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?

Employees for the Future

In July we’re taking a look at some things that have changed and/or become more important throughout the challenges, changes and transformation brought on by the virus and related issues. Last week we talked about being helpful, the second week we talked about how businesses can do a better job of working with customers, the first week we talked about communication, and this week as we wrap up we’re going to talk about employees.

So much has changed in the world over the past few months, from people working from home who have never done so in the past to people who are going to work as they’ve always done, but now it’s a possible health risk to do so. There have also been major changes and disruptions in the supply chain which created many questions employees couldn’t answer for customers, even when they usually could have in the past. It’s been an exercise in patience and in working in the unknown that few have experienced before. So what does it mean going forward?

One of the things I think it taught everyone was that an office wasn’t strictly necessary for doing many jobs. Yes, some companies need their employees to be physically present, but I think it opened everyone’s eyes to the fact that as long as you trust your employees and they desire to work from home, working from home at least part time is something that can be done going forward and it will help with stress and environmental impact and reduce budgets too.

Which brings us to the second point, and that’s the importance of communicating and truly partnering with your employees. Companies may not have known when supplies were coming in, but they certainly could give their employees daily updates about what they did know, what was changing or developing and hear from them about what they’re experiencing with customers and their personal concerns, thoughts and ideas as well. For many companies this was a first because they never really communicated with their team about what was going on in the company, and now they were forced to really partner with their employees and see them as team players. I would say that a good percentage of employees have always been willing to be team players, but companies haven’t been very good about tapping into that or working with them and as a result businesses often have high turnover and employees feel unappreciated, unheard and not cared for.

So what is next? My hope is that more companies will ultimately do a better job of talking with their employees and being better about working with them. Maybe this means working at least some from home, maybe this means education in areas that interest them and exposure to different parts of the company, and maybe this means different hours that work better with their home needs. I definitely think companies can and hopefully will do better about keeping them in the loop about what’s going on, do better about empowering them, do better with listening to them and hearing their concerns, suggestions and feedback based on what they see and experience with customers, and do better at treating them as valuable parts of a team.

What changes has this virus inspired you to make with your team?

Time to be a Leader

I don’t know when we’ll get back to “business as normal,” when shopping, going to work, hanging out, traveling and more will be done without more than the usual smart safety precautions (don’t have money hanging out of your pocket, make sure to wear clothes, don’t forget kids and pets in the car, and have snacks in case of emergency), but there’s a big part of me as an active part of society that feels that we have to keep sharing our stories, keep supporting each other, keep the money flowing and keep making progress in our world. As much as great ideas can be created while sitting on the couch, and maybe a website or app or two, we’re not meant to live on couches for our whole lives.

Over the past few months as I’ve said before, we’ve seen some stellar examples of leadership, and we’ve also seen the true colors of some “leaders.” So I’ve postponed the blog post I was going to share today and instead I’m feeling led to share on the topic of leadership and 3 indications of what makes a good leader.

First, a leader is someone who listens. This is something that’s being done a lot right now, that more people than ever are truly listening to the brothers and sisters of all backgrounds that they share the world with. I wish people took time to truly listen to each other more often, because it would avoid a lot of confusion and would help all of us come up with solutions that are actually helpful instead of just what we think other people want. Of course, it has to be true listening, where you are trying to understand and not where you’re smiling and nodding just to pacify someone.

Second, a leader is someone who learns. We can learn from books, from TV shows, from the little children in our lives and that we see while out and about, from animals, from our significant others, from the people we work with and sell to, and from many other sources. Of course, it’s always better to learn true things, for example learning about how the earth is flat isn’t going to be too helpful unless you’re studying it to learn about the people who thought that, but we don’t always know what’s true or not until we’ve done more research. But as the saying goes, a day in which you learned something is a good day. I subscribe to lots of newsletters, read books regularly, listen to what others have to say, and make time to watch more educational programming on TV to try to learn something every day.

Third, a leader is someone who leads. Sometimes this means empowering your team to do work for you (and not micro-managing them while they’re trying to get stuff done), other times this means letting people go or stopping things from continuing, some times this means getting down and dirty with your people and physically getting in front and guiding the way, sometimes it means making extra efforts to communicate and/or encourage, and other times it means taking a stand against injustice or hurt/hate. Leading isn’t always about being in the front, doing all the work or being the loudest voice, but it does mean you step up and forward in whatever ways are necessary.

As we move into whatever the next stage of our lives and world may be, I encourage you to be a true leader in your business, your community and our world. Which leaders do you admire and learn from?

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?

A Starting Point for Businesses in Crisis

I don’t think we’ll be at a place we can really call “normal” that doesn’t change on a very regular basis for months unfortunately. I wish that all the signs were pointing to having the summer and winter holidays together, but this virus that’s completely upset our world appears to be going to be continuing to disrupt our world for some time to come.  As I’ve shared over the past few weeks, I do think we should be marketing our businesses, as long as we’ve got an online/virtual/hands-off option that people can buy right now. For businesses that can’t really offer anything for sale, it’s time to work on relationship and support, not direct and obvious marketing. Everything I’m hearing from industry leaders and advisers right now is that the guideline for marketing is to market but with sensitivity.

So yes, we’ll continue talking about marketing going forward, but the bigger topics of need to talk about in greater depth, frequency and length are about who we are as businesses and what we’re offering, as well as about our leadership. Pre-virus our businesses (both for and non-profit) had relevant offerings, but weren’t very focused on or concerned with innovating or planning for something like this. Of course no one really anticipates or talks about the country (and countries around the world) essentially shutting down, but it’s been a big wake-up call for those who relied on physical presence to be successful. Of course I don’t want the new normal to be that we can’t be together in person, worship together in person and can’t eat at restaurants or go to big events without fear, but it’s a good wake up call to get us to consider how we can expand our offerings going forward should something like this happen in the future so that we’re not quite so devastated.

Since this virus started we’ve been talking about leadership because the leaders are the people who we’re hearing from on a daily basis, who we’re looking to give us answers, who are making the decisions that affect our lives and our futures (some that we’ve rightly criticized for their actions or lack thereof during this crisis). While I haven’t finished it yet, the book I’m reading this month and will share about next week talks a lot about leadership. Good leadership isn’t about having a crystal ball or about pushing blindly through, that’s not what your people expect if they believe in your leadership. Good leaders build relationships, balance people and profits, look for the good in others, communicate consistently, intentionally positively impact their communities, and plan for the future. People are willing to work with and be patient with good leaders because they’ve established that essential trust, show wisdom in their decisions, and are keeping them updated as the situation progresses and develops.

We’ll talk a lot more in the coming weeks about what business and leadership look like going forward, one of the most important places to start is with an evaluation.  What has this crisis revealed to you about your business and your leadership?  Are you having a wake up call about yourself and your business for the future?

Choices of Business, Leadership and Humanity

Being in business means several things.  It means that you need to be making money or able to make money from what you’re doing/selling, or be compensated/supported in some way for the time you’ve put in to cover your costs (non-profits).  That doesn’t mean you have to be a huge company with lots of employees raking in a ton of money every year, just that you need to be able to not only cover expenses for the business but those of yourself and any other people who own the business and have at least a little profit for everyone.  Second, there has to be a need met through the business.  Maybe it’s not a super necessary need like hospitals or plumbers, but it has to fulfill a need for potential customers like providing marketing support, creating packaging for their products to be shipped in, or being a form of entertainment or stress relief or being a source of pleasure for example.
Those two points are basic business wisdom, they hold true in all industries and all situations.  Right now the world isn’t normal, so there are fewer needs in the world, which means if they aren’t businesses that meet a variety of essential needs, they need to adapt to be able to meet a need in the world and/or they need to decide how they’re going to show up while they wait for the world to return to some version of normal.  This week I read a bit of wisdom from Neale Donald Walsch.  He’s well known for his collection of books about his conversations with God, something that he felt led to share with the world from a spiritual perspective and has worked out well for him from a business perspective as well.  In this little bit of wisdom he questioned who we want to be during this time.  So my question to you is three fold:
1-how is your business showing up to the world now and how do you want it to show up in the future?
2-how are you showing up in the world as a leader right now, and how do you want to lead in the future?  
3-how are you showing up in the world as a human right now, and how do you want to live in the future?
Maybe after serious consideration you’re happy with where everything is/has been, and while you will do some adapting to meet the current environment and changes the transition we’re going through won’t force you to make changes, so you’re just going to ride it out now. Maybe after serious consideration you’ve realized that you’re saying one thing and doing another and that’s changing now and going to stay different in the future.  Maybe after serious consideration you’ve realized that you’ve completely gone off the deep end and need a redo, and you’re going to get started on that now before the world gets completely back online.  Or maybe you’re generally a strong business/good leader/supportive human, but you’ve been completely thrown off by this whole experience.   We’re all experiencing this differently even though we’re going through it together so each of our answers will be different, but as leaders and business owners I do believe we’ve got the responsibility and opportunity to show up with empathy, strength and courage.  No, we should not fake it, but rather choose not to go down the spiral and further add to people’s stress, confusion, frustration and struggle right now, we should be the best leader, business owner and human we can be.  What lessons are you learning as a leader through this virus experience?

Navigating Business Uncertainty

There’s a lot of uncertainty right now in the world, and one of the biggest challenges to or aspects of that uncertainty is how fast the information changes. It’s hard to make a lot of concrete plans and communications from a business perspective because you don’t know how quickly the supply chain will pick back up, or if the supply chain that’s working now will struggle in the coming weeks, or what will happen with the health of your team and how affected they’ll be by the situation, or if you’ll be able to do the work you need to do to create content or products while suddenly having to teach your kids as well for the rest of the school year, or how your customers are doing with finances and when people might be back to relatively normal life situations.

One option at this point is to simplify. This would mean that you would offer fewer products and services right now, focus on promoting just those that you’re able to support, offer only new products/services that are specific to the season or situation, and/or don’t work on developing anything new. Don’t send as many newsletters or promotions out at this time as you usually do, just every week or so to keep in touch with customers and let them know you’re there to support them. This all keeps you moving as a business but not at the usual pace or with the usual level of activity to be sensitive to both the changing situations and the change in your customer’s (and employee’s) lives.

One option is to just support. You can also choose to do no promotions, but stay in touch with your customers and offer support. Still send out the daily newsletter (or whatever your usual frequency is) and social posts, but not with any outright promotions and only with content that supports your customers getting through the challenging time now (helpful and/or fun tips and other media). You won’t do any outright promotion at this time but you will still maintain your store/site to the best of your ability so that customers who choose to could purchase.

Of course you can also do a combination of these two options, but whatever you choose to do during this time, you should make it abundantly clear what your decision is to all of your customers and employees, updating them as things change and as necessary. If you’re one of the essential businesses right now you should choose to communicate more frequently with updates (sending out daily/weekly updates about service availability, product supply and/or order shipments), and if you’re not an essential business your customers probably don’t need up-to-the-minute updates so you can just hit the highlights weekly or when you’ve got an update. Regular and consistent communications will help your customers and team members feel less alone and isolated during this time, give them something to look forward to, and help build or continue your relationship for when life returns to some level of normal.

How are you navigating this crisis as a business and business owner?

Be Careful What You Ask For

I distinctly remember when we were working our way out of 2019 and into 2020 how excited we were about moving into a new year and new decade, emphasis on the “new,” and leaving behind what had been a rough couple of years for some of us. Well, the funny thing about putting something out into the universe is that you have to be careful about what you put out there. I say this because we most certainly are working towards something new, by ways of a world-wide pandemic which is something that I don’t think anyone would have agreed to as part of the process to “new.”

I get asked questions by other business owners and people working to achieve success all the time and more times than not I have to ask for clarification on what they’re asking because the question they asked me was really vague or could be answered in a dozen different ways. Sometimes what you really need is someone helping you figure out how to ask a better question or to figure out what a better question is, but that’s not typically what people are thinking about or looking for. I love giving advice, but I could give hours of advice before I really get to the topic that would benefit someone unless they have a (more) specific question or topic.

The good news is that we are indeed presented with the opportunity to create something new, awesome, powerful and supportive for ourselves and the others that we share this world with. If we’re honest, how do we expect to get something new if we don’t make changes, right? Part of the challenge is that we probably weren’t very clear back in 2019 what “new” looked like anyway, we just knew that we didn’t want what we had been experiencing. Hopefully this pandemic development will be like ripping a band-aid off, and it just very expediently brought us to a bottom and we’ll have just enough time to consider and make plans for next steps by the time things start to turn around.

Take time to process the losses you’re experiencing and the dramatic change of your life, it’s totally normal to be experiencing some or all of the stages of grief as part of this journey. Then send thoughts of kindness, love and healing to the world, focusing on healing rather than the fear or uncertainties. I don’t have all the answers to what our new world will look like or when we’ll get there, but I do know that you’ve got options on how you move through this challenge. The future will eventually be here, we will eventually move through this crisis, and what “new” looks like will depend largely on what you do with this time. What do you want the new future to look like?

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?

Responding to Crisis in Business

If you’ve been following the news lately, you know that over the past 3-4 months a health crisis has been developing around the world. It’s a concern on many levels, and for business owners that operate hovering closer to the red line than they would really like to, it’s especially stressful. With all of this in mind, today I thought we’d talk a bit about both good business practices and about reacting to a crisis or issue.

One of the things that this has taught all of us is not that it’s wrong to be social or be together, but that we’ve really been lazy about some of our health practices. For a local business, yes, the appearance that you present to your customers is important: no, they don’t want to see dried food or dust bunnies everywhere. But it’s also important to do your best to encourage other types of health practices like encouraging sick workers to stay home, wash hands more frequently, and cleaning/disinfecting surfaces and not just wiping them down with a rag that may not really be that clean. It’s not just about not being the business that got everyone sick, it’s about truly caring for your customers and team members. For team members, if they know that you want them to bring their best self to work, that you care about their well being, and that not only will their job will be there for them when they get well but that you offer considerate paid sick leave, they’re more likely to take care of themselves and others.

One of the biggest questions when it comes to a crisis, failure or major issue of any kind, not just the health type, is about communication. On Monday I got the first communication from a company regarding the health crisis. The company? My credit card company, with a very thoughtful and open email about their awareness and willingness to work with customers through this time. I have to say I was impressed. I was also impressed by the communication and response from my health plan, and a couple of the other emails I’ve gotten have been surprisingly personal, supportive and caring. That said, the not great communications far outweigh the good. Quite frankly some of them are at least a week overdue (grocery and big box stores with decisions to limit products etc.), others are unnecessary word-for-word repetition of what’s been shared through official channels, and one was laughably bad and it kind of felt like they said “we’re aware of the issue, wash your hands and good luck.” Not a response that inspires any type of confidence.

What made the difference in the communication between those that were helpful and made me think more positively about a company and those that were pointless? The things to focus on are repetition, details, emotion and time. Let’s start with time. While you never want to be the one to start a panic or anger customers, if something is known throughout your company (or the news) or you’ve got multiple issue reports about the same thing on a daily basis for three or more days, it’s time to make plans and make a statement. With something as serious as this virus, I would have expected a statement and action from some companies at the very latest at the end of February, not almost two weeks into March. The more serious an issue or the bigger the potential impact, the sooner you as a company have to make plans, prepare for demand (including both sides of increasing supply and limits on purchases), and/or prepare for increased customer service demands. You don’t necessarily have to send out/post a statement initially, but being proactive is essential for weathering the storm the best you can.

When it comes to the statement you choose to make, that’s where the repetition, details and emotion come in. Do your best to limit repetition, there’s no need to regurgitate what your customers already know at length. Instead, take the time to craft a thoughtful response letting people know how you’re going to work with them through the situation and action steps you’re taking or have already taken. Empathize with your customers in your communication, letting them know that you’re human too, but at the same time you are a leader and are filling the necessary leadership role on taking action. You may not be able to provide concrete details on when things will be resolved, but if people are hearing and hopefully seeing a change to go along with your statement, hopefully you’ll be able to minimize the damage that’s done to customer’s trust in you.

No business ever wants to face a crisis, but the reality is that things do fail or nature happens and we’re left holding the bag. It’s one reason why it’s so important to consistently build relationships with your customers (something I offer support on in my Customer Connection package), support your team well, have appropriately diversified offerings, and be responsive when problems do pop up. What are your tips for crisis response as a business?