Business Success: Stallone-like Stamina

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So maybe you don’t have to run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but facing adversity like Stallone’s pugilist character can still be a necessary quality in business today, says a coach at Electric Impulse Communications.

Six Things You Need to Know to Be Great in Business Today 
by Leslie G. Unger

Leslie G Ungar

The Rocky movie franchise first came into our lives in 1976. Detroit and Motown both were still churning out hits. Rocky gave the world this quote that remains as true today for business as when these words were mumbled by the prizefighter 37 years ago. “It’s about how hard you get hit . .  . How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.”

Yet leadership in the 21st century is very different in some core ways than it was just a few years ago. Six Things You Need to Know to Be Great in Business Today:

 

1.    Emotional Stamina
The simple truth is you will have many ups and downs as a leader, in starts and stops. You have to be prepared: mentally.  You are relentlessly chasing a never-ending, always- moving target, especially if you look to being the best. That takes mental stamina. What you need to do to acquire and maintain that stamina may be different for each of you. The end result needs to be the same: to acquire mental toughness.

2.    Align Your Goals with Employee Goals
Notice I said align your goals. I did not say employee’s need to align themselves with your goals. In the 1960’s and 1970’s a CEO could dictate hours, job descriptions and even dictate transfers.  In our 21st century world, it’s the leader’s job to be aligned with every employee. It is not the employee’s job to be aligned with leadership.

3.    Communicate a Big Vision
And turn the vision into small tasks. To lead you need to see the vision, the bigger picture. Then you need to communicate it in a way that gets buy-in from your troops.

To implement your vision will require small tasks. You need to either be willing to do them or find those who are gifted at those small pieces. The challenge for you is to value both: the people who see the bigger picture and those that can implement it.

4.    Stay Relevant
21st century leaders need to know how important and how much energy is involved in successful and on-going goal to be relevant. An employee’s skills are not relevant when you as the leader say they are updated. They are not current when they say they are current. They are relevant when they demonstrate they are relevant.

Training to stay relevant is not just an event. Not a Lean Sigma or a Six Sigma event. Training is a process. An on-going process and it needs to go on and on and on . . . even if you are the CEO.

5.    Be Consistent
Consistency is a huge value. The invisible fence only works for your dog because it is consistent. As soon as it stops working or works intermittently it ceases to be an effective tool. McDonald’s is not the best food or the cheapest. It is consistent whether you purchase it in Paris, France or Paris, Texas.

6.    Flexibility is Huge
In the 21st century you have to be fluid. It is a value to know when to adapt your goals and when to hold fast to them. To be light and flexible is a skill you need to identify and implement.

Detroit was on top and then it was not. The railroad was king and then it was not. Newspapers led their market and then they did not. When I grew up in in Akron Ohio we were tire capital of the world, and then we were not. The traits of leadership evolve with the sands of time. Follow these 6 tips to make sure that you are a 21st century leader conducting business in a 21st century manner.

At Electric Impulse Communications, We Catapult Leaders to Their Next Level of Success. Reach out to me at Leslie@electricimpulse.com Leslie G. Unger, Coach, Speaker, and Speechwriter. blog: leadersneedtospeak.com

 

Business Success: Stay out of their shorts!

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Yeah, “less is more” has become kinda a cliche in everything from decorating to dining to… business advice. But this week consultant Jim Grew tells us how you can better apply some simple principles to your planning and management.

Less Is More: 3D + 3T Management

jim grew

The number-one problem I see with my senior executive clients is a level of conscientiousness that slips into compulsion. Even when these executives delegate, they’re in the shorts of their people. (It’s a clumsy way to do things — just picture it).

Everyone benefits when we stop believing we’re so important and start believing in our employees and their importance. One practical way to implement this thinking is to better manage the barrage of communication in daily business life.

In the late sixties and early seventies, I worked with Verne Smith at a large chain of grocery stores in the Chicago area. Verne’s management technique was to ignore paper and go see what his people did. Back in the day when meat was cut in the store, Verne led about 1,200 meat cutters in 125 supermarkets, spread over 300 square miles. He managed supervisors while pleasing executives in the billion-dollar organization where he was a senior officer.
Verne’s philosophy on memos and management was this:  “All memos go in this top drawer. Tomorrow they’ll go in the middle drawer. The third day they go in the bottom drawer. The next day I throw them out.” He never read them: “If they need me, they’ll call me.” His division’s morale and numbers were tops in the company.

The endless tide of corporate communications can threaten to drown anyone, and it can keep senior executives tied to a compulsive conscientiousness. Tame the tide by riding the wave instead of swimming in it. For each communication you receive, choose one:

1. DELETE: Toss it. Trust me on this: Most of what you receive goes here.

2. DELAY: Unless it’s really urgent, hit the pause button. You are the decider, not the sender. You have goals and priorities. Use them. Often, if you hit pause, others will solve it.

3. DELEGATE: Reward one of your people with this task. They’ll appreciate the chance to do well and impress others, so let them have the satisfaction. If they need a bit of help, it will take less of you than doing the whole thing, and it will help others grow into expanding competence.

I call that 3D management, and it’s an effective method for dealing with written communication and will free you to focus on what matters. Anyone can be subject to distraction, and as a senior executive, you don’t have time for that nonsense.

While we’re at it, here’s 3T management: Cut out stray chatter by helping your folks know when to talk with you. Let everyone know that there are three rules for communication with a supervisor:

1. TELL ME BEFORE YOU DO IT:
Risk drives this one. If the risk is high, you want to review their plan before they pull the trigger, even though it’s their plan and their trigger.

2. DO IT AND TELL ME AFTER:
When their action impacts others inside or outside the organization, awareness is all you need. Resist meddling in their solution; it will help them grow.

3. DO IT AND DON’T TELL ME:
This applies more and more, as your confidence in your team and their skills develop. When in doubt, do this. Really. If you audit your conversations for a week, you’ll be stunned at the waste. Go sit in the sun, or play. Everyone will thrive.

Your job requires you to do less than you think.  When employees are free to do their jobs, then you are free to do yours. Focus on growth and profitability, and leave the excess of communication to others.

Jim Grew is an expert in CEO-level strategy and executive leadership whose clients refer to him as the Business Transition Defogger.
For more information, visit, www.winning-ceo.com

 

Business Success: Employees can’t bowl blindly

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greatgamebizIt’s an open book case for letting your workers get a clear gander at their goals, says business coach Kevin Walter.

Translating Strategy into Results with Open Book Management
By Kevin Walter

Picture this: You take your employees to a bowling alley. At the end of each lane are the standard 10 pins, but they’re covered by a curtain. The employee supervisor is the only one who can see the pins behind the curtain. You ask your employees to roll a ball down to hit the pins. They knock several pins down with their first rolls. Now, the supervisor directs them toward where they should throw the next ball, saying things like “a little to the right,” or “a little to the left.”
How successful will that frame end up being? Not very!

Even though the above scenario doesn’t give employees the best set up for success, most companies still ask their employees to bowl through a curtain, rather than remove it. This is the same as avoiding opening up about financial information. Curtains make it so employees have no idea how their daily actions, attitudes and behaviors impact the company’s future — or their own. Open book management removes the curtain, and provides everyone in the company with a direct line-of-sight as to how each individual’s performance can impact the bottom line.

The Background of the Game
A few years back in a southwestern Missouri city, a savvy manager named Jack Stack and his 12 partners scraped together $100,000 and borrowed another $9 million to buy a failing division of International Harvester. The future looked bleak for the fragile engine-rebuilding plant they called SRC (Springfield Remanufacturing Corp.). Its debt-to-equity ratio was 89-to-1. Jobs hung in the balance, and morale was in the pits. Facing potential ruin, the partners needed a way to fire up their 119 employees—and try to engage their hearts and minds as much as their hands.

Stack knew that traditional management practices weren’t going to turn around SRC any time soon. The situation, he felt, called for a bold experiment: a new way of managing more in sync with human nature, a simple approach that could harness the collective knowledge and good sense of his employees. Urgency being the father of invention, Stack took the elements of any game (teams, rules, scores, results), applied them to the daunting task of righting SRC, and taught his staffers to read financial statements, work as a team, generate some cash — and win.

The results were remarkable in just a few short years.

Revenue doubled, earnings quadrupled, and the debt-to-equity ratio was reduced to 5-to-1. Absenteeism, workforce turnaround and the number of product deficiencies and plan accidents — all once very high — dropped precipitously.

Why the Great Game Works
As for my own personal experience with the great game, playing it for the past two years has led to a company-wide sales increase of 6.6% and a bottom-line profit increase of 75%. How? Because when you play the game, each employee is given measures of business success (Income Statement, Cash Flow Statement and Balance Sheet) and taught to understand them. Every employee is expected and enabled to act on their knowledge to increase performance, and, most importantly, every employee has a direct stake in the company’s success.

You might be asking yourself, Why a game? A game has everything that business has. There are goals (growth, profit and stock price increase), rules (laws and ethics), a playing field (your marketplace), a scoreboard (financial statements) and rewards for winning (profit and bonus). Plus, most people can associate with a game. So, by creating a game within your business, you take the fear of numbers and financial statements out of the equation—and it becomes a fun challenge instead.

The Great Game of Business is a forward-looking forecast model of open book management where 95% of the focus is looking ahead. Through financial transparency, every employee becomes focused on numbers they still have time to impact, which is key.

Playing the Great Game
Here’s how you play: Every employee “owns” a line on your Income Statement. They have complete ownership of (and forecast expenditures for) their “line.” Each week, you have a 30 minute “huddle” around the numbers, and when it’s his or her turn, each line item owner calls out the forecast for that line for the end of the month. The forecasts are put on a large white board in our lunch room. By the end of the huddle, each employee knows the profit and bonus forecast for the month and year-to-date. Wins are celebrated, and solutions for underperforming numbers are solicited from all employees. This harnesses the wisdom of the crowd, which fosters front-line leadership, bottom-up innovation, and peer-to-peer accountability. The weekly huddle is a lot like a huddle in a football game. Look at the down and distance, check the scoreboard, see how much time is left and call the next play. Everyone leaves the huddle focused on what needs to be done in the next week to win the game!

Everyone Acts Like an Owner
The Great Game of Business creates an atmosphere where employees think, feel and, most importantly, act like owners.

Here’s an example of the game in action
Our company has an 18-vehicle fleet, an expensive line item when it comes to upkeep and maintenance. As the owner of this particular line item, one of our delivery drivers developed a preventative maintenance plan for our entire fleet that ended up saving our company more than $16,000 on repair costs that year. Another employee, one who was in charge of the fuel line, studied fuel prices in the area and determined the best days of the week to fill up the fleet’s tanks at the lowest-priced gas stations. He saved the company $20,000 in fuel costs in the first year he “owned” that line. As far as our vehicles were concerned, we saved over $36,000 on our fleet expenses alone.

Why Employees Will Buy In to Playing the Game
By far the most common hesitation that business owners have with financial transparency is the fear of releasing salaries. Here’s why the game still works: Open book management doesn’t mean releasing individual salaries, just overall amounts designated toward salaries — so there won’t be any tension there.

The Great Game of Business helps unleash the inner entrepreneur in every employee in a way that all employees can understand: through a game. This essentially gives you an entire team of entrepreneurs, or at the very least, an entire team of business-minded people. When you educate your staff around the numbers, everyday actions that before had little meaning are now done with the numbers in mind. Employee engagement rises drastically, and the opportunities to increase profit seem to grow and grow as well.

The power of a business-educated staff at every level is tremendous and will have a true impact on your entire company, from attitudes and engagement to profit and the bottom-line. People tend to support what they help create, so by helping to create the plan, the support is overwhelming.

The Great Game of Business is something that all businesses should explore.

kevinwalter• Kevin Walter 
As a Great Game of Business practitioner coach, Kevin has led the design and implementation of the Great Game at Tasty Catering, Advantax, Induction Heat Treating, and several other companies where he assisted in the startup, and is now an active partner and investor. Inducted into the University of Illinois-Chicago Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame in 2012, Walter finds inspiration from his employees who continue to exceed expectations with the power and knowledge they are given to make a difference. Visit www.kevingwalter.com or email kevinwalter@greatgame.com

Business Success: Partnering provides plenty of questions

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Business Success LogoIt’s one thing to list all the qualities you need in a partner — it’s another to accurately ascertain when you truly need help, and how to invite someone into your business.

Attorney Malte Pendergast-Fischer advises on how to make that call, and what to do before formalizing the relationship.

 

 

 

Bringing on a partner is an exciting endeavor that can take your business to the next level. But be aware that with the opportunities for growth comes challenges and different approaches, ideas and concepts that you might not want to consider or feel ready to consider. Planning, prepping, negotiating and being very good at compromise will be key to a successful partnership.

When you need a partner

When starting out in business for ourselves, we all have a vision or idea that we think will work. For some it is very clear. For others it starts as a hobby and evolves over time. That vision or idea is what drives us every day.

As any business owner can attest, the reality of running your own business requires more than that initial great vision — it also requires a huge amount of diligence and hard work. It demands that you be constantly on top of the minutiae, while never losing sight of the big picture. For it is often the minutiae that derails the train before the final destination is reached.

Add to these challenges of business ownership ensuring the calendar is filled with appointments or bookings, and the constant chasing of the next job never ends…

The sacrifices can be enormous, but equally so can the rewards.

But after all that hard work, one day you may wake up to find your business is thriving and you are having to turn people away because you simply cannot get to them. Maybe at that point you begin to specialize because these opportunities allow you to do so. Or if you no longer have to take any job you can get your hand on, perhaps you find yourself running faster because you don’t want to disappoint anyone, and hate to turn away business, so you decide to hire another assistant as a way to expand your business.

The last two options are often referred to as temporary band aids. In other words, they will keep the ship temporarily from taking in water, but eventually it will likely sink.

The other option is to take on a business partner. Opening the door and letting another person in to sit next to you on projects and decisions for the short term and long term benefit of the business requires a lot of trust. How do you trust someone to do as good and thorough of a job as you are doing?   If you find the right person with complimentary qualities, it can be the step that takes the business to the next level.

Who to partner with

What are some of the things one should consider in bringing on a partner?

Does it make sense to do a trial run prior to getting completely in bed with one another?

Say you have narrowed it down and found the person you feel would be great for your business. Do you jump in right away and go full speed ahead? An often-used technique that allows both sides to get a better feel for each other is to do a trial run: Try working on a few projects together to get a sense for the other’s working patterns. While this will not reveal everything, since everyone will be on their best behavior, it will give some indications as to competencies and experience.

There is no question that a level of disruption will come with the introduction of a new partner. Anytime a new person enters a business, the normal flow of things will be upset.

But with disruption comes new qualities, new ideas, and new approaches.. Expecting and accepting that this will be a time of flux until everyone has acclimated to the new situation will go a long way to ensuring its success.

Protection from your partner

How can you ensure your business will be protected against disruption not only in the short term, but also in the long one?

It is extremely important to have everything in writing. The handshake, the gentlemen’s agreement are important to establishing the initial bond, trust, and rapport, but ten years from now that will not carry weight in a court room; only a written document will.

No one wants to go to court and, while that is a last resort option, doing the work up front and having the uncomfortable conversations in the beginning will go a long way to setting your business up for success (and avoiding court) in the future.

As someone who advises businesses on these matters, we have seen some very ugly scenarios play out years down the road because of a lack of planning at the beginning. These are almost always lose-lose situations. What I always stress to business owners considering taking on a new partner is, “Always put it in writing.” Creating a document that the partnership can live by has in many instances been the most important step a business owner has ever taken.

A critical part of the partnership agreement is the buy/sell provision: How much has each partner put into the business and what can they expect to get out should he or she decide to leave prematurely?

In general, the four “D”s should be addressed in connection with a breakup of the partnership or due to certain life events: death, divorce, disability, or departure. These are the questions that often go unaddressed at the onset of a partnership, in favor of seemingly more pressing pursuits related directly to the business. These are also the questions that come back to bite you. If someone leaves of their own volition or based on common understanding, what are the rules around working in the community doing the same thing? How will the book of business be split if that is allowed?

Not a fun conversation granted, but an extremely important one to have prior to getting going, because trying to tackle this when the partnership is breaking up is often a nightmare.

Partner’s piece of the pie

At what level is the new partner brought in? As a 50/50 equity partner, or at a minority level?  How does the buy in work — lump sum, loans, deferred comp, share transfers?

In general, most advisors suggest you be as stingy with shares as reasonably feasible, because equity is always at a premium. This is also where it becomes important to consider your future business partners financial situation. A messy financial private life could give indications as to how the individual deals with finances professionally.

Know your numbers and what your short and long term strategies and plans are for the business. Many business have created advisory councils consisting of their CPA, attorney, insurance agent, and financial advisor to help navigate the waters around their business. Aligning yourself with a business advisor and or planner is very important.

Another important question to consider when drawing up your partnership arrangement is dealing with conflicts. When conflicts arise, how do you go about resolving them? Does one of you have overriding power? Do you bring in a neutral third party to help resolve the issue? If so, how do you decide who that person or persons should be? There will be times when bringing in a third party will be advantageous, but in general we suggest trying to sort most things out amongst yourself. Assigning areas of responsibilities to each partner for decisions in the event something is disagreed upon is useful option.

Divide and conquer

How will you define roles and responsibilities? Two sets of eyes, ears, and hands can do more than only one could previously. Finding a partner who adds a new dimension to the business is important, invigorating and can certainly be prosperous.

Dividing up and conquering is now an option.

How will the customers and the community be introduced to the new partner? Bringing in a new partner is an opportunity to rebrand and reeducate the public about your business. Many business are started overnight, and the chance to now change things based on lessons learned is another opportunity brought about by adding a new partner.

Malte Pendergast-Fischer

Malte Pendergast-Fischer is a lawyer, financial planner, and managing partner at the Green Ridge Group in Basking Ridge, New Jersey.

 

Business Success: Compete with your customers?

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The “democratization of photography” also means that the people who once paid for work by skilled professionals now think they can do it themselves — and thanks to easier and better cameras, often they can indeed produce “good enough” results. What the best strategy now for professional photographers? Top shooter Dave Stock takes stock of the situation. (Sorry Dave, couldn’t resist the awful obvious pun.) Dave’s company, Dallas-Fort Worth-based TeamDSP, serves public and private schools, youth leagues, club teams, and businesses.

dave stock

The Digital Dilemma
By Dave Stock

Digital cameras:  the best thing since sliced bread or a threat to our continued existence?
Ask the question and you get a wide range of answers.  Our potential customers have jumped on the bandwagon and embraced the new advances, buying record numbers of cameras and smart phones…
What they are not buying in record numbers are prints and services provided by pro photographers!
Simply put, the new technologies are making it easier for our customers to take and print their own high quality images, reducing the likelihood they will buy from us, the working pros.

Remember when your competition was that relatively small group of names listed under “Photographers” in the Yellow Pages?  I started working professionally back in the early 70’s, almost 20 years before the first digital cameras became available to the public.  My first camera, a Konica Autoreflex, was unique in that it was the first SLR camera with auto-exposure capability.  With any other camera, the user had to rely on feedback from a floating needle at the edge of the viewfinder to arrive at a combination of shutter and lens settings that would produce a well exposed image.  It was left to the photographer to mentally sort through the full range of shutter speed/aperture pairings to select the combination that produced the desired result.  What was most important for each subject, each situation?  A fast shutter speed to freeze the action, or a small aperture to yield sharp focus from near to far?

The limited capabilities of those cameras required the shooter to do all the thinking: there was no on-board computer in a chip to help the process along.  And exposure determination was just the beginning of the challenges.  This was long before Nikon came out with the first autofocus camera in 1983.  Ever tried manually follow-focusing a 600mm f4 lens on a running back hitting the hole?  It’s a special skill that had to be developed over hundreds of hours spent squinting into an eyepiece.  And how about color balance?  To do it right, you needed a pricey color meter and large collection of gel filters, held in place in front of your lens with frames of varying thread diameters.

But even then, these “dumb” cameras lacking electronic brains could produce beautiful images when in the hands of the right operator, which is something that the popular consumer cameras from that era could not do.

If our customers had their own cameras back then, it was likely an Kodak Instamatic 104 or something similar.  These cameras had one f-stop, one shutter speed (1/90th), and produced small 1-inch square images on grainy 126 cartridge films.  Most of the pictures produced by these cameras were poor to abysmal and even the best fell well short of the quality coming out of the cameras used by pros at the time.

The net result is that if you owned pro equipment in the 70s you looked like a pro and your photos were going to be far better than those taken by amateur photographers, simply because of your choice of equipment.

Fast forward to 2012, and consider how technology has radically leveled the playing field.  Can you tell the difference between a Canon 5D and a Digital Rebel from across a room?  How about the difference in sharpness and color accuracy between 8×10 prints coming out of the two cameras?  Probably not.  Simply buying professional equipment no longer guarantees that you can produce significantly better photos than our customers can with their own equipment.  Did you know that highly respected pro shooters are now offering three day workshops aimed at pros and serious amateurs using their iPhones for image capture?  The iPhones of today produce far better images than the $20,000+ Kodak 520 DCS digital camera I leased for $450 a month back in 1999!

The first challenge for us as professional photographers is to acknowledge that this threat is real and it is already affecting our industry.  This problem is not going away.  If anything, it’s going to grow larger as cameras of all types, including smart phones, become more technologically advanced while their prices drop.  Digital printers used by our customers will likely continue to improve as well, making better prints more quickly and more economically.  Faster internet connections will make it easier for our customers to send their own images to labs or share their images with friends and relatives, completely bypassing the need to print the images altogether.  What are the implications for us when our customers save money spent on prints by capturing images on their phones before posting them on Facebook to share with others?  Why buy a 5×7 from us for $5 when they can take their own photo, have Costco make them a 37 cent 5×7, or simply save it in a digital album on their phone or iPad?

So what is the answer?    Many in our field respond by lowering the prices on their order forms.  Others focus on adding a wide range of novelty items to their offerings, highlighting whatever is the newest “hot item” offered by their lab or supplier.  Both of these potential solutions represent serious risks to the bottom line, however.  If you lower prices you must lower costs to preserve your profit margin.  Do you achieve this by paying your workers less or reducing the size of your staff on the shoots?   Do you cut corners back at the office, spending less time preparing and enhancing the images before submitting them to your lab?   Novelty items may sell like crazy, but can leave you with less profit if the parent that budgeted $25 for soccer photos to buy three sheets of prints instead gets a single photo statue after seeing a sample at your photo shoot.  Novelties are great if the parent makes an impulse buy, spending more than they initially planned to spend.  If they buy novelties instead of straight prints, you lose because the standard mark up on portrait units greatly exceeds that of most novelty items (magnets, buttons, trading cards, etc.).

We choose not to lower prices, but to entice our prospective customers by offering them more for their money.  A five-star restaurant can’t compete with McDonald’s prices, but they can offer a better experience.  The highly acclaimed restaurant can’t sell an entrée, side and drink for only five bucks and make a profit.  What they can do is create a superior product combined with exceptional customer service in a pleasant atmosphere that easily justifies menu prices that go well beyond the cost of the raw ingredients used to prepare the meals.  Parents with cameras save tremendously by taking their own pictures and having Walmart make their prints.  The challenge for us is to provide a level of quality, creativity and service that will both justify our higher prices and earn their business.

There’s another element in this dynamic that is hard to quantify, but is very powerful.  For most of us, dining out at an expensive restaurant with a recognized chef is a special event.  If you’re like me, you cringe when you see the tab, but you’re willing to pay the price because of the special feeling you have when you’re being pampered by the restaurant staff and you’re enjoying a meal prepared by a master.  It’s this same feeling of being special that we try to give our customers by always striving to produce not only great images but a great customer experience.

Restaurant owners and photographers share the same goal:  give customers what they want, do it better than anyone else and you have the foundation for a successful business.  As a photographer specializing in youth sports, I need to understand what my customers want and why they sometimes feel that taking their own photos is their best available option.

Who are my customers and what do they want most from me?  My customers include anyone either buying, using or benefitting from my products or services.  Parents want great pictures that bring back special memories.  They don’t want to stand in lines.  They don’t want to call with a question or a problem and get an answering machine.  They don’t want to pay for a poorly lit or sloppily composed photo that they could have taken themselves.

High school coaches don’t care as much about quality as they do about their precious practice time.  They want fast, efficient photo shoots and quick delivery of images and prints to yearbook advisors, printers and parents.  They don’t want to deal with problems of any kind:  collecting late payments, fielding parent’s complaints, tracking down missing packages not picked up by kids on the day the photos were passed out.  Youth league board members want the picture day schedule to run on time so that the game schedules are not disrupted.  And like school coaches, they hate getting phone calls from unhappy parents.  Don’t give parents any excuse to complain about any aspect of picture day.

Yearbook advisors, webmasters and program printers require fast delivery, accuracy, quality and organization.  Make their job easier by getting them what they need quickly.  Organize the images in folders, provide names linked to frame numbers, crop group photos loosely to allow designers maximum flexibility when planning page layouts.

In trying to please our customers, we focus on leveraging our people, experience and resources to outperform our competitors, whether they are professional photographers or our own customers.  As an organization, we are obsessive about  achieving quality in five key areas of our business:

1 – The quality of our products.  Our goal is to produce studio quality on location, indoors or out.  We typically use anywhere from two to four studio flash units modified by umbrellas, soft boxes or beauty dishes for each setup.  All images are brought into Photoshop or Lightroom to be cropped and enhanced (sharpness, exposure, color balance, retouching when requested) prior to being submitted to Richmond Professional Lab for printing.  We frequently use multiple 18×27’ tents, each with four lights, for league shoots so that we can control ambient light and work in adverse weather conditions.

2 – The quality of the experience.  Our expectation is that our customers can quickly and easily navigate through the picture day experience without waiting in long lines, dealing with feelings of frustration or confusion, or ever feeling like we aren’t completely dedicated to the task of getting good photos of everyone posing for our photographers.  Keys to accomplishing this goal include having adequate numbers of experienced workers on the shoots, taking multiple photos of each person posing for photos and using highly efficient work flows that best match each worker’s skills with their assigned tasks.  Photographers shoot anywhere from two to four lines of individuals simultaneously, assisted by a team of posers and assistants recording image numbers.

3 – The quality of our staff.  We hire exceptional people and pay them substantially more than what is considered customary in our industry.  Our team members share a common vision, striving to work together and do whatever is necessary to provide an exceptional customer experience.

4 – The quality of our customer service.  Customer service starts before the job is booked and never ends.  We strive to respond to every email and every phone call within hours of receipt.  We offer a “no-hassle” guarantee if a customer is unhappy for any reason:  we will either reshoot, reprint or refund depending on the nature of the dissatisfaction.  Our goal is to consistently go above and beyond what our customers expect and what most people consider reasonable.

5 – The quality of the opportunity offered our staff.  We treasure our workers and endeavor to provide them with a work environment where they feel appreciated and supported.  Paying them well is only a part of the puzzle.  Maintaining a corporate culture where finger-pointing is forbidden and contributions are acknowledged and rewarded leads to great morale and higher production, not to mention fun times working together as a group to overcome challenges.

Evolving technology requires that we keep on our toes and look for new ways to serve our customers.  While the digital revolution has put more powerful yet affordable cameras in the hands of our customers, it has also given us great tools that professionals can use to create unique products that parents will want to buy.  Greenscreen technology, cameras with HD video capture, Internet storefronts, on-site proofing and printing systems and social media all represent but a few of the many new paths we can pursue to grow our businesses.

Beyond that, not losing sight of the basic values that transcend all technological evolution is essential.  There is no substitute for working hard, working smart, continually striving to improve — and always treating people right.

 

 

Customer satisfaction vs. ‘who cares?’

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Have you had a customer flat-out betray you, leaving you for the competition right after reporting on a customer service survey that she is “satisfied” or even “very satisfied”?

That’s the question asked by Forbes in its article on customer satisfaction and retention.

“A business leader to wonder if satisfactory customer service is enough to ensure customer engagement and loyalty.”

How can you be sure it is enough? The article advises:

• Letting the customer know you’re happy to hear from them
• Making the customer feel they are receiving something special
• Ensuring the customer knows their business matters.

“These three, somewhat fluffy-sounding customer experience elements are important because the problem of the satisfied-but-not-loyal customer comes down to this: You are always at the mercy of a great big “who cares?” from the customer.”

The full story by a customer service consultant is here.

 

Market via email more effectively

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Business Success LogoEven with the many social media tools services available, good old fashioned email provides many marketing methods — but how can you best mange them?

The MasonBaronet marketing communications firm in Dallas offers five tips:
- Consistency: Make sure your messaging and content are consistent with other communications.
- Personal: Send the kind of email that can’t be ignored: Know your audience, and use your recipients’ names.
- Quick: Most mobile devices cut off email previews at 35 characters. Incorporate attention-grabbing subject lines and keep the most important messages above the fold.
- Update that List: Pay attention to unsubscribed and bounced recipients.
- Connected: Invite users to engage through your website and social media channels.

The full article is here, with details on the five tips.

 

Can Instagram drive sales?

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Instagram_logo smallAccording to Entrepreneur, Instagram imagery can boost your brand and better your bottom line.

“Instagram is a unique medium for brand advertising unlike any other platform in the social space,” the business site notes. “The visually driven community allows users to communicate in the universal language of photos and videos, opening the world to the possibility of more “humanized” content. Instagram’s growth and reach speaks to its massive appeal to the millennial audience.”

While the article is aimed at “brands” instead of small businesses, its tips can still apply:

1. Users today want content that speaks to their real interests in a genuine manner.

2. Audiences demand personal interaction — they want to speak to another person who understands them and speaks like them.

3. Analytics: Instagram provides a simplistic user experience but provides vast amounts of data regarding users and content generated.

The full story is here.

 

Business Success: Wait, mental telepathy isn’t perfected?

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Business Success LogoBeing in charge carries many responsibilities — including directing the overall goals of your company. In this week’s Business Success column, Eisen Agency CEO Rodger Roeser tells us how running your own firm means you must take the reigns when necessary.

Thought Leadership and the Big Tuna
By Rodger Roeser

As the big tuna for a content development firm, we are often asked to craft and conceptualize thought leadership campaigns for our clientele. We also often practice it ourselves, as we believe it is a critical component of any good content development and brand development program.

I am the CEO of my firm. Key word: Mine. And with that comes unique insights and expertise that other leaders in other industries may not have. So, as a thought leader I believe it’s critical for the actual thought leader to pen the piece — Not the marketing team.

While I do believe it’s important for the marketing and content development team to review and edit, it’s critical that leadership is constantly looking both introspectively and externally at factors and ideas affecting their business and their industry – and get it down on paper, tape or video. Thought leadership need not be limited by medium, and certainly should not be limited by leadership.

A CEO or other executive, it should be expected, has their finger on the pulse of the industry, and is able to take their knowledge, background and expertise to bring perhaps disparate ideas and concepts together that should objectively push forward an idea or ideal. Thought leadership is exactly what it sounds like, taking the thoughts of leadership and sharing that information. Leaders must lead and, until mental telepathy is perfected, that content must be captured and shared.

And in truth, thought leadership should be simple for an executive, even if they can’t write. For starters, as the CEO, you should have some grasp of the expertise or knowledge you’re sharing — it shouldn’t involve exhaustive research, but instead be unique insight based on your expertise, and where you think things are going. Of course, adding in industry research to back up your thoughts, or real world examples, is helpful. And instead of writing, leaders could do a podcast audio interview, a video, or even a voiceover for an animated piece. I personally love sitting at the computer and penning my latest masterpiece, but as a former journalist I have an advantage some of my C-Suite brethren may not have. But that’s no excuse not to get your ideas down in some form.

Charge your marketing team with forward thinking by reviewing and presenting editorial calendars on topics leadership finds interesting and items you believe will enhance and bolter both engagement from your varied publics and make you look like you know what you’re talking about. Get these editorial calendars from both industry media outlets and other well known outlets that tend to share bigger thinking to get ideas as to the topics industry, mainstream and other business media is interested in. Oh, you don’t have that? Talk to your PR person (or hire a smarter PR firm).

From those topics (and there will be many), review the ones that you believe are going to give you the strongest possibility of sharing content that would be valued by those you wish to digest your content (a la, analysts, potential customers, so on). Waxing poetic about how smart you are, while you’re mom may love that, my not engage potential clients – so whatever you write, write it for the objective benefit of your audience. Thought leadership pieces can be short, with some quick pieces of expertise and advice you wish to share. Lists are popular, such as “The Top Five Things That Will Affect Our Industry Next Year,” or incredibly detailed and research oriented. It all depends on your goals, the time you have to invest (you should invest at least 10 hours a month on development of thought leadership pieces) and what you personally wish to achieve – not for the business, but for you.

You see, most B2B and B2C customer and client engagements are indeed influenced by the Big Tuna. If “they” don’t like or trust or value the leadership, most won’t buy – whether that product is diapers or stocks. Reputation is important. And, as a leader, that reputation can be built, maintained and shaped by quality thought leadership and content development. Once crafted, work with your media relations team to get those published and share them with the world.

You’ll increase your personal stock, help your business and hey, people will think you’re smart. And that, is good for everyone.

Rodger Roeser is the CEO of The Eisen Agency. Headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, the award-winning public relations and content development firm specializes in marketing communications strategies for professional services organizations. More information is here.

Business Success: Trust, and Zero Crap

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Business Success LogoHow can you turn around an ailing firm? What are the keys to engaging your employees? This week author Lou Solomon reports on how one woman brought new life to a large charity, and how her priorities can also help you focus your management tasks.

                                                                                   

#1 Priority all Successful Leaders have

When you meet my client Jane McIntyre, you know instantly you’re with the real deal. She is the CEO of the United Way of the Central Carolinas, one of the largest fund-raising agencies in the country — but it’s not her title that will impress you. She is admired for turning around non-profit agencies in free fall, but it’s not about her reputation, either. She is also a charming woman with a deep Southern accent, but her Carolina drawl isn’t it either.

No, McIntyre is distinctly real because she is full of heart and takes zero crap. You recognize the look in her eyes as the mark of someone who knows who she is — and has the confidence to risk moments of vulnerability. She tells you the truth. She fakes nothing and places trust as her top business priority.

In 2008, McIntyre’s predecessor left her post in disgrace, and the agency in crisis. The local newspaper ran daily stories about her greed and mismanagement, and the community was outraged. Contributions dipped and the employees of UWCC were scapegoated. The scandal was especially poignant as the bigger economic crisis turned darker.

McIntyre, who was heading up the YWCA, stepped up and took the job no one wanted: to bring UWCC back from the edge. At the same time, she became my client — and one of the most colorful to date. She is small in stature but every bit of a red-headed cowgirl who can rope the biggest steer at any rodeo.

McIntyre made it clear to the team at United Way that she would ask a lot of them, and together they would do extraordinary work to change lives. They have delivered because they trust her, which is no small thing in this economy.

We’ve all been living with scandal, crises, and uncertainty since the recession hit in 2008. The majority of employees in this country are disengaged and distrustful of leaders, which can erode an organization’s bottom line. Gallup estimates that employers lose between $450 billion to $550 billion a year in productivity due to employees who lack commitment to their work — and this contributes to absenteeism, employee theft, poor service, safety-violations, turnover, and mediocre work.

After the big banks toppled and entire industries came apart at the seams, the trust rating of CEOs flopped to the bottom of the list, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer. Only one in five people trust leaders to tell the truth and make ethical and moral decisions. The presence of engaged employees who make companies competitive has slipped to just 30 percent of the American workforce.

At this crossroads, we have to pause and become intentional about the future. Instead of just reviewing cash flow projections, process, and procedures — we have to consider adding trust as a line of business. Crazy amounts of money are pumped into business processes, while employees long for the kind of human connection and common sense that builds trust, grows engagement, and pushes performance.

Three Stories:
We need a new kind of leader who is ready for the rodeo of the 21st Century. The corporate landscape has become a place of so much posturing and over-managed communication that leaders don’t trust themselves to get real.

Before each talk, Jane considers, “What’s the most important thing I should be talking about today?” I can tell you it’s never about statistics and data. Jane knows that people just like her are looking for a meaningful conversation.

There are three stories every leader should know: Who I Am, Who We Are, and Where We Are Going. People need to hear these stories to trust your motives — and you can’t fake it, you have to feel it.

Who I Am is not found on your resume or bio. It is the story of what your life has taught you and the obstacles you’ve overcome on your way to being a leader. One of the many defining stories Jane shares with people is her battle with cancer in her twenties. She tells them that the disease forced her to grow up. She tells them she has not taken one day for granted since. She advises, “You’ve got to live to the max. One day you look up and say, ‘It’s time to go to work.’” People can see who she is and they trust her because she “Walks the Talk.”

Who We Are is the story of defining successes within the organization. Jane is intimately aware of the unique abilities of the individuals who work for her. She doesn’t care about triple-degrees nearly as much as she cares about people who are smart and have the heart that it takes to do meaningful work. She celebrates the employees, contributors, heads of agencies, and clients of United Way. She does it in a way that makes the core values of her organization crystal clear.

Where We Are Going is the focus and vision of the leader who understands the greatest good for all involved. Upon accepting the position, McIntyre appeared on an NPR affiliate talk show and began driving the conversation from scandal to, “What’s important is that the United Way makes a difference to thousands of people in our region and in the community. That message has been lost. It’s time to get the focus back and ask how we can do more for the people who can lift the entire region.” This is no script. McIntyre says it with heart and she says it often.

Can you restore trust in your for-profit organization? The answer is yes, but there are no short cuts. Some leaders come at the idea of building trust with attempts to manage their speeches and financial reports. This is painfully transparent and produces the opposite effect.

#1 Line of Business
Think about a leader, co-worker, strategic partner, vendor, or employee you trust. Why do you trust them? I’ll bet it’s because they are willing to keep big and small promises, and choose people over immediate gain.

Last year Jane McIntyre called me from home to apologize for postponing a workshop for her leadership team. She was laid up after taking a bad fall. She could have had her assistant call, but she was willing to be inconvenienced to honor a relationship. She didn’t consider it un-leadership-like. This is one example of the ways she has galvanized trust over and over.

What if leaders considered themselves the promise-keepers of genuine conversation? If you are to lead well and help your organization thrive, you must rethink putting short-term gain ahead of people — and “see” performance in a new way. Begin with the fact that the people who work with you need a glimpse behind your title — to see your humility and humanity. You must be willing to risk vulnerability.

Strategic Use of F2F
The human connection is a relief valve. Have you ever had a mental resentment against someone, only to have it dissolve when you sat down with them face-to-face? The longer you go without face time, a misunderstanding can metastasize. Without the cues of body language, tone of voice, and facial expression, you imagine a negative tone and suggestion of blame in an email. You make things up.

Within less than one week on the job, McIntyre was meeting one-on-one with every employee before moving to the large contributors, and then to the community agency leaders. No one heard her sugar coat, suck up, or put a spin on the truth. She listened and she laid out her vision, along with what it would take to get there. People were invited to be a part of the positive urgency around the phrase, “It’s time to go to work.” She made it clear that “no” was an option. For those who said “yes” to the new landscape, she extended trust by delegating power.

The world we live in requires that we communicate virtually, but without the “reset” power of face-to-face connection, the trust supply can run out — and anonymity and disengagement will move in like an organizational illness. The culture turns aloof and even rude. Talented people leave and find other work where they can enjoy a sense of belonging in an environment that sparks innovation.

So what do we do when we can actually take advantage of face-to-face communication in meetings? Leaders allow people to open their laptops, disconnect, and check email. They tolerate cross talk, boring rounds of reporting out, and meetings that squander the resource of face time. Research shows that 70% of executives feel the majority of their meetings are a waste of time. How much does it cost for you to pay people to be bored?

There is little more important than the strategic use of face-to-face communication where we need it most. Start with your own meetings. Establish Meeting Agreements that honor people’s time, voice, and contribution. Plan off-site meetings to reset trust and performance.

Where does face-to-face communication fall on your priority list? Too often virtual forms of communication take precedence because they are easier and less expensive. It’s time we soften the lines between face-to-face and virtual forms of communication and stop talking about them as though they’re either/or. The right attitude is to address culture itself as a conversation, and search for ways to apply technology for connections.

Engagement is not a Survey
Engagement is a great buzz word, but most of the corporate world is dragging its feet and putting Band-Aids here and there. We need positive urgency to do the real work of shaping environments that can be the home of innovation. We have to start listening, laying out the vision, and make it clear that “no” is an option. If people are told and never asked, they will comply without buy-in.

Leaders tell me:
• “There isn’t enough time. I can’t connect with everyone.”
• “You can’t expect me to forget about Wall Street.”
• “But the world is too complex today. This is way too simplistic.”

…Yes, the bar keeps going up for great communicators. But we can’t just throw up our hands and say, “That’s it. I’m out.”

To be sure, it’s about balance. Leaders have to make both careful and courageous decisions. You’ll still have to make tough calls. When you do, give people as much information as soon as you can. Share the realities you are weighing and your intention for the best, balanced outcome. Don’t hide downsizing under a flowery name. Communicate with strength, heart, and zero crap.

The human connection is an attitude. Employees want to follow leaders who are strong and competent — but also honest, likeable, personable, inclusive, and regular people. Building trust is difficult and expensive in the short-term, but short-term gains don’t mean too much this time next year.

Leaders and Wall Street along with them have to adopt a grown up, delayed-gratification perspective. Serving shareholders’ interests at the expense of employees and communities is just bad business.

We lose our competitive edge not because we don’t understand business, but because we don’t understand people. Our value begins with the human connections and relationships we have with employees, and pushes out to customers and shareholders.

McIntyre has a way of connecting with the common sense and dignity within people. She leverages meetings, speeches, interviews, and conversations as a strategy for making human connections to drive her agenda. Is any of this easy? No, but leadership in the 21st Century is no cakewalk. As Jane says, “If you can’t take the heat, you shouldn’t be in leadership.”

Lou solomon— Lou Solomon is CEO and founder of Interact, a communications consultancy that helps entrepreneurs, Fortune 500 leaders and their teams build authenticity, make connections, earn trust and build influence. She is the author of, “Say Something Real.”