I Want to Thank You.

23 11 2011

Certain events throughout our lives trigger certain behaviors.  A wedding could make us reflect on love (though for some it may do the opposite).  A death might cause us to reflect on our own life while a selfless act may cause us to become more altruistic.  Holidays have the same effect.  This time of year there is a lot of talk about giving thanks.  Christmas is the season of giving.  New Year’s is remembering the past and looking to the future.  What if we did this more often?

Better relationships, better service and better communication could be part of our routine if we just did a little more  communicating.

  • Thank people more often.  Whether it’s your co-workers, customers, employees or family, your sincere thanks for their efforts can go a long way.  Let people know how much you appreciate them.
  • A random act of kindness.  Do something for others without expecting anything in return.  Do this daily.  Give your time.  Make someone else’s day better and see what it will do for you.
  • Reflect on the past.  Use it as a time to learn and grow not as a time to hope for what could have been.  When we learn from our past, we may avoid some mistakes in our future.
  • Look ahead for what is to come.  Start thinking big picture about your life, your business, your family or whatever is important to you.  Big picture thinking helps you paint the roadmap to achieve your version of success.
  • Remember.  Remember those who have helped you.  Who was your mentor?  Who shaped your life?  Appreciate what others have done for you.  And remember, somewhere out there you are influencing someone too.
  • Celebrate. Find a reason to celebrate.  Maybe it’s my college days talking, but there’s always a reason to celebrate.   Recognize the accomplishments both large and small.   Don’t worry, you can always read the local paper if you need something to bring you down.
  • Do something every day to improve.  Opportunities are missed because we aren’t reaady for them.  Find ways to inspire your own learning and development path so when that opportunity comes along you can take advantage of it.

Why wait for a special occasion to take action?  These actions can be done any time for any reason.  They may mean more to the ones you are connected to when it comes unexpectedly.





Ask Penn State if They Can Measure the Value of Culture

16 11 2011

“Integrity is how you act when people are watching.  Values are how you act when people aren’t”

Organizational culture is a hidden asset.  What I mean here is you can’t really see, taste or touch it yet its presence is always there.  When you nurture and develop it, the results often lead to very positive results.  I work with companies to define this intangible object and quantify it in real world value.  Because when you can quantify the influence of culture, it is easier to make an investment in its growth.

So what is the value of culture? Can things such as Vision, Mission and Values be quantified.  When things are going OK, it is easier to define.  When things go wrong, it can be blatantly obvious.  I have been a college football fan for a long time.  Since I am from Wisconsin, I like many others in this state are devout fans of the Badgers.  I remember going to games years ago when there would be 20,000 (I’m being optimistic here) in the seats to watch a game.  Nowadays games are sold out.  The stadium is packed and the Badgers often rank as one of the top teams in the nation.  University leadership created a sports culture built upon success and they have reaped the benefits.  The economic impact to the university has to be in the tens if not hundreds of millions over the past decade.  The indirect benefits have included other campus improvements for the university and a tremendous economic boost for the local community on any given home game for football, basketball or hockey.

What’s even more noticeable is when things go way wrong.  Penn State is going through that turmoil right now.  And it could have all been avoided if someone would have taken action.  Just in case you were under a rock for the past two weeks, a former member of the coaching staff for Penn State football was allegedly involved in a sex scandal.  The actions of this individual have been documented for the past decade along with the apparent cover up that led to the firing of key figures at the college and the dismissal of Joe Paterno.

At one time, Penn State represented a lot of the good things about college football.  Joe Pa was a well respected coach.  He had an excellent track record of finding talent that could also pass their classes.  Penn State was scandal free, avoiding issues of corruption that had plagued other large universities.  Joe Paterno and Penn State Football was an institution.  Unfortunately the institution had cracks in its foundation.  What the scandal exposed was a mis-alignment of values, vision and culture.  Penn State represented trust and integrity.  Yet at some point, leadership chose to betray those values to protect the image of the college over helping the innocent victims.  It is sad and unfortunate.  I have been to Penn State for a football game.  The hospitality was great and both students and alumni that I have met represent all that’s right with the college.  I am sad they have to go through this.  Unfortunately the majority suffer from the actions of a few.

That leads to the cost.  The impact of the scandal and cover-up go beyond emotional damage.  There will be a significant financial impact as well.  Paterno was responsible for bringing millions into the college.  Then there’s alumni donations which may take a hit.  Additional costs will also include the litigation associated with the scandal.  Also affected are college recruiting for both athletic students and regular academics.  While it is too early to measure the entire extent of the financial damage done, the costs will be well into the millions and impact the college for years to come.

While these are extreme examples from a large institution, each company has a direct financial impact created by their culture both positive and negative.  During challenging economic times the culture is often the first to be neglected influencing future success.  Do you know the impact your culture has on your business?  Have you measured it?  How will it influence your future?





Killing Customer Loyalty One Coupon at a Time

5 10 2011

Over the past week I have been working with a client on attracting new customers to his business.  The other day he contacted me to let me know he had been approached by a popular coupon site requesting that he participate in their service.  They recommended he offer one of his services at a 50% discount leaving him break even at best.  The sales person said he should be able to make up the difference through increased customer repeat business and offering other services.  As we discussed the implications of participating in such a program, the client pointed out that the service the coupon site wanted him to discount didn’t really offer the opportunity to sell other services as it was all inclusive.  In the end he realized the coupon site and the customer were the only ones to benefit by his participation.

In Apples to Apples I wrote about focusing on price and the dangers it creates for building loyalty.  Business leaders need to focus on one of two things: either being the best or being the cheapest.  There is nothing wrong with either strategy.  Either approach could help you grow your business, it’s just a matter of which one you want.  If you choose to compete on price, you have to make up for the difference on volume and efficiency.  Most businesses fall short because they are unable to generate the volume of sales to drive price down or they are unable (or unwilling) to become ultra-efficient.  Besides, you have to sell a lot of widgets to make the profit on volume.  On the other side, being the best provides its own challenges.  It requires a higher degree of discipline.  You have to be in tune with who your customers are and clearly understand their needs.  Service is critical to those who want to be the best because the emphasis is on the experience.

Many businesses find themselves in the middle which is where these coupon sites take advantage of their prospects.  By promising to generate traffic, they lure you in by getting customers into your doors.  But are they the right customers?  If they are, how is what you are offering going to be far and away different to get them to come back?  A recent NY Times article highlighted some of the challenges these coupon sites are facing and why they are waning in popularity (http://nyti.ms/coupon_loyalty).  While the sites manage to attract customers in, they will often not return because they will just go back to the site and get another coupon for somewhere else.  It’s hard to drive loyalty when you force your customers to focus on price.  In the end, everyone loses.

Want more customers?  Know the following:

  • Know who your customer really is.  Learn all you can about them.  Understand their needs, wants and desires.
  • Get focused.  Understand your purpose and how it serves your customers best.  Communicate that message to your target audience.
  • Target. Not everyone is your customer so place your energy with your target audience.  Go after them with pinpoint accuracy.
  • Solve their problem.  What issue do you solve with your client?  How is it quantified?  Focus on how your solution is the best.
  • Know why you are different.  The trap of being just like everybody else or trying to be all things to all people will lead you to sales mediocrity.  Focus less on what you do and concentrate your efforts on how you do it.  What experience do you create?  How is that different from what your competitors will do?
  • Tell a good story.  Relate to people through stories and analogies.  Share past experiences and successes.  Frame it in a way that your prospect could see themselves working with you or using your product to address their needs.

While coupons may be a tempting way to get more people through the door, they often just create more work for you without the profit.  The customer may benefit but the business does not.  Become more focused and purposeful about what you do.  Offer an experience like no one else and watch your sales grow.

Want to learn how?  Check out Apples to Apples: How to Stand Out From Your Competition.  Available now in hardcover and on Kindle!





You’re Dying From Cancer, But I Didn’t Tell You.

29 09 2011

Imagine not feeling well and going to the doctor to get things checked out.  The doctor looks you over and tells you there’s nothing to worry about.  The problem persists for several months, followed by several visits.  Each visit finishes with the same response until one day you are so sick and weak you now are taken by ambulance to the emergency room.  After a battery of tests the ER doctor comes into the room and tells you that you have been diagnosed with late stage cancer and you are probably weeks away from death.  Sad, fearful, and angry you call your regular physician and ask him why he didn’t catch this.  His response to you is shocking.  “I didn’t tell you because I was worried you couldn’t afford the treatment.”

Sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen.  First of all, this is an example.  I know a lot of doctors and they would never put the welfare of their patients in jeopardy.  Nobody in their right minds could believe a doctor would do such a thing.  What about businesses?

I take a great deal of pride in the work I do for my clients as well as those contacts who aren’t.  I have the strong belief that my role is to do what is right for the people and the business.  Because of this I may tell people things they don’t want to hear.  Some cases I have lost projects because of it.  Yet in most situations that is what gets me hired.  I tell leaders what they need to know.  If I am not the right resource I refer them to the proper professionals that can help them out.  While I am conscious of the client’s situation, I recommend the action they need to take and leave it up to the referral to see if they can help.  After all, if someone has a cancer in their business, I do not want to be the one who didn’t warn them.

So why do I bring this up?  My rant begins with a conversation that took place with a service provider who was talking to me about referrals.  To be clear, this was not a situation where i was asking him for referrals, but more of a discussion about the practice.  He said he was often aware of needs that his clients had, but was reluctant to refer to outside professionals because of what they might think.  Like the analogy of the doctor, he knows his clients have issues that could prove costly, yet he fails to act out of fear that they will balk at the idea or that they are unwilling to pay for outside help.  The difference here is there is no perceived malpractice.

I do not say these things because I desire more regulations or outside intervention.  I merely wish to bring up a point.  As a professional, you owe it to your clients and colleagues to help them be successful.  If relationships are built on a foundation of trust, I believe your clients and others in your professional circle will value what you have to say.  If you are concerned about it you may need to do a gut check on how solid your relationship is.  My clients are successful because they are told things they don’t want to hear,  but NEED to hear.  Because of this, many of these people are experiencing substantial growth when other businesses are struggling to make ends meet.  They set goals and act deliberately while their competition worries and unfocused action.  Many of my clients are building and expanding while others are shrinking.  All of my clients are through referrals.  In other words, they came to me because someone had the courage to say there is help available.

Whether you are a banker, accountant, marketer or even a coach, your actions towards your clients speaks volumes about your values.  That is why as professionals we build relationships of trust with other service providers.  We may not be doctors, but we do need to hold ourselves to a higher standard.  It is how we will grow and innovate.  So go out and build those relationships, check backgrounds, research and build your circle of professionals.  When you help a business grow, not only do you help that business, you help create jobs, and strengthen our economy.  Not to mention you have strengthened a relationship that will pay you back ten fold over time.  Be courageous, build trust, and create growth.





Sometimes the Best Way to Win is by Finishing Third

19 09 2011

I had the pleasure of hearing Malcolm Gladwell speak last week at a tech conference in Milwaukee.  You may be familiar with his books, which include The Tipping Point, Outliers, and What the Dog Saw.   Mr. Gladwell opened his discussion with the Bekaa Valley Air Battle which took place in 1982.  Considered one of the most lopsided battles in military history, the air battle represented the use of modern warfare which saw the Israelis decimate their Lebanese foes in just a few short days.  The mismatch was so bad that it has been labeled “The Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot”.

What Mr. Gladwell recognized here was Israel didn’t use any technology they developed.  Instead they mastered what others had innovated.  For example, the Soviets were master strategists.  Their centralized power allowed them to bring great minds together to think of the best ways to fight in modern warfare.  However the Soviets did not possess the technology their strategy utilized.  The Americans are a different case.  Their fractioned yet highly entrepreneurial military had developed many of the technologies and weapons necessary to successfully lead the fight.  By combining the best of the two, the Israeli military was able to carry out an attack with such precision, they completely shut down the Lebanese.

We often place too much emphasis on our need to be first in the race.  Yet in many businesses where the business model may be new or evolving, it can actually be better to enter third.  Mr. Gladwell pointed out that Steve Jobs and Apple have been the best at this.  They weren’t really the first to develop anything.  What they did do was take the idea and make it better.

The most important phrase Mr. Gladwell shared was culture dictates innovation.  If you have the right culture, you can do great things.  What you need to do is create a culture that will allow you to be successful.  Yet cultures can be difficult to change.  As leaders, it is necessary to take the time to define what you want to become.  The direction you take your business is the choice of you and your culture.  What direction is it taking you?





Why I Love What I Do. (And Why You Should Love What You Do Too!)

13 09 2011

I am pretty lucky. I have a business where I get to work with great people every day. As part of what I do, I am able to help my clients build wealth, grow their business into an appreciable asset, and reduce some of the stresses caused by various leadership challenges. The greatest blessing is doing what I love. Each day I get to utilize my talents to help make other people’s lives richer. But isn’t that what we all want?

Some of us get stuck in jobs that don’t make us happy. They can feel lost, trapped, or unmotivated. Their ability to shine with their true gifts are doused by the fear that doing anything different would lead to financial ruin. After all, we are all told how bad the economy is out there. What if you could put that fear aside for a moment? If you could do anything you wanted in life, what would you do? What is currently getting in your way?

These were all questions I faced over seven years ago before launching this company. That time was scary. After all, being on your own takes away any safety net that you have. To me, what was more important was doing what I wanted to do. What I could be the best at. I wanted to enjoy getting up every day and dealing with new challenges. This business has given me that opportunity and I am glad to have taken the risk. If you are in a position that is not fulfilling, there are things you can do to avoid feeling trapped. Making the effort and choosing your path can be the most rewarding thing, but only if you take the steps necessary to be successful.

  1. Do a talent inventory – Know what you are the best at.  Figure out what you enjoy doing.
  2. Make it profitable – Just because you are good at something doesn’t mean it will be profitable.  Figure out how to make money doing what you love.  There’s enough starving artists out there and you shouldn’t be one of them.
  3. Have your plan – Know how you are going to find customers and how you are going to grow your business.  Failure to have a plan can leave you as an employee in your own company.  Seek ways to build wealth so your efforts can be multiplied.  This is the biggest challenge most small business owners face.
  4. Pursue life-long learning – Educate yourself.  Seek knowledge.  Grow your mental strengths.  There is a lot of free information out there, but don’t be afraid to pay for the right knowledge.
  5. Surround yourself with successful people – There is no shortage of people who will shoot down your dreams.  Find those who will lift you up and support you.  Join entrepreneur groups, mastermind groups, leadership groups, or mentor programs.  Find someone to help keep you on track and focused on your goals.  Learn from them to avoid mistakes that could cause you hardship.

Taking these five steps can be very helpful in your career growth.  These skills will be necessary whether or not you are planning on going into business for yourself.  Do what you can to eliminate your fears and do what you love doing.  You will be happier for it





The Impact of September 11

12 09 2011

Yesterday marks 10 years since the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington DC, and the failed attempt which led to the crash of flight 93 in Pennsylvania. Over the past week, many of my friends and colleagues have reflected on this event and how it changed our world. Like many, I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when the news first broke. In the weeks following the incident, we became a unified nation committed to overcoming our differences and moving forward through our pain. Ten years later, life has moved on. The pain and grief are still there though more subdued compared to a decade ago.

Though our world changed, we still enjoy a good quality of life here and we owe much to those who have given their lives for the freedom we sometimes take for granted. Today we face new challenges with mounting debt and a sluggish economy. These too can be overcome if we commit to the same resolve we had on that fateful day. It involves each of us taking an active role in growing this nation. We must be accountable. We must be responsible and we must use our strengths to innovate and compete on a global scale. I hope we can learn how to come together to get things done much like our grandparents did in World War II. They sparked a growth in this nation that continued a generation of prosperity. We too have to tap into that work ethic and provide direction and leadership not only for this generation, but future ones as well. Remember September 11. Remember how it unified us towards a common cause and let’s apply that to the other challenges we now face.





Is Leadership Killing Your Company?

7 09 2011

Recently I had the chance to touch base with a long-time client who had taken a leadership role in a new company. I had worked with his previous organization for about four years until he left for a new opportunity. This was my chance to see what differences he noticed in the new business.

The company he is working for now is in the same industry as the last place he worked with a noticeable difference. The current organization has struggled while the company he came from was doing quite well. For the past few years, his current employer has been in a constant state of transition. He is the third president in about as many years. Business is down and morale is down.

This person is no stranger to building a company up. For the past ten years he had improved the performance of the business to make it a market leader. He did observe some new challenges here. As we began to talk about the people he was working with, he pointed out this group had never seen success and wondered if they had the confidence in their organization. Many of the employees had not worked here long. Most staff members had only worked here a few years compared to over ten at his last company. He observed that overall, the energy of the staff seemed low.

My client knew the history of most of the employees and many had come from other struggling companies. What added to the challenge was the commitment of the leadership team here. He pointed out that his leaders didn’t seem to have the same level of care as in his past company. By his opinion, they had taken much of what they were doing for granted. What’s worse is the problem was somebody else’s fault. Whether it be the economy or a poor performing employee, the leadership didn’t take ownership and weren’t accountable. This meant a lot of hand holding by the president followed by a lot of frustration.

People are the most important asset to any organization. Yet leadership is absolutely critical to gaining the most value out of that asset. When leadership fails, the company is sure to follow. My client knows this and is taking steps to improve the problem. Unfortunately there is a lot of repair work that needs to be done from the shortcomings of past managers.

What challenges do you face with leadership in your company? Top level executives know the strengths and weaknesses of their direct reports, but are they doing most to strengthen their skills? Much like a stone tossed into a pond, the impact of leadership creates ripples throughout the entire organization. We may take for granted a leaders lack of skills and hope they improve on their own, but do they ever? Coach, mentor, and be accountable. Most important, make others accountable as well. What you save in time and expense up front could cost you greatly in the end.





Growth is Out There. Are You Bringing Your Best Game to Get It?

29 08 2011

This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit some friends at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. They are in the process of starting a museum in the area and I offered my assistance to help them on a big weekend. For those of you unfamiliar with the lake, it is a popular tourist spot south of Jefferson City. Its biggest activity: boating. For most of us here in the Midwest, we are familiar with a bass boat or small cruiser. At the Ozarks, you often see ocean going performance racers or large cabin cruisers because of the lake’s size. It is also in a beautiful part of the country that offers over 2000 miles of shorefront with all the little coves and inlets.

The reason I am bringing this up is to say that people are still spending money. This past weekend was Shootout, an annual event where everything from pontoons to fifty foot race boats compete for top speed on a stretch of open water as thousands of spectators watch. To say that the amount of money floating in the water is obscene would be an understatement. When many of these water-going projectiles can cost in the millions; and it is common to see several of these types of boats docked at any of the bars and restaurants lining the shore you can see that people are still spending money. Now they are just spending it differently.

While there I was able to talk with several executives in the industry as well as people who were there to enjoy the weekend. The business leaders were optimistic about their industry and were seeing a resurgence of buyers. They also admitted that the clients were the ones who were passionate about boating since lending practices have changed how people are able to afford these luxury items. People are still willing to spend, they are just more careful how they wish to spend their money. For their investment, they want more. If it is eating at a restaurant, the service has to be top notch. If they are buying products, they have to be high quality. Often the value of the item aligns with the values of the individual. That awareness is heightened in an environment where we are talking about a lifestyle.

As business leaders we are about creating experiences. Because people make their buying decisions based on emotion, we are continually pressed to make the experience the best one possible. Because our customers’ values are different we have to align the experience with their values. This is what makes business so challenging. We are always working to hit a moving target. The companies that are the best at this are growing and the businesses who fail to learn this are struggling.

This is why it is so important to know who your customers are. Learn which ones are the best. Understand what is important to them and why they would choose to do business with you. Also know which ones aren’t a good fit. You will never make everyone happy so spend your time making your best customers exstatic to do business with you.








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