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7 Ways Firing Toxic Employees Helps Everyone

“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link” ~Unknown

"One person with passion is better than forty people merely interested." ~E. M. Forster

Letting someone go is one of the worst things any leader faces. As leaders you are supposed to develop the people in your charge, and if necessary mold positions to suit strengths and weaknesses. For this reason, firing an employee is not only uncomfortable and results in the need to go through the effort, time and expense of hiring and training a new person, it is also an indictment on your own leadership capabilities.

That all being said, as a leader you live in a reality where your best efforts will not necessarily end in the results you desire for any number of reasons. When that happens, when you’ve expended the energy to improve the employee’s performance, when you’ve given the re-training, when you’ve had the one-on-ones and when you’ve given the warnings, the best thing you can do for the good of the organization is to let that person go.

Nowhere is this more important than with an employee whose behavior and performance is toxic to those coworkers around them. This added degree of negativity is something that all leaders face at one time or another and how they deal with it can define how their team views their leadership and overall performance. A recent Harvard Business School study titled Toxic Workers and authored by Dr. Dylan Minor and Dr. Michael Housman found that it is actually more beneficial to eliminate toxic employees from your team than it is to hire in superstars.

It is a very common weakness among leaders to despise letting employees go so much that they don’t, even when it is in the best interest of everyone involved. But while firing an employee, even a toxic one, is something that a leader looks to prevent, it can yield some very positive results:

Sets the right example for others – Poor performance should never be allowed to become the status quo either within the whole department or at the individual level. Your high performers are watching those around them and if they see others performing poorly on a consistent basis, and see that behavior being tolerated, they may adjust what they view as the expectations they should be held to. Where toxic and poor performing individuals have the worst impact on an operation is with newly hired employees. In these cases, their example immediately lowers the bar for performance expectations and impedes the performance of the new hire.

Improves motivation – Toxic employees are almost always “glass half empty” individuals who will find fault in even the best successes of an organization. One of the biggest benefits of eliminating these people from your workforce is in the area of overall motivation and morale. What’s more, when other employees see an individual performing poorly yet in many cases being paid the same, they may rightfully ask why they are working so hard and are so concerned about performance. It’s this area where a poor performer can start derailing the performance of an entire organization.

Replacements boost results – While just eliminating the poorly performing and toxic employee from your operation likely will yield an improvement, as noted in the Harvard study above, it doesn’t mean you can’t replace the individual. If you have learned from the hiring mistakes of the past there is an enormous opportunity to take what was a detriment to performance and replace it with something that accelerates performance yielding twice the benefit.

Performance often worsens – You often get more of what you tolerate. Once the employee knows that they can get away with giving less and disrupting operations, they are likely to continue getting worse. It isn’t just how bad they are, it’s how bad they can become that should encourage action on your part.

Establishes trust – When expectations are clear, when you make the difficult decisions, and when you take actions that support the overall goals of the organization it builds trust between you and your team. They know that you mean what you say and that you will back it up, they know you will be fair in your assessments and you know you are working to provide an environment where they can excel. This trust speeds decision making, buy-in and overall process flow.

Let’s you use time more productively – Your time as a leader is valuable and you need to be spending it constructively working with each member of your team (high-performers as well as low-performers). While you have a duty to spend extra time when needed with an individual, you need to see results. Assuming that you have been spending more time with the toxic or poorly performing employee, by letting them go you are able to rebalance that time allotment between employees.

Opportunities for empowerment – Those duties once done by a poorly performing or toxic employee need to be done by someone. In many cases this is an opportunity to give another team member some new experience. At a bare minimum it is an opportunity for a trainer or mentor to exercise these essential skills.

Now it should go without saying that you need to follow the correct procedures, documentation and discipline before firing any employee, and this takes time. Time you can use to correct the issues with the employee so that it doesn’t come to a firing. What this list is meant to do is to encourage you to do the right thing when it comes time to. 

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10 Reasons a Vacation Makes You Better at Your Job

"Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action." ~Peter Drucker

“You can always make money. You can’t always make memories.” ~Unknown

Today’s work environment is overstuffed with priorities, commitments, projects and other drains on your time. Add to this the constant connectivity you have to work and you are likely of the opinion you could use a vacation. But guess what? Most people don’t use their vacation time. Workers, on average, fail to use nearly five vacation days a year, the U.S. Travel Association found.

In many cases you may face an organization or a boss who overtly or passively-aggressively discourages you to take vacation. They roll their eyes at the request, pile on work before or after, deny the request for “business reasons”, or bombard you with emails and texts when you actually do escape.

In other cases, you may actually talk yourself out of taking your vacation all by yourself. The most common refrains are “It’s not worth it because of all the work I come back to after” or some form of “the place will fall apart without me.” But there are many others like scheduling, money, the social aspects of work and others.

But what you and your boss are missing are the enormous workplace benefits of taking a vacation. Remember, even if you take your vacation you’ll still be at work 90%-95% of the calendar year. If you’re not at peak effectiveness during this time it could have a DRAMATICALLY larger impact on overall productivity than vacation alone. While taking time off doesn’t guarantee productivity, it can improve your work performance in a number of ways:

Increased Creativity

One of the primary benefits to taking time off from work is that it allows you to get out of the proverbial routine. When you go to work five days a week, six days for many people, you become conditioned to follow a specific pattern. This pattern is designed to get you to work on time and to follow through with the objectives of your job. There isn’t often enough time to truly “recharge the batteries” even with a weekend. Fatigue and routine are rarely hallmarks of creativity. Getting away and really recuperating from the stresses of the job can help you start with a clean slate and reignite creativity.

Increased Energy & Focus

Athletes know that proper rest is essential to proper performance. The same goes for everyone else. Instead of being weighed down by constant pressure, time away allows our mind to reset and our bodies to de-stress from the regular work routine. This results in more energy upon your return. And it isn’t just energy. By clearing your plate of distractions that always seem to build up over the course of days and weeks you will find it easier to focus on the tasks in front of you once you are back in the office.

A Better Attitude

One of the main reasons people want to go on vacation is to get away from the frustrations, irritations and stresses of their work. With all of the work that is put on your plate and the constant call to multitask and do more, today’s work environment is as stressful as ever. This fact only exacerbates the frustration that many workers feel on a daily basis, which can lead to a poor attitude in anyone. While the frustrations may always be there, you may find that you deal with them better after a break from them for a time.

Time to Think

Just because you are away from the office doesn’t mean that you won’t be thinking about work. Many people find that when they get away they are able to think clearer about both small and large things at the workplace and set a new direction once they get back. This is one of the benefits I personally experience on almost every vacation I take. One good idea or course of action.

Additional Patience

“Patience wears thin” is a saying that encapsulates the fact that most people have a limited amount of patience. Many leaders have recognized this and manage their own behavior so that they don’t make important decisions when they are in a state of impatience. Creating a clean break with a vacation is one of the things that fills the tank of patience to the top for all of us.

A Desire to Do More

When you’re tired you don’t often feel like you are up to a challenge or taking on more duties. When you are fully rested, however, you might find yourself actively looking for something more to do. This is especially common in ambitious individuals who have already seen promotion and recognition and know that they usually come from “going that extra mile.”

Better Health (Less Sick Time)

Many studies have been done about the effects of stress on the human body, specifically on the immune system. The more stress that you have in your life, the more likely it is that you will develop maladies that can affect your overall health. By taking a vacation, you can leave the stress behind, allowing your immune system to get back to normal. This way, you can not only feel better mentally and emotionally by taking a vacation, but also improve your physical health.

Embrace New Things

That different environment that you escape to on vacation actually helps you embrace new things when you return. Many leaders have an aversion to new things, they are unknown variables, and many organizations thrive on predictability. Having a pleasant experience in a different or new environment can break through much of this resistance.

Practice “Rolling with the Punches”

Rarely does a vacation go off without a hitch. And given the new or different environments you may be in as outlined above, this is exercises your ability to be flexible. Like an athlete that cross-trains in a different discipline to get stronger in their primary discipline, this is a new environment to practice flexibly adjusting to a changing plan. By going through the experience on vacation you will make your work flexibility that much better.

Appreciation

Have you ever been away from your “daily grind” for a period of time and eventually find that you “just can’t wait to get home?” Almost all of us have at one time or another. Getting away from your regular surroundings and experiencing something new often has the effect of making us appreciate what we left behind; the routine, the familiarity, the accomplishment. It’s not that the vacation was bad, it’s just that you gain some perspective on things you take for granted.

Now of course all of these benefits are mitigated if you don’t truly create that break and are checking in on the office regularly or are receiving e-mails and texts from your boss and team when you are on vacation. But with that one caveat, there are an enormous amount of benefits to getting away on vacation, not the least of which is coming back even better at your job than when you left.

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20 Proven Productivity Hacks

"Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort." ~Paul Meyer

"Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing... layout, processes, and procedures." ~Tom Peters

Every great leader, and leader to be, is constantly on the lookout for how to get more out of their day. After all, our biggest obstacle and constraint to future success is often ourselves. Luckily that is also the one thing that we can exercise the most control over. How successful you are in managing yourself will go a long way in determining how successful you are in general. Below are 20 proven techniques and tricks to get the most out of every single moment of your day:

1.       Use the two-minute rule – One of the best ways to keep your plate clear is to follow the rule that if it can be done in under two minutes, to simply do it immediately. If you’ve received the task, you’ve already had your workflow broken up, so you might as well have something to show for it.

2.       Schedule tasks, don’t list them – To-do lists are great for keeping track of things you need to do, but they aren’t as action oriented as they could be (how many things have been on your list for over a week). A powerful habit to get into is actually putting them on your calendar. It may be only a 15 minute meeting with yourself to get it off the list, but it is a wonderful way to take more control over your work.

3.       Consider the Pomodoro Technique – This is a great technique to hone focus and maximize your minutes. Set a timer and work for 25 minutes straight, without interruption, then spend at least 5 minutes on a break. The principle is that you need regular breaks to be at peak efficiency, and once you do this for a while, your mind starts to condition itself to make the most of those 25 minutes.

4.       Finish strong – Taking 5 minutes at the end of your day to review what was accomplished during the day (and not accomplished) and to plan out the next day helps you to work intentionally and start the next day strong. This also ensures you got to everything that you absolutely needed to throughout this day. For those with more chaotic workplace demands, perhaps you just plan out the first hour or two of the next day.

5.       Don’t check e-mail first thing – Highly productive people control their time. If you’re checking e-mail messages when you first get into work, you are putting your needs subservient to whatever is contained in the email. Try not to check for 1 hour. This gives you the opportunity to work your plan from the night before and get to your highest priority items. Besides, if it’s really an emergency, I guarantee you the person will find you during that first hour.

6.       Turn off alerts – Limiting interruptions is a key to maintaining focus. If you have e-mails popping up on your computer and instant messages ringing into your phone you won’t have more than a few minutes between interruptions. That’s a recipe for never being at peak focus and flow. There’s no reason you can’t maintain more control and check them yourself without a prompt when you think appropriate.

7.       Eat the frog – This is the euphemism for taking the worst things off of your plate first so that you can enjoy the rest of your meal (or day in this case). Often those difficult or uncomfortable items hang over our head and distract us throughout the course of the day until we take care of them. Eating the frog gets them out of the way immediately so you can focus. It also is a key to avoiding procrastination.

8.       Exercise – Many will say to exercise in the morning, and that really is ideal for a variety of reasons, but really it’s just important to exercise period. Being more physically fit helps you have more energy and focus over the course of the day. The 30-60 minutes you spend exercising will almost always result in 30-60 minutes of more productivity. So you’ll be in better shape, you’ll be better at your job, and it really doesn’t cost you any time.

9.       Cut all meeting lengths in half – Meetings suffer from “fluff” and a lack of focus. Get focused by putting a new time constraint on it. You might find that the engagement in the material goes up and the resolutions actually better because of that increased focus and engagement. And think about how much time you’ll get back over the course of a week if you had 15 minute and 30 minute meetings instead of 30 and 60 minute meetings.

10.   Say “No” – Especially to interruption. Remember that highly productive people control their time and focus. Ask that person who popped their head in the door if they can come back at 2:00 or in 10 minutes. But this also extends to tasks. Whether it is a flat out “no” or you just delegating the task out, you need to control what you are doing if you want to be at peak productivity.

11.   Eat breakfast – It’s cliché to call it the most important meal of the day, but even if it is a quick energy bar, get some nutrition in your system as well as that cup of coffee. I really shouldn’t need to spend any more time on it, if you want energy you need to eat.

12.   Don’t drown at the shallow end of the pool – This is about perspective. Too many of us are worried and stressed about the millions of little things vying for our time, so much so that they distract from the big and important things. Prioritize your way out of this by worrying about the important things more and the little things less. You’ll find your mind gets clearer and you get more done.

13.   Sleep – Athletes rest before their competitions and you should take a lesson from this and ensure you have your rest each night so that you are ready for “game day” the next day. Studies have shown that the effect of lack of sleep is similar to the effect of alcohol on your ability to focus. It’s another one of those situations where if you get the extra hour of sleep a night, you’re likely to more than make up for it with productivity increases the next day.

14.   Don’t multitask – Those who have mastered their own productivity know a secret. Nobody multitasks well. One of the foundations of being at peak effectiveness is focus. You get more done when you do less. By all means, put plenty of tasks on your plate, but only tackle one at a time. You’ll find the results are MUCH better.

15.   Know when you’re at your best and protect it – All of us have times of the day when we are more effective. For some it is the morning, for others it is the late afternoon (I’m not sure anyone is effective right after lunch). It is during this time when you should schedule your big decisions, big projects and important tasks. This is also the time when you should not tolerate distractions. Protect this time and use it.

16.   Unplug for at least one day on the weekend – It is difficult to “unplug” in today’s work environment. Most people are checking and responding to emails in the evening, on the weekend and even on vacation. Being able to completely unplug allows you to truly “recharge the batteries” and helps prevent burnout.

17.   Take notes and write down thoughts – Highly productive people are always great note takers. Having something to keep track of thoughts and notes ensures that you don’t forget anything and don’t have to waste any time wondering “what was that idea I had yesterday?”

18.   Check e-mail hourly – Before you start thinking that you need to stay right on top of your email, ask yourself what everyone does when you are away at lunch or in a meeting? Don’t let e-mail take away from your attention, focus and productivity. Master it by grabbing some control.

19.   Don’t answer the phone – This is perhaps the most controversial of the productivity hacks, but I’ll say it one last time, you need to control your time. Answering that phone call is ceding that control to the other party. Phone calls tend to be one of the lengthier interruptions of your day. It is generally much quicker to listen to the message left when you have a moment as opposed to getting caught chit-chatting with someone.

20.   Listen better – Feedback fuels your productivity. Too many people don’t fully leverage the information that they have coming at the from peers, subordinates, customers and bosses. A good rule of thumb is to practice asking at least one clarifying question when someone bring you information and to ask one question of the person you are giving information to. These questions help you to more actively listen, potentially gives you more information and generally open up dialogue. If you want to be more productive, get better information.

WARNING: Reading this list is great, but it is in the application that the power comes in. Take just ONE THING from this list and put it into place immediately. Once that’s in place for a week, you can move onto the next thing. Just one step today. I’d love to know which one you’ll be working on this week, so go ahead and write down what you’ll be working on in the comments. Go get’em!

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11 Ways to Turn Your Bad Day Around

"My responsibility is leadership, and the minute I get negative, that is going to have an influence on my team." ~Don Shula

"If you don't like how things are, change it! You're not a tree." ~Jim Rohn

Sometimes your day just goes bad. It might have started out that way when you rolled out of bed, or it could have taken a turn for the worse once you got into work. The key for high performers is that you turn it around and not wallow in it. Studies have shown over and over again that positive people are more productive and more likely to get promotions. But here’s the dirty secret they don’t always tell you: They aren’t always positive.

Great leaders and great employees know how to turn a bad day around when they run into one and today you’ll see 11 ways that you can do it too:

Accept it, it happens – Acknowledge and move on. We’re all human, which means we’re going to have bad days. The most amazing people you know have bad days, so you’re in great company. Don’t let it get you into a negative mindset where you start thinking it only happens to you and you’re doing something wrong. The only wrong thing is to let yourself stay there longer than absolutely necessary (which isn’t that long).

Pinpoint the problem – What happened? Did your boss come into your office and yell at you? Did you get too little sleep? Did someone resign? Were sales bad last quarter? Did the barista screw up your latte? Not only does knowing what went wrong help you address it right now, it also helps you discover your “triggers” so you can get ahead of a bad day in the future.

Take action – One of the most constructive things you can do when faced with a bad day is to take action to address what got you there. Too many times a bad day can spiral out of control and you are left wallowing in everything that is going wrong and how uncontrollable the situation is. When you take action, you take back that control and you are forced to look forward to a goal, not back at everything that’s wrong.

Change your routine – If you want to change the momentum of your day, you’ll likely need to change…well, something. Go outside and take a few deep breaths. Take your laptop and go work from a conference room for a while. Jump up and go to the break room for a coffee. Take lunch early. A great way to snap yourself out of your “funk” is by doing something different.

Find your latest success – Switch your focus from the bad to the good. What successes have you had recently. If the boss is berating your performance on something, think about other things that he/she praises you on (or that you know you’re good at if they don’t tend to give positive feedback to anyone). One of the best ways of preventing a bad day is to nurture enough positive momentum so that when something happens that would usually tip your day into a “bad day” you already have so much good momentum going on that it rolls right off your back.

Find a way to laugh – Laughter is healing to the soul. Maybe you look up SNL skits, stand-up comedy, or funny cat videos on Youtube. Maybe you just head to the web and look for jokes. Ask the office funny man for a joke. Laughter is a great way to break yourself out of the rut.

Get a few quick wins – Winning is almost as good as laughter for getting you in a good mood. Remember that action we talked about above? If it is difficult to take action against the cause itself, sometimes just getting a few little things off your plate in a successful way can help.

Leverage the good mood – Similar to listing out successes as a way to create a barrier against a bad mood, you can leverage any good mood the same way. What you do when you are having a good day or a bad day determines how good or bad it is, and how long you stay there.

Gratitude – A little perspective can turn a bad day around. Listing out the things that you are grateful for is one of the best ways to get that perspective. Yes, you’re having a bad day at work, but do you still have a great job? Are you still providing for your family? Do you have good health? Good friends? If you can focus on the great big things that are going right, you might find what spun your day “bad” really isn’t that important.

Talk to a friend – Pick up the phone or go walk over to someone’s office and just shoot the breeze with them. Spending time around people you like and conversing about topics you enjoy will calm you down and bring a smile to that face. We don’t do life alone, and this is a great reminder of that.

Learn from it – Lastly, try to learn from the experience. Bad days often occur because of mistakes, and mistakes are some of our primary material and motivation to learn. When you have a bad day, realize that you’ve been given an opportunity to learn something, so take advantage of it. Turning a bad day into an opportunity turns around the end result.

There’s no need to let a bad moment effect the whole day, there is always a way to turn it around so that you can maximize your productivity and enjoyment of work. If you start taking the actions listed above you’ll find what works for you and what doesn’t, and from there you can more easily manage your day on an ongoing basis.

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10 Ways to Spot a Lying Boss

“No man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar.” ~Abraham Lincoln

“The trust of the innocent is the liar's most useful tool.” ~Stephen King

Trust is something that all of us should have with our boss, but we aren’t always lucky enough to have it or there is a time where we are forced to question that trust. While we all have an instinctual “radar” for lies that has been built up over the years, there are some clues to look for when you are concerned your boss may not be as truthful as you’d like.

Now a quick disclaimer that your boss is human like everyone else, and as such can have A LOT of things that play into how they behave from one moment to another. While we would all like a “silver bullet” which could tell us when they are lying, it doesn’t yet exist. So please don’t take these as definitive proof of a lie, they are something to be taken into account when formulating your opinion of the truthfulness of what was said.

So what should you look for?

Avoiding “I” – When someone is lying they typically attempt to distance themselves from the lie itself, or give themselves some other form of “out” if the lie is discovered. When it comes to manner of speech, one of the indications is avoiding the first person “I” in their statements. Boss’s routinely take ownership of statements, opinions and directives, but in the case of lying, they will speak in a more academic or factual manner as opposed to taking ownership over the subject matter.

Uncomfortable & fidgety – Even the most consummate liar is uncomfortable doing so, it’s just not natural and there is always the fear of being caught. While generally uncomfortable subject matter can be part of the cause, when the subject matter is more routine, yet they are still showing signs of discomfort, this can be a concern. This is a particularly good clue for your boss as they are generally more comfortable within the walls of their department, so they should be at ease.

Avoiding eye contact or too much eye contact – The discomfort of telling a lie can also show in eye contact if they are avoiding it, but not always. Sometime your boss may hold eye contact for an uncomfortably long time as a means of trying to convince you of their sincerity. In both cases it is when it seems awkward that there should be concern.

Verbal/Non-Verbal disconnect – The subconscious mind is the enemy of a liar. Where this can come up is when the words that are spoken convey the opposite of the body language or emotion with which they are said. Think about your boss nodding their head, but saying “No”. The most common place this shows up is when anger seems to come out of nowhere surrounding a topic that shouldn’t really be warranting that emotion. This can come about because of your boss’s guilt/discomfort at a lie, or as a means of bullying their way to making you believe the lie.

Just different – What most people are seeing when they “get the feeling” that their boss may be lying to them is something different than what they usually see from their boss. It could be facial expressions, body language, different manner of speech, or any number of other “different” behavior. I guess if you have a boss that constantly lies, perhaps this could be indicative of truthfulness.

Avoiding questions – When they quickly change the subject after answering a question, or find a way to escape the conversation when pressed for clarity, that’s a good indication of discomfort. Again, this is part of the fight or flight instinct.

Proclaiming honesty – Why do you feel the need to reassure someone that you’re being honest? When you know you aren’t being honest, otherwise why would you feel the need to reassure. This can be particularly telling when the proclamation is made after the lie as they are subconsciously recognizing what they did and need to reinforce it.

Delay – The truth is easy to remember and easy to convey, lies take effort. When you see a delay that is just a little too long from your boss, you know that they are either uncomfortable with what they are thinking about, or need slightly longer to double-check how believable their planned response is. Either way it is a sign of the answer you receive being more contrived.

Filler words – The other way that the effort it takes to lie shows is when your boss uses a lot off filler words like “um.” This is indicative of the brain taking extra time to come up with the words to believably explain their point.

Backward leaning – The next time your boss leans back in their chair and away from the desk or conference table, ask yourself what was just said prior. Leaning back away from you is a way of subconsciously distancing themselves from what was just said.

Again, while all of these can be indicators of lying, they aren’t conclusive. Furthermore, living your life in constant suspicion is stressful and unfulfilling. So the last bit of advice for spotting a lying boss is to keep an “innocent until proven guilty” attitude towards them. It’s healthier and, with the exception of the absolute worst bosses, most often to be the correct finding.

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The Hidden Reason Mistakes Can Boost Your Career

"Close scrutiny will show that most "crisis situations" are opportunities to either advance, or stay where you are." -Maxwell Maltz

"A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them." ~John C. Maxwell

Of course you don’t want to make mistakes or create problems, but there is a silver lining to that cloud when they occur. It is similar to the “Service Recovery Paradox” where a customer will actually be far more loyal to an organization if the organization makes a mistake and fixes it than they would be if the organization had never made a mistake in the first place. For you personally, and your mistake, it is this fact:

People are far more likely to remember how you dealt with a problem than they are to remember how you created it in the first place.

All you have done when you make a mistake is call attention to yourself. The “verdict”, either good or bad has not necessarily been made yet. If you solve the problem you created, you have cancelled out the disservice you did to yourself in the first place, and may have done yourself a service.

This isn’t meant to give you freedom to run around making careless mistakes, but is meant to get you out of your obsession with your mistake and refocus you on the solution so that the final impression you make (with the attention you didn’t necessarily want in the first place) is a good one. Here is what you need to do:

·         Be constructive – You want to be “issue focused” not pointing fingers and being defensive. This is your time to show how you handle important things when they become your responsibility.

·         Handle it calmly – There should be no sense of panic at what just occurred. Your team takes their cues from you, if you are panicky they will be as well. This is your time to show how you handle pressure.

·         Handle it quickly – Just because you’re calm doesn’t mean you don’t move fast. A general rule is that the quicker a problem is addressed the better. Which is one of the reasons to refocus on the solution instead of the problem in the first place. This is your time to show your ability to quickly turn ideas into reality.

·         Communicate through it – You made the mistake, but you can relay to your team, peers and boss what caused it, what is happening because of it, what you are doing to fix it, and how you are ensuring it doesn’t happen again. This is your time to show your accountability and communication skills.

·         Learn from it – I had a philosophy in management that you could almost make any mistake imaginable…once. The important thing was learning from it and making sure you didn’t make that mistake again. If you show that you learn from your mistakes you show a maturity in your leadership.

Remember that no leader ascends to the top of their profession without being bold in their actions. By demonstrating that you’ve changed as a result of your mistake, you reassure your superiors, peers, and direct reports that you can be trusted with equally important tasks or decisions in the future. Who knows, you may find you are called upon to fix other problems in the organization based on this demonstrated skill.

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Making The Grapevine Work For You Not Against You

“As a leader, you're probably not doing a good job unless your employees can do a good impression of you when you're not around.” ~Patrick Lencioni

"Leadership is not just what happens when you're there, it's what happens when you're not there." ~Ken Blanchard

Managing and leading people is what you are called to do in leadership. One of the most difficult aspects of that is managing the natural human tendencies of your team members. They might tend to focus on the negative, they might see things only from their perspective, or any number of other tendencies that people have (including leaders). But there isn’t any reason you can’t leverage some of these things to make your life easier. One of the best ways to do that is to leverage the grapevine in your workplace.

The grapevine will exist in pretty much any environment with three or more people. People talk, whether it is around the water cooler, in the parking lot after their shift, or texting each other from home, but that doesn’t need to be a bad thing. If you use it well, it can actually be a big help to you both in workload and message.

As a leader you are constantly in the spotlight and are constantly under very high expectations from your staff (at least they should have high expectations of you). One of the most powerful things you can do as a leader is to build trust and understanding amongst your team members, and people don’t always rely on their own feelings about you, they will also consult their fellow team members. Some thoughts on this:

·         Find the influential employees – When looking to use the grapevine, it is obviously best to utilize the “social butterflies” in your group. When reinforcing messages, when explaining the “why” behind your decisions and when talking about the future it is great to ensure you do this with those who you know will spread the message.

·         Make a connection – It is when things are most stressful that people will look to you and judge, positively or negatively. The employee has a last minute vacation request, has a death in the family, is having a real problem with the new material, has an irate customer they need help with, etc. It is during these times where they will truly appreciate any extra effort you put forth ... and that little extra is what is noteworthy enough to spread.

·         Don’t use it as a shortcut – Using the grapevine should never take the place of a good communication plan, it simply accents it. Important information that everyone needs to know must be disseminated to everyone, it should never be left to others who may or may not do so.

·         Don’t let it affect your decisions – Leveraging positive experiences, decisions, behaviors, and results is good leadership. Making decisions to leave a positive impression is often poor management. Don’t curry favor, but don’t be afraid to make the most of the positive things occurring in the organization.

The grapevine in most organizations is full of rumors and negativity. It’s an unfortunate part of human nature. If you are able to inject some positivity into the grapevine simply by being aware of it and taking advantage of opportunities as they present themselves, you may find that the trust and understanding of your team improves as news of good deeds and decisions spread.

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Why Customer Satisfaction Isn't as Important as You Think

"Why customers switch from one store to another? 14% because of price, 15% because of quality & 71% because of lousy service.” ~Tom Peters

"Your company's most valuable asset is how it is known to its customers." ~Brian Tracy  

Everyone talks about customer satisfaction, but getting familiar with what customer retention means and how important it is to your organization is an important thing for every leader. New customers are necessary and are great, but organizations need to invest in retaining customers for their next purchase, just as much as they invest in obtaining new customers. Want to know why there are so many Loyalty Programs in travel, retail, restaurants, etc.? Because its good business. To put it succinctly, unless your customer satisfaction initiatives result in better customer retention, they are of little value. Don’t believe me? Below are five ways retention affects your organization:

Retention Leads to Profits

According to a Harvard Business School report, on average, increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25%-95%. The reason? It can cost up to five times as much to obtain a new customer as opposed to keeping an existing one. When you have customers that stick around and buy into what you put out on a regular basis, then you are going to making money with minimal investment and effort. Even when you factor in the cost of retaining a customer with upgrades, freebies and other incentives, the benefit is clear.

Satisfaction is Never Ending

The problem with trying to work on satisfaction is that it is a nebulous goal. Customers can always be MORE satisfied. There is always a point at which it becomes unprofitable to satisfy a customer. If the focus is on retention, then you have a clear goal and a good idea of the point where satisfaction initiatives should stop. Yes, “wowing” customers has its benefits, but those benefits should pay off with loyalty. If they don’t then they are of little value.

Easier to Manage

Customer education and support are costly areas of any organization, and even more so as the consumer has raised their expectations in today’s environment. The financial benefits noted above didn’t just have to do with Marketing Initiatives to bring new customers in, it had to do with the costs associated with onboarding and support of new customers vs. existing customers that are familiar with your products and services. To put it simply, a customer who has been with you for a while needs less support, and that reduces your cost.

Retaining Customers Builds Trust

When you have a deeper history with customers that is built up over time, a level of trust builds up between you and the customer. To put it in human terms, you don’t need to spend as much effort proving yourself. This trust leads to easier adoption of new products, fewer serious complaints (where you risk losing them as a customer), and a much easier path to satisfaction.

Advocates, Not Just Referrers

The most powerful aspect of retention is in the referral process. Satisfied customers might mention that they were satisfied when asked about your product or service by their friends. Retained customers are far more likely to volunteer information and actively recruit new customers. This free word of mouth advertising is supposed to be one of the benefits of a satisfied customer, but is turbo-charged with a customer who continually buys from you.

While it's good to make sure customers are satisfied as much as possible, if you can't keep them around because they get what they want and move on, you're not getting any future value out of them. It is this future value that makes retention so much more important to your organization from a financial and operational perspective. 

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6 Tactics For Getting Past The Confusion of the Unknown

"It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link in the chain of destiny can be handled at a time." ~ Winston Churchill

"Business is a continual dealing with the future; it is a continual calculation, an instinctive exercise in foresight." ~Henry R. Luce

Uncertainty is incredibly uncomfortable, but as a leader in today’s organizational environment, it is a persistent reality. Simply looking at the speed in which technology, processes and competitive landscapes changes ensure that uncertainty will be a regular environment that leaders will immersed in. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t take a proactive stance and grow your way beyond this often debilitating state of mind.

Utilize these six tools when uncertainty creeps into your mind and eventually, they will become second-nature:

Learn More About the Situation

Ignorance is at the heart of uncertainty. One of the reasons that you may be uncertain how to proceed in a situation is because you lack adequate knowledge to make an informed decision. Take the time to investigate the matter from another angle, or at least a little deeper. As you are performing your research, make notes of the pertinent information you encounter.

Create a Plan

If you know what you are going to do, then uncertainty ceases to exist. No matter what the situation, you can develop a plan that will help to relieve your stress and give you more confidence as you move forward. This may be somewhat easier said than done, but with practice you can get better at building flexibility into the plan to adjust to new information.

A plan will stop your mind from playing loops of outcomes that may or may not occur and allow you to focus your attention on other matters.

Have a Bias Towards Action

Great leaders are prone to taking action quickly. Uncertainty can feel a lot like walking through a fog bank where you aren’t sure where to go. The only way to get past it is to go forward. In this case that is action. As you take one action after the other you gain more information and the fog slowly clears.

Couple this with the fact you are taking your mind off of worrying about various outcomes and instead concentrating on an activity and the benefit of action is multiplied.

Calm Your Mind

When you experience uncertainty, you likely have accompanying physical symptoms associated with fear and nervousness. These issues have a negative impact on cognitive function, which may leave you in a negative, unhealthy loop where you feel sick and uncertain continually.

Whether it is listening to music, taking a few soothing breaths or even meditating, it is important to be able to hit the “reset” button so that you can see the issue clearly and are able to tap into your creative ability. A state of fear doesn’t help with either of those.

Do Something Physical

Another way to hit that “reset” button is to do something physical. While you may not initially think that going to the gym is going to help you get through a situation that you are uncertain about, it can. Your uncertainty can trigger the fight-or-flight response, which releases adrenaline and other chemicals into your body.

Since fighting is obviously not a good solution and you cannot run away from your problems, you need to find an alternative way to release the tension in your body or it will affect your thinking.

The idea is to move your body, get your blood and lymph systems stimulated and to enjoy yourself. Do whatever it is that you find enjoyable that will stimulate your body.

Practice Confidence Building

In some ways, confidence is the opposite of uncertain emotions in that the more you have of one, the less you have of the other. Because of this, you need to find ways to increase your confidence outside of the situation which creates feelings of uncertainty.

Change your internal self-talk to positive and empowering messages. Think back to all of the successes that you have had in the past when dealing with uncertain situations. Take up the habit of learning new things and meeting new people (often uncomfortable and with an uncertain outcome). The more confident and self-assured you feel, the easier it will be for you to handle any situation that life throws your way.

Practice these suggestions diligently and you’ll find it easier and easier to deal with the uncertainty that every leader deals with on a regular basis. 

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Why Complaints Are a Leader's Best Friend

"Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning." ~Bill Gates

"Close scrutiny will show that most "crisis situations" are opportunities to either advance, or stay where you are." -Maxwell Maltz

A common misconception that many leaders have is that complaints are unilaterally bad. In reality, they provide quite a bit of positive feedback that you can use in indirect or direct ways. Obviously, complaints are not good for business as the customer is upset about something that has happened, but using these complaints in the right way is DEFINITELY good for business:

Automated Problem Alerts

The first reason that complaints can be useful is that there may be problems in your organization that you were not aware of that can be brought to your attention through a complaint. This allows you to rectify the situation, and in doing so, eliminate any future problems in the same area.

An Innovation Machine

There is an old saying that problems are actually solutions in disguise, and this is certainly true with customer complaints. If a customer, or a group of customers, are complaining about the same issue, this should be used to redirect the organization toward handling an aspect of their work in a different way. This can lead to new products, new services or a new process. In an effort to address the complaint, you may very well shine a light on a better way to do business.

Building A Relationship

The number one complaint that most people have is that the organization does not actually care about them. This leads to what is known as the “Customer Recovery Paradox” which is the phenomenon where a dissatisfied customer has their issue addressed by the organization, they are actually MORE satisfied than customers who never have an issue. It’s because you showed that you cared.

And the benefit to the relationship extends beyond just customer satisfaction. Once that barrier to initial feedback has been broken, it’s easier to obtain feedback on an ongoing basis. This back and forth communication is enlightening and establishes another route to customer retention.

Understanding The Competition

A common topic that is discussed when a customer makes a complaint is that a competitor is producing a better product, or offering a better service. Instead of looking at this in a negative light, this can be used to help you compete by modifying or improving the products and services that you offer. Many companies would be unaware of how well a competitor is doing until a customer calls to complain. In this way the customer is providing inside information, so to speak.

Learn How to Exceed Expectations

Customer complaints often come from the most demanding customers. If you can take the information you gather from them and address their needs, you have a template for “wowing” almost all of your customers on a go forward basis.

Stop it From Getting Worse

What is worse than a complaining customer? A complaining customer who tells all of their friends, coworkers and family about their complaint. If the customer is coming to you, then your organization has the ability to “stop the bleeding” and make sure that the negative impact doesn’t snowball. And as outlined above, there’s a chance you can flip it around into a positive.

In conclusion, complaints have a positive side to them for any organization because they act as a type of barometer to show you how you are doing. Customers play a role in helping an organization grow by not only purchasing products that can generate revenue, but providing feedback that can help you modify your business accordingly.

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