One Word that can Transform Your Business… And Your Life

29 11 2012

The year is winding down and for many companies thoughts start focusing on a new year.  Maybe you are taking the time to review where you have been, where you are and where you want to go.  Are you happy with the results?  Do you wish your business was improving?  If it is doing well, do you want to reduce the stress and challenges that growth creates?  Do you always want to improve?

The ability to be better, and happier, with our business, our people and our personal lives can be boiled down to one word: GIVE.  That too may be top of mind since we are in the holiday season.  However, giving should not just be limited to one time of year.  Giving has implications that lead to success and happiness.  While giving is often associated with money, there are other ways that can make an even greater impact.

  • Give your TIME – Spend it where it matters most to you.  Time is a valuable commodity that equates to more than money because once it is spent, we can never get it back.  Give time to a cause, spend it with family, even give some to yourself.  Make every minute count.
  • Give your ATTENTION – All of us are guilty of not being in the moment at times.  When you are with someone, do more than occupy the same room.  Give them your attention and they will give you theirs.
  • Give your WORK – Doing too much?  Probably.  Are there others who can do the task?  Almost definitely.  Leaders often take on too much with the notion that no one else can do things as well as they can.  Take some of that time and give someone the tools to potentially do it better.  They learn and in the future you will have more time to use the way you want.
  • Give a MEMORY – People have grown to expect the mundane.  Give them something they will remember.  Money fades, but an experience will provide memories that last a lifetime.  Your customers will appreciate it and keep coming back.  Your employees will love it and you will make them happier while keeping them longer.
  • Give your RESOURCES – Time.  Talent.  Money.  All can make a difference for someone else who has less.  Find a cause that has meaning to you.  The personal rewards will be great, and that impact can resonate for years.  The difference you make improves the community in which you live.
  • Give your KNOWLEDGE – Give someone a fish they eat for a day.  Teach someone to fish, you feed them for a lifetime.  Enough said.
  • Give THANKS – Many are wired into what is wrong.  Thank yous have become a rarity.  Thank people more.  Give thanks to someone for unexpected reasons.  When they do a great job.  For their dedication. For sticking with you during the tough times.  Showing gratitude to others will bring that gratitude back to you ten fold.
  • Give a PURPOSE – People want to matter.  They want to feel important.  Remind them why they are here and how they bring value to you, your customers, and your company.  Let them contribute in matters that impact sales and profits.  Let them take managed risks.  Embrace their strengths and mentor them to success.  Your influence could change the life of someone more than you know.

It has been said the more you give the more you get.  What you get cannot be measured by money alone yet it could make the difference between having an average year or a stellar year in 2013.  Need a better understanding of how to implement this?  GIVE me a call.





The Only Constant Thing

5 11 2012

It’s remarkable how many people spend valuable time and energy fighting against change. I assume you know the people I’m talking about. If not, they’re relatively easy to spot: they treat new ideas with the same enthusiasm you and I would show for a root canal. Without Novocain.

Remarkable is probably not the right word insomuch as the word has a positive connotation. Consider how much change we go through in a relatively short period of time. In my adulthood (not my whole life, just adulthood, mind you) I’ve seen the following:

  • The music industry was nearly knocked out by a computer company.
  • Computers have shrunk to the size of a wallet.
  • Soda serving sizes have increased to the size of a small cooler.
  • Smoking has become just slightly more acceptable than hardcore drug use.
  • Airport security x-rays me more than my doctor and dentist combined.

Book writing switched to the computer. Then book shopping. And now, book reading is too.
The list could go on and on, but the point is that change is occurring at a pace that would have made our forefathers dizzy. And while I’m not well-equipped to accurately predict the next big change, I’m comfortable with the statement that the pace will only accelerate from here.

There’s basically two camps when it comes to change: the ones that love it and the ones that hate it. I fit into the first camp and that has some drawbacks. For starters, people who change too much are seen as unstable. That said, I think the second camp has a tougher road to travel.

So if you’re in that camp, or you have an abundance of employees there, you’re going to have to figure out how to embrace the constant change in chunks that aren’t overwhelming. One suggestion is to create a list like I did above. It’s amazing how much we’ve seen in the last 20 years, yet I rarely recognized the impact while it was happening. I just knew it was typically an improvement in some way. That makes me hopeful about the “next thing”.





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?





Giving Thanks and Giving Back

2 11 2011

It seems like some time since I made my last post, and it has been.  Trying to keep up on blog posts can be challenging especially when you are busy doing many other things.  I am happy to say the things we have been doing are good.

Sometimes it’s hard to be thankful for what we have.  But it seems like every year around this time, we become more reflective on these things.  As I look back over the past year I wonder how it flew by so quickly.  I continue to have the opportunity to work with great people.  There have been some challenging times.  I have worked with some businesses in a transitional phase and assisting with those turnarounds can be both rewarding and stressful.  It is always good when you hear they are in a better place now than they were before.  Some have made the turn and some are in the process.

There are also several highly successful companies I have helped out.  Working with these business owners and executive teams, we have worked together to create better organizations, happier employees, and incredible growth.   In both cases, the turnarounds and the growth companies, there is great satisfaction when you can help ease some burden and get people to enjoy their business again.

Some of the most rewarding work often comes from the places you least expect it.  Over the last twelve months I have been proud to associate myself with several not-for-profits.  Three of them: Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County, The Clean Lakes Alliance, and Madison MAGNET are all special to me because of their leaders’ passion for the work that they do.  We have worked together on business planning, event marketing, and leader development to help get these companies focused and growing in a difficult financial climate.  There is still work to be done, but with their leadership they will succeed.  It is great to be able to give back to the community and I encourage all business owners to give a contribution to what they believe in.

There are many not-for-profits out there that need our help.  All doing great work for the community.  Find those that you can align yourself with and seek ways to contribute.  While money is important, sometimes volunteering your time and services is just as critical.  I am a big believer in karma.  What you do for others will reflect back on yourself.  So take the time this year to find those organizations that have special meaning for you.  What you do will pay back ten fold in goodwill and personal satisfaction.





Creating a Legacy

6 10 2011

By now practically everyone is aware of the passing of Steve Jobs.  During the 56 years of his life, he changed the way we lived and worked.  Apple has been credited for creating the first personal computer.  The Macintosh with its all-in-one design and graphical interface changed the way we interacted with technology.  Later the iMac, Macbook, iPod, iPhone, and iPad came along.  These products were well designed, and almost intuitive to our needs.  Even if you aren’t a big fan of Apple, most other operating systems and interfaces mimicked those of Job’s company.

Mr. Jobs also changed the way we used entertainment.  Pixar changed how we saw animation and iTunes changed how we purchased music.  His passing only leaves us wondering what more could he have accomplished had he lived another 20 years.  The legacy he has created will influence us for generations.

This leads me to ask what legacy are you creating?  While many of us may never achieve the admiration that Jobs has, we all still have the potential for greatness in our world.  We are here for a very short time and each person we come into contact with we have the power to influence in a positive way.  When we understand our purpose and give it some direction, we can in our own way create a legacy to last the ages.

Do your little part to change the world.  Be active in your community.  Give your time and your resources to worthwhile causes you believe in.  Actively work to solve life’s challenges.  Be a good steward.  Most important, work to be your best at everything you do.  Making a difference involves showing up.  So whether you are trying to become the next Jobs, or are just trying to make life better for one other person, you have the ability to leave your own legacy.

When will you start?





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.








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