Monday, December 3, 2012

You need more than Passion!!

It is with our passions as it is with fire and water, they are good servants, but bad masters.


Too often I think we do people a tremendous disservice when we say that anyone can be an entrepreneur, especially if they have passion. In my opinion, passion without knowledge can lead to failure so quickly.

When people come to me with questions about starting a business, the vast majority are looking to open a restaurant. Normally, these people are very good cooks who have worked in a few restaurants and they really believe they have the requisite skills to be successful.

Without question, these people have passion and desire – and even some experience – but I do everything I can to talk them out of starting a restaurant. I just know the failure rate in this industry is so high. Not only is a difficult business, but so many people lack the business background they need to be successful.

Now that I have said this, I know I am going to get a ton of notes from people saying I have completely lost my mind – which could be true – but I stand by this advice. Many of these folks believed it when their parents told them they could accomplish anything they put their mind to. I know I probably told my kids the same thing to give them confidence to take some risks.  However, in real life, this untempered optimism is just plain untrue and so dangerous as it encourages people to take too much risk without the knowledge to go along with it.

I recently met a very neat man who has an incredible passion for dogs. Ever since graduating from college, his dream was to open a canine massage business.

He has a business degree, so he understands that part. It is also clear that he has the passion and the knowledge, as he has had extensive training in canine massage. I would even say there is a niche for this type of business as massage therapy is already accepted for horses and is getting some attention for dogs too. However, what he and so many early-phase entrepreneurs forget is that there has to be a strong demand for your product.

He is having significant financial struggles. He has not taken a cent out for a salary and has put increasing amounts of money into the business over the two years it has been in operation. When I asked him if he had measured or attempted to quantify his sales, he said no. He had just gone for it with a very strong desire to make his concept work.

He had really believed the classic line from the movie Field of Dreams and was convinced that if he built it, they would come. But as I am always telling these folks, building it and having passion just is not enough to be successful. There is so much more to it. I try never to tell them not to follow their dreams, rather that they should only make a go of it after they have acquired the knowledge and experience they need to give them the best chances of success.

Now go out and make sure that with any new venture, you have all the skills and knowledge you need to be successful. You cannot just rely on passion and enthusiasm.

You can do this!

Monday, November 26, 2012

What Really Motivates Staff!

 “There are two levers for moving men -- interest and fear.”
~Napoleon Bonaparte

Finding out what motivates staff is more of an art than a science. So many people believe that money is the proper incentive for all workers, but that just is not always the case.

I have seen so many employees who are simply not motivated by money. They just do not value it enough to alter their behavior. Time off, on the other hand, may hold greater value for some – especially Gen Y staff. Bottom line is incentives have to be structured so they relate to the things your staff values.

One manager had been looking for an incentive to motivate one of his employees. He had tried everything to no avail and had become very frustrated. Finally out of desperation, he got her a $500 gift certificate to an upscale women’s apparel shop. This worked and actually ended up being a whole lot less expensive than the other incentives he had tried, but it was successful because he was able to customize the incentive to this staff member’s wants.

On the other end of the spectrum from incentives and rewards is loss aversion. The theory here is that the hurt associated with a loss is much more motivating than the satisfaction of a gain. To use myself as an example, I have been to Las Vegas many times, but I never gamble because the idea of losing money is so much more repugnant to me than a financial windfall is appealing.

Using teachers in Chicago, three researchers did a neat experiment to test this theory and how it might relate to performance. Participants were randomly selected and divided into two groups. Both groups were given a set of performance goals for the year, and their success would be measured at the end of the year.

The first group was immediately given a $4,000 incentive and told that they would have to pay back a portion for every goal that was unmet at the end of the year. For the second group, they set up a bonus system that would pay each teacher up to $8,000 for meeting their goals. In the first case, the reward was given up front, but with the second group, the incentive – though not paid until the end of the year – could potentially be double that of the first group.

Results showed that grades were as much as 10 percent higher among students whose teachers were members of the first group – the loss group – than they were for students whose teachers were in the second group. In this example, applying the loss aversion theory really seemed to work.

So if loss aversion is so successful, why is it not used more in business? I think this is due to a couple of reasons. First, many managers and owners are just not familiar with this behavioral theory, and second, many employers feel uncomfortable about taking money away from their employees. A more palatable alternative might be to take the money back from future incentives.

While many employees relate to a monetary incentive, many just do not. To be successful, an incentive program needs to be tailored to the individual employee, and there are many potential ways to motivate – including loss aversion. You just have to find what works for your staff.

Now go out and make sure that you have the right incentives in place to excite and motivate your staff.

You can do this!

Friday, November 16, 2012

How to Achieve Great Customer Service

Be everywhere, do everything, and never fail to astonish the customer.
-Macy's Motto

I am often asked how you achieve great customer service in a business. This is a fair question, because though customer satisfaction surveys and mystery shoppers provide very effective ways of measuring the success of the existing customer experience, they do not tell us how to create great customer service in the first place.

Providing great customer service is not as simple as saying “exceed customer expectations.” Rather, it involves a series of interactions from the moment the customer first encounters your business until the time he or she leaves.

Too often businesses define the success of their customer service based on the experience created by only one person in the business, ignoring all other interactions. For instance, medical doctors frequently think they give excellent patient service but completely forget about all the other touch points from the front office staff to the billing department.

For another example, I frequently see businesses provide a great sales experience only to fail on the last impression (e.g. late delivery) and destroy all the good they created in the earlier stages of the interaction. 

I advise each business I work with to define all of their customer touch points from the first point of contact until the service event is complete. These can include a customer’s phone call, the condition of your restrooms, the cleanliness of your windows, the way you welcome a returning customer and the list goes on. Obviously, there can be many of these touch points and they each must be considered carefully.

For example, consider the interaction between a clerk and a customer. Looking at the overall experience is not nearly enough. Rather, you need to break it down and go through each part of the transaction, evaluating how effective it was.  How did the clerk communicate with the customer? How friendly were they? If it was a returning customer, how quickly did the clerk recognize them? Did the clerk have a smile on his or her face? Did they use the customer’s name and make them feel as though they were the most important person?

This list of questions could go on and on and vary based on the position, but the point I am trying to make is that customer service must be thought of as a series of interrelated processes. Great customer service is achieved by ensuring that each of these points is identified and measured for success.

Now go out and make sure that you identify each customer touch point and establish a plan of evaluating the service you provide at every one.

You can do this!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Succession Planning

If you want one year of prosperity, grow grain. If you want 10 years of prosperity, grow trees. If you want 100 years of prosperity, grow people.

~Chinese Proverb

Every business should have succession plans for its key personnel as part of its overall strategic plan. It is critical to identify personnel vulnerabilities and determine how you might overcome them.  It is so easy to ignore these issues, but doing so puts the firm in a very precarious position.

I was helping a firm that had lost a key executive to an unexpected illness. When I was called in, the firm was reeling from the loss of this very well-liked executive. In addition to the staff’s grief, the business was in dire straights as they had been unable to find a replacement. Without someone to take over, the executive’s work fell to his staff who lacked the necessary experience. As a result, the profitability of firm fell dramatically. Had this firm had a succession plan in place, they would have been in a much better position.

Succession planning must address the loss of key staff members both in the event they pass away suddenly or become significantly incapacitated and in the event they simply retire. The difference between these two situations, of course, is how much time you have to find a replacement.

There are two general ways a business can work through the unexpected loss of key personnel. One way would be to ensure that the remaining staff is able to pick up the slack. That way, the business can keep moving forward until a replacement is found either by promotion or a new hire. A second alternative would be to hire someone who can come in and fill the role on a temporary basis. There are many firms out there that specialize in locating temporary CEOs or CFOs.

When planning for the retirement of a key executive, you can take one of two approaches. Firstly, you can groom a successor in advance so they are ready to step in once the executive steps down. This plan should involve providing any requisite training and experience.

If the firm is small, however, providing the necessary training may be cost prohibitive. In the event grooming an internal candidate is not a feasible option, the business can hire a replacement in advance of the retirement, which would allow the successor an opportunity to work alongside the executive, thereby helping ensure a smooth transition. Of course, as with all hiring decisions, a significant amount of time and money should be invested in finding the right person for the key position.

Now go out and make sure you have succession plans in place for your key personnel. It is important to be prepared to take action in the event of loss through retirement or an unanticipated event.

You can do this.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Green office cleaning products make cents.

We begin to see, therefore, the importance of selecting our environment with the greatest of care, because environment is the mental feeding ground out of which the food that goes into our minds is extracted.

~Napoleon Hill

Whether you have a one-person office or a hundred-person office, maintaining a clean work environment is important for so many different reasons – the health of your workforce and orderly presentation are just a couple of these.

Honestly, until about five years ago, I had no idea that cleaning products had any effect on people or the environment. I am not an avid environmentalist, but I do believe that we have a responsibility to leave the world in at least as good a shape as we found it. In addition, I feel that when environmental concerns impact worker productivity, we all need to start paying attention.

According to a report by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory published in the Indoor Air Quality Scientific Findings Resource Bank, productivity may increase as much as 10 percent simply by improving air quality. This is not a small number especially considering we spend 90 percent of our time indoors.

As you can probably imagine, cleaning agents are the number one affecter of our indoor air quality. Normal cleaning products emit gases called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, and odors that can cause or worsen breathing problems, skin allergies and other health concerns. The EPA provides vast amounts of information on the potentially harmful effects of various cleaning products on their website at

It used to be that green cleaning products and services were cost prohibitive, but they are much more affordable now. That said, each business should consider how improving the air quality in their office by using green products can impact their productivity.

Finding quality green cleaning products can be a challenge as so many claim to be green. Environmental Working Group produces a Guide to Healthy Cleaning, in which they evaluate all the different products’ claims and score them in terms of how green they really are. There are many other groups out there that do the same type of thing, and we are, undoubtedly, going to see more of them as the importance of air quality in the workplace increases.

If you decide to hire a professional cleaning firm, you will need to find out exactly what “green” chemicals they claim to use and verify that they are actually using them. As this really is something that affects your bottom line, you will have to monitor things to ensure that the right chemicals are being used.

Now go out and make sure that you are maintaining the best possible work environment for your staff by ensuring the proper green supplies are being used. Not only is this the right thing to do for the health of your employees and our environment, but it will also contribute to the profitability of your company.

You can do this.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Managing a Distant Work Force.

Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.
~Henry Ford

With the advent of new (and not so new) technologies, our working environments continue to evolve. More and more people are working from their homes or in remote locations. This is especially true in the current real estate market. Many people cannot afford to move to follow an employment opportunity as they are upside-down in their current homes and just cannot sell them without taking a terrible loss.

Having a remote workforce brings a unique set of issues and it requires both a special kind of manager and, of course, a special type of employee.

The number one problem affecting remote workers is isolation from their colleagues. Often, these employees begin to feel separate from the team.  To combat this, the manager needs to promote regular interaction between remote workers and the rest of the team and ensure the lines of communication are always open.
Websites and sharepoints are great ways to encourage the sharing of information between remote and on-site employees.

Additionally, managers of remote workers should check in with them frequently, not via email, but by phone, at the very least. Video chat would be even better. These days, many cell phones are equipped with video conferencing capability, and Skype is another great option. Remote employees also really benefit from having a mentor assigned to them.

Many times, I see companies hire workers for remote positions, have them come in to the office for about a week when they first start and then immediately put them out in the field. This just does not work. A week is not adequate time for the new employee to grasp the organizational culture or establish relationships with their fellow staff members. For this reason, some firms only permit an employee to work remotely if they have been with the business for a year or more. Most, however, require at least two months in the home office before operating remotely.

Another problem managers of remote workers need to be aware of is that these employees often feel that because they are out of sight, they will be forgotten or overlooked for promotions. One good way to address this issue is to require them to work in the office three days a month so people are used to seeing them around and they have better visibility.

Finally, when hiring remote employees, it is critical that you choose a candidate that has the right skills and attributes. To be successful, remote workers must be self-motivated because they will need to perform without much supervision. It is also essential that remote workers have great communications skills.

This kind of work environment is not for everyone. For this reason, many firms will only hire someone for a remote position if they have remote work experience to ensure they can handle the isolation.

Remote workers can be at any level of the organization. In one case, a firm was headquartered in Tallahassee but the CEO lived in California. The firm was willing to hire this CEO because he had such unique skills and they believed he could make it work.

Now go out and make sure you have considered all these issues before you decide that remote workers are right for your business. Candidates will need a special set of skills to be successful, and you will need to be prepared to deal with the unique managerial issues that accompany a remote workforce.

You can do this!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Even if you are small, you need to focus on sales!

There is no comparison between that which is lost by not succeeding and that which is lost by not trying.
~Francis Bacon

I went to a luncheon event recently and sat next to a delightful man. As you might expect given what I do, I asked how his business was doing. His reply was that it was okay. Not knowing what he meant by “okay,” I asked a few more questions to get a better idea. He revealed that his sales were flat, and I asked why he thought that was. He replied that he did not feel comfortable selling and he was the firm’s one and only employee.

Another solo entrepreneur I knew was complaining about shrinking sales. She said that her sales used to be very good, but now they were falling. When I asked her what she had done when her sales were up, she said she used to network and go see former clients – something that she was no longer doing. Now that sales were dropping precipitously, she had become really concerned.

Being an entrepreneur mandates that you also become a sales person in so many ways. You are always having to sell yourself and your business to a whole range of people, not just customers. You have to get creditors to supply you with goods, to convince a bank to give you a loan and so much more.

In both of these cases, the entrepreneurs knew they needed to do more but had temporarily lost their way. In the first case, the entrepreneur lacked the confidence to go out and sell, and in the second case, the entrepreneur took her eyes off of the ball.

My advice to the first entrepreneur was to join Toastmasters, which teaches effective public speaking. I felt it would increase his confidence about selling.

Sure enough, after six months in Toastmasters, his confidence began to soar as did his sales. He told me that he now felt comfortable asking for the sale when he never did before.

My recommendation to the second entrepreneur was to join Business Networking International (BNI), a super powerful networking organization with a chapter in just about every city and most countries. Membership is really effective and reasonably priced.

After joining BNI, her sales started going through the roof as she now had all the BNI members in her chapter acting as her sales force by recommending her business.

In both of these cases, the entrepreneurs took their focus off their sales. Though they each had their own reasons for doing so, the outcome was the same. Their businesses began to suffer because sales have to be at the forefront of each and every entrepreneur’s daily activities. There is no doubt in my mind that both businesses would have failed had they continued on their former path.

These are two examples involving small entrepreneurs, but the lesson they demonstrate can be applied to any business. If you do not commit energy and effort to your sales, your business will struggle.

Now go out and make sure sales make up a significant part of your daily activities and encourage each of your staff members to do the same.

You can do this!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Creating the Wrong Customer Service Expectations

Creating the wrong expectations with your customers!

Nothing sets a person up more than having something turn out just the way it's supposed to be, like falling into a Swiss snowdrift and seeing a big dog come up with a little cask of brandy round its neck.

~Claud Cockburn

It is so important that you do not create the wrong expectations for your customers. Customers rely on what you tell them, and they hear what you say, not necessarily what you mean, which can sometimes be very different.

So often I hear salespeople tell their customers at parting to let them know if they have any problems with the product. Clearly, their intent is to reassure the customer that they will stand behind them and resolve any issues, but suggesting there is a possibility of problems inadvertently creates the expectation that there will be.

Rather than saying, “If there is a problem, please let us know,” you might say, “I know you are going to enjoy this product.” Notice how the former statement creates doubt, where the second creates the expectation that the customer is going to enjoy the product. Focusing on the positive is so important.

For another example, salespeople often tell their customers that they can expect to receive their product in seven to 10 days. Here, they mean to give the customer hope that they will receive their product sooner, but unfortunately, customers only hear the seven and will frequently get upset when it does not arrive until day nine.

Of course, getting a product or service is a positive thing, but getting it later than expected frustrates the customer. For this reason, it is so important that you always give the customer the outside date so that you meet – maybe even exceed – expectations rather than fail to live up to them.

I am thinking of getting some work done on my house and brought in a designer/builder to develop a project plan and then do the work. He did a reasonable job with the project plan, but when I asked him when he could start, he said he is booked for the next month. If I gave him a 40 percent deposit, however, I would be on the list to have work done sometime after 30 days, as he was booked for the next month. The trouble with that was that I had no idea when I could expect to have the work completed.

It would have been much better for him to say, “I am booked for the next month, but will have your work done no later than two months from today’s date.” This statement lays out an expectation that can easily be attained. It would give the designer/builder plenty of time to get the work done and it would have given me some certainty as to when the job would start.

Now go out and make sure that your staff is always creating expectations that can be met. Just pay attention to what your staff is telling your customers and ensure that the right expectation is being communicated.

You can do this!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

No Action is an Action

Remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may have a heart of gold -- but so does a hard-boiled egg.


So often, business owners and managers have problems that they are not addressing because they are either unable or unwilling to deal with them. Many times these entrepreneurs tell me that they do not have the time to deal with these problems because there are more pressing issues requiring their immediate attention. Other times, they are just unsure how to fix it and it is easier to simply ignore it.

What these entrepreneurs are forgetting, however, is that problems do not remain static when ignored. Rather, they escalate over time, and in the end, that unresolved problem can cost them dearly.

Most often, I see entrepreneurs neglecting issues that involve problem employees. The reason is obvious. Having to discipline an employee – or worst case scenario, let them go – is unpleasant and painful.

To avoid having to dealing with these unpleasant situations, managers frequently pretend not to see the problems. But not only does this affect the morale of the entire office, it also undermines the manager’s authority. The rest of the staff will eventually lose respect for the leader because failing to take action against bad behavior is tantamount to accepting it.

I was working with a restaurant that had been in operation for a reasonable length of time but was still not making adequate profits. The owner was not losing money, but he was barely making enough to keep his head above water.

A rough rule of thumb in the restaurant industry is that food costs should be about 32 percent or less of total revenue. Though the owner had been to enough seminars and schools to know how to manage a restaurant, his food costs were hovering above that mark around 38 percent. When I confronted him about this, he simply said that he did not know how to fix this issue as he felt his prices were already pretty high.

He was acting as though the problem would either go away or resolve itself if he just did nothing about it. Of course, that did not happen, and now his economic wellbeing was being threatened. He also did not realize that by taking no action, he was making a deliberate choice and not just passively delaying the decision.

After talking with him, I came to see that he was just unsure of how to fix the problem and lacked confidence in his instincts. When I began tossing out some suggestions, he shared that many were things he had already thought of. He just needed validation from me that these were the right calls. However, until we talked, he was unwilling to act.

When you are faced with a problem that you do not know how to address, you must first identify the underlying cause. Second, you need to come up with at least three possible solutions. And finally, you must pick the solution you feel is best for your business. Ignoring the problem just allows it to grow.

Now go out and see if you have been delaying decisions on problems you need to be addressing. Just remember to gather all the relevant facts before making any critical decisions.

You can do this! 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Wait till at least an hour before you check your email!

Wait till at least an hour before you check your email!

“E-mail is not evil. It is just a little dangerous.”

~Julie Morgenstern

When email first came out, it was billed as a time-saver, but now, I think most people would agree that it is anything but that. We all get way too many emails and every person behind each and every message deserves a response, which often takes so much time.

No one would argue that interruptions make us less effective. They make it hard to get anything accomplished, and at the end of a day filled with interruptions, you feel terrible and unproductive.

Where interruptions are concerned, email is just about the worst offender there is. The reasons are twofold. First, emails take time to answer, and second, they kill our momentum. It takes time to get back up to speed on the task you were focused on when the email came in.

Though emails are an unavoidable part of our lives this day and age, we can learn to be more efficient with them. One way to do this is to wait for at least an hour after you get to work to answer your emails.

I know this will be hard for many people, because much of the time, it seems we do not just answer our emails, we answer to them. But I promise, if you adopt this method for two weeks, you will see some great results.

Here is why I think this tactic works. Starting the day with your emails puts you in a reactive mode instead of allowing you to be proactive with the things you need to accomplish. Conversely, focusing on something that is both urgent and important at the start of the day puts you in a better position to make positive progress toward your goal. At the end of the day, you get that good feeling that comes with having accomplished something of value.

For me, when I start the day answering my emails, the day seems to drag, and I can be almost certain that I will not feel good about how I have spent my time. When I wait to check emails until I am at least an hour into my work, however, it is normally a very good day.

Some other rules of thumb that can help you be more effective and efficient with your emails are as follows:
  • Try limiting the times you check and answer your emails to two or three times a day – assuming your job allows for this. Being tuned in to your email throughout the day means you will be continuously interrupted.
  • When going through your emails, respond first to those messages that can be dealt with quickly. More involved responses should be addressed when you feel you will have more uninterrupted time.
  • Because we are all inundated, it is always helpful to be able to see at a glance what the email is about. When sending email, try to include as much information as possible in the subject line. It is so refreshing to get an email with only a subject line and nothing in the message itself.
  • Much of the time, I think people try to communicate too much information in a single email. If you have more than two main points to cover, it is better to break this up into multiple messages.

Now go out and make sure that you are using email in a manner that helps, not hinders, your progress and adds value to your organization or company. Give these tips a try and remember to answer emails only after you have been at work for at least an hour.

You can do this!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Make sure your sales staff is earning its own way.

There is no more fascinating business in this world than that of selling. Without salesmen there would be little progress made. Selling is behind every successful enterprise of whatever character.

~George Mathew Adams

I have written numerous columns on the importance of sales and how every business needs to be sales driven.  Profits are important, but they just do not happen without sales.

In order to have sales, you need an effective and efficient sales force. There is no question about that. However, just having a sales force is not adequate. You need to make sure that your sales force is compensated on actual sales and that they are measurable so you can appropriately reward them for their efforts.

Obviously, the best thing to do with sales compensation is to reward them based on actual sales. For many businesses this consists exclusively of sales-based commission or incentives. The disadvantage here is that the staff will focus only on making sales – which earns them their incentives – and neglect those other important tasks that support the sales function.

The best sales forces work together as a team to reach their sales goals, but an incentive program that rewards only direct sales undermines the team dynamic. People are not going to be excited to work together as, typically, only one person receives a commission.

I prefer a compensation structure that consists of a low-base salary and direct sales incentives. That way the staff is compensated for their individual efforts but is also paid for doing tasks that benefit the firm but not necessarily them individually.

An important consideration when determining how to reward your sales force is whether they are paying their own way. I was helping a firm that had two sales people. Including benefits, these employees were being paid $230,000 annually, with the majority of their compensation predicated on incentives. When we looked at the gross profit margin before sales incentives, the firm was only earning $150,000.

Obviously, in this case, the sales staff was not adding value to the firm. This could have been because the sales incentive was too high, the market just was not big enough for two sales people, they were asking them to do too many tasks not related to individual sales, the profitability of the firm was not adequately structured or a combination of these factors.

In this case, the firm realized that their sales commission was too high and they had to lower it. This can be very tricky as you are cutting the income of your sales force and it can appear as though the firm is just being greedy.

This firm decided to reduce the commission but, in exchange, picked up 95 percent of each employee’s health care premium. This solution was not a perfect quid pro quo, but it showed that the firm was trying to make up for the reduction in sales commissions. The staff did not like the reduction at all, but they did stay with the firm. The firm also ended up earning a whole lot more as the staff worked even harder to keep their income at the level they thought it should be.

Now go out and make sure that your sales staff is compensated in a manner that maximizes both their individual efforts and the return to the business. It is important to ensure that the total benefits package is reasonable and permits the firm to earn a fair profit.

You can do this!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Eat your frog first!!

The ability to concentrate and to use your time well is everything if you want to succeed in business--or almost anywhere else for that matter.

~Lee Iacocca

People often say they can tell how successful they are going to be in their day based on how it begins. The better it starts, the better it will end. Of course, the real question is how do you make your day start well?

Mark Twain was an amazing author and a very wise philosopher. He once said, “If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first.” Obviously, ‘eating a frog’ is a colorful analogy for those tasks that you dislike but must do.

In my personal experience, when I was faced with a task I really did not want to do – such as reprimanding an employee – I tended to push off.  I always just felt that if I avoided the pain, then it might go away.

Of course, as anyone who has ever put off an unpleasant task can attest, it never goes away. It merely ends up weighing you down and ruining your entire day.

Once I learned to abide by the ‘eat your frog first’ philosophy, however, my life has seemed so much easier and more refreshing.

I have been running for decades, but I can truthfully say that the part I enjoy most about my daily 3-mile run is when it is over. I learned early on that doing it first thing in the morning (eating my frog) was the only way to ensure I got it done each and every day.

When I put it off until later in the day, it just becomes too easy to come up with reasons not to do it or to justify skipping it because I have run out of time. On days when that happens, I just do not feel right.

Having the courage to face the things that you just do not want to do early on is so vital for every leader as well as for every individual.

I have a very good friend, an author, who has the hardest time getting going in the morning. Though he likes to write, he just seems to put it off to avoid the pain of writer’s block. However, once he gets started and he really gets into his craft, things seem to flow without interruption. The problem for him really is just getting going.

To help him out, I suggested he try implementing the ‘eat your frog first’ philosophy. He now tackles his writing first thing in the morning before doing anything else, and he says he feels so much better as he no longer dreads sitting down to write.

Now go out and try doing the things you dislike the most first. When you learn to eat your frog first, you get those troublesome things out of the way and open yourself up to having a great, productive and worthwhile day.

You can do this!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Identify the Problem

"Whatever failures I have known, whatever errors I have committed, whatever follies I have witnessed in public and private life, have been the consequences of action without thought."
~ Bernard Baruch

In business as well as in every other area of daily life, you are going to encounter problems. This is just part of the human condition. However, in business the stakes can be very high, and the results can be disastrous if you are unable to find the appropriate solution. 
Entrepreneur after entrepreneur have failed because they missed seeing and properly identifying the problem.

Typically, when I am asked to consult with a business, it is to help them with some kind of problem. It could be anything from an HR issue to an accounting issue.

In every case, my first order of business is to help them correctly identify the problem so we can settle on the right solution. It can be a tricky process. Sometimes what appears to be the problem is influenced by a larger issue. Other times, it is not the problem at all.

For example, I was assisting an entrepreneur who was having a problem with an employee who was not working hard enough. As per my usual process, I began by asking the entrepreneur to describe the problem in general terms. Then I asked him to tell me what he thought the underlying issue was. Initially, he responded that he felt the employee lacked motivation but, after more discussion, he realized the real problem was his hiring decision – and not just in this one case.

As I continued to ask more questions, it became clear that his hiring process was flawed. Sure, he would have to deal with this one employee, but if he did not address the root issue, he would only have to face it again in the future. With this understanding, he could alter his process to ensure he was hiring the right people for the job.

In another instance, an entrepreneur came to me for help because she was frustrated with how long it took the company to introduce a new product in the marketplace. Initially, she thought the problem was not having enough staff in place, but after some questioning by me, she realized it was not a personnel issue but the fact that they had inadequate software to monitor and evaluate new projects.

To use a personal example, I have a wonderful black lab, Sophie. I have trained her to compete in AKC obedience trials and she has done remarkably well, earning two titles with one more to go. Recently, however, I just lost the enthusiasm to train her every day, which is so necessary.

For the life of me, I could not figure out why I had lost this motivation, but once I tried to define the problem, the answer became clear to me. I had simply not set any goals for myself in this area and I need goals to stay motivated. Once I was able to figure this out and make the necessary adjustments, I felt so much better and Sophie and I both enjoyed her training.

Now go out and make sure that before you jump into solving what you think is the problem, you have looked to see if there is another issue at work. To help make this determination, ask yourself the following questions:

1.    Why has this become a problem?
2.    Is this an isolated issue or have there been other similar problems?
3.    If I am successful in solving the problem I have identified, would all associated issues disappear?
4.    If I could rebuild my operation, how would I do it now to avoid this problem in the future?
You can do this!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

How do deal with an angry customer!!

Anyone can become angry - that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way; this is not easy.

Lately, I have been working a lot with medical practices on how they can improve the service they provide their patients. While most of the examples I will share in this column are pulled from this work, the concepts are applicable to each and every business. 

Among all these practices, issues with angry patients seem to be a common thread, which is not entirely surprising when you consider that patients come in feeling poorly and it does not take much to set them off. Whether it is too much paperwork or a long wait time, there are a number of factors that can increase a patient’s frustration and incite their anger.

When I first began working with these practices, I had no idea how extensive this problem was but, as I spoke with the frontline staff, they named angry patients as the number one problem they face time and time again.

Whether it is a patient or another kind of customer, the best and most effective tactic for dealing with an angry person is to show empathy for their situation. Saying “These are just the required forms and you need to fill them out in order to see the doctor,” just will not do it. A better approach would be for the receptionist (the “director of first impressions”) to say, “I am so sorry to ask you to fill out this paperwork again, but it will ensure our records are correct so we can get you the best possible care.” The second statement shows empathy and offers a logical explanation for why the data needs to be collected again.

Even though we can empathize with a customer’s frustration, it is never acceptable for them to raise their voice or use profanity. If this should happen, your staff needs to tell the customer that kind of behavior is unacceptable and warn them that if it continues, they will be asked to leave. For obvious reasons, you will also want to steer these angry customers away from your other customers and talk with them one-on-one.

Unmet expectations, in general, are the cause of most angry patient situations. However, a lot of the anger can be mitigated by wording responses in such a way that you communicate warmth and caring.

For example, one of the most common inciters among these medical practices is a co-pay that is higher than the patient expected. In a case like this, the front office personnel could say, “I am so sorry that you were expecting a lower payment. Do you have another means of paying today or would you like for us to bill you? Which would you prefer?” A response like this puts the power back in the patients’ hands.

I would say the best direction you can give your staff about how to deal with an angry customer is to call in the manager and allow them to handle the issue. Front office staff should not be saddled with always having to take the abuse from angry customers. These frequent beatings destroy their morale and their desire to come to work each morning.

As a final caution, avoid arguing with an angry customer at all costs. This just tends to make the person even angrier.

Now go out and make sure your staff is trained in handling angry customers. Frequent and continuous role-playing activities are a good way to ensure they are able to respond appropriately in the moment.

You can do this.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Are you too busy?

Our frantic days are really just a hedge against emptiness.
~Tim Kreider
A recent column in the New York Times really caught my attention. The column was entitled “The Busy Trap,” and in it, author Tim Kreider talked about how so many people are too busy and they feel guilty if they are not doing something work-related all the time.
I am mentoring a very talented executive and we were recently discussing the vacation he was mandated to take. I asked him to take just four hours every day of his vacation and unplug completely from work. He replied that he could not commit to that because if he did not have this to do, he would not know what to do.  This executive had fallen into the “busy hole” and had no way of climbing out.
However, after much discussion and cajoling I finally got him to agree to try this four-hour plan. In the beginning it was excruciatingly painful for him, but as the vacation progressed, he began to look forward to the time he had to be with his family away from work concerns. He shared with me later that by the end of the week, he felt so great during these four-hour breaks that he wanted to continue the process of getting out of the “busy hole.”
When I think about my earlier years and ask other people if they were as busy 30 years ago as they are today, they all emphatically say, “No!” They were a lot calmer, and life just seemed to move much more slowly in the 1980’s. Why? My theory is that it has a lot to do with the ease of communications we have today.
In the early 80’s most people did not have personal computers, and if they did, there was no Internet.  Now that we have become so “connected,” we stay tethered to our businesses and friends almost 24 hours a day.  When I forget my phone at home, I feel almost naked and have to rush back to get it.
It is unhealthy for entrepreneurs and managers to be accessible 24/7. The stress stays with them all day and night and they have no opportunity to unwind. We all need time to just be, and with this never-ending flow of communications, so many of us do not get a chance to enjoy the moment.
I, myself, am a recovering busy addict. I now leave my phone and computer off after 6 p.m. – which, I will admit, is still tough. However, I have been sleeping much better and I know this daily break is what I really need.
I also try to take more trips where I can make myself inaccessible to calls, texts and e-mails. No matter what I do while away, I feel so much calmer when I return because I have allowed myself to unplug from these sources of stress.
Now go out and make sure you take some time every day to step away from phones, texts and e-mails. I promise that once you get used to this new habit you will feel so much better and even more productive.
You can do this.