Business Success: Words to the wise

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Business Success LogoI don’t care what the children’s rhyme says about sticks and stones; we all know words can really hurt. The right words can also really help. In the time-crunch frenzy of our daily work lives, it’s easy to keep our messages to each other as quick and efficient as possible; but sometimes, taking the time to say a little more can make a big difference.

This week, Todd Patkin, author of a number of books, including Twelve Weeks to Finding Happiness: Boot Camp for Building Happier People, shares some simple statements business leaders can use to build morale, productivity, and a happier workplace.

14 Things Your Employees Are Dying to Hear from You:

Todd Patkin

Todd Patkin

Phrases to Help You Revive Wilting Employee Engagement This Spring

What were your last 10 or 15 employee conversations like? Chances are, they included phrases like, “I need you to finish that projection by the end of the day,” or, “I’m putting you on the Brown account,” or, “How much longer do you think it’ll take to finish that PowerPoint the client requested?” After all, you can’t run a business without addressing these types of issues. And chances are, unless they were delivered in a, shall we say, forceful tone of voice, your employees don’t mind hearing pertinent instructions and questions. So why does their morale seem to be, well, wilting?

The problem might not be what you’re saying, but what you’re not saying. The good news is, with a few well-chosen words, you can nurture employee relationships and help their engagement blossom this spring.

In the midst of the everyday chaos of running a business, leaders often don’t think about what they could or should say to motivate their employees. Often, leaders assume that their employees know how they feel—about each person’s individual performance and about the company’s health in general. Usually, though, that’s not the case.

I speak from experience. For nearly two decades, I was instrumental in leading my family’s auto parts business, Autopart International, to new heights until it was finally bought by Advance Auto Parts in 2005. One of my most reliable growth strategies was proactively nurturing my employees’ attitudes about their jobs by engaging them in conversation. Now, I translate that experience into consulting with organizations to help them build corporate morale and promote greater productivity.

They’d never bring it up themselves, but there are certain phrases your employees really want to hear from you. Some have to do with affirmation; others center on encouragement, reassurance, respect, gratitude, or trust. When you verbalize these things—which takes only a few seconds of your time!—you will notice a big change in your employees’ motivation, commitment, and productivity.

If you start incorporating these phrases into your at-work vocabulary, your employees’ engagement will “blossom” this spring

“I need your help.” The age of rule-with-an-iron-fist, top-down leadership is fading fast. More and more, organizations in all industries are realizing that there’s an almost-magical power in the synergy of teams. Here’s how that applies to you: Your employees all have unique skill sets, experiences, and ideas—so tap into them!

Yes, your employees will be looking to you to steer your company in the right direction, but I promise, they know you’re human, and they don’t expect you to have all the answers. So the next time you’re facing a difficult decision or brainstorming options, ask your team for help. Rather than losing respect for you as a leader, they’ll appreciate that you treated them as valued partners—and they’ll feel more invested in your company’s future because they had more of a hand in creating it.

“How is your family?” The truth is, people don’t care how much you know (or how good you are at your job) until they know how much you care. Your employees will be more loyal and more motivated if they feel valued as individuals, not just as job descriptions. So get to know each team member on an individual basis and incorporate that knowledge into your regular interactions. For instance, if you know that John in Accounting has a daughter who’s applying to college, ask him which schools she’s considering. Or if Susanna in HR just came back from vacation, ask to see a few pictures.

Showing genuine interest and caring is the greatest motivator I know. When you dare to “get personal,” your employees’ desire to please you will skyrocket. That’s why, when I was leading my family’s company, I took advantage of every opportunity I could think of to let my people know I was thinking about them. I recommended books I thought they might enjoy. I sent motivational quotes to employees who might appreciate them. I attended all weddings, funerals, bar mitzvahs, and graduations I was invited to. And you know what? Not only did I fuel my employees’ engagement…I also formed a lot of meaningful relationships that continue to this day.

“What do you need from me?” Often, employees are anxious about asking the boss for what they need, whether it’s updated office equipment, more time to complete a project, advice, etc. They may fear a harsh response, want to avoid looking needy, or simply feel that it’s “not their place” to ask for more than you’ve already provided. By explicitly asking what you can give them, you extend permission for your people to make those requests—and they’ll certainly appreciate it.

Be sure to treat any requests you receive seriously. If you can’t give an employee what she asks for, explain why and work with her to find another solution. Either way, this question, and the conversations it sparks, can give you valuable insight regarding how to improve your company’s operations, facilities, and culture. It can also show you how to best develop and support individual team members.

“I noticed what you did.” Every day, your employees do a lot of “little” things that keep your company running smoothly and customers coming back: Refilling the copier with paper when it’s empty. Smiling at customers after each transaction. Double-checking reports for errors before sending them on. And so forth. Unfortunately, in many organizations, these everyday actions are taken for granted, which (understandably) has a negative effect on employee morale.

Your employees want to know that you notice and value the mundane parts of their jobs, not just the big wins and achievements. That’s why I recommend making it your mission to “catch” as many of your employees as possible in a good act. Then, point out exactly what it is about their behavior that you appreciate. Phrases like, “Sal, I’ve noticed that you always take such care to keep the file room neat. Thank you!” take about five seconds to say, but they can pay long-lasting dividends for your company in terms of morale and motivation.

“Thank you.” Yes, your employees may crave recognition for doing the mundane parts of their jobs, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t also appreciate a heartfelt “thank you” for bigger accomplishments. Whether it’s “Thanks for staying late last night,” “Thanks for being so patient with Mrs. Smith—I know she can be a difficult customer,” “Thank you for making our first-quarter marketing campaign a success,” or something else, your people will treasure your appreciation more than you realize.

People love to hear positive feedback about themselves, and in most cases, they’ll be willing to work a lot harder to keep the compliments and thanks coming. Praise, especially when it comes from an authority figure, is incredibly fulfilling. (And sadly, it’s also rare.) On that note, make sure that you praise and acknowledge your people in a positive way more often than you criticize them. That’s because negative feedback tends to stick in most people’s memories longer, so you need to counterbalance it.

“Hey, everyone—listen to what Riley accomplished!” Everybody loves to be recognized and complimented in front of their peers. So don’t stop with a “mere” compliment when an employee experiences a win—tell the rest of the team, too! Whether correctly or incorrectly, many employees feel that their leaders point out only their mistakes in front of the group, so make it your daily mission to prove that perception wrong.

When I was at Autopart International and I saw that one of my people did something noteworthy, I made sure that everyone else knew about it by emailing the story to the entire chain. I could literally see the glow on the highlighted employee’s face for weeks, and I also noticed that many of the other team members began to work even harder in order to earn a write-up themselves. Other successful recognition strategies included writing thank-you notes to my employees and publishing a company-wide monthly newsletter highlighting our “stars.” Sometimes, I would even call my employees’ homes to brag on them to their families!

“What would you like to do here?” Sure, you originally hired each of your employees to do specific jobs. But over time, your company has grown and changed—and so have your people. That’s why it’s a good idea to check in with each one of them periodically to ask what they’d like to be doing. You might be surprised to learn, for instance, that your administrative assistant would like to be included in the next marketing campaign design team. You might be even more (pleasantly!) surprised to find that her social media engagement ideas yield impressive results.

Annual performance reviews might be a good time to discuss this topic with your employees. No, you won’t always be able to accommodate every employee’s preferences. But whenever possible, keep job descriptions within your company fluid and allow your people to have a say in matching their skills to the company’s needs. This is one of the best ways I know to build loyalty and encourage your employees to really take ownership of their jobs. After all, they’ll have had a hand in designing them!

“I have bad news.” You certainly don’t mind sharing good news with your employees, but bad news is a different story. Your instinct might be to play down negative developments, or even keep them to yourself entirely. Nobody wants to be the person who says, “We’re going to have to eliminate some positions over the next six months,” or, “Unfortunately, our company can’t afford to provide raises or bonuses this year.”

Nevertheless, your employees deserve to hear the truth from you as soon as possible. They aren’t stupid and will be able to tell when something is “up” even if you don’t acknowledge it. By refusing to share bad news, you’ll only increase paranoia and anxiousness—neither of which are good for engagement or productivity. But when you treat your people like responsible adults by being honest and open, they will appreciate your transparency…and often, you’ll find that they’re willing to voluntarily double their efforts to help you turn the tide.

“What do you think?” Maybe you’ve never put much emphasis on the thoughts and opinions of your employees. After all, you pay them a fair wage to come to work each day and perform specific tasks. As a leader, it’s your job to decide what those tasks should be and how they should be carried out, right? Well, yes—strictly speaking. But this unilateral approach to leading your team sends the impression that you’re superior (even if that’s not your intent) and also contributes to disengagement.

Employees who are told what to do feel like numbers or cogs in a machine. Often, their performance will be grudging and uninspired. To unlock buy-in and achievement, make your employees feel like valued partners by asking them for their opinions, ideas, and preferences. Again, they’ll be much more invested in your organization’s success because they had an active part in creating it. And guess what? Your employees probably won’t care as much as you think they will if their suggestions don’t become reality. Mostly, they just want to know that their voice was heard by the people in charge.

“Here’s how our company works and where we stand.” In many companies, employees in Sales don’t know much about what’s happening in Accounting. Likewise, the folks in Accounting aren’t really familiar with how things in the warehouse work…and so on and so forth. Generally, this state of affairs doesn’t cause too many problems. But helping your employees make connections regarding how your company works from top to bottom will streamline internal processes, reduce misunderstandings, and promote team spirit.

Again, this is all about transparency and treating employees like partners. When you make a point of showing everyone how your business “works” and how their specific job descriptions fit into the overall “machinery,” you’ll find that us-versus-them thinking tends to decline, and that profit-minded solutions begin to proliferate.

At Autopart International, one of the best management decisions I ever made was showing my employees “the numbers” on a regular basis. I made sure that everyone understood the relationship between their performance and the bottom line—and thus their own pay. Several employees told me that my transparency prompted them to think more carefully about how their own everyday choices and efforts affected the bigger picture.

“That’s okay. We all make mistakes. Let’s talk about how to fix this.” In business, mistakes are going to happen. And in many instances, the impact they have on your company revolves around how you as a leader handle them. Sure, lambasting an employee who has dropped the ball may make you feel better in the short term, but it’ll negatively impact that employee’s self-confidence, relationship with you, and feelings for your company for much longer.

Don’t get me wrong: You shouldn’t take mistakes, especially those involving negligence, incompetence, or dishonesty, lightly. But when your employees have made an honest mistake, try to be as understanding with them as you would be with your own family members. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that the employee feels very bad already, and that yelling or lecturing won’t change the past. Instead, focus on figuring out what went wrong and how to keep it from happening again. Did the employee (or the company as a whole) learn something? Should a process or procedure be tweaked going forward to reduce the chances of something similar reoccurring?

Also, never forget that mistakes are an essential part of growth. The innovation and creativity it takes to grow a business will be accompanied by setbacks and slip-ups. You don’t want to create an environment where people don’t take potentially productive risks because they’re afraid you’ll get mad if they screw up.

“You deserve a reward.” Simple things like gratitude, respect, and autonomy make people far more happy than, say, big salaries and corner offices. However, he isn’t denying that more tangible rewards like bonuses, vacation time, prime parking spaces, benefits, and more have their place in raising employee engagement. The truth is, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an employee who doesn’t appreciate these things.

When resources allow, look for ways to reward your employees for their hard work. Remember, nobody wants to work for a Scrooge! At Autopart International, I thanked employees with everything from sports tickets to door prize drawings to lavish company parties to vacations on Martha’s Vineyard. I found that when I treated my employees like kings and queens, they worked extra-hard to be the recipients of these perks…and they were much more resistant to moving when offers to work for “the other guys” occasionally came their way.

“I know you can do it.” Of course you should try to hire employees who are confident and self-directed. But even the most self-assured individuals appreciate an explicit vote of confidence from their leaders!

Constantly challenge your people and push them to improve while reassuring them that you believe in them. Everyone, no matter how capable or experienced they are, appreciates encouragement. At Autopart International, I found that tying verbal votes of confidence to something more concrete—specifically, employees’ pay—was one of the best ways to motivate them.

Specifically, I told my employees that I believed in their ability to help our company grow—so much so that I wanted to introduce the concept of performance-based pay with no cap. I found that when a leader is willing to bet large amounts of money on employees’ potential achievements, those employees will work harder for you—and for themselves!—than you ever thought possible. With this strategy, everyone wins.

“This task is in your hands—I’m stepping back.” Most micromanaging leaders don’t set out to annoy or smother their employees. The problem is, they care—a lot!—and want to make sure everything is done just so and that no balls are dropped or opportunities missed. The problem is, excessive hovering can give employees the impression that you don’t trust them or have faith in them—a belief that actively undermines engagement.

Once you’ve delegated a task, step back and let your employees do what you’ve asked of them. Yes, I know that can be easier said than done. If you have to, lock yourself in your office or go for a walk around the building to keep yourself from hovering! It may also help to remind yourself that you hired each of your employees for a reason, that you have faith in their potential, and that if they do need help, they know where to find you.

Remember, business is always personal. Specifically, it’s about reaching and motivating each of your employees on a personal level so that they care about contributing to your organization’s ultimate success. This spring, which phrases will you be adding to your at-work vocabulary?

About the Author:

, author of Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In, Twelve Weeks to Finding Happiness: Boot Camp for Building Happier People, and Destination: Happiness: The Travel Guide That Gets You from Here to There, Emotionally and Spiritually (coming 2014), grew up in Needham, Massachusetts. After graduating from Tufts University, he joined the family business and spent the next eighteen years helping to grow it to new heights. After it was purchased by Advance Auto Parts in 2005, he was free to focus on his main passions: philanthropy and giving back to the community, spending time with family and friends, and helping more people learn how to be happy. Todd lives with his wonderful wife, Yadira, and their amazing son, Josh.

 

About the Books:

Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In (StepWise Press, 2011, ISBN: 978-0-9658261-9-8, $19.95) is available at bookstores nationwide, from major online booksellers, and at www.findinghappinessthebook.com.

 

Twelve Weeks to Finding Happiness: Boot Camp for Building Happier People (New Focus Press, 2012, ISBN: 978-0-9885092-0-7, $13.99) is available from Amazon.com.

 

Photography businesses can reduce taxes using excess inventory

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Business Success LogoIn the photography business, excess, nonmoving inventory is a common problem that contains its own solution.

By donating new, idle photography items to charity, businesses in the U.S. can earn a federal income tax deduction under Section 170 (e)(3) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code.

The IRS Code says that regular C corporations may deduct the cost of the inventory donated, plus half the difference between cost and fair market value.  Deductions may be up to twice-cost.

Let’s say you’re a retailer of photo equipment and you buy a film for $2.00.  Your price to the consumer is $4.50.  Your deduction is $3.25.  If the markup is considerably higher, deductions are limited to twice cost.

If you’re an S corporation, partnership, LLC or sole proprietorship, you qualify for a straight  cost deduction.

Even if your photo business realizes only a straight cost deduction, it may be to your advantage to donate your stagnant inventory rather than clear it through a liquidator.  Since liquidators look for the lowest price they can get, their offer may be less than your cost – substantially less.

Investigate donating inventory before negotiating with a liquidator, however, to be able to justify the product’s fair market value with the IRS.

Besides the tax deduction, your company can realize other benefits by donating excess inventory:

Help deserving nonprofits, schools and church organizations.  This good deed can translate into good will.  Consider a gifts-in-kind non profit organization that accepts product donations from businesses and redistribute those goods to qualified nonprofits, schools and church organizations.

To earn this deduction, make sure that the nonprofit recipient is a 501( c )(3), since only that IRS classification of nonprofits qualifies. Public or private (nonprofit) schools may also qualify to receive these goods.

Have your accountant or tax adviser instruct the recipient group as to what information it needs to include in the documentation it furnishes you as proof of the donation.

You will need to include the recipient’s letter on your corporate tax forms as support for claiming the deduction.

If you have a large quantity of product (a semi-trailer or more), instruct the recipient groups that under IRS regulations, donated merchandise may not be bartered, traded or sold.  Charities, schools or churches may not auction or sell donated merchandise to raise cash.

By Gary C. Smithwww.naeir.com

Business Success: There’s one in every crowd

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Business Success LogoIt’s great to work with highly talented people who are also kind and pleasant to be around. Nothing makes you appreciate those wonderful coworkers more than having to work with someone who isn’t so kind and pleasant. Some folks, in fact, are downright insufferable, and can make a workplace miserable. Since punching these people in the nose is pretty much never a good solution, what do you do?
Judith Orloff, MD, TED speaker and author of  The Ecstasy of Surrender: 12 Surprising Ways Letting Go Can Empower Your Life, offers some great suggestions on getting those not-so-easy personality types to work well with the rest of the team.
Five Difficult Workplace Types — and How to Get Them to Cooperate

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The workplace is filled with difficult personalities–bullies, know-it-alls, rumor mongers… Our fallback reaction when faced with problem people at work is to either assert ourselves or walk swiftly in the other direction.
But there’s a middle ground, a way of communicating that’s more effective, because it’s not rigid or oppositional. It’s about being fluid, surrendering to your intuition, and letting go of your need to push back or control the outcome. Your ability to go with the flow is really important when dealing with difficult people.
Here’s a look at some common difficult personality types, and how to deal with them.
The Narcissist. These types have an inflated sense of self-importance and entitlement, crave attention, and require endless praise. Some are obnoxious ego-maniacs, others can be quite charming. Both types know how to belittle you and make you serve them. First, let go of the belief that you can win them over with loyalty and love. Narcissists value control and power over love, and they lack empathy. Next, don’t make your self-worth dependent on them. Seek out supportive coworkers and colleagues instead. Finally, to get your goals met with narcissists, frame your request in ways they can hear — such as showing them how your request will be beneficial to them. Ego stroking and flattery also work.
The Passive-Aggressive. These types express anger while they’re smiling or showing exaggerated concern. They always maintain their cool, even if through clenched teeth. Start by trusting your gut reactions and the feeling that their behavior is hurtful. Say to yourself, “I deserve to be treated better and with more respect.” If the person is someone you can speak directly with — a team member as opposed to a boss — address the behavior specifically and directly. You could say, for example, “I would greatly appreciate it if you remembered our meeting time. My time’s very valuable, as is yours.” If the person doesn’t or won’t change, you can decide whether to accept their behavior or not.
The Gossip. Gossipy busybodies delight in talking about others behind their backs, putting them down, and spreading harmful rumors. They also love to draw others into their toxic conversations. Start by letting go of your need to please everyone or control what they say. Then be direct. Say, “Your comments are inconsiderate and hurtful. How would you like people talking about you like that?” You can also refuse to participate by simply changing the subject. Don’t share intimate information with gossip mongers. And finally, don’t take gossip personally. Realize that gossips aren’t happy or secure. Do what you can to rise to a higher place, and ignore them.
The Anger Addict. Rageaholics deal with conflict by accusing, attacking, humiliating, or criticizing. Let go of your reactivity. Take a few short breaths to relax your body. Count to 10. Pause before you speak. If they’re spewing verbal venom at you, imagine that you’re transparent and their words are going right through you. To disarm an anger addict, acknowledge their position, and then politely say you have a slightly different approach you’d like to share. Request a small, doable change that can meet your need. Then clarify how it will benefit the relationship. Finally, empathize. Ask yourself what pain or inadequacy might be making this person act so angry.
The Guilt Tripper. These workplace types are world-class blamers, martyrs, and drama queens. They know how to make you feel terrible about something by pressing your insecurity buttons. Start by surrendering the notion that you have to be perfect. Everyone makes mistakes, so if the guilt tripper is scolding you, you can simply apologize or take responsibility, and that will shut them down. Also, know your guilt buttons. If there’s something you feel bad about, you can work on being compassionate with yourself so you’ll feel stronger when this difficult coworker tries to push that particular button. Finally, set limits with the guilt tripper. Tell them you can see their point of view, but that it hurts your feelings when they say those things, and you’d be grateful if they stopped saying it.

Business Success: Know where to go

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Business Success LogoI love my job, so when a flier came home from my son’s school asking parents to come in and talk about what they do for Career Day, I was one of the first to sign up. In preparing for my presentation, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I want to say. I hope to communicate to the kids that success means more than just making money, and that you have to figure out not only what you want to do with your life, but also how to get there.

Although intended for grown-ups already well into their careers, this week’s Business Success column, by Jeff Gitterman, offers some interesting advice along similar lines (and you can be sure I’ll be stealing some of this for Career Day!)

Setting Goals

As a financial advisor, I often tell my clients that the most important investment they can ever make is that of their energy and

Jeff Gitterman

Jeff Gitterman

attention in their future, as I’ve seen first-hand what happens when people learn to consciously direct their thoughts toward the future they want to create.  When I give seminars, I’ll often ask people, “What are you going to do differently this year than you did last year?” and I often get a kind of blank look in response.  ”I’m going to make more money.” “I’m going to see more potential clients.”  But when I ask them what they will do differently, they often ask, “What do you mean?”

There is a well known definition of insanity, which is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  And when I say doing the same thing, I mean at the most fundamental level–with regard to how we spend our attention and energy.  The human mind is like a bio-computer that is continually processing input and output, and so, whatever we put in is understandably what we’ll get out.  Put in junk and we’ll get junk.  But put in good programs, and we’ll get good results.

A metaphor I like to use is that of my car and its built-in navigation system.  If I want to go to the city to meet a new client, I can enter the address and the system guides me–turn right, turn left, drive straight ahead for three miles.  This has certainly made driving much easier over the last several years, but I still have to program the navigation system with a destination in order to get where I want to go.  In a way, our subconscious mind is a like a navigation system.  It’s constantly giving us directions, but if we haven’t plugged in the right address with our conscious mind, then we’re going to be going in circles.

The good news is that visualizing and learning to redirect our future is not as difficult as some people might think.  The first step is to create a two-minute movie in your head of you in the future, being the person that you always wanted to be, and imagining that money is not an obstacle in any way.  The second step then requires five minutes a night, before you go to bed.  Spend a minute or two in meditation and/or doing some type of relaxation technique—anything that will best help you to focus.  Then, once you feel centered and grounded, play your movie in your head.

There’s an old saying, “act as if,” or, as we often say, “fake it till you make it.”  Your movie has to be a snapshot of a day in the life of you, playing bigger in the world: where and what you do at work, the relationships you have, the house you live in, the car you drive, etc.  What does that vision look like three to five years out in a perfect day in the life of you?  And then give it up to the Universe because in all likelihood that vision, while it may come true, will find reasons to change and grow as you make it bigger and better.  We need to give our energy a direction to move in.  It’s critical that we do that.  Otherwise, we flounder.  It’s like getting in our car without a navigation system and driving around with no idea where we’re going.

Go from morning to night and make it as sensory as possible.  Add as much detail as you can–objectively and subjectively.  Whatever it is, it should be you living your fullest expression–and filled with happiness as you do what you love to do. Then play your movie every night for thirty days, because this is how long many people believe it takes for a new habit to form in the subconscious mind.  For example, if you smoke once, it probably won’t become a habit, but if you smoke for thirty days you’re most likely hooked.

I can’t stress this point enough: if we don’t believe that our thoughts are creating the life we’re living and that we are the principal authors of our own destinies, writing our own stories every day, we’ll remain helpless audience members watching our lives go by.   The visualization process gives us something far more useful to focus on than the old counter-productive messages of our minds, and over time, you’ll be amazed how quickly our outer worlds will begin to change once we’ve learned how to rewrite our scripts.

Jeff Gitterman is an award winning financial advisor and the CEO of Gitterman & Associates Wealth Management, LLC. www.gawmllc.com.  He is also the co-founder of Beyond Success, www.BeyondSuccessConsulting.com, a consulting firm that brings more holistic values to the world of business and finance.  He is also the author of Beyond Success: Redefining the Meaning of Prosperity, published by the American Management Association (AMACOM).

Business Success: Hire eagles, not turkeys

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Business Success LogoYou don’t need to be told how important it is to hire the right people. But intending to hire well, and actually doing it, are two very different things. Hiring the right person begins with asking the right questions at the interview.

This week, Mark Faust, Growth Advisor at Echelon Management and author of Growth or Bust! Proven Turnaround 
Strategies To Grow Your Business, explains what questions to ask at those all-important interviews.

How to Interview & Hire Great People  mark-faust-gob

Interviewing is one of the most important skills in management — yet have you ever taken a class, or even read a book, on how to do it effectively? Below are many of the most important areas and specific questions  to ask of every candidate you are looking to hire.

My first boss told me, “Mark, people are either turkeys or eagles, and they pretty much stay that way all their lives. Don’t hire people that have been a turkey at any of their positions, hoping they won’t be a turkey for us. Only hire eagles that have been eagles all their lives. You can do that by asking about their every job.”

Here are the best questions for the experience side of the interview:

  • In just the next 10 minutes, tell me about every job you’ve ever had, with increasing detail as we get to the present.
  • Most liked job? Least? Why?
  • Work responsibilities normally expected of you but that you found least satisfying?
  • What do you want to avoid in your next job?
  • When considering different opportunities, what things are you looking for?
  • Would you explain how you came to leave your last few jobs?
  • What compliments have you received for your good work?
  • What criticisms have you received? How’d you feel? Were they fair?
  • What type of training or coaching would you most benefit from?
  • What kind of supervision brings out the best in you?
  • How would you rate your previous bosses? Best? Worst?
  • Describe two of your biggest accomplishments and two of your biggest disappointments in your career.
  • Describe what you consider to be the ideal job for you.

Next, you must discern how this person will tackle their prospective role. Here are sample questions for this facet of the interview:

  • How would you manage yourself in this role?
  • What would be your measures of weekly and monthly success that would lead to the annual production targets?
  • What do you feel are your greatest strengths? Why?
  • When have you been the most bored? Why?

You need to understand the whole person. These questions to get the personal side and their support system:

  • What does your spouse think are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • How does your spouse feel about the work you have been involved in?
  • Have you had a chance to discuss this position with your spouse? What do they think about this opportunity?
  • In what group activities are you involved? Leadership roles?
  • When you took your present job, what were your goals? How have they changed?
  • What type position would you like to hold several years down the road? What are you aiming for eventually? How do you plan to get there?
  • What level of income do you hope to be earning in 2 years? 5 years?
  • What do you most need to get out of this job in regards to: pay? Other?
  • How flexible are you to work extra if needed?
  • Are there any hours you wouldn’t be available?
  • Ask candidates about each critical success factor you feel is key to them successfully staying on for years to come.

Lastly, be sure to always check references.

Becoming a masterful interviewer will help you successfully grow any business.

Business Success: Find your “mini-me”

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Business Success LogoOf course you’re a good leader — you wouldn’t be where you are now if you weren’t. But one of the potential pitfalls of being a good leader is leading too much, and not allowing the “mini-leaders” around you to reach their own potential, and limiting your own business growth along the way.

Here, Doug Williamson is CEO  of The Beacon Group, a Toronto-based firm that specializes in Organizational Transformation and Effectiveness programs as well as Talent Identification and Leadership Development, explains how to avoid that costly mistake.

Creating Followers

Leaders in the workplace are always aiming to achieve the benefits, stature and even glamor of being a “real” leader – the person who calls all the shots and creates a visionary plan to boost revenues. Doug Williamson

How can you blame them? It’s all they’ve ever read about. It’s all they ever see in the workplace. Perhaps it’s even the behavior you project as a leader yourself.

Being the stereotypical leader is the easiest way to stand out, the easiest way to be noticed and the easiest way to move up. Everyone speaks that language.

Who would want to be a follower anyway?

The Fact is leadership, as we know it, is about the individual. It’s about guiding the sheep, if you can put it in those words.

The Problem is that this idea of leadership leaves out the contributions of many others. Worse, it blocks leaders from noticing other leaders.

The Outcome is a company that becomes dependent on the ideas, values and direction of a single person or group of powerful leaders.

The Solution is to consider the less glamorous role of Followers in your organization and assess their condition. Are they detached? Will they question your leadership? Will they follow you in every action you take?

Building Leaders

This is a much talked about subject.

One of the central roles of leadership is to build other leaders. However, individuals are often so focused on themselves and their vision for the company or business, that they forget how to deal with upcoming talent.

The people you’re leading can play vital roles in organizing smaller projects, smaller groups and smaller ideas. They can mobilize entire components of your vision or they can be ignored and become isolated and detached. Just because they don’t stand out in an outspoken fashion, doesn’t mean they should be disregarded.

Forget about nurturing them. Have you even noticed your “mini-leaders”?

You know exactly who we’re talking about

You know exactly who these people are. They are the implementers. Those who sit quietly in meetings, gather all the information and spring into action when the plan is set.

They are everywhere. You see them every day. But, they don’t scream individualism.

They may not come up with the latest and greatest ideas, but this doesn’t indicate that they don’t have the power to guide the fortunes of your organization.

And you better see it before it becomes a problem.
It’s a theme that author Barbara Kellerman in her book “Followership” repeats. Kellerman points to 5 types of Followers: Isolates, Bystanders, Participants, Activists and Diehards.

It’s not difficult to see where this is going. Followers are categorized from most despondent to most active in your organization. For example, think of Isolates as the average Canadian voter – I mean those “voters” who don’t actually show up to the polls – as Kellerman describes. They are detached, perhaps frustrated with their environment, but unwilling to take steps to correct the situation.

Bystanders and Participants offer higher levels of involvement, but won’t follow your lead unconditionally. Needless to say, Activists and Diehards contribute significantly more to your overall success and the projects you initiate – if they’re on your side.

The next generation

The most important part of this new approach to leadership is that it is designed specifically to fit with the flood of Gen Y employees arriving in the workplace.

While the term “Followership” may seem negative, Gen Y employees expect something a bit deeper than absolute leadership. They want their own little workplace kingdom to oversee and they want to be sure that they are contributing to the organization in a very real way. Understanding the concept of Followership provides a shortcut to achieving this goal.

How to create Followership behavior in your organization

Identify and Nurture – If you look at your top leaders on a regular basis, you should also be looking to categorize your Followers. Who are the Isolates, the Activists, the Diehards? Identify what you want from each of these groups and develop a plan to move them from one level to the next.

The Flip Side – Different kinds of Followers can challenge a leader’s ideas or vision in different ways. Generally, a healthy guideline is to allow for some critical feedback from your colleagues. Ensure that you build a diversity of Followers in every category to be challenged from a multitude of perspectives.

Building Leaders – Your group of Followers provides an excellent pool for leadership candidates. They’re not all leaders, but by turning them into effective Followers you’re already constructing their leadership complex within their domain.

 

Business Success: Review of you

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Business Success LogoHow are you doing?

I don’t mean to ask if you’re feeling well today — although I hope you are. What I mean is, how are you doing in your business? Are you effective? Do you communicate well? What do your customers think of you? Where will your business be tomorrow? Are you a good boss? 

Before you answer, think for a moment. How do you really know how you’re doing? In today’s Business Success column, retailing expert Tom Shay of Profits Plus suggests a powerful — if somewhat intimidating — way to find the answer to those questions: let your employees review you.

Giving the Boss a Job Review

Many progressive retailers have an established procedure for the evaluation of their employees. In many businesses, it tom_shay_av_shadowwill go something like this: a new hire is given an initial pay rate. He or she is told that salary reviews are given every six or twelve months. A job description details his or her responsibilities, and in many cases there is also a job-specific list that details how to perform certain tasks.

Many of these businesses also utilize a policy and procedure manual that outlines many items such as vacation, dress code, and other areas of concern to all employees. The next bit of information is what few businesses have. That is a written explanation of how the next salary review will be graded. It is a form that gives a logical listing of the areas in which an employee is reviewed. No matter how many areas you detail, if you grade on a one-to-ten scale and tell the employee what the “passing grade” is, there can be no question as to whether or not the employee is entitled to his or her next pay raise.

Truly, these are ideas that the progressive business has in place, and these are usually the businesses whose employees demonstrate the highest skills and are most qualified to take care of customers. So, we have covered one of the areas of concern for most businesses, right? And the lines of communication between employer and employee are well established, right? Not quite. Communication is a two-way street, and so far we have clearly defined what we anticipate from employees.

What if you asked your employees how they felt you were performing as an owner? How many of them would give you an honest answer? This is not to suggest that you are going to turn over control of your business to your employees, but employees are just like everyone else — they feel better if they know their opinions matter. If they feel better, not only will you and your customers feel better, but also you will profit from your actions.

Like the employee-review scenario we described, a similar situation can be created for your job. During one of your staff meetings, hand each of your employees a sheet of paper entitled, “The job description for … (formerly known as ‘boss’).” Ask them to fill in the blank, and then numbering the left side of the page from one to ten, write down what they believe are the ten most important things you do. You will probably have to provide them with a list that details your jobs, such as creating the financial sheets, payroll, open to buys, long-range planning, scheduling, and all the other behind-the-scenes tasks you perform.

As they complete their forms, if you feel they will be uncomfortable about giving their lists to you, let them identify themselves by a code. Salespeople put an “S” on the upper-right corner of the sheet, warehouse staff a “W,” and continuing with each of the various departments and types of jobs your staff has. As you compile this list, you will most likely see a pattern of what your employees feel is important to them.

Should their list of important items become your list of important items? To some degree, no. But as to the appearance you have before your employees, the answer will be a resounding yes! To demonstrate that you are serious about having a job evaluation from your employees, tabulate these initial inputs and create a score sheet.

Post the results so everyone can see the results of their joint efforts. Then sit down with your key people; and, using all the score sheets, create a job description for yourself.

You may even get a new job title from this meeting — you will have a job description just like everyone else in your business. With the same frequency as your employees, ask every employee to rate your performance using the same scale for yourself as you do for them. You may have a large enough business that there are several employees with whom you rarely have contact, but it remains important that they know you are concerned about their opinions.

Allow your supervisors to tabulate the score from your job evaluations and sit with them to review your performance. If you do not have a level of comfort with this select group of employees, you will surely create one quickly. As they provide you with the results of the review, ask for further information on areas where your efforts are in need of improvement. One way to make sure this event occurs in a positive manner is to require that any criticism given must be followed by a definitive suggestion for improvement of that particular concern.

You may find that you will even allow your supervisors to give suggestions for your pay raise. Just make sure that you and the supervisors understand that your salary is as the owner of the business. Your salary cannot include the expected return on investment that you have in your inventory, fixtures, and building. That return on investment is reserved for the stockholders; and during this job review, you are not the stockholder, but the owner/manager or whatever title on which you and your supervisors decide.

Does this idea work? Absolutely! And be prepared to enjoy a camaraderie and working atmosphere that you never thought possible.

Tom Shay, CSP is a fourth generation small business owner providing proven management and business building ideas through his Profits Plus Seminars, Profits Plus Solutions coaching, books authored, and articles written. Tom can be reached at 727-464-2182 or through his web site: www.profitsplus.org.

 

Business Success: First quarter teetering? You can still save it

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Business Success LogoIf your first quarter numbers aren’t looking as good as you’d hoped, don’t despair just yet – Suzanne Evans might just have the answer for you. Here, the author of The Way You Do Anything Is the Way You Do Everything: The Why of Why Your Business Isn’t Making More Money explains how five simple steps can save this quarter from tanking.

The Last-Minute First-Quarter Save: Five Tactics to Help You Snatch Record Profits from the Jaws of Defeat

Like many business owners, you rang in 2014 with great optimism. This was supposed to be the year you moved results to the next level. So, when you sat down at your desk this morning and saw the big gap between your projected Q1 goals and your current reality, you nearly spit out your coffee. What you thought would catch fire…didn’t. That big product launch, marketing strategy, or customer engagement plan you knew was a sure thing appears to be sliding into a death spiral. As you envision sand slipping through your end-of-quarter hourglass, you can’t help but wonder: How am I ever going to turn this around?

Take a deep breath and maybe one more steadying sip of coffee. I have some advice to help you snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Suzanne Evans

Suzanne Evans

This is not the time to panic, even if every instinct in your body is urging you to. Wringing your hands won’t salvage the numbers. Nor will whiny excuses that begin with “But the economy….”

No, now is the time to shake it off, get back in the proverbial saddle, and work smarter than ever. You really can salvage this quarter and maybe even blaze through it with record profits—but you’ve really got to stay relentless.

I’m not dispensing feel-good advice; I’m speaking from experience. In four years, I went from an unfulfilling secretarial job to founding a business-coaching firm that has surpassed the seven-figure mark and is on the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing companies.

I teetered on the brink of disaster many times as I was starting my company. Instead of “launching” it, I often felt like I was frantically giving it CPR. But I always turned things around—and so can you.

Here, I share five ways to keep your Q1 Report from going up in smoke:

Get that one darn thing done—as soon as possible. Profits are created from a series of actions: new products launched, clients contacted, etc. Like the components of a Mouse Trap game, each action adds up, and eventually, you gain enough momentum to capture success. But here’s the catch: You’ll never achieve that critical mass unless you complete enough of those actions in time—and with the end of Quarter One looming ever closer, the clock is ticking.

Get in the habit of constantly asking yourself, What’s the one action I need to take right now that will make the biggest difference in actually achieving my goal? And then, get that one darn thing done as soon as possible. Action breeds action. And a series of effective actions, one after the other, can add up to big-time revenue in record time. Really.

Figure out what you care about vs. what you couldn’t care less about. Nothing causes your profit line to hemorrhage faster than giving energy to things that just don’t matter. That’s often what happens when you first realize you’re not on track to meet your targets. For instance, the thought of confronting dissatisfied clients and bringing them back on board seems too overwhelming — so you organize your email inbox instead.

Checking minor, busy-work tasks off your list can make you feel like you’re making a difference, but you’re just fooling yourself. The ability to turn around a lackluster profit picture almost always rests on distinguishing between what will make a difference—and what won’t. When you put too much attention on the latter…congratulations! You’ve just assured that your disappointment will compound, and that you’ll have to come up with some really creative excuses to explain why.

Don’t quit. Yes, this piece of advice seems obvious. But it’s also one of the things businesses (and individuals) ignore most often. When a disappointing or painful setback happens, many businesses simply stop. They aren’t willing to push beyond it, and they don’t realize that the very setback that has stalled them might also be the doorway to success.

When I advise you not to quit, I’m not saying that you should blindly throw all your energy at a goal. Instead, I’m encouraging you to see failure as another step in your stairway to success. Failure is painful, but if you’re willing to listen, failure will also tell you exactly where you went wrong. With a little ingenuity, you can turn your mistakes around, patch the holes in your plan, and plot your path to the profit you want.

Handle your emotions (or they will handle you). Staring down the Road to Ruin (or at least the Path to a Miserable First Quarter) isn’t fun. It’s depressing, stressful, terrifying, and when you’ve spent a ton of time getting something together that you thought would be great, but wasn’t, it can be devastating. But letting yourself wallow is a huge mistake. If your emotions don’t paralyze you or prompt you to give up, they’ll skew your perspective and push you into making the kind of panicked decisions that lead to financial disaster.

Emotional business management almost always puts you on the fast track to failure. If you need to nudge your revenues back up to where they should be, you can’t afford to see the world as you wish it was, or as you fear it might be. Instead, you need to formulate a plan that’s based on clear, unadorned reality.

And then you need to trust your gut. Far too many well-meaning people are convinced that logic must rule. They wait for an absolute answer…and wait and wait and wait. Waiting for that absolute is what stops them. Trust that you know when you know better. If you feel in your gut that your currently struggling customer referral program will pick up steam, then stick with it. If your gut is telling you it’s time for another approach, then make that your focus. But don’t let your emotions pin you to the spot you’re standing in right now.

Stop being realistic. You can see that at their current rate, your profits aren’t going to meet your projections. What’s your first impulse? If you’re like most people, you’ll get “realistic” and start scaling those projections down. Good idea. If you enjoy watching huge amounts of money going up in flames right before your eyes, being realistic is often the best way to do it.

Okay, let me clarify. If you want to stay in business, you have to be realistic about what your resources are and about what you can reasonably and legally accomplish. But you don’t have to be realistic about how you achieve those goals. In fact, throwing prudence and “the way we’ve always done things” out the window can be the fastest path to turning disappointment into dollars.

For example, a few years ago, my company got a late start on promoting an event that would be pivotal to our future. We knew that realistically there was no way to catch up. So we got unrealistic, fast, by offering our partners a 100 percent commission for every referred ticket sale. Talk about unreasonable! But guess what happened? Our database went through the roof. Confirmed attendees doubled in a matter of weeks. The event’s attendance nearly tripled from the previous year. And revenues from sales at the event exceeded all expectations.

You’ve spent hours, days, weeks (and more!) formulating a strategy to ensure your business’s growth. For a while, things went according to plan. But now, as the numbers clearly demonstrate, kinks have crept into the system. That much is undeniable—but it doesn’t mean that turning your first quarter around is a hopeless task.

Ever see a construction site? It’s a hot mess! There’s mud. Equipment. Wires. Concrete and steel sticking up every which way. The thing is, underneath all that disorder is a blueprint that will deliver a beautiful building once every component of the “mess” has found its proper place. Likewise, a profit plan that seemingly dissolves into a mess might really be a vibrant future with an “Under Construction” sign hanging from it. Know this: Just because things look messy right now, doesn’t mean that things are a mess. And overthinking a plan that was fine a few weeks ago is the surest way to ensure that the future you’ve planned never happens. If you press on, you might find that this “mess” is actually the embryo of “success.”

Business Success: Is it getting hot in here?

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Business Success LogoSometimes things get really bad, really fast, and that’s tough. But tougher still might be when things get bad slowly, by slight degrees at a time — because when that happens, instead of addressing the problem immediately, we often just make little adjustments here and there, until we’ve finally adjusted ourselves into a problem so big it can no longer be fixed.
In this Business Success column, leadership and organizational development consultant and author Stephen Balzac of 7 Steps Ahead explains how to get out of hot water, before it reaches the boiling point.

 Boiling the Frog

There is an old and hoary claim that if you put a frog in boiling water, it will immediately jump out, but if you put itStephen Balzac LR in cold water and slowly increase the temperature, the frog will sit there until it cooks. In fact, this happens only if the frog is equipped with little frog cement galoshes rendering it unable to jump: frogs are too smart to be boiled alive. They leave long before the water gets hot enough to cook them. Why, then, does this story have such longevity?

In my experience in the high tech world, I often find that they are sitting in some very hot water indeed. One might think that they would have noticed the warning signs as the heat increased, but apparently not. In fact, they are tolerating, or even accepting as normal, conditions that leave outsiders shocked. Rarely did conditions start off as bad as they became; rather, they became worse and worse over time until the water was boiling. This can make it difficult to recruit new talent or to keep the people whom they do manage to hire. It also means that a tremendous amount of effort is being expended on merely surviving the environment and preventing burnout instead of on productive activities.

It appears, therefore, that while frogs have the sense to get out of the hot water, people do not. Now, most people are smarter than frogs. What’s going on?

For one, frogs do not show off how well they can handle being boiled alive. At high-tech companies, however, what frequently happens is that dealing with an unreasonable situation is seen as a sign of toughness or dedication to the company. Over time, a culture develops which celebrates and perpetuates that purported toughness. In jujitsu, I hear all the time from people who tell me that they had to give up falling because they just couldn’t tough it out anymore. In fact, it almost invariably turns out that they never learned to fall correctly in the first place and that’s why it now hurts too much to continue. Assuming that they just had to “tough it out” prevented them from recognizing and fixing mistakes early, before they were ingrained as bad habits.

Now it’s certainly true that overcoming a difficult or stressful situation feels good: it increases feelings of competence and self-efficacy. There is, however, a difference between overcoming and enduring. Mountain climbers overcome challenges, they don’t merely endure them. Enduring is fine, so long as it moves you toward a goal. Unfortunately, what far too many people choose to endure is, in fact, not moving toward anything except burnout and failure.

Another issue is that people respond to a situation by checking to see how others are responding: if it looks as though others are tolerating the situation, the instinctive response is to attempt to tolerate it as well. Thus, each person assumes that he or she is the only one uncomfortable, while, in reality, no one is happy. Ironically the harder team members work to avoid letting down the rest of the team, the more the team lets down its members and the company.

Of course, in true frog-boiling tradition, if the situation gradually worsens, we often don’t realize just how bad it is getting. It’s not until the environment undergoes a major change or we take a vacation that we realize just how dysfunctional things are.  Like sitting in an awkward position, it’s often not obvious how sore you are until you move.

So how can you recognize that you’re being boiled alive?

  • One of the best methods is to solicit the opinions of trusted outsiders. Bring in someone you can trust to be frank with you and ask for feedback. If the person thinks the work environment is unacceptable, bring in one or two more people. If all of you agree, odds are that you need to make some changes.
  • Look at your hiring results: if you are unable to recruit and retain top talent, don’t assume there’s something wrong with them; try to see the company from their perspective. If you can’t do that, you’re in hot water.
  • How are your employees behaving? Are they happy, enthusiastic, motivated by enjoyment of their jobs? Or are they tired, irritable, always trudging through the day, motivated by fear of being fired? If it’s the latter, or if you can’t tell the difference, that’s a bad sign.

The price you pay for living in boiling water is wasted energy and reduced productivity. Especially today, few businesses can afford that.

Business Success: Relationships? Get real

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Business Success LogoIt seems like all you ever read about (or in my case, all I ever write about) these days is the importance of interacting with potential customers, clients and partners on social media. No one can deny the vital role of these digital tools in business — but let’s be honest: they can only go so far. When it comes to building real relationships, there is nothing more powerful than face-to-face interactions. (To quote Fred Lerner of Mailpix, “It’s at the receptions and in the hallways at PMA events where real business gets done!)

But how do you make an impression on the people who can help your business grow? In today’s Business Success column, Andrew Sobel, co-author of the new book, Power Relationships: 26 Irrefutable Laws for Building Extraordinary Relationships, shares a few of those laws and how to apply them.

You Can’t Tweet Your Way to the C-Suite: The Irrefutable Laws You Must Obey to Forge Power Relationships

Andrew Sobel

Andrew Sobel

It seems like we’re all just a click away from communicating with the most influential people in our industries. We can get “linked in” to potential employers across the country. We can be Facebook friends with former colleagues we haven’t spoken to in years. The degrees of separation between us and the movers and shakers have collapsed. And yet, are any of these so-called relationships real? Will any of these online connections actually go out on a limb to help you? Will they actually take an interest in your success? And ultimately, will they get you to where you want to go? Probably not. The acquisition of hundreds of social media contacts and endless but superficial networking have replaced the cultivation of deep, meaningful relationships with clients, colleagues, and even with friends and family. It’s not just the distraction of social media that is getting in the way. It is genuinely tougher than it’s ever been to build the trusted relationships you need to thrive in your career. Getting in front of C-suite executives and real influencers is incredibly difficult. They could fill 24 hours of every day with meetings. Trying to connect on LinkedIn or cold emailing them won’t do the trick.

Just as an airplane must respect the laws of physics in order to fly, your behaviors must align with certain laws if you want to build the critical relationships you need to succeed. Forming such relationships comes with four major challenges:

  • To connect with people who are crazy-busy and have put up walls to protect their time.
  • To become relevant to senior executives and other influencers who won’t give you a second chance if the first conversation doesn’t light a spark.  
  • To resonate with others on an emotional level and create a deep personal connection that brings you into their inner circle.
  • To make an impact and leave an indelible mark on those most important to you at work and at home.

In Power Relationships: 26 Irrefutable Laws for Building Extraordinary Relationships, my coauthor, Jerold Panas and I set out the relationship laws that determine the success or failure of your most critical professional relationships. These 26 laws provide powerful insights into how to connect at the top and build deep, trusted relationships with key influencers. To help put the laws to work, we have also written a 90-page accompanying workbook, Power Relationships Personal Planning Guide that contains dozens of summaries and application worksheets. (It’s available only at www.andrewsobel.com and it’s free for anyone who buys the book.)

Heed Power Relationships’ laws and you’ll be much better equipped to connect, become relevant, resonate, and make an impact. When you follow these 26 relationship laws, your network will grow rapidly. Prospects will become eager buyers. You’ll be seen by clients as a trusted partner rather than an expense to be managed. And you’ll find the people around you eager to help you succeed. When you ignore the laws, however, it’s like pushing water uphill. Relationship building will seem like very hard work—even fruitless. Below, I focus on two of the challenges—to connect and to become relevant. Mastering both of these challenges is step one to building power relationships. Without learning how to effectively connect and show your relevance, you’ll never be able to get your foot in the door to build a long-term relationship with important people.

CHALLENGE #1: Connect with the Super-Busy

 Executives are overwhelmed with demands on their time. Especially if they are at a senior level, everyone wants something from them. Connecting with prospects and clients—pulling them out of their routine and getting their attention—is a huge challenge that’s only getting tougher. Here are two of the relationship laws that can help you make the connection:

• Follow the person, not the position. (Law 3) Here’s a story about a client who was promoted into the C-suite at her Fortune 100 company after having been the deputy in her area for many years. During that time, the advisors and suppliers to her company had rarely spent time with her or invited her to their special events, preferring to focus on her boss, who controlled the budget. On the day her promotion was announced to the press, she suddenly got dozens of calls from these suppliers—all wanting to now do business with her. And do you know what she asked them? Where were you five years ago? Truly important people often bring their advisors and trusted suppliers along with them over the years. While it is not impossible to break into someone’s inner circle after they have achieved great success, it’s also not an easy task. Use Law 3 and your job will become much easier. Build relationships with smart, motivated, interesting, and ambitious people, even if they’re not in an important job right now. Follow them throughout their careers.

• Make them curious. (Law 18) When someone is curious, they reach toward you. They’re eager to take the next step. When you evoke curiosity, you create a gravitational pull that is irresistible. You create curiosity and reach by showing just a bit of the glitter of the gold you have to offer your client. Say the unexpected. Surprise the other person with your candid answer to a tough question. Shake up their thinking by showing them a side to their problem they had not considered. I once found myself halfway around the world, with only five minutes to convince a skeptical CEO that his company should hire me. A 45-minute meeting had been shortened to just five minutes. So what did I do? I used Law 18. I threw out the conventional sales wisdom and evoked the CEO’s curiosity by bluntly mentioning several important risks his new initiative faced. None of his own people had raised these with him. He sat up in his chair and leaned toward me, suddenly engaged. The meeting ended up lasting 15 minutes, and I got the sale.

CHALLENGE #2: Light the Spark That Makes You Relevant

The second big challenge is showing how you are relevant to the other person.

• Walk in their shoes. (Law 9)  I tell the story of an investment banker who arrives at his client’s office in the middle of a large deal. He is so oblivious to his clients’ state—they’ve been working all weekend in a small conference room—that he grabs the last remaining bacon sandwich on a tray, effectively stealing his client’s lunch. That executive became the chief financial officer of his company, and the banker was banned from doing business with them for over a decade. Our friend the banker could have avoided 10 years in the wilderness if he had done a very simple exercise: to imagine what it’s like to walk in his client’s shoes. Being relevant isn’t always about the big, crucial, money-making ideas. Sometimes it’s about showing people that you “get” their needs on the most fundamental level. You know what pressures they’re under, what they’re feeling, and yes, how hungry and tired they are. When you can walk in their shoes in small ways, you can also do it in bigger ways.

Become part of your clients’ growth and profits, and they’ll never get enough of you. (Law 22) Of course, the flip side of this law is that if clients view you as an expense to be managed, they’ll cut you at any time. When there’s a downturn, or when clients are under financial pressures, they focus on cutting discretionary expenses. But they won’t cut an investment that’s proven to help grow revenues or increase profits. And you should be such an investment.

When you’re working with clients, you have to clearly show how you are supporting their growth and profits. A client can replace a commodity “expert for hire” at any time—perhaps with a cheaper expert. But a provider who is seen as contributing to a client’s most essential programs is not easily replaceable. Their cost is framed against a much larger set of benefits. To use an analogy, would you debate your doctor’s fee for what you perceive as lifesaving advice the same way you might ask for a discount from your plumber? Probably not!

To be seen as part of growth and profits, you have to show how your products and services are helping your client achieve his or her highest-level goals. A good starting point is a very simple question: How are you going to be evaluated at the end of the year? Then, you can ask a second, related question: How do your individual goals support the organization’s overall strategy and key priorities for this year? Once you understand their critical priorities, you can begin to demonstrate how you can help further them. Incidentally, another law in Power Relationships—Law 5—leads you to understand exactly what these higher-level growth goals are. It states, simply: Know the other person’s agenda and help them accomplish it. Nothing makes you more relevant than showing how you are aligned with one or more of the other person’s personal priorities.

Relationships cannot be formed with the snap of your fingers or the click of a mouse. Building them takes time and effort. You have to provide a compelling answer to the question, Why should I spend my scarce time with you? Once you’ve tackled the challenges of connecting and showing how you’re relevant, you can move on to the other two—resonating and making an impact. But not before. Try to put the cart before the horse, and no one will ever hear you.