There are some CHANGES you should know about….

Changes

CHANGE – And Now For Something Different

Change signifies life and the movement through time we all take part in. The dual focus I have taken within this blog has been about things I have a long-time and deep abiding interest in AND the phenomenon we loosely and broadly call “social media” and the business and more human aspects of it.

As of this past few weeks my more business-focused writing will take place on the blog that is part of my new Social Sapiens site. Some of those will be cross-posted here (and vice versa…) as they have aspects of my passion for being human online or how what happens online impacts us in real life. I intend to continue to write for this blog in broader areas that include many of the things I’ve written about before, but that business owners and entrepreneurs may or may not find as directly pertinent to their bottom lines (although my hope is that the work published here will be valuable and thought-provoking to whomever takes the time to read and consider it…).

Please join me on my other blog soon, and keep your eye here for more articles too!

 

FOCUS: Of Course You’re Reliable! RIGHT??

Are you Reliable?

Are you Reliable?

The far end of reliability is taking things for granted, right?

You hop in your car, perform some kind of ignition action, and you just EXPECT the car to start up so you can go do what you need to do. You head into the barbershop or salon you’ve been frequenting for awhile, sit down for some kind of hair-related operation (maybe with the same barber or stylist you’ve been seeing the whole time…) and EXPECT to look a certain way when you leave. You flip a light switch in your living room and you EXPECT a light of some sort to go on.

It’s when you perform these actions and what you expected DOESN’T happen that you become intensely aware of reliability.

Each of these examples involves an inanimate object, but the same expectations and certainty are what define reliability in relationships as you build trust. In his book on trust, Charles Feltman defines reliability as “the assessment that you meet the commitments you make, that you keep your promises.” You make commitments in two ways: in response to someone else’s request (or, if they’re higher up the food chain than you are, it might be a direction or command…) OR by making an offer to someone. When the other persons accepts your offer they usually consider it a commitment on your part.

Requests can be the problem. Crystal clear communication is crucial here, because if you don’t have all the information you need AND you walk away with the request, the requester will assume you’ve committed to do exactly what they asked…..only you won’t be clear on the specifics, so you chances of success are, shall we say, variable. Sadly, many requests are the only-slightly-less-generic version “go do stuff with that thing and get back to me whenever…”

YIKES!
Feltman writes that you can increase real reliability through what he calls The Cycle of Commitment – basic elements that make for clear, complete, and direct requests:

  • CUSTOMER – Who’s doing the asking here? Who’s the request actually FOR? Never assume anything that looks obvious, here. When someone says something like, “We need to do some research on this” you desperately need to know who the research is for, so you can get to specific expectations about the research and also know to whom you go for further clarification or if you have concerns.
  • PERFORMER – Who’s going to do the work? Is it you? Are you qualified? Do you have the resources (time, talent, funds…) to fulfill the request? Is that clear to you AND to the requester?
  • ACTION – Just what EXACTLY does the customer want you to do? Can you actually do it? What measurements for the action or deliverables will be the outcomes of this action?
  • TIMEFRAME – When does the customer want it to be completed….Oh, and ASAP is not at all helpful.  Get a solid date, since ASAP may mean by the end of the week to you and by the end of the day to the customer.
Make sure you have complete clarity on each of these elements and your chance at success AND demonstrated reliability are significantly enhanced.

So, that’s what it looks like when others are making requests of you, but how can you help others by making your requests more effective?

Be Direct. Direct requests have a much better chance of clarity than indirect requests. Many people often “soften” their requests (making them indirect in a way…) because they feel that direct requests are impolite in some way. Granted, different cultures have different standards and mores surrounding the acceptable kinds of language used in making direct requests, so you need to be aware of that factor, however, what appears to work best in what I will call “typical” European and North American cultures, what seems to work best include the phrases:
  • I ask that you…
  • I request
  • Will you (please)…
  • (Please) do this….
 Less direct request, which are less clear and therefore less direct, include the phrases:
  • I want or I need…
  • Why don’t you…
  • …needs to be done.
 None of these is a real request, but most understand the intention.

Ridiculously indirect requests, which are usually not even perceived as requests, can include phrases like:
  • My coffee cup is empty. (Secret request: Get me more coffee.)
  • The conference room is a disaster. (Secret request: Clean up the conference room.)
  • It’s almost eleven o’clock. (Secret request: Get me the printed slides for the 11:00 team meeting.)
See how helpful being very indirect ISN’T?!

Of course, how you respond to a request is just as important as getting the request right if you’re demonstrating reliability. Once the Customer makes the request, the Performer (you, in this case…) need to respond. Here are the possible responses:

  • COMMIT – “Yes, I’ll do it.” To them this means, “I will do exactly what you’ve asked me to do. Here is where real clarity about the request is critical. If the request is vague or missing information, it is up to you to ask for it.
  • DECLINE – “No, I can’t (or won’t) do it.” This let’s the customer that you aren’t available to do whatever she’s requesting…..she needs to find a different resource. Sadly, in the workplace, many times “No” isn’t an option….however, saying “Yes” is truly setting yourself up for failure, so consider how “No” could be framed.
  • COUNTEROFFER – “I can’t do that, but instead I can do…” This is one way “No” in the workplace could be framed. Create something that MIGHT work. A counteroffer opens a negotiation scenario between you and the customer. This should end in either a commitment or a declination. Leaving things hanging in midair is the same as failure.
  • COMMIT-TO-COMMIT – “I need to check on something (resources, time, etc.) before I can get you an answer. I’ll get back to you by…” You might need more information. Regardless of the reason, be sure to designate a time at which they WILL get a firm answer.
Lastly, there’s the old favorite, the Drive-By Request. Seen mostly in offices, this type of request is the most easily tossed-off and the most likely to fail.

I remember vividly chasing my manager down the hall pleading for more information and clarification as she receded into a conference room and shut the door. As many of these requests are, it was a “short-fuse” request and I could either wait for her to return to her office AND lose precious time, or get hot on the request and HOPE that I hit at least SOME of the actual target. I usually did the latter and paid for it painfully. So, You can live with the stress of unclear deliverables or the stress of waiting for clarification so that success will be more likely. If possible, get together with this customer and go over the Cycle of Commitment with her…..for example, ask her not to assume “Yes” to a Drive-By request. Instead, she should give you a chance to respond to the request and get all the particulars. Everyone involved is much more likely to be happy with the result.

So here are some ways build your reputation of reliability:

  • Make sure you can actually do what is asked of you BEFORE you respond to a request.
  • If the request is unclear, ask for clarification and any missing bits of information.
  • If you are offering to do something, be sure they understand what you CAN and CANNOT do.
  • Listen to people to determine if they are making EXTREMELY indirect requests of you. Are they just talking, or are they creating a framework of expectations that are clear to them and vague to you? Decide which it is, and respond.
Reliability is more than just consistency. I know people who consistently make questionable choices…..that’s not the kind of reliable I’m looking for!

FOCUS: If You Read One Article About Sincerity, Read This One!

Sincerity_Charles_Spurgeon

Charles Spurgeon and Sincerity

“Sincerity makes the very least person to be of more value than the most talented hypocrite.” – Charles Spurgeon.
Building and investing in relationships means building and investing in trust. In my last article, trust was defined as “choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions.” This holds true whether you working on building trust in yourself with others, or assessing whether others (loved ones, strangers, pets, organizations, businesses, politicians, whomever…) are worth risking the corresponding valuable thing (feelings, safety, economic well-being, future of the country, etc.)

Sincerity is a key component to building trust.

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AUGUST SAMPLER: 5 Informative and Imaginative Posts For You!

The end of summer is upon us. These diverse articles will tickle your imagination and start you thinking about what your autumn online activities might be!

10 Social Media Myths

10 Social Media Myths

 Many times I must slip into “Mythbusters” Mode when speaking to groups about what’s real, what’s imaginary, and what’s merely perceived when it comes to social media. These 10 myths are not comprehensive, but they do cover many of the common misperceptions. If you have more questions, let me know!

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Top 5 Timely and Valuable Articles for July

Wow, that was fast!

There was all the hub-bub for the Fourth of July, then the flurry of political conventions, and now we’re at the end of the month and looking back at some of the really helpful articles that have been published across the web…..and there have been a LOT of them! Here are the top 5 I’ve read and know you will find useful:

Deleting your Social Media Biz Page

Throw it all away….or not?

You’ve tried every which way with Facebook and you’ve decided that the only way out is to delete the page altogether. Is this really a good idea? Are there any other options? This article by Brooke B. Sellas of B Squared Media will help you consider, and reconsider, this conundrum.

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Still Waiting For That Expert “Top Ten” List?

Top Ten

Top 10!

It’s not all that hard to be different, because you are.

I made an observation recently in a meeting about the tension we have in each of us to both fit in and be utterly unique. This applies to individuals (this is America, after all…individuals are a huge, almost obsessive focus of our attention…) and to our businesses and relationships. As a professional, I explain this to colleagues and clients this way: When, for instance, there is someone out there looking for a real estate agent, you don’t want them to think, “I’m going to call XYZ Mondo Real Estate!” You want them to think, “I’m going to call Janine at XYZ Mondo Real Estate!” You really want to have that kind of relationship with your VACC (Visitors/Audience/Customers/Community). Even though you may be part of a much larger organization or collective, YOU want to stand out.

I have an identical challenge. I have inhabited the digital and social media environment for some time. I know from observation and experience that certain kinds of articles and posts get more “juice” than others, and humans like to categorize and organize information quickly. In his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, Daniel Kahneman describes the two systems with which our mind works. First, sensory inputs are fed into System 1. System 1 takes the inputs and makes initial sense out of them. System 1′ s analysis is then fed to System 2. System 2 is the primary component of what we consider consciousness. The processing by System 2 completes the analysis of information within your mind. System 1 works on the economy of effort, and System 2 is the sense-making system. System 1 is much more likely to be intuitive, make quick, easy judgment and classification, and use short-cuts. System 2 digs in, uses much more “fuel” and gets tired as a result (hence the brain’s desire to use System 1 as much as possible.). The book is a TERRIFIC read, by the way, and my explanation here is paltry when compared to the richness to be found there when considering how our minds work….

Getting back to my thread of purpose here, the untold numbers of articles, “listicles” and posts that may be found across the Internet may or may not help you in your profession, but our minds crave that kind of quick-and-easy, how-to, tips-and-tricks writing. I have published a few articles in that vein when I felt that it was the best way to present the information and that it would be most helpful in that way. The bulk of my writing, as you have probably noticed, does not follow that format. I prefer to cover topics referring to the cognitive work in which we, as entrepreneurs, professionals, business owners and intelligent citizens, need to engage in order to be intentional and successful in our endeavors. Once a month I do a post featuring a collection of the five best articles I read that month, but I try to ensure that works within my particular context and message….a large part of which is “Think, Consider and be Authentic” (there’s a reason I call my blog “Authentic Voice“….).

This is not necessarily the most popular way to approach a Business Blog. My focus is more about our humanity, our strengths and limitations, what is important in our lives and business, and taking to account that our work is to support our lives, and not the other way around.  Being human, and treating others as human, not only exposes you as authentic but allows the building of the kinds of relationships with those around you, and your VACC, that will result in the kind of success worth gaining.

I know that this kind of writing may not be to the taste of many people….like I said, our minds are wired to consider information in the most economical way possible, so using our System 2 is harder, and almost no one likes “harder.” My hope is that you find great value in what I write and that you derive good from it. If you find a single item from any of my articles that lifts your business, improves your relationships with your VACC, and allows you to work through a business or individual challenge, then I have succeeded.

There are likely other topics you would like to see more about. If so, leave a comment here or visit my Social Sapiens web site and tell me via the contact form…or even give me a call. We are truly reaching for the same kinds of things together.

Can You Attack the Same Problems with Novel Perspectives?

Strategizing

Strategizing

A hundred people at an event heard the word “Strategy” as part of a presentation I gave recently. Likely there were at least a hundred different interpretations and mental pictures that lit up for the attendees, some very related and others quite different from the others. Each was a product of their experience, education, beliefs and prejudices. This fact gets to the heart of effective, and ineffective, communication….always a challenge, but a well known one. As Valeria Maltoni has written, “There is more to semantics than meets the eye.”

Just like having a solid business plan, having a marketing strategy that supports and advances that plan is crucial to success. Many programs, classes, books, and online tools (along with tips and suggestions of varying degrees of helpfulness….) may help you assemble a business plan that will pass muster and get you going. To many entrepreneurs and business owners, though, marketing strategy embodies a different kind of geography in their thoughts and can have too many connotations to list. Nonetheless, here are two thoughts you need to consider, regardless of your particular definition:

  • Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare. – Japanese Proverb
  • However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.  – Attributed to Winston Churchill
What does a strategy get you? It can establish a specific direction, a foundational launch pad, for your business, focus your resources, generate a plan that is both effective and agile, and give you a reliable way to “gut check” your direction and efforts over time. Most business owners I have met are world-class technicians, but struggle with strategy. Even those who have had some education and experience in that area can suffer from being too close to their particular industry and business, thereby missing the “We don’t know what we don’t know” gaps in what they put together. What they need to do is get some expert help putting together (or reworking…) their marketing strategy….bring someone on board to view these problems in new and novel ways.

All of the books, articles, templates and other information inputs we encounter bang on about the importance of goals. When I initially think of goals, especially in the U.S., I am presented with the mental picture of a football goal post. This implies that once I Hit The Goal, I’m done. Of course, many of the resources I mentioned earlier encourage you set new goals, circling back and starting the circle of attainment over again. That just feels kind of jerky to me. In her article “On Strategizing” Maltoni quotes Scott Adams on why a system is more useful than goals:

“For our purposes, let’s agree that goals are a reach-it-and-be-done situation, whereas a system is something you do on a regular basis with a reasonable expectation that doing so will get you to a better place in your life. Systems have no deadlines, and on any given day you probably can’t tell if they’re moving you in the right direction. My proposition is that if you study people who succeed, you will see that most of them follow systems, not goals.”

I tell my clients that, once they build and initialize their strategy, implementation becomes a “horse they cannot get off of.” The majority of them are not happy with that message. As a business owner, if they’re involved in a project, they want it to be a project….that is, it is this lump of work that they (or the hired expert…) can complete and get off of my desk, so they can move onto the next project and get back to selling their products and services. When reminded of the importance of working ON the business as well as working IN the business, and how it strengthens the business, the strategizing process and system look much more valuable and key to growth. The dynamics of every business now require a consistent process and may require much more frequent course corrections than in the past (or in the past as we perceived it…). A sustainable business depends on making dynamic choices. Regular, if not constant, co-ordination of the current state of things with what is on hand to work them out is the new norm….fixed objectives are not viable because of the more frequent and unknowable disruptions our society and world endure daily.

So, the novel view: A Strategy feels like a “One-And-Done” item which, sadly and frequently, ends up in a filing cabinet. Strategizing is an action word. It’s something you do with some kind of frequency because of the need for it in your business. Again, many business owners are not expert strategizers, and that’s OK. As I mentioned, they are world-class technicians for their business’ focus. Do some research, get some recommendations, and start up a valuable relationship with an expert strategizer for your business.

What could be more valuable than establishing your business system of growth and success, and not just “hit the sales goal for this quarter”?

FOCUS: Surviving Trust and Lies

Trustworthiness Global Poll from Hubspot

Trustworthiness Global Poll from Hubspot

Who do you trust?  No really…..
During my regular scouring of quality content this week I found an article by Ben Jacobson at Hubspot entitled “How to Build Trust Online: 7 Little Ways to Create a Trustworthy Website“. While the bulk of the article was about the things you could do to enhance the trustworthiness of your web site, it started me thinking about the characteristics of trustworthiness as it applies to Small-to-Medium-Business (SMB) owners and their Visitors/Audience/Customers/Community (VACC).

Trust is about being authentic in building relationships. Because we don’t come face-to-face with our VACC online, it can be very easy to forget their humanity. It is so important to remember this regularly, because building trust with the person sitting next to you at the Chamber of Commerce lunch or your next door neighbor is not that different.  It takes time, investment, provides some kind of value to both parties and consists of a lot of active listening…..among other things!

Take a look at the infographic from Hubspot at the top of this article from their recent research on trustworthiness. Half of us trust our doctors and firefighters. Why is that? No definitive answers (and half of us don’t!), but consider the role of these two professions in our lives. They can have life-or-death interventions in emergency situations, and we HAVE to trust them in those times. What are you going to do? Doubtfully send the firefighter away while your home burns down?!

Scan a bit further down and some of these results are….well, surprising. We trust professional musicians more than journalists. We trust our baristas (…wow…) more than investment bankers or stockbrokers. Marketers and salespeople are way down there, and yet we trust either of them more than the people we literally choose to represent us in government.  YIKES….

Circling back to my earlier assertion about authenticity, part of trust will be based upon the perception of truth-telling. What I mean by that is, for example, comparing my dentist and my stockbroker: what is the likelihood that this person will be transparent to me when asked a question? Is this person committed to what’s good for me as well as what may benefit them (most of us are OK with a “fair exchange of value”…)? How likely am I to get a complete and clear answer from them concerning our relationship, what they really need and/or want from me to do what’s right, and active listening on their part (and mine) when discussing those things?  Apparently, most of us will trust our dentist more (although it looks like I might have better luck with a teacher….a pretty gratifying statistic, as an educator….).

Another article I read this week from Valerie Maltoni entitled “How Good Leaders Tell if Someone is Lying” discussed some unnerving data about how comfortable we are with lying and how frequently we do so in our everyday activities. Lying is so ingrained into our culture and behavior, and influenced by our being uncomfortable with the truth (and what others think of us…) that the incidence and unconscious aspect of it was surprising to me. While the article speaks to ways of helping us learn the truth as leaders, I believe it also correlates highly to real and perceived truth-telling in the role relationships mentioned earlier. There are certainly situations in the lives of every person who holds a role listed in the infographic where exposing the unvarnished truth to another person or persons becomes a matter of self-preservation (probably the highest likelihood of NOT telling the truth…), through embarrassment, self-incrimination (no one wants to get caught doing something immoral, illegal or fattening…) to various degrees of trying to look good in front of others. What drives a lie is a constant swirling mix in each person and situation, although there is a lot of analysis written to try to figure it out and nail it down, for our own good and the good of our society.

So if a basis of trust is authenticity, what does look like to your business?

Over-sharing is not authenticity, for sure. That can make the communication all about you and will likely scare the daylights out of your VACC. Instead, communicate like you converse. While you want to showcase your professionalism (so watch your spelling and grammar!), you don’t want your posts or other writing come sound like it was written by a robot or a “marketing chatbot”. Stay away from trite phrases, overused and vague words”, and pretty much anything that isn’t part of your unique voice. It remains my firm belief that one of the most valuable tools in your business’s online toolbox is your unique voice. If you’re not sure what that is or how to express it online, get some expert help and start building up your strengths.

Another strong factor is that of social proof. The Wikipedia definition is, “Social proof, also known as informational social influence, is a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation. This effect is prominent in ambiguous social situations where people are unable to determine the appropriate mode of behavior, and is driven by the assumption that surrounding people possess more knowledge about the situation.” What that means is that it plays a big role in trust. Online, it looks like testimonials, Likes, shares and comments, fewer stock photos and more photos of real people (preferably those in your organization or close network…), “Featured in…” logos and links, and so on. It is word-of-mouth, referral marketing, but in the context of what is doable and of value online. Studies have shown that people are more likely to consider and buy from businesses that others they know and trust. To the degree you can enlist the help of your VACC in this endeavor, you build the trust of others in you and what value you actually deliver.

One last thing you can do that will help build trust: make the relationship you’re working on about your VACC and not about you. Place their businesses, their lives and their stories at the center of your attention. As humans, we are attracted to stories…..really good stories, well told, with ourselves (or others LIKE ourselves..) at the center. Your VACC will be turned off by a constant stream of “here’s what my company is all about and the solutions we deliver and why you need to buy from us RIGHT NOW!” Instead, publish stories about empowerment where the VACC is the hero. Highlight one of your best customers in a story…..not only will they LOVE the free positive exposure for them and their business, but you may end up with an unpaid evangelist for your business.

If you’re looking at your pipeline and your existing VACC and want to deepen the level of trust with them, you’re already looking down the right path.

Need help with this? Let’s talk!

FOCUS: The Trouble with Your Audience

Audience Research and Stage Fright

Is this you in front of your audience?

Can there be stage fright when there’s no stage?

In a previous life, I was a professional musician. Thanks to my family and predisposition for wanting attention as a kid, I have been lucky when it comes to getting butterflies in my stomach before going before groups. A certain amount of “on edge” is good, since it helps me to focus (I have to be careful about amping up too hard, but that’s another story…). However, over the years I have met many more people for whom performing or speaking to a group, regardless of the size or safety of that group, is met with the same enthusiasm as a long overdue, serious discussion with their dentist (apologies to dentists everywhere….).

Do all the hard research. Discover where your audience is living online. Figure out what they’re passionate about and how you can provide them with some world-class, relevant, useful, valuable and entertaining stuff. Create and start executing on your plan.  Great!

So, now you’ve got a problem, although it’s a good one to have. You’ve set some expectations for these folks. You need to deliver…..consistently. Maybe not every single hit will be “out of the park”, but most of them need to be. Now the stage fright starts to set in, right? what if you’ve already delivered what you think is the best that you have to offer? What then?

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GO DEEP: Can You See Your Genuine Story?

Photographer against a sunset

Photographer against a sunset

You already know about the requirement of posting Top Flight, Relevant, and Shareable content. You may even be working to make sure that you attach a photo or graphic to your posts, since people are attracted to pictures and tend to gloss over text-only posts.

Photos are even more important than you think!

In a recent article, Mark Schaefer listed out 15 Amazing ways social media is changing the world and the one that jumps out at me is that we now “talk” through photos. A photo or stream of photos is becoming an important mode of communication at the expense of text and voice. This assists those who are not sure of their communication skills, and takes advantage of the complex processing our brain goes through to interpret pictures.

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