Sunday, October 26, 2014

New Books For My Fall Reading List

These are the new books I've added to my fall reading list!

  • The 27 Challenges Managers Face - Bruce Tulgan
  • The Front-Line Leader - Chris Van Gorder
  • Taking The Stage - Judith Humphrey
  • Predicting Success - David Lahey
  • Stacking The Deck - David S. Pottruck

Friday, October 24, 2014

Are You Spinning Your Employees In Circles?

A manager who can't make a decision or who can't make a timely decision will frustrate his/her employees. Equally bad, a lack of decision will impede the progress of the manager's team.

Some managers make endless requests for data as a way to postpone their having to make a decision. Employees end up spinning in circles, slicing and dicing the information far beyond what is truly needed for the manager to make a decision.

Some managers are simply afraid to make a decision in fear of making a "wrong" decision. These managers don't necessarily request needless data, but simply just never decide.

Successful managers gather the data from their employees, make any truly necessary follow-up requests (probing beyond what their employee may have researched/gathered on their own), and then make their decision...knowing that in virtually all cases most decisions are not black and white "right or "wrong," but are the best decisions made at that time for the current circumstances.

Good managers know that most decisions can be tweaked along the way as their teams carry out their tasks impacted by the decision.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Compliance And Risk Management In Today's Business World

Dave Yarin is a compliance and risk management consultant to senior management and directors of large and mid-size companies, and author of the soon to be published book, Fair Warning – The Information Within

Yarin follows and researches news stories regarding ignored warnings that lead to bad business outcomes, along with the social psychology theories that explain why these warnings were ignored.

This week, Yarin shared with me insights into compliance and risk management, his forthcoming book, and leadership.

Q and A with Dave Yarin

1. How does a compliance and risk management consultant help senior managers of large and mid-size companies?

Yarin:  There are two approaches; ideally proactive but also reactive when necessary. Proactively, a compliance and risk management consultant helps companies to set up world-class compliance programs that help to mitigate risk by ensuring oversight of the compliance function, educating employees, creating and updating written standards, investigating reports of non-compliance, and implementing auditing/monitoring activities. 

When an instance of non-compliance has already occurred, a compliance and risk management consultant can help the company to investigate the matter and assess liability, advise on appropriate responses and mitigation steps, and work with the company and legal counsel if necessary in litigation support and/or in communicating with third-parties such as the government who may be investigating the matter. 

Compliance and risk management consultants can also work with companies to assist with due diligence in acquisition transactions.

2. What is the typical engagement length of time with a company?

Yarin:  They vary. I've worked with companies on short-term engagements that may last a few months - for example in helping to strengthen a compliance program, or for several years when there is a government investigation or when serving as a monitor or advisor pursuant to a government settlement agreement.

3. After your engagement is done, who typically at a company is the person to act or lead action in response to a warning?

Yarin:  Typically, the Chief Compliance Officer, often in connection with legal counsel, is the person who leads action in response to a warning. Given this part of the Chief Compliance Officer's role, it's critical that his or her function be independent of other functions within the company (e.g. finance) so that he or she can investigate and respond to the warning thoroughly and appropriately.

4. What is an example of an ignored warning that led to a bad business outcome?

Yarin:  Let's take the recent experience with General Motors as an example. They had multiple warnings within the company for several years that they were using a defective switch within cars that could lead to terrible outcomes, yet they didn't act until it was too late, particularly for the individuals who died or were injured in car accidents resulting from the faulty switch. If you review the chronology and details of the matter, it becomes clear that the reasons for the lack of response to these warnings goes well beyond merely financial pressures.

5. What is the most prevalent reason warnings are ignored?

Yarin:  The most prevalent reason that warnings are ignored is that unfortunately, it's part of human nature that we're "hard-wired" to either ignore warnings or not act on them. Social psychology offers multiple reasons and support for why this is the case. Look at the social psychology called "the normalization of deviance." It basically tells us that if we engage in an activity or allow an activity to continue that we know may have a bad outcome, yet initially one doesn't occur, we're lulled into a false sense of security on this activity and will stop listening to warnings about it. It's at the heart of many of the most newsworthy disasters and bad outcomes that have occurred in the business world and elsewhere. It's almost as though we're "playing with the odds" until something bad happens. 

Another tendency is for individuals and companies to over-focus on one item (e.g. sales, growth) at the expense of other areas (e.g. safety, quality). The good news is that if companies recognize this aspect of human nature, they can incorporate activities into their business that can help to both listen to and respond appropriately to credible warnings.

6. What prompted you to write your forthcoming book, Fair Warning?

Yarin:  I remember back when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986, and being horrified not only by the loss of the 7 astronauts, but also to learn that in the months that followed, an engineer at Morton Thiokol was warning his supervisors and NASA about the very problem that caused the shuttle to explode, yet nobody acted upon his warnings, despite his credentials and data that he presented. That story always stuck with me, but I'd see the same thing happen again and again; the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme, the explosion of BP's oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico...and I searched for a reason why fair warnings continued to be ignored. Eventually, I came upon the social psychology theories that provided a deeper explanation to why this occurs.

7. Why does one not hear much about your type of consulting?

Yarin:  I believe companies have woken up to compliance and risk management consulting. Historically, businesses may have mistakenly viewed it as a cost with no ROI, but in today's highly-regulated world, and with the risks to companies constantly growing and changing, there is an increased appreciation of what good compliance consulting can offer to help a company.

8. Do you provide on-site speaking at companies interested in compliance and risk management?

Yarin:  Yes

9. When will your book be published?

Yarin:  I hope to have it published within the coming year.

Yarin lives near Boston, Massachusetts with his fiancĂ©e and two children. For more information please visit his website and follow Dave on Twitter.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Beyond The Job Description -- Interview With The Book's Author

Q and A with Jesse Sostrin
author of
Beyond the Job Description

Question:  What does the title of your book mean and what’s the truth about what employers really expect that is never written in job descriptions? 

Sostrin:  Beyond the Job Description represents two fundamental truths about the world of work. First, whether we realize it or not, our standard job descriptions only tell part of the story about the demands we face at work. In addition to the tasks and activities we have to perform, there are countless other challenges to getting great work done.  

The second meaning has to do with the need for all of us to stand out in a crowded job market and do what is necessary to stay relevant in careers that keep getting longer. To do that you have to go "beyond the job description" and identify unique ways to contribute increasing value to your team and organization. 

Question:  How can employees discover the true demands or “double reality” of their job? 

Sostrin:  Far too many people discover their “job-within-the-job” through trial and error over time (and they end up with the scars to prove it). With focused attention, the framework of six core questions I developed to expose the “double reality” of work can be used to look within your known responsibilities and pinpoint the vital purpose, value added contributions, and hidden challenges that – if addressed – can set you apart. 

Question:  What is the “hidden curriculum at work”? 

Sostrin:  A hidden curriculum exists anytime there are two simultaneous challenges where one is visible, clear, and understood and the other is concealed, ambiguous, and undefined.
For example, professional athletes master the fundamentals of their sport and excel at the highest level on the court or field of play . . . but they still have to learn how to deal with wealth, fame, and the many other challenges and distractions that come with professional sports.

And, when children enter school, they have to master the educational standards in their curriculum... but, reading, math, and science lessons do not prepare them for the peer pressure, social dynamics, and developmental challenges of youth that they inevitably face. In the same way, there is a hidden curriculum of work that we all encounter. 

Question:  What is the “Mutual Agenda” and why is it so rare for employees and managers to share one? 

Sostrin:  Individuals and organizations are stuck with each other. The reality is that you cannot have organizations without employees, and the role of individual employees is to align their contributions with the intended purpose of the organization. To succeed in the world of work you have to operate within the mutual agenda where these two factors intersect.

The mutual agenda defines this powerful space where individual goals and desired contributions overlap with organizational objectives. Individual contributors, managers, and senior leaders can discover the mutual agenda where their own career aspirations and hopes for a productive working life you seek can align with the specific needs of the organization. 

Question:  How can you pinpoint the “Mutual Agenda” and align your skills, interests, knowledge and passion to the goals of your team or organization?  

Sostrin:  Employees can identify the mutual agenda by first understanding what matters to them (it’s harder than it sounds). Discovering your “job-within-the-job” gives you a clear picture of your vital purpose and value added contributions.

Once you translate these into goals for the working life you want, you’re ready to bring your personal priorities to the table. Next, it is a matter of understanding the stated goals of the team and organization, then deeply engaging in ways that allow you to anticipate how those priorities may evolve.

Adjusting and continuously aligning your own hopes, passions, and talent with the evolving needs of organization can make you future-proof and give you a path toward a long, successful career.  

Question:  How can managers help employees achieve this? 

Sostrin:  Managers can help define the mutual agenda for their direct reports by investing time and attention into knowing what they care about. When there is a sever mismatch between individual contributions and team needs, the good employees will usually jump ship to find a better alignment, while the struggling employees may quit (and forget to tell you).
Specifically, when a manager helps an employee to carefully define and embrace their purpose, contributions, and capabilities, they deliver a supportive relationship that is itself the first step toward the mutual agenda.
Question:  As companies face change and disruption, how can managers keep their people aligned around the right goals and priorities as they shift? 

Sostrin:  To keep people aligned around priorities and key actions, Managers can use a straightforward framework to track three interrelated elements in real time:
  • Context
  • Goals
  • Gaps
Both employees and managers must know their context in order to understand the internal and external conditions, including how those emerging trends shift priorities, challenges, and opportunities. Managers must then define and communicate clear goals that are consistent with the context and that can withstand the pressure from shrinking resources and competing commitments to undermine top priorities.

And finally, managers must spot and work through the gaps between goals and obstacles. Integrating the CG2 sequence helps managers understand and influence their circumstances in periods of heightened ambiguity and intense change. 

Question:  How can the manager and employee relationship be improved and better aligned? 

Sostrin:  The number one reason that a person leaves a job is because of the poor quality of the relationship with their boss. This exemplifies the critical role managers play in reducing turnover and increasing the learning and performance of their team members.
Three things that every manager can do to improve the relationship they have with their team members include 

  • Paying attention to the hidden curriculum of work that employees encounter. Managers can use a common language to name the true challenges of work and create a culture of expectations, accountability, and support for team members to examine their “job-within-the-job” and to navigate its challenges.
  • Shift performance management practices to match the double realities of work. This means reorienting the way managers set and measure performance goals around the needs of the hidden curriculum of work®, and not just based on the standard job description (i.e. setting benchmarks, annual performance appraisals, compensation schedules, etc.).
  • Commit time, energy, and resources to the growth of their people. Managers must engage others to reveal their hidden curriculum of work® and empower them to meet its demands. Without active and consistent engagement from managers – including real investments of time and energy – there is no reasonable expectation that employees will sustain their own engagement over time.
Question:  How can managers help employees discover their “job-within-the job” and achieve the working life they want?  

Sostrin:  Once you acknowledge and fully embrace the hidden curriculum of work, you have no choice but to manage differently. The commitments and practices managers can apply include five key drivers:
  1. Establishing a supportive, trust-based relationship that balances the individual’s knowledge and skills with the true demands of their job and the goals of the organization.
  2. Creating expectations early and reinforcing them often.
  3. Making the hidden side of work discussible and investing time and resources into others’ processes of discovering their “job-within-the-job."
  4. Staying present enough to track their ongoing efforts and progress.
  5. Communicating early and often when expectations and accountabilities are unmet. 

Question:  What is the role of communication between manager and employee when it comes to navigating the hidden curriculum of work? 

Sostrin:  I have always believed that the driving purpose of a manager is to help their people understand and transform the everyday challenges that prevent them from doing their best work (and then get out of the way). With that definition, some of the commitments and practices managers can use to achieve it include:
  • Establish a supportive, trust-based relationship that places the quality of the employee’s working life at the center of importance.
  • Accurately assess the individual’s knowledge, skills, and abilities in relation to the requirements of meeting the true demands of their “job-within-the-job."
  • Work with the employee to define the mutually beneficial agenda, where their vital purpose, value-added contributions, and career aspirations align with the needs of the team and the overall goals of the organization.
  • Create expectations about communication, collaboration, and performance early and reinforce them often. 

Question:  What was the inspiration for your book? 

Sostrin:  I bumped up against the hidden side of work from day one, but it was my first management position where I confronted the “job-within-the-job” in full force. As a new manager, I found that for every moment of insight and success there were two challenges around every corner. The progress made on one front was just as quickly eroded by another unseen obstacle elsewhere.

Constant change from the world outside, combined with the unpredictability of people and circumstances inside the organization, kept me chasing the ghosts of issues that affected my team’s performance, my own contributions to the organization, and the bottom line. Most of the resources available to me, often in the form of workshops and training programs, failed to get to the root cause of these issues. 

For over a decade now I have been a cartographer of sorts, painstakingly mapping the ecology and terrain of work’s greatest challenges and helping leaders and their organizations to work differently in response to it. I put all of these insights and practices together so that others could decode their greatest challenges at work, and Beyond the Job Description is the result.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Leadership Blindspots

Leadership Blindspots: How Successful Leaders Identify and Overcome the Weaknesses That Matter (1118646290) cover image

"A blindspot is an unrecognized weakness or threat that has the potential to undermine a leader's success," explains author Robert Bruce Shaw.  "Blindspots are tenacious and can reappear, causing problems over a leader's entire career."

These blindspots can cause great harm when leaders fail to see what is right in front of them. Compounding the challenge says Shaw is that:
  • "People who are smart and self-assured are often very skillful at justifying their thinking and behavior--to the point of being in denial about their weaknesses and the threats they face.
  • One of the burdens of moving up is that the complexity of the decisions leaders face increases at the same time as their ability to reveal their vulnerabilities decreases.
Blindspots are both the result of individual traits and situational factors.  According to Shaw, there are 20 common leadership blindspots that fall under these four categories:
  • Self
  • Team
  • Company
  • Markets
Fortunately, Shaw's book, Leadership Blindspots:  How Successful Leaders Identify and Overcome the Weaknesses That Matter, teaches readers how to identify and overcome their blindspots.  He explains in detail why blindspots matter. And, then he teaches how to surface and overcome those blindspots, using examples, worksheets and other tools.

More specifically, the book shows leaders how to solicit feedback from those with insight about you.

And, it provides a list of actions for helping a leader build an all-important network of trusted advisors.

Robert Bruce Shaw

Among the 20 common leadership blindspots are:
  • Valuing being right over being effective
  • Failing to balance the what with the how
  • Trusting the wrong individuals
  • Failing to capture hearts and minds
  • Underestimating your competitors
To help you identify your blindspots before and as you read Shaw's book, take this online leadership blindspots survey self-assessment.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Grossman Offers Dozens Of eBooks About Leadership And Communication

When I seek advice about leadership and how to effectively communicate in the workplace,  I often turn to David Grossman.

Grossman helps leaders drive productivity and get the results they want through authentic and courageous leadership and communication.

Grossman’s work solves three business problems:
  • Minimize the downside of change where business could be stopped, slowed or interrupted
  • Maximize the upside of change to accelerate business results
  • Turn employee confusion, skepticism or apathy into engagement
Grossman is both a teacher and student of effective leadership and communication. He is one of America’s foremost authorities on communication and leadership inside organizations, and a sought-after advisor to Fortune 500 leaders.

He also offers for free via his website a host of ebooks about primarily leadership and communication.

“One of the most popular eBooks is the Top 10 Barriers Communicators Face: How to Get Your Leader on Board with Internal Communication, which came out this year," says Grossman. "I think it resonates with readers because it helps them (communicators) identify and overcome common barriers to effective communication that leaders construct in a practical and effective way that helps them get the results they seek," he adds.

Grossman offers more than 20 free ebooks and downloadable resources, including these:

Seven Ways To Delight Your Customers

If you want to delight your customers, then the book by Steve Curtin, Delight Your Customers -- 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary, is a must-read for you and your employees.

The book explains the seven ways for you and your employees to demonstrate exceptional customer service:
  1. Express genuine interest
  2. Offer sincere and specific compliments
  3. Share unique knowledge
  4. Convey authentic enthusiasm
  5. Use appropriate humor
  6. Provide pleasant surprises
  7. Deliver service heroics
"Exceptional customer service typically costs no more to deliver than poor customer service," explains Curtin.

For example:
  • How much does it cost to express genuine interest in customers or to anticipate their needs?
  • Does it cost more to display a sense of urgency or to pay attention to detail?
  • Do you pay your employees more to smile, to make eye contact, or to add energy to their voices?
Curtin reminds readers that:
  • Customers don't establish relationships with businesses.  They establish relationships with the people inside the businesses.
And, here are some of Curtin's recommended best ways to express genuine interest in your customers:
  • Offer personalized greetings
  • Use names
  • Practice assertive hospitality
  • Ask questions
  • Cosset
  • Anticipate needs
  • Remember preferences
  • Pay attention to detail
  • Display a sense of urgency
  • Solicit feedback
  • Offer personal farewells
  • Follow up on service
And, finally, when soliciting feedback, do so without marginalizing your customers' suggestions or sounding defensive.

Friday, October 17, 2014

How To Put People First At Your Workplace

According to a survey as reported in John Baldoni’s book, Lead with Purpose, more than 80 percent of those surveyed say that leaders can best demonstrate that they truly do put people first by:
  • Delivering intrinsic awards (comp time, bonuses, etc.) 
  • Offering developmental opportunities 
  • Providing timely recognition 
  • Promoting from within

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Characteristics Of A Best Boss

In their book, Rapid Realignment, authors George Labovitz and Victor Rosansky, reveal the most common responses from thousands of managers and workers when they were asked to think of the best boss they ever had, and then answer the question:
  • "What did that person do to qualify as your best boss?"
And, those most common responses were:
  • My best boss listened!
  • My best boss backed me up.
  • My best boss trusted me and respected me.
  • My best boss gave me feedback.
  • My best boss left me alone.
What else would you add to this list?  What did your best boss do?

October 16 is Boss's Day in the United States.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Seven Facts Of Business Life And The Five Levels Of Business Success

The fact is, if you are a budding entrepreneur, future business owner, or relatively “green” business owner, you need to read, The Facts of Business Life, by Bill McBean.

Because, in his book, McBean, a successful businessman with four decades of ownership experience, explains the essential Seven Facts of Business Life and the Five Levels of Business Success.

Being a successful business owner means more than knowing one’s industry and understanding the basic concepts of leadership, management, or motivation, according to McBean.
  • It means being able to master many areas of business, and knowing how each of these areas relates to and build on each other. It also means understanding how those areas change as a business goes through its inevitable life cycle, and how the owner must be prepared to change with them.
Fortunately, The Facts of Business Life provides readers with the means of achieving the kind of long-term understanding that is the key to true and lasting success. McBean explains what needs to be done to create success, how to do it, and when to do it.

As you’ll read in the book, the Seven Facts of Business Life are:
  1. If you don’t lead, no one will follow
  2. If you don’t control it, you don’t own it
  3. Protecting your company’s assets should be your first priority
  4. Planning is about preparing for the future, not predicting it
  5. If you don’t market your business, you won’t have one
  6. The marketplace is a war zone
  7. You don’t just have to know the business you’re in; you have to know business
And, the Five Levels of Business Success are:
  1. Ownership and Opportunity
  2. Creating your company’s DNA
  3. From survival to success
  4. Maintaining success
  5. Moving on when it’s time to go

Another gem in the book is McBean’s discussion about the essential five characteristics of great leaders. Those include:
  • Being flexible
  • Communicating
  • Having courage, tenacity and patience
  • Having a combination of humility and presence
  • Being responsible
Need another reason to read the book? Hear this:
  • “The sad truth is that less than 30 percent of businesses last more than 10 years, and most failures occur in the first few years of operations,” said McBean.
McBean is a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, and Mount Royal College in Calgary, Alberta.

He began his career with General Motors of Canada Limited in 1976. After holding several management positions with GM, in 1981 he accepted a position with the Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank) as manager of a sizeable commercial lending portfolio.

Two years later, however, GM approached him about opening a new automobile dealership in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, and, along with Scotiabank, offered to lend him the required capital. Accepting the offer, Bill began his first business as a “start-up” the following year, beginning with ten employees.

Over the next decade, McBean grew the Yorkton business, which became one of the most profitable GM dealerships in the region.

Following his success in Canada, McBean was presented with an even greater opportunity in the United States. With his friend Bill Sterett, he purchased an underperforming automotive dealership in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1992.

Applying his business expertise, McBean turned the company around, increased sales revenue fivefold, and raised the employee count from 70 to almost 300; he also rearranged the local marketplace by acquiring a large portion of the market share from his competitors and by buying weakened competitors over a period of 11 years. During that period, the manufacturers he represented continually awarded him and his company honors for sales, service, customer retention, and financial excellence. Because of his company’s financial success and industry reputation, it attracted the interest of several major public companies and in 2003 was purchased by AutoNation, the world’s largest automotive retailer.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

John Jantsch Flips The Usual Sales Approach On Its Head

Author John Jantsch flips the usual sales approach on its head in his  book, Duct Tape Selling: Think Like a Marketer, Sell Like a Superstar.

Today's sales superstars must attract, teach, convert, serve, and measure while developing a personal brand that stands for trust and expertise.

According to Jantsch:
  • Listening is the new prospecting.
  • Educating is the new presenting.
  • Insight is the new information sharing.
  • Story building is the new nurturing.
  • Value is the new closing.

Jantsch shared with me these additional insights about his book and selling:

1.  What will it take for a salesperson who has been selling the "old school" way for 15-plus years to master the new "Duct Tape Selling" style?
  • Jantsch:  Confidence that it's worth the work - Duct Tape Selling takes commitment and hard work to pay off, but that's what it takes to become a superstar salesperson.
2.  What is the meaning of the book title, Duct Tape Selling?
  • Jantsch:  It borrows from the metaphor so often attached to all things Duct Tape - simple, effective and practical - that's what salespeople have to be today to deliver value.
3.  What college courses should a student take to prepare for this new way of selling?
  • Jantsch:  Anything they can get their hands on in the vein of entrepreneurship - I'm afraid many marketing degrees are still jam packed with old school, consumer packaged brands thinking.
4.  What are some of the best ways for salespeople to network with other successful salespeople in their city?
  • Jantsch:  Don't fall into the trap of attending events or joining groups with other salespeople - go where your customers hang out and find ways to be useful there.
Jantsch is also a big proponent of perceptive listening.  "Perceptive listening is when you hear and interpret the words as they're said, but also consider what the person isn't saying, what she might really be thinking, and how she is acting as she speaks,:" explains Jantsch.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Lessons Learned From Small Businesses

If you’re like me, you love road trips.  And, if you’re like most everyone, you appreciate hearing a good story.  

Just imagine how intriguing it would be to hear stories about six road trips.  Six road trips across the U.S. that produced dozens of stories about what local small businesses on Main Street’s across America do that can inspire big businesses on Wall Street – or Madison Avenue megabrands, or enterprise of any size -- in today’s economy.

Well, that’s exactly what you get when you read the new bookRoadside MBA:  Back Road Lessons for Entrepreneurs, Executives and Small Business Owners.
  •  You’ll read those dozens of stories captured by three information-hungry economist/b-school professor buddies who traveled Memphis, TN to Omaha, NE; Charlotte, NC to Atlanta, GA; Chicago, IL to Cincinnati, OH, and so on.

Applying economic reasoning to the strategic questions that challenge any business, the authors reveal what real American small businesses can teach us beyond the bounds of most MBA programs or curriculum. 

The stories are grouped by lesson topics:
  • Scaling a Business
  • Establishing Barriers to Entry
  • Product Differentiation
  • Setting Prices
  • Managing Your Brand
  • Negotiating Effectively
  • Hiring
  • Delegation
  • Battling the Big Boys
  • Strategy is a Continuous Process

Mike Mazzeo

Coauthor, Mike Mazzeo shared with me more insights about his book, and the journeys he shared with coauthors Paul Oyer and Scott Schaefer:

1.  What surprises about small business did you learn during your road trips?

Mazzeo:  We were continually surprised by the creative strategies that small businesses had developed to compete better in their markets.  While most of the owners did not have formal business education, they had internalized many of the key frameworks that we teach to MBA students and made them work for their companies.  

A great example was Panhandle Converter Recycling, a company that we met with in Dothan, AL. The business extracts the precious metals from junked catalytic converters -- going into our interview we expected a straightforward story about buying, processing and reselling.  Instead, we learned that catalytic converters come in all shapes and sizes and it is impossible to know -- without cracking it open -- how valuable the precious metals inside might be.  Panhandle developed its strategy around dealing with this uncertainty.  They kept detailed information on the contents of converters they had processed in the past and turned this data into a system to ensure they never paid junk dealers more than the value of the metals that they could extract.  We never expected that data analysis would be the key to success for such a company.

2.  What are the two or three most common themes you heard during your road trips?

Mazzeo:  One recurring theme was about growth and scaling.  For the small businesses we met with, growth was a nearly universal aspiration.  But growth was easier for some businesses and more difficult for others.  In large part, prospects for growth were rooted in the fundamental economics of the business.  We met with a company in North Carolina -- Steele Rubber Products, Inc. -- that produces replacement rubber parts used by collectors when they are restoring classic automobiles.  These rubber pieces are produced from a mold, so once the company has fashioned the mold (which can be quite expensive) the costs for making each part for sale is quite low.  This is the kind of business that is set up well for growth, because you don't have to keep making investments and incurring expenses to sell more.

Another theme for small business was how to think about strategy when competing against larger companies -- we called it "Battling the Big Boys."  These larger companies have built in advantages like scale and marketing efficiencies; it is crucial for a small business to build its strategy around things the "Big Boys" aren't able to do well.  In Spartanburg, SC we met with Sims Bouwmeester who started a small PR/marketing company whose competitors were large advertising agencies.  These agencies typically worked on big, multi-year retainers and weren't flexible enough to do smaller jobs.  Taking advantage of this weakness, Sims built her business around being "project-based" and was willing to take on even the smallest of contracts.  In her first year in business, she had served over 100 different clients -- many of which wound up giving her more work later.

3.  Do you think you missed some valuable stories by having not traveled to Texas and all but one place in California?

Mazzeo:  There were great stories to be found all over the country, so we certainly missed some in the parts of the U.S. we haven't made it to yet.  But, we aren't done taking road trips -- in May of this year, we visited businesses in California and Arizona.  Texas is definitely on the list for future trips, as well as North Dakota.

4.  What lessons did you learn about people during your road trips?

Mazzeo:  One interesting thing that we learned was the successful small business owners are invariably great story tellers.  This isn't surprising, when you think about it -- to be successful, you need to tell the story of your business to customers, to bankers, to employees, just to name a few. We loved listening to the stories about how these businesses got started and how their owners met the challenges that they faced.

5.  What lessons did you believe were more prevalent during your trips that would have not existed or been less existent prior to the economy's downturn in 2008/2009?

Mazzeo:  As we traveled around the country, we saw that different businesses were touched by the downturn very differently.  The downturn certainly made the business owners more careful but it didn't dampen their optimism.  And, you need that kind of optimism to run a small business successfully because it is an uncertain endeavor even in the best of economic times.  

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Debbie Laskey On Social Media, Brand Audits And Leadership Books

Debbie Laskey has 15 years of marketing experience and an MBA Degree. She developed her marketing expertise while working in the high-tech industry, the Consumer Marketing Department at Disneyland Paris in France, the non-profit arena, and the insurance industry. 

Her expertise includes brand marketing, social media, employee engagement, leadership development, and customer experience marketing.

This week, Debbie was kind enough to answer the following three questions about social media and marketing:

Question 1. What are the biggest mistakes business leaders make when it comes to social media for their company?

Laskey:  There are three key mistakes business leaders make regarding social media.

First, there is the "what's social media" mistake. Some leaders think it's something their kids do or Mark Zuckerberg did when he dropped out of college. However, social media can be an effective marketing tool when it is designed and implemented in alignment with an overall marketing plan which includes traditional marketing (brand marketing, collateral, advertising, PR, digital and mobile marketing, etc.). Social media cannot be effective if it is done in a vacuum.

Second, there is the "what's the voice" mistake. Some leaders think their social media strategy can be created and implemented by an intern or a relative. While a business would not trust its finances to an intern, it should only trust its social media to a full-time member of its marketing team. Social media must align with all other forms of marketing, PR, and promotions - and it must use the same "look-and-feel" and "brand voice." Therefore, take the time to make sure there is brand consistency among all social platforms (logos, avatars, business "about" descriptions, etc.).

Third, there is the "social media ROI" mistake. Some leaders think they can measure their social media initiatives with a dollar amount. However, as with many marketing initiatives, there is no ROI the day after a campaign launches. Therefore, determine the objectives of a social media campaign before starting. For example, if your business creates a Facebook page for a special event, plan the content calendar as well as the number of likes, the number of comments, and the number of shares that would be considered successful.

Question 2.  Marketing options are greater than ever before.  Despite all the choices, what are a couple basics business leaders should implement no matter what?

Laskey:  All business leaders should implement a regular brand audit. In today's competitive business climate, industry leaders shift, and as a result, new opportunities may be evident tomorrow that weren't evident today. Every 12-18 months, analyze your brand strengths and weaknesses as well as those of your competitors.

All business leaders should conduct brainstorming sessions with key representatives from all departments within the company. This type of teamwork is critical for positive cultures and morale.

Question 3.  What book do you recommend business leaders read to help them navigate today's world of marketing?

Laskey:  My favorite business book was something I read in grad school in 1995, and it remains my favorite to this day. Jim Collins,' Built To Last, addresses the question, "Why are some companies able to achieve and sustain success through multiple generations of leaders, across decades, and even centuries?" Here are some comments from Jim Collins about the book.

Laskey has been honored by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles City Council and been recognized as a "Woman Making a Difference" by the Los Angeles Business Journal.

Since 2002, she has served as a judge for the Web Marketing Association’s annual web award competition and has also been recognized as one of the "Top 100 Branding Experts" to follow on Twitter. Currently, Laskey is the Director of Marketing and Communications for the Exceptional Children's Foundation in Los Angeles (

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Leadership Lessons From TouchPoints

Some of my favorite parts of Douglas Conant's and Mette Norgaards' 2011 book, TouchPoints, are these lessons for leaders:
  • You need to have dual vision. You need to be able to address the most pressing need and do it in a way that makes your employees more capable and ready to take on the next issue.
  • No leader can succeed by being only tough-minded or only tender-hearted. The perfect balance is to be both tough-minded on the issue and tender-hearted with people.
  • Leading with heart doesn't mean you always decide in favor of the individual. It just means that when you need to make a tough-minded decision, you are acutely aware of how it will affect the people involved.
  • The people who are the most committed to mastering their craft are often the most humble. That is because, instead of comparing themselves to others, they are moved by an inner vision of what they might achieve.
  • Ask often, "How can I help?" Doing so at the start of an interaction opens up space for people to voice their ideas, concerns and viewpoints.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

How To Build Customer Relationships Through Phone Conversations

Every business leader should periodically call his/her company to observe how their customers are being treated by their employees -- because, all too often a phone conversation becomes a customer turnoff rather than a relationship builder.

So, here's a checklist that is primarily from sales expert and author Paul R. Timm that you can use to evaluate your organization's customer service via the phone:

1. Was the phone answered after two rings or less?
2. Did the employee use an appropriate greeting?
3. Did the employee identify himself or herself by name?
4. Was the employee's tone of voice pleasant and businesslike?
5. Was the call handled efficiently without being abrupt?
6. Did the employee provide accurate information or refer the caller to an appropriate person?
7. Did the employee reflect the best image for the company?
8. Did the employee thank the caller?
9. Did the employee make prudent use of putting the caller on hold if it was necessary to do so?
10. Did the employee use friendly and tactful words?
11. Did the employee accuse the customer of anything?
12. Did the employee fumble when transferring the call if making a transfer was necessary?
13. Was there distracting background noise on the employee's end during the call?