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!