Labor Day Reflections

Monday here in the US is Labor Day. It’s the day that we honor and remember all the contributions that the American people have made for and towards the economy and success of our country. I think it’s important to still celebrate this day because even though we’ve made some really great strides in making work accessible and safer for all, there are still some serious issues in the work place today.

When you look at the statistics about how many people are employed vs. unemployed, they don’t take into account how many people are miserable in the job they have. It doesn’t register how many people dread going to work the next day. It doesn’t consider how many people feel threatened, frustrated or ignored by their bosses and superiors. It doesn’t take into account the number of workers who have no clue what they’re doing or why they do what they’re doing. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of improvement still needed in many workplaces.

The first step to improvement is for the leadership to remember that they’re working with people, not magicians. Most staff members won’t read minds, can’t decipher gibberish, and can only do what you’ve told them to do. So when they’re not doing what you need them to do, aren’t truly helping customers, aren’t being as productive as you want them to be or keep doing things wrong, take a step back. First look at what you’ve told them to do (do your messages/requests/instructions even make sense?  Are they detailed and specific enough?). Second, look at how you’ve trained them and if you’re continuing to give them education to improve their skills. Third look at the resources available to them (can they do the job you’re asking them to do, let alone do well?).

Once sufficient and clear communication, expectations and resources have been established, only then can things improve dramatically for both workers and businesses. Are you the reason your employees are miserable and unproductive? What can you do to be the reason that you’ve got employees who look forward to coming into work, share about job openings with your business, and are happy and capable of fully supporting your customers?

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The Power of Perspective

I’ve often said that life is about perspective. Your perspective can help you see what you’re doing, where you’re going and why you make the choices in your life, but only if you choose to examine your perspective. It’s also important to understand that we each have our own perspectives, and that the way I see things is probably different from how you see them. Yes, there will be times that we agree on a perspective, but other times we’ll see things differently. Seeing them differently and sharing those differences with each other means that we’re given a chance to expand our perspective and consider other perspectives. It doesn’t mean that our perspective is right or wrong, but that there’s more we could be seeing in the world.

Recently I read this quote: “Don’t listen to those who say, you are taking too big a chance. Michelangelo would have painted the Sistine floor, and it would surely be rubbed out by today. Most important, don’t listen when the little voice of fear inside you rears its ugly head …” Neil Simon

Neil Simon brings up a good point. Michelangelo could have chosen to paint the floor, or even the walls. Countless other structures have been painted on the floors and walls, from Egypt to Pompeii to caves where ancient civilizations lived. Likewise, you can choose to be intimidated by someone who has far more experience than you or gets paid a ton more than you and and feel like what you’ve got to offer isn’t really that great or that much. But when you bring your personal perspective to the table, the balance shifts.

Each of us has something incredible to bring to the table. There were many other great painters and artisans during Michelangelo’s life who could have probably painted something similar to what he did. But how many of them would have thought to put it on the ceiling? He did, and that’s one of the reasons why he’s been remembered through the years. Don’t worry if you can’t be the biggest and best, just choose to do your best and share your perspective with the world.

The Choice of Success or Competition?

One of the keys we consistently talk about when it comes to business is people. If you don’t have customers you can’t run a business. If you run a business that uses employees but you don’t have any (or can’t keep any) you can’t service your customers. If your suppliers or partners don’t hold up their end of the arrangement, you can’t serve your customers. Sounds simple enough, right? Yes, but there are lots of layers to just simply having customers and employees and working with suppliers/partners.

There is competition in every town, every state, and every industry, so on top of the local competition you’ve got the internet competition to face as well. It’s almost impossible to find (or create) an industry that doesn’t have competition, either direct competition (i.e. other health food stores) or competition within the same field (i.e. other supermarkets). There will always be a question of whether you’re truly offering the same thing or not, the experience you have in offering/creating that item (how do you back up the value you offer) and what the difference is with price.

I believe that there are more than enough customers for everyone, so I don’t believe that you have a right to be angry at customers or employees who choose to move on. If they choose to move on they do it for a whole variety of personal reasons including moving locations, relationship changes, or health changes. Unless you’re going to make some significant changes to your business (unlikely) there’s not much you can do about keeping their business.

But they may also choose to move on because you’re not providing what they need or want. For example, if they feel like the service isn’t up to their standards (or has recently changed), if they feel disrespected or unappreciated, if they see more growth (career and knowledge) opportunities, if they don’t feel that you’re offering a quality product (or has recently changed), or if they’re not getting properly compensated for the work they do. If any of these are true then you can’t blame the other companies out there, you can only blame yourself for pushing them away.

If this is a reality check for you and you’re realizing that you’re chasing away potential life-long customers and employees your customers have always appreciated, it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate how you’re leading and running the business. Learn from what the successful businesses in your world (online and local) are doing, don’t berate or antagonize your customers and employees for patronizing them or choosing to work with them when you aren’t being the great business you could be. Most businesses can be turned around from a downward spiral if they’re willing to be open to hearing the truth and make the necessary changes.

Competition isn’t the enemy of success, competition is normal and healthy. It’s up to each business to differentiate themselves, market themselves and provide 5 star service to customers whether you’re selling inexpensive toys or pricey homes.  Are you so focused on the competition that your business, customers and employees are suffering?

Thank You Kofi Annan

Last week the world lost another great leader, someone who worked with some of the most difficult situations around the world during his 80 years on earth: Kofi Annan. He wasn’t a perfect man, he didn’t solve all the issues he was presented with, but he led through them and left a legacy of peace and leadership for us to learn from and thank him for.

I don’t think it’s possible for most of us to live a perfect life. Everyone struggles with something at some point, some of us do it on a very public stage, and some of us do it more quietly. So I don’t think the goal should be to achieve a perfect life, but to live a life that helps others and that we’re more proud of how we lived, than regretful or shameful. I’d be pretty happy if people remembered me as a leader and someone who stood for peace for many. You also don’t need to know how to do everything, or try to be everything to everyone, just be yourself and open to learning new things.

You get out of life what you put into it, and Kofi Annan is a great example of really putting a lot of effort into life with many good things to show for it. The world needs more people like him who are willing to step up and be aware of what’s going on around them and work towards peace for all people.

“To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there.”

“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.”

“I have always believed that on important issues, the leaders must lead. Where the leaders fail to lead, and people are really concerned about it, the people will take the lead and make the leaders follow.”

“In the 21st century, I believe the mission of the United Nations will be defined by a new, more profound awareness of the sanctity and dignity of every human life, regardless of race or religion.”

Making Life Safer and More Peaceful for the Next Generation

The words “back to school” are echoing around the country. For some school is a welcome time, for others there’s a lot of apprehension. Both parents and kids can struggle with back to school time, and one of the challenges that has been increasingly becoming a greater point of concern is the safety issue. Whether from outside sources or inside sources violence and bullying has been increasingly on people’s radars. But it’s not exclusive to schools, as you may know, violence and threats can happen anywhere and at any time, whether an orchestrated attack or driving incident that happen between two parties that have zero connection, or a natural disaster that is more serious than anticipated.

Safe is a term that we throw around but aren’t always able to follow through on. Why? Because there are too many variables to be able to fully anticipate all potential dangers. The best way to be safe though is with planning and honesty. The first thing I think as adults we need to do is be willing to admit that there are dangers around, and not to be oblivious to them. This is a first step that not everyone takes, because who really wants to think about this stuff?

The next step is to be honest about some of the potential things that could go wrong and outline some kind of plan for them. While you don’t have to have precise steps that should be taken in the event of certain things happening, it’s a good idea to at least have things outlined as to financials and last wishes and even online account information so that in the event of something bad happening your wishes and information are made known. You should also have an emergency fund (and specify what that fund can be used for) that can cover expenses for 6 months or more. You should also have at least one discussion with the family about these things so that everyone is at least aware of where the information is, what plans are if something happens and who the contact people are outside of the family should something happen.

Of course the third step is to be smart about how you live. That doesn’t mean that you don’t take some risks or don’t have any fun, but it means that you don’t drive recklessly, you don’t do drugs, you get help from a therapist or counselor if you’re struggling with anger or hurt or depression or something else, and generally think before acting in life.  Your better habits will teach your kids to have better habits as well.

No family ever likes to think about the dark side of life, but it’s a reality. If you want your family to be safer, do what you can to make it more likely that you’re all protected. But even though safe isn’t a guarantee, a greater sense of peace can be a reality if you take the time and effort to do a little planning. What are you doing to make the world a little more peaceful, and hopefully safer, for the next generation?

Proactive Business Communications

On Monday I shared some thoughts about dealing with people who are poor communicators. While you can’t fix them (unless they ask you for help), there is something you can do if you’re the poor communicator. Unfortunately, one of the worst communicators are businesses. It’s really a shame with the advances in technology that make it so easy for anyone to create even a simple website, or have an email address to answer questions.

One of the biggest issues when it comes to communication in business is a lack thereof. It’s not really about an inability to communicate what you’re all about (but that is an issue sometimes), it’s more of an issue of not answering questions potential customers have, not speaking to them in a way they understand or making them work harder than they should to answer the simplest of questions.

If as a business you think you’re answering all of a potential customer’s questions with your marketing material, then it’s time for an outside review with someone who’s not familiar with your company at all, preferably several someones. Having success coaches, business consultants and regular people in your target market review your marketing can give you an eye-opening reveal as to whether or not you’re really setting yourself up for success.

One of the biggest challenges is getting past the ‘everyone knows that’ stage to the ‘let’s be proactive and educate our customers and show them we’re a customer service savvy organization.’ Unless you’re one of the world-wide fast food chains, world-wide beverage companies, or big box retailers that are in multiple countries, it’s not safe to assume that things are “well-known” about you, your company and/or what you’re offering. The cost of adding a few lines to a web page, answering a few emails or making a few social media posts is so incredibly negligible that it’s mind blowing that so few companies are willing to take that step.

One of the other questions that’s often raised is about being worried about revealing all of the trade secrets, which I understand. But if you don’t include enough information you won’t get people past that first step. I don’t have a problem with a little mystery, but too much isn’t healthy for businesses. Think about it this way: you probably played games like Old Maid, Clue and Monopoly as a kid (and maybe you still play now). Each of those games has some very predictable and communicable aspects, and yet the fact is that you never know who the old maid is, who the killer is or who will end up with the most money or houses. Those mysteries are OK to let stand, the mystery of what the game is all about and the key aspects (i.e. the cards, the board, the players etc.) have to be revealed in order for people to not only play, but to purchase the game in the first place.

I understand that some businesses struggle to manage the customer load they have now, but chances are really good that they/you still want more customers. If that’s the case, being proactive about communicating is one of the simplest and easiest things you can do.

Does your business communicate proactively or are you struggling to keep up?

Dealing with Poor Communicators

Anyone who has achieved a level of success, whether someone in a career job, in a relationship, in education or as a business owner, has dealt with any number of challenges in their journey to get there. One of those challenges has to do with communication.  We’ve talked before about how essential communication is and that everyone screws up on communicating from time to time.  Communication is also something that we are (or should be) learning and working on from the day we’re born to the day we die.

The communication challenge that I want to talk about today is dealing with people who are poor communicators. These are people who refuse to justify their thoughts, just speak from the hip and never consider what they’re spewing out of their mouth, or talk about you behind your back (i.e. post a negative review about you/your service/your company without even trying to resolve it, complain to a supervisor and don’t try to discuss it with you etc.).

The first step to success in these situations is something that everyone can do whether they’re skilled at communication or not, is the practice of patience.  The second is something we’ve talked about in the past, and it’s the skill of asking questions.  When you put even just these 2 skills together, you’ve got the ability to work through many challenging communications.  Add to that some solid communication skills and you’ve got a better chance at either navigating the challenge, or dealing with the aftermath and coming out less destroyed than you might.

Some people are just happy to vent and really don’t care if things get resolved.  Some people just like to find problems and issues and again, don’t care about a resolution.  Fortunately I’ve found that both of those types of people are in the minority, and that given the chance most people do want to resolve things and are open to talking things through.

I’m not a communications expert yet, I’ve got lots to learn.  But with each new conversation I have, blog post I read, and video I watch I’m being exposed to lessons that I can learn from and apply to my life and conversations in the future. What have you been learning in your conversations lately?

In Sickness and In Health

For the past couple of days I’ve been dealing with a headache that just doesn’t seem to want to give up. Fortunately I’ve got things planned so that my partner always has food options for when I don’t have the ability to cook for us and I try to be on top of things around the house so that if I can’t for a day or two the world won’t end. What happens when you need some extra time or help, either you’re sick or someone in the family is? Today I’ve got a couple of suggestions for these occasional days or sets of days for making sure your kids are cared for when you can’t give them the full attention you usually do.

Let’s start with food. Most weeks I make a trip to 2-3 grocery stores, including a fresh food market, so there’s never a lack of fresh foods or healthy foods readily available, some that don’t require more of my attention than throwing them in the oven for an hour to bake or take a couple minutes to wash up. Have extras of the kids favorite snacks on hand, don’t make it a practice of running out, as well as key staples in the cereal and grain departments (keeping a loaf of bread in the freezer is a great idea). Finally, always have stored away a couple special treats, whether they’re frozen bars, special snacks or frozen dinners that the kids ask for but aren’t things you like to give them on a regular basis that you can treat them with during challenging days.

What about keeping them busy? As always it’s great if you’ve got another family close to yours that you can switch off kids if there’s a need in either of your homes, or if you can hire a sitter to come in for a few hours. But if your kids are old enough and responsible enough to be entertain themselves for a couple of hours while you’re sleeping or just resting, having a selection of movies and TV show DVDs or On Demand that they don’t watch frequently but enjoy on those occasions is a good option for these times. It’s also a good idea to have some new activity books/boxes, new toys, new coloring books and new books hidden away for these times too, it gives them something new and special to work on individually or together.

What are your tips for caring for kids when you’re not feeling 100%?

The Business of Relationships

Today I thought we’d talk about something that some businesses are interested in but others haven’t hopped on the bandwagon yet: creating a better relationship with your customers. Some businesses are happy to just get a customer, and have designed their business to be a limited number of transactions between them and a specific customer, maybe even as few as one, or a couple with quite a few years between. That’s OK, it certainly works for some businesses, and often the case is that those products or services cost more as a result. However, in most cases businesses want to have more than one sale with a customer, and statistically it’s cheaper to sell again to one customer than to gain a new one. So let’s talk about things that impact building a relationship with a customer.

Regular communications are the first place to start. Sometimes this is necessary to gain a customer in the first place, but it’s also key to developing a relationship with a customer and getting them to come back for more sales in the future. There are several options to how you can do this, from local events to social media to an email newsletter to a print newsletter to a blog. Once you’ve chosen the method of communicating you have to consistently follow through, whether it’s daily/weekly social media posts, weekly blog/newsletters or monthly events, or whatever schedule you choose to follow that is consistent and frequent enough to keep you top-of-mind, but not too frequently that it’s overwhelming or annoying.

The other thing to consider about building a relationship is about customer experience. If customers know they only have to deal with something once they’re willing to put up with a less-than-perfect website, pushy marketing, and even possibly some rudeness or poor customer service. However, if you want to build a relationship with a customer, the website should be up to date and have colors that are easy for people to view without being overwhelming, customer service should be responsive to all questions or queries, and care should be taken to both creating products and marketing materials so there aren’t obvious spelling or grammar issues, outdated information or so little information they have no idea what’s going on.

What about your business? Are you working on building a relationship with your customers or just working to get the sale?

Ends and Next Steps

Lately I’ve been hearing people talk about ends: about the end of the summer, the end of a life, the end of a business, the end of a job, the end of cancer treatments, and the end of a part of a journey. Whether we like it or not endings are part of our lives just like change and taxes. It’s almost easier to think about change than it is endings. And if I’m honest I don’t feel like I’m at the end of anything (except maybe my latest book), I feel like I’m in the middle of many journeys, and maybe that’s how you feel.

But whether we like it or not we do need to think about the end of things from time to time, because that’s how life goes, and with as unpredictable as life is, you don’t know how many days, months or years you’ve got. Sometimes things end simply because we can’t juggle all the balls anymore, or because we need to rest. Endings themselves aren’t evil or wrong, but like change we have to be willing to handle them as they come along, and prepare for them the best we can beforehand.

Even if you’re not ready for things to end, or even to sit down and seriously prepare for things to end, it’s important to take time and at least make some minor preparations, like printing out important numbers and last wishes, and taking time to plan even a little what you would do if your life took a big right or left turn. Where would you go? What would you do? Who could you depend on? Do you have the resources to last 6 months or until you can get back on track? What would be the first 3 things you would do when you reach a personal or professional end?

There are many things an end can be, and many things it doesn’t have to be. Like many things in life they’re only as scary and powerful as we allow them to be. Whether you’re facing an end like the end of your life or the end of the life of a loved one, you’re just facing the end of your ability to sleep any hours you wish, or you’re facing the end of working tirelessly on a project, it’s time to face the question of what’s next, and I encourage you to choose an amazing next step to your life’s journey.