Hire for Nice

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Hire for Nice

Hire for Nice

If the heart of all really valuable business is referrals, then “Hire for Nice” makes sense.  Consider it the foundational policy for any company wishing to survive in the blizzard of noise that is the competition for customers and clients.

I ran across an article this week on NBC News called “One CEO’s Secret to Success: Always Lead with Kindness” that triggered a distinct memory of this for me…

My family moved here a couple of years ago and the search for new services to replace the old began (you know: doctor, grocery store, barber, pizza delivery, pet sitter…). It had been awhile since my last haircut, so I looked up the local spots using Yelp and found Bon Cheveux with good reviews. I called and got an appointment for the next day (this would not happen where I lived before…if you didn’t book at least a few days out, you were out of luck). I arrived a few minutes early and was met by the friendly concierge at the front desk. As a newbie, she asked that I fill out a very short form for customer information. I then sat down with a cold glass of water for about 3 minutes before Tarra came out. I was ushered into the actual salon area and commenced the actual haircut. Since I was new, I had to try a describe what I was looking for, which isn’t easy for me (“Four weeks shorter than it is now” isn’t really much help…). Tarra was very patient and we worked through the process collaboratively, which was good. We also engaged in the usual chit-chat conversation, but it wasn’t forced and was enjoyable, especially when it would lapse for a few minutes into silence…..I’ve been to other barbers who are VERY uncomfortable with silence.

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OPEN UP: Do You Short Circuit A Valuable Conversation?

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Angry Meme

Wrong Kind of Meme

Like many Americans, I have begun paying a lot closer attention to “the news” online in the run-up to the election this week. I have chosen to visit The Guardian (US. Edition) as a primary news site, since they are globally known as a credible news source and run articles ASIDE FROM ELECTION NEWS, which is a bit of a breather from US – based news organizations. Even their view of our election offers some deeper articles about the tides that effect both sides and all constituencies here, which is refreshing and gets me to think….always a good thing!

They published an article this past week entitled “Meme warfare: how the power of mass replication has poisoned the US election.”  In this article Douglas Haddow writes a bit about the evolution of memes on the Internet and how they have evolved. He notes that they can be fun, stupid and/or infuriating. What they are NOT is helpful in developing debate or conversation. Here is his definition of memes (so we can all know what exactly we’re thinking about here…):

“Memes – from the Greek for “that which is imitated” – were once defined as being self-replicating units of culture. This included anything that could be learned, remembered and spread from one brain to another, such as the concept of god all the way to the popular Budweiser “ Wazzup” catchphrase.
 
Through the Internet  the idea moved from the conceptual sphere into the viscous reality of data and pixels, transforming it into something more traceable: a segment of media that is copied rapidly. This includes images, text, video, a combination of all three and sometimes real-world actions.”

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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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FOCUS: Are They Twist Ties or Trust Ties?

Trust

Trust is more than a High Five!

Building trust is vital and required.
If you aren’t found to be trustworthy, that pretty much puts the end to having the kind of impact you want to have, whether personally or in business. While the same goes for those around you, you are the only one that can work on your own trustworthiness.

This week I read another mind-provoking article by Valeria Maltoni entitled “What Do We Do About Trust?”.  This led me to get a copy of a book mentioned in the article, The Thin Book of Trust by Charles Feltman, which I devoured in a couple hours. If you have a couple of hours (plane trip, hot afternoon on the patio, etc.) I recommend this. It is relatively short, very well written and focused on the topic in a way that you can absorb and use.

I am utterly fascinated by all of the relationship, network, cognitive and behavioral topics that surround us as human beings in our society and how they influence and guide our businesses and personal lives. Whether psychological studies into why we act the ways we do as they apply and “infect” other areas of study (like Behavioral Economics…how this influences how we actually make choices, both as business owners and consumers, and being aware of the WHY of these actions), to the kinds of thought and work that can make your business more effective, including marketing, VACC (Visitors/Audience/Customers/Community) and content research/strategies, along with the kinds of cognitive bias that keep us from being as successful and happy (…frankly…) as we can be. Much like the world of physics crawling toward The Grand Unifying Theory of Everything (not to be confused with the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything…), I feel there are a lot of overlaps and supporting science and studies that lead to A Grand Unifying Theory of How We Actually Think and Get Along.

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GO DEEP: Strong & Weak Ties – Your Genuine Challenge?

Strong Ties and Weak Ties

Strong Ties and Weak Ties

Once upon a time, there were “Strong Ties” and “Weak Ties” in business.

Strong Ties existed between you and your best customers. You interacted frequently and knew each other well. The bulk of your business was from and through these Strong Ties. It took some work. Maintaining them required a big investment of time and effort, but the benefits of business, the sharing of high-quality information, and the transfer of complex or “hidden” industry knowledge was well worth the effort.

Weak Ties were…well…weak. However, over time there was a declining ROI of time and effort in a network based on mostly Strong Ties. Weak Ties exposed you (and the Ties) to a broader span of knowledge, expertise and opportunity. Exposure to more diverse information and resources has been shown to drive higher rates of radical innovation, and be especially useful when you have a tough problem to crack.

How things stand today?
It’s complicated…
First, there are roughly 2 billion social media users in the world.

Billion…..with a B.

Second, according to McKinsey Global Institute, at least 70% of companies are using some form of social media. Online search and social media sites have increasingly become the primary, if not sole, source of information for individuals and businesses alike.  These have largely displaced traditional sources such as printed company literature, the Yellow Pages and business directories. Organizations no longer have control over what is disseminated about them. As one publication states, “most of what is said about the company will not be said by the company” (AT&T, 2011). In a recent global consumer survey by BrightLocal, 88% of respondents said that they place greater trust in other people’s online recommendations for products and services than in other sources. The significance of this is reflected in the growing popularity of consumer websites based almost entirely on personal reviews, such as TripAdvisor and Yelp, and the dominant role of consumer reviews on leading e-commerce sites such as Amazon, eBay, and Facebook Business pages.

OK, so Weak Ties are becoming more important, Strong Ties are evolving, and you have a business to run. What does this mean that you do?

  • You need to develop new relationship-based associations with your customers and other social media participants (All Ties…), especially to build and maintain brand loyalty and to manage or at least influence what is being said about you online. Instead of just disseminating information about the organization and its products, you need to actively participate in the discussions on social media sites and develop other methods to engage Internet users. Most people deal with information overload when surfing the Web or visiting social media sites, so you need to design and implement content and initiatives that are interesting, entertaining or thought-provoking, to capture and hold their attention.
  • You will also be judged by the way in which you respond to online customer feedback, especially negative comments or complaints. Your reputation is on the line here, since everyone on the Internet can observe the interaction and judge accordingly. You need to develop and maintain not just a brand but an online personality which is likeable and well-respected and with which individuals can develop a real sense of familiarity and emotional connection. It is now often argued that ROI on marketing should now be measured not in traditional sales terms, but in terms of “return on engagement”. What is important is a measurement of engagement or emotional investment in the brand, such as active participation on the company website or favorable references to it in blog posts. These not only translate into longer-term individual loyalty but also help to attract additional followers who may become fans and customers.
  • Key in both the B2B and the B2C social media contexts is the ability to identify and build relationships with “key influencers” in the business network or target market. Jay Baer writes about this topic regularly with keen insight. This observation returns us neatly to the concept of social networks and the concept of weak and strong ties. In order to achieve the desired business objectives, there is a need to plumb the mass of online users and identify those likely to have the greatest impact. Within social networks, for example, there are usually key individuals or “trusted experts” who have established a strong reputation in their field. You need to make positive connections with a few key influencers who will transmit positive information about you. This is likely to be much more effective a strategy, and much less resource-intensive, than direct relationship-building with large numbers of people in the target market. Similarly, when a business partner or expert is needed, it can be invaluable to locate and build a relationship first with a “critical enabler” or “trusted advisor” who can offer not only detailed knowledge of the relevant industry niche and its participants, but who also knows the key decision makers personally and can help arrange an introduction or advise on the best approach to them. The old saying, “It’s not what you know but who you know” applies.
  • Curtis & Lewis (2010) argue that in order to develop effective relationships with key enablers or other stakeholders, the principle of progressive reciprocity should be followed, in which something of value is offered to the other party at the outset, not just after an offer of help is secured. You might benefit from developing and maintaining strong ties with key influencers or critical enablers who are likely to provide ongoing value and benefits in return. At the same time, you should maintain a wider network of weak ties with other stakeholders who hold relevant knowledge, expertise or market influence. One strategy that is likely to be effective across the board is to establish the your company itself, or individuals within it, as trusted experts in a particular subject area, for example by publishing well-researched, informative articles or blog posts on relevant topics.
Business relationships in the early 21st century have become much less binary and much more fuzzy. Your opportunity here is to establish a bit of order out of the seeming chaos online, think differently about relationship-building and your VACC (Visitors/Audience/Customers/Community), and realize the untapped potential for explosive business growth this presents to you.

Go on……we’re waiting to hear from you!

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”?