Tuesday, April 24, 2018

4 Ways to Stop Your Team from Falling Apart

There are times in every supervisor's work life that you can feel everything going off the rails -- projects don't sync up as they should, laughter feels forced within your team, and the energy levels are low.


While it may feel like everything is falling apart at the seams, and you're not sure what you can do, don't give up! There are ways to bring teamwork back to your team, but it will take some work to rebuild trust between team members and realign your focus to the future.


Even the most high-performing teams have moments of doubt that can be introduced by stress or fear. These negative emotions could overtake a team or its leader, but the first step is re-imagining the future and then casting that vision to your team. 


Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure


While it may be too late if your team has already entered a downward spiral, preventing negativity from happening is always the best alternative to a team that's coming apart at the seams. Getting to know your team, understanding their motivations and stressors, and working hard when you need to will help you become a trusted member of your team -- and not just the leader.


Spending time together bonding in good times will help sustain your relationship during times of difficulty, both with each individual team member and the team as a whole. This trust doesn't come overnight but is worth the time spent building it in the long run. 


Slowing the Negativity


Perhaps your team has just begun showing signs of stress, such as team members being unwilling to contribute in meetings, leaving early, or losing energy early in the day. If you look up in the afternoon and everyone is wandering around looking aimless instead of focused on work or building relationships, it's past time to get more involved in your team's dynamics.


Start by talking to someone on your team, either the person who is seemingly the most stressed or one with whom you have the most trust built up. See if you can determine what the root cause of the uncertainty is, and look for potential options for resolution together. 


Returning from the Brink


If your team is truly on the brink of collapse, with your best and brightest team members disengaged and actively looking for other opportunities, it's time to take more drastic measures. Consider asking your human resources department if they're hearing any rumors about what's happening, or pull the team together as a whole in an offsite meeting to add to their comfort level.


Request that they be open and honest with you about challenges that they're encountering -- either within the team, outside the team or even outside the organization.


Take Charge of Results


You also must face the possibility that you as the leader are the problem, which can be painful and difficult to accept. However, you must first look to make changes in your own leadership style in order to help salvage your team's success.


Take responsibility for finding a solution, and don't be afraid to claim accountability when things aren't going as you had planned. Too often, leaders find themselves in a situation that feels hopeless and attempt to look externally to find the problem.


If there is truly someone on your team who is causing the excessive negativity, know when it's time to make the difficult decision and make a change in personnel. Sometimes, all it takes is removing a negative influence or underperformer to bring your team back to center. 


Today's organizations are moving quickly and chasing many different initiatives at once. Managing people is always a balancing act: creating a culture of learning and accountability while allowing people the space they need to take appropriate chances. Fortunately, nearly every team can be brought back from a downward spiral with time, effort, and loads of positive energy from its leader.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

How to Turn Negativity into Inspiration

It's easy to look at successful businesspeople and feel jealous of what they've accomplished. They make it look so easy that you wonder why you're not having the same level of success in your life and career. However, what you may not see is the hundreds of times they've had their ideas shot down, been passed over for a promotion, and just generally rejected in their lives. No one is immune to the soul-crushing feeling of harsh criticisms, but how you react to these situations is what makes the difference. From taking a leap into the unknown to dealing with difficult situations, these stories of overcoming negative situations will inspire you to achieve more than you could possibly imagine. 


Stirring Generations of Moviegoers


George Lucas tried to sell his Star Wars script with studios for nearly five years before he finally received his first chance. It's almost unimaginable that without one 20th Century Fox executive who believed in his vision, generations of children and adults alike would have never been introduced to that vast galaxy that lives far, far away. Today, this franchise is worth over $30 billion and continues to expand. His thoughts about always pushing forward through rejection and failure? "You use the information that you've gotten, which is experience . . . Failure is another word for experience."


Apprentice Yourself in Failure


Henry Ford's story tells how he spent his life working on every conceivable type of device, but it wasn't until he tried his hand at creating a horseless carriage that he truly began -- to fail. He started multiple companies with various partners, each time attempting to find the secret sauce that would allow him to produce his automobile efficiently and cost-effectively. Throughout his journey, he faced setbacks and people who didn't believe that he could be successful. Finally, he found the ideal financial backer who allowed him to realize his true vision of an inexpensive yet reliable vehicle that could be mass-produced. By never giving up, he not only made Ford a household name but also created innovative production methods that jump-started the American economy. 


Demoted, Fired . . . President of the United States


There are few Cinderella stories more inspirational than that of Abraham Lincoln. From his birth in a one-room log cabin to a sketchy education, Abraham Lincoln went on to become one of the most influential leaders in American history. Not only was he demoted during his stint in the Army, not only did he work through several failed businesses, but he also suffered defeat through multiple elections before rising to the country's highest position. Abraham Lincoln's inspiring story shows that failure is truly never an option. 


The Right Job for Enough Money


Not everyone equates becoming rich and famous with being successful. In fact, Professor Jeffrey Sachs feels that the key to inspiration is finding the right job for enough money. Being inspired, and inspiring others, often comes towards the middle or end of a long career that can include negativity, stress, poor bosses, and apathetic co-workers. While it's practically impossible to know upfront whether a particular job will become what inspires you, the only way to reach that higher plane is through overcoming negativity. Work-life balance and true happiness come through the inspiration to excel wherever life finds you. 


Life is difficult, and few people will hand you an opportunity on a silver platter. Turning negativity into inspiration may be one of the toughest things that you will ever do, but the payoff is everything! Take a moment each day to inspire and uplift others. You never know when your kind words could encourage someone to keep pushing towards their dreams. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Dignity of Work

Down But Not Out


Albert Serur was just a young man when he passed out cold in his client’s office. Only four months into his job, a previously undiagnosed heart condition might have sidelined him permanently. But Serur didn’t go down without a fight. Rather than recovering from emergency surgery at home, he hired a driver so he could sleep in the car between sales calls.


“Adversity helps you deal with who you are,” he says. “If you can start preparing for things proactively both personally and professionally, you’re going to be ready, and you’re going to be a better leader.”


“Will-Set” that Trumps a Skill Set


At 28, Serur is the youngest state director at American Income Life and chief executive of its Wilmington subsidiary. Serur Agencies brings weekly employee training sessions that focus less on technical abilities and more on workplace camaraderie, helping people develop a “will-set” with emotional tools to handle challenging situations. These offerings are a timely response to a felt need; in a recent Society of Human Resource Management report, “respectful treatment” was a top priority of the workers, even above pay.


“I’ve seen many people who have more God-given talent than I have, but if they have one difficult relationship issue, they just fold,” says Serur.  


Valuing the “Dignity of Work”


Workforce prioritization was how Starbucks recently explained the “fairly flat” performance of its stock. While a recent reduction of corporate-tax rates made the company hundreds of millions of dollars, Starbucks chose to re-invest this money in its workforce rather than funneling profits back to shareholders. Priorities included closing gender pay equity gaps worldwide, offering stock grants of $2,000 for managers and $500 for employees, expanded paid parental leave, and even access to critical illness insurance for parents of employees. Executive chairman Howard Schultz says people are an enduring priority:


“We’re trying to make long-term decisions,” Schultz said. “We’re trying to value the dignity of work. We’re trying to do everything we possibly can to demonstrate to the world … that the better way is not a zero-sum game where you leave your people behind.”


Microsoft has also seen a shift toward creating workplace wins. Several of Microsoft’s former employees have returned to the company after CEO Satya Nadella took over. These “boomerangs” say workplace culture has changed significantly under Nadella’s emphasis on “One Microsoft,” a collaborative environment that hasn’t existed in the past. Nadella has shifted reviews toward solidarity and teamwork, where employees are rewarded not just for their own work but how well they’re able to make use of others’ contributions. Boomerangs say this step away from the “smartest person in the room,” intimidation tactic has brought a more conversational, empowering environment. Microsoft has emphasized patience before perfection, incentives for developing others, and teaching staff to diffuse tension after disagreeable meetings.


Bonds that Last


Some companies use humor to grow unity. The Improv Asylum comedy troupe teaches communications skills at organizations like Google and Intel. This troupe’s mantra is that one person must always accept the premise given and then expand on the idea. “The sink is going to start spraying pink paint, you say?” “Well, yes, AND . . . lucky for us, we’re hosting the abstract art seminar this weekend!”


As it turns out, this is also a great workplace communication technique:


(The phrase) “‘Yes, but’ is prevalent in the corporate culture, and that shuts ideas down,” says Bob Melley, director of corporate training at the Boston theater company. “‘Yes, and’ encourages everyone on the team to offer ideas. It creates a bond and establishes trust.”

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Stay in the Game

Finding the Off Switch


Do you ever lay awake at night feeling restless about work? Do you take projects home each evening or over the weekend? When the day is over, is it difficult for you to quiet your racing thoughts?


You work hard. And you enjoy it. But in this mobile generation, devices meant to create freedom have tethered us to the desk as we toe the line between productivity and workaholism. A study of 3,000 UK workers showed that 69 percent regularly work outside their office hours, and the average worker fails to use six days of paid leave each year. In the midst of an overwork epidemic, are you preserving your own well-being?


Digging Your Own Grave


While our parents said “hard work never killed anyone,” research says otherwise. Men who are unable to mentally relax after work nearly triple their risk of heart disease and psychologist Mark Cropley, studying health and stress at the University of Surrey, says an inability to detach brings disastrous consequences:


“Inadequate psychological recovery, or poor disengagement from work, is associated with a range of health problems including cardiovascular disease, fatigue, negative mood and sleep disturbance,” Cropley said.


What is the difference between an industrious person and a workaholic? Experts say the industrious can push past typical office hours but remain emotionally present for others, enjoying fulfilling relationships and intentionally scheduling time for things they love. Hard workers experience short bursts of stress for a deadline but follow this with a purposeful schedule reduction (like comp days or shortened office hours) to restore depleted energy.


Workaholics struggle to find this off switch. The troubling feelings or facts accompanying their lifestyle stress fails to curb their unrealistic performance ideals. Workaholics are obsessed with work and the adrenaline rush it brings; often they walk fast, talk fast, eat fast, and struggle to delegate for fear others will not do “as good a job.” While appearing externally healthy, their internal overdrive brings physical distress: panic attacks, claustrophobia, depression, decreased immune function, sleep disturbances, or an inability to enjoy life’s pleasures. Workaholics have an increased risk for metabolic syndrome, a higher need for recovery, and struggle with cynicism and emotional fatigue; when your biological systems keep working around elevated set points, you have a greater risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes, and even death.


Worried you may be digging an early grave? Here are a few checks to flag your workaholic tendencies:


  • Your work eats into meal times

  • You are often first to arrive and last to leave

  • You are always on your phone or computer

  • You appear relationally distracted and find little time for leisure activities

  • You experience anxiety or irritation when interrupted or kept from work

  • You feel guilty when you’re not working and find it difficult to relax at night

Quality Trumps Quantity


Beyond improved health, accounting firm Ernst & Young found that for every additional 10 hours of time off taken, employees’ annual performance ratings improved by eight percent. How can you make productive changes if you are stretched too thin?


  • Reflect on reasons for compulsive work

  • Ask for help from your team and intentionally delegate

  • Set clear rules for how many hours you will work each day, quitting several hours before bed

  • Replace workaholic tendencies with positive habits: cultivating hobbies, building a skill you don’t use at work, and pro-actively scheduling time with friends

  • Resolve to save 25 percent of your energy to bring home at night. Put a fence around weekends to avoid temptation

Self-care keeps you on top of your game and ensures you STAY in the game. And that’s a win for us all!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

3 Opportunities for Better Customer Follow-up

Have you ever considered an online purchase but been put off by taxes or shipping costs? That’s what a Reddit user (Doug D.) experienced when he fell in love with a sweatshirt from Archrival Clothing. Doug, a UK resident, added the item to his cart, but was disappointed to find he couldn’t get Archrival’s alluringly low shipping prices since the company was based in the US.


Winning Follow-up


Game over? Not quite. Someone from Archrival took note of Doug’s abandoned “Shopping Cart” and realized the shipping prices were probably to blame. This resourceful employee immediately e-mailed Doug, offering several alternatives to ship the order for less, including a FedEx International Economy option, Delayed First Class Overseas Mail (on the company’s dime), or European purchasing options.


Doug’s reaction? Rave online reviews for the company itself:


“Wow. My mind is blown. This is potentially the best customer service I have ever experienced. You definitely deserve a purchase just for this e-mail.” Doug and his girlfriend bought several items, ordering more than originally intended, all due to proactive customer care.


Leaky Buckets Bring Lost Opportunities


Business is all about relationships, and good relationships are built on great communication. In today’s wired world, we communicate constantly, yet connections are frequently missed. Author Dan Kennedy describes these botched follow-ups as the “hole” in our buckets. If business is the bucket where we pour energy, ideas, and money, the “holes” are wasted time, money, or failed follow up. This may include failing to track contact information, not rescuing lost customers, or belated follow-up with prospects.


What impact does correspondence have? According to Harvard Business Review, the most frequent customer complaint is poor follow-up. Fifty-six percent complain that they need to re-explain their issue when calling back. Sixty-two percent need to repeatedly contact the company to get issues resolved. As a result, 65% are likely to speak poorly about the company and 48% go on to tell 10 or more people about their bad experience. Poor communication can influence not only your customer but spill over into the public as well.


Show Them the Love!


Sometimes we fail to communicate because we are forgetful, have full schedules, or we fear looking pushy. But consistent follow-up builds sturdy bridges, and any step toward better communication will bear long-term fruit. Consider these opportunities for better follow up:



  1. Always acknowledge a message from a customer: with gratitude, with further questions, or with a confirmation of the request

  2. Give a brief status update of the issue at hand

  3. Respond via the customer’s preferred method of communication (e-mail, website, phone call). If uncertain, reciprocate with the method the customer initiated with


Use stronger written follow-up communication to:


  • Make a calendar request or recap a meeting

  • Ensure your last message was received or inquire about further questions or concerns

  • Express gratitude for an introduction or appreciation for their business

  • Congratulate clients on a recent accomplishment

  • Wish customers luck on an upcoming project or personal endeavor

  • Solicit feedback on a future project or decision

  • Send helpful information or resources (pertinent to your previous conversations)

  • Make people personally aware of upcoming incentives or promotions

To make good intentions a reality, consider adding correspondence goals to your schedule (placing reminders in your phone or calendar or sending unique printed thank you notes on a bi-annual basis) and chart a new course of consistency to ensure your relationships receive the optimal care they deserve.


 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Five Ways to Provide Mind-Blowing Customer Service

Did you know that surprising and delighting your customers is something that starts before they are truly aware of your business and brand? Each interaction throughout the customer lifecycle is an opportunity to provide mind-blowing customer service that people simply must share with their friends. Creating true advocates for your business should be your goal, and that only happens when customers are over-the-top excited about your product and service offerings. How do you inspire that type of loyalty in what can be a fickle audience? These tips will get you started down the path to lifelong devotion from your fans. 


1. Treat Employees Like Gold


Your most important asset when it comes to ensuring long-term customer loyalty is closer than you may realize -- your staff! When your employees are empowered to react quickly to negative situations and provide proactive support to ward off challenges, your customers will feel the difference. Employees who feel as though they're simply showing up to punch a clock are lacking something, and that will show up in their interactions with customers. Employees who are regularly rewarded for going above and beyond expectations will continue that trend. 


2. Foster a Culture of Possibilities


When you foster a culture of possibilities for your staff, they will be much more likely to take exceptional care of your customers. Why? Because employees take more ownership, and "your" customers become "their" customers . . . and friends. Good customer service is expected (and even demanded) by today's customers. Going the next step to completely blowing your customers' mind takes extra effort to provide unexpected benefits. This could mean providing free custom proofs to clients, adding in 10% overages "just because" or delivering earlier than expected. On time and on budget are expectations -- you have to raise the bar to blow their minds. 


3. Create an Easy Button


There will always be customers who are looking for the fastest and cheapest items. However, the customers you really want to cultivate are those who are willing to pay a premium for truly exceptional service and delivery times. The majority of people in America today have severely limited time, and when you're able to show customers that you respect their needs and move quickly, they will be surprised and delighted. Optimize each process, remove unnecessary clicks from your website and apps and generally think through the user experience at every turn. 


4. Focus on What's Important


Customer-facing organizations are often looking for ways to reduce the amount of time required to interact with the public on each transaction. While this can result in efficiency for customers and staff alike, it can also cause a measure of frustration when poorly implemented. Forget the long list of meaningless metrics that don't impact service levels or profitability. Look for measurements that directly impact customer satisfaction such as the number of calls required to resolve a return, for instance. 


5. Stand Out from the Crowd 


Are your competitors sending out postcards? Take their concept and go bigger: send a unique mailer that is truly attention-grabbing. There are rumors going around that "direct mail is dead", but nothing could be further from the truth! As fewer competitors rely on print, customers are more likely to be engaged with the unique and interesting pieces that do hit their mailboxes. Have fun with your promotions and your customers will reward you richly.


The reality for businesses today is that customer retention is much less expensive than attempting to find and recruit new customers. Sure, you're always on the lookout for new customers, but shouldn't you also look for ways to create an over-the-top excellent service culture that keeps people returning for more? 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Why Establishing Your Brand as an Authority is a Top Goal

With every piece of marketing collateral you create, you're essentially trying to accomplish two key goals. Yes, you're always trying to inform members of your audience about the products or services that you offer - or the ones that you're about to launch. But at the same time, you need to do something much more powerful. Something that, if executed correctly, can help guarantee that yours is a brand with the ability to stand the test of time.


You need to establish your brand as an authority - not just in the context of what you have to offer, but within the larger sense of the industry that you're operating in. If this isn't already one of your top goals, it should be for a number of essential reasons.


The Power of Brand Authority


To better understand the importance of brand authority, consider the following two statistics. According to one study, 45% of your brand's image (meaning what people think and feel when they encounter it) can ultimately be attributed to both what you say and how you say it. More importantly, the same study revealed that 54% of people don't trust brands at all.


The most critical thing to understand about this is that brand authority is not something that you can give yourself. The majority of people who don't trust brands don't do so because the brands told them not to - it's because those brands failed to live up to their promises one too many times. It's because they didn't have anything to offer beyond a sales pitch. It's because those brands weren't able to connect with their audience in an emotional, raw, and ultimately genuine way.


Because those brands failed to understand that brand authority really has to do with your larger reputation - it's that kernel of trust that you don't give yourself, but that others give to you.


It's also not something that you're going to be able to build in a day. It's less the product of one major move and more about a series of smaller ones. It's something that grows slowly, every time you choose to partner with a charity on community outreach or make your presence known at some type of local event. It's something that grows inside your audience every time they see a piece of collateral that isn't just a product spec sheet, but that offers true insight and information in a way that helps them even if they don't make a sale.


When built properly over time, it's also something that makes it easier than ever to not only keep the customers you already have satisfied but to bring new ones into the fold as well. This will invariably translate into a sense of "when the time comes and I do choose to make a purchase with this particular brand, I can rest easy knowing that it is money well spent."


In the End


Ultimately, establishing your brand as an authority should be a top goal because it allows you to become more than just the products you sell or the services you provide. When your customers have a question, they come to you for the answer. When they want to learn more about a related topic, their first thought is to go to you for the education they seek. When you do launch a new product or service, they're interested in what you have to offer because there is a level of trust that exists between you that they don't have in other relationships.


This is why brand authority is so important - because it lets you become more than "just another company" and provides you with a level of authenticity that can take a standard audience and turn them into a loyal army of passionate advocates before you know it.