How to Keep Your Employees’ Skills Sharp
Skills will remain crucial to the success of our enterprises, our people, and necessary for building a future-fit workforce ready for the challenges of tomorrow.
It used to be that you went to school, earned a degree, and entered the workforce. If you worked hard, you could build a steady career over time. But in today’s fast-paced, ever-changing work environment that’s no longer the case. The days of sticking to one job and one skill set are quickly fading.
As learning expert Kimo Kippen once put it, “the currency of the future is skills and speed.” This not only applies to individuals seeking to build their careers, but also to organizations that wish to remain competitive in complex and global markets. In order to create a future-fit workforce, learning must be at the center of company culture. Quite simply, it is the most powerful and impactful way to build high-performing teams, attract and retain top talent, and ensure growth, agility, and advancement of people and business.
For these reasons, enterprises simply cannot survive without making skills-driven learning and development (L&D) a priority. But how should companies approach this kind of L&D programming? To get started, here are the top three elements every skills-based learning program should include – integrate learning in the flow of work, consider diverse learning modalities, and seek to not only educate but also to inspire throughout the journey.
Learning in the Flow of Work
On average, learners spend less than five hours per week learning. A major reason for this is that learning typically requires individuals to prioritize meetings and find time to learn outside of their typical workdays. The solution is bringing learning to where people are and enabling it to occur in the flow of work.
What this means is that building a skills-driven L&D program should start with considering where your employees already are. What systems are they using on a daily basis? How can you create an experience that simplifies the learning process and reduces friction?
These are questions that many companies had to think through as the COVID-19 pandemic first ushered us into remote work and later promised hybrid work and a return to a new normal. Social collaborative platforms like Microsoft Teams, while popular before COVID, have become crucial to business and cultural continuity. After all, employees satisfied with their social connectivity are two to three times more likely to maintain or improve productivity. That’s why Skillsoft launched the Percipio App for Microsoft Teams, making learning in the flow of work possible for thousands of employees around the world, with opportunities for learning fully integrated into the same platform where teams connect, meet, collaborate.
Personalized Learning for All Types of Learners
Simply stated, one size fits all learning is not effective. While groups of individuals may be expected to acquire the same knowledge or skills, learning preferences are oftentimes completely different and diverse, requiring a variety of modalities.
To address different learning needs and preferences, it’s critical to consider the various types of employees that will engage with the learning. Whether it be frontline managers and employees or middle managers, sales and account teams, offering learning options that are sensitive to diverse work needs and neurodiversity, ensures greater speed to adoption after learning takes place.
This kind of approach was incredibly useful when Skillsoft launched a multi-track aspire journey in March 2020 titled, Forging New Paths: Women’s Advancement In Life and Work, in response to how the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacted women and resulted in 2.4 million women exiting the labor force. We knew it was important that we build a holistic, blended learning experience in order to help companies better support women at all stages of life and career. We began by considering who would engage with and benefit from this content: women looking to grow their careers, working mothers wanting to balance life and work, allies, mentors, sponsors, and organizational leaders. Using AI technology, we took it one step further to create a curated learning experience to empower women to unlock their strengths and forge new paths towards advancement in both life and work.
Content that Educates and Inspires
The last key element needed to create a strong skills-driven learning experience for employees is content that both educates and inspires – content that speaks to the mind and the heart, that reflects real people, real stories, real situations, that resonates with and reflects diverse situations, environments, and people.
When our team set out to build a new learning path for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training, we asked ourselves how we could create content that would truly inspire learners. With such an important topic, we knew we had to be creative in our approach. Rather than leaning exclusively on experts, we infused the courses with real personal stories. This made for a much richer learning experience that put people first.
This approach may not work for all topics. We took a very different approach to our courses for Cloud Ops training, for example. Nevertheless, we must approach learning with the goal to provide employees with content that will inspire them in order for it to yield the greatest results.
Keeping Pace with the Future of Work
The future of work is constantly evolving and pushing us to transform with it. We’ve seen in recent years just how agile work environments can be. But one thing we can count on is that skills will remain crucial to the success of our enterprises, our people, and necessary for building a future-fit workforce ready for the challenges of tomorrow.
6 Lessons on Workplace Communication
By watching, listening to, and learning from our international friends, we can learn valuable communication tactics to replicate in our own work culture.
Over the past 20 years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled all over the world for work: from Toronto to Tokyo, Berlin to Beijing, and nearly everywhere in between. But along with a frequent flier card and an impressive collection of foreign loose change, my continental crisscrossing has given me the opportunity to pick up some valuable professional lessons.
Spending time with international colleagues in their places of work is the best way to gain an insight into each country’s unique office culture. Importantly, it’s also a great chance to learn what works (and what doesn’t) to facilitate effective communication and a strong culture within the company.
However, with recent travel restrictions set to have a lasting impact on the popularity of professional travel, it’s looking less and less likely that my younger colleagues will benefit from the same opportunities for cultural exchange that I did. And although I remain convinced that certain types of business travel will soon return, I’ll try my best to fill the hiatus by sharing my top takeaway lessons about workplace communication, each informed by my first-hand observations in different countries.
Why there should be such thing as a free lunch
Offering a free or subsidized lunch to employees is a commonly followed German tradition intended to improve productivity and morale. But not only does it give busy workers one less thing to think about, but this midday treat also does wonders for improving relationships and communication between colleagues.
By providing this food at a set time in a set place (e.g the office canteen from 12-1), the communal lunch is a time for team members to interact in an informal environment without hierarchy or expectations. When I attended these communal lunches in a German company, I was surprised to see people who’d been wrapped up in their own work all morning launch into a lively debate over the best sauces to complement a hamburger. Lunch time creates the perfect space for colleagues to forge deeper connections with one another – whether this is over a mutual preference for pineapple on pizza or the chance discovery of a mutual friend – that will later enable more effective communication and collaboration on work-related projects.
If you are looking for low-investment high-return strategies to improve morale and relationships in your place of work, you should certainly try organizing a once-a-week inclusive team lunch (you’ll most likely win some popularity points too).
When leveling the field, actions speak louder than words
Professional hierarchies are the enemy of effective communication. By putting emphasis on stratifications within the company – whether that be through clothing, privileges, or office space allocation – invisible walls are put up that inevitably prevent the free-flowing of conversation and ideas.
Whilst working in Sweden and Denmark, it very quickly came to my attention that egalitarianism was not just an empty buzzword in the workplace. The vast majority of Scandinavian firms are notable for their extremely loose hierarchies and the efforts put in by senior staff to integrate with their teams. By spending the majority of their time working directly alongside their more junior colleagues, and by proactively engaging with them on several levels, managers in Scandinavia are able to enjoy a productive and communicative relationship with their teams.
To encourage a sense of egalitarianism in your workplace, be the manager who isn’t too self-important to chat to the interns, who doesn’t hide in their private office, and who shows up to the leaving drinks. By setting this example, the rest of the team should follow suit in rejecting unhelpful hierarchical restraints.
Challenge ideas, not people
When you ask someone why they are nervous about contributing ideas or suggesting initiatives in the workplace, it’s likely that they’ll confess to feeling nervous about receiving a negative reaction from bosses or colleagues. And with good reason – everyone’s felt the stomach-twisting shame that comes from being criticized.
However, it struck me that in Russia (and in most of the Baltic states), workers have no qualms about offering up their ideas to senior colleagues. On asking a member of the Russian team why this was, they explained that junior staff members receive respect for volunteering their suggestions, rather than judgment for speaking outside of their remit. Ideas are evaluated in isolation, wholly detached from the person who contributes them, meaning that any criticism of the idea is not taken as a personal affront that risks damaging relationships or breaking down channels of communication between colleagues.
Invest in technology to break down barriers
Having spent long stretches of time working in the US, it’s clear that the enthusiastic adoption of tech-enabled communication tools is an important factor behind the global success of many American companies. Although in the past it was not unusual for interactions between colleagues to be blocked by protocols or PAs, instant messaging and video calling tools have forged new, direct channels through which communication can flow.
From Zoom to Slack and Microsoft Teams, it’s the norm for even the smallest companies to leverage these home-grown tools to their full advantage. On account of the scale of the country, Americans are well used to successfully navigating dispersed workforces and remote working; those nations who are newer to the challenges ought to take heed of the American example.
The takeaway lesson here is that investment in communication technology – whether that be digital messaging tools, virtual reality conferencing platforms, or project collaboration software – ought to be a non-negotiable for businesses. To drive success in a workplace and business landscape that is increasingly dispersed and online, team members must be equipped with the latest tech tools to work in a streamlined and effective way with others – especially when working remotely.
I’ll end this piece with a caveat: there’s no such thing as the ‘perfect’ strategy that will guarantee gold-standard communication in the workplace. No one country has hit the nail on the head, and the peculiarities of cultural variation mean that certain techniques are better or worse suited to certain communities of people. However, by watching, listening to, and learning from our international friends, we should all find something, however small, that we can try to replicate in our own teams and workplaces. Your company’s strength lies in its people, and when these people can share and work together then this strength evolves into more than the sum of its parts.
Building an Active Community Around Your Training Organization’s Brand
Uniting hearts and minds is key to success. But how can learning and development professionals build an active community around your organization’s brand?
By Alina Trigubenko
Whether you’re a solopreneur, part of a team of in-house learning and development (L&D) professionals, one of the most important things you can do is build an active community around your training organization’s brand. This is especially important as businesses and other organizations both large and small become more decentralized. For trainers and teams, building a community around your brand will help grow your following and open up new opportunities. For in-house professionals, this is what keeps your department relevant and sets your L&D initiatives up for success.
Keeping learners engaged requires that they embrace both a mindset — and a culture — of personal growth and collaboration. Without the right mindset and an active community, there can be no culture. And without investing in a culture where people can naturally align around commonly-shared values in a secure and modern way, there will be no brand. Uniting hearts and minds is key to success. But how do L&D professionals go about doing this?
Training course programming is key some trainers are so charismatic that people are naturally drawn to them. For the other 99.9% of us, it takes work. And central to this work is creating training course programming that captivates corporate learners and keeps them coming back for more.
Now, this doesn’t mean you have to pay high production costs for videos and training materials, but it does mean you’ll need to give some time and thoughtful attention to your online course development, training format, and the tools you use. Streamlined, intuitive tools that provide a great customer experience are essential. But it hasn’t always been that way…
Way back when L&D efforts consisted of consultants or HR managers putting an overplayed VHS tape on auto-repeat in the break room during lunch. Filled with smoke and laughter (yes, smoking was once allowed in offices!), the only thing employees really learned was that it pays well to watch movies at lunch — because it meant a break and a little social time for them. But, was any real learning happening? Or was it more a shared camaraderie around how absurd or useless the video was to the team?
I’ll leave that for you to decide, but my point is that it’s not just your content that’s important — it’s your entire training program and the client experience. Luckily, today’s unified online training platforms help solopreneurs, teams, and enterprises have a greater impact, enabling L&D professionals to reach more people in more places with way less friction than ever before. What this means for you is you can scale your training business or in-house L&D operations more quickly and more cost-effectively. And you don’t have to worry about getting caught up in connecting the myriad of tools out there in an effort to hack together your learner’s experience, which usually leaves them feeling confused and frustrated in the process.
Unified online training platforms provide flexibility and scale
Forget about ancient Learning Management Systems that fail, or expensive prerecorded, over-produced (and cheesy) videos, print materials, and training books. Unified online training platforms enable trainers to deliver live group sessions, host one-on-one deep-dives, archive previous training for evergreen use, manage programs, build community, and market courses all from a single, unified place.
All-in-one solutions like these remove production costs because you are literally creating a library of content as you go. The only production work is planning your curriculum ahead of time so that things flow naturally and in a way that meets your training objectives.
Most pre-produced techniques require participants to go through hours of pre-recorded videos. And did you realize the old way of doing things takes around 200 hours and about $15,000, on average, to complete? By contrast, live course creation takes less than a week and can be done with little to zero production cost! Live systems also remove production headaches and enable consultants and companies to host any type of program, including classes, boot camps, group coaching, etc.
Live online training platforms even include everything needed for compliance training, skill-specific training, mentoring, coaching, and more. Programs that operate in cohorts, where a group of learners goes through a training curriculum together, make these systems great for decentralized workforces as well. Embedded surveying, journaling, and progress tracking via personalized reminders that are delivered via text message help keep remote staff engaged and accountable.
These platforms are super flexible too, unlike videos and print training programs. For example, you can edit on the fly, easily remove outdated content and add fresh programming with so much more ease.
Creating a network for brand success
The L&D industry is constantly evolving, with new programs and fresh training ideas emerging every day. Just look at all the new training books coming out each month; our learning really never ends! But that’s also why it can be difficult to keep up— not just in terms of learning the latest training techniques, but also in trying to get your name or ideas out in the market. Fortunately, with some of the new tools on the market, there are more ways you can build your brand as a consultant, training department, or network of professionals.
For instance, online training platforms with CRM features or flexible integrations like community boards and events modules enable L&D professionals to keep a constant drumbeat of outreach and information going to employees, prospects, and partners. Part of building your brand as a trainer or L&D department includes keeping your network engaged with updates, incentives, continued learning opportunities, and more. All-in-one online learning platforms can even help you expand your network as well. Think of Shopify, but for L&D professionals.
Another benefit of building a training community through online platforms is that it’s easier to network and build talent within the resource pool you already have. When trainers are isolated within their business units or practices, they don’t get the benefit of cross-collaboration with other trainers. And we know scheduling times for like-minded trainers to meet in person, especially in today’s environment, is difficult at best.
The heart of the matter: aligning mindsets, values, and culture to build an active community
Unified online training platforms help reduce isolation and give trainers a chance to share experiences, collaborate on projects and offer more value to the people they train. This is the true meaning of networking. And platforms that have collaborative team workflows are built for mutual success. Instead of waiting for the right partner to move to your area, now all you have to do is build a program together online. When you develop training networks like these, mentoring relationships grow organically as trainers learn from each other, share templates and work together to foster growth by attracting others to join.
Building an active community around your training organization’s brand was once a time-consuming, expensive proposition. But now you can do this difficult work more easily and efficiently with unified online training platforms. This enables you to focus on the work you really care about: creating a learning environment that connects you with more people who share a common mindset and values. And within this community, you can build a stronger culture together — as well as benefit from increased retention.
How Proper Recognition Is a Sustainable Initiative for Companies
Human Resources teams can provide employees the trust, cohesion, and purpose they’re looking for with proper recognition initiatives.
By Tara Milburn
The emergency light has been on for the better part of the year as companies across every industry scrambled to provide for their employees’ safety, stability, and security needs during the COVID-19 crisis. Some of the most important resources they’ve been able to provide are policy adjustments, health coverage, and valuable professional development opportunities. And it’s a sign of a job well done that the focus is now shifting away from the employee needs and toward employee support; a re-imagination of team morale and employee fulfillment in the new corporate normal.
As human resources (HR) professionals and People and Culture experts (P&C) navigate their way forward, a few fundamentals have become clear. A study conducted by McKinsey & Co surveyed upwards of 800 American employees regarding their employee experience. They found that in addition to the basic safety needs, there were three important pillars shaping every employee’s satisfaction: trusting relationships, social cohesion, and individual purpose. Through every stage of the corporate experience, from onboarding new hires to providing training and reskilling opportunities, to celebrating senior-level executives, employees are looking for trust, cohesion, and purpose; below are a few important ways that HR teams and P&C professionals can help them find it.
Recognition: The New Language of Trust
In the same McKinsey & Co study, employees ranked the need to be recognized for their work among the top ten experience factors contributing to their sense of well-being and engagement. A major determiner of their relationship with their team leaders and the company at large, the study found that proper recognition could increase employee engagement by 55 percent, well-being by 49 percent, and work effectiveness by a full 20 percent.
Maybe, more importantly, the survey results show that non-financial compensation is more than sufficient to see these kinds of results. Companies might be struggling to show their appreciation through compensation adjustments or employee bonuses, but McKinsey’s findings show that recognition comes in many shapes, sizes, and price points—employees need to understand that their hard work has an impact more than they need to see that impact reflected in their take-home pay.
Recognition Initiatives for the Post-COVID Era
Remote work has changed the requirements for successful recognition in two important ways. First, employee recognition as a whole has become more important and more challenging. Since the inception of the work-from-home movement, 64 percent of remote employees have said a demonstration of appreciation is more important to them when working from home. Without head nods in the hallway and organic interactions during in-person meetings, the need for positive re-enforcement is tangible, but only 26 percent of those remote employees have seen an effort from their company to implement new reward strategies.
The second important change regards the new employee standards for sustainable practices toward both people and the planet. Since stay-at-home orders resulted in some much-needed environmental reprieve, 70 percent of people have become more environmentally aware, and 95 percent are keenly aware of the ecological impact of their actions.
It’s never been more important for employees to see those values reflected in their company culture. Employees want to know that their work is having an impact. They want the opportunity to celebrate their coworkers, and to see their peers properly recognized for their important work. Most importantly, they want their corporate lives to reflect their personal commitment to reducing their ecological impact. HR teams and P&C professionals who can offer them that experience will see their efforts pay dividends in terms of employee satisfaction, fulfillment, and long-term commitment.
Sustainable Gifting—For Any Occasion
Whether it’s celebrating a senior executive or welcoming a new hire with branded company gear, it’s important for HR professionals to provide the kinds of ethical gifts that employees can feel good about receiving. But sustainable gifting isn’t always as straightforward as it seems. Any company can throw a Corporate Sustainable Responsibility badge on their website, but that doesn’t always mean that the products are made in a sustainable way.
B-Corp certifications, on the other hand, prove that a vendor has been through an extensive audit, with every part of their process—from sourcing to delivery—approved at the highest national standard. B-Corps are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions, not only as they relate to the environment but also as they relate to their workers, customers, suppliers, and communities at large. Purchasing from a B-Corp ensures that the products are made and transported using sustainable practices and that every hand is paid adequate wages insufficient working conditions along the way.
Purpose-Driven Company Events—For A Memorable Impact
As much as employees want to be recognized for their work, they also want to be recognized for their values and intentions. Chief among those values is the drive to give back to their surrounding communities and support an equitable recovery. To that end, HR and P&C professionals who are able to engage employees in close-to-home social responsibility initiatives are seeing a significant return as far as engagement and fulfillment.
These kinds of programs can come in many forms. For companies that have the financial ability, offering matching gift programs can be particularly impactful; increasing donation multipliers and offering a range of COVID-specific nonprofits to support can help employees feel like they’re making a tangible difference. Safe, in-person volunteer events can also be offered for a similar effect—an innovative way to provide a much-needed break from day-to-day work while also offering an opt-in opportunity for employees to engage with their local communities in meaningful ways.
HR professionals and P&C teams have done an incredible job of providing their teams with safety, stability, and a sense of security during a global crisis. With months of COVID-management under their belt, it’s become clear that thoughtful recognition is a top priority as teams continue to move forward. Non-financial recognition strategies are as effective as any compensation-based reward could be, and initiatives that reflect an employee’s social ideas—sustainable practices, community impact—will have the greatest effect on team morale. With those fundamentals, HR and P&C professionals can move from the task of survival toward the task of an equitable and fulfilling recovery.
Training Magazine (2021). How Proper Recognition Is a Sustainable Initiative for Companies. Retrieved from https://trainingmag.com/3-tips-to-strengthen-your-approach-to-employee-engagement/.
The Benefits of Taking Risks in Entrepreneurship
In order to be a successful entrepreneur, you need to be ready to take and manage risks.
Everyone wants to be an entrepreneur; everyone wants to head out and start their own business venture. Or… maybe not everyone, but if you’re reading this, you probably do. What most people don’t realize, however, is that when you decide to start your own business, a lot is on the line. You’re putting your career, finances, mental health, and often reputation at stake.
Don’t get us wrong, starting your own business is an incredible thing. It gives you the power to shape your own destiny. It gives you a degree of autonomy over your life that most people only dream of.
However, forming a startup is not easy, and it’s certainly not risk-free.
That doesn’t mean gambling your finances or your efforts on slim chances, but if you want to be an entrepreneur, you need to be willing to take risks. You need to be ready to put stuff on the line. Simply put, there is no path to successful entrepreneurial endeavors without risk.
That’s because with risk comes opportunity. If you want to sit in a cubicle counting beans for the rest of your life, go ahead. There is little risk in that, but there is a little reward, too. It’s no mystery that the higher stakes mean higher gains. The point is that there is a direct relationship between risk and reward.
When you have a bigger potential upside, you also have a bigger potential downside and vice versa. The trick to becoming a successful entrepreneur is to navigate these risks. To take the ones you can afford and skip the ones you can’t.
In that sense, entrepreneurial endeavors are all about risk management.
What is risk management, you might ask?
Well, to put it simply, risk management is the concept of analyzing potential risks and then figuring out how to mitigate them as much as possible in a cost-effective manner.
So, how do we do this effectively? There are a few key points to keep in mind.
- Assess Your Potential Risk Tolerance
- Start Small
- Be Aware of the Worst-Case Scenario
- Practice, practice, practice
- Observe and Influence the Risk Pitfalls and Outcomes
- Minimize Losses When They Occur
There are many “risks” we might encounter as entrepreneurs. Let’s break down a few of the major categories.
Competitive risk describes the probability that competition (whether direct or indirect) will affect the revenue of your business. Naturally, this is a fairly high risk for startups, since you’re going to have competition with companies that are already well-established in the market. Minimize your competitive risk by doing a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) to brainstorm strategies in advance.
Market risk, also known as systemic risk, is what we call the risk of loss in your business because of market fluctuations. This isn’t something that you can easily mitigate, because it depends on the market, but you should at least develop a few strategies and sources that can keep you informed about the market activity, so any major changes don’t blindside you.
Credibility risk is the risk that we face when we market a new product or service. Brand credibility is critical to longevity and will greatly influence purchasing decisions. To mitigate credibility risk, focus on quality over quantity and steer clear of sketchy business transactions. Above all, make customer service a priority!
These are just a few of the many types of risks you’ll face. Others include technology risk and financial risk, but there are many, many more.
Stay informed and stay ahead of the curve!
How much is a good amount of risk? It’s not as simple as numbers. It’s a game of quality over quantity. You need to take the RIGHT risks. The ones that you can manage, the ones that you understand. The ones you can protect against.
Most importantly, you can learn even if your risks don’t pay off.
We wanted to have a real thought from experienced people and when we asked Eric Porat, who is an online entrepreneur, he added: “The optimistic risk-taker always looks at failure as an opportunity to learn. Willingness to go out on a limb and experiment with new ideas is critical to growth. If you’re just doing something everyone else has done before, you aren’t really going to rise above the crowd, right?”.
Remember: failure will almost always teach you how to think and plan strategically.
What’s more, risk-taking actually correlates to increased satisfaction! A recent study documenting risk-taking found that there is a correlation between a willingness to take risks and higher personal satisfaction. If you’re a risk-taker, both in your personal life and your professional life, you’ll learn to look forward instead of backward. Furthermore, you won’t spend your personal or professional life wondering “what if.”
Perhaps best of all, you may just hit the big time. Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Tesla… they all took risks early on, and look at them now!
Training Magazine (2021). The Benefits of Taking Risks in Entrepreneurship. Retrieved from The Benefits of Taking Risks in Entrepreneurship (trainingmag.com).
How Organizations Thrive When They Prioritize Staff Well-Being
Excerpt from “Physical Intelligence” by Claire Dale and Patricia Peyton (Simon & Schuster, copyright 2020).
By Claire Dale and Patricia Peyton
I’m an optimist at heart. I need optimism almost as much as I do air. Given that, I’ve been looking for positives in the midst of this pandemic. Lately, I’ve been thinking that perhaps one positive is an increased focus on employee well-being. I’m not a romantic…so the jury is still out, but I sincerely hope that the heightened interest in well-being will become the silver lining in all of this—because it’s time to reexamine how we prioritize our people.
In fairness, the focus on well-being has expanded from what was healthcare and a gym membership in the 1980s to something much broader today (especially within larger organizations)…including a focus on mental health, creativity zones, flexible work schedules, and more. All of that is helpful; yet we can do more. A recent McKinsey report stated that “forward-looking companies know that everything else—such as technology, access to raw materials, intellectual property, and customer relationships—is fleeting and the only sustainable advantage is rooted in harnessing the passion, skills, capabilities, judgment, and creativity that people bring to work.” However, much that is being written about the future of organizations has focused on law, regulation, ownership, governance, measurement, and pre-pandemic descriptions of performance—with little mention of human beings. If mentioned, employees are referred to as “human capital”…but we are—all of us—flesh and bone, bodies and brains, hearts and minds—and every single organization will be relying on those hearts and minds to carry them out of this crisis.
In order for employees to tap into their full potential and carry us out of this crisis and beyond, they need a different level of support than what most organizations have been providing. That shouldn’t be a surprise because if we’ve learned nothing else over the last several decades—or centuries—we’ve learned the definition of insanity.
Long before the pandemic arrived, we were already experiencing unprecedented change (estimated by McKinsey Global Institute to be 10 times that of the Industrial Revolution and 300 times the scale). Human beings have not evolved as quickly as the rate of change around us and most of us haven’t been trained to cope with that degree of change, leaving many people feeling threatened, stressed, and overwhelmed. In 2018, “stress” was the #1 symptom googled. In 2019, the World Health Organization designated burnout an official syndrome, defined as workplace stress that has not been effectively managed. In 2019, it also reported that suicide rates have risen 60 percent over the last 45 years globally. Enter COVID-19, and 53 percent of adults in the United States say their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress and report difficulty sleeping (36 percent) or eating (32 percent), increases in alcohol consumption or substance use (12 percent), and worsening chronic conditions (12 percent), due to worry and stress over the Coronavirus. A recent PwC study of remote workers found that while productivity has increased during the pandemic, one-third of employees are actually working much harder than the rest, masking the shortfall of others and leaving that third at more significant risk of burnout. In a recent Companies in Motion survey, 77 percent of businesspeople surveyed stated they had no resources for times when they needed more resilience.
There is a clear need for action. If we respond correctly right now, the current crisis has the potential to catalyze a meaningful change in how organizations approach well-being, and it will show up in the bottom line. We have known for decades that a healthy worker is a more productive worker. So, what specifically has to change?
- Historically, organizations (especially in the U.S.) have made well-being resources available to their people, presented as a menu, but few have put balanced well-being “meals” together for their people or armed them with the knowledge to do that on their own—educating people on what well-being is and how it impacts performance and encouraging or requiring them to take advantage of the resources provided.
- Most organizations have not integrated well-being into their culture in a way that changes behavior in a meaningful and lasting way. In the U.S., we don’t even consistently require employees to take their vacation days—the lowest hanging well-being fruit. (In 2019, 55 percent of U.S. employees did not use all of their paid vacation time.) To bring about lasting change, organizations need to create cultures where well-being practices are embedded at individual, team, and organizational levels, where leadership is committed to well-being and even measured on its effective implementation, where work environments support well-being, and people at all levels are looking out for each other and understand how to enhance their own and their colleagues’ well-being. (There is no point in giving people “Zoom-free” days if their workloads are still leading them toward burnout).
Putting well-being at the center of your strategy and culture will provide you with a sustainable advantage (e.g., attracting and retaining top talent) and a return on investment in terms of business outcomes. However, creating that culture and achieving those outcomes requires a new type of intelligence—Physical Intelligence—because physiology drives our performance.
More than 400 chemicals (neurotransmitters and hormones) are racing through each of our bodies (in our bloodstream and nervous system) at any given time. Those chemicals largely dictate how we think, feel, speak, and behave. They arrive at receptor cells and activate circuits of response that lead us to feel sadness, elation, frustration, etc. Most of us operate at the mercy of those chemicals, experiencing thoughts, reactions, and emotions without realizing that we can strategically influence (some of) them.
Physical Intelligence is the little-known ability to detect and actively manage the balance of certain key chemicals—through how we move, breathe, think, and interact with each other—and enables us to achieve more, stress less, and live and work more happily. Literally hundreds of studies have proven that how we use our body impacts our Cognitive and Emotional Intelligence, indicating that Physical Intelligence doesn’t just sit alongside but underpins our Cognitive Intelligence (IQ) and Emotional Intelligence (EQ). There are hundreds of Physical Intelligence techniques, many drawn from the worlds of elite sports and the arts—all underpinned by neuroscience and easy to incorporate into your day. Some take seconds.
People who have developed their Physical Intelligence have transformed their lives, and organizations that have incorporated Physical Intelligence across their teams have experienced a measurable impact on business outcomes, including double-digit revenue growth or commercial success; increased operating efficiency, customer satisfaction, and employee satisfaction scores; and enhanced innovation.
Well-being is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Each employee and team has unique strengths and needs—generally and situationally. Without understanding and having access to a Physical Intelligence playbook, the positive impact of the well-being resources available will be limited by the knowledge of the user—and no well-being program is complete if it isn’t addressing physiology.
Our bodies have been too far down on the priory list for too many years. To complete the well-being revolution, that needs to change. People and teams need deeper knowledge of their physiology in order to make strategic decisions to enhance well-being and business performance based on their unique needs.
The more we understand the neuroscience that underpins our behavior, the more we can exercise control over the balance of chemicals that we can influence, enabling us to leverage our well-being to help our businesses thrive—regardless of, or in response to, the world around us.
Do Your Employees Need Sensitivity Training?
One tactic to teach is to put the solution first rather than the criticism.
By Margery Weinstein
It isn’t hard for me to get agitated and rattled by communications that many others wouldn’t bat an eye at. I have had the experience of receiving an e-mail asking me to “explain my rationale” for doing this or that, and, whatever the intention of the sender, it has made me explode inside. The tone, and invocation to “explain my rationale,” made it feel like a personal attack or dig—as if my competence was being questioned.
That kind of reaction tags me as a sensitive person. It’s easy to dismiss the kind of agitation people like me frequently experience by saying to yourself, “She’s just sensitive.” The problem with doing that is the possibility that there are many others just like me—easily provoked to anger and dismay by communications that rub us the wrong way. Most of us are smart enough not to let you see our irritation, but the unhappiness of such communications builds up over time and may lead a high-performing employee to look elsewhere for work. The importance of a sensitive person working with other sensitive people—who know how to ask questions in a respectful, non-threatening way—can’t be underestimated.
In some cases, sensitive people are driven to suicide by what less-sensitive employees would interpret as run-of-the-mill workplace interactions, according to a study out of West Virginia University. “Perceived low-grade forms of workplace mistreatment, such as avoiding eye contact or excluding a coworker from conversation, can amplify suicidal thoughts in employees with mood disorders,” a study by Kayla Follmer, assistant professor of Management, and Jake Follmer, assistant professor of Educational Psychology, reveals. Their findings are published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.
The authors recommend providing greater access to mental health resources to employees. I think that’s a good thing to do, but I also think employees could benefit from an understanding of sensitive communications, and how to construct an e-mail or make a request in a way that it will be received without offense.
One tactic to teach is to put the solution first rather than the criticism. That means that instead of asking the employee to explain his or her rationale, you ask the employee to do whatever it is you think would make the project better. Then, after making your suggestion, you could ask, “Let me know if you have any thoughts on other ways we could do this. I was concerned that…”
My feeling, and that of many other sensitive people, is that I would rather you give me your ideas for how to make something better, rather than criticizing without solutions posed. I always feel like saying (and sometimes do): “Let me know how you would like me to alter this, and I will be glad to do that.” I have no desire to get into a combative back-and-forth, or a debate about minutia that usually means little (maybe nothing!) to me. I would rather go straight to the proposed solutions or improvements.
I had a friend, who came up with a great idea for an article at a publication where she worked, and instead of focusing on the substance of her article idea, the editors on the call with her immediately leaped to their criticism of her proposed headline. The call quickly turned contentious, and my friend lost her temper, and told them to forget it. Fast forward a few months later, and articles on that very topic have been widely published. After that unpleasant, tension-filled call, my friend lost her job. The manager who gave her the news didn’t cite the recent interaction as the reason for her termination, but it might have been the final straw. Maybe they had gotten tired of what they perceived to be her over-sensitivity. All of that could have been avoided if they had focused on the positive and the solution first, backing their way into the criticism. They could have said: “Wow, that’s an interesting idea! I think there’s some potential there—we could explore doing a piece on that. I think, though, that we might want to tinker with that headline. Let us give that some thought and get back to you.”
I manage my work with others by always putting my solutions forward first. For instance, when a contributor to my publication sends me a draft, I could send it back marked up with red lines, comments, and complaints. Instead, I simply fix everything I think needs improving and send it back to the contributor to approve or send back with their own newer version. I like to go straight to the solution and let them tell me what they think of my solution. It’s a faster way to work that reduces friction.
Do you incorporate lessons on sensitive communications to employees, so messages are received with solutions in mind first and criticisms second?
The Risk of Routine
Sometimes being on autopilot—knowing a skill so well it doesn’t require conscious thought—can lead to human error
Learning & Development (L&D) professionals need to heed findings from neurologists and psychologists when performing job task analyses or writing course curricula for any service job’s routine procedures. These experts note that sometimes being on autopilot—knowing a skill so well it doesn’t require conscious thought—can lead to human error.
Neurologists explain that we have two regions in our brain, each capable of performing routine tasks. The region that normally takes control of routine tasks is the basal ganglia (BG). They’re a set of structures located at the base of our brain, just above the brain stem. After we’ve repeated a task many times, the skills and behavior associated with performing it get stored in the BG as long-term memory. When this happens, we say that such a routine is now part of our habit memory—in other words, we’re functioning on autopilot.
But first, we need to back up to when we initially learn a procedure or skill, such as driving the same route to work or riding a bike. At the initial point in learning a routine, we rely on a different brain structure: the prefrontal cortex (PFC). It’s located behind our forehead, taking up a third of the cortex. It is where our “executive function” resides: We carry out abstract thought, focus our attention, plan, evaluate, judge, and store key information relating (as working memory) to whatever it is we’re attending to at the moment. Our PFC does all the figuring out of what needs to be done when we learn a new skill, procedure, or behavior. It is aided by the hippocampi (HC)—a set of structures in the temporal lobes that form, organize, and store facts and events for possible future use.
But as the steps and nuances of skill performance get easier through repetition, our PFC hands off the memory of how to execute it to the BG. In handing it off, we’re consciously freed up to attend to our next prospective procedure, skill, or behavior. Put another way, our PFC, aided by the HC, is referred to as our prospective memory system. This keeps it distinct from our habit memory system, which is unconscious, by the way. In the workplace, when we see someone operating on autopilot, that’s his or her habit memory in control.
A WORLD OF DISTRACTION
Why is this so important to performing routine service tasks, for example? Mainly because we are easily distracted by all manner of stimuli in an environment. We get interrupted by fellow workers, the boss, etc. We take breaks or we multitask. All these are contributing factors to human error: an omitted step, forgetting a key piece of information, getting the order of steps wrong, etc. Where customers are concerned, the stakes for error can range from minor inconvenience to catastrophic outcomes.
Some potentially tragic examples of errors following on the heels of routine procedures include:
- A pilot forgets to set the wing flaps for landing or lower the landing gear.
- A surgeon forgets to remove sponges or instruments from a patient or performs a procedure on the wrong limb.
The same common denominator precedes the usual slips and lapses during routine procedures—the habit memory system. As soon as a distraction happens, or during multitasking, this system breaks down. That’s because we’re then temporarily focused on the distraction or on some other concurrently performed task. By focused, I mean we’re consciously attentive—in using our prospective memory system, we’ve broken the connection with habit memory. With our prospective memory now in command, we then attempt to return to the original procedure afresh, but instead find ourselves lost on the details of where we left off and exactly what still needs doing. This “unplanned handoff” is what leads to failure to execute.
INSTITUTE PREVENTIVE SAFEGUARDS
This phenomenon has substantial implications for the L&D community: specifically, instructional design and training workshops focusing on routine tasks that have high stakes with costly and catastrophic human consequences for human error. Service industries such as healthcare, pilot training, offshore oil exploration, and utilities are particularly vulnerable. An “if-then” rule-of-thumb needs to be in force for all L&D projects: If high stakes are involved for human error, then augment the training with recommendations for instituting preventive safeguards. Decisions about which safeguards to use should be based on work context and whether safeguards are to be installed at the individual worker or work unit level.
Individual workers could use something as basic as sticky notes or a clipboard to jot down a last step performed when they are suddenly distracted or interrupted. For unit-wide safeguard deployment, common strategies could include:
Backup: A coworker steps in when an employee is called away to an important, can’t-wait matter.
Call Outs: Calling out the last step performed improves auditory memory.
Checklist: This basic job aid sometimes is ridiculed, but it is highly effective.
Delay Interruption: Ignore an interruption until a natural breaking point in the task is reached.
Do Not Disturb or No Interruption Zone: Post signs to that effect at point-of-task (PoT).
Policies: The organization sets formal policies pertaining to specific distractions or interruptions at PoTs.
PoT Setups: Ensure all resources are in place before beginning a task, eliminating “self-interrupting.”
Although working on autopilot is economically advantageous for our brain, it is real-world risky. It’s safer if we stay consciously focused on whatever it is that we do.
Benjamin E. Ruark is a former Learning & Development, Continuous Quality Improvement specialist/consultant to a half-dozen manufacturing and service industries. He has worked extensively in the U.S. and abroad, including the UK and Ireland.
Can You Hear Me Now?
What buying a new phone teaches you about customer service
By Margery Weinstein
I experienced a trial last week known as buying a new phone. Buying a new phone sounds simple enough—except that it wasn’t.
The process began by making an appointment with my mobile provider. I tried to give as much information as I could, including the specific reason for my visit to the store and the particular phone I wanted to buy, including the amount of storage capacity I wanted on the phone.
It had been a few years since I got a new phone, so I was excited! I got there at the precise time designated for my appointment, and found the store entirely empty except for two sales representatives. Despite that mine appeared to be the only appointment set aside for that time slot, the sales reps didn’t know who I was or what I was there for. You’d think with hardly anyone there, they would have had time to look at their appointment calendar on their computer to anticipate my arrival.
I said, “Hello,” told them who I was, and why I was there. They then told me they would have to verify that they had the phone in stock that I wanted to buy. They did, fortunately. I thought I was home free! Then I threw them off badly. I shared with them that I was a customer who was originally with the mobile provider that this other mobile provider had acquired about a year ago. The representative attending me then expressed concern that she might not be able to help me because she was still getting used to looking up customer information in my original mobile provider’s database. She called her colleague to join her at the computer to see if they could figure it out together. They seemed to figure it out finally—only to let me know 5-10 minutes later that the computer system connecting to that other mobile provider’s database wasn’t working. They apologized and told me they couldn’t help me.
“It would have been nice to know that before I made the trip here,” I said. Their store was only about a 10-minute walk from my apartment, but regardless, I had set time aside for this appointment, and had to put on shoes and leave my cozy apartment. I would have preferred continuing to lie on the couch if I had known their computer system was down.
“There’s no way we would have known that ahead of time,” they told me.
“Could you reschedule my appointment?”
“Oh, you don’t need an appointment,” they said.
“But what happens if I get here and a lot of people are waiting?”
“You would have to wait anyway even if you had an appointment.”
The thing that pushed me over the edge was they seemed not to want to exert the effort to reschedule my appointment, and indicated that, even if I had an appointment, their store was so disorganized and inefficient, it wouldn’t matter because I would still have to wait. “Then why bother having appointments?” I wondered to myself.
I got very angry then, took a deep breath, and turned to leave. “Just pathetic,” I said to them before sweeping out of the store.
I took out my phone to Google other nearby store locations. I found that my phone was in the process of breaking. I was too uncomfortable to go back to the store I just indignantly swept out of, so I kept tinkering with my phone until I got it to finally show me a list of a few other nearby locations. I walked about 15 minutes to another location. They didn’t have the phone I was looking for. I had to ask if they could call the next closest location to verify that they had the phone. They did! I asked the sales representative to let the other store know I was on my way.
Three time’s the charm: The third store I visited had my phone and had a staff competent enough to access and use the database of my original mobile provider. They even counseled me about the best screen protector to buy and made sure everything was in perfect working order before I left. The only snag about this visit was, when I got there, they didn’t know what I was talking about when I said I was the customer sent there by the other store that just called them. It seems the sales rep at the previous location I visited called the wrong store or didn’t call at all and only pretended to be on the phone. Or perhaps the sales reps at this third location had already forgotten the call they had gotten 20 minutes earlier?
I found an article on Forbes by Micah Solomon on “Muscle Memory and Customer Service,” which made me think a well-trained staff could have reflexively done all the things that would have made my experience getting a new phone seamless and simple. “I’m talking about mental muscle memory: a default of being helpful, of actively listening, of doing everything you can to ‘get to a yes’ for the customer in front of you. Once your mental ‘muscles’ get these patterns ingrained, they allow you to serve your customers both spectacularly and consistently—even on those days when your back aches and your feet are cramping and your customers are more abrupt and less understanding than usual,” Solomon writes.
In my case, the sales reps should have had it ingrained as protocol to prepare ahead of time for all customers with appointments. Preparing ahead of time is not a hard concept to explain to employees, and with practice, it becomes a routine part of every workday. At the beginning of the day, right after logging into the computer, check to see who’s scheduled to come in. See what each customer has said he or she needs and check to make sure you are going to be able give those things to each customer. That means checking the inventory in stock and making sure any computer systems that have to be accessed to serve the customer are up and running, and that the employee who will serve the customer understands fully how to use those computer systems.
Anticipating pre-appointed arrivals creates a huge wow for customers. It’s reassuring to open the door, tell the sales reps your name, and have them say, “Welcome, Margery, we’ve been expecting you. We have the phone you want to buy in stock, so we should be all set to get this done for you today.”
There is also muscle memory that should be trained into place for when all else fails and you can’t serve the customer. “I do apologize! Can I reschedule your appointment for you or see if any of the nearby stores have the phone you are looking for and can help you today?”
When that kind of customer service—anticipating and being ready for customers with appointments—and knowing how to help the customers you can’t help yourself—is so well trained that it’s ingrained in your employees, you exceed expectations every time.
Have you bought a new phone lately? Does my experience sound familiar? How do you ensure your employees have muscle memory that reflexively guides them when serving customers?
What COVID-19 Can Teach Us About Managing Grief in the Workplace
One of the most vitally important things a manager can do to ask the grieving employee what he or she needs.
When my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I got the news while sitting in my cubicle at the office. I didn’t take the call into a conference room and shut the door or wait to take the call outside. I just sat there and received the news that the cancer had moved into her brain and that, at best, she had six to 12 months to live. You’d think after the call ended, I would have excused myself from work for the rest of the day, or at least have taken a walk outside for an hour to clear my head, but instead I seamlessly and calmly moved within minutes into a weekly business call. My mother was not just my mother, but my best friend, so it must be puzzling that I could proceed without any show of emotion for the rest of the day. One reason may be that grief still isn’t acceptable to exhibit or show in the workplace. So I wasn’t comfortable giving the news to my then-boss and being sent home. I anticipated discomfort, embarrassment, and pity from him, and felt dealing with his reactions would be worse than proceeding through my day.
With the death toll from COVID-19 in the U.S., which was expected to surpass 500,000 by the end of February, many people are thinking about their own mortality and death than ever before. The evening news seems to always include an obligatory segment about the day’s COVID death count, and many news shows also include a segment at the end remembering those who have been lost to the disease.
This is an ideal time to think about how adept your managers are at handling grief in the workplace. Your company may have lost employees to COVID, and some of your employees may have lost family and friends to it. When the pandemic is under control—hopefully by the summer or fall—and employees are welcomed back to the office, conversations about those who have been lost will occur. How should you prepare your managers to handle these conversations?
When I lost my mother, I remembered the co-workers who made a point of coming by to tell me how sorry they were and see how I was doing. And I remembered how hurt I was that, despite sending my boss a text with my mother’s obituary, which included information about where the funeral would be, he neither attended himself nor sent flowers, a gift basket, or any other token of caring except a card after I returned to work. It was clear that my grief made him highly uncomfortable.
I found an article on Fast Company on managing grief in the workplace. The article was written by Lindsay Tigar, who recently lost her father to a chronic illness. She notes the importance of asking the grieving employee what they need. In my case, my boss seemed afraid I would ask for something. I had to explain during the call letting him know that I would be taking a week of bereavement leave that I would not be able to publish that week’s issue of our magazine on our site. Not only did he not offer to help or ask what I needed, he seemed afraid of what I might ask for.
“…It’s best to have an open, candid conversation with your employee where you can ask them how you and the company can best support them,” Tigar writes, synthesizing recommendations for employers given to her by Evans St. Fort, founder of St. Fort’s Funeral Home. When my boss, later in that same year my mother died, gave himself a half day away from the office for at least a month when his dog was dying, I wondered why he hadn’t proactively offered anything like that to me when my mother was dying. If I had asked to work from her place for part of every workday, I wonder what he would have said. He may have consented, but should I have had to ask? Would a sensitive manager have offered the option of working remotely for at least part of the time?
It might be helpful to supply managers with acceptable options to offer employees who have just lost someone they are close to, or are in the process of losing a loved one. One of those options could be remote work, or a more flexible schedule in which the work still gets done—but done on a schedule that gives the employee a chance to visit more with the person she’s losing, or in the case of a loved one who has already been lost, for the employee to take time for herself beyond the one week of bereavement leave.
Tigar also writes of the importance of managers understanding that work isn’t the top priority of employees who have lost someone close to them. “Employers have to give their employees grace, since it’s part of the healing process,” Tigar writes, noting a recommendation given to her by author and grief expert Breeshia Wade. That grace time is easier if at least each position has one employee fully devoted to it and at least one other employee who has been cross-trained to perform the most important functions of the position.
In addition to cross-training, managers can get creative, and see if there is a way to allow the employee to bring her experience of loss into her work. When you’re grieving, your emotions are at a high pitch, making you more sensitive to the feelings of others and sometimes exposing you to environments you have never been in before, such as hospitals or hospices. That heightened sense of awareness, and those new experiences, could put the employee in a mindset to develop better outreach to customers and business associates. Managers should be open to, and even encourage, the employee to talk about her experience of loss, and of finding ways of taking what she learned and applying it to her work. For instance, with customers experiencing loss in their own lives, how can your company better accommodate people during that difficult time? Are there services your company can provide, or make more flexible, for people experiencing personal loss or another life-altering hardship?
Grief is painful—and powerful—and it can make those who go through it more insightful. Rather than suppressing it in the workplace, trainers and Human Resources professionals can find ways of making grief easier to talk about and learn from.
Do you provide guidance to your managers on helping grieving employees? With COVID-19 bringing grief to the forefront, how can managers be taught the best ways to address loss and the ongoing anxiety that often accompanies it?
Is Lack of Work-Life Balance Contagious?
By Margery Weinstein
In an era during which “contagion” and “spread” are intimate parts of our vocabularies and anxieties, there is a sickness other than COVID-19 on my mind: lack of work-life balance. It’s a psychological, rather than a physical, sickness, but a sickness nonetheless that causes mental distress that can take a physical toll.
The question is whether lack of work-life balance is a self-contained problem, or one we can catch from others. Consider the scenario of a mostly balanced and relaxed work group that brings on a person who is not balanced or relaxed. This is the person who calls at 8 p.m. on a Friday night because a video isn’t loading properly on a company Website or tells you she will text you during your vacation if information your work group has been waiting for arrives. On the one hand, the employee’s dedication to her job is admirable, but on the other hand, it is dangerous to the culture of the employee’s work group. That one person is forcing the balance between work and life to be thrown off—not just for herself, but for everyone she collaborates with.
I found an article online on emotional contagion, and I believe the emotions behind lack of work-life balance are capable of spreading. Ali Pattillo notes how easily emotions can spread from one person to another in an article on the site, Inverse: “Across the board, human beings are a roller coaster of emotions, feelings, and moods. According to 25 years of data, these emotions spread like wildfire person to person. Often, they influence a group or organization’s collective mood in positive or negative ways… This social phenomenon, called ‘emotional contagion,’ permeates all human interactions, influencing not only how people feel, but how they think and behave. Emotional contagion is constant and pervasive, yet most of the time we have no idea it’s going on.”
The emotions Pattillo focuses on are negativity versus positivity. My own hypothesis is that, in addition to general high-energy/happy versus low energy/grumpy, the emotions of anxiety and compulsion also can be passed from one to others. The work-fixated, compulsive individual who has joined a group of mostly balanced employees starts messaging her colleagues at night and during their time off, pressing them to finish work by inflexible due dates. She drops constant hints about how hard she’s working, noting (without anyone asking) that she works until 10 p.m. every night. Some of us would have no problem responding, “Oh, that’s too bad,” and leaving it at that. Many others, however, would feel obligated to start mirroring her behavior, even if she isn’t their boss. “Well, I guess working at night, on the weekends, and during vacations, is the new standard, so I’ll have to start doing that,” many will say to themselves.
How do you stop this from happening in your organization? It starts with the hiring process. You want responsible, productive people. You don’t want anxious, compulsive people. During the hiring process, it’s helpful to add questions that tease out a person’s ability to maintain work-life balance, regardless of workload. Here are essential questions to ask in one of the interviews leading to candidate selection:
- “What do you do outside of work to unwind?”
- “What do you most like about that activity?” (This allows you to gauge whether this is an activity that is really a part of the person’s life or whether it’s just something the person made up or does only once or twice every few years.)
- “What is your typical work schedule from your past jobs? At what time did you usually find yourself packing up and going home, or shutting off your computer (if working from home)?”
- “How important do you consider it to maintain a balance between work and leisure, including time with friends and family?”
Like all job interview questions, the candidate may not answer truthfully, but asking all of those questions will give you a sense of whether this is a person who can consistently deliver high-quality work on time while maintaining regular hours, or whether this a high-anxiety, compulsive person, who will not be able to shut off her computer and put her work away within reasonable hours.
It’s also up to the manager of each work group to monitor work-life balance in the same way she monitors productivity. If she notices an employee sending e-mails at night or on the weekends, the manager has a responsibility to find out why this is happening: “Shirley, I noticed that you often send e-mails late at night and on the weekends. Let’s work together to figure out a schedule and workflow, so you never have to do that. Evenings and weekends are your time to relax and do things for fun. When you take time for yourself, you come back to work the next day and on Mondays refreshed and better able to focus.”
When employees understand that the manager does not approve of them working at night, on weekends, and during vacations—that they’re not going to win extra points for doing it—relaxing suddenly might not seem so hard.
Does your company prioritize creating a culture that encourages work-life balance? If so, how do you do it? If not, why not, and what are the downfalls of enabling a high-anxiety, compulsive work environment?
Positivity Matters in Times of Crisis
Training, connection, and supportive networks accelerate recovery.
By Shawn Achor
One of the things that surprised me most about positive psychology research is that I rarely get to research places that start out happy. In fact, the majority of my research has occurred in high-crisis or challenge situations. I started with depressed Harvard students, then worked with banks around the world during the financial crisis. I have done work in the wake of school shootings, during the Boston bombings, and with schools in Flint, MI, in the midst of cyclical poverty and a water crisis. More recently, my research led me to the healthcare industry that is reeling financially.
What I’ve learned over and over again— even in the most severe situations—is that in times of crisis, positivity matters more than ever.
But many leaders worry, especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic, economic meltdown, and social unrest, that trying to emphasize positivity and happiness will make them look out of touch—and rather than helping their people, it will backfire
The reason for this is quite sensible at first. It feels tone deaf to talk about the positive when people are suffering. But upon closer reflection a huge flaw is found in this mindset. If we are waiting until challenges lessen at work to find happiness and optimism, or for structural racism to be abolished, inequalities to go away, or poverty and violence to disappear, we will never find happiness. Nor will we receive its proven benefits in our personal and professional lives.
In fact, when we have large challenges facing our world, we need our best brains possible to bear upon that situation. After two decades, my research consistently shows that the greatest competitive advantage in the modern economy is a positive and engaged brain—especially during crisis and suffering. The more positive the brain becomes during challenges, the more capable it is to recover from stress, anxiety, and trauma, and proactively adapt to changing circumstances.
So now is the time for Training and HR professionals to make the necessary link for their organizations, not only between positivity and performance, but also for positivity as the pathway forward in this pivotal moment for so many people.
Case Study: Genesis Health System
Three years ago, Genesis Health System was not profitable. This was true for many hospitals, which were experiencing the lowest profitability since the 2008 financial crisis. Consequently, few leaders there were thinking about happiness at work, and Jordan Voigt, president of the largest medical center (Genesis Medical Center – Davenport), was facing new challenges ahead. They were about to undergo two rounds of massive cost reductions and layoffs. In addition, they were asking staff to reduce their hours and take time off with or without PTO (paid time off).
Still, Voigt felt it was important to focus on the company’s culture and hypothesized that positivity could help at this crucial time. We worked with the medical center to roll out a series of positive psychology trainings called The Orange Frog Workshop (based on a parable I wrote to teach the principles of “The Happiness Advantage”) department by department, so we could test the effectiveness compared to groups that had not been exposed to the interventions. Each department trained then designed positive changes to existing work routines and created new practices tailored to their subculture, spanning from gratitude exercises to increased praise and recognition from managers and team-based conscious acts of kindness.
The Results: Positivity Training Matters
After the workshop, the percentage of respondents who reported they were happy at work went from 43 percent to 62 percent. Team members reporting they were “very expressive of optimism at work” increased substantially after participating in the training (measured six weeks after the intervention). Burnout dropped by nearly half. Individuals reporting “high stress at work” fell 30 percent. Social connection improved, as well. The number of respondents who said, “I feel connected at work,” went from 68 percent to 85 percent. And this was after staff reductions where some coworkers and friends were no longer at the organization.
In the areas of the hospital not part of the intervention, only 37 percent of respondents claimed Genesis was going in the right direction.
Embedding positivity wasn’t just good for staff; it benefited patients, too. Patient experience rates nearly doubled within a 12-month period. Following the intervention, Genesis Medical Center-Davenport archived profitability and in 2019, it was recognized as one of the nation’s most improved medical centers for performance.
Connection Promotes a “Collective Confidence”
People don’t typically make positive changes alone or in isolation. A positive mindset at work is often a collective exercise because the behaviors and attitudes are reinforced when a group does it together. At Genesis, the emphasis in the workshops was on developing positive habits, brainstorming new work routines, and discussing culture together in groups. This allowed participants to take ownership of the new mindsets, routines, and ways of working. They were creating new social scripts, building a “collective confidence” in real time, and connecting these changes to purpose, verbalizing the significant impact their happiness and positivity can have on their patients. It’s imperative that leaders help people feel connected first and then deputize them to make positive change.
Supportive Networks Are Needed Too
But what about spreading positivity during a pandemic? Or even with a distributed workforce, which is common today?
Research shows that group support is the single most important intervention for psychological trauma, and that is what we’re going through right now. People need to understand that what they are experiencing is a normal response to an abnormal situation and to have tools to help them cope. As for people who are already connected to each other, it’s important to maintain those connections.
Our social structures have been altered too. Many have disappeared. These structures normally create supportive connections— in meetings and at the water cooler at work, in class and at the coffee shop. Learning together helps reinforce this connection.
Considered a leading expert on the connection between happiness and success, Shawn Achor is The New York Times best-selling author of “The Happiness Advantage,” “Big Potential” (https://www.amazon.com/Big-Potential-Transforming-Achievement-Well-Being/dp/1524761532), and “The Orange Frog” (www.OrangeFrogExperience.com). One of his TED Talks (https://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work?language=en) has had 22 million-plus views, and he has lectured or worked with more than a third of the Fortune 100 companies, as well as the NFL, NBA, Pentagon, and the White House.
4 Pillars of Higher Morale
A manager who inspires positive morale does so best by knowing what each and every team member values. The manager then regularly does something with and for each employee that embodies that employee’s values.
By Jim Hornickel, Co-Founder and Master Trainer, Bold New Directions
Morale! The individual and collective attitudinal fuel that drives all actions and inactions and the results that follow. It includes the emotions, attitude, satisfaction, and overall outlook of employees. Low morale equates to lower productivity. And reduced productivity drives down profitably or sustainability. But, of course, the opposite follows the same dynamics: Higher morale fuels greater productivity, and if that is managed well, profitability or sustainability increases.
Let’s look at the variety of organizational components (interviewing/hiring, individual, team, and manager) that are factors influencing which direction you and your organization choose.
Morale starts here with interviewing/hiring. No matter who does the actual interviewing—whether HR, the interviewee’s potential manager, panel interviews made up of various influential team members, or sequential interviews (those same influential team members meeting with the candidate one-on-one in an arranged sequence)—interviews are the time and place to be thinking about everyone’s morale.
Unfortunately, many organizations still limit interviews to assessing if a candidate has the skills to do the technicalities of any job. Skills are, of course, essential. But morale is the human, non-technical factor. Interviewers need to know the current human-factor makeup of the existing team into which the interviewee will need to blend. What values (personal and organizational) are held together by the current team? How many of the four behavior styles are working now and how do they purposefully blend? What degrees of ego and best self are being exhibited? Is the culture inclusive or exclusive? What degree of respect or disrespect is present? Do you want the candidate to blend in because the existing culture is already operating at high morale or do you want a strong, positive-minded new employee who will raise the morale of the team in place? All are worth investigating as part of the hiring process.
Regarding references, while large organizations generally only give out basic information about a past employee, there are many tens of thousands of smaller businesses that are not as strict. You can ask these less formal organizations questions about all of the above factors in their former team member.
Let’s assume you are doing a magnificent job of interviewing and hiring. You hire individuals who live with more positivity and optimism than negativity and pessimism. “Blame” is not a word they are familiar with. “Can do” is their creed.
It is still up to every individual to take responsibility for his or her own attitudes and behaviors; to be morale-effecters. While support from the team and managers helps, high-morale individuals have high Emotional Intelligence (EQ). They excel in ever-deepening how they live in the four basic quadrants of EQ (self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, and relationship management). Individuals who are “self-aware” are worth their weight in gold. They know everything starts here, particularly their own happiness (morale). They monitor their stream of thoughts, feelings, corresponding body sensations, images, intuitions, beliefs, attitudes, and more. Why do they do this mindfully? To “self-manage.” And they know to not do this at the expense of others (i.e., lowering their teammates’ morale). Highly self-responsible individuals then turn their attention from themselves to others in their field of influence. They use the EQ quadrant of “social awareness.” They know they don’t work in a vacuum. There are influential intra-dynamics. Highly emotionally intelligent members ask themselves, “How am I impacting others?” by taking in the clues from the professionals around them. They then consciously use that information to “manage relationships,” the last of the EQ quadrants. One for all and all for one. These are your “shining stars.”
While teams are, of course, composed of individuals, they do take on a life of their own. The collection of individual personalities, behaviors, preferences, values, intentions, ethnicities, life experiences, and more all shape the collective team personality. Great teams take responsibility for the collective. High-functioning teams care for each other in ways that are supportive to everyone’s advantage.
But most team members are not group dynamics experts. Training comes into play. Teambuilding skills are needed. Empowering each other to act as a unified entity supporting the organization’s mission, vision, and values does not just come about “naturally.” Training enriches their capacity to enact, persevere, and succeed. Teams that take on responsibility for being influencers (instead of dumping everything onto the manager’s back) simply have more success, and success adds positively to morale. But they need to know how to communicate with each other for the higher good (higher morale).
High-functioning teams also share the stepping-up for continuous courageous actions. Courage takes development. Whether the manager is a courage-mentor or the organization brings in a coach to champion the professionals toward positive acts of bravery, when a team stops complaining about or blaming others (managers above them, departments they have to interact with, even customers they don’t work well with, and more), and takes ownership of their needs, transformation happens. As transformational trainer T. Harv Eker says, blamers and complainers are crap magnets. They take others’ morale down with them.
As usual, the “manager” has a critical role in influencing the interview process, supporting individuals they manage/supervise/mentor/coach/lead, and in cultivating team cohesiveness and positive morale. A manager can make or break morale. Studies say 84 percent of people don’t want to go in to work on Monday mornings. Managers can be a negative influencer for reduced motivation (morale) to start another workweek. But thankfully, they also can be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.
This still comes back to interviewing; in this case, of the current managers. How many professionals do what they do well and their organization assumes that will make them great manager-leaders? Communicating with, relating to, and motivating humans is an entire set of skills unto itself. Many newly promoted managers are thrown to the wolves; they learn on the job. What a setup for failure.
New managers need to be trained on people skills and the many processes needed to take care of all the aspects of managing. But while training introduces needed “information” (such as motivating, evaluating, delegating, developmental coaching, corrective coaching, etc.), training’s best friend is coaching—deepening that knowledge and forwarding the action. Training and coaching also go hand-in-hand for people skills. One cannot learn things such as Emotional Intelligence and being in the nuances of communication and relationships from reading books. So training introduces the theoretical, whereas coaching can experientially transform a manager’s ability to interact with more effective and uplifting results.
Managers also must have great versatility when it comes to overseeing numbers of complex professionals—individualized, situational leadership. An effective tool for navigating the variety of team members is a four-quadrant behavior styles model (there are many). There is great value in combining the attitude and practices of the Platinum Rule (meet people where they are) and learning the many clues that indicate how each team member goes about processing information, responding to various kinds of situations, and such. When people feel more related-to, they are generally happier.
A manager who inspires positive morale does so best by knowing what each and every team member values. The manager then regularly does something with and for each employee that embodies that employee’s values. Values lived = Happiness. Values denied = Unhappiness.
Lastly, uplifting managers regularly “catch their people doing something right.” Too many managers focus on “problems” from a negative perspective and spend an unbalanced amount of time just attending to those problems—putting out fires, if you will. Team members do best when they are praised, acknowledged, and appreciated (deservedly) in enough quantity to make them feel valued and respected. And that, of course, yields higher morale.
Manager-leader specialist Jim Hornickel is the cofounder and master trainer at Bold New Directions. Along with a B.A. in Management, Hornickel’s professional experience includes 25 years as a manager-leader in several industries; life, leadership, and relationship coaching; and authoring books “Negotiating Success” and “Managing from the Inside Out (16 Insights for Building Positive Relationships with Staff).” For more information,
The Talent Ring: Choose—Grow—Inspire
When you view the choosing, growing, and inspiring of talent as a game without a finish line, meant to be repeated over and over again, you begin to develop a culture that will define your company brand well into the future.
By Brent O’Bryan
In 2021, we will see yet another chapter in the Lord of the Rings adventure when Amazon Prime releases a new mini-series. The first of the books, The Hobbit, was published nearly a century ago, yet interest in the fictional land of Middle Earth continues to endure. Foundational to the narratives are the characters, or, for our purposes, the talent. In my industry—physical and systems security—and likely also in your industry, talent is foundational. Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great,” emphasized this point when he said, “People are not your most important asset. The right people are.”
In the stories by J.R.R Tolkien, a ring is a central element, signifying great and mysterious powers (mostly evil). In the talent journey, there is, much like a ring, a continual process or flow. Therefore, it is worth taking a few minutes to explore how we choose, grow, and inspire talent in what can be described as an infinite talent ring (only this one is for good, not evil).
The professional security sector is growing exponentially and the need for security industry talent is vital. The Freedonia Group, an international business research team, reports that global security service revenues are forecast to rise 3.6 percent per year to $263 billion in 2024. How can we keep the flourishing security workforce ready and able to take on the daily challenges they face in divergent sectors across multiple industries in many different countries? The answers in my industry are likely no different than in your own. Choosing, growing, and inspiring talent are the framework of any vibrant organization.
“The world is changed.” —Galadriel
The heart and soul of the security industry are the nation’s security professionals. These include officers, supervisors, technicians, managers, and executives. They all assume leadership roles—sometimes with lifesaving ramifications—at facilities across the world. Security professionals act as the first line of defense against civil unrest, violence, and terrorist attacks, while also adding to the customer or visitor experience through concierge-like activities. Due to the aforementioned industry growth, choosing new employees at every level is arguably the most important step in our talent ring.
Galadriel rightly observed Middle Earth as “changed,” and so, too, has our world. While the pandemic has created many job losses in various sectors, the security industry has been onboarding tens of thousands of people to their ranks. This has required organizations to pivot in both strategy and tactics. While some geographic markets are hosting in-person career days at their regional offices, hiring events also have included socially distant protocols such as “drive-through” career days, with hiring managers meeting up with prospects as they drive up to the parking lot.
In addition, while gaining some steam pre-pandemic, technology enhancements in the hiring and onboarding process rocketed to the forefront of the strategy for many organizations. Examples of tools that have been supercharged over the last 12 to 18 months include automated applicant contact and initial screening, video interviewing, and artificial intelligence-enabled new hire surveys.
Choosing talent also includes how to select the best talent through legal and effective means. This requires training of anyone in a hiring role. Teaching leaders to choose wisely requires clarity in five areas:
- Define what “top talent” is for each position: Yogi Berra, Hall of Fame baseball player and coach, once quipped that “if you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” So, too, with your choice of talent. If you have not made clear what qualities, experiences, traits, and abilities define excellence in a role, you will end up with something other than excellence.
- Clarify who is responsible for choosing: Back to Jim Collins for a moment. In the aforementioned book, “Good to Great,” he makes clear that the leader is responsible for who gets on their “bus” (team). If you want a manager to own the results, let that person own decisions related to who goes with them on the journey.
- Remind leaders why choosing talent is so important: When asked, most leaders of people are quickly able to recall a hiring mistake. When asked to reflect upon the negative impact of that poor hiring decision, leaders recognize the value in avoiding a similar situation. Conversely, when asked to recall the benefits of the selection of a top talent employee, leaders are quickly reminded of the desire to replicate the situation.
- Explore where leaders find the best talent: The best way to start this discussion is to ask the leader where and how they found the most recent top talent. Often, that talent was developed internally or the person came from a trusted source. On this point, remind leaders to embrace the value of a diverse pool of candidates for selection.
- Train leaders on how to choose talent: Most leaders believe employee selection to be a strength, yet often history and results tell a different story. Leaders need training on how to select top talent legally and effectively. According to Gallup research, 80 percent of turnover is the result of poor hiring decisions. Training might include the basics of employment law, properly managing an interview, and effective interview questions.
“There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself.” —Gandalf
The security services industry has advanced greatly, thanks to the recognition that training and leadership are crucial to executing often complex missions at diverse locations throughout the world. Security professionals are a vital part of a facility or community’s safety and security—working in conjunction with local law enforcement, fire departments, and emergency medical responders. Therefore, growth in the security sector demands that employees are continuously prepared to occupy the next rung on the leadership ladder.
At large companies, we may be challenged with ensuring that all employees are fully supported with the optimal learning tools and guidance required to be successful in their current roles while also preparing them for future development and growth. Our learning culture has developed within the framework of leadership support; the creation of programs aligned to support client objectives; and the deployment of learning technology designed to make learning opportunities flexible and accessible to all.
HR and Training professionals often speak of potential. “This person has high potential.” “That person does not.” The truth is, everyone has potential. Now, not everyone has aspiration for more. And that is OK. What is not OK, is when organizations, or better, leaders, do not look for and encourage employees to adopt the proper development mindset. Identifying what development employees should be leaning in to provides guidance for both the leader and the employee.
As a learning organization, we lean in to three specific areas of development:
- Safety Mindset: More than anything, we want to help our employees work and live safely. Our business may be security, but security does not happen without first developing a safety mindset. We also know that training impacts Workers’ Compensation claims costs. So, if every employee develops a keen awareness of safety within their environment, we will provide a better service, have healthier employees, and save on unnecessary expenditures. Good for the client. Good for the employee. Good for the business.
- Service Mindset: The #1 concern from raving fan customers is often the same as the #1 complaint for unsatisfied customers: employee performance. In the service industry, every moment matters and every interaction leads to a reaction—positive or negative. By instilling a service-first mindset in all employees at all levels, we not only serve customers well, we also serve each other well.
- Growth Mindset: Much has been said about Dr. Carol Dweck’s research into the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. Much like Emotional Intelligence, growth mindset can be developed. When Gandalf speaks of Bilbo, he, the leader, sees potential, or growth. Bilbo begins the journey in a fixed mindset, but gradually shifts to a growth mindset. How? His leader challenged him along the way, not letting him sink but also not pulling him out the moment Bilbo thought he might drown. Gandalf used a healthy mix of the big three that most learning experts know well: training, coaching, and experiences. When employees shift to a growth mindset, they are more likely to stay with the organization, adding increasingly more value to customers, employees, and co-workers.
“The praise of the praiseworthy is above all rewards.” —Faramir
When leaders are positioned to inspire the workforce, the benefits will be seen by the employees, the organization, and the customer base. Inspiration leads to engagement, which leads to retention (employee and client), which drives value to every stakeholder. So how does an organization go about inspiring the workforce? A clear employee-focused vision of career planning combined with consistent recognition are two key levers.
Employees want to see the possibilities when they are part of an organization. Career planning is best designed as a shared responsibility between employee and organization. However, the organization should take the lead on creating the vision. A great place to start is by weaving the vision into your employee value proposition during the recruiting process. Then, develop more clarity during the onboarding of each new employee. Next, during the talent management lifecycle within your organization, build in components of this vision to include employee feedback, supervisor feedback, and specific shared development plans to achieve the vision.
The second lever to inspiration, recognition, is the fuel that helps drive the vision. In The Two Towers, the second in the LOTR trilogy, there is a dialogue with a fair amount of tension. One of the characters of noble lineage, Faramir, is recognized for his actions by Samwise Gamgee, faithful friend to Frodo Baggins. Upon receiving the lavish praise, Faramir responds to Samwise, “The praise of the praiseworthy is above all rewards.”
Several lessons from the interaction between these two characters captured my attention:
- Leaders are praiseworthy: In a position of authority (by title or, in the case of Samwise, by their actions), they know that the true value of the recognition they give derives only from the strength of their own character.
- Leaders are timely: In making their gratitude clear when they experience an act worthy of recognition, they do not delay.
- Leaders are sincere: While the culture has wrongly taught that recognition must equal some extrinsic reward, they know that the emotional stimulus of a heartfelt word of praise has a much longer shelf-life.
- Leaders are humble: Any response to praise is marked by genuine humility.
“Either go through or give up your quest. There are no safe paths.” —Gandalf
New journeys and adventures are just around every Misty Mountain. The steps in the “Talent Ring” are not easy. However, the organization with the best talent will have the most sustained success in what Simon Sinek wisely refers to as “The Infinite Game.” When you view the choosing, growing, and inspiring of talent as a game without a finish line, meant to be repeated over and over again, you begin to develop a culture that will define your company brand well into the future.
Training Magazine (2021). The Talent Ring: Choose-Grow-Inspire. Retrieved from The Talent Ring: Choose—Grow—Inspire (trainingmag.com).
Training Takeaways from a Negative Online Review
By Margery Weinstein
Companies today have more to worry about than angry customers in stores demanding their money back, and phone banks flooded with outraged messages. Now, thanks to the power of online reviews, one negative experience can blow up and be sent to thousands, or even millions, of current and potential customers as quickly as it takes to click “post.”
But the good news is there are rich training opportunities in these negative reviews.
I found myself in the position of negative online reviewer a few weeks ago. I visited my favorite jeans store in New York City, and was disappointed. The store was empty except for two retail associates, and no one said, “Hello,” or came to greet me. So I wandered in on my own and found one of the retail associates with clipboard in hand doing what looked like an assessment of inventory on the shelves. She did not look up as I stood before her. “Excuse me,” I said.
“Yes?” she said, as though I was bothering her.
Since she was doing inventory, I thought it likely she was a manager, so this was an especially surprising unfriendly reception. She brusquely answered my question, handing me off to the other sales associate, who was much friendlier, though not a good communicator.
I noticed that the jeans she pulled from the shelf looked much different from the jeans I had worn out and wanted to replace. Though the same size, the jeans she showed me looked smaller and stiffer. The sales associate began explaining the relationship between the way a pair of jeans fit and the jean’s wash. I could have sworn she said the wash and the color of a pair of jeans were not the same thing, and that the wash of the jeans also could affect how the jeans fit. I came away confused. I took the jeans home, didn’t like the way they fit, so I returned to the store, getting who I think was the same sales associate explaining to me yet again the relationship between wash and fit—this time contradicting what she told me earlier. So the wash of the jeans does or does not affect fit? I finally settled on a pair that looked as similar as possible to the jeans I had worn out (which I brought with me to the store). Fortunately, this second attempt at a jeans purchase was successful. The unfriendly reception and poor communication skills were eye opening.
The first item on the training to-do list for this store is simple: “Mastering the Art of the Warm Welcome.” I put that in initial caps because I feel like it could be a training module or a session at a conference for retail associates. Does your company have a module like that for front-line employees? It seems like common sense if you’re working in a customer-facing job, but maybe it isn’t. Customer-facing employees apparently need to be trained to greet with a smile and friendly tone every customer who walks through the door. If there are so many customers that each cannot be greeted individually, then employees should be trained to circulate, asking if anyone needs help. The worst thing to do—the one takeaway if nothing else is learned—is to never make the customer who approaches you for help, because you didn’t approach them, feel like they’re bothering you. It’s hard to gauge your tone sometimes, so use role-play exercises that are recorded as videos, which learners can review to see how they come across (rather than how they think they come across).
Now, what to do about the sales associate who may understand the fit and sizing of the product, but is unable to effectively communicate that knowledge? Testing employees’ product knowledge is a good start. You want to make sure they first thoroughly understand your products. Then comes the trickier training step: learning how to communicate and use that knowledge to provide superior service. Role-play exercises work in this case, too. The exercises, though, should be done using people from your company, or outside volunteers, who know little to nothing about the products the employee is practicing explaining and selling. Only when employees have to explain and sell the product do you see how effective the training really was. Can they apply the knowledge they mastered to do what you ultimately most need them to do—sell your product while creating a positive experience for the customer?
I found many resources online providing guidance in responding to online reviews, but I didn’t find any resources to guide trainers in using negative reviews as fodder for training. The negative experiences of your customers can be hard to hear and accept—but the power of the lessons those experiences create is an invaluable training tool.
Do your trainers use negative online reviews about your company to address employee weaknesses and to set goals for providing customers with an experience that will exceed their expectations?
Training Magazine (2021). Training Takeaways from a Negative Online Review. Retrieved from https://trainingmag.com/training-takeaways-from-a-negative-online-review/.
Confidence Is All
By Graham Binks
All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.
Being comfortable with uncertainty does not come naturally to most of us. If you’re one of the few, take note that the majority of your colleagues will probably need some convincing.
Most take comfort in predictability, yet in the business world we’re expected to guess the future—what will our customers value in five years? What might our competitors do to leapfrog the market? Where are the economic, political, and technological trends headed? We don’t have any choice but to deal in uncertainty. Success follows when we get it right.
Fortunately, we can be confident in some predictions. For the rest, we have to keep doors open to opportunity, get good at hedging, and do what we can to increase our odds.
We gain confidence through achievement, and the very best way to adapt your business to change is to build a team with confidence. Confidence that they will make the best choices with the information available to them—confidence that they can pivot when a better path is revealed.
Building Confident Teams
Teambuilding has become associated with social events, framed as an opportunity to hang with your colleagues outside of work. For instance, bowling night or tough mudding. Sometimes such events create genuine camaraderie, but more often they feel forced.
But take on a shared challenge together and win—that’s teambuilding. There is no better way to build camaraderie than overcoming a difficult challenge together. It’s the reason war veterans get together decades after the battle and sports teams play together for longer than their bodies would like.
We’re going to look at the lifecycle of a winning team. But before that, I’d like you to set the stage by taking the Vote of Confidence Test. Grab a pen and paper…
Your Innovation Squad
I don’t hold with talk of “dream teams.” I’ve seen too many embryonic teams roll their eyes at the notion they could sign Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky. Much better to build a team with humility and confidence. A team with self-esteem.
Maybe another sporting analogy will help us think about this stuff. Any good (or great) sports team has clear attributes:
- Balance: Every soccer team has 11 specialists. They all know how to kick a ball with at least (mostly) one foot. But stopping, creating plays, and finishing are specialties that dictate each player’s role in defense, midfield, and attack. If you put the top 11 all-time goal scorers on the same team, they’d lose every game.
- Experience and youth: Young players run faster; experienced players know where to run. Every great squad has the right blend.
- Coaching: The best coaches are rarely great players themselves, but they know how to get the best out of the team they have. They do that by guiding them on the path to confidence.
- Visibility: When we watch a match, we see the constituent parts, the specialist roles, and where teams are weak and strong. Visibility makes it easier to improve.
The process of soccer is, essentially, to stop the other team from scoring, move the ball within range of the goal, and score more times than your opponents. The better the team works, the more games they win, and the more confident they become.
Consider, then, the process of change. We find a need to focus on, design a solution that addresses the priority concerns, build it, prove that it works, and launch. That’s how we put the ball in the net.
Simple stuff, right? But here’s the thing. It’s all too easy to focus on the inputs and outputs—the needs and the launch—and forget the part in the middle—the design, the learning, and proving that it works. Yet that’s where the quality is determined. Can you get this right the first time, or do you have to reset the project? Will your roadmap deliver additional value, or will you be playing catch-up to make good on the failings of your first attempt?
Returning to our soccer analogy: Think of the team that keeps possession of the ball—reducing the other team’s chances of scoring—but never gets close enough to put the ball in the net. Best outcome is a snore draw. Often, one late slip can cost the game.
Every strong team has the right blend of experience and learning. That is to say, if you’re charging your team with achieving something beyond any of their collective experiences, that’s a great pep talk but destined for disappointment. You need the right level of “been there, done that” on your team.
Let’s dispel a myth here—no initiative is totally original. Unless you’re planning to land humans on Mars, somebody somewhere has done something like this before. The harder it is to find those people, the more you need them if you’re to manage your risk. If you’re bringing a novel new product to market, find someone who’s brought a novel new product to market before—anywhere. If you’re creating something with high technical risk (meaning you’ve no idea if the project is even possible) find someone who’s worked in basic research before.
Ideally, your experienced associates will be great teachers—excited to share of their expertise and see your team develop.
If you cannot find this experience within your organization, you have three options:
- Seek partners to de-risk your current assignment and coach your team to become self-sufficient in these areas.
- Hire the skills full time—if you’re going to need the core competence.
- Roll the dice and load up on trial and error.
For what it’s worth, I have never seen option three lead to universal happiness.
A Coaching Culture
Take the example of a change management company. Like all growing consulting businesses, they face the challenge of cycling new blood through the ranks. Consultants move on, especially the best ones—fact of life. To build a great consulting organization, you have to hire well, ramp new folks up as quickly and effectively as you can and maintain the highest quality for the client. Our change management company’s creative approach to the challenge is to assign a coach to every new hire. Someone who will not only show them where the washrooms are but also guide their onboarding and act as counsel for any client challenge.
It appears that everyone and their dog is a coach today. Shingles have been hung and advice dispensed. Results are mixed, and the reputation of coaching has taken a hit.
Fact is, coaching is a great way to strengthen the skills of teams and individuals. A skilled coach imparts expertise through asking, not telling.
The art of coaching is underestimated. And under-appreciated.
You have all kinds of experts in your organization. Odds are, they learned most of what they know through the school of hard knocks over a long period of time.
But I’ll put $5 on your having only one real expert in some of the critical areas of your business. One woman who knows that part of the code. One guy who remembers why that thing works the way it does. If that rings true, you’re running a one-bus business.
Obviously, we all hope these folks stay healthy and don’t accept a better offer from some other company. But even then, having single-expert bottlenecks in your business won’t cut it down the line when your competition speeds up.
Sure, experts sometimes hoard the information. Much more likely, they’ve under-shared because they were never granted the time to share their knowledge.
Teams are dynamic. Everything changes. Projects come and go. Teams form, make their marks, and disband.
You may start by building one great team, but it’s not enough to end there. A successful change initiative will create a buzz. The team members will be looked up to like champions. Others will want to sign up for the next challenge.
Your pioneer teams can go forth and multiply. Each can carry their early lessons into other initiatives and other teams. It pays to invest in their coaching skills—it’s the fastest way to turn a championship team into a squad.
How much better would your business tick if your experts and pioneers were also great coaches? Propagating their expertise to anyone who will listen. Transitioning others in to fill their shoes. Taking on bigger and better challenges.
Excerpt from “Trusting Technology: Mastering Technology for Non-Tech Leaders” by Graham Binks (Post Hill press, 2019).
Graham Binks is an expert in helping businesses get the best out of their technology investments. Over the course of more than 500 career projects conducted in a wide range of industries, he has helped countless small, medium, and large organizations to quickly achieve their technology goals under budget and with low risk. Binks is the CEO of primeFusion Inc and has more than 30 years of technology leadership experience in Europe, North America, and Asia with clients including Nike, Procter & Gamble, Citigroup, JP Morgan, and Eurotunnel. He is the author of “Trusting Technology: Mastering Technology for Non-Tech Leaders.”
Training Magazine (2020). Confidence Is All. Retrieved from https://trainingmag.com/confidence-all/.
Resolving Pandemic Paradoxes
Rethinking learning for a post-COVID-19 world.
ByTony O’Driscoll, Professor, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business
The COVID-19 disruption we are all enduring represents a pivotal moment in history where humanity’s future trajectory is being revectored. The decisions we make and the actions we take during this perplexing pandemic period are laying down the tracks upon which civilization will travel for decades to come.
Disruptions this big are rife with paradox. They happen slowly, then suddenly. They create a point of “punctuated equilibrium,” where long periods of stability are unexpectedly upended by seismic shocks. Their impact often is overestimated in the short term and underestimated in the long term. They create that eerie “liminal space” that exists between “what was” and “what’s next.” They are hard to figure out because they seem to contradict common sense and defy conventional wisdom.
Massive disruptions such as COVID-19 are particularly pernicious because they contain two different disruptive form factors. The first is accelerative, where many of the trends we have been observing are pulled forward faster. The second is paradigmatic, where the perturbations and reverberations of the disruption open up a portal to a future that is entirely different from what we might have previously imagined.
Figuring It Out
In times of disruption, human beings naturally gravitate toward familiarity. We tend to go with what we know. As a result, we often lean into what has worked in the past to solve a problem we encounter in the present. While this approach might prove useful in addressing the accelerative form of disruption, it is virtually useless in addressing the paradigmatic one.
In today’s increasingly paradoxical world, certainty is hard to come by. Each day surfaces new sets of questions to which we have no clear answers. In the post-COVID-19 era, we are no longer living in a world where all we have to do is “find out” the answer to established questions. Instead, we find ourselves having to “figure out” answers to previously unencountered ones.
To traverse the COVID-19 liminal space—moving from a pre-pandemic “find-it-out” world to a post-pandemic “figure-it-out” one—our learning approach must shift from productive to generative. Productive learning focuses on driving individual human conformity around best practices for known and predictable situations. Generative learning focuses on galvanizing collective human creativity around next practices for unknown and unpredictable situations.
We must tackle COVID-19’s paradigmatic disruptive form factor by curating generative learning contexts where people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives come together to figure out progression paths toward a better shared future.
A Global Step-Change in Learning
The primary paradox we face today is that we need a global step-change in learning at precisely the moment in time when we must shift from productive learning to generative learning. To successfully deliver on the worldwide upgrade in the knowledge, skills, and attitudes required to save both lives and livelihoods due to COVID-19, we must radically shift our thinking about learning itself. More specifically, we must:
- Think “Paradigmatic Disruption” over “Accelerative Disruption”
- Think “Figure It Out” over “Find It Out”
- Think “Problem/Need” over “Learning/Objective”
- Think “Context Curation” over “Content Creation”
- Think “Generative Co-Creativity” over “Productive Conformity”
- Think “Learning to Innovate” over “Teaching to Imitate”
- Think “Problem-Solving Networks” over “Subject Matter Experts”
- Think “Learning While Doing” over “Learning Before Doing”
Einstein famously quipped that “the significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” By shifting our thinking from productive to generative learning, we can take the critical first step in figuring out the pernicious pandemic paradoxes the COVID-19 disruption has foisted upon us.
As Learning professionals, it is incumbent upon us to make sure this shift happens!
Tony O’Driscoll is a professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and a research fellow at Duke Corporate Education. He studies how organizations build the leadership system capabilities required to survive and thrive in an increasingly complex world.
Training Magazine (2020). Resolving Pandemic Paradoxes. Retrieved from https://trainingmag.com/trgmag-article/resolving-pandemic-paradoxes/ .
The Value of Self-Confident Employees
By Margery Weinstein
Last week, a friend shared with me that a new position had opened at her company, and though she might like the job, she wasn’t going to apply because she assumed she wasn’t qualified. I tried to encourage her to apply anyway, but she demurred.
I’ve been “unqualified” for most of my jobs, and that goes for most of us in trade journalism, because we were trained as journalists and editors, rather than as practitioners of the fields we are writing about. But we take the jobs anyway because we’re confident we can learn on the job.
Editors writing about trades they never were trained in themselves need to be confident they can learn after they take the job. What if all of your employees had that same confidence? When a job isn’t life-and-death, it’s OK that the majority—or at least a significant amount—of the learning occurs after the job has been taken, right?
I saw an article online, “7 Ways to Build Your Employees’ Self-Confidence,” by Karin Hurt, which makes me think we all should be thinking about how to build employee self-confidence. Internal promotion is a great way to incentivize employees to stay long term at your company, and it can be more efficient than hiring from the outside. While employees moving into new roles nearly always require additional training, and the aforementioned on-the-job learning, candidates who are already employees can be assimilated to the job faster. They are already a part of your company’s culture, understand your company’s mission, have a network of colleagues inside the company, and a track record of being a person people like to work with. Outside candidates can have a track record, via references, of being a good person to work with, but you typically don’t know those references the way you know the references of an internal candidate.
The goal of increasing internal promotions—which also helps with succession planning—won’t work, though, if employees don’t have the confidence to push themselves forward when new positions open. Hurt writes that there are easy ways you can train managers to build the self-confidence of employees. These tips, in some cases, are just good manners and ethics, such as treating employees with respect. She says you can do that by taking the time to connect with them one-on-one, and to listen to their perspective. It builds self-confidence when you see that your manager, and maybe even your manager’s manager, thinks you’re smart and worthwhile to listen to. I know from personal experience how it feels when your e-mails to your work group, including your boss and boss’ boss, go ignored, while e-mails from others receive replies. Be sure your managers understand that even entry-level employees should get responses to e-mails expressing opinions and offering ideas.
When I was in college, my professor in a political theory class asked me to help a Russian exchange student, and I remember how it made me feel about myself. I was insecure and confused about why he had asked me, but now when I look back on it, I’m proud, and can see it helped me feel better about my intelligence and ability to be of service. I also was able to interact with the class material more powerfully by trying to explain it to a person outside of our culture. If you have a smart entry- or mid-level employee who has proven him or herself, you could do the same—have him or her mentor a new employee. The new employee probably will be grateful for the help, and the employee you tap to help will strengthen his or her own skills in the process. Do you have a mentoring program that allows proven entry- and mid-level employees to mentor others? Or are mentors only senior-level executives?
An idea Hurt doesn’t touch on that I would recommend is encouraging managers to bring those working under them into meetings to present their own ideas. For years, the manager I have now would take my ideas and present them on my behalf in meetings. I speculated that he did this because he didn’t want to give me a platform because he knew that if I could present the ideas myself, there was a greater chance the ideas would find a receptive audience. In addition to possibly limiting the power of the ideas, managers who prefer to speak on behalf of their employees, rather than invite the employees into the meetings themselves, also miss an opportunity to build their employees’ presentation skills and confidence. You can help create more confident employees earlier in their careers by having a culture that welcomes input from entry- and mid-level employees in executive meetings.
What is the Learning professional’s role in helping to create more confident employees who are more likely to push themselves forward when new opportunities arise at your company?
Training Magazine (2020). The Value of Self-Confident Employees. Retrieved from https://trainingmag.com/value-self-confident-employees/.
Cultivating the Best Culture and Training for It
The best cultures have foundational elements that enhance connection. The challenge is helping people understand this and develop behaviors that boost connection.
By Michael Lee Stallard, Cofounder and President, Connection Culture Group
“Culture training” sounds like something you might hear in conjunction with “mind control” or “brainwashing,” both of which I abhor. Nevertheless, experiences in my life made it clear that culture—by which I mean the social environment one lives and works in—has a profound effect on our health, happiness, and productivity. Left to itself, culture will drift or settle in a bad direction, so we can’t afford to ignore the area of culture in the workplace.
The first clues that culture matters came out of my work life. There were times I felt eager to get up in the morning; the hours flew by while I was immersed in what I was doing; and by the end of the day, I didn’t want to stop working. Then there were other times when I didn’t want to get out of bed; time passed slowly; and by the end of the day, I felt exhausted. It wasn’t that I had changed, so clearly something in the environment, or culture, of the workplace was having that effect on me.
Working on Wall Street, I observed many mergers that looked promising on paper but stumbled in reality because the cultures of the merging companies clashed, sabotaging post-merger performance. This made me wonder: Is there a best culture? In 2002, I decided to leave Wall Street to research and write a book on what it takes to cultivate the best culture.
A Family Crisis and Unexpected Insight
I knew from experience that factors such as being united around and inspired by an organization’s vision, truly valuing people, and giving them a voice mattered to individual and organizational performance. What I didn’t see clearly yet was the specific effect these factors had on people. A crisis in our family brought that into focus.
In late 2002, my wife, Katie, was diagnosed with breast cancer. A year later, she faced a diagnosis of advanced ovarian cancer. Her chances of survival at the time were less than 10 percent. The thought of losing my beloved best friend, our 10- and 12-year-old daughters losing their wonderful mother, and Katie not seeing the girls grow up made me feel anxious, stressed, and, at times, depressed, although I did my best to hide my feelings.
I remember dreading our second-opinion consultation at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK). As we approached MSK’s entrance, the doorman locked his eyes on Katie, smiled, and greeted her like a returning friend. Making eye contact with passersby is very unusual in New York City, so this caught me by surprise. Then I surmised he recognized Katie was wearing a wig and he was reaching out to welcome her. The receptionist called everyone “honey,” also very unusual in Manhattan. The security and administrative people we met were friendly and attentive. Our oncologist was upbeat and optimistic. She told Katie she was not a statistic (so don’t look at them) and women do survive this disease. Although I had been expecting MSK would have a culture of death and dying, I experienced a culture of life and living where people were inspired by MSK’s mission to provide “the best cancer care, anywhere” and where they valued one another, their patients, and the caregivers. By the end of the day, I was optimistic that, with this great medical team alongside us, Katie would survive.
Earlier this year, we celebrated Katie’s 15th year of being ovarian cancer free. Connection with our medical team, family, and friends helped get us through a stressful season. (And by the way, the doorman became a personal friend of ours, and he continues to warmly greet Katie each time she walks through the front door.)
Less than a year later, a friend of ours was diagnosed with cancer. I begged her to go to MSK, which she eventually did. Because she had a different type of cancer than Katie’s, she went to a different part of MSK, located in a different building. Her experience was not at all like ours. She said she felt alone and unwelcome. She was angry about it and swore she would never return. This, too, was an important clue.
Is There a “Best” Culture?
These personal experiences, along with the array of research we were reviewing and our own research, crystalized three truths about culture:
1. It’s the social aspects of culture—how we interact with each other—that affect people the most.
2. Cultures that connect people help them thrive; cultures that are disconnecting, and foster loneliness and social isolation, have a negative effect on people.
3. Every organization is made of a variety of subcultures, so the challenge for organizations is to help people, and leaders in particular, develop and maintain subcultures of connection throughout the organization.
A person who works in a culture that is controlling or where people are indifferent to one another will be less engaged than a person who feels like a valued member of the team. While the culture of a particular organization, department, or group will be shaped by the tasks to be done (for example, a medical practice versus a manufacturing plant), the best cultures have foundational elements that enhance connection.
Connection matters; it’s the lens through which culture should be assessed. The challenge we have today is helping people understand this and develop behaviors that boost connection.
The Substance of Culture Training
When my colleagues and I conduct culture training workshops, we spend time on the science of culture, so people understand that connection is more than just a nice idea. Human connection is, as neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman says, a “superpower that makes us smarter, happier, and more productive.” Our research has found that connection is a superpower for organizations, too, because it boosts employee engagement, strategic alignment, quality of decision-making, innovation, and adaptability, which, together, add up to a powerful performance and competitive advantage.
Disconnection, which is anything less than a positive bond of connection, is the norm in workplace cultures today. Two-thirds of people report they don’t feel connected at work. Research from Cigna last year found nearly half of Americans are lonely to the point that it has become a public health crisis. Disconnection most likely will get worse in the years ahead as artificial intelligence goes mainstream and we interact more with machines and less with human beings.
To counteract the trends that are increasing social isolation and loneliness today, including in the workplace, we who are in the training vocation can help people understand that the need for human connection is hardwired into our nervous systems, and we are ill-equipped to cope with stress without the support of meaningful relationships. As I describe in “Connection Culture,” absent meaningful human connection, our bodies go into a state of “stress response,” which makes us feel sickly, lethargic, anxious, and/or depressed. When feeling poorly, we typically turn to addictive substances and behaviors that make us temporarily feel better or numb the pain (e.g., food, alcohol, and drugs, or excessive work, exercise, Internet use, shopping, etc.). Research has found that nearly half of Americans have one or more addictions that have serious negative consequences for their health.
Having reinforced the “why,” we move to the “what” and “how” of developing and maintaining cultures of connection. In training managers, it has to be simple, memorable, and actionable. They are too busy for anything else. Over the last 15 years, we have developed a framework called Vision, Value, and Voice that managers like. We describe it this way: If you communicate an inspiring vision, value people, and give them a voice, they will thrive and so will your team, department, or organization.
We use case studies of a wide variety of inspiring examples of leaders and organizations that have cultivated cultures of connection, including Jim Sinegal leading Costco; Frances Hesselbein leading the Girl Scouts of the USA; Anne Mulcahy leading Xerox; Alan Mulally leading Ford; Chancellor Victor Boschini leading Texas Christian University (TCU); Bono leading rock band U2; Tricia Griffith leading Progressive; Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Vern Clark leading the U.S. Navy; and Lin-Manuel Miranda leading the cast and crew of the award-winning Broadway musical, Hamilton.
To get them started on how to be more intentional about cultivating connection in the subcultures they are responsible for, we provide 100 examples of attitudes, uses of language, and behaviors we have seen leaders use to connect people. Then we help managers identify actions they can put into place immediately.
Our industry has much more work to do in training managers to develop cultures of connection. We’ve barely scratched the surface. Because of today’s connection crisis, our work as trainers and coaches has never been more important.
Michael Lee Stallard is a thought leader, keynote speaker, workshop leader, and executive coach. He is cofounder and president of Connection Culture Group, a leadership training and consulting firm based in Greenwich, CT. His clients have included a variety of organizations, including Costco, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, NASA, and Turner Construction Company. Stallard is the primary author of “Connection Culture” and “Fired Up or Burned Out.” He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Training Magazine (2020). Cultivating the Best Culture and Training for It. Retrieved from https://trainingmag.com/trgmag-article/cultivating-best-culture-and-training-it/.
Should You Hire More Introverts?
By Margery Weinstein
We’re living in an era of over-sharing, some say. Many feel the need to share what they had for lunch, the angry episode with a co-worker at the morning meeting, and why they aren’t fully satisfied with their cubicle.
The need to constantly share can be a distraction in the workplace, and can create habits that make working independently, and in a slow, deliberative way difficult. Luckily for me, not sharing is relatively easy because I’m an introvert. That means I get psychologically re-charged by spending time alone, rather than from mixing with others. People with introverted personalities long have been considered less than desirable in the workplace, but that may be changing.
Introversion is having a moment. Books such as “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” and columns such as “6 Reasons Introverts Make the Best Employees,” by Chrissa Hardy in the Christian Science Monitor, may be changing perceptions about introverts.
I remember taking a personality assessment years ago for a magazine writing job in which I tried to control the results by pretending to be an extravert in how I answered the questions. I had been led to believe by my father (a fellow introvert) that introverts had bad personalities compared to those who were “outgoing,” so why would they want to hire me if they knew I was an introvert? I didn’t get the job, and wondered afterward if they had figured out I wasn’t being honest in my self-assessment.
I took for granted that the hiring manager wouldn’t value my ability to spend all day on my own working without talking to anyone else, or my ability to be productive and resourceful without the need to collaborate. I assumed that getting classified as an introvert would only conjure images of a person standing alone in a corner at a cocktail party, or a person too socially awkward to converse in a polished way.
In the article, Hardy makes points I always suspected were secret strengths of mine. The first, for instance, “Introverts only deliver information they consider to be of value,” reminds me of my ability to approach meetings with an efficient mindset. Rather than using professionally oriented meetings for what my boss calls “blue sky ideas,” I’d rather talk about how we actually could get things done, and what truly needs to get done right away. I don’t feel the need to flit from meeting to meeting debating points that have no realistic purpose. I’m a creative person (like many introverts), but if I’m going to expend energy on communicating with others, I want it to count.
The next strength on Hardy’s list, “Introverts are sincere,” also speaks to me. I didn’t understand for years that just smiling and saying, “Hello,” was not considered friendly by many—that many people expect you to also try to engage them in a conversation. I’ve tried to amend my ways, and now push myself to also make small talk with people, but the reason I tend to only want to smile and say, “Hello,” is that I don’t want to pretend to have something to communicate when I really don’t, or pretend to like and know a person more than I really do. It’s also taken me a while to understand that just because people engage you in conversation and banter doesn’t mean they like you. As an employer, you can make use of your introverts’ sincerity by knowing they are the staff members who will not lead you to believe they like you (or anyone else) more than they really do.
This may be offensive to some, but I liken people like myself to cats, and extroverts to dogs. As most cat owners know, a cat isn’t going to pretend to like you, even if you offer her food or other rewards. She’s independent minded, self-contained, and either truly likes you or truly doesn’t want to pay attention to anything you do or say—regardless of what’s offered.
Hardy also notes that introverts tend to be unique individuals. I suspect that’s because we’re internally, rather than externally, oriented. That means we tend to come up with original ideas more often than we look to others for reflections of their ideas or approval. My creativity is one of my greatest strengths, and I think a big part of it is my tendency to look within for new, original ideas, rather than listening and watching those around me, so I can parrot information back to them.
“Introverts do not play office politics” is another one of Hardy’s introvert observations that rings true. I’ve learned over the years to compensate for my aversion to phony conversations by going out of my way to be useful to those I need to rely on, but I genuinely don’t enjoy strategizing about who I want to be friends with and support in the office. I tend to be friends with and support those I really like, and those I feel deserve it. I don’t repeat the kind of mantras that become safe at a company (every company has its own catchphrases, such as “building synergies” and “improving speed to market”). I think that makes me a more valuable employee because I can be honest in my assessment of new ideas and the plans of others. I’m not so reckless that I would tell the CEO in an undiplomatic way that his idea stinks, but I might find ways to gently let him in on some of the potential down sides of his plans.
The dependability of introverts, which Hardy points out, is another of our assets to a company. We have chosen our friends, and those we speak to, carefully, so we have less to distract us, and when we make commitments to those select few, we stick to them. Unlike many extroverts, we haven’t spread ourselves too thin. I have no problem saying, “No,” and I suspect other introverts are similar. I’m less dependent on others than extroverts, so I care less about pleasing others. That means there’s less reason for me to say I’m going to do something I won’t.
Last, Hardy says, “Introverts are independent.” That makes sense since we re-charge by being alone. If you don’t need others for your satisfaction, then you’re freer to work long hours without interaction, and you’re freer to go it alone on an idea you feel passionate about, or just have a hunch will be your company’s next best-selling product.
How can trainers teach managers about the value and use of all different personality types? Do you think your managers are biased toward hiring extraverts? How can your company best make use of the spirit of the introvert?
HOW TO BECOME AN EXTRAORDINARY EMPLOYEE
An exemplary employee not only exhibits knowledge and skills, but possesses exemplary attitude and habits.
By Kennith Fletcher, Professional Writer, Essay4Students
The truth is the secret to becoming an extraordinary employee is not a secret. In fact, there are no secret formulas to use. If there is anything you need to learn from reading this, it’s using your common sense that makes the difference. Unfortunately, it’s not as common as one would think.
There are employees who stand out and there are those who stand out for the wrong reason. Obviously, you want to be remembered as the good one. But being good is not our objective here. You want to be extraordinary.
All of my employers agree that no one is indispensable. They are correct. If you’re not worth anything to the company, why even bother to keep you? There is no such thing as security of tenure, especially if your performance is mediocre.
The Pareto Principle or the 80-20 principle suggests that 80 percent of the outputs are generated by only 20 percent of the workforce. Now, are you among the 20 percent? If not, you need to do something fast. Here are some of the secret steps that are actually not so secret.
1. DO YOUR JOB
Does this sound straightforward enough? This is a fundamental step in becoming extraordinary and getting higher pay. More than just being busy (or looking busy—there’s an art to this), you need to be productive. You were hired to do something, so go to work and accomplish it.
Let’s break this down further:
- Know your key results areas and key performance indicators
- Identify your position’s responsibilities and accountabilities
- Know what tasks you need to accomplish
- Learn how your position fits in the grand scheme of things
I hear a lot of employees ranting about how much work they have. Little do they know that they should be thankful the company still trusts them to accomplish tasks. Getting continuously diminishing workload is usually the calm before the big goodbye.
2. ORGANIZE YOUR LIFE
Congratulations, you’ve reached this part. It only means you’re interested in being extraordinary and/or getting higher pay.
As highlighted above, doing your job is unavoidable if you want to stand out and get a raise. The pivotal idea here is being productive. But exactly how do you do that? The simple answer is to organize your life. When you organize your life, you accomplish more. Likewise, when you accomplish more, you build credibility and trust.
Let’s break this down further:
- Set goals and targets
- Prioritize your work
- Clean your desk, less clutter, less distractions
- Balance work and rest—a sick employee is not productive
The more you organize, the easier it is to juggle work and your private life. Likewise, you get to accomplish more without getting derailed often.
3. INNOVATE EVEN THE MUNDANE
A hallmark of an extraordinary employee is efficiency. This means finding new ways to improve even the mundane work. By improving turnaround time, increasing output, or refining quality, employees add value to their work and to themselves. Innovation will not just help you improve your work, it can help the whole organization.
Let’s break this down further:
- Suggest ways to improve your work
- Think out of the box
- Master your workflow to pinpoint areas of improvement
- Learn about other departments and their processes
- Know how your work affects other departments and processes
- Expand your knowledge and skills
- Learn the best practices from other companies and industries
More than just making your work easier, innovating shows you are concerned about the company’s processes. Likewise, it underscores your creativeness to find improvements where no one else saw them.
4. EXPAND YOUR COMPETENCIES AND SKILLS
How much you know and how much you can do is important in performing at your peak. Likewise, your potential to grow in the company increases when you have relevant knowledge and skills. The more you can contribute to the company the higher your value.
Let’s break this down further:
- Learn the necessary skills and knowledge in your field
- Take additional lessons to update yourself
- Learn from more experienced employees
- Ask questions to broaden your perspective
- Take note of feedbacks from superiors and co-workers
Add value to yourself through additional learning. There are numerous online trainings that are free. Also, attend workshops, trainings, and seminars that will help deepen and broaden your expertise.
5. HAVE A PRODUCTIVE ATTITUDE AND HABITS
Many employees are hired because of their knowledge and skills. In fact, competencies are integral in hiring employees. However, many are let go because of poor attitude and habits. As such, an exemplary employee not only exhibits knowledge and skills, but possesses exemplary attitude and habits.
Let’s break this down further:
- Exhibit professionalism at all times
- Show discipline
- Have a win-win attitude
- Have a positive disposition
- Show respect
- Apply the company’s corporate values on a daily basis
- Help others
- Foster positive relationships in the office
The right mindset facilitates productivity. In addition, it cultivates positive relationships.
Employees may not be indispensable. However, they can be seen as valuable assets to the company. Once you’ve consistently proven your worth, the company will take note of your effort and, more importantly, your contribution. As harsh as it may sound, employees are investments of the company. Increasing your worth to the company means increasing your value.
If you are more valuable to the company, it will invest more in you.
THINGS TO ASK YOURSELF:
- What have you done to improve your competencies and skills?
- Is your company helping you improve your competencies and skills?
- Do you think your skills and knowledge are still relevant?
- How important do you think you are to your company?
Kennith Fletcher is professional writer from Essay4Students and experienced blogger with more than five years of writing about marketing, business development, and sales management. Also, he has experience in the areas of data entry and project management.
Time Management Training: Can It Be Done?
By Margery Weinstein
Some of us are gifted with time management acumen, while others simply are not. My work isn’t always (or rarely) brilliant, but it’s usually on time. I have a friend, on the other hand, who’s a talented, intelligent person, but who too often is foiled by deadlines. My reasoning always has been: Who cares how brilliant it is if it never gets turned in?
I’ve had managers who were great time managers (such as my managers at Training!) And I’m now experiencing the other end of the spectrum with a manager who wouldn’t get anything done if it were left up to him. He’s one of those types who love the process, or journey, much more than the completion of any task.
A piece in Inc., “3 Time-Management Tips from a Google Exec” by Kerry Close offers suggestions for helping the time management-challenged. Do you think your Learning team can help employees and managers better avoid time crunches and missed deadlines? Close shares a few tips from Jeremiah Dillion, head of Product Marketing at Google Apps for Work.
First, Dillon tells Close it’s important to be specific about your goals, explaining that “the workplace can be divided into two groups of people: makers and managers. While managers’ days are sorted into 30-minute intervals, makers think about their time in half days or full days. They commit to ‘make time,’ or to complete tasks within a particular time frame of their day.”
That ability to divide your work into manageable segments reminds me of how I operate. At first, I felt overwhelmed by the workload of my current job, in which it’s a nearly one-woman show in getting a small weekly online magazine published every Tuesday afternoon. Then, it dawned on me that all I had to do was create a self-monitored schedule for myself in which each day would be devoted to specific activities.
On Monday, I know I have to set time aside for my weekly editorial meeting and putting final touches on the magazine content ready for publication, including sending last-minute follow-up questions from my editors to the article authors. I also use that day to get the marketing content (our weekly e-newsletter promoting the magazine’s content) ready to go. Tuesday is publication day, while Wednesday is an editorial planning day, in which authors and advertisers are contacted for long-term planning. Thursday is writing day, and Friday is publication-drafting day, in which the lineup for the following week is finalized and put into publication-ready form awaiting final review from my editors.
It’s no longer hard to get my work done. In fact, it often feels now like I’m on autopilot—an editorial robo-Margery.
Dillon’s second tip is to rethink your meeting schedule. He notes that some meetings can be made shorter or can include fewer people, and other meetings can be rescheduled or even done away with entirely. This tip reminds of something I quickly learned in my current job: The more people involved in any decision, the harder that decision will be. It sounds obvious, but many people never learn this lesson. I frequently get e-mails with simple or unimportant decisions that are sent to five or six people. And, naturally, everyone—even those who have nothing insightful to offer—feel compelled to chime in. I noticed that, despite all the feedback and opinions those e-mails usually resulted in a stalling of the decision-making and work process. So now before I send any e-mail with a question, comment, or idea, I take a moment to consider whether any of the recipients can be eliminated. Just as too many cooks ruin a recipe, so, too, do too many interjectors and “opinionators” stall a work process.
Dillon’s last tip, to “plan your days and weeks according to your likely energy levels,” also is smart. I’ve found that by Friday I’m very un-motivated, so even though that’s the day I need to get the draft of the following week’s magazine issue ready for review, I’ve actually already completed the heaviest lifting earlier in the week, so that Friday is just the day I put all the pieces together.
One of the worst things you can do from a productivity standpoint is to deceive yourself into thinking you don’t have to prioritize and organize tasks. I know people who delude themselves into thinking they have so much energy and ability that they can work on everything at one time, and that somehow, everything will miraculously get done on time. It’s OK to admit you only have so much energy each day and need to approach your workload in bite sizes to meet your obligations to managers, colleagues, and employees.
Is time management a skill you can teach your workforce? What kinds of training or learning programs are best for teaching employees and managers to better manage their time? What do you offer at your company to improve time management skills?
The First Thing Leaders Need to Do
Leaders need to build community in the workplace as it is hard to trust people you don’t know
By Jann Freed, Ph.D., Change Management Consultant, The Genysys Group
What is the leading cause of death?
a. High blood pressure
b. Inactivity (little to no exercise)
c. Social isolation
d. High cholesterol
If you answered c, you are correct. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General from 2014 to 2017, wrote a report that social isolation or loneliness is a more serious health problem than opiates. “Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity.” It is connected, he wrote, “with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression, and anxiety.”
We live and work in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization. Yet the rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s. Today, more than 40 percent of adults in America report feeling lonely, and that number may be even higher. Research has found that the number of Americans with “no friends” has tripled since 1985. In England, Prime Minister Theresa May in 2018 appointed a minister for Loneliness, saying, “For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life.”
Interestingly, it does not matter if one is young or old; loneliness doesn’t discriminate. As The Beatles sang decades ago, “All the lonely people, where do they all come from?”
BUILDING STRONGER RELATIONSHIPS
In writing “Leading with Wisdom: Sage Advice from 100 Experts,” my primary question to leadership sages was this: What is the best way to prepare people to be the kinds of leaders needed in these uncertain times? Interestingly, one of the main themes was “Leaders Embrace Community.” It is not surprising that people who don’t know each other do not feel connected. It is hard to trust people you don’t know.
Since social isolation is on the rise, building community in the workplace is not quick or easy. It needs to be intentional, thoughtful, and perceived as an important leadership responsibility worthy of investing the time for future significant returns in enhanced performance, satisfaction, and resilience.
To illustrate the importance of connections and support groups, consider the examples of Alcoholics Anonymous, Weight Watchers, and Dale Carnegie. Success usually is attributed to the support of the group. Corporate America needs to take a lesson from these and other groups that center around a support group.
In his report, Murthy identifies steps that can help build stronger social relationships:
- Evaluate the current state of connections. Quality of relationships is more important than quantity. The Gallup employee engagement questions known as the Q12 are a great place to start for understanding the culture.
- Help people understand high-quality relationships. Since this is not the norm, help people understand the value of strong social connections and how they should be mutually beneficial.
- Make building community an organizational priority. Make sure the organizational culture and policies support the development of trusted social relationships.
- Encourage employees to reach out and help others and to accept the help of others. When feeling lonely, reaching out to help or to accept help can benefit both parties.
- Create opportunities to learn more about your colleagues’ personal lives.
For my monthly podcast, Becoming a Sage, I interviewed Peter Block, one of the top thought leaders in the leadership field. The author of “Community: The Structure of Belonging,” Block said the “first thing leaders need to do is build community,” and he summarized it this way: In a patriarchal world, the main job of a leader is to maintain consistency, control, and predictability. But that world is not that effective. It is just popular because it offers certainty and safety. Yet in these times, we continue to choose certainty repeatedly because that is the way things always have been done.
Block advocates we start by having conversations around these questions:
- What did we come to create?
- What are the crossroads?
- What are the resentments or doubts about what we came to do?
- Who has ownership or accountability?
To build community, Block said the first step is deciding to build community. The second step is to acknowledge and write down, “My team’s relationship with each other is more important than my team’s relationship with me.” If this is true, then every time the team gets together, the leader is thinking of ways for the team to be in small groups talking about what they want to create. I specifically asked Block to explain the basic steps:
- Break people into groups of three and come back together.
- At the end of every meeting, ask every member, “Who did/said something today that meant something to you?” This makes the focus of the meeting on what is working—not on what is not working.
- Ask, “What’s the promise each person is willing to make today without any promise of return?”
- Ask, “If people fulfill their promises, will we fulfill the reason we came together?” While the methodology seems simple, it is not the norm. But the questions build focus and accountability into a simple process that, when repeated, creates community.
CONCEPT OF BELONGING
Dave Ulrich has been ranked as one of the top business thinkers by several sources and is the author of “The Why of Work.” Ulrich finds the concept of “belonging” a critical factor for overcoming social isolation and for creating organizational cultures where people thrive, not just survive. When someone belongs, there is a strong emotional attachment to another person or organization and their personal well-being increases, which enhances productivity and performance. Ulrich says, “Organizations where we work, play, and worship should become settings for belonging.”
When asked how to create a sense of belonging, Ulrich lists four key concepts:
- Belonging requires work and effort. Leaders who are too busy tend to erode belonging. It takes time and effort to invest in building relationships that work.
- Belonging requires making social media more social. “Use technology to build connections, not contacts.” Utilize technology to share more personal experiences so people get to know one another at a deeper level.
- Belonging requires empathy. Leaders need to understand and feel what others are experiencing. This can be done by asking others how you might help them or being aware of their personal circumstances.
- Belonging requires people who are agents for themselves. Leaders can shape personal accountability by helping employees shift their perspective. The questions change from “Do I like my pay, boss, or working conditions?” to “Do I do my best to earn my pay, build a relationship with my boss, or improve working conditions?”
POETRY OF CONNECTIONS
Jim Autry, former senior vice president of Meredith Corporation and president of its magazine group, uses poetry to emphasize the messages he believes are important for leaders to understand. In his book, “Love and Profit: The Art of Caring Leadership,” Autry wrote a poem I often use in workshops and courses. Here is an excerpt from “Threads” that reminds us of the significance of connections:
Listen In every office You hear the threads Of love, and joy, and fear, and guilt, The cries for celebration and reassurance, And somehow you know that connecting those threads Is what you are supposed to do And business takes care of itself.
The final conclusion of the report by Murthy states, “Leaders must take action now to build the connections that are the foundation of strong companies and strong communities—and that ensure greater health and well-being for all of us.”
As The Beatles also said, “We get by with a little help from our friends.”
Jann E. Freed, Ph.D., is an author, speaker, and leadership development and change management consultant at The Genysys Group. Her most recent book is “Leading with Wisdom: Sage Advice from 100 Experts” (ATD, 2013). For more information, visit www.thegenysysgroup.com and http://www.JannFreed.com.
The 15 Disciplines of High Performers
Excerpt from “The A Player: The Definitive Playbook and Guide for Employees and Leaders Who Want to Play and Perform at the Highest Level” by Rick Crossland.
By Rick Crossland
Top performers, also known as A Players, approach work differently than average employees. Here are 15 disciplines and mindsets from the book, “The A Player: The Definitive Playbook and Guide for Employees and Leaders Who Want to Play and Perform at the Highest Level,” that high performers embrace to produce superior results. How well are you personally applying each discipline into your daily routine?
- Do the Things Only People in the Top 10 Percent Do. How willing are you to do the tough things the bottom 90 percent is unwilling to do? If you are already an A Player and in the top 10 percent, then set your sights even higher for the top 5 percent, or an even higher percentage like doing what the top 2 percent or 1 percent do. Paradoxically, the A Players work the hardest to improve even more.
- Sacrifice by Delaying Gratification. A Players have superior performance when compared to average people. The critical factor in this is the ability to sacrifice in the short term for a longer-term gain. While B and C Players are busy seeking shortcuts, the A Player realizes that sacrifices for practice and preparation are needed to earn greater results and returns in the long term. Doing what is right and necessary ahead of what is fun and easy is the key to success. Do the hard work now and the easier work follows. Forego the hard work and the easier future may never materialize.
- Be Prepared. Take a tip from the Boy Scouts of America motto: “Be Prepared.” A Players don’t suffer from hubris and don’t “wing it.” Instead, they meticulously prepare for every meeting and business review. Take more data and materials than you think you’ll need. Inevitably, you’ll need the information, and you’ll be glad you were prepared.
- Practice. Like top athletes, A Players always practice their craft. This is a fundamental discipline that separates the As from the Bs and Cs. A Players love the chance to practice their skills or presentations, while Bs and Cs resist practice with an “I know it all” attitude. Raw talent is not enough. As Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer instructs: “Talent plus Practice equals Skill.”
- Review Your Numbers and KPIs Daily. A Players are disciplined and study their key performance indicators (KPIs) daily. In fact, they develop a routine to review these critical numbers at a similar time each day. From this daily discipline, A Players are always informed and able to make good decisions and actions based on facts and data.
- Practice “Lombardi Time.” A Players know the value of punctuality and practice “Lombardi Time” by being 15 minutes early to meetings and events, a requirement of legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi of his players. By doing this, you value others’ time and put yourself in a situation to interact with other A Players who also practice this discipline. You will be amazed by the amount of critical connections and key business you will engender by practicing this discipline.
- Self-Control. A Players certainly can “work hard and play hard.” But they do it with a degree of self-control not exhibited by the B or C Players. A Players tend not to overindulge by consuming too much alcohol and getting sloppy. The same goes for coarse language and being inappropriately outspoken. You are being evaluated at all times, and lack of self-control in these areas can be a career limiter.
- Fitness and Sleep. In general, A Players take better care of their bodies, minds, and souls than B and C Players. A Players watch their weight, diet, and get enough sleep so they are optimal performers each and every day. The best have amazing daily exercise rituals, as well. They also have the discipline and self-control to pass on extra calories or late-night revelry.
- Be a Disciplined Learner. With innovation increasing at an exponential pace in many industries, A Players realize their knowledge soon can become obsolete and that learning is the key to winning and remaining ahead of the curve. A Players are disciplined in their learning approach. A best practice for A Players in this area is to scan news relative to your field daily; read your industry periodical weekly; and read two technical, self-development, or business books monthly. Audiobooks also count in this area and are a great way to maximize your drive time with a valuable activity.
- Be Responsible for Your Own Training. With the advent of the Internet, training on any required system is available to you within seconds via a few keystrokes. A Players train themselves. They also read the training manuals B and C Players are “too busy” to read. A Players also train on their own watch, so working hours are preserved to produce the results they were hired for.
- Turn Information into Intelligence and Insights. Information only goes so far. Actively scan information to derive trends and patterns. These trends and patterns become intelligent insights that are far more valuable than the information itself.
- Ask Insightful Questions. Questions are the answers. Be known by the great questions you ask. People who “tell, tell, tell” all of the time wear on us. Great questions empower others and enable us to expand our learning and understanding, as well. If you really want to help somebody, ask a great question. The interrogative form of speech is more powerful than the declarative.
- Writing and Systems Development. The timeless adage of “if you really want to know something, then teach it” applies here. A Players are disciplined in writing down their thoughts in presentations, white papers, business cases, and systems. The discipline of writing enhances the quality of your thinking as a result of the psycho-neuro-motor activity that occurs when thoughts are translated to paper through either a keyboard or pen stroke. This discipline also creates enduring, valuable documents that create leverage in the organization. The best businesses have documented systems. Be a contributor to creating these.
- Become a “Collector of Jewels.” A mentor of mine suggested this metaphor to me years ago and it is a powerful visualization of how A Players view all of the knowledge available to them on a daily basis. These jewels are available to all of us. There is no limitation on access to them. Strive to add a couple of jewels or pearls of wisdom to your collection each day.
- Practice Gratitude Daily. Discipline yourself to take a few moments each morning to think about all the things for which you are grateful. Add in a prayer each morning as a great antidote to combat the inevitable struggles we all face in life. You will be amazed at the difference gratitude and prayer will make in your life.
Rick Crossland is author of the book, “The A Player: The Definitive Playbook and Guide for Employees and Leaders Who Want to Play and Perform at the Highest Level.” He works with organizations across the country to transform good companies into great companies. For more information, visit http://www.aplayeradvantage.com.
Training Magazine (2020). The 15 Disciplines of High Performers. Retrieved from https://trainingmag.com/15-disciplines-high-performers/.
Teach Your Leaders to Be Great Communicators
We have allowed the bulleted slide deck to become a perfectly acceptable crutch—and a substitute for communication skill. The solution lies in understanding that communication can only ever be about the audience’s brain.
By Tim Pollard, Founder and CEO, Oratium
It is no coincidence that Steve Jobs is remembered not only as a legendary business leader, but also as an exceptionally effective communicator. These two skills are closely intertwined.
Yet even amid the recent trend in which organizations—especially larger ones—are taking leadership development far more seriously, there is little if any focus on helping leaders improve their communication skills.
Everyone agrees that exceptional communication is critical to help leaders perform at their highest possible level. With the impending retirement of today’s senior leadership generation and the ascent of a new generation of professionals into those leadership roles, organizations have been stepping up to the plate to offer in-house leadership academies and other forms of training on topics ranging from managing disruptive change and managing in a global environment to operating with a diverse workforce designed to ensure that the next generation of leaders is properly prepared.
Why, then, has so little attention been paid to helping leaders learn to communicate effectively? Communication drives executive effectiveness; it is vital to nearly every aspect of a business’ success. Without effective communication skills, a leader’s message does not stick and will not fulfill his or her fundamental mission of driving results by compelling people into action. Leaders who communicate poorly or at a mediocre level—which sadly has become accepted as the norm—fail to secure the support they need from their superiors. They fail to secure confidence and trust from their teams, to acquire financial backing for key projects and initiatives, and to build relationships with key constituencies and communities in which they operate.
Slide Decks Are a Substitute for Skill
In fact, communication skills appear to be on the decline. We have allowed the bulleted slide deck to become a perfectly acceptable crutch—and a substitute for skill. Given how time-oppressed most executives are, its convenience is seductive. Slowly but surely, this has steadily driven down the quality of our executive communication. When I ask people how effective they find the typical presentations they sit through, only around 15 percent rate them as “good” or in a category higher than “good.” A full 65 percent say the presentations are mediocre or worse, and a full 20 percent are rated as “extremely poor.”
To bring this to life, I recently witnessed the CEO of a leading consulting firm address an audience of 3,000 to 4,000 people. During this address, his communication, comprising a thick deck of overly detailed slides coupled with a wandering narrative and a lack of connection between his material and his audience, meant that within just a few minutes, the disconnection of his audience had become both palpable and troubling. More so because our research shows that when a leader presents poorly, more than 70 percent of the audience correlates that poor communication with that leader’s overall leadership ability.
Clearly the slide deck just doesn’t cut it. But the problem runs much deeper, and the answer is a lot more interesting than ditching PowerPoint: It lies in understanding that communication can only ever be about the audience’s brain.
The brain wants and needs to consume information in a particular way. When aligned with this, communication is incredibly effective—regardless of a presenter’s delivery skills. When misaligned, failure continues to be guaranteed.
Science shows that the brain is wired to process ideas. Biologically, it is reductionist, boiling information down to ideas it can grab hold of. This is what the brain retains. It does not, however, traffic well at the level of facts and data, especially in large quantities. Thus, great communicators operate at the level of ideas, thereby feeding the brain the exact currency in which it traffics.
The Hallmarks of Great Communication
Executives can be taught to communicate effectively. When given the right tools and process for message design, they can master the hallmarks of great communication, which:
- Pivots on a small number of big ideas.
- Is clean, crisp, and simple, remaining within the bandwidth of what the brain can absorb.
- Is grounded in the needs, wants, concerns, and fears of the audience rather than in an executive’s personal priorities and preferences.
- Has a logical narrative flow. Story is key both to human cognition and retention.
- Leads to a logical call to action.
The refreshing truth is that when executives are trained in the right principles governing message architecture, these outcomes become the norm. Sadly, traditional presentation skills training can never achieve this—the focus on “eye contact and body language” is largely irrelevant to the real problem and generally yields no actionable results for either the communicator or the audience.
As you think about executive training, don’t forget communication. Focus on message architecture and brain alignment. You’ll find that other leadership solutions will fall into place more naturally—and with better results.
Tim Pollard, author of “The Compelling Communicator: Mastering the Art and Science of Exceptional Presentation Design” (Conder House Press, 2016), is the founder and CEO of Oratium, a communications firm helping organizations from Fortune 500 companies to law offices hone their presentation and messaging skills.
Training Magazine (2020). Teach Your Leaders to Be Great Communicators. Retrieved from https://trainingmag.com/teach-your-leaders-be-great-communicators/.
It’s Always Up to You
By Shani Magosky
As a Better Boss, I commit to:
It’s time for a tough truth: Everything in your life is your responsibility. You’re responsible for your own decisions; you’re responsible for the quality of your relationships; and you’re responsible for your own growth and development.
In a business development role I had some years ago, I was waiting for the head of marketing to respond to a question I’d posed to her via e-mail before I could follow up with a prospect, when one of my colleagues asked me about it.
“Have you made any progress on this?” she asked.
“No,” I griped. “I’m really frustrated. I’ve been waiting for input from Priya in marketing. I’ve e-mailed her a couple of times now, and she just isn’t getting back to me!”
My colleague looked at me thoughtfully and said without missing a beat, “That’s bull.” I was floored for a second. “That shouldn’t stop you,” she went on. “It’s always up to you.”
It was that last sentence that caught me. It’s always up to you. The truth was, waiting on marketing was just an excuse. There was no reason I couldn’t move the sales process forward without her.
It’s always up to you. When you have the guts to own this, to really believe that it is always up to you, you become more engaged in your own life. You stop blaming and pointing fingers. You stop focusing on obstacles and start focusing on solutions. How can you move things forward anyway?
It’s always up to you. If you don’t believe this, you can slip way too easily into the victim mentality. Great leaders never want to be perceived as victims; that’s why, so often, they don’t ask for help. But that’s a fallacy about leadership and victimhood—asking for help doesn’t make you weak or needy; it’s the attitude you have that does. If you take responsibility, if you realize that it’s always up to you, then you also can assess the situation, evaluate your own limits, and know with confidence when you legitimately need help. No one can do everything; knowing what you can and can’t do, and asking for help to make up the difference, is part of taking responsibility and being a true leader.
In contrast, victims don’t ask for help because they know their limits. Rather, victims ask for help because they cling to a “poor me” attitude, are needy, want attention, and/or sadly have given up before even trying. That’s 180-degrees opposite of what a better boss would do.
It’s not the asking; it’s the attitude. Better bosses ask for help with a vision instead of a complaint.
The Circles of Influence and Control
Imagine three concentric circles—one inside another, inside another. The smallest circle inside is the only part of our life we’re actually in control of—ourselves. It’s our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and actions. That’s why it’s the smallest circle.
The outermost part of the three circles represents everything that seems out of our control, such as traffic, bad weather, flight delays, new leadership at our company or in our country, noisy open office environments, or supply chain delays. It’s the economy; it’s a store running out of our favorite product; it’s office politics, relentless competitors, or unresponsive colleagues. (Do I sound like new lyrics for the Alanis Morissette song, “Ironic,” yet?) There are so many things outside of our control—the list is endless. And yet, these are the things we spend so much time obsessing about. What a waste of time!
The second circle, the middle band of the three, is the Circle of Influence. This is where the magic is. Many people mistakenly believe this sphere of influence holds matters that are also outside of their control, so they retreat into their small, center circle. That’s what they know, and that’s where they feel safe. They hide. It’s a response of fear, one that ignores the possibilities of the Circle of Influence. There are ways to make that middle band wider, rather than narrower, but we won’t see how if we’re hiding in the center.
Learning to control our own emotions and fears, and showing up the way we want to show up, is how we affect the inner circle. When we get that under control, then we can play more successfully in the Circle of Influence. That circle is where we might not have control, but we do have influence—i.e., the place where it’s always up to you! Don’t overlook it.
I thought I couldn’t make that sales call because I was waiting on marketing. I thought it was out of my control. But, in fact, that wasn’t entirely true. I could exert my own influence to make the sales call happen anyway. We discussed a similar example during a workshop I taught recently to a group of senior B2B media salespeople who often are stonewalled by clients with the “no budget” excuse. Instead of letting discouragement get the best of us in those circumstances, we talked about ways to influence that included helping their marketing contacts advocate upstream to the CFO (or even CEO, as Salesforce founder Marc Benioff has pointed to as one of their keys to success). In other words, present business-savvy solutions that directly support the organization’s strategic and/or financial objectives and have a clear-cut ROI. There’s rarely budget that can’t be found or reallocated when the right business case exists.
Increasing the width of that middle circle, exercising our influence when we don’t necessarily have control, means being creative. It means being proactive, and not reactive, to our situation.
Part of this is realizing that we have choices. We can choose to continue to behave as though these things are out of our control, or we can choose to influence. There always will be external obstacles and internal, perceived obstacles, but we still can choose which path we want to take. Are we going to choose to let fear hold us back, or are we going to choose to put a leash on fear and drag it along with us? Are we going to allow ourselves to be triggered? Or are we going to pause, question whether we’re making assumptions or taking things personally, and shift perspectives as necessary to ensure success? Are we going to take a dismissive “No” for an answer when we have a win-win solution for a client, or will we choose to influence other decision-makers with confidence and smart business acumen?
We must live with the choices we make; let’s not be so timid that we forget we have them. As an anonymous adage teaches us, “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.”
Excerpt from Chapter 2 of The Better Boss Blueprint by Shani Magosky (September 2017).
Shani Magosky is the author of leadership book, The Better Boss Blueprint. She is an executive consultant and founder of The Better Boss Project, which she developed from years of experience working with bosses at all levels and a desire to put a special focus on changing companies by helping people become better leaders—of others and themselves. Previously, she worked in three divisions of Goldman Sachs, managed a TV station, was COO of an all-virtual international marketing company and launched leadership development consulting and executive coaching practice Vitesse Consulting, where she counsels a range of Fortune 1000 companies, tech startups, entrepreneurs, universities, and nonprofits across multiple industries. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Training Magazine (2020). It’s Always Up to You. Retrieved from https://trainingmag.com/it’s-always-you/.
Training “Inside the Box” and Driving Real Performance
Inside-the-box thinking is a business application that encourages and inspires leaders to look within their company and build an internal foundation of fundamental elements upon which an organization can rest.
By Brad Deutser, Founder and CEO, Deutser
The greatest companies in the world. The most successful sports teams. The most recognized artistic performances. It doesn’t matter what kind of team, in what kind of sport or industry, or at what level they are performing, we know both from experience and research that when all people are on the same proverbial page—thinking the same things, accepting roles, and clearly understanding direction—there is a much greater chance for victory and success.
In business today, that victory comes in many shapes and sizes. To the leader, it often is defined by increased bottom-line performance. To the manager, it is retention of key workers. To the work force, it is increased happiness with the job, fewer mistakes in the daily grind, and greater connectivity to the company. Whatever the definition, we know the constant transition and daily chaos in business today makes each of those forms of victory more elusive.
Leaders focus on training up their workforce around important initiatives and strategic imperatives. And while the training can be effective, at least in the short term, employees often accept the training without fully embracing its connectivity to the bigger picture. Understanding the why of what leaders are expecting is important. Without that complete understanding, employees are trained in silos and often see only the short-term opportunity.
Our success in training has come from both implementing a different educational framework and recommitting to humanizing the learning experience.
A Rethought Framework
We have been conditioned as a society to believe that outside-the-box thinking is what drives creativity, innovation, and performance. Our work over several decades has proven that, in fact, inside-the-box thinking is the real driver of performance. It provides leaders with definition to their organization and it gives connectivity to the workforce. Inside-the-box thinking provides clarity for a business, which improves people, profit, and performance.
Inside-the-box thinking is a business application that encourages and inspires leaders to look within their company and build an internal foundation of fundamental elements upon which an organization can rest. While most companies focus on innovation marketing and outward problem solving (outside-the-box thinking), Deutser instead encourages leaders to looking within and think about their organizational DNA. By building your box, leaders are focusing on the longevity and sustainability of their companies, as well as their employees’ happiness and performance. When we are able to train from within the box, employees understand why they are being trained, how it connects to the whole of the company, and where their work fits in the larger organizational imperatives and environment.
The key is to understand the construct and define the unique box for each company. Interestingly, the box is not a flat, one-dimensional box. Rather, it is six sided, with four sides, as well as a top and bottom. The four sides comprise the organization’s distinct:
The bottom of the box comprises the organizational identity, and the top is the environmental forces that influence and directly impact the business. When leaders are able to clearly articulate each side of the box, it increases the employees’ level of work, elevates their commitment to the company and its direction, improves culture, and enhances the workforce’s ability to learn and improve. Inside the box is where clarity is found, and performance is raised.
The Clarity Process
The Clarity Process is a reliable, replicable, five-step process:
- Analyze and identify the four sides of the box.
- Understand the dimensionality of the organization by defining the top and bottom of the box.
- Assess alignments and misalignments across the organization by using the box.
- Identify the key business levers to drive performance
- Humanize the box and make the connection.
Leaders, coaches, and trainers constantly are looking for new ways to engage employees at fundamentally different levels. Creating the box and then working to bring it to life allows new levels of connectivity and understanding. Accepting that our employees are voracious consumers of information requires us to leverage the box and infuse creativity and life into the information and learning we are working to share. This forces companies to not simply teach in traditional ways, but to share content in fresh, modern, and innovative ways—of course, anchored by the box.
The box provides the framework that then demands a measure of creativity that is equally unique. For our clients, we will train leadership teams with over-the-top events that get them excited and deliver content at a different level. We will use traditional and non-traditional materials to get people to see the same information in different ways—leveraging puzzles, learning maps, card decks, and even games (for example, we repurposed the children’s holiday toy, Elf on the Shelf, as a “safety elf” to drive training and safety messaging across the workforce).
Inside-the-box thinking, and, thus, “inside-the-box” training, is a game changer. By leveraging the box and creating connectivity to the things that matter most inside the company, leaders are better equipped to lead, and the workforce is better able to understand and connect the dots that previously had been left disconnected. When this happens, learning increases exponentially, and performance is unleashed across the organization.
Brad Deutser is founder and CEO of management consulting firm Deutser and the Deutser Clarity Institute, a think tank, idea accelerator, and innovative learning center. He is also the author of “Leading Clarity: A Breakthrough Strategy to Unleash People, Profit, and Performance” (Wiley, 2018). Deutser has transformed many prominent educational, health-care, energy, industrial services, professional services, private equity, retail, and cause-based organizations through his unique perspective on organizational clarity. He is a leading business consultant, creative strategist, executive coach, and counselor to top corporate leaders working to build great companies inside and out. To learn more, visit: http://www.deutser.com and www.braddeutser.com.
Training Magazine (2019). Training “Inside the Box” and Driving Real Performance. Retrieved from https://trainingmag.com/training-“inside-box”-and-driving-real-performance/.
Military Matters: Hiring Veterans Is a Win-Win
Top 10 reasons hiring veterans and their families should be top priority for HR leaders
By Jerold Ramos, Sr., CABR, CRM, Manager, Talent Acquisition for AlliedBarton Security Services
As a U.S. Navy veteran and talent acquisition professional for a U.S. physical security services company, I commit each and every workday to pursuing gainful employment of our country’s military. My organization partners with several military assistance groups, including The Employer Partnership of the Armed Forces, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, and the Wounded Warrior Project. We also keep an open line of communication with veterans, reservists, and their families and caregivers to help ensure our career opportunities are visible. Our company-wide military hiring program, Hire Our Heroes, is an essential part of our recruiting strategy.
It is time for Human Resource leaders, from every sector, to salute our military’s service, value their skills, and welcome their unique experience and talents into the civilian workplace. These individuals make a positive contribution in every civilian profession and will continue to do so with your help. These are the men and women we trust to defend our freedom. Now is the time to return the favor with career opportunities that will benefit the veteran and your organization.
Here are my Top 10 reasons to hire military:
#10 Battle-Tested Real-World Experience: Today’s Human Resource directors are interviewing warriors who may have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan and who have done everything from coordinating ground and air support during combat to hiring local contractors and restoring schools and hospitals. “Human Resource professionals need to develop their own ‘military to civilian decoder’ systems to help explain the significance of how military skills and experience translate to the employment landscape,” says Johnny Dwiggins, Contract Program manager, Employer Partnership of the Armed Forces, www.employerpartnership.org.
When counseling veterans transitioning from active duty to the corporate world, I advise them to use civilian terms when describing military experience. Not every corporate employer understands what a battalion, platoon, or brigade is. By repositioning the responsibilities into language non-military can understand, more hiring managers will be able to relate the experience to the duties they are hiring for.
#9 Trainability: There are numerous types of training in the military and they vary from service to service. The unifying factor is that training is a crucial component for all branches of the military beginning from the first day of enlistment. Training, which generally focuses on the skills needed for the divergent occupational specialties, varies widely and may include weapons training, leadership development, administrative management, and much more.
What does this mean to Human Resource managers? It may mean a reduction of up to 50 percent for training costs to onboard a new hire. It also translates to a ready-to-work employee who understands the importance of training and is willing to go the extra mile to ensure his or her skill set and experience is updated and relevant.
#8 Adaptability: Science fiction author H.G. Wells once said, “Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.” This quotation, which was written decades ago, rings just as true today and particularly resonates with our nation’s military, who personify adaptability in all its glory. Military personnel continually adapt to changing environments and new responsibilities and thrive in a highly divergent variety of settings. Today’s companies are not static, and most are continually evolving to meet the demands of the 21st century. Who better to staff our new economy companies than our adaptable warriors?
#7 Military Produces Outstanding Leaders: An article in the Harvard Business Review by Colonel Tom Kolditz, head of the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, correlates how military leadership translates to great civilian sector leadership. “The best leadership—whether in peacetime or war—is borne as a conscientious obligation to serve,” writes Colonel Kolditz. “In many business environs, it is difficult to inculcate a value set that makes leaders servants to their followers. In contrast, leaders who have operated in the crucibles common to military and other dangerous public service occupations tend to hold such values. Tie selflessness with the adaptive capacity, innovation, and flexibility demanded by dangerous contexts, and one can see the value of military leadership as a model for leaders in the private sector.”
#6 High Dependability: Military veterans don’t show up late for work, can be relied upon to perform their duties properly, and will always put forth their best effort to achieve the highest standards of performance. What does that mean to the rest of your workforce? They’ll be inspired and invigorated by their veteran co-workers who they will look up to as an example of excellence.
#5 Quality Job Performance under Pressure: When seeking a pool of workers who have a reputation for performing well under pressure, military veterans are No. 1. Military veterans deliver quality under pressure in the corporate world just like they did when their lives depended on it. Some employees fold under pressure or turn down positions and responsibilities that may be pressure-filled, while veterans survive and thrive.
#4 Expand Your Job Pool and Redefine Employment Horizon: When looking to support our military personnel through employment, also consider the veterans’ families and caregivers for positions. Think outside of the traditional box to ensure that all veterans and family members who need a job get one. I recently interviewed a nuclear scientist who was taking care of his son who was injured in battle. He needed a job that would allow him flexible hours while letting him support his family. Today, he is managing other security officers and taking care of his son.
#3 Background Checks and Security Clearances: As reported by VetJobs.com, “more than 90 percent of those in the military have had extensive background checks for various levels of security clearances. When you hire a veteran, they are less likely to become a risk to your operation.”
#2 Hire a Hero and Save Costs: Hiring military personnel can mean cost savings for your organization. In addition to saving on training and background screening costs, you also can reduce your recruiting costs. Through partnerships with military assistance groups, your recruiting efforts can be easily expanded, without adding HR personnel. These groups exist to help veterans find civilian employment and their representatives will work to identify appropriate candidates for you. Tax credits, which range from $3,000 to $9,600 per hire, are also available to employers that hire military veterans. Work opportunity tax credits (WOTC) can help offset recruiting and training costs, resulting in additional savings.
#1 It’s Just the Right Thing to Do: The men and women who have chosen to serve our country are patriots who have made enormous sacrifices to ensure our safety and freedom. Their families have worked hard to keep the home and hearth intact while the veteran is at service. By employing military veterans, their family, and caregivers, we are thanking them for their service and for protecting us from terrorism and other threats.
Whether hiring veterans exiting the field or active personnel looking for a great job between deployments, Human Resource directors can be confident in the quality and success that results from onboarding military veterans. Today’s companies are appreciative of the skills and values former and active military personnel bring to their civilian jobs.
Jerold A. Ramos Sr., author of this article, is now retired. He wrote this article in November of 2012.
Training Magazine (2019). Military Matters: Hiring Veterans is a Win-Win. Retrieved from https://trainingmag.com/content/military-matters-hiring-veterans-win-win/.
How to Help Employees Establish Better Habits at Work
Habits can be maximized every day by using targeted micro-activities: simple actions that take only a few minutes and prime people to engage in positive behaviors for the rest of the day.
By Adam Fridman, Founder and President, ProHabits.com
Habits are capable of addressing far-reaching issues, from customer service to engagement, and even purpose. Leaders across industry lines have caught on, and habits are quickly becoming the way business leaders approach human capital management (HCM). As the science of habits continues to advance, effective strategies are emerging that provide proven means to effect organizational change.
The advantage of habits extends beyond their effectiveness for organizations—they provide a means to create a scalable and cost-effective HCM strategy. Unlike other approaches, targeting habits doesn’t require large lumped expenditure on consultants or coaches. Habits can be maximized every day by using targeted micro-activities: simple actions that take only a few minutes and prime people to engage in positive behaviors for the rest of the day.
Micro-activities are ultimately the key to a business’ habits strategy, but first I should address what business leaders are always asking me: “How do habits change?” Because, while the use of habits is growing quickly with business leaders, most don’t understand how to make use of habits in their organization—or even what habits to target. What changing habits ultimately comes down to is a two- step process:
2. Making it stick
Easier said than done, right?
Fortunately, both of these steps can be broken down into smaller bites to tackle separately.
The first move to change behavior in an organization is almost always met with resistance, and, in fact, is shown to be the biggest reason for failure. So, the first step is really about “breaking the ice” with your team to get them on board and excited for change. Doing this means offering your team a vision for what your organization is to become and what their place in the new order will be.
Research has shown that when you make a public commitment to change your behavior, and thus feel accountable, you are more likely to actually stick to change. So, in any change initiative, this should be your first step—have your team publicly commit to new behaviors and each personally take accountability for them.
One problem I see time and again at organizations is that they think they can spur on habit change with the equivalent of a carrot on a stick: a bonus here or there, or perhaps some kind of benefit. These approaches are ultimately ineffective, because they encourage people to do just enough to merit a reward—encouraging the bare minimum.
Leveraging intrinsic reward is more effective—and cheaper. Intrinsic reward is all about what is rewarding by itself without any added incentives—something that if done for its own sake would be worth it. In the context of work, this means aligning new behaviors to the bigger organizational purpose. The more your team sees themselves thriving in a new system, the more ready they’ll be.
Making It Stick
People are creatures of habit, so it’s more comfortable for your employees to just keep on going with their old bad habits than to create new ones. Rather than faulting them for this, take possible resistance into mind when crafting your strategy for change.
When new habits have been thrown into the mix, people become uncomfortable—not just because they aren’t used to new things being done, but because it requires a focused effort to keep up with them. Aside from sheer force of will, there are two essentials for keeping new habits fresh:
2. Changing norm
When attempting to change behavior, organizations tend to follow a similar arc. First, everyone is motivated and on board with the new initiative and can’t wait to start fresh. But as time goes on, motivation wanes and people begin to neglect or simply forget to engage in the new habits. This is where behavioral cues come in.
Behavioral cues are little daily reminders that re-motivate people to continue with their new habits. They offer a gentle nudge that doesn’t feel accusatory and keep them connected to the reason they committed to change in the first place.
In the long run, if habits are going to stick, organizational culture needs to change. This is why whenever you’re changing organizational habits, you need to plan to change the norms, as well. Additionally, this helps establish a standard of accountability to refer to when ambiguity arises.
Changing your team’s habits is all about the little things they do every day at the moment they’re doing them. You can sit in meetings and strategize about new initiatives all day and think about them endlessly, but if you aren’t inspiring them daily, it’s not going to work. This is why micro-actions are the key to initiating the model of change outlined above.
Micro-actions are little prompts for your team that can be engaged daily and take only a short time to complete but can reframe their entire day. Like dominos, by inspiring one targeted behavior, you position your team to engage in other positive behaviors throughout the day. Research in the science of positive psychology has demonstrated that these little actions can have a big impact in organizations.
Here are some examples to take with you and share with your team:
- Engage in interpersonal focus. For this, you plan to focus specifically on other people during your day, giving those you interact with your undivided attention.
- Set mini-milestones. Take apart a big task you have for the day and break it into smaller segments. After you complete each segment, give yourself a little reward.
- Just breathe. Take a few moments out of your day to practice mindfulness and focus on controlling your breathing.
Habits are the little actions we do all day every day, and they define our organizations. Through small scientifically established steps, we can harness habits and transform our organization for the better. By utilizing small daily actions that target specific behaviors, we can keep new habits strong and settle in for long-term positive change.
Adam Fridman is a best-selling author and the founder and president of ProHabits.com, a platform that integrates the science of human psychology with corporate philosophies and technology, allowing leaders to nurture their employees’ personal growth while developing positive behaviors.
Training Magazine (2019). How to Help Employees Establish Better Habits at Work. Retrieved from https://trainingmag.com/how-help-employees-establish-better-habits-work/.
The Power of Positive
The latest research shows how critical it is for organizations to have managers who are prepared to be positive leaders—managers who actively encourage productivity, engagement, commitment, and performance.
By Scott Blanchard, Principal and Executive Vice President, The Ken Blanchard Companies
My father, management expert Ken Blanchard, recently celebrated his 80th birthday and released the newly revised third edition of the bestselling “Leading at a Higher Level.” As a part of the review and revision process, we checked in on some of the assumptions we have been making about good leadership to see if they still hold true.
We were pleased to find out that the core leadership principles that leadership, learning, and talent development professionals have always known—and the philosophies my father has written and talked about for years—are still true. More important, we now know why and how they are true.
The latest research shows how critical it is for organizations to have managers who are prepared to be positive leaders—managers who actively encourage productivity, engagement, commitment, and performance. This kind of manager helps motivate people to want to stay with the organization.
Self-Focused Versus Others-Focused Leaders
We know from our own research on employee work passion that you can’t expect people to have positive behaviors— such as willingness to cooperate, to work across boundaries, to endorse the company and its leadership, and those sorts of things—unless they have a leader who they perceive has their best interests at heart.
One of the things we’ve identified more recently is that there are two distinct types of leaders as perceived by workers. The first is an others-focused leader—someone people see as being there to support them and being trustworthy. In different contexts, this kind of leader is referred to as a servant leader, situational leader, or purpose-driven leader.
On the other side is a self-focused leader—someone people see as being focused only on themselves. Under this kind of a leader—also referred to as a self-serving leader—people feel less valued and less important, as if they are interchangeable. They feel a distance between themselves and their manager.
When people perceive their manager as having their back and being focused on catching them doing things right, they want to work harder on behalf of the company, be a good team player, and apply discretionary effort. But when people perceive their leader as engaging in self-serving behaviors, it’s discouraging to them and contributes to a negative workplace environment.
Dr. Drea Zigarmi, our longtime director of Research and one of the founding associates of our company, has spent decades studying leader behaviors that impact employee performance. He recently published research that looked at behaviors associated with self-focused leaders versus others-focused leaders. When he broke those behaviors down into specific dimensions, he found that self-focused leaders tend to be more controlling, where others-focused leaders are more facilitating and enabling.
The research looked at the effectiveness of athletic coaches who used a controlling versus a facilitating approach. Some of the selectable controlling behaviors in the survey, which was given to players who worked with these coaches, included:
- My coach tries to motivate me by promising to reward me if I do well.
- My coach only rewards me to make me train harder.
- My coach only uses rewards and praise so I can stay focused on the tasks during training.
Other behaviors in the survey were categorized as “negative conditional regard,” such as:
- My coach is less friendly with me if I don’t make the effort to see things his or her way.
- My coach is less supportive of me when I’m not training and competing well.
Intimidation was a third dimension that was explored:
- My coach shouts at me in front of others.
- My coach threatens to punish me.
- My coach intimidates me into doing things he or she wants me to do.
- My coach embarrasses me when I don’t do things he or she wants.
Finally, under the category of excessive personal control:
- My coach expects my whole life to center around my work.
- My coach tries to control what I do during my free time.
- My coach tries to interfere with the aspects of my life outside of my work.
Even though these questions are about coaches, I think you can imagine other kinds of leaders using some of these same negative behaviors. These types of leaders crush people’s positive intentions—the ones great organizations strive for.
Research into Hiring Success Factors
We’ve also been studying a fascinating concept called locus of control. A locus of control can be thought of as a sense of accountability. It’s the extent to which people believe they have control over their own outcomes. About half of people believe they have an internal locus of control, and the other half see themselves as having an external locus of control.
If you have an internal locus of control, you believe that through your efforts, thoughts, determination, and creativity, you can achieve success in getting the kind of outcomes you’re looking for at work.
An external locus of control is when you believe outcomes are contingent upon things in your external environment such as financial rewards, pleasing your manager, or being given permission to do something or not.
In working with consulting firm Hireology, we’ve found that a candidate with an internal locus of control has a 40 percent greater likelihood of success in a new role.
A second predictor is a positive work attitude—a predisposition of satisfaction toward one’s work that persists across job experiences. It’s about the need, desire, and motivation to work.
A third predictor is prior related job success—if goals for past jobs were similar to those for the job at hand.
A fourth predictor is culture fit—the degree to which the candidate shares similar values with the organization and demonstrates an authentic interest in the job at hand. This is a question of values.
Impact on Reinforcing Behavior
Not only are these attitudes important in terms of hiring, they’re also important to maintain when reinforcing someone’s behavior at work.
Others-oriented managers support hard work. They encourage a sense of personal accountability and culture fit through positive behaviors. They help people create results—job success based on intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation. It is imperative that these four qualities are allowed to be demonstrated and not quashed.
Frankly, self-focused managers kill performance. They destroy people’s initiative and discourage loyalty, accountability, and motivation. Conversely, managers whose people perceive them as others-focused reinforce the four job success predictors and create positive intentions.
We’ve always known that a manager is important to employees in terms of helping them achieve their work goals, as well as helping create high levels of performance and work passion. Now we know that the way a manager operates can actually influence a person’s fundamental outlook on his or her job and life, either negatively or positively.
For example, a manager who is overly controlling can negatively alter the way his or her team members think and act and what they believe about themselves. This kind of manager may cause people to develop an external locus of control and force them down a path where they become compliant—or worse, unmotivated—where they stop caring, and lose their intention to perform at a high level. This manager ends up with robotic employees who do only what they’re told to do or what they’re rewarded to do.
On the other hand, a good manager who is empowering and supportive can positively shift the way his or her team members think, act, and view themselves. This kind of manager will encourage people to develop an internal locus of control—a huge predictor of individual success. This manager ends up with high-achieving employees who are passionate about their work.
If you want your people to take ownership of their jobs, produce better results, and provide legendary service, elevate and train your managers to be others-oriented. It’s a proven model that has worked well for more than 40 years.
Scott Blanchard is a principal and executive vice president of The Ken Blanchard Companies. For more information, visit: www.kenblanchard.com
Training Magazine (2019). The Power of Positive. Retrieved from https://trainingmag.com/trgmag-article/power-positive/.
DO EMPLOYEES REALLY WANT TO BE CHALLENGED?
By Margery Weinstein, Training Magazine
I was thinking about corporate culture last week because I’m currently in a great culture—not because I have bosses who are especially sensitive or interested in my development, but because every Friday a movie that recently appeared in a movie house is shown on a wall-length screen in our employee lounge area, and we get an unlimited amount of gourmet coffee from our own coffee bar, staffed by a professional barista. I’m not kidding! At one time, I would have just been excited to have an employee lounge area, let alone movies on Fridays and all the gourmet coffee I could want.
Is this exciting level of indulgence “corporate culture,” or is it something else? I researched it, and found “The 2019 Digest of the Most Valuable Company Culture Statistics,” written by Jeff Previte. An array of statistics are covered about the employee experience, and what a modern-day workforce expects, but what got me was this statistic: Some 30 percent of people told the Employer Brand Research Report that they leave a company because of “lack of challenging work.”
When I think of why I would leave a company, “lack of challenging work” doesn’t make it into the top 10 reasons, or even the top 100, as I look at challenging work in the light of overwhelming projects, crazy deadlines, and overcomplicated processes. I Googled “Do people truly like to be challenged?” and couldn’t find anyone who had answered that simple question. However, I found many pages on how to challenge yourself further, how to manage challenges, and even what to do if—gasp! Say it isn’t so!—you work with people who don’t like challenges. My suspicion is the vast majority of people don’t like challenges—at least the way I’m defining them here.
I believe many people leave companies because the work is too challenging, meaning processes are not streamlined enough, and the workload is overwhelming. The pay and benefits don’t warrant the level of work-life difficulty the job requires.
Instead of racking your brain for ways to create challenges for employees, leadership development and manager training should focus on just the opposite—“work smarter, not harder” strategies. The mark of great managers is they can take a huge task, and find ways to organize it and space out due dates, so it becomes manageable and less challenging. If challenge was so beloved, ineffective managers would be beloved. After all, there’s nothing easier for a manager, and more challenging for employees, than to have a big mess of a project dumped on their laps and be told to figure it out and finish it within a week; challenging, but not fun to most people.
Streamlining and simplifying assignments for employees could be a whole course or series of learning modules unto itself. Streamlining and simplification go against some people’s natural inclinations. Not mine, as I am always looking for ways to eliminate challenge and unnecessary complexity. As I’ve written previously, a person who works over me reflexively adds difficulty to any problem he is asked to solve. Inevitably, his “solutions” add process and work. When extra steps and tasks are added, the solution often isn’t viable because it isn’t livable. It’s like a doctor or nutritionist imposing an unrealistic dietary regimen that’s so challenging and unpleasant, it makes failure a certainty.
In addition to teaching managers and executives to develop business solutions that streamline and simplify workflow, are there other ways a company can make employees’ lives less challenging?
Born-to-wealth bon vivants and fabulously wealthy entrepreneurs are looking for ways to fly hot-air balloons around the world, climb Mount Everest, or pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to experience zero gravity on the “vomit comet.” For most of the rest of us, getting out of bed early and going to an office to do work you’re not in the mood to do is challenge enough.
Do you have any tips for training bosses to keep work output productive while making employee work lives easier?
Training Magazine (2019). Do employees really want to be challenged? Retrieved from https://trainingmag.com/do-employees-really-want-be-challenged/ .
The SBA helps women entrepreneurs launch new businesses and compete in the marketplace. Connect with the training and funding opportunities specifically for women.
Office of Women’s Business Ownership (OWBO)
The Office of Women’s Business Ownership helps women entrepreneurs through programs coordinated by SBA district offices. Programs include business training, counseling, federal contracts, and access to credit and capital.
The OWBO oversees Women’s Business Centers (WBCs). These centers seek to level the playing field for all women entrepreneurs, who still face unique obstacles in the business world.
Businesses receiving assistance from WBCs see a significantly better success rate than those without similar support.
Funding for women-owned small businesses
The 8(a) Business Development program helps small, disadvantaged businesses compete in the marketplace. Check with WBCs and local assistance resources for guidance, and SBA’s Lender Match tool for finding capital.
Women-owned small businesses can also take advantage of SBA loan programs. Their partners offer advice and counseling to help choose the right path for your company.
Women-Owned Small Businesses (WOSB) Federal Contracting program
This program helps women-owned small businesses compete for federal contracts. Understand the eligibility requirements before applying.
The SBA also works with federal agencies to increase contracting opportunities and achieve the government’s five-percent contracting goal for women-owned small businesses. Keep an eye out for matchmaking events targeting both the federal and private procurement.
Other resources for women-owned businesses
National Women’s Business Council (NWBC)
The National Women’s Business Council is a non-partisan federal advisory council serving as an independent source of advice and counsel to the President, Congress, and the U.S. Small Business Administration. The Council is the government’s only independent voice for women entrepreneurs, tackling important and relevant economic issues.
Get training online with DreamBuilder
DreamBuilder introduces participants to all areas of business ownership through a carefully crafted and engaging curriculum, featured in English and Spanish. At the conclusion of the program, women leave with a business plan to start their own business or develop an existing one.
Scan below for more partner resources on women-owned small business.
- Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO)
- Association of Women’s Business Centers (AWBC)
- National Association of Women in Construction
- National Association of Women in Real Estate Businesses (NAWRB)
- National Association of Women’s Business Owners (NAWBO)
- U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce (USWCC)
- Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)
- Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP)
- Women’s Presidents’ Organization (WPO)
U.S. Small Business Administration (2019). Women-owned businesses. Retrieved from https://www.sba.gov/business-guide/grow-your-business/women-owned-businesses.
Calculate Your Startup Costs
How much money will it take to start your small business? Calculate the startup costs for your small business so you can request funding, attract investors, and estimate when you’ll turn a profit.
Calculate your business startup costs before you launch
The key to a successful business is preparation. Before your business opens its doors, you’ll have bills to pay. Understanding your expenses will help you launch successfully.
Calculating startup costs helps you:
- Estimate profits
- Do a breakeven analysis
- Secure loans
- Attract investors
- Save money with tax deductions
Identify your startup expenses
Most businesses fall into one of three categories: brick-and-mortar businesses, online businesses, and service providers. You’ll face different startup expenses depending on your business type.
There are common startup costs you’re likely to have no matter what. Look through this list, and make sure to add any other expenses that are unique to your business.
- Office space
- Equipment and supplies
- Licenses and permits
- Lawyer and accountant
- Employee salaries
- Advertising and marketing
- Market research
- Printed marketing materials
- Making a website
Estimate how much your expenses will cost
Once you have your list of expenses, you can estimate how much they’ll actually cost. This process will be different for each expense you have.
Some expenses will have well-defined costs — permits and licenses tend to have clear, published costs. You might have to estimate other costs that are less certain, like employee salaries. Look online and talk directly to mentors, vendors, and service providers to see what similar companies pay for expenses.
Add up your expenses for a full financial picture
Once you’ve identified your business expenses and how much they’ll cost, you should organize your expenses into one-time expenses and monthly expenses.
One-time expenses are the initial costs needed to start the business. Buying major equipment, hiring a logo designer, and paying for permits, licenses, and fees are generally considered to be one-time expenses. You can typically deduct one-time expenses for tax purposes, which can save you money on the amount of taxes you’ll owe. Make sure to keep track of your expenses and talk to your accountant when it’s time to file your taxes.
Monthly expenses typically include things like salaries, rent, and utility bills. You’ll want to count at least one year of monthly expenses, but counting five years is ideal.
Add up your one-time and monthly expenses to get a good picture of how much capital you’ll need and when you’ll need it.
Use your startup cost calculations to get startup funding
It’s a good idea to create a formal report of your expected startup costs.
You want it in a format that’s clear and easy to understand. Investors and lenders compare expected costs to projected revenue and determine the potential for your business to profit.
U.S. Small Business Administration (2019). Calculate your startup cost. Retrieved from https://www.sba.gov/business-guide/plan-your-business/calculate-your-startup-costs.
HOW TO HANDLE CUSTOMER COMPLAINTS
5 strategies that can help resolve a customer complaint in a smooth and professional manner
By Amanda Herder, Account Manager, Signature Worldwide
Complaints happen every day. When a customer complains, it is usually for a good reason or genuine concern. They usually have made a purchase that did not meet their expectation—a product, service, or maybe a combination of the two. In the customer service industry, we cannot avoid complaints. We must take care of the customer by listening to the complaint, and resolving it, to ensure a happy customer.
Fewer than half of unhappy customers will bring a complaint to your attention. Those who never say anything will tell an average of 11 other people about their bad experience. It is important that we recognize complaints as opportunities, so we can sway these averages, one resolved complaint at a time.
Customers want to know someone is listening and they are understood, and they are hoping you are willing to take care of the problem to their satisfaction. No matter what the situation is, when a customer brings a complaint to your attention—even if they do it in a less-than-desirable way—be thankful. As the old saying goes, “We can’t fix it, if we don’t know it’s broken.” Moreover, we must realize that improper handling of a customer complaint can be costly to the business.
Here are five strategies that will help you handle a customer complaint in a smooth and professional manner:
- Stay calm. When a customer presents you with a complaint, keep in mind that the issue is not personal; he or she is not attacking you directly but rather the situation at hand. “Winning” the confrontation accomplishes nothing. A person who remains in control of his or her emotions deals from a position of strength. While it is perfectly natural to get defensive when attacked, choose to be the “professional” and keep your cool.
- Listen well. Let the irate customer blow off steam. Respond with phrases such as, “Hmm,” “I see,” and “Tell me more.” Do not interrupt. As the customer vents and sees you are not reacting, he or she will begin to calm down. The customer needs to get into a calm frame of mind before he or she can hear your solution—or anything you say, for that matter.
- Acknowledge the problem. Let the customer know you hear what he or she is saying. If you or your company made a mistake, admit it. If you did not make a mistake and it is a misunderstanding, simply explain it to the customer: “I can see how that would be incredibly frustrating for you.” You are not necessarily agreeing with what the customer is saying, but respecting how he or she perceives and feels about the situation. An excellent phrase for opening up this particular conversation would be, “So, if I understand you correctly…” After the customer responds, follow up with, “So, if I understand you correctly, we were to resolve the problem by noon today. I can see how that must be frustrating for you.” Then be quiet. Usually, the customer will respond with “That’s right” or “Exactly.” By repeating to the customer what you think you heard, you lower his or her defenses, and win the right to be heard.
- Get the facts. After listening, take the initiative in the conversation. Now that the customer has calmed down and feels you have heard his or her side, begin asking questions. Be careful not to speak scripted replies, but use this as an opportunity to start a genuine conversation, building a trusting relationship with your customer. To help you understand the situation, get as many details as possible.
- Offer a solution. This happens only after you have sufficient details. One thing to keep in mind: Know what you can and cannot do within your company’s guidelines. Making a promise you cannot commit to will only set you back. Remember, when offering a solution, be courteous and respectful. Let the customer know you are willing to take ownership of the issue, even if it was out of your control. Take charge of the situation and let the customer know what you are going to do to solve the problem.
A quick follow-up phone call a few days later to make sure everything is OK is icing on the cake. Even a small gesture of apology can turn this interaction from disaster to legendary. The cost could be minimal—maybe a simple upgrade on the customer’s next purchase or a small gift certificate. A simple gesture like this could result in a future referral or a positive word-of-mouth marketing recommendation.
When you resolve customer complaints successfully, you will better understand their needs, retain them as loyal customers, and enhance your business.
Amanda Herder is an account manager for Signature Worldwide, a Dublin, OH-based company offering sales and customer service training, marketing, and mystery shopping services for a variety of service-based industries. For more information, call 800.398.0518 or visit www.signatureworldwide.com. You also can connect with Signature on Twitter @SignatureWorld and on Facebook.
Expand to New Locations
Once you’re ready to expand, update the marketing plan and confirm that your business is financially prepared. Then, make sure to comply with all laws, rules, and regulations in the new business locations.
Prepare for a new market
First, update your marketing plan with your new location in mind. Think about your target customer, sales plan, and competitive advantage. Add up any additional marketing and sales costs. Make sure your updated marketing plan is just as thorough as your initial plan.
Compare your business to the competition, learn about the local market, and get a sense of the advertising market with SizeUp, a helpful business analysis tool provided by SBA.
Next, review your business finances. Build a forecast that projects estimated costs and estimated revenue for your new location. Take a close look at your balance sheet to make sure you can cover the costs of expanding. If you don’t have enough capital, you can try to get more funding.
Legal steps to expand your business
Expanding your business to a new state, county, or city isn’t very different from opening a new business there. You’ll want to make sure you register your business with the right agencies and pay the appropriate taxes.
License, permit, and zoning rules
These rules vary across states and localities. Getting licenses and permits in new locations is similar to getting them in your home state.
If you already have a permit or license from a federal agency, check with the issuing agency to confirm you can legally operate in a new state. Also, see whether your new state, county, and city governments require a new license or permit. Start by visiting your state’s website.
If you plan to expand your business to a new state, you might need to file for foreign qualification in that state. This process notifies the new state that your business is active there.
To foreign qualify, file a Certificate of Authority. Many states also require a Certificate of Good Standing from your state of formation. Each state charges a filing fee, but the amount varies by location and business structure.
Check with state offices to find out foreign qualification requirements and fees.
Pay taxes in new states and localities
If you do business in a new state as a foreign qualified business, you’ll typically need to pay taxes and annual report fees in the new state as well as your home state. The process for foreign qualified businesses to pay taxes is similar to any other business that needs to pay taxes in the state.
Keep in mind that not every state and locality has a sales tax. In addition, most states have tax exemptions on certain items, such as food or clothing. If you charge sales tax, you need to be familiar with applicable rates.
Pay taxes for online sales
If your business has a physical presence in a state — such as a store, office, or warehouse — you must collect applicable state and local sales tax from your customers in that state. If you don’t have a physical presence in a particular state, you’re not required to collect sales taxes.
Determining which sales tax to charge can be a challenge. Many retailers use online shopping cart software that automatically calculates sales tax rates. Make sure your sales plan accounts for the various state rates.
There are two primary ways you could expand your business with franchising.
The first is to buy a franchise, which is similar to buying an existing business. This option tends to cost more upfront, but can be less risky than trying to start from scratch.
The second way is to build your own franchise. Businesses that are good candidates for franchising have a few traits in common.
- Product or service is superior and appeals to potential business owners
- Concept and operations are easy to teach
- Business is easy to duplicate in new markets
The federal government and many states have requirements that must be met in order for you to sell franchises, so you may want to hire an attorney. Once you’ve begun franchising, some states remain active in the relationship between you and your franchisees by monitoring territorial rights or limiting the transfer and renewal of your franchises.
Franchising has more costs than many other types of businesses. You’ll probably need to pay lawyers, accountants, and advertising staff. Don’t forget about training the employees and building systems you’ll need to run the franchise.
U.S. Small Business Administration (2019). Expand to new locations. Retrieved from https://www.sba.gov/business-guide/grow-your-business/expand-new-locations.
Choose Your Business Name
You can find the right business name with creativity and market research. Once you’ve picked your name, you should protect it by registering it with the right agencies.
Register your business name to protect it
You’ll want to choose a business name that reflects your brand identity and doesn’t clash with the types of goods and services you offer.
Once you settle on a name you like, you need to protect it. There are four different ways to register your business name. Each way of registering your name serves a different purpose, and some may be legally required depending on your business structure and location.
- Entity name protects you at state level
- Trademark protects you at a federal level
- Doing Business As (DBA) doesn’t give legal protection, but might be legally required
- Domain name protects your business website address
Each of these name registrations are legally independent. Most small businesses try to use the same name for each kind of registration, but you’re not normally required to.
4 different ways to register your business name
An entity name can protect the name of your business at a state level. Depending on your business structure and location, the state may require you to register a legal entity name.
Your entity name is how the state identifies your business. Each state may have different rules about what your entity name can be and usage of company suffixes. Most states don’t allow you to register a name that’s already been registered by someone else, and some states require your entity name to reflect the kind of business it represents.
In most cases, your entity name registration protects your business and prevents anyone else in the state from operating under the same entity name. However, there are exceptions pertaining to state and business structure.
Check with your state for rules about how to register your business name.
A trademark can protect the name of your business, goods, and services at a national level. Trademarks prevent others in the same (or similar) industry in the U.S. from using your trademarked names.
For example, if you were an electronics company and wanted to call your business Springfield Electronic Accessories and one of your products Screen Cover 5000, trademarking those names would prevent other electronics businesses or similar products from using those same names.
Businesses in every state are subject to trademark infringement lawsuits, which can prove costly. That’s why you should check your prospective business, product, and service names against the official trademark database, maintained by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Doing Business As (DBA) name
You might need to register your DBA — also known as a trade name, fictitious name, or assumed name — with the state, county, or city your business is located in. Registering your DBA name doesn’t provide legal protection by itself, but most states require you to register your DBA if you use one. Some business structures require you to use a DBA.
Even if you’re not required to register a DBA, you might want to anyway. A DBA lets you conduct business under a different identity from your own personal name or your formal business entity name. As an added bonus, getting a DBA and federal tax ID number (EIN) allows you to open a business bank account.
Multiple businesses can go by the same DBA in one state, so you’re less restricted in what you can choose. There’s also more leeway in the clarity of business function. For example, a small business owner could use Springfield Electronic Accessories for their entity name but use TechBuddy for their DBA. Just remember that trademark infringement laws will still apply.
Determine your DBA requirements based on your specific location. Requirements vary by business structure as well as by state, county, and municipality, so check with local government offices and websites.
If you want an online presence for your business, start by registering a domain name — also known as your website address, or URL.
Once you register your domain name, no one else can use it for as long as you continue to own it. It’s a good way to protect your brand presence online.
If someone else has already registered the domain you wanted to use, that’s okay. Your domain name doesn’t actually need to be the same as your legal business name, trademark, or DBA. For example, Springfield Electronic Accessories could register the domain name techbuddyspringfield.com.
You’ll register your domain name through a registrar service. Consult a directory of accredited registrars to determine which ones are safe to use, and then pick one that offers you the best combination of price and customer service. You’ll need to renew your domain registration on a regular basis.
U.S. Small Business Administration (2019). Choose your business name. Retrieved from https://www.sba.gov/business-guide/launch-your-business/choose-your-business-name.
Market Research and Competitive Analysis
Market research helps you find customers for your business. Competitive analysis helps you make your business unique. Combine them to find a competitive advantage for your small business.
Use market research to find customers
Market research blends consumer behavior and economic trends to confirm and improve your business idea.
It’s crucial to understand your consumer base from the outset. Market research lets you reduce risks even while your business is still just a gleam in your eye.
Gather demographic information to better understand opportunities and limitations for gaining customers. This could include population data on age, wealth, family, interests, or anything else that’s relevant for your business.
Then answer these questions to get a good sense of your market.
- Demand: Is there a desire for your product or service?
- Market size: How many people would be interested in your offering?
- Economic indicators: What is the income range and employment rate?
- Location: Where do your customers live and where can your business reach?
- Market saturation: How many similar options are already available to consumers?
- Pricing: What do potential customers pay for these alternatives?
You’ll also want to keep up with the latest small business trends. It’s important to gain a sense of the specific market share that will impact your profits.
You can do market research using existing sources, or you can do the research yourself and go direct to consumers.
Existing sources can save you a lot of time and energy, but the information might not be as specific to your audience as you’d like. Use it to answer questions that are both general and quantifiable, like industry trends, demographics, and household incomes. Check online or start with our list of market research resources listed below.
Asking consumers yourself can give you a nuanced understanding of your specific target audience. But, direct research can be time consuming and expensive. Use it to answer questions about your specific business or customers, like reactions to your logo, improvements you could make to buying experience and where customers might go instead of your business.
Here are a few methods you can use to do direct research:
- Focus groups
- In-depth interviews
For guidance on deciding which methods are worthwhile for your small business, the Small Business Administration provides counseling services through our resource partner network.
Use competitive analysis to find a market advantage
Competitive analysis helps you learn from businesses competing for your potential customers. This is key to defining a competitive edge that creates sustainable revenue.
Your competitive analysis should identify your competition by product line or service and market segment. Assess the following characteristics of the competitive landscape:
- Market share
- Strengths and weaknesses
- Your window of opportunity to enter the market
- The importance of your target market to your competitors
- Any barriers that may hinder you as you enter the market
- Indirect or secondary competitors who may impact your success
The SizeUp tool at sba.gov helps small business owners discover how their business stacks up against competitors by city and industry. It’s a market analysis tool you can use to:
- Create benchmarks against existing businesses
- Map where competitors, customers, and suppliers are located
- Find the best places to advertise
Several industries might be competing to serve the same market you’re targeting. That’s why you should make sure to differentiate your competitive analysis by industry. There are many methods for doing this, including Porter’s Five Forces analysis (competitive rivalry, bargaining power of suppliers and bargaining power of customers, threat of new entrants, and threat of substitute products or services). Important industry factors to consider include level of competition, threat of new competitors or services, and the effect of suppliers and customers on price.
Free small business data and trends
There are many reliable sources that provide customer and market information at no cost. Free statistics are readily available to help prospective small business owners.
Consider these types of business statistics in your market research and competitive analysis:
General business statistics
Find statistics on industries, business conditions
Gain info on potential customers, consumer markets
Segment the population for targeting customers
Know unemployment rates, loans granted and more
Dig deeper into employment trends for your market
Pay your employees fair rates based on earnings data
Money and interest rates
Keep money by mastering exchange and interest rates
Production and sales statistics
Understand demand, costs and consumer spending
Track indicators of sales and market performance
Statistics of specific industries
Use a wealth of federal agency data on industries
U.S. Small Business Administration (2019). Market research and competitive analysis. Retrieved from https://www.sba.gov/business-guide/plan-your-business/market-research-competitive-analysis#section-header-5.
10 Steps to Creating a Legendary Total Customer Service Experience
By Merry Gagg, Training Account Manager, Signature Worldwide
Customer service is a buzz phrase we’ve heard for years. What does it really mean? In my trainings, I talk about it meaning, “Being of Service to the Customer.” Being of service creates an experience for the customer! Since the “experience” is really what we sell, we need to target a successful, memorable, even legendary outcome.
The customer experience begins the minute they look at your Web page, talk to a friend, or pick up the phone to call you.
Here are 10 simple steps that can assist you in creating a legendary total customer experience:
- Understand your customer. Who are you targeting, how do you reach them? Does your product interest them? Times change and interests change, are you changing with them? Does your Website present an accurate picture of who you are today—or is it like one of those dating Websites, full of photos of what you looked like 10 years ago?
- Know that first impressions are real and lasting. This is a fact that will never change. What does your first impression say about you and your company? Although all customers are important, winning that new customer is vital. If someone calls your business, what will his or her first impression be?
- Do what you say you are going to do. This is a good practice in all things and certainly in customer service. When you do what you said you would do, it creates trust in the minds of your customers. Trust is the cornerstone of a lasting relationship with your customer, and customer loyalty is always the goal.
- Even better, under promise and OVER deliver. When it comes to customer service, you always want to appear to be the hero. Giving a customer more than what you promise gives you that edge in the customer’s eyes.
- Listen to your customer. For some reason, this seems to be the hardest skill to master in any service industry. Listening and understanding your customer’s wants and needs will enable you to customize your product to deliver on the customer’s expectations. Don’t assume you know because you have been working in this industry for years—remember that times change, as do customer needs. Ask and listen.
- Follow up with your customer. This one area can make a big difference in customer satisfaction. Following up with your customer greatly improves your chances of a return customer. This is effective because it gives you an opportunity to check in with your customer for their satisfaction and also gives you a chance to ask if they need further assistance.
- Know that you are subjectively communicating with your customer every moment of every day. Everything you present to the customer is sending a message to them. From your Website, the signage hanging on your entry doors, and the condition of your parking lot to the body language of your employees, it all matters.
- Let your customer know you truly appreciate their business. Never underestimate the power of thanking your customer for their business. They do have other choices and easily could choose your competitor. Be gracious when showing your appreciation.
- The little things matter. It has always surprised me how simple it is in most cases to make a difference in the customer experience. Most of the time, it is the small things that matter, often requiring little to no effort on your part.
- If something happens, make it right. Let’s face it, things happen. Often when customers complain, the reason for their dissatisfaction is more about how it was handled versus what happened to cause the complaint. Most of making it right is handling it right.
We all sell experiences. What is your customer experiencing today? Is it worthy of great praise or lacking luster? Take some time to observe your customers: What are they looking at first? What are they hearing? How does the experience seem to be making them feel?
Can you walk through your business as if you were visiting for the first time? It’s hard to do, to notice the things that you have seen every day with a fresh perspective. The more you know your customers and how each of their interactions with you is experienced, the better you can enhance their total experience to make it legendary.
Merry Gagg is a Training account manager at Signature Worldwide, a Dublin, OH-based company offering sales and customer service training, marketing, and mystery shopping services for a variety of service-based industries. For more information, call 800.398.0518 or visit http://www.signatureworldwide.com. You also can connect with Signature on Twitter @SignatureWorld and on Facebook.
Retrieved from https://trainingmag.com/10-steps-creating-legendary-total-customer-service-experience/
Get More Funding
If your business is up and running but needs more capital, you can rely on familiar options. However, funding an existing business still requires slightly different preparation.
Prepare to request more funding
Anyone who gives you funds wants to feel confident that their investment will pay off. Prepare a business case and financial statements to convince lenders, crowdfunders, or investors to fund your small business.
Make your business case
You’ll need to make a solid business case for more funding. Produce a short statement with the total requested amount and specific reasons for it.
Maybe your business is cyclical — like construction or education — and could use funding to get through expected slow periods. Or maybe it needs capital to invest in new machinery or launch a product line. Whatever the reason, update your business plan to include this stage of funding.
A business case should give assurances that new funds won’t be mismanaged. Include descriptions of your management team to highlight their skills and expertise.
Prepare financial statements
Display that your business is doing well with financial history statements. Show how your business has grown by reporting revenue, expenses, and profit over time. If you don’t have a history of positive growth, explain why more funding will allow you turn it around.
Prove you’re financially responsible with a business credit report. If you’ve already applied for a DUNS number, you can get a business credit report from Dun & Bradstreet. Review your business credit file to make sure it’s accurate before sharing it.
Determine how much your company is worth today by performing a business valuation. This is the same process you’d go through if you were planning to sell your business. Valuation methods vary, but you can do a self-evaluation or seek out a qualified business appraiser.
Show how your business will grow in the future with a forecast. Your business forecast can be based on intuitive judgement, quantitative analysis, or both. Show your projected revenue and expenses, and clearly explain how you arrived at those estimations.
Connect with a local SBA resource center
Meet with local experts, counselors, and business mentors at a local SBA resource center if you need help preparing your business to get more funding.
Choose your Funding Source
Get loans, credit, or crowdfunding
Additional funding options for existing business are similar to funding options for a new business. You’ll have the same general set of options, which include small business loans, credit cards, and crowdfunding.
Existing businesses have the advantage of an established financial history with credit reports, business bank accounts, and internal financial reports. Lenders, investors, and even crowdfunders can use that information when they decide whether to fund your business.
Sell ownership in your company
If you decide to sell an ownership stake of your company, your business structure will determine your options. Remember, whenever you sell ownership in your company, you dilute the ownership of current owners.
An LLC or a partnership can accept new members and give them a percentage of ownership in exchange for a capital investment. Just make sure you comply with your articles of organization and operating or partnership agreements. Then notify your state as necessary. Some states may require your LLC to be dissolved and re-formed with new membership.
Corporations can sell shares of the company, so long as it’s done in compliance with your articles of incorporation and bylaws. Again, notify your state if necessary.
Use Lender Match to find lenders who offer SBA-guaranteed loans
If you have trouble getting a traditional business loan, look into SBA-guaranteed loans. When a bank thinks your business is too risky to lend money, the SBA may guarantee your loan — that way the bank has less risk and could be more willing.
The SBA offers support for veterans as they enter the world of business ownership. Look for funding programs, training, and federal contracting opportunities.
Office of Veterans Business Development (OVBD)
Devoted exclusively to promoting veteran entrepreneurship, the OVBD facilitates the use of all SBA programs by veterans, service-disabled veterans, reservists, active-duty service members, transitioning service members, and their dependents or survivors.
SBA programs provide access to capital and preparation for small business opportunities. They can also connect veteran small business owners with federal procurement and commercial supply chains.
The Veterans Business Outreach Program is an OVBD initiative that oversees Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOC) across the country. This small business program features a number of success stories and offers business plan workshops, concept assessments, mentorship, and training for eligible veterans.
To find the center nearest you visit https://www.sba.gov/tools/local-assistance/vboc.
Funding for Veteran-Owned Small Businesses
You can use SBA tools like Lender Match to connect with lenders. In addition, the SBA makes special consideration for veterans through several programs.
- SBA Veterans Advantage offers guarantees on loans approved to businesses that are at least 51-percent owned by veterans or military spouses.
- The Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (MREIDL) provides loans of up to $2 million to cover operating costs that cannot be met due to the loss of an essential employee called to active duty in the Reserves or National Guard.
Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Programs
SBA programs feature customized curriculums, in-person classes, and online courses to give veterans the training to succeed. These programs teach the fundamentals of business ownership, SBA resources, and small business experts.
- Boots to Business: An entrepreneurial program offered on military installations around the world and a training track of the Department of Defense (DOD) Transition Assistance Program (TAP). Boots to Business Reboot extends the entrepreneurship training offered in TAP to veterans of all eras in their communities.
- Women Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program (WVETP): Provides entrepreneurial training to women veterans, women service members, and women spouses of service members and veterans as they start or grow a business. SBA funds these entrepreneurship training programs available exclusively for women veterans through grantees:
- Service Disabled Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program (SDVETP): Provides entrepreneurship training program(s) to service-disabled veteran entrepreneurs who aspire to be small business owners or currently own a small business. SBA funds entrepreneurship training programs for service-disabled veterans through grantees:
- IVMF – Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV)
- Veterans Entrepreneurship Program (VEP) – Riata Center for Entrepreneurship, Spears School of Business at Oklahoma State University
- Veteran Entrepreneurship Jumpstart Program – St. Joseph’s University
- Dog Tag Inc.
- Veteran Federal Procurement Entrepreneurship Training Program (VFPETP): Delivers entrepreneurship training to veteran-owned and service-disabled veteran-owned businesses nationwide interested in pursuing, or are already engaged in federal procurement.
The Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Concern program (SDVOSBC) gives procuring agencies the authority to set acquisitions aside for exclusive competition among service-disabled, veteran-owned small businesses. Sole source awards will be delivered if certain conditions are met.
Merge and Acquire Businesses
You can grow your business by buying or merging with a smaller business. The process is similar to starting a new business, but you need to take extra steps to protect your existing business.
Differences between mergers and acquisitions
Mergers and acquisitions are similar but have a few major differences.
Mergers combine two separate businesses into a single new legal entity. True mergers are uncommon because it’s rare for two equal companies to mutually benefit from combining resources and staff, including their CEOs.
Unlike mergers, acquisitions do not result in the formation of a new company. Instead, the purchased company gets fully absorbed by the acquiring company. Sometimes this means the acquired company gets liquidated. Acquiring a business is similar to buying an existing business or franchise.
Calculate how much the other business is worth
Conduct a business valuation to determine the value of the other business before you agree to a sale. This is essentially the same process you’d go through to figure out how much your own business is worth before closing or selling your business.
There are several ways to value a business, so do extensive research on methods if you choose to do it on your own. You might want to hire a qualified business appraiser. Once you know how much the other business is worth, you’ll know whether you can afford it outright or if you need to get more funding.
Make a merger or acquisition agreement
You must prepare a sales agreement to move forward with the sale or merger. This document allows for the purchase of assets or stock of a corporation. An attorney should review it to make sure it’s accurate and comprehensive.
List all inventory in the sale along with names of the businesses and owners. Fill in the relevant background details. Determine how the business will be run prior to close and the level of access each company will have to financial information. Note all adjustments, broker fees, and any other aspects relevant to the terms of agreement.
Don’t leave out any assets and liabilities, or this can create problems even after the sale has been finalized.
Transfer business ownership
The terms of your agreement will dictate which steps you must take to transfer ownership, and what that ownership will look like. It’s widely recommended to have an attorney help with this step.
After you’ve completed the acquisition or merger, you’ll need to register these changes with the state, depending on state law and business structure.
If the merger requires you to dissolve your original company and create a new one, you might also need to open new business bank accounts, get new state and federal tax IDs, re-apply for licenses and permits, and take steps to legally close your old business.
Export goods to increase your profits, reduce market dependence, and stabilize seasonal sales
Benefits of Exporting
Nearly 96 percent of consumers live outside the U.S., and two-thirds of the world’s purchasing power is in foreign countries. If you’re a small business owner, here’s how to work with the Small Business Administration for your trade needs.
- Get counseling
- Find buyers
- Get funding
Get Counseling and Training
It may be easier to expand your market than you think. Even small businesses can get into exporting with the help of mentors and modern technology.
U.S. Export Assistance Centers (USEACs)
USEACs help you explore the process of exporting at centers across the country. Each one is staffed by professionals from public and private organizations with experience in export assistance for small and medium-sized businesses.
Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs)
Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) can also help. SBDCs are hosted by leading universities and state economic development agencies, and are partially funded through a partnership with SBA. Their advisors offer free business consulting and low-cost training services.
The SBA’s Office of International Trade can help any small business that faces barriers in accessing international markets. The office publicizes the small business benefits of U.S. trade agreements and helps protect the rights of small businesses under these agreements.
Find International Buyers
Many small business owners don’t realize foreign sales opportunities are well within reach. To reach them, all you need to do is take advantage of federal programs designed to build the bridge to new markets.
State Trade Expansion Program (STEP)
STEP provides financial awards to state and territory governments to help small businesses with exporting their products.
STEP helps small businesses:
- Learn how to export
- Participate in foreign trade missions and trade shows
- Obtain services to support foreign market entry
- Develop websites to attract foreign buyers
- Design international marketing products or campaigns
Most states receive STEP support. Find out if your state does, then contact your local office to see how they can help you export your products and services.
Exporting Finance Programs
Most U.S. banks view loans for exporters as risky. This makes it harder for you to get loans for things like day-to-day operations, advance orders with suppliers, and refinancing existing debts. That’s why the SBA created programs to provide lenders with up to a 90 percent guaranty on export loans.
To learn more about SBA export loan programs, contact your local SBA International Trade Finance Specialist or the SBA’s Office of International Trade.
Export Express Loan
Export Express lenders can directly underwrite a loan without getting prior approval from the SBA, which allows you to get capital quickly. Loans are typically approved within 36 hours, and can be up to $500,000.
Export Working Capital Loan
Export Working Capital loans allow small business owners to apply for loans in advance of finalizing an export sale or contract, giving exporters greater flexibility in negotiating export payment terms. These loans can be up to $5 million, and the turnaround time is usually five to 10 business days.
International Trade Loan
International Trade loans help small businesses enter international markets and make investments to compete with other importers. These loans offer a combination of fixed asset, working capital financing, and debt refinancing with the SBA’s maximum guaranty of 90 percent on the total loan amount. The maximum loan is $5 million in total financing.
Additional Trade Resources
- SBA Office of International Trade
- Full list of government trade agencies at https://ustr.gov/about-us/trade-toolbox/us-government-trade-agencies
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection
- Getting to Global’s Export Accelerator
Choose a Business Structure
The business structure you choose influences everything from day-to-day operations, to taxes, to how much of your personal assets are at risk. You should choose a business structure that gives you the right balance of legal protections and benefits.
Your business structure affects how much you pay in taxes, your ability to raise money, the paperwork you need to file, and your personal liability.
You’ll need to choose a business structure before you register your business with the state. Most businesses will also need to get a tax ID number and file for the appropriate licenses and permits.
Choose carefully. While you may convert to a different business structure in the future, there may be restrictions based on your location. This could also result in tax consequences and unintended dissolution, among other complications.
Consulting with business counselors, attorneys, and accountants can prove helpful.
Review Common Business Structures
A sole proprietorship is easy to form and gives you complete control of your business. You’re automatically considered to be a sole proprietorship if you do business activities but don’t register as any other kind of business.
Sole proprietorships do not produce a separate business entity. This means your business assets and liabilities are not separate from your personal assets and liabilities. You can be held personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business. Sole proprietors are still able to get a trade name. It can also be hard to raise money because you can’t sell stock, and banks are hesitant to lend to sole proprietorships.
Sole proprietorships can be a good choice for low-risk businesses and owners who want to test their business idea before forming a more formal business.
Partnerships are the simplest structure for two or more people to own a business together. There are two common kinds of partnerships: limited partnerships (LP) and limited liability partnerships (LLP).
Limited partnerships have only one general partner with unlimited liability, and all other partners have limited liability. The partners with limited liability also tend to have limited control over the company, which is documented in a partnership agreement. Profits are passed through to personal tax returns, and the general partner — the partner without limited liability — must also pay self-employment taxes.
Limited liability partnerships are similar to limited partnerships, but give limited liability to every owner. An LLP protects each partner from debts against the partnership; they won’t be responsible for the actions of other partners.
Partnerships can be a good choice for businesses with multiple owners, professional groups (like attorneys), and groups who want to test their business idea before forming a more formal business.
Limited Liability Company (LLC)
An LLC lets you take advantage of the benefits of both the corporation and partnership business structures.
LLCs protect you from personal liability in most instances, your personal assets — like your vehicle, house, and savings accounts — won’t be at risk in case your LLC faces bankruptcy or lawsuits.
Profits and losses can get passed through to your personal income without facing corporate taxes. However, members of an LLC are considered self-employed and must pay self-employment tax contributions towards Medicare and Social Security.
LLCs can have a limited life in many states. When a member joins or leaves an LLC, some states may require the LLC to be dissolved and re-formed with new membership — unless there’s already an agreement in place within the LLC for buying, selling, and transferring ownership.
LLCs can be a good choice for medium – or higher-risk businesses, owners with significant personal assets they want to be protected, and owners who want to pay a lower tax rate than they would with a corporation.
A corporation, sometimes called a C corp, is a legal entity that’s separate from its owners. Corporations can make a profit, be taxed, and can be held legally liable.
Corporations offer the strongest protection to its owners from personal liability, but the cost to form a corporation is higher than other structures. Corporations also require more extensive record-keeping, operational processes, and reporting.
Unlike sole proprietors, partnerships, and LLCs, corporations pay income tax on their profits. In some cases, corporate profits are taxed twice — first, when the company makes a profit, and again when dividends are paid to shareholders on their personal tax returns.
Corporations have a completely independent life separate from its shareholders. If a shareholder leaves the company or sells his or her shares, the C corp can continue doing business relatively undisturbed.
Corporations have an advantage when it comes to raising capital because they can raise funds through the sale of stock, which can also be a benefit in attracting employees.
Corporations can be a good choice for medium- or higher-risk businesses, businesses that need to raise money, and businesses that plan to “go public” or eventually be sold.
An S corporation, sometimes called an S corp, is a special type of corporation that’s designed to avoid the double taxation drawback of regular C corps. S corps allows profits, and some losses, to be passed through directly to owners’ personal income without ever being subject to corporate tax rates.
Not all states tax S corps equally, but most recognize them the same way the federal government does and taxes the shareholders accordingly. Some states tax S corps on profits above a specified limit and other states don’t recognize the S corp election at all, simply treating the business as a C corp.
S corps must file with the IRS to get S corp status, a different process from registering with their state.
There are special limits on S corps. S corps can’t have more than 100 shareholders, and all shareholders must be U.S. citizens. You’ll still have to follow strict filing and operational processes of a C corp.
S corps also have an independent life, just like C corps. If a shareholder leaves the company or sells his or her shares, the S corp can continue doing business relatively undisturbed.
S corps can be a good choice for businesses that would otherwise be a C corp, but meet the criteria to file as an S corp.
A benefit corporation, sometimes called a B corp, is a for-profit corporation recognized in a majority of U.S. states. B corps are different from C corps in purpose, accountability, and transparency, but aren’t different in how they’re taxed.
B corps are driven by both mission and profit. Shareholders hold the company accountable to produce some sort of public benefit in addition to a financial profit. Some states require B corps to submit annual benefit reports that demonstrate their contribution to the public good.
There are several third-party B corp certification services, but none are required for a company to be legally considered a B corp in a state where the legal status is available.
Close corporations resemble B corps but have a less traditional corporate structure. These shed many formalities that typically govern corporations and apply to smaller companies.
State rules vary, but shares are usually barred from public trading. Close corporations can be run by a small group of shareholders without a board of directors.
Nonprofit corporations are organized to do charity, education, religious, literary, or scientific work. Because their work benefits the public, nonprofits can receive tax-exempt status, meaning they don’t pay state or federal taxes or income taxes on any profits it makes.
Nonprofits must file with the IRS to get tax exemption, a different process from registering with their state.
Nonprofit corporations need to follow organizational rules very similar to a regular C corp. They also need to follow special rules about what they do with any profits they earn. For example, they can’t distribute profits to members or political campaigns.
Nonprofits are often called 501(c)(3) corporations — a reference to the section of the Internal Revenue Code that is most commonly used to grant tax-exempt status.
A cooperative is a business or organization owned by and operated for the benefit of those using its services. Profits and earnings generated by the cooperative are distributed among the members, also known as user-owners. Typically, an elected board of directors and officers run the cooperative while regular members have voting power to control the direction of the cooperative. Members can become part of the cooperative by purchasing shares, though the amount of shares they hold does not affect the weight of their vote.
Combine Different Business Structures
Designations like S corp and nonprofit aren’t strictly business structures — they can also be understood as a tax status. It’s possible for an LLC to be taxed as a C corp, S corp, or a nonprofit. These arrangements are far less common and can be more difficult to setup. If you’re considering one of these non-standard structures, you should speak with a business counselor or an attorney to help you decide.
Compare Business Structures
Compare the general traits of these business structures, but remember that ownership rules, liability, taxes, and filing requirements for each business structure can vary by state.
|Sole proprietorship||One person||Unlimited personal liability||Personal tax only|
Two or more people
Unlimited personal liability unless structured as a limited partnership
Self-employment tax (except for limited partners)
Limited liability company (LLC)
One or more people
Owners are not personally liable
Personal tax or corporate tax
Corporation – C corp
One or more people
Owners are not personally liable
Corporation – S corp
One or more people, but no more than 100, and all must be U.S. citizens
Owners are not personally liable
Corporation – B corp
One or more people
Owners are not personally liable
Corporation – Nonprofit
One or more people
Owners are not personally liable
Tax-exempt, but corporate profits can’t be distributed
Fund Your Business
It costs money to start a business. Funding your business is one of the first — and most important — financial choices most business owners make. How you choose to fund your business could affect how you structure and run your business.
Determine How Much Funding You’ll Need
Every business has different needs, and no financial solution is one size fits all. Your personal financial situation and vision for your business will shape the financial future of your business.
Once you know how much startup funding you’ll need, it’s time to figure out how you’ll get it.
Fund Your Business Yourself with Self-Funding
Otherwise known as bootstrapping, self-funding lets you leverage your own financial resources to support your business. Self-funding can come in the form of turning to family and friends for capital, using your savings accounts, or even tapping into your 401k.
With self-funding, you retain complete control over the business but you also take on all the risk yourself. Be careful not to spend more than you can afford, and be especially careful if you choose to tap into retirement accounts early. You might face expensive fees or penalties, or damage your ability to retire on time — so you should check with your plan’s administrator and a personal financial advisor first.
Get Venture Capital from Investors
Investors can give you funding to start your business in the form of venture capital investments. Venture capital is normally offered in exchange for an ownership share and active role in the company.
Venture capital differs from traditional financing in a number of important ways. Venture capital typically:
- Focuses high-growth companies
- Invests capital in return for equity, rather than debt (it’s not a loan)
- Takes higher risks in exchange for potential higher returns
- Has a longer investment horizon than traditional financing
Almost all venture capitalists will, at a minimum, want a seat on the board of directors. So be prepared to give up some portion of both control and ownership of your company in exchange for funding.
How to Get Venture Capital Funding
There’s no guaranteed way to get venture capital, but the process generally follows a standard order of basic steps.
- Find an investor
Look for individual investors — sometimes called “angel investors” — or venture capital firms. Be sure to do enough background research to know if the investor is reputable and has experience working with startup companies.
- Share your business plan
The investor will review your business plan to make sure it meets their investing criteria. Most investment funds concentrate on an industry, geographic area, or stage of business development.
- Go through due diligence review
The investors will look at your company’s management team, market, products and services, corporate governance documents, and financial statements.
- Work out the terms
If they want to invest, the next step is to agree on a term sheet that describes the terms and conditions for the fund to make an investment.
Once you agree on a term sheet, you can get the investment! Once a venture fund has invested, it becomes actively involved in the company. Venture funds normally come in “rounds.” As the company meets milestones, further rounds of financing are made available, with adjustments in price as the company executes its plan.
Use Crowdfunding to Fund Your Business
Crowdfunding raises funds for a business from a large number of people, called crowdfunders. Crowdfunders aren’t technically investors, because they don’t receive a share of ownership in the business and don’t expect a financial return on their money.
Instead, crowdfunders expect to get a “gift” from your company as thanks for their contribution. Often, that gift is the product you plan to sell or other special perks, like meeting the business owner or getting their name in the credits. This makes crowdfunding a popular option for people who want to produce creative works (like a documentary), or a physical product (like a high-tech cooler).
Crowdfunding is also popular because it’s very low risk for business owners. Not only do you get to retain full control of your company, but if your plan fails, you’re typically under no obligation to repay your crowdfunders. Every crowdfunding platform is different, so make sure to read the fine print and understand your full financial and legal obligations.
Get a Small Business Loan
If you want to retain complete control of your business, but don’t have enough funds to start, consider a small business loan.
To increase your chances of securing a loan, you should have a business plan, expense sheet, and financial projections for the next five years. These tools will give you an idea of how much you’ll need to ask for, and will help the bank know they’re making a smart choice by giving you a loan.
Once you have your materials ready, contact banks and credit unions to request a loan. You’ll want to compare offers to get the best possible terms for your loan.
Use Lender Match to Find Lenders Who Offer SBA-Guaranteed Loans
If you have trouble getting a traditional business loan, you should look into SBA-guaranteed loans. When a bank thinks your business is too risky to lend money to, the SBA can agree to guarantee your loan. That way, the bank has less risk and is more willing to give your business a loan.
Use Lender Match to find lenders who offer SBA-guaranteed loans.
Small Business Administration Investment Programs
Small Business Investment Company (SBIC)
SBICs are privately owned and managed investment funds licensed and regulated by the Small Business Administration. They use their own capital, plus funds borrowed with an SBA guarantee, to make equity and debt investments in qualifying small businesses.
Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program
This program encourages small businesses to engage in federal research and development that has the potential for commercialization.
Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Program
This program offers funding opportunities in the federal innovation research and development arena. Small businesses who qualify for this program work with nonprofit research institutions in the early and intermediate stages of starting up.
Open a Business Bank Account
Open a business account when you’re ready to start accepting or spending money as your business. A business bank account helps you stay legally compliant and protected. It also provides benefits to your customers and employees.
Benefits of Business Bank Accounts
As soon as you start accepting or spending money as your business, you should open a business bank account. Common business accounts include a checking account, savings account, credit card account, and a merchant services account. Merchant services accounts allow you to accept credit and debit card transactions from your customers.
You can open a business bank account once you’ve gotten your federal EIN.
Most business bank accounts offer perks that don’t come with a standard personal bank account.
- Protection. Business banking offers limited personal liability protection by keeping your business funds separate from your personal funds. Merchant services also offer purchase protection for your customers and ensures that their personal information is secure.
- Professionalism. Customers will be able to pay you with credit cards and make checks out to your business instead of directly to you. Plus, you’ll be able to authorize employees to handle day-to-day banking tasks on behalf of the business.
- Preparedness. Business banking usually comes with the option for a line of credit for the company. This can be used in the event of an emergency, or if your business needs new equipment.
- Purchasing power. Credit card accounts can help your business make large startup purchases and help establish a credit history for your business.
Find an Account with Low Fees and Good Benefits
Some business owners open a business account at the same bank they use for their personal accounts. Rates, fees, and options vary from bank to bank, so you should shop around to make sure you find the lowest fees and the best benefits.
Here are things to consider when you’re opening a business checking or savings account:
- Introductory offers
- Interest rates for savings and checking
- Interest rates for lines of credit
- Transaction fees
- Early termination fees
- Minimum account balance fees
Here are things to consider when you’re opening a merchant services account:
- Discount rate: The percentage charged for every transaction processed.
- Transaction fees: The amount charged for every credit card transaction.
- Address Verification Service (AVS) fees.
- ACH daily batch fees: Fees charged when you settle credit card transactions for that day.
- Monthly minimum fees: Fees charged if your business doesn’t meet the minimum required transactions.
Payment processing companies are an increasingly popular alternative to traditional merchant services accounts. Payment processing companies sometimes provide extra functionality, like accessories that let you use your phone to accept credit card payments. The fee categories that you need to consider will be similar to merchant services account fees. If you find a payment processor that you like, remember that you’ll still need to connect it to a business checking account to receive payments.
Get Documents You Need to Open a Business Bank Account
Opening a business bank account is easy once you’ve picked your bank. Simply go online or to a local branch to begin the process. Here are some of the most common documents banks ask for when you open a business bank account. Some banks may ask for more.
- Employer Identification Number (EIN) (or a Social Security number, if you’re a sole proprietorship)
- Your business’s formation documents
- Ownership agreements
- Business license
Get Business Insurance
Business insurance protects you from the unexpected costs of running a business. Accidents, natural disasters, and lawsuits could run you out of business if you’re not protected with the right insurance.
Pick the Type of Business Insurance You Need
The protections you get from choosing a business structure like an LLC or a corporation typically only protects your personal property from lawsuits, and even that protection is limited.
Business insurance can fill in the gaps to make sure both your personal assets and your business assets are fully protected from unexpected catastrophes.
In some instances, you might be legally required to purchase certain types of business insurance.
The federal government requires every business with employees to have workers’ compensation, unemployment, and disability insurance.
Some states also require additional insurance. Laws requiring insurance vary by state, so visit your state’s website to find out the requirements for your business.
Six Common Types of Business Insurance
After you purchase insurance that’s required by law, you can find insurance to cover any other business risk. As a general rule, you should insure against things you wouldn’t be able to pay for on your own.
Speak to insurance agents to find out what kinds of coverage makes sense for your business, and compare terms and prices to find the best deal for you. Here are six common kinds of business insurance to look for.
- General Liability Insurance if for any business. This coverage protects against financial loss as the result of bodily injury, property damage, medical expenses, libel, slander, defending lawsuits, and settlement bonds or judgments.
- Product Liability Insurance if for businesses that manufacture, wholesale, distribute, and retail a product. This coverage protects against financial loss as a result of a defective product that causes injury or bodily harm.
- Professional Liability Insurance is for businesses that provide services to customers. This coverage protects against financial loss as a result of malpractice, errors, and negligence.
- Commercial Property Insurance if for businesses with a significant amount of property and physical assets. This coverage protects your business against loss and damage of company property due to a wide variety of events such as fire, smoke, wind and hail storms, civil disobedience and vandalism.
- Home-Based Business Insurance is for businesses that are run out of the owner’s personal home. Coverage that’s added to homeowner’s insurance as a rider can offer protection for a small amount of business equipment and liability coverage for third-party injuries.
- Business Owner’s Policy is for most small business owners, but especially home-based business owners. A business owner’s policy is an insurance package that combines all of the typical coverage options into one bundle. They simplify the insurance buying process and can save you money.
Four Steps to Buy Business Insurance
- Assess your risks. Think about what kind of accidents, natural disasters, or lawsuits could damage your business. If you need help, the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) provides information for choosing insurance to help you assess your risks and to make sure you’ve insured every aspect of your business.
- Find a reputable licensed agent. Commercial insurance agents can help you find policies that match your business needs. They receive commissions from insurance companies when they sell policies, so it’s important to find a licensed agent that’s interested in your needs as much as his/her own.
- Shop around. Prices and benefits can vary significantly. You should compare rates, terms, and benefits for insurance offers from several different agents.
- Re-assess every year. As your business grows, so do your liabilities. If you have purchased or replaced equipment or expanded operations, you should contact your insurance agent to discuss changes in your business and how they affect your coverage.
Stay Legally Compliant
Keep your business compliant with state and federal business laws. Your legal responsibilities will depend on your business and location.
For Your Own Records: Internal Requirements
You’ll need to meet external and internal business compliance requirements. Most external requirements involve filing paperwork or paying taxes with state or federal governments.
Internal business requirements are for your own record keeping. You should document your compliance with internal requirements closely with company records. You might need them when you decide to sell your business or if a legal action is taken against your business.
Requirements by Business Structure
Corporations have the strictest internal requirements. Corporations should hold initial and annual director and shareholder meetings, record their meeting minutes, adopt and maintain bylaws, issue stock to shareholders, and record all stock transfers.
LLCs have less strict internal requirements, but are generally advised to maintain an updated operating agreement, issue membership shares, record all membership interest transfers, and hold annual meetings.
Other business structures have few, if any internal requirements. However, it’s rarely a bad idea to document important decisions with your business.
Ongoing State Filing Requirements
Your annual filing requirements will vary based on your business structure and the state. Still, there are a few common requirements to look out for.
- Annual report or biennial statement. Most states require one or the other. Some states set the due date on the anniversary of the business formation date, and other states pick a specific day for all businesses.
- Statement filing fees. Fees normally accompany the annual report or biennial statement, which can exceed $300.00.
- Franchise tax. Some states charge franchise taxes for corporations or LLCs that operate with their border. Formulas vary by state.
- Initial reports. Some states require initial reports and fees shortly after incorporation.
- Articles of Amendment. If you’ve made important changes to your company — like address, name, new shares, or membership — report it with articles of amendment.
Ongoing Federal Filing Requirements
Most businesses won’t have federal requirements beyond paying federal taxes and complying with the Affordable Care Act. Make sure that you meet all federal tax obligations, including income and employer taxes.
The Affordable Care Act requires businesses with 50 or more employees to report to the IRS that they provide health coverage.
If your business has any federal licenses, permits, or certificates, you’ll need to keep those up to date.
Other Federal Requirements
Some business activities are regulated but don’t require filing. Make sure to stay in compliance with any applicable marketing and advertising laws, copyright laws, workplace poster laws, and workplace health and safety laws.
Maintain Licenses, Permits, and Recertification
The documents for staying legally compliant vary based on your industry and location.
Maintain any licenses, permits, or certificates your business received from your state, city, or county. Renewal requirements vary, so it’s best to check with local business licensing offices.
For example, most restaurants need to regularly renew health and safety certificates. Businesses that sell regulated items like tobacco, alcohol, or tires might need to regularly renew their sales permits. For professional services like plumbing or nursing, the state might require certification with a third-party board to keep your license.
For federal licenses, permits, and certificates, check with the issuing institution to confirm renewal requirements for your business. Here’s a list of some common federal agencies and departments that small businesses register with:
- S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
- Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)
- Federal Aviation Administration
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)
- S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
- The Federal Communications Commission
Manage Your Finances
Accounting for revenue and expenses can help keep your business running smoothly. Make sure you maintain proper bookkeeping and have a basic knowledge of business finances.
Start with a Balance Sheet
The balance sheet is the foundation of managing your finances. It operates as a snapshot of your business financials. It helps you keep track of your capital and provide a cash flow projection for future years.
A balance sheet will help you account for costs, like employees and supplies. It will also help you track assets, liabilities, and equity. You can get insights by separating and analyzing segments of your business, like comparing online sales to face-to-face sales.
Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA)
Looking closely at money-in and money-out helps maintain a sustainable balance between profit and loss. From development and operations to recurring and nonrecurring costs, it’s important to categorize expenses in your balance sheet. Then, you can use a cost-benefit analysis to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of a business decision, and put potential recurring benefits and cost reductions in context.
A CBA is a technique for making non-critical choices in a relatively quick and easy way. It simply involves adding money in benefits and money in costs over a specified time period, before subtracting costs from benefits to determine success in terms of dollars. This can come in handy with hiring another employee or an independent contractor.
For example, let’s say you’re deciding whether to add outdoor seating for your sausage themed restaurant, Haute Dog. You estimate outdoor seating would add $5,000 in extra profit from sales each year. But, the outdoor seating permit costs $1,000 each year, and you’d also have to spend $2,000 to buy outdoor tables and chairs. Your cost-benefit analysis shows that you should add outdoor seating, because the new benefits ($5,000 in new sales) outweigh the new costs ($3,000 in permitting and equipment expenses).
Pick a Method of Accounting
Businesses often use either the accrual or cash methods of recording purchases. The accrual method puts transactions on the books immediately upon completing the sale. The cash method only records this once payment has been received.
For example, if you make a sale in January and receive the $200 payment in February, an accrual method would allow you to record that on January’s books, while the cash method would require that payment to land on February’s books.
Accrual Method Pros
Creates immediate snapshot
Can reduce tax burden
Accrual Method Cons
More complex to manage
Potentially deceiving figures
Cash Method Pros
Shows cash flow clearly
Easier to understand
Cash Method Cons
Limits predictive value
Less long-term clarity
There are many strategies for preparing financial statements for a small business. Generally accepted accounting principles, known as GAAP or “Gap”, provides a common a way to standardize financial reporting using the accrual method. Private companies aren’t required to follow GAAP. The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) maintains GAAP in the United States.
Get Accounting Help
You might want to get help with your accounting. Consider hiring a certified public accountant (CPA), bookkeeper, or using an online service.
A CPA will typically cost more than online services, but can normally offer more tailored service for your specific business needs. A bookkeeper can provide basic day-to-day functions at a lower cost, but won’t possess the formal accounting education of a CPA.
Ensure that someone can manage the following:
- Accounts receivable
- Accounts payable
- Available cash
- Bank reconciliation
Manage Business Credit
Establishing and managing business credit can help your company secure financing when you need it, and with better terms. Business credit can be crucial for negotiating supply agreements and protecting against business identity theft.
These five steps can lay the groundwork to sound financial planning.
- Determine whether you have business credit on file with Dun & Bradstreet
- Establish a business credit history by using lines of credit associated with your business
- Pay bills on time and understand other factors that influence your credit rating
- Keep your credit files current and monitor for ratings changes
- Know your customers’ and vendors’ credit standing
Knowing your customers’ credit standing gives you a window into consumer patterns, and that can affect your marketing and sales strategy. You may not need to conduct credit checks, but there are credit evaluation tools available for small business. Customer behavior also impacts your business’s cash flow, which affects planning for future supplies, hiring employees, and expanding your business.
Your business will need to meet its federal, state, and local tax obligations to stay in good legal standing. Your business structure and location will influence which taxes your business has to pay.
Choose Your Tax Year
Your business is legally required to pay taxes and keep accounting records on a consistent yearly schedule called a tax year.
Most businesses choose their tax year to be the same as the calendar year. You select your tax year the first time you file for taxes, but can change it later with permission from the IRS.
- Calendar tax year if you don’t have special accounting needs for your business.
- Fiscal tax year if you want your 12-month accounting cycle to end in a month that isn’t December.
- Short tax year if your business wasn’t in existence for an entire tax year, or you changed your accounting period.
If your business doesn’t have much reporting or bookkeeping, you may be required to use a calendar tax year. Check with the IRS for detailed rules about tax years.
Determine Your State Tax Obligations
Your business might need to pay state and local taxes. Tax laws vary by location and business structure, so you’ll need to check with state and local governments to know your business’ tax obligations.
The two most common types of state and local tax requirements for small business are income taxes and employment taxes.
Your state income tax obligations are determined by your business structure. For example, corporations are taxed separately from the owners, while sole proprietors report their personal and business income taxes using the same form.
If your business has employees, you’ll be responsible for paying state employment taxes. These vary by state, but often include workers’ compensation insurance, unemployment insurance taxes, and temporary disability insurance. You might also be responsible for withholding employee income tax. Check with your state tax authority to find out how much you need to withhold and when you need to send it to the state.
Determine Your Federal Tax Obligations
Your business structure determines what federal taxes you must pay and how you pay them. Some of the taxes require payment throughout the year, so it’s important to know your tax obligations before the end of your tax year.
There are five general types of business taxes.
- Income tax
- Self-employment tax
- Estimated tax
- Employer tax
- Excise tax
Each category of business tax might have special rules, qualifications, or IRS forms you need to file. Check with the IRS to see which business taxes apply to you.
If your business has employees, you might be required to withhold taxes from their paychecks. Federal employment taxes include income, Social Security and Medicare, unemployment, and self-employment taxes. Check with the IRS to see which taxes you need to withhold.
How to Build a Brand That Stands the Test of Time
By Andrew Gazdecki of Bizness Apps
When it comes time to develop a brand, many companies set their sights on attention rather than retention, but 64% of people say a shared sense of value is the main reason they’re loyal to a brand. On top of that, 48% of those same consumers say a positive first experience with a company can easily earn their allegiance. Clearly, branding can serve as an incredible asset for customer retention, which should inform the foundation of your philosophy.
So what are the keys to building a brand that increases customer loyalty? Here are the basics.
Find Your Values
A strong brand builds repeat customers, and repeat customers strengthen your brand. This perpetual cycle is vital to the success of your business and it all starts with your customers’ first experience.
First, ask yourself what you believe in as a company and how you can convey that to your customers. Look at some of the most trusted brands out there; it’s clear to customers what they represent. For example, FedEx customers know the company lives up to its promises—it’s efficient and effective. Similarly, everyone knows that Nike is all about inspiring athletes to push themselves. The company’s innovative approach to developing products for elite athletes and the masses makes it a unanimously trusted brand.
Determine what you want your brand to be known for, and then make that the foundation of your company.
Remember, loyalty begins right off the bat and your business’ success relies heavily on the values shining through to your customers. However, beliefs alone won’t sustain a business; you need an authentic product or service to accompany those values too.
There’s no better example than Levi’s. The longevity of Levi’s is a major lesson to entrepreneurs. First of all, the company never skimps on quality—the rivets Levis uses in its jeans have become industry standard, and this quality and durability has earned them over 162 years of success in the market.
Also, the company does not diverge from its core product. Rather than jumping on the bandwagon with every new trend, Levi’s is committed to its authentic, original product: quality denim. This commitment is what has kept it thriving all these decades, and will surely continue to set them above the rest for decades to come.
Do something well—and stick to it.
Craft Your Image
To gain a contemporary audience’s trust, you need an external image that showcases your core beliefs. You’ve started from the inside, you’ve found what you stand for, and you’ve developed an authentic product or service. Now it’s time to convey that in your company’s image.
Start with a logo. Develop a visual representation of what you stand for then choose a color palette. The right graphic designer can mean the difference between reaching your target audience and nudging them along to a better-branded competitor. Remember, that first impression is critical in capturing and retaining customers.
You can learn a lot from Google when it comes to logo design. The company’s simple typeface and bold appearance make it a six-letter, multi-color image known to all as the information giant. A designer capable of crafting a commanding statement with an inviting image is pivotal to your brand development.
Next, come up with a slogan or a tagline that speaks to what you do. Establishing the voice of your company takes creativity. Don’t fall into the trap of clichés and overused marketing nonsense that simply fill up space. Be concise, be unique, and be relevant.
Look at some of the best taglines and slogans in the industry. They speak to the customer and reflect the values of the brand in unison. BMW is known as the “Ultimate Driving Machine” and customers remain loyal to this brand because the company backs its message. Not only does BMW build a quality product, it’s widely trusted by consumers as an exceptional brand. The same can be said about American Express. Everyone knows the “don’t leave home without it” tagline.
Notice how these examples aren’t full of fluff and cliché. They’re bold statements that speak volumes about the companies’ philosophies and products.
Quality visuals paired with clear language create a sense of value that leads to customer trust.
Focus on Experience
If you have a brick and mortar that’s inviting and welcoming, that in itself can build loyalty. A simple, “Hello, can I help you?” creates a positive customer experience. But in a digital market, it’s much harder to develop that kind of rapport. There’s no solid handshake, no face time to establish that shared sense of value. Digital loyalty requires some extra work, and no company has done a better job than Amazon.
You can learn a lot from Amazon’s commitment to the customer experience. Here are a few ways they excel:
- Purchase experience: Amazon’s clear product descriptions and wealth of reviews simplifies the purchase process, helping customers make informed decisions.
- Price: Free shipping and Prime benefits keep Amazon on top.
- Convenience: One-click checkout and ultra-fast shipping give Amazon an incredible edge compared to other more slow-moving online retailers.
- Charity: Amazon Smilelets customers donate at zero cost to themselves.
Make your customers’ lives easier and happier by connecting to them on a personal level and answering their basic needs.
Listen to Your Customers
If you take the time to not just listen to but hear your customers, you can continue building a brand that meets their needs. Constructive criticism is one of the best ways to cultivate a business in any niche. Nobody knew this better than the face of Apple, Steve Jobs.
Many businesses conduct surveys and reviews to see what customers like and dislike. And since money is the motivating factor in any business, changes based on survey results are often implemented to boost sales. But what sets Apple apart from most is its ability to predict customers’ future needs.
Apple has always been genius at knowing what customers want before they do—and guiding those wants through highly intelligent design. It’s this study of customer behavior that has made Apple such a powerhouse in the tech industry.
Take feedback in step. Get to know your customers so well, you can predict their wants before they do.
Connect with Your Community
People like businesses that seem to care about the community as much as they care about making money. Businesses that connect with local groups create a loyal following that generates return business.
Starbucks is known for bringing people together. The brand has built a long-standing sense of community—customers know that through their doors they’ll find a gathering place. From offering free Wi-Fi to sponsoring service projects in the community, Starbucks is the perfect example of how money-makers can become a positively regarded staple in the community. And because of this commitment, the brand continues to thrive.
Contribute to your community and they’ll return the favor.
Developing your brand isn’t just about picking a logo and slapping it on some letterhead. There’s a lot of methodical planning that touches the deepest foundations of your company’s philosophy and goals. Building a brand that works and lasts means doing some professional soul-searching to identify what it is that drives you—and how that can drive your customers.
By starting with your vision and then putting that vision into your product, you are laying the foundation for success. But a strong vision and an authentic product or service is just the start. You need to bring that vision to fruition by showing your customers your business is the real deal. You do this by creating a great customer experience when they’re shopping online or simply walking by. A strong community presence and powerful visual appeal go a long way in solidifying what your brand stands for.
The bottom line is clear: determine what you want to accomplish, put your heart and soul in it, and then share that vision with the world.
Buy an Existing Business or Franchise
It can be hard to start a business from scratch. Starting a business from scratch can be challenging. The good news? You don’t have to start from scratch to have your own business. Consider franchising or buying an existing business.
- Know the difference between franchising and buying a business
- Consider 3 factors before franchising or buying a business
- Get ready to buy your franchise or business
- Know the difference between franchising and buying a business
Before you decide if one of these options is right for you, make sure you know the basics of franchising and buying an existing business. The main difference between franchising and buying an existing business is the level of control you’ll have over your business.
Franchising Gives You More Guidance but Less Control
A franchise is a business model where one business owner (the “franchisor”) sells the rights to their business logo, name, and model to an independent entrepreneur (the “franchisee”). Restaurants, hotels, and service-oriented businesses are commonly franchised.
Two common forms of franchising are:
- Product/trade name franchising: The franchisor owns the right to the name or trademark of a business, and sells the right to use that name and trademark to a franchisee. This style of franchising normally focuses on supply chain management. Typically, products are manufactured or supplied by the franchisor and delivered to the franchisee to sell.
- Business format franchising: The franchisor and franchisee have an ongoing relationship. This style of franchising normally focuses on full-spectrum business management. Typically, the franchisor offers services like site selection, training, product supply, marketing plans, and even help getting funding.
When you buy a franchise, you get the right to use the name, logo, and products of a larger brand. You’ll also get to benefit from brand recognition, promotions, and marketing. But, it also means you have to follow rules from the larger brand about how you run your business.
Buying an Existing Business Gives You More Control but Less Guidance
Buying an existing business is exactly what it sounds like. The buyer typically takes over full ownership of the business. The largest advantage is having an existing blueprint that can include important factors like an established customer base, defined operating expenses, and fully trained employees. Regardless of business type, almost any kind of business could be bought or sold.
When you buy an existing business, you typically get complete control over its direction. However, with no set vision, infrastructure, or external guidance, your business could struggle as you figure out the best way to run things.
Consider 3 Factors before Franchising or Buying a Business
Though the business models differ, there are three common steps to take that will help you determine whether you should franchise or buy a business.
- Quantify your investment: Review your financial landscape and decide how much you’re willing to spend to purchase — and ultimately manage — the business. This will help you determine what type of businesses or brands are best for your budget.
- Consider your talents and lifestyle: Be honest about your skills and experience, as they can help you eliminate unrealistic business ventures. For example, if you prefer hands-on assistance, then franchising might be best for you. On the contrary, if you’re an experienced business owner, you may want to consider buying an existing business.
- Review the full landscape: Look at the existing infrastructure and make sure you understand everything that comes along with the purchase. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about contracts, leases, existing cash flow, and inventory. The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to make a sound decision.
Pick the Right Franchise or Existing Business for You
Once you know whether you want to franchise or buy a business, you’ll need to evaluate each specific opportunity. In short, it boils down to this: do your due diligence.
Your research should help you understand the business from both a financial standpoint and in the overall landscape.
If you’re interested in franchising, you should explore the following:
- Any and all existing reports: Now’s the time to put your detective hat on. To start, get a Uniform Franchise Offering Circular (UFOC). This form contains vital details about the franchise’s legal, financial, and personnel history.
- Associated rules and regulations: Every franchise is different. Confirm that you’ll have the right to use the franchise name, trademark, and do business in an area protected from other franchisees. You can also find out if you’ll get training and management help from the franchisor, and be able to use the franchisor’s expertise in marketing and advertising.
- Contracts: The contract between the two parties usually benefits the franchisor more than the franchisee. The franchisee generally needs to meet sales quotas and buy equipment, supplies, and inventory. Make sure you understand it all before signing.
If you’re interested in buying an existing business, here’s what to look into:
- Licenses and permits: You’ll need to get any needed licenses and permits from the current owner or apply for them yourself. Find out which federal, state, and local permits and licenses you’ll need to run your business.
- Zoning requirements: Zoning requirements may affect your business. Make sure your business follows all the basic zoning laws in your area.
- Environmental concerns: If you’re buying real property along with the business, it is important to check the environmental regulations in the area.
- The value of the business: There are many different methods to determine a fair price for the sale of the business. Here are a few:
- Capitalized earning approach: This method refers to the return on the investment that the investor expects.
- Excess earning method: Like the capitalized earning method, except it separates return on assets from other earnings.
- Cash flow method: This method is typically used to determine how much of a loan the business’ cash flow can support.
- Tangible assets (balance sheet) method: This method values the business by the tangible assets.
- Value of specific intangible assets method: This method compares buying a wanted intangible asset versus creating it.
Get Ready to Buy Your Franchise or Business
Once you’ve found a franchise or business to buy, it’s important to conduct a thorough, objective investigation.
At this stage, you’ll probably want professional help. Consider hiring an attorney and an accountant. The tax rules surrounding franchises in particular are often complex. A specialist in franchise law can assist you with evaluating the franchise package and tax considerations. An accountant can help you determine the full costs of purchasing and operating the business, and even help estimate potential profit.
An attorney and an accountant together can help you create and evaluate important documents.
Typically that includes:
- Letter of intent
- Confidentiality agreement
- Contracts and leases
- Financial statements
- Tax returns
- Sales agreement
- Purchase price adjustment
Be sure to visit the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection for a wide range of resources and guides to help you buy a franchise.
Also, don’t miss your opportunity to buy an existing business. Check out the classified ads for more information.
Buy Assets and Equipment
Your business will need special assets and equipment to succeed. Figure out which assets you need, how to pay for them, and whether you should buy government surplus.
Know the Assets and Equipment You Need
Business assets fall into three broad categories: tangible, intangible, and intellectual property. Depending on the asset type, you’ll have to decide whether you want to buy or lease assets for your business. The first step is figuring out which assets will help your business succeed.
Tangible assets — like buildings, vehicles, and equipment — are used for regular business activity and lose value over time. Things like printer paper, which get used up, typically don’t get counted as assets. Count tangible assets on your balance sheet as property or equipment.
Intangible assets are the things you can’t touch — like your business reputation, your brand, or your business partner’s influential network. You don’t list these on your balance sheet and it’s often difficult or impossible to sell them for cash. But they can still contribute to the overall value of your business.
Intellectual property is a type of intangible asset that includes trademarks, patents, logos, websites, domain names, and software. Intellectual property is often protected by copyright or trademark protection.
Decide to Lease or Buy
Once you’ve determined all the assets you need for your business, you can decide how you’d like to acquire them.
Leasing can be a good option if you need to quickly get a lot of equipment, or if the equipment you need is very expensive. Commercial space can also be leased, so you can rent a place to run your business. In some cases, leasing can actually be less expensive than purchasing with a high-interest loan.
Leasing has benefits:
- Needs less cash or credit upfront
- Short-term leases let you test out the equipment
- Maintenance is sometimes included at no extra cost
- Lease payments for business assets are typically tax deductible
Leasing also has disadvantages:
- The lifetime cost is normally higher than buying
- Replacing it when the lease is up could be expensive
- Depreciation of leased assets typically isn’t tax deductible
Every lease can be structured differently, so look into the details of your offer to make sure you’re getting something that works for you.
Confirm the Details of a Lease
There are two general kinds of leases: operating leases and capital leases. Since the accounting treatment is different, the kind of lease you use can have a significant impact on your business taxes.
Operating leases work like a traditional rental. You don’t own the asset, so it doesn’t get added to your balance sheet. Payments are considered operational expenses. You generally don’t take on maintenance, risk, or tax obligations for the asset.
Capital leases work more like a loan. For accounting purposes, you own the asset. It does get added to your balance sheet, and you can claim depreciation and interest expenses. You also take on all maintenance, risk, and tax obligations for the asset.
There are other factors to look at, too. Leases sometimes have buyout options that let you fully purchase the asset at the end of the lease. The length of a lease can vary, and shorter leases typically have higher monthly payments. If you want to leave a lease early, you could face steep early-termination penalties.
You might want to ask an attorney to review a lease with you before signing, especially if any of the terms or conditions are unclear.
Buying equipment can be a good option if you have enough cash or credit available and you’re confident you’ll be using the assets for a long time.
Buying has benefits:
- You can claim depreciation on your taxes
- The lifetime cost to buy is usually less than leasing
- You can count it as an asset on your balance sheet
Buying also has disadvantages:
- Needs more cash or credit upfront
- Less opportunity to “test out” the asset
- You could be fully liable for maintenance and replacement
Buy with Cash or Credit
If you buy your assets with cash, you’ll own it in full right away. But it also means you’ll have less cash available to cover operating expenses. Make sure you’ve done your accounting homework and that you can actually afford to pay with cash.
Loans can give you some of the same benefits of leases by distributing the total cost over a longer period. However, you’ll pay more in fees and interest than buying outright with cash.
You might be able to leverage lines of credit with your bank, or look for other sources to get more funding for your business.
Consider Buying Government Surplus
Purchasing surplus goods from the government can be easy and affordable. Just about any tangible asset your business might need is sold by the government at or below what you’d pay on the open market.
When a federal or state agency has extra equipment, seized goods, or foreclosed property, the goods are either transferred to another government agency or sold to the public. These items are sold “as is” by auction or negotiated sale either online, in-person, or both. State governments tend to have a single auction site online, while the federal government has several.
Use this list of federal government auction sites to start your search.
- Military Surplus
- U.S. Marshals Service – Seized Asset Information
- U.S. Treasury – Seized Vehicles Sales
- U.S. Treasury – IRS
Prepare for Emergencies
Smart planning can help you keep your business running if disaster strikes. You’ll want to take the right steps to prevent and prepare for disaster, and know where to get aid if disaster strikes.
An estimated 25 percent of businesses don’t open again after a major disaster, according to the Institute for Business and Home Safety. Protect your small business by identifying the risks relevant to your location, both natural and man-made. Then, keep your plan of action updated.
Preserve your equipment and business records by referencing the IRS Guide found at https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/preparing-for-a-disaster-taxpayers-and-businesses on protecting your information before an emergency strikes. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also offers an emergency preparedness checklist and toolkit.
Specific Disaster Checklists and Tips
Focus on disasters that pose a realistic risk to your small business such as: hurricanes, winter weather, earthquakes, tornadoes, wildfires, floods and cyber security. There are many resources that provide checklists and safety tips for all types of disasters. Seriously consider researching potential risks for your business and get prepared.
Get Financial Assistance after a Disaster
When a disaster hits your small business, first contact FEMA to apply for financial assistance. They can provide money for housing along with other personal expenses including food, clothing and medicine.
The SBA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture provide low-interest loans for damaged and destroyed assets in a declared disaster. These include repair and replacement costs for real estate, personal property, machinery, equipment, inventory, and business assets.
Other Sources of Disaster Aid
Disaster unemployment assistance helps individual employees while they’re unemployed due to a disaster, and flood recovery assistance can help workers displaced by flooding.
Businesses in federally declared disaster areas could qualify for special tax provisions for financial recovery. The Farm Service Agency also provides a disaster assistance guide for farmers and ranchers after natural disasters.
Take precautions to avoid injury or illness occurring in the cleanup process following a disaster. The wide range of hazards includes downed power lines, contaminated waters and hidden molds and toxins.
Disasters are magnified by their consequences on health and health services, so the Center for Disease Control (CDC) serves as an important resource through its Health Studies Branch. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published cleanup tips specifically for hazards during natural disaster recoveries. Find these tips at https://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/cleanupHazard.html.
If you encounter hazardous material spills or discharges, call the National Response Center, and contact the National Pesticide Center if applicable. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlines reporting for spills and environmental violations. Follow the procedures outlined at https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-incidents/how-report-spills-and-environmental-violations.
Visit FEMA to find emergency management agencies in your state.
For more emergency preparedness advice, visit preparemybusiness.org or contact SBA’s Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center at 1-800-659-2955 (TTY: 1-800-877-8339) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also receive local business counseling to determine the best way to prepare for emergencies and the next step when disaster strikes.
Market to Sell
Marketing takes time, money, and preparation. One of the best ways to stay on schedule and on budget is to make a marketing plan. It describes the actions you’ll take to persuade potential customers to buy your products or services.
Your business plan should contain the central elements of your marketing strategy. Your marketing plan turns your strategy into action.
Most marketing plans cover these topics. As always, use what works best for your business.
Describe your audience in detail. Look at the market’s size, demographics, unique traits, and trends that relate to demand for your business.
Describe what gives your product or service an advantage over the competition. It might be a better product, a lower price, or an excellent customer experience. Sometimes, an environmentally friendly certification or “made in the USA” on your label can be an important factor for customers.
Describe in detail how you’ll sell your service or product to your customers. List the sales methods you’ll use, like retail, wholesale, or your own online store. Explain each step your customer takes once they decide to buy.
Marketing and Sales Goals
Describe your marketing and sales goals for the next year. Common marketing and sales goals are to increase email subscribers, grow market share, or increase sales by a certain percent.
Marketing Action Plan
Describe how you’ll achieve your marketing and sales goals. List marketing channels you’ll use, like online advertising, radio ads, or billboards. Explain your pricing strategy and how you’ll use promotions. Talk about the customer support that happens after the sale. The federal government regulates advertising and labeling for a number of consumer products, so make sure your advertising is legally compliant.
Include a complete breakdown of the costs of your marketing plan. Try to be as accurate as possible. You’ll want to keep tracking your costs once you put your plan into action.
Measure and Update Your Plan
Plan to compare your marketing and sales costs to the revenue it generates. You want to make sure you’re getting a positive return on investment, or ROI.
Some tactics are hard to measure — like print advertising or word-of-mouth campaigns. Get creative and use others’ advice, but be consistent in how you measure the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.
Marketing plans should be maintained on an annual basis, at minimum. Measuring ROI will help you know which part of the plan is working and which part needs to be updated.
Don’t Forget About Operations
Not everyone agrees on the exact distinctions between marketing and sales, but most people recognize they’re connected. The influence operations have on marketing and sales is often overlooked.
Simple operations elements like your staff uniform, where your product is made, or the product return process contribute to your customer’s experience. That experience shapes how your customers view your company, and can influence whether they’ll become a loyal customer for life or tell their friends to stay away.
How You’ll Accept Payments
The kinds of payments you accept can impact your marketing and sales, as well as your bottom line. Accept forms of payments that are cost effective, secure, and provide a positive experience for your customers.
You’ll need a business bank account no matter what kinds of payment you choose.
To accept credit and debit cards, you’ll need either a merchant services account with a bank or an account with an independent payment processing company.
You’ll pay small processing fees for each credit or debit card transaction, plus costs for setting up any necessary equipment.
Accepting credit and debit cards exposes you to the risk of fraud, but most vendors provide a certain level of protection for your business. Make sure that you use an EMV chip reader, which will limit both fraud and your liability.
You only need a business bank account to accept checks.
You’ll want to create a policy for accepting checks to help you avoid bad or fraudulent checks. Standard practices include only taking checks from well-known or in-state banks, or requiring checks be only for the exact amount owed. You could also use a third party service to help verify the quality of the check.
If a check bounces, your options to get the final payment will vary depending on your location. Some states require businesses to mail a registered letter and allow a designated waiting period to lapse before further action is taken. To get payment for a bounced check, you could end up in small claims court or using a collection agency.
Many small businesses operate as “cash only” merchants because it’s fast, easy, and inexpensive.
If you accept cash, remember that large sums of cash can add to accounting time and come with an additional security risk. You’ll want a secure way to hold your cash, like a register and a safe.
There are special reporting requirements for cash. The IRS requires you to report if your business gets more than $10,000 in cash, or a cash equivalent, from one buyer as a result of a single transaction or two or more related transactions.
If you sell your product or service online, you could accept payment through your website with an online payment service.
Online payment services typically accept credit and debit cards in addition to other popular online money transfer services. You’ll pay fees to in order to accept payments online, just like accepting credit cards in a physical location.
Online payment services require a virtual shopping cart to calculate the total, tax, and shipping costs of an order, in addition to collecting customer account and shipping information. Some online payment service providers offer free shopping cart services to businesses.
Hiring Your First Employee? 8 Steps You Need to Know
If your business is booming, but you are struggling to keep up, perhaps it’s time to hire some help. The eight steps below can help you start the hiring process and ensure you are compliant with key federal and state regulations.
Step 1. Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN)
Before hiring your first employee, you need to get an employment identification number (EIN) from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. The EIN is often referred to as an Employer Tax ID or as Form SS-4. The EIN is necessary for reporting taxes and other documents to the IRS. In addition, the EIN is necessary when reporting information about your employees to state agencies. Apply for EIN online or contact the IRS at 1-800-829-4933.
Step 2. Set up Records for Withholding Taxes
According to the IRS, you must keep records of employment taxes for at least four years. Keeping good records can also help you monitor the progress of your business, prepare financial statements, identify sources of receipts, keep track of deductible expenses, prepare your tax returns, and support items reported on tax returns.
Below are three types of withholding taxes you need for your business:
- Federal Income Tax Withholding
Every employee must provide an employer with a signed withholding exemption certificate (Form W-4) on or before the date of employment. The employer must then submit Form W-4 to the IRS.
- Federal Wage and Tax Statement
Every year, employers must report to the federal government wages paid and taxes withheld for each employee. This report is filed using Form W-2, wage and tax statement. Employers must complete a W-2 form for each employee who they pay a salary, wage or other compensation.
Employers must send Copy A of W-2 forms to the Social Security Administration by the last day of February to report wages and taxes of your employees for the previous calendar year. In addition, employers should send copies of W-2 forms to their employees by Jan. 31 of the year following the reporting period.
- State Taxes
Depending on the state where your employees are located, you may be required to withhold state income taxes.
Step 3. Employee Eligibility Verification
Federal law requires employers to verify an employee’s eligibility to work in the United States. Within three days of hire, employers must complete Form I-9, employment eligibility verification, which requires employers to examine documents to confirm the employee’s citizenship or eligibility to work in the U.S. Employers can only request documentation specified on the I-9 form.
Employers do not need to submit the I-9 form with the federal government but are required to keep them on file for three years after the date of hire or one year after the date of the employee’s termination, whichever is later.
Employers can use information taken from the Form I-9 to electronically verify the employment eligibility of newly hired employees by registering with E-Verify.
Visit the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s I-9 website to download the form and find more information.
Step 4. Register with Your State’s New Hire Reporting Program
All employers are required to report newly hired and re-hired employees to a state directory within 20 days of their hire or rehire date.
Step 5. Obtain Workers’ Compensation Insurance
All businesses with employees are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance coverage through a commercial carrier, on a self-insured basis or through their state’s Workers’ Compensation Insurance program.
Step 6. Post Required Notices
Employers are required to display certain posters in the workplace that inform employees of their rights and employer responsibilities under labor laws.
Step 7. File Your Taxes
Generally, employers who pay wages subject to income tax withholding, Social Security and Medicare taxes must file IRS Form 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return.
New and existing employers should consult the IRS Employer’s Tax Guide to understand all their federal tax filing requirements.
Step 8. Get Organized and Keep Yourself Informed
Being a good employer doesn’t stop with fulfilling your various tax and reporting obligations. Maintaining a healthy and fair workplace, providing benefits and keeping employees informed about your company’s policies are key to your business’ success.
Business Plan = Small Business Success
A business plan is an essential roadmap for business success. This living document generally projects 3-5 years ahead and outlines the route a company intends to take to grow revenues. Get started on yours today.
The executive summary is often considered the most important section of a business plan. This section briefly tells your reader where your company is, where you want to take it, and why your business idea will be successful. If you are seeking financing, the executive summary is also your first opportunity to grab a potential investor’s interest.
The executive summary should highlight the strengths of your overall plan and therefore be the last section you write. However, it usually appears first in your business plan document.
Below are several key points that your executive summary should include based on the stage of your business.
If You Are an Established Business
If you are an established business, be sure to include the following information:
- The Mission Statement – This explains what your business is all about. It should be between several sentences and a paragraph.
- Company Information – Include a short statement that covers when your business was formed, the names of the founders and their roles, your number of employees, and your business location(s).
- Growth Highlights – Include examples of company growth, such as financial or market highlights (for example, “XYZ Firm increased profit margins and market share year-over-year since its foundation). Graphs and charts can be helpful in this section.
- Your Products/Services — Briefly describe the products or services you provide.
- Financial Information – If you are seeking financing, include any information about your current bank and investors.
- Summarize future plans – Explain where you would like to take your business.
With the exception of the mission statement, all of the information in the executive summary should be covered in a concise fashion and kept to one page. The executive summary is the first part of your business plan many people will see, so each word should count.
If You Are a Startup or New Business
If you are just starting a business, you won’t have as much information as an established company. Instead, focus on your experience and background as well as the decisions that led you to start this particular enterprise.
Demonstrate that you have done thorough market analysis. Include information about a need or gap in your target market, and how your particular solutions can fill it. Convince the reader that you can succeed in your target market then address your future plans.
This section of your business plan provides a high-level review of the different elements of your business. This is akin to an extended elevator pitch and can help readers and potential investors quickly understand the goal of your business and its unique proposition.
What to Include in Your Company Description
- Describe the nature of your business and list the marketplace needs that you are trying to satisfy.
- Explain how your products and services meet these needs.
- List the specific consumers, organizations or businesses that your company serves or will serve.
- Explain the competitive advantages that you believe will make your business a success such as your location, expert personnel, efficient operations, or ability to bring value to your customers.
The market analysis section of your business plan should illustrate your industry and market knowledge as well as any of your research findings and conclusions. This section is usually presented after the company description.
Industry Description and Outlook – Describe your industry, including its current size and historic growth rate as well as other trends and characteristics (e.g., life cycle stage, projected growth rate). Next, list the major customer groups within your industry.
Information About Your Target Market – Narrow your target market to a manageable size. Many businesses make the mistake of trying to appeal to too many target markets. Research and include the following information about your market:
Distinguishing characteristics – What are the critical needs of your potential customers? Are those needs being met? What are the demographics of the group and where are they located? Are there any seasonal or cyclical purchasing trends that may impact your business?
Size of the primary target market – In addition to the size of your market, what data can you include about the annual purchases your market makes in your industry? What is the forecasted market growth for this group?
How much market share can you gain? – What is the market share percentage and number of customers you expect to obtain in a defined geographic area? Explain the logic behind your calculation.
Pricing and gross margin targets – Define your pricing structure, gross margin levels, and any discount that you plan to use.
When you include information about any of the market tests or research studies you have completed, be sure to focus only on the results of these tests. Any other details should be included in the appendix.
Competitive Analysis – Your competitive analysis should identify your competition by product line or service and market segment. Assess the following characteristics of the competitive landscape:
- Market share
- Strengths and weaknesses
- How important is your target market to your competitors?
- Are there any barriers that may hinder you as you enter the market?
- What is your window of opportunity to enter the market?
- Are there any indirect or secondary competitors who may impact your success?
- What barriers to market are there (e.g., changing technology, high investment cost, lack of quality personnel)?
Regulatory Restrictions – Include any customer or governmental regulatory requirements affecting your business, and how you’ll comply. Also, cite any operational or cost impact the compliance process will have on your business.
Organization & Management
This section should include: your company’s organizational structure, details about the ownership of your company, profiles of your management team, and the qualifications of your board of directors.
Who does what in your business? What is their background and why are you bringing them into the business as board members or employees? What are they responsible for? These may seem like unnecessary questions to answer in a one- or two-person organization, but the people reading your business plan want to know who’s in charge, so tell them. Give a detailed description of each division or department and its function.
This section should include who’s on the board (if you have an advisory board) and how you intend to keep them there. What kind of salary and benefits package do you have for your people? What incentives are you offering? How about promotions? Reassure your reader that the people you have on staff are more than just names on a letterhead.
A simple but effective way to lay out the structure of your company is to create an organizational chart with a narrative description. This will prove that you’re leaving nothing to chance, you’ve thought out exactly who is doing what, and there is someone in charge of every function of your company. Nothing will fall through the cracks, and nothing will be done three or four times over. To a potential investor or employee, that is very important.
This section should also include the legal structure of your business along with the subsequent ownership information it relates to. Have you incorporated your business? If so, is it a C or S corporation? Or perhaps you have formed a partnership with someone. If so, is it a general or limited partnership? Or maybe you are a sole proprietor.
The following important ownership information should be incorporated into your business plan:
- Names of owners
- Percentage ownership
- Extent of involvement with the company
- Forms of ownership (i.e., common stock, preferred stock, general partner, limited partner)
- Outstanding equity equivalents (i.e., options, warrants, convertible debt)
- Common stock (i.e., authorized or issued)
- Management Profiles
- Experts agree that one of the strongest factors for success in any growth company is the ability and track record of its owner/management team, so let your reader know about the key people in your company and their backgrounds. Provide resumes that include the following information:
- Position (include brief position description along with primary duties)
- Primary responsibilities and authority
- Unique experience and skills
- Prior employment
- Special skills
- Past track record
- Industry recognition
- Community involvement
- Number of years with company
- Compensation basis and levels (make sure these are reasonable — not too high or too low)
- Be sure you quantify achievements (e.g. “Managed a sales force of ten people,” “Managed a department of fifteen people,” “Increased revenue by 15 percent in the first six months,” “Expanded the retail outlets at the rate of two each year,” “Improved the customer service as rated by our customers from a 60 percent to a 90 percent rating”)
Also highlight how the people surrounding you complement your own skills. If you’re just starting out, show how each person’s unique experience will contribute to the success of your venture.
Board of Directors’ Qualifications
The major benefit of an unpaid advisory board is that it can provide expertise that your company cannot otherwise afford. A list of well-known, successful business owners/managers can go a long way toward enhancing your company’s credibility and perception of management expertise.
If you have a board of directors, be sure to gather the following information when developing the outline for your business plan:
- Positions on the board
- Extent of involvement with company
- Historical and future contribution to the company’s success
Service or Product Line
The next part of your business plan is where you describe your service or product, emphasizing the benefits to potential and current customers. Focus on why your particular product will fill a need for your target customers.
A Description of Your Product / Service
Include information about the specific benefits of your product or service – from your customers’ perspective. You should also talk about your product or service’s ability to meet consumer needs, any advantages your product has over that of the competition, and the current development stage your product is in (e.g., idea, prototype).
Details about Your Product’s Life Cycle
Be sure to include information about where your product or service is in its life cycle, as well as any factors that may influence its cycle in the future.
If you have any existing, pending, or any anticipated copyright and patent filings, list them here. Also disclose whether any key aspects of a product may be classified as trade secrets. Last, include any information pertaining to existing legal agreements, such as nondisclosure or non-compete agreements.
Research and Development (R&D) Activities
Outline any R&D activities that you are involved in or are planning. What results of future R&D activities do you expect? Be sure to analyze the R&D efforts of not only your own business, but also of others in your industry.
Marketing & Sales
The next part of your business plan should focus on your marketing and sales management strategy for your business.
Marketing is the process of creating customers, and customers are the lifeblood of your business. In this section, the first thing you want to do is define your marketing strategy. There is no single way to approach a marketing strategy; your strategy should be part of an ongoing business-evaluation process and unique to your company. However, there are common steps you can follow which will help you think through the direction and tactics you would like to use to drive sales and sustain customer loyalty.
An overall marketing strategy should include four different strategies:
- A market penetration strategy.
- A growth strategy. This strategy for building your business might include: an internal strategy such as how to increase your human resources, an acquisition strategy such as buying another business, a franchise strategy for branching out, a horizontal strategy where you would provide the same type of products to different users, or a vertical strategy where you would continue providing the same products but would offer them at different levels of the distribution chain.
- Channels of distribution strategy. Choices for distribution channels could include original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), an internal sales force, distributors, or retailers.
- Communication strategy. How are you going to reach your customers? Usually a combination of the following tactics works the best: promotions, advertising, public relations, personal selling, and printed materials such as brochures, catalogs, flyers, etc.
After you have developed a comprehensive marketing strategy, you can then define your sales strategy. This covers how you plan to actually sell your product.
- A sales force strategy. If you are going to have a sales force, do you plan to use internal or independent representatives? How many salespeople will you recruit for your sales force? What type of recruitment strategies will you use? How will you train your sales force? What about compensation for your sales force?
- Your sales activities. When you are defining your sales strategy, it is important that you break it down into activities. For instance, you need to identify your prospects. Once you have made a list of your prospects, you need to prioritize the contacts, selecting the leads with the highest potential to buy first. Next, identify the number of sales calls you will make over a certain period of time. From there, you need to determine the average number of sales calls you will need to make per sale, the average dollar size per sale, and the average dollar size per vendor.
If you are seeking funding for your business venture, use this section to outline your requirements.
Your funding request should include the following information:
- Your current funding requirement
- Any future funding requirements over the next five years
- How you intend to use the funds you receive: Is the funding request for capital expenditures? Working capital? Debt retirement? Acquisitions? Whatever it is, be sure to list it in this section.
- Any strategic financial situational plans for the future, such as: a buyout, being acquired, debt repayment plan, or selling your business. These areas are extremely important to a future creditor, since they will directly impact your ability to repay your loan(s).
When you are outlining your funding requirements, include the amount you want now and the amount you want in the future. Also include the time period that each request will cover, the type of funding you would like to have (e.g., equity, debt), and the terms that you would like to have applied.
To support your funding request you’ll also need to provide historical and prospective financial information.
You should develop the Financial Projections section after you’ve analyzed the market and set clear objectives. That’s when you can allocate resources efficiently. The following is a list of the critical financial statements to include in your business plan packet.
Historical Financial Data
If you own an established business, you will be requested to supply historical data related to your company’s performance. Most creditors request data for the last three to five years, depending on the length of time you have been in business.
The historical financial data to include are your company’s income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements for each year you have been in business (usually for up to three to five years). Often, creditors are also interested in any collateral that you may have that could be used to ensure your loan, regardless of the stage of your business.
Prospective Financial Data
All businesses, whether startup or growing, will be required to supply prospective financial data. Most of the time, creditors will want to see what you expect your company to be able to do within the next five years. Each year’s documents should include forecasted income statements, balance sheets, cash flow statements, and capital expenditure budgets. For the first year, you should supply monthly or quarterly projections. After that, you can stretch it to quarterly and/or yearly projections for years two through five.
Make sure that your projections match your funding requests; creditors will be on the lookout for inconsistencies. It’s much better if you catch mistakes before they do. If you have made assumptions in your projections, be sure to summarize what you have assumed. This way, the reader will not be left guessing.
Finally, include a short analysis of your financial information. Include a ratio and trend analysis for all of your financial statements (both historical and prospective). Since pictures speak louder than words, you may want to add graphs of your trend analysis (especially if they are positive).
Next, you may want to include an Appendix to your plan. This can include items such as your credit history, resumes, letters of reference, and any additional information that a lender may request.
The Appendix should be provided to readers on an as-needed basis. In other words, it should not be included with the main body of your business plan. Your plan is your communication tool; as such, it will be seen by a lot of people. Some of the information in the business section you will not want everyone to see, but specific individuals (such as creditors) may want access to this information to make lending decisions. Therefore, it is important to have the appendix within easy reach.
The appendix would include:
- Credit history (personal & business)
- Resumes of key managers
- Product pictures
- Letters of reference
- Details of market studies
- Relevant magazine articles or book references
- Licenses, permits or patents
- Legal documents
- Copies of leases
- Building permits
- List of business consultants, including attorney and accountant
Any copies of your business plan should be controlled; keep a distribution record. This will allow you to update and maintain your business plan on an as-needed basis. Remember, too, that you should include a private placement disclaimer with your business plan if you plan to use it to raise capital.
How to Make Your Business Plan Stand Out
One of the first steps to business planning is determining your target market and why they would want to buy from you.
For example, is the market you serve the best one for your product or service? Are the benefits of dealing with your business clear and are they aligned with customer needs? If you’re unsure about the answers to any of these questions, take a step back and revisit the foundation of your business plan.
The following tips can help you clarify what your business has to offer, identify the right target market for it and build a niche for yourself.
Be Clear About What You Have to Offer
Ask yourself: Beyond basic products or services, what are you really selling? Consider this example: Your town probably has several restaurants all selling one fundamental product—food. But each is targeted at a different need or clientele.
One might be a drive-thru fast food restaurant, perhaps another sells pizza in a rustic Italian kitchen, and maybe there’s a fine dining seafood restaurant that specializes in wood-grilled fare. All these restaurants sell meals, but they sell them to targeted clientele looking for the unique qualities each has to offer. What they are really selling is a combination of product, value, ambience and brand experience.
When starting a business, be sure to understand what makes your business unique. What needs does your product or service fulfill? What benefits and differentiators will help your business stand out from the crowd?
Don’t Become a Jack of All Trades-Learn to Strategize
It’s important to clearly define what you’re selling. You do not want to become a jack-of-all trades and master of none because this can have a negative impact on business growth. As a smaller business, it’s often a better strategy to divide your products or services into manageable market niches. Small operations can then offer specialized goods and services that are attractive to a specific group of prospective buyers.
Identify Your Niche
Creating a niche for your business is essential to success. Often, business owners can identify a niche based on their own market knowledge, but it can also be helpful to conduct a market survey with potential customers to uncover untapped needs. During your research process, identify the following:
- Which areas your competitors are already well-established
- Which areas are being ignored by your competitors
- Potential opportunities for your business
Is Entrepreneurship For You?
Starting your own business can be an exciting and rewarding experience. It can offer numerous advantages such as being your own boss, setting your own schedule and making a living doing something you enjoy. But, becoming a successful entrepreneur requires thorough planning, creativity and hard work.
Consider whether you have the following characteristics and skills commonly associated with successful entrepreneurs:
- Comfortable with taking risks: Being your own boss also means you’re the one making tough decisions. Entrepreneurship involves uncertainty. Do you avoid uncertainty in life at all costs? If yes, then entrepreneurship may not be the best fit for you. Do you enjoy the thrill of taking calculated risks? Then read on.
- Independent: Entrepreneurs have to make a lot of decisions on their own. If you find you can trust your instincts — and you’re not afraid of rejection every now and then — you could be on your way to being an entrepreneur.
- Persuasive: You may have the greatest idea in the world, but if you cannot persuade customers, employees and potential lenders or partners, you may find entrepreneurship to be challenging. If you enjoy public speaking, engage new people with ease and find you make compelling arguments grounded in facts, it’s likely you’re poised to make your idea succeed.
- Able to negotiate: As a small business owner, you will need to negotiate everything from leases to contract terms to rates. Polished negotiation skills will help you save money and keep your business running smoothly.
- Creative: Are you able to think of new ideas? Can you imagine new ways to solve problems? Entrepreneurs must be able to think creatively. If you have insights on how to take advantage of new opportunities, entrepreneurship may be a good fit.
- Supported by others: Before you start a business, it’s important to have a strong support system in place. You’ll be forced to make many important decisions, especially in the first months of opening your business. If you do not have a support network of people to help you, consider finding a business mentor. A business mentor is someone who is experienced, successful and willing to provide advice and guidance.
Still think you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur and start a new business? Great! Now ask yourself these 20 questions to help ensure you’ve thought about the right financial and business details.
- Why am I starting a business?
- What kind of business do I want?
- Who is my ideal customer?
- What products or services will my business provide?
- Am I prepared to spend the time and money needed to get my business started?
- What differentiates my business idea and the products or services I will provide from others in the market?
- Where will my business be located?
- How many employees will I need?
- What types of suppliers do I need?
- How much money do I need to get started?
- Will I need to get a loan?
- How soon will it take before my products or services are available?
- How long do I have until I start making a profit?
- Who is my competition?
- How will I price my product compared to my competition?
- How will I set up the legal structure of my business?
- What taxes do I need to pay?
- What kind of insurance do I need?
- How will I manage my business?
- How will I advertise my business?