss listened attentively, Art learned that he was not only valued more than he thought, but he was in line for a promotion. Remember, even bosses can’t fix what they can’t see.

Not all corporate stories have a fairy tale ending, but think of how many people wallow in negative emotions from holding back in confronting others. The key is to prepare, be confident and behave with courage.

Joe Takash is the president of Victory Consulting, a Chicago-based sales and leadership development firm. He is a keynote speaker for executive retreats, sales conferences and management meetings and has appeared in many national media outlets. His firm, Victory Consulting, coaches executive teams and individual leaders with a client list that includes American Express, MIT, Prudential and Turner Construction.  Learn more at www.victoryconsulting.com

 

Jay Colker – How to engage from the inside out to avoid retiring in place

Jay Colker, core faculty, Adler School of Professional Psychology

Jay Colker, core faculty, Adler School of Professional Psychology

Read this quote and think about whether it sounds like something you have heard before:

“Stay under the radar. Do enough just to get by. Don’t make waves. Get the most out of your benefits such as sick time. Do only what you’re asked to do. If you are asked for more, do just enough to meet minimum expectations.”

This is an employee who is completely disengaged. Instead of leaving the organization, which might be a blessing, this employee will “retire in place.”

Employees who retire in place substantially impact the bottom line, as well as the satisfaction of other employees. One bad apple, if not addressed, can spoil the bunch.

Stand up

There are ways to counter such an attitude, however, and even turn such an employee into a highly engaged, stellar performer. The research on engagement highlights a number of actions that can help employees feel more connected and motivated, and avoid “retiring in place.”

These include the following:

  • Aligning employees with the goals and mission of the organization
  • Regularly sharing information from top leaders, and being sincerely interested in employees
  • Providing opportunities for employees to improve skills and abilities
  • Offering regular feedback on performance
  • Allowing input into decision-making
  • Encouraging innovative thinking, and an acceptance of risk
  • Building and sustaining a positive relationship between the manager and each employee and within teams.

Consulting firm Towers Watson, formerly Towers Perrin, has highlighted a number of characteristics demonstrated by engaging leaders. The first is high emotional intelligence.

Daniel Goleman, in his book “Emotional Intelligence,” noted that individuals with high emotional intelligence are skilled in understanding, interpreting and responding to emotions. They effectively deal with social and emotional conflicts and appropriately manage emotions to achieve best outcomes.

Additional characteristics of engaging leaders include great communication skills, a coaching/involvement orientation, the ability to inspire others and demonstrating authenticity and humility.

Use more than one approach

At the same time, employing engaging actions alone is not sufficient. Leaders cannot approach all employees in a cookie-cutter manner and assume that they all will respond in the same ways, or even perceive leadership actions as having the same intent and meaning.

The key to more effective engagement is looking from the inside out — how and what employees perceive is their reality. What is encouraging to one person is discouraging to another.

One person’s recognition is another person’s discomfort. What is motivating to one is demotivating to another.

The role of perception

The reality is that the value of an employee’s relationship with a leader, a manager, peers, and the organization itself is based on many factors. The most critical is the role of perception.

Organizations can do a much better job of managing perceptions. In his article “Coming to Grips with Organisational Values,” Vijay Padaki noted that a consistent set of practices over time are the organization’s values. Interrelated values that are internally consistent are the organization’s value system, he wrote.

If leaders at all levels take a sincere interest in employees and understand their perceptions, these leaders can do a better job of connecting personal needs and values with those of the organization. Leaders often have best intentions, but employees can be left feeling not heard and unappreciated.

Without understanding the context of what employees believe and feel, leaders run the risk of misaligning and discouraging employees. Without leaders consistently demonstrating their values, employees will perceive a different reality than possibly intended.

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. He also maintains a human capital consulting practice and may be reached at [email protected] or at (312) 213-3421.