The Bottom Line and Relationships

This month I read Relationomics by Randy Ross, which as you may have guessed from the title talks about the intersection of relationships and success/failure in business. In fact one of the first things the book talks about is how when organizations prioritize people before profits, there’s a great payout both relationally and economically. Of course many of us know there’s a connection between how people are treated, if people are treated as humans, if people are respected etc. and the success/failure of a company and/or its leader and the reputation it has. It’s not a new issue that some companies aren’t really in it for their employees, they don’t have a great (or even average) culture to support their employees, and the company and employees clearly don’t have an interest in investing in their customers, especially their long term ones. We’ve talked about all of this in various posts in the past, including in last week’s post, but this is one of those topics that isn’t likely to go away in my lifetime or yours, and this book adds some good insights to help further the conversation.

One of the things I really liked about this book were a couple of the ways he defined or approached some terms that we hear and may not always want to work on or have concerns about. The book defined transparency as “the willingness to be known by others.” It also shared that one of the biggest purposes of delegation can be (should be) to help others grow. It also shared that the goal of communication should be to seek understanding, resolve issues and move forward together. It can be intimidating to add transparency to our companies and our work, especially if we’re struggling, but I think most of our issues around transparency have to do with fears and the negative way that transparency is being approached by many companies, or even back to school when we were told to “show our work” at math. But if we’re truly in a healthy organization, it’s good to be known to each other so that we can support each other and bring the best of what we can offer to the table, rather than being forced into a position we hate and really aren’t good at and aren’t making progress at learning.

Directly connected with all of that is the idea the book shared about how you’ve got the choice to own the relationship with each customer. If you think about it like having a dollar bill in your hand, you can choose to do a lot of things with it: you can put it in your pocket or wallet and keep it there, you can rub it around in the dirt, you can use it to buy a snack or beverage, you can invest it, you can shred it, and you can throw it out a window while you’re driving. Two of those most people would point out as being a bad idea, and truly wasting money. The same is true for customer relationships: you can choose how you interact with customers, how you treat customers who have been with you for a long time, and the types of interactions customers have with the business.

Which brings us to the last point I want to highlight for today, and that’s regarding the choice we have to make about how we lead as the owner of our business. Do we commit to deal with each other personally, do we respectfully interact with each other, do we give frequent feedback to employees/team members that helps them gain direction and perspective and details, do we intentionally invest and engage or intentionally ignore as much as possible, do we ignore reality, do we explore our creative options, do we have humility and willingness to learn and grow, are we committed working together with unified purpose and both shared and individual responsibility? None of this is raised with the goal to shame, but rather to give hope that there are businesses out there who are getting on board and investing in both leadership and people who are interested in working together so that everyone can be successful and feel as though they’re part of something important and special.

What about you? What are you creating through the relationships you have, and how are those relationships impacting your bottom line and the success, happiness, stability and contribution of your people?

In the Business of Gratitude

This month I read Leading with Gratitude by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton. Gratitude has emerged as one of the reasons why people say they leave a company, or at the very least the lack thereof is a reason they choose not to stick around. Gratitude is something that we should be practicing on a personal level (i.e. in our relationships and throughout our non-work activities), and it’s also something that is practically cost-free and can have a big impact around the office. It’s something anyone and everyone in the company should do, but especially something that should be started and consistently modeled by the leadership

If all these studies have been done on the power of gratitude, why isn’t it done more at work? Part of the answer has to do with leadership insecurity, fear, presumed effort, and lack of desire to invest in their people. While I understand the idea that bosses/leaders may have that if they’re compassionate and give praise to employees they won’t be seen as the authority figure they are supposed to be, too many leaders have proven that idea to not be valid. In fact, the book said that many leaders find great joy in being part of a gratitude-based team, and find out more about challenges their teams are facing/issues they’re having before they become serious and cause tons of damage.

So what are we talking about when it talks about sharing gratitude at work? While there definitely is a place for general gratitude (“hey, good job today”), the book talked about the best or most empowering gratitude being authentic, specific and timely. Beyond just being appreciated at all, most of us prefer getting specific gratitude and knowing exactly what we did well and getting the recognition that someone knows exactly what we did. But I don’t think we always take the time to think about how much more power a timely gratitude statement has than a list of praises saved up for performance review time.

One interesting point they highlighted about having a gratitude practice at work has to do with how it can be tied to your values and mission. Many companies set out a list of values or mission statement when they start the company, but then don’t follow up on it, and many of the employees can’t even tell you about a company’s values or mission. So not only can you recognize employees/team members in the moment you see them living a company value, you can also make that recognition part of weekly/monthly/quarterly meetings, so that everyone can not only appreciate their fellow employees, but also get some examples and reminders of how they too can live company values and further the company mission.

If you’re not ready to start with outright praise and gratitude, start with something simpler and just (positively) acknowledge what people are doing. It all comes back to recognizing that we’re all human, that we all work better together when people are more empathetic, respectful, and more open so that everyone can work together as a fully functioning and knowledgeable team. Have you thanked or celebrated someone recently?

Conversations on Culture and Community

This month I read another older book, The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk. It was written when social media was quite new and he was on the forefront of believing in the possibilities it held for companies. It amazes me that we still have the same arguments many years later about whether it works or not, but we’ve got some companies and campaigns that have been incredibly successful. We won’t be getting into that messy topic today, instead we’ll be looking at a couple of other things that Gary brings up in the book regarding leadership, business, customers, employees and marketing.

A big focus in the book is about people. Gary talks about the importance of treating customers the same whether they’re in person or online, that happy customers are worth a lot more than any other kind, and that customers would rather do business with people they like. As I’ve always said, behind every business is at least one other person. Even when you think you’re in the B2B market, you’re always dealing with people.

But customers aren’t the only people that businesses are connected to, there are employees (and/or partners or affiliates) as well. In the book Gary said “the first thing that makes an employee happy is to be treated as an adult.” It always amazes me how poorly some businesses treat their employees, whether the markets are in good condition or there are challenges like we’re currently experiencing. Employees make or break a company, can cost it untold amounts of revenue and branding, and companies/leaders consistently tie the hands of employees who could help not only fix customer issues, they could help turn them into customers for life. We’re finally getting better at recognizing the importance of and how to care for customers, hopefully employees will be next.

Another core topic in this book is marketing. While much of the conversation is about social media, many of the principles that Gary talks about apply to all types of marketing. One of my favorite lines is “the person who post a negative comment is a customer you can talk to.” No company wants negative reviews, but when they get posted online businesses at least have a chance to make things right, as opposed to the word-of-mouth reviews that used to be the only way people shared about company experiences. Other advice Gary gives about marketing is that in this day and age there is no such thing as a time that you “end” your marketing. You may change what you’re talking about or the topic of a campaign, but the goal is to keep the conversation going.

In line with that, the final thought I want to share is about community. It’s understood that there’s only so low you can go with a price and only so excellent you can make a product or service, so what’s left is the people. Choose to be creative, choose to impress your customers, choose to give customers and employees the chance to talk with leadership, choose to be polite, choose to give customers reasons to care about your brand, choose to care about your customers more than the bottom line, and choose to build a community that supports each other and cares about each other.

What are you building with your business?

Dare to be a Leader

This month I read Brené Brown’s Dare To Lead. From the title itself we get a sense of where Brené will take us in this book, and that’s with a challenge and encouragement to up-level or do better than the average. Some people do great damage to the concept of leadership, they’re not truly the leaders we need them to be or they could be. Leaders should be those who are courageous and committed to caring for their people on every level, not just looking out for profit. Brené described leaders as “anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.” It’s a book that I think anyone in a leadership position can benefit from reading, and I’ll look for more of her books to read in the future.

Something this book talked about a lot were emotions, and tied in with that what the next generation of business and leadership might look like, which would be a world where courage, connection, responsibility, meaning, commitment, vulnerability and communication help us have better work experiences, help customers have better experiences with our companies, and help our companies make a bigger, positive impact on the world. I frequently talk about how it all comes back to people: you may not think about the fact that there are very real humans making all the purchases from your company, but credit cards don’t act on their own. It’s one reason why you always have to stop and think about the experience you’re creating on all levels and in all ways, because people with all their problems, opinions, preferences experiences, and distractions are going to be the ones buying from you and working with you.

One of the biggest challenges that comes with incorporating feelings and being more human into leadership and the world of work is navigating the fears, feelings and feedback of others and the difficult conversations that people aren’t necessarily having but should be having if they really want to be leaders and businesses of the next level. Brené went through in great detail throughout the book how to navigate these difficult conversations, which depends on the situation, but always includes people being open and honest. Sometimes those difficult conversations just need a safe space and regular opportunity to happen. Sometimes those conversations need to be broken into sessions so that everyone has sufficient processing time so that nothing is said in haste. Sometimes those conversations aren’t real conversations, but about the leader asking “what does support from me look like?” Sometimes those conversations are being very honest and specific about what’s not working or what the issue is, leading into changing positions or jobs or responsibilities (or even letting someone go). Hard conversations are always hard and we’ll always have knee-jerk reactions during them, but they’re much more successful when we approach them knowing that we’re all feeling things and all committed to working it out without blame or shaming.

Finally, Brené talks about the importance of leaders being curious. I’ve always ascribed to the policy of being a life-long learner. I admit and accept that I will never know everything, and there’s always something more I can learn, even if it’s just someone else’s perspective on something. Curiosity supports us in our conversations and as leaders because it gives us the ability to ask questions and check in with people on how they see things progressing or what they see as a “finished product” or what they’re looking for, or what they’re expecting. It’s a lot easier to be a leader and be successful as people when we’re willing to listen and learn and be part of a team that works honestly together.

How would your leadership and life improve if you dared to be a better, more human, more courageous, more considerate leader?

Art, Stories and Love

Our world is going through a profound period of loss right now, including many legendary people, too many to give proper homage to all of them. But this week the world lost one of my personal favorites, someone that I’ve loved since I was a child: Tomie dePaola. He was an incredible writer and illustrator of children’s books, over 260 of them. One of the things I love about his work is that he brought to life so many incredible cultural stories including “Legend of the Indian Paintbrush,” “The Quilt Story,” “Legend of the Pointsettia,” and “Night of Las Posadas.” He also ventured into challenging topics such as getting old and death that are things that children struggle to comprehend. I’m thankful for the many words, images and stories that Tomie told throughout his life, and my life is richer because I read his stories.

One of the themes that’s consistent throughout his work is that he included hearts in his book and signed his first name with a heart. Regardless of the holidays you celebrate, the culture you connect with, or the stories that resonate with you, we can all connect with the idea of love. Love connects us with invisible bonds that can stand the test of time, and become unbreakable when we truly tend to them.

In this difficult time we’re facing it’s giving many of us the opportunity to strengthen our love bonds. My partner and I were saying the other day that there’s no one we’d rather face this with than each other. I hate that the tragic events of the past few months (starting with the crash of Kobe Bryant and 8 others in January and continuing with this virus) have been the motivations behind encouraging not just my family but other families around the US to get better connected and share their love with each other in whatever ways we can. Yes, science and caring for our communities will help us get through this challenge and all others we face in the future, but what will make the difference between thriving in the future and being scarred enough to be held back will be love.

We can’t bring the thousands of people that we’ve lost to the virus or other causes back to life, but we can choose what we do with our futures. The world needs more people like Tomie dePaola to share stories and love, and their unique gifts with the world. Each of us has a talent or contribution to make, and it’s easier than ever to do so thanks to the internet and availability of other resources. While you’re home and the world is recovering, I encourage both you and your kids to share some love with the world. Maybe that means doing some planting in your yard to care for the earth and cheer up your neighbors. Maybe that means posting pictures of creative drawings and art projects on social media to spread smiles. Maybe that means baking food for a first responder. Maybe that means doing tons of reading and learning so that you can help rebuild our world. Maybe it means telling someone that you’re thankful for them. Maybe that means being a good listener and being supportive to someone who’s struggling right now. Maybe it means writing down the stories you want shared with future generations.

What stories (whose stories) are you thankful for?

Leading People

This month I read The Art of People by Dave Kerpen. The book talks about one of the biggest keys to success for anyone, and that’s interpersonal relationships. We’re not talking about (just) the super personal relationship types that you have with your closest family and friends, but about your ability to interact with others in ways that are respectful, positive and empowering for everyone.

One of the keys to your success this book shares, is believing in and working towards success for others. Part of this is making the effort to understand others, and believing that you honestly can if you make a genuine effort. Part of this is about protecting your people and firing reasonably quickly those who are damaging the culture of your business. Part of this is about making sure you’ve got the right people in the right places and doing the right things. Part of this is about promoting and sharing about others and the good work they’re doing. Part of this is about criticizing in private and with compassion. And finally, part of this is about connecting others so that success can be achieved, whether you’re involved or not.

Another key to success according to this book is making sure to ask people to make decisions. While you sometimes (rarely), get lucky, it’s almost always the case that you have to ask people to make decisions if you want them to work with you or promote for you or donate to your cause. People sometimes just do stuff for random reasons, but almost always you have to ask them for some type of decision, action or commitment, or you won’t likely get the result you’re looking for.

Finally, know your place as the leader. Do the work that has to be done by you like firing or casting vision or encouraging people or putting resources and finances in place for the business, and can’t be done by anyone else. Trust your people to do their jobs, and to come to you when they’ve got issues or concerns, and to be (almost) as committed to the business as you are (because they love it as much as you do or find it as important as you do). Be open to learning from others, experiencing new things, and letting go of things and people when they’re not a good fit for you anymore.

What lessons have you learned lately about being a leader, and how have you improved your people skills?

Leading with a Spark

This month I read Spark: How to Lead Yourself and Others to Greater Success by Angie Morgan, Courtney Lynch and Sean Lynch. If you’ve been here for a while or done some perusing you know I enjoy just about anything that has to do with leadership, so this book was an obvious choice to check out. There were lots of stories and examples of what they were trying to teach in the book, so it wasn’t just a book with good ideas, it showed that those ideas have been put into practice by organizations around the world. There were many good insights and reminders in this book, and it is worth a read for anyone wanting to be a more conscious and attentive leader.

One of the things I appreciated about this book was how honest they were about the growth that they needed to do personally at different times in their journey so far, and about necessary changes that had to happen. This is something many of us struggle with, that we have a hard time seeing our own flaws or don’t know how to work with others to address or fix or manage those issues. One of the big issues employees often have with leaders and managers is how they criticize their employees but either don’t address the same issues they themselves have or how unwilling they are to see that changes are necessary. The authors shared how in their military experience they encountered many situations where everyone was encouraged to contribute feedback of all kinds, and that the feedback was not only acknowledged, but acted up on as well. It’s not often easy to hear feedback, but if you’re truly open to hearing the information (especially if you can get past any emotion associated with it), you can greatly uplevel your personal success and that of your business as well.

The book also talked consistently about the importance of blending both the intangibles like values, character and confidence with things like strategies, business plans, consistency, and communication. It made the point that it’s often these intangibles that help build the credibility and trust in ‘know, like and trust’, which is essential for building, keeping and growing relationships with customers.

Finally, part and parcel with the previous points, accountability is something they talked about throughout the book, as a natural part of improving the performance of both people and the business. Accountability is taking responsibility for your actions, being honest with others about stuff, and being held responsible for your part (or lack thereof) in things. This also includes giving up some control as a manager or leader to let your empowered team do their parts, and trusting them to do what you’ve asked them to do (and having the accountability in place for everyone to be sure everything is getting handled).

What have you learned recently about being a leader?

Creating Moments In Business

This month I read the book The Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. The book was about how to create moments in business that will stick with and thrill customers, which is certainly something that many businesses are talking about right now (the customer experience), so there were lots of ideas and examples to contemplate with regard to creating experiences. Early in the book the authors reminded that it’s not just about making experiences or moments, it’s about all of the wasted and missed opportunities to make people feel included, welcomed, supported and appreciated.

So what is a moment? It could be something as inexpensive as an ice pop or cup of coffee, it could be even cheaper and be just a thoughtful email sent out at the right time. It could also be something that takes a lot of time, resources and effort to create, like reaching the top of Everest. Moments like Everest or graduating college are somewhat predictable in that you are almost certain it’s going to happen and when it will happen. However other moments like ice pops or coffee or emails are a surprise to customers, but should be something that you as the business have planned and work into your marketing and customer appreciation strategies.

Something they talked about at the end of the book was the fact that if you really want to create moments in your business for your customers, you have to start with a great employee experience. Employees are the people who can turn a bad experience into a good one (in one study almost 25% of positive experiences were based on how well an employee resolved a service failure), so why do so many businesses put so little effort into caring for and supporting their employees and empowering them as team players for caring for customers? You can easily create more positive customer experiences by educating and empowering your employees on the broad range of ways they can turn issues and failures around, as well as give them a number of “freebies” each week of ways they can surprise and delight customers.

Finally, the book talks about the fact that you don’t have to try to make every aspect of your business a “moment.” Not every detail needs to wow as long as some moments are magical and picture-worthy or worthy of sharing with your social connections. Yes, you should be aware of and work on fixing both the really big issues and the smaller issues that will overshadow or ruin any moments you try to make. In conjunction with that and after that, once you’ve got an experience that is reliable and dependable and you have a competent team, then you can work on consistently making “moments.”

Are you making moments in your business? What do customers say surprises and thrills them about you and your team?

Creating ‘Likeable’ Companies

This month I read Likeable Social Media by Dave Kerpen. It’s a good book for those who are just getting started with social media, especially companies who are wondering if social media is right for them or why it’s worth joining. For those who have social media experience, it’s a good reminder about best practices when using social media. It definitely does address some of the questions of what it takes to be likable in business and on social media.  As always the rules of posting consistently, knowing the network and being social are always recommended by the author, but they also included some other good insights as we’re looking towards the new year and maybe the next level of social media.

One of the things that I really appreciated that was discussed in this book was a real life example of what a tricky company can do with social media. Tricky companies include those who are in very regulated industries like medical or financial, or companies that offer products or services that are considered boring or strange like storage or incontinence. Dave shared an example of a medical company that primarily used social media to listen and hear what people were saying about company/product/service keywords and specifically about their brand. It’s a great way to use social media even if you can’t do a lot with other aspects of it since people do post reactions and insights that you can learn about what people think about your product or are in need/want of that you offer.

Second, the book talked about how social media is one of the newest ways to provide feedback to brands and for brands to provide customer service. It’s also the new version of word of mouth that people use to share with each other the companies they do and don’t recommend. The big difference between feedback in the past is that it wasn’t available for everyone to see, and now it is. Filling out a feedback card in the past gave the feedback just to the company, now it gives it to the company and all of your connections, which can be a very good thing for both the company and all of a person’s connections. Companies can do a lot of good or damage depending on the responses they give to questions and comments on their accounts, building or destroying trust and future business opportunities. With social media the grapevine got a lot faster and bigger, something that companies should work to their benefit rather than being scared of it or hiding from it.

Third, as I always remind my clients one of the biggest keys to being likable is being human. Have people clearly running the company page, respond in very human ways to comments and questions (avoid using canned responses), apologize, and respond quickly and helpfully to all customer needs. Real people use social media, and they want companies to be equally real with them.

Finally, I leave you with a bit of a warning from the book: social media cannot make up for a bad product, company or organization.  It won’t instantly fix any/all of the marketing problems you may have or low sales numbers.  It can be part of the solution, part of how you market and part of your future plans for how you support and connect with customers, and it should showcase your organization truthfully as the great brand that you are.

What are your new plans or commitments when it comes to social media in the new year?

Business with Heart

This month the book I read was “Managing with a Heart” by Sharon Good. It’s got over 100 insights from the author about what makes a company run well, making employees feel appreciated and values as well as quotes that support the heart and mind of leaders. It’s another book that was written many years ago, but still contains insights that we are trying to apply to our companies, which speaks to both the importance of these insights as well as the difficulty there has always been in living up to these important ideas.

The book was built around 1-4 sentence insights. As I read the first few it made me think of the concept of Twitter and little bites of knowledge, and reminded me of the power of keeping things short and sweet. I have no problem with going into great detail and length, sometimes that’s what’s appropriate. Sometimes the long stories are the better and more interesting ones, and it’s hard to imagine trying to shrink things to fit into a shorter space. But more frequently than we might expect shorter is sweeter. It’s a reminder to think if we really need to go into great detail when sharing something, or if it’s better to be succinct and invite questions and ideas.

The book also talked about the importance of finding a balance between the universal and the individual. A simple example of this is saying that people should work 9-to-5, but if you’ve got someone who prefers to work 9.30 to 6 or 8.30 to 4.30 (and is willing and able to be available between 9 and 5 when absolutely necessary, why make a big deal of it? This topic also speaks to the debate and trend that we’re currently looking at of customizing everything to a person and being able to target marketing so specifically to an individual person, and merging that with a single ad or email that will speak to everyone who resonates with that ad or has subscribed to that email mailing list (because very few companies have the ability to write individual ads and emails to each and every potential marketing target).

In line with the second insight, the final insight I want to share today has to do with change and evolution. The offices and stores of two decades ago aren’t typically in line with our level of comfort or the style of today, but it’s still important to have a clean and safe space. When we start a company we may write a manual or handbook about best practices, which may or may not endure as we grow and develop, which is why it’s important to be reviewing those “best practices” and make sure they still work for us and for our people and aren’t just ideas, aren’t antiquated ideas, aren’t ideas that work for other teams but not yours, or ideas that used to work but don’t anymore. Some things should not be changed like safety and cleanliness, but other things need to be reviewed and adjusted or outright changed on a regular basis to make sure that it’s (still) working for you, your company and your customers.

What it all comes down to is the fact that people are central to everything when it comes to business, and it’s up to us to treat them with respect and remember that they are individuals with their own needs, opinions, abilities and lives, and if we want the respect of that, we have to respect that for them as well. How do you manage with heart in your business?