Business success: You don’t care

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Business Success LogoWe’re all familiar with the phrase “actions speak louder than words.” But what if we aren’t aware of what our actions are telling other people? Most of us care about doing our jobs well, and about the relationships we have with clients and coworkers. But your actions might be sending the opposite message, according to Jon Gordon, author of The Carpenter: A Story About the Greatest Success Strategies of All.

17 Things You (Unknowingly) Do at Work That Say “I Don’t Care”

You care deeply about your clients, employees, and coworkers. Of course you do. But if you’re like most people in the workplace (be they leaders, front line workers, or someone in the vast middle ground in between), you may occasionally do (or not do) things that send the wrong signal. And that signal is, “I don’t care.”

This accidental carelessness is not surprising.

Jon Gordon

Jon Gordon

We’re all so busy these days. In fact, we’re overwhelmed. And when we’re trying to survive, sometimes even the most well-meaning among us don’t realize how we’re coming across.

The good news is that the more you care (and show you do), the more you stand out in a world where many don’t. Caring is great for business. The even better news is that by making, say, one percent more effort and paying attention to the little things, you can transform your relationships and see your overall success skyrocket.

First, of course, you need to know what you’re unknowingly doing wrong. Here, I shine a spotlight on 17 things that say to others, “I don’t care”—and offer advice on how you can reverse that perception:

You fail to touch base on projects. Sure, you’re busy, and sure, teammates and clients can always call you if they need an update. The problem is that when people don’t hear from you they naturally assume the worst: “I just know he hasn’t done what he said he’d do.” Or, “I bet she’s only doing the bare minimum.” When you don’t proactively reach out to provide information and updates, it seems as though you don’t care about others’ concerns.

The solution is simple: touch base often. Don’t force your colleague to ask if you’ve finished compiling those statistics, for instance; send an email saying you’ve done so. Actually, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of sending daily or weekly updates not only to team members, but to clients, too.

You wait too long to respond to calls or emails. (And sometimes you don’t respond at all.) Often, hours or days pass before you reply to a colleague or client’s questions. (Hey—you have about 200 more important things on your to-do list!) And sometimes, enough time passes that responding completely slips your mind.

You may not think a slow response is a big deal, but the other person probably does. Even if you truly don’t have time to deal with the matter immediately, it’s easy enough to send a text or email saying, “I got your message and will touch base later.” Whenever possible, try not to leave any unanswered emails or voicemails overnight.

You forget customer preferences. Part of providing good service is remembering that Mr. Smith dislikes being called on his cell phone after 6:00 p.m., and that Mrs. Jones always wants to work with a specific vendor.

When you don’t keep records of these things, customers will conclude that they don’t matter to you. Keep a file on each client, and take a few moments to record their preferences after each interaction.

You nickel and dime them. Yes, you and your customers know that your relationship is based on an exchange of money for goods or services. And of course you shouldn’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of. But obsessively keeping track of every minute and every coin doesn’t sit well with clients. It makes them think your first priority is not taking care of them, but getting everything that’s owed to you.

Try to balance the bills you send against the long-term value of your client relationships. For instance, if you spend an extra hour or two outside your contract, consider not itemizing that time on your next bill. The customer will likely sing your praises and send you plenty of referrals.

You “hand off” customers to an employee and never personally contact them again. Sure, if you’re the owner of the company or the leader of a team, you can’t personally take care of every single client’s needs. But you can call or email each of them from time to time to let them know they’re still getting your attention. This is especially important if you conducted the initial meetings or signed a contract with a certain client.

In my business, I make it a priority to respond personally to readers who ask me questions via email, Facebook, and Twitter. While I could hand these tasks off to members of my staff, I truly do appreciate that readers care enough to take the time to contact me—and by engaging with them individually, I am showing them that I care, too.

You wait till the last minute to ask for what you need. Say a project has been on your desk for a week—but you don’t ask your subordinate to make revisions until a few hours before the deadline. This puts the stress burden on the other person, and makes him feel that you don’t respect his time. (It doesn’t do your in-office reputation any favors, either.)

When a project requires a group effort and you’re a part of that group, never forget that your time management should take into account their time, too. Show others the consideration you yourself would like to receive.

You rush through projects and leave loose ends. The world is filled with those who get things done the fastest and the cheapest, but it needs more artists, craftsmen, and craftswomen. When you become a craftsman in a world of carpenters, you will stand out, and people will clamor to work with you.

When you put forth the least amount of effort and do only the bare minimum, someone else will have to come behind you and make improvements—that, or you’ll have provided an inferior product. Both tell people that you don’t care enough to do the job right.

You miss deadlines. We all know that missing deadlines is a bad thing, yet many of us persist in (often creatively) figuring out how to buy more time for ourselves. Every once in a rare while an extension may be necessary; say, if too little time was initially provided to do a good job or if an emergency pops up in the middle of the project. Usually, though, the extra time you spend gets taken away from someone further down the line.

Missing deadlines is another way of conveying to others that you don’t respect their time. Do as much as you possibly can to stick to the agreed-upon schedule.

You stress people out right before vacation. Leaders and supervisors, take note: An employee’s upcoming vacation shouldn’t give you license to demand Herculean feats from her right before her absence. You know she needs to pack, board the dog, and (ideally) get a restful night’s sleep before hitting the road or flying the friendly skies. Making her work till 8:00 p.m. the night before she departs shouts, “Work is more important than your family time!”

Vacations should be something your people look forward to, not something they semi-dread because they know the days leading up to a getaway will be horrendous. Part of being a caring leader is planning ahead with each employee to ensure that essential tasks are completed without last-minute hassle and headaches.

You neglect to say “thank you” or “great job.” Even if someone is “just” doing what’s in his job description, and especially if he has gone above and beyond to help you, take a few moments to verbalize your appreciation.

Often, we don’t express gratitude not because we aren’t thankful, but because we’re busy or have already shifted our focus to the next thing—however, the other person doesn’t know that. Saying “thanks” takes only a few seconds of your time, but can do wonders for your professional relationships. When people feel valued, noticed, and appreciated, they’ll be motivated to do better work. It’s that simple.

You don’t take care of the “little things” that make work flow smoothly. Broken equipment, outdated computer programs, no coffee cups, burnt-out light bulbs, even office furniture that’s seen better days—all of these things send employees a message about how much you don’t care about their comfort.

Your employees get that you don’t have the resources to provide expensive, cutting-edge gadgets and an in-office spa. But when you fail to provide basics that are within the budget, especially when it’s clear that you and other leaders aren’t going without, you’ll cultivate a “haves vs. have-nots” attitude that fosters disengagement.

You listen with half an ear. You know how this goes: You make the appropriate noises during a client call (“Mmmhmmm…I understand…No, that won’t be a problem…”) while simultaneously typing an email to someone else. You may think you’re getting away with multitasking, but the other person can usually tell that your attention is divided, and will feel unimportant as a result.

Giving a client or colleague your full attention is so meaningful. Being fully present says, “I really care about you and what you need. You are my top priority right now.”

You’re curt or disrespectful with people. Everyone has feelings. Take care not to bruise them. Even during disagreements or when negative feedback needs to be shared, there is usually a way to say what you need to say without crossing the line and hurting someone.

In my experience, most people don’t mean to be hurtful. Rather, their tone reflects their own high stress levels, or their blunt speech is a product of their attention being focused elsewhere. This is why it’s so important to be fully present when you’re interacting with someone else—you’re more able to consider your words and gauge the impact they are having.

You gossip or make snarky comments behind people’s backs. You may think, “Well, she’s not here so it’s okay,” or, “Everyone gossips at the water cooler,” or even, “He deserves to be taken down a peg!” Wrong. Uncaring words have a way of getting back to the other person—and even if they never do, they cause the people with whom you’re speaking not to trust you.

Tempting as it may be sometimes, make it your policy not to say bad things about your coworkers when you’re on the clock. If you simply must vent, wait until you can do so outside of work with a family member or friend.

You neglect to ask about things going on in their personal lives. Whether you’re interacting with a colleague or a client, you may think that keeping the conversation focused on business is a sign of professionalism. But actually, it can paint you as a rather callous individual—especially if the other person is going through a difficult time.

Ask others what’s going on in their personal lives, and follow up. Express your sympathy when a client’s parent passes away, and your willingness to help when a colleague is dealing with a health crisis. It’s so easy to spend five minutes making these connections before getting down to business—and it means so much.

You hijack people’s stories. In the course of conversational “give and take,” it’s fine to share when you have a related story. But resist the temptation to make everything all about you. When you forcibly take the reigns and steer a conversation in the direction you want it to go, you send others the message that you don’t care about or value what they have to say.

Nobody appreciates “that person” who always manages to turn the spotlight on himself or herself. In general, it’s wise to listen more than you speak. Not only will you learn a lot through listening and observation; when you do contribute, others will be more receptive to hearing what you have to say.

You ignore important milestones in people’s lives. It only takes a few seconds to say, “Happy Birthday,” or, “Happy Anniversary.” And while you can’t always attend every colleague’s child’s birthday party or every client’s retirement party, go (or a least send a card) if you possibly can.

Your presence means a lot. People are surprised and pleased when you acknowledge important milestones in their lives—precisely because the assumption today is that most people don’t care about what’s going on outside their own bubbles.

Most people don’t intend to be uncaring or inconsiderate. Actually, I believe that the busy, stressful nature of modern life forces us to spend too much time looking out for number one and too little time looking out for others. We need to make a conscious effort to reverse that behavior.

So take a few moments and evaluate your behavior and habits. What messages are they sending? What small changes can you make to show others that you care? I promise, the effort you put forth will energize you and others, and will lead to mutual success.

People buy from who they like: Give your business a likeable personality

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Business Success Logo“There’s an old saying in sales: People buy from people they like,” writes the Financial Post. “So what have you done lately to encourage prospects to like your company?”

The article notes that “companies that want to be liked should be caring, sensitive, and have a sense of humor” and offers 10 ways to make your business more likable. Among them:

1. Make your presence felt —open and friendly with all employees, accessible to all.
2. Present a well-rounded person.
3. Stay in touch with customers
4. Your email is prominent on the company’s “Contact Us” webpage.
5. Travel to meet customers and find out what’s new.

The full list is here.

Business success: Beware the oxymoron

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Business Success LogoIf you’ve forgotten from your grammar lessons a few(!) years ago, an oxymoron is two words used together that, separately, mean the opposite of each other, like jumbo shrimp, cruel kindness, same difference, deafening silence… a word geek like myself could go on and on. But instead, I suggest we consider a phrase not typically included in a list of oxymorons: “strategic planning.” Do these two words really contradict each other? Mark Faust, founder of www.EchelonManagement.com and author of Growth or Bust! Proven Turnaround Strategies To Grow Your Business, says they do.

“Strategic Planning’ is an Oxymoron

mark-faust-gobTo say, “strategic planning” is a call of management and board, is to ply an oxymoron, or at least refer to a practice for the moronic.

There is strategic thinking and there is planning and implementation. Strategy is the framework within which decisions are made which set the nature and direction of an organization. Planning has to do with implementation and tactics and tactics are what it takes to implement the strategy.

People claiming to be consultants who facilitate “strategic planning” probably don’t know many of the rudimentary aspects of strategy nor management. Beware of the “Strategic Planning” expert.

Rather than “strateegery” and the latest management fad mumbo jumbo, board members must hold leadership accountable to making sound decisions around the strategy to compete and position in the marketplace but this process is more about assessing your potential and position in the marketplace from the perspective of the customer than “strategic planning.”

The more apt term for the process an organization needs is that of self-assessment and it begins with your marketing and market-related objectives, which can be determined by questions like these:

  • What is your decision on concentration? What is your competitive advantage, and in what areas of the market can you be most successful? What differentiates you from the competition, how do you prove it and how clear is this to your best customers and non-customers? What are the different activities we’re performing that our competition is not? What are the similar activities we’re performing in a way that differs from our competition?

Answering these questions accurately helps to ensure that your market focus and positioning strategies are most effective and thus helps you to win what to your company will be the lowest hanging fruits.

  • What is your decision on your ideal market standing?

There can be great dangers to having an 85 percent market share, just as having too small a market share could be proof of gross ineffectiveness and lead to great vulnerability. It is better for you to have 50 percent of 250 than 85 percent of 100. Companies that are near monopoly face significant growth pressures and usually cannot effectively innovate. Choosing the most market share is not the objective; choosing the optimal market share is your objective. Boards must ensure leadership is determining the optimal.

Only after answering the above can leadership most effectively set Innovation objectives which can be determined by asking questions like these:

  • What is your business, and what should it be? What is the result that customers buy from you, or what is the job they want accomplished?

These questions can be an opportunity of great innovation and repositioning for you in the marketplace. GE Aircraft Engines made a significant leap in the marketplace and in profits when they realized that rather than selling engines, parts and services that what the customer would value more would be “power by the hour.” This all in one offering at a unified price empowered airlines to better align costs and gain a new advantage.

  • What areas might you not be adequately serving?
  • What businesses, products, or practices, if you weren’t in them today, would you still choose to get into? Which ones would you not enter, and thus, what markets might you need to exit, or what practices might you need to abandon?
  • How do you prioritize potential new markets, and what are the triggers that signal that you should enter them?
  • What are all of the potential distribution channels you could employ? What are the advantages of each, and where might you consider changing your distributive organization?
  • What is your customers’ perception of your service, and how do you compare to their alternatives? What is the optimal service standard and performance you need
 to aim for, and how do you best leverage this strategic choice in the marketplace?

Ensure your leadership begins a process of ongoing self-assessment and refinement of the above and other questions behind the process and you can transform the opportunities and growth of your organization…but whatever you do, don’t fall for strategic planning!

Discover “20 Awesome Productivity Tricks Anyone Can Use”

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Business Success LogoThis morning I came across an article by Inc. Magazine‘s Jeff Haden titled “20 Awesome Productivity Tricks Anyone Can Use.” Well, there’s a headline I’m certainly not going to ignore! Scrolling through the tips (which you do by clicking on each picture in the article), I decided there are lots of ideas here I will use, and I wanted to share them with you.

“Even though we all want to be more productive, it’s hard to make major changes. Small changes are easy – and can be incredibly powerful. That’s why the following 20 tips are simple enough you can immediately incorporate them into your daily routine,” Haden writes. “Some tips will help you better use your time. Others will help you harness your energy. Others will help you stay more focused. No matter what, they all work. So try a few – or try them all!”

Read the article here.

How to (not) make your employees’ lives harder

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Business Success LogoBeing an inspiring and knowledgeable leader can be a long trial-and-error process to figure out how to maintain enough control over your team to ensure their success, but provide enough distance to help them truly grow, writes tech manager Avery Augustine. “It’s not too surprising, then, that during my time working for some a variety of leaders, then becoming a manager myself, I’ve seen (and done) plenty of things that managers do that seem like normal, boss-like duties—but don’t actually help the team along. In fact, they actually make employees’ lives harder.”

She notes five “team-hindering habits” to watch out for:

1. Failing to Give Your Full Attention
2. Talking More Than You Listen
3. Being Constantly Unavailable
4. Making Promises for Your Employees to Deliver On
5. Giving Too Little (or Too Much) Information

Read the full article here for details on these problems — and how to avoid them.

 

Short videos: Use Vine to build your brand

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samsung's vineVine’s looping six-second videos can help marketers spread their messages across social media in innovative ways says author Bob Cargill, who offers 10 ways to use Vine in your own campaign.

“If you really want to make a splash in the social media waters, you should try making videos with the mobile app Vine,” says Cargill, who is director of social media at Overdrive Interactive. “Sure, with more than 1 billion unique users visiting the site each month, your potential audience on YouTube is going to be gargantuan. And with more than 150 million monthly active users on Instagram, you’d be hard-pressed not to experiment there as well, even if your videos can only be up to 15 seconds in length. If you want to socialize with all the cool kids, however, you can’t overlook Vine, where more than 40 million registered users, are telling their stories in short, continuously looping six-second videos.”

Among his 10 tips are:
1. It’s Easy to Use.
2. It’s Quick to Digest.
3. It’s Spur of the Moment.
4. It’s Convenient.
5. It’s Instructional.

Read details on all 10 here — with example videos.

 

Business success: Oh, my ears and whiskers!

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Business Success LogoDo you ever feel like that rabbit from “Alice in Wonderland”: always running a bit behind, trying to catch up, feeling like you have more to do than can be done? Yeah, me too.

But read on… this week’s Business Success contributor — Andy Core, author of Change Your Day, Not Your Life: A Realistic Guide to Sustained Motivation, More Productivity, and the Art of Working Well — has some great, easy tactics for getting a grip on your too-busy days. 

13 Tips for Thriving in a To-Do List-Dominated World

As hard as I work every day, shouldn’t I have “arrived” by now? It’s a question that nags at you as you slog

Andy Core

Andy Core

through each day, bound to the tyranny of your to-do list, one eye constantly on the clock. It seems all you do is work, but you have only mediocre results to show for it. Once, you had big goals and the confidence to achieve them, but now all you feel is tired, stressed, and overburdened. It seems the dreams you once had—of leading your department, being the top salesperson, joining the C-suite—have disappeared into the quicksand that has become your daily life.

If this scenario describes you, you’re not a loser. Like so many others, you’re an unwitting victim of today’s demanding work culture, not to mention bad habits that are sabotaging your best efforts.

As you go through life, you develop habits and routines that you think will help you succeed. Problem is, many of those patterns probably don’t work for you personally. What’s productive for your coworker may not work well for you, for example. Or a strategy that was effective five years ago may no longer work.

Even your instincts can lead you astray. But you can change habits and patterns that don’t serve you. You can refocus your attention, redirect your thoughts, and generate greater motivation, energy, optimism, and creativity, as well as more rewarding relationships.

As a thought leader on increasing employee engagement, I can help you become what I call a “Thriver”: someone who works hard, meets or exceeds expectations, and enjoys high levels of personal and professional success, accompanied by (and this is the best part) lower stress levels.

My new book, Change Your Day, Not Your Life: A Realistic Guide to Sustained Motivation, More Productivity, and the Art of Working Well, gives readers the tools to create precisely that type of life. It also includes a curriculum to help companies reengage employees, improve communication, retain talent, and boost innovation—all of which catapult overall profitability.

To start reclaiming the goals that once inspired and excited you, you’ll have to change the way you approach your day. Instead of a worker whose actions are dictated by supervisors and to-do lists, you’ll need to begin acting like the CEO of your own life.

Read on for a few CEO-worthy tactics that will help you start thriving immediately:

Figure out what’s doable in a day. In Change Your Day, I write about a woman named Janet. She came to me hoping that I could help her find some semblance of balance. She was overworked, overstressed, and overweight. She had no time to exercise or to spend with friends and family. She was constantly on the go and fueled by caffeine, with no chance to recuperate between projects. Not surprisingly, Janet wanted to change her life.

Initially, Janet was disappointed when I told her that changing her life was just too hard. But I explained that turning your whole life around is too big a goal. You can’t sustain that many major changes at once. Instead, I told Janet, I simply wanted her to change her day. I wanted her to reengineer her routine a little bit at a time, one day at a time, cutting out a small stressor here, and adding in a more productive habit there. Our whole strategy was to make small, doable changes that would, over time, create an unstoppable momentum.

You must do the same. You must set realistic boundaries. You must create goals that can be accomplished in the space of a day. Remember, nearly all problems, challenges, and needs are best faced if they are brought down to the scale of “what can be done right now” by taking on “one small piece” of a difficult situation.

Get big things done before 9:00 a.m. (instead of snoozing, procrastinating, and lurking at the water cooler). Ever notice how your morning sets the tone for your whole day? As Sir Isaac Newton famously said, “Objects in motion tend to stay in motion.” So if an object (you) gets a groggy, frustrating start, you’ll probably feel sluggish and behind the eight-ball all day long. However, if you start your day with positive and productive ideas, actions, thoughts, and feelings, you’re likely to gain momentum throughout the day.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. I know a top salesman named Barry whose daily pattern involves getting up early, exercising, eating breakfast, spending time with family, and accomplishing several meetings or other work activities before 9:00 a.m. By the time his colleagues are settling into the starting blocks, Barry has already blown through several important tasks on his to-do list, and he’s geared to continue that pace for the next several hours.

The point here isn’t how early Barry’s alarm rings—it’s that he makes the most of the first several hours of his day instead of snoozing and procrastinating, as so many of us do. The truth is this: What you do first matters.

DO first, then KNOW (not the other way around). Most people believe that the knowledge that something is important should make you want to do it. But in reality, that’s not the case. So, why don’t we do what we know we should do? If we know spending less time on Facebook will make us more productive, why won’t we just commit to spending an hour less on the site each day? If we know setting aside 30 minutes to walk or jog each day will make us healthier, why aren’t we jumping up off the couch right now?

Study after study shows that knowledge alone usually isn’t enough to impact our desires. In fact, the opposite is true. First, you must do something—like bite the bullet and put on your workout clothes! If you experience positive feelings, attitudes, and results because of your action, you will learn that whatever you just did is good, and you’ll want to do it again, and again, and again. Over time, you’ll develop a new habit, and you’ll become an evolved person.

In other words, you must DO in order to KNOW in order to BE different. Remember, nothing in your life gets better until your daily patterns get better.

Own up to your junk hours. “Junk hours” are a little like junk food: While they provide short-term pleasure, they contribute to long-term imbalance and exhaustion. For instance, junk hours might include chasing rabbit trails on the Internet, shooting the breeze with colleagues at the water cooler, checking email in order to avoid doing other work, or even attending an unnecessary meeting.

In order to maximize each day, you need to own up to your junk hours. You need to identify when you’re going through the motions of work, versus when real work is being done. Don’t be ashamed that your junk hours exist, because everybody needs to take breaks and shift gears. Your task now is to exchange your low-value “junk” activities for ones that build greater health and value into your workday.

For instance, I know one woman who, instead of taking an endless string of coffee breaks, sets aside 20 minutes each afternoon to knit. I know another man who decided to spend his lunch hours either with friends or going to the gym, instead of trying to squeeze in more work around bites of a burger. In both instances, these scheduled breaks increased my friends’ energy levels and sense of well-being. They felt less of a need to take low-value breaks and began to experience more productivity.

Instead of adding to your to-do list, build a new pattern. Maybe you’re thinking, Sure, I’d like to change my day, but the thought of adding a boatload of items to my already out-of-control to-do list makes me want to crawl back into bed. I can’t handle any more tasks and responsibilities! If that sounds familiar, take a deep breath. The changes that build momentum are rooted in decisions, not additional tasks.

To build a productive new pattern into your life, you usually won’t have to add new tasks to your day. Instead, you’ll simply do what you are already doing, or want to do, in a way that becomes habitual. For instance, if you want to wake up an hour earlier so that you can jump-start the day, you simply have to change the time your alarm rings and the time you go to bed. If you want to be more productive at work, you might have to replace aimless procrastination with scheduled breaks. In both cases, you’re changing the way you perform existing tasks, not adding new ones.

Remember, though, it isn’t sufficient to simply trigger the start of a new behavior. You need to make sure that you have a motivating reason to make this change, as well as the confidence and energy to sustain it so that it becomes a pattern.

Start with one thing. Then add another. Then another. Losing weight is one of the most commonly made New Year’s resolutions. It’s also one of the most commonly abandoned. That’s because people think of losing weight as a singular change. It’s not. To lose weight, a person will need to eat healthier, eat smaller quantities, and become more physically active. That’s three changes. And each of those sub-changes has many smaller components; for instance, eating healthier might involve drinking more water and less soda, eating more fruits and veggies, reducing refined sugars, etc. That’s a lot of changes to keep track of!

The point is, don’t take on more than you can handle. Break each goal down to its smallest components, then pick one of them to tackle. Pursue this change until it becomes a habit, then move on to the next one. Start with one thing and don’t add another until you’re ready. Positive motion creates positive emotion.

Make a big-box checklist. It’s a given that you have a to-do list. Maybe it’s on paper, on your smartphone, or just in your head…but you have one. It’s also highly likely that your list isn’t as useful as it could be. Too often, you get stuck doing the urgent instead of the important. I have a solution: Make an actual, on-paper checklist each afternoon for the following day or each morning. Put a box by each task—the more important that task is for you to complete that day, the bigger its box should be.

I focus first on my big-box tasks. At the end of the day, if most of them have checkmarks, it’s generally been a good day! Yes, prioritizing my daily list by the size of the boxes on it may sound simplistic, but it has made me feel much more accomplished and satisfied with my day. It also has helped me relax in the evenings because it is easier to remember the big boxes I’ve checked off, thereby making it easier to leave work at work. I’m no longer distracted by each shiny ball that rolls by—I’m able to ignore them and train my focus on what’s really important.

Think about it so you don’t have to think about it. We all have “those” tasks and obligations that eat up a lot of our time, that we find difficult and frustrating, or both. For instance, when you come home at the end of each day, maybe you find yourself standing in the middle of your kitchen with no clue what to cook for dinner. As a hunt-and-peck typist, I was once slowed down and aggravated by the need to produce papers and reports.

Figure out where these areas are for you and commit to learning a new pattern. For me, that meant buying a book and relearning how to type using a two-hand method. In the cooking example above, that might mean getting into the habit of planning meals and shopping for their ingredients each weekend. Yes, learning new patterns can initially be tedious and laborious. But once they’ve taken hold—often in three weeks or less—they’ll speed up your performance, streamline your effort, and lower your stress. By putting in some thought about “problem areas” now, you’ll save yourself from having to think about them later. Eventually, this method changes once-tedious tasks into automatic, “I don’t have to think about it” behaviors.

Infuse meaning into your work. First, let’s get one thing straight: Doing meaningful work does not mean that you will “love” every second of it. “Meaning” can simply be a recognition of what you enjoy about your work. With that understanding, though, you’ll be more motivated, productive, and satisfied. I recommend completing the following exercise:

• Focus on what gives you the greatest joy and meaning at work—be able to define it.

• Reflect on how you are making a difference at work and through your work—be able to give examples.

• Reflect on the meaning of your work as it relates to your core values.

• And then…seek to increase what you enjoy!

You’ll come to find that the “administrivia,” the mundane and routine chores required of you, and the not-so-exciting aspects of your work become easier to do and get completed more quickly if you have a strong focus on what you do find exciting, rewarding, or fulfilling. Personally, thinking about how I hope to help people with my next speech, presentation, or coaching session helps me to get through the parts of my workday that I don’t enjoy as much, like paperwork, scheduling, and staff issues.

Seek to serve, not shine. To some extent, it’s human nature to look out for Number One. We all want to rack up accomplishments, receive accolades, and garner recognition. But in many situations, the desire to shine can cause you to get in your own way. Just think of the overeager salesman whose desire to exceed his quota makes him come off as pushy. Instead of convincing you to buy his product, his self-serving attitude just makes you want to cut the meeting short.

Ironically, the key to shining is putting others first. People who channel their efforts toward making others’ lives easier are nearly always respected, included, and considered valuable. When you help others reach their goals and become their best, you’ll usually find that the same things happen to you.

Fill up your energy bank account so you can make withdrawals when you need them. Throughout life, circumstances arise that are beyond our control. You may experience a major illness, lose a loved one, or be forced to relocate. You may have to occasionally work long days and go without sleep. The list goes on. It’s because of these out-of-our-hands circumstances that we must all focus on controlling what we can.

What I mean is, know your needs and capacities and try not to exceed them on a regular basis. In other words, get enough sleep. Eat nutritiously. Exercise when time permits. That way, when you do find yourself needing to push the limits, you’ll have a healthy margin of energy, motivation, or whatever to draw on. Manage what you can manage as often as possible in order to compensate for what you cannot manage.

Forget the future. (Really!) The future can be an inspiring thing…but it can also be a scary and misleading one. Awfulizing, what-ifs, and doomsday thinking can plunge you into paralyzing anxiety. And making incorrect assumptions can send you down the wrong path. That’s why, aside from setting goals for yourself, you should try not to let your mind wander into future outcomes.

Thrivers trust in an execution mindset and focus their attention and efforts on the here and now. That’s because nobody can predict when or under what conditions the future is going to unfold. The only thing a person truly can do is to focus on the processes of today—and live them out to the max. That’s not only going to produce personal peace in the present tense, it’s going to be the best possible preparation for whatever the future holds. Enjoy the process and take great joy in the rewards!

Forgive yesterday so you can work on today. Most successful, hardworking people are often hard on themselves to an unproductive level. They are their own worst critics and spend valuable time lingering on mistakes and slip-ups. Long after the event—whatever it was—is over, they beat themselves up relentlessly instead of spending their time in a more productive state.

Treat yourself with the same compassion and generosity you’d extend to another person who’d messed up or fallen short of a goal. If it helps, follow the two-hour rule I learned from one of my past coaches: When you have a bad performance or make a mistake, you have two hours to pout, scream, cry, wallow, or do whatever you think will help you deal with the disappointment. But when 120 minutes have passed, it’s time to start moving forward again.

Remember, nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes. What sets Thrivers apart is the fact that after a fall, they forgive themselves faster, get back up, and continue the journey forward.

By making small changes in how you approach your day, you can begin to take back your to-do list and accomplish the big goals that will really help you thrive. It’s time to stop allowing your quest for success to leave you feeling tired, stressed, and disillusioned. So, how will your tomorrow look different from your today? What is one small change you can make right now to start rewiring the patterns that define your life?

Busting mobile credit processing myths

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Business Success LogoMobile credit card processing systems allow merchants to process credit card payments with a physical credit card reader attached to a smartphone or tablets. Benefits include convenience, a streamlined POS system and access to a breadth of business opportunities based on collected consumer data.

“Nevertheless, mobile payments as a whole remains a hotly debated topic among retailers, customers and industry experts alike, reports Business News Daily. “To stay competitive, it’s more important than ever for small businesses to stay current and understand where mobile payment technology is headed. If you’re considering adopting mobile payments or are simply curious about the technology, here are 10 mobile payment myths that are completely untrue.”

Myth #1: I already have a POS system — the hassle isn’t worth it.

Myth #2: Setup is difficult and complicated.

Myth #3: All rates are conveniently the same.

Myth #4: Credit card information is stored on my mobile device after a transaction.

Myth #5: It raises the risk of fraud.

Details on the 4 listed here and five more are here.

 

 

Build your business’ better tagline

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A great tagline captures the essence of the value you provide to your customer in one or two concise sentences, according to Forbes. And, “creating a tagline is a powerful exercise, as it forces you to think about exactly what it is you do for your customers that is unique.”

How do you do it? Start with your advantage point, then ask three questions:

• What is the ultimate benefit I want my customer to gain?
•  How will my product make my customer’s life better?
•  Why is my business better than my competition’s?

What’s an example of a tagline that clearly indicates a unique advantage point? Verizon’s “Can you hear me now? Good.”

There are more tips in the full article here.

Business success: Yeah, whatever

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Business Success LogoI knew the day was going to come, and recently, it arrived.

I said something to my kids — I don’t recall what, but it really doesn’t matter — and my darling daughter, usually the epitome of sweetness, rolled her eyes at me and said, “Whatever.”

She’s only 9, and not yet surfing the choppy waters of adolescence; I’m confident she was merely mimicking someone she saw on TV, perhaps trying on a bit of teenage defiance to see whether or not it will eventually fit.

In any case, I was having none of it. I am not the kind of mom who would tolerate that little show of disrespect, and I think my strong response to her rudeness has convinced her not to do that again. But handling snarky behavior as a parent is quite different than handling it as a business operator. What if it’s your employees who are cynical or mocking? What does that indicate, and how can you change the behavior?

This week, Rich Karlgaard, author of The Soft Edge: Where Great Companies Find Lasting Success, sheds light on this difficult situation.

Is Employee Cynicism Killing Your Culture?

In an age of cynicism and irony, Northwestern Mutual is a throwback to a more innocent time. The company is the antithesis of “cool.” It has the kind of culture in which people embrace plain suits and sincere handshakes, take pride in wearing achievement ribbons, kick off conferences with patriotic music. It’s the very portrait of wholesomeness and earnestness—the Boy Scout of the insurance and financial services industry. There’s no place for hipster lingo, inside jokes about customers, snarky tweets.

Karlgaard 2013 headshot 1

Rich Karlgaard

Oh, and Northwestern Mutual has been in business for over 157 years and is worth $25 billion in sales. It might not be hip to be square, but it’s very good for business.

Mocking irony, snark, and cynicism are very much in vogue, but they are also toxic to your company’s culture. Once cynicism gets a foothold in your culture, it spreads—just like an ill-advised tweet or blog post. You need to proactively fight it.

Most of us can agree that cynicism is ugly. It trivializes the gravity of bad behavior and normalizes superior attitudes toward customers and, often, coworkers. But that widespread cynicism is also a red flag that something is seriously awry in your company.  And that “something” centers on trust.

Cynicism is the defense mechanism of people who feel unsafe and powerless. It’s an expression of the uncertainty that comes from working in an environment where ethics are lax, employees don’t feel valued, and information is withheld. When it thrives in an organization, it signals a lack of employee trust—a problem that’s gotten significantly worse over the last generation.

The example of Northwestern Mutual makes it clear: Building trust is not just a nice thing to do. It’s a strategic thing to do.

Trust underlies successful working relationships. It improves group effectiveness and performance. It underpins organizational credibility and resilience. All of these factors contribute to creating a sustainable competitive advantage, because trust attracts talent, strengthens partnerships, and retains customers.

The good news is you can tap into the strategic power of trust by consciously shifting your company’s culture. Here’s how:

Know that trust has two dimensions: external and internal. First, there’s the external trust between an organization and its customers: Will a company stand behind its products? If something goes wrong, will they do the right thing? The second dimension is the internal trust between employees, managers, and top-level management. Do leaders keep their promises? Can employees speak up without censure? Do people have each other’s back (or stab them in it)?  Generally, what’s true externally is also true internally.

When employees can trust leaders and each other, customers can trust employees. And vice versa, of course. Cynicism cannot be eradicated if trust doesn’t extend in all directions. But know that you need to start internally, with the employees on whose commitment and engagement your success depends. If they don’t feel that they can trust your company with their careers, you’re in trouble.

Get clear on what a culture of trust and earnestness looks like. No doubt your employees have (probably very strong) opinions on trust within your company and where they’d like to see improvements. Hold a company-wide summit where everyone can share those opinions and include an anonymous component like a suggestion box or survey. Get everyone’s input, from the C-suite to the custodian. Your goal should be to pin down exactly how a culture of trust translates to leader and employee behaviors.

Ask, “Who do we want to be?” Identify the ways cynicism manifests—for instance, through snarky comments, manipulating customers, talking behind coworkers’ backs, and so forth. Then, together, establish some ground rules aimed at dissolving cynicism and promoting old-fashioned values.

Then, get the “rules” in writing. Put the results of your trust summit in writing and ask all employees to sign this document. It should spell out actions like, “I will not badmouth customers,” or, “If I have something to say to an employee, I’ll say it to their face.” Some companies have even gone so far as to prohibit blind cc’ing in order to promote a culture of trust.

Of course you can’t simply outlaw cynicism and snark or talking behind someone’s back. Trust can thrive only when employees are treated like the self-respecting adults that they are. However, you can “formalize” values and ask people to abide by them. That’s the need these contracts serve.

Creating an official “standards of behavior” document helps crystallize the attitude you’re hoping to cultivate. Just saying “let’s all be trustworthy now” means nothing. Creating the document shows that your organization is willing to go beyond mere lip service. Plus, people are just more likely to abide by an agreement if they’ve signed their name to it.

Let only “Boy Scouts” lead. (And Girl Scouts too, of course!) People will emulate leader behavior, whether it’s good or bad. It’s just human nature. Leaders who roll their eyes when a certain customer calls are giving permission for employees to be similarly disrespectful.  Complain about your boss in the break room and you can expect to overhear your own team making fun of you as you approach the water cooler. The key is to hire and promote leaders who truly do live the values your company espouses.

It doesn’t matter how intelligent, charming, or technically capable leaders are if they don’t uphold the agreed-upon values. The negative impact they have on your culture will more than offset any talents and skills they bring to the table.

Never lie or hide the truth. There are many things you’re thrilled to share with your employees. “Our customer satisfaction scores are 15 percent higher this year!” Or, “Our first quarter profits exceeded our goal!” Yet there are other things you might not be so eager to share, like, “We’re going to have to downsize,” or, “There aren’t going to be any raises this year…and by the way, we may have to reduce your benefits.” Tell them anyway.

Even when the news is bad, people should never feel they’re being kept in the dark. Transparency and trust must coexist.

Show employees that you care. When people don’t believe their leaders care about them, not just as workers but as human beings, of course trust can’t thrive. And while it’s true that fake or contrived caring only increases cynicism, genuine caring dissolves it. This means leaders must be “people persons” who stand up for their employees’ best interests and don’t mind showing (appropriate) affection.

NetApp is a company that truly gets this. Consider the following quote from its vice chairman, excerpted from The Soft Edge:

“I believe in leadership rather than management,” Tom Mendoza of NetApp explained. “You can be loud, you can be quiet, but leadership is what you are, not what you say. So my overriding principle of leadership is people don’t care what you know unless they know that you care. All industries have one thing in common, which is people come through for their leaders not because they’re afraid, not because they’re intimidated, but because they just don’t want to let them down.”

Aspire to predictability. It sounds a little dull, doesn’t it? Most of us want to be known as creative, outside-the-box thinkers. We don’t want to be bound by routine or limited by “the way everyone else does it.” And that’s fine—embrace innovation to your heart’s content in areas like product development and marketing campaigns. Just don’t be unpredictable in your behavior, priorities, and values.

Unpredictability destroys trust. The couches of psychotherapists are filled with people whose parents were unpredictable. As a leader, your team should have total confidence that you’ll do what you say you will. They should have no doubt that you’ll keep your promises, act with integrity, and look out for their best interests.

By the way, predictability in the matter of trust is different from predictability in tactics. Good leaders and coaches will shake things up. Legendary basketball coach Phil Jackson once held a Chicago Bulls practice in the dark. He wanted to see how well his players really knew the plays he was teaching!

Make it safe to speak up. When your employees make an honest mistake, can they admit it without being scolded and belittled? What about input and ideas? Can they share those things and expect to be taken seriously? Hopefully, the answers to both questions is “yes.” Everyone should feel confident that they can participate in meetings and projects, say what’s on their mind, be respected for their opinions and ideas, and admit mistakes.

Either trust rules your organization, or fear rules it—you have to choose. A fear-based culture kills employee curiosity. It quells exploration, dulls creativity, and stunts growth. In a climate of fear, people are afraid to make mistakes. Fear saps performance, synergy, teamwork, and morale. It makes people feel powerless—and if you have no power over your own work life, of course you’ll be cynical.

Celebrate grit and gumption. If you want employees to be worker bees—performing the tasks you designate, on a timeline you set—compensate them with paychecks only. But if you want your employees to be partners, you’ve got to reinforce them when they act like partners. In other words, take notice when they display passion and motivation (grit) and initiative and guts (gumption).

When employees do the things you want them to do—persevering through tough tasks, innovating, taking calculated risks—reward them. A simple thank-you can go a long way. So can public recognition at a meeting or through a company-wide email. And of course perks like “free” vacation time or bonuses are always welcome. The point is, notice and celebrate the behaviors you want more of.

When people are truly engaged, they can’t be cynical. Engagement and cynicism can’t coexist in the same moment.

Constantly drive home the “meaning” of the work people do. One of the best methods to increase trust is to identify your greater purpose, your “true north.” Why do you exist? What meaningful value do you offer to employees, customers, or society? A great purpose should be aspirational, not merely financial. It should create a common cause and promote a collective effort. It should answer all the tough questions of why: Why commit? Why persist? And, most important, why trust?

At Northwestern Mutual, employees with whom I’ve spoken say they aren’t driven by dollar signs. They truly feel that their life’s work is helping people. When clients call and ask, “Am I going to be okay?” they take pride in being able to say “yes.” They’ve found a meaning in selling insurance that goes much, much deeper than balance sheets and profits. And, ironically, that’s why so many Northwestern field reps are the millionaires next door.

My point? Figure out what meaningful things your company provides customers, whether that’s peace of mind, easier lives, reliable support, or something else, and look for ways to convey that purpose at your company. It’s hard to be cynical about your work and your customers when you actually do believe in what you’re doing.

The next time you’re considering how to make your organization a better place to work, think beyond an in-house masseuse, climbing walls, and free fresh-baked cookies. While employees will certainly appreciate “fun” perks like these, they don’t mean anything if your culture isn’t grounded in trust. Trust is, and always will be, the foundation of creating an award-winning environment and culture that leads to high performance and success.