To Succeed as a Leader, Share the Big Picture

By Walt Grassl

Walt GrasslMike worked for a medium-sized business and went to work every day happy to have a job. But he wasn’t too enthused about his work environment. Employee morale was so-so because most long-time employees were merely going through the motions.

Greg was a friend of Mike’s from college. They both went to work, but in different industries. They stayed in touch on social media and decided to get together for lunch.

Mike picked Greg up at his work place. He felt inspired when he entered Greg’s building. There was an energy that was hard to describe. It was definitely not the same as at his company. He was warmly greeted by the receptionist and waited in the pristine lobby for Greg.

At lunch, Mike asked Greg about his job and what he liked about working there. Greg mentioned that the company has a management philosophy that every employee is important, like the links in a chain. They believe in sharing information that reinforces that message.

Every employee plays a role in the company’s performance. It is important that they know their role. This gives them a sense of purpose. It answers the question, “Why does it matter?” Some people always take great pride in their work. They know it reflects on them. Some people only push themselves when others are relying on them to do their part. Sharing the big picture helps to get the most out of these people. Getting the small things right leads to bigger success.

Here are five different strategies a leader can use to foster a workplace where every employee feels valued and can contribute to the overall vision of the company.

  1. Include all employees in strategy meetings: To the extent possible, involve employees in strategy meetings. When you are contemplating a change in the company’s direction, modifying one or more processes or seeking new methods to improve delivery, involve the people who perform the tasks before decisions are finalized. They are liable to push back. When they do, use your wisdom and judgement to determine if the push back is valid. If it is valid, figure out a better path forward. This will prevent mistakes that save time and reduce waste. If it is the natural reaction to resist change, deal with it now. You will avoid passive-aggressive behavior that will sabotage the path forward. Done right, you will earn the respect and buy-in of your team members. However, things like impending job actions (layoffs, promotions, transfers) must never be shared until it is time. When you are otherwise open, the need for discretion will be respected.
  2. Stress the importance of every position: A good leader knows how every employee contributes to the overall performance of the company. Some employees interface with customers. Others provide a clean and safe work environment. Some create the finished product. All the employees play a part in the success of the company. Good leaders praise the individuals and the teams, both in public and in private, for the significant contribution they make to success of the organization. This is important. Over time, people who don’t deal with the finished product may forget the significance of their role. They need to be reminded.
  3. See the Big Picture: There is a common fallacy in the workplace that one job contributes more than others to the success of the project or company. It is a great thing when employees realize that what they do is important. It is not so good, however, when the needs of the other employees and other affiliated organizations are discounted. Local optimization can result in less than optimal total performance. Explain to your teams the bigger picture. Look at the needs of the other teams and individuals. Understand the other’s position. Explain your organization’s role and the roles of your internal suppliers and internal customers. Keep focused on the end-to-end process, not only your link in the chain.
  4. Your Business Story: The most powerful story for any business is the story of why the company exists. Who founded the company? What problem did the company originally solve? How did the company evolve into its current state? This works for businesses of all sizes. This is effective in external sales presentations. It is also effective in keeping employees motivated. When that story is known and repeated, employees will realize that they are part of growing or preserving a legacy.
  5. Maintain an open-door policy: When you involve employees in strategy, communicate the importance of the roles of each employee and see both the big picture of the company and the reason why the company exists, your employees will see you as someone who not only talks communication, but communicates. You can further enhance that relationship by having an open-door policy. Set boundaries and let people know, but invite people to approach you with their concerns or questions. Maybe they come to you. Maybe you walk around and catch them doing things right.

When you share the big picture, every employee feels valued. They know they play a role in the success of the company. Job satisfaction increases. It costs little to do this and brings back big returns.

Driving back to work, Mike realized that this aspect of work culture was missing from his company. He thought about his role and how it fit into the bigger picture. He felt better about his job. He vowed to look for ways to help his fellow employees understand their roles in the bigger picture, as well.

Walt Grassl is a speaker, author, and performer. He hosts the radio show, “Stand Up and Speak Up,” on the RockStar Worldwide network. Walt has performed standup comedy at the Hollywood Improv and the Flamingo in Las Vegas and is studying improv at the Groundlings School in Hollywood. For more information on bringing Walt Grassl to your next event, please visit www.WaltGrassl.com.

Why Your Customers Don’t Like You

And What to Do About It

By Kate Zabriskie

Kate ZabriskieIt’s Any Airport, USA at 2:00 am, and someone makes the announcement that the delayed 6:00 pm flight will finally begin boarding.

The catatonic crowd in the packed waiting area begins to form a line. They’re tired and relieved to be getting on their way.

In a super-perky voice, the gate agent then welcomes the titanium, topaz, and Teflon flyers and makes a big deal about them standing to the right of the rest of the crowd so that they may cross over a red bath mat before showing their boarding passes.

Once that collection of special status holders is taken care of, the agent starts loading passengers by boarding group and ceremoniously blocks off access to the all-important two-by-four-foot carpet square.

As she checks boarding passes, she half-heartedly asks people to stow their smaller items under the seat to leave room for larger bags in the overhead bins.

Onboard, the flight attendants don’t seem to care too much about bags either. Consequently, plenty of coats and small items fill the only storage area that can accommodate a suitcase.

It doesn’t take a mind reader to know what happens next. There’s no room left, and the remaining passengers have just had another forty minutes or so added to an already miserable excursion. Thanks airline! With a modicum of effort, everyone’s bag could have fit, but not tonight.

While great customers certainly deserve an organization’s appreciation, in this instance, the airline’s focus should have been on accommodating all customers’ carry-ons.

By wasting people’s time, the airline managed to make the skies and the ground anything but friendly. Oddly, that same company will spend millions on marketing in an attempt to build relationships with the customers.

For a company to have anything but a dysfunctional relationship with its customers, however, it must show them respect. Without it, the rest means nothing.

At the heart of disrespectful service are three errors: Taking actions that charge customers money they don’t expect to spend, costing customers time they don’t have to give, and failing to deliver on promises.

Fatal Error One: You Cost Your Customers Money They Don’t Expect to Spend: If you’ve ever made a reservation at a hotel with a plan of arriving late, sleeping, and checking out first thing, you’re like many business travelers. If you’ve also had that in-and-out plan along with the experience of unexpectedly encountering a property with a hefty resort fee charged to all guests regardless of use, you know what it is like to part with money and not feel good about it—even if that money isn’t yours.

While there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with having a resort fee, what is wrong is leaving off the total when the reservation is booked. It’s dishonest. If the fee isn’t optional, it is part of the cost of the room and should be listed as such.

Be transparent with your fees. Customers have a right to know what things cost. When they don’t they don’t like you very much.

If you happen to be in a business where fees depend on what you encounter, be upfront in the beginning. Better still, offer a range. If your kitchen remodel is relatively straightforward, you’re looking at XYZ dollars. On the other hand, if we find water damage, asbestos, pipes we have to move, or structural problems, you can expect costs to go up substantially. Worst case, you’re looking at XYZ dollars + ABC dollars.

For organizations that primarily serve internal customers, currency may be something other than money. Even so, an implicit obligation to be transparent still exists. If people feel you’re taking advantage of them, you’ve failed.

Think about how you communicate money to your customers. Do you do all you can to make costs easy to understand? 

Fatal Error Two: You Cost Your Customers Time They Don’t Need to Spend: If you’ve ever been to a well-run theme park on a busy day, you’ve witnessed staff who are exceptional at safely moving huge numbers of people through the gates, on and off rides, and in and out of restaurants. Sure, the lines are long, but nobody is waiting one second longer than absolutely necessary.

If you’re working in a venue where long lines exist and guests can see obvious inefficiencies, watch out. The most tolerant bunch of people will transform into loud and impatient customers who channel annoyance into intense anger right before your eyes.

Nobody enjoys having their time wasted. Great service providers walk in their customers’ shoes. They see the customer experience through the customer’s eyes. They know that it’s important for staff to be responsive and do what they can to avoid wasting a customer’s time.

Look at your customers’ interactions with you. Are there places where inefficiencies exist that could be eliminated without sacrificing safety or something else your organization values? If so, show your customers some respect by becoming more efficient. If you are not sure where you could make improvements, ask your customers. They probably know. They’ve certainly had enough time to think about it while waiting for you to get your act together.

Fatal Error Three: You Fail to Deliver on Your Promises: Companies that fail to deliver on their promises erode customer trust. Don’t believe it? Think about toy commercials from your childhood. How about the one that showed a toy doing something amazing, and caused you to develop an obsession. You wanted it. You told everyone. It was on the top of your wish list. Then, finally someone finally bought it for you.

Weren’t you a little disappointed when it didn’t behave as advertised? It didn’t fly on its own or drive on its own. You felt crushed, and misled. Your customers experience those same emotions when you don’t come through, and guess what? They don’t like you very much when you fail to deliver.

Take an inventory of your promises. Where are you living up to your word, and where are you falling down? Start fixing those areas that are bound to cause disappointment or worse.

Guiding Principle: Don’t Make Customers Feel Devalued: Being opaque about costs, making customers wait, and failing to deliver on promises all indicate disrespect. Each of those actions shows people you don’t value them, and you don’t think they are worthy of receiving better treatment.

In other words, you just don’t like them enough to do better. Is it any wonder they don’t like you back?

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.

 

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Increase Sales with the Simple Six-Step Heroic Storytelling Formula

By Henry DeVries

Henry DeVriesA tough challenge for many in business is convincing enough prospects to hire them. To become more persuasive, it pays to know how humans are hardwired for stories. If you want the prospect to think it over, give them lots of facts and figures. If you want them to decide to hire you, tell them the right story.

Storytelling helps persuade on an emotional level. Maybe that is why so many Fortune 500 companies are putting an emphasis on teaching their sales and business development professionals storytelling techniques that will move units and convince prospects to come aboard.

Now any business leader or sales professional can easily use proven techniques of telling a great story employed by Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and Wall Street by employing “The Simple Six-Step Heroic Storytelling Formula” to gain the chance to make a proposal or close the sale.

These stories must be true case studies, but told in a certain way. Here is a quick overview of the formula:

1.Start with a main character. Every story starts with the name of a character who wants something. This is your client. Make your main characters likable so the listeners will root for them. To make them likable, describe some of their good qualities or attributes. Generally, three attributes work best: “Marie was smart, tough, and fair” or “Johan was hardworking, caring and passionate.” For privacy reasons you do not need to use their real names (“this is a true story, but the names have been changed to protect confidentiality”).

2. Have a nemesis character. Stories need conflict to be interesting. What person, institution, or condition stands in the character’s way? The villain in the story might be a challenge in the business environment, such as the recession of 2008 or higher tax rates (the government is always a classic nemesis character).

3. Bring in a mentor character. Heroes need help on their journey. They need to work with a wise person. This is where you come in. Be the voice of wisdom and experience. The hero does not succeed alone; they succeed because of the help you provided. 

4. Know what story you are telling. Human brains are programmed to relate to one of eight great meta-stories. These are: monster, underdog, comedy, tragedy, mystery, quest, rebirth, and escape. If the story is about overcoming a huge problem, that is a monster problem story. If the company was like a David that overcame an industry Goliath, that is an underdog story.

5. Have the hero succeed.  Typically the main character needs to succeed, with one exception: tragedy. The tragic story is told as a cautionary tale. Great for teaching lessons, but not great for attracting clients.  Have the hero go from mess to success (it was a struggle, and they couldn’t have done it without you).

6. Give the listeners the moral of the story. Take a cue from Aesop, the man who gave us fables like The Tortoise and the Hare (the moral: slow and steady wins the race). Don’t count on the listeners to get the message. The storyteller’s final job is to tell them what the story means.

Six Ways to Put Stories into ActionAfter you build an inventory of stories that demonstrate how you take clients from mess to success, you are then ready to deploy the stories. In storytelling, context is everything. You should never randomly tell stories, but instead use stories at the right strategic times.

Here are six perfect opportunities to persuade with a story

1. During an Initial Call to Get a Meeting.  Never lead with the story. First have a conversation with the prospect. Ask about their goals, what they are doing right, and what they see as the roadblocks they hope you can help them get past. At this point ask: “May I tell you a true story about how we helped a client get from where you are now to where you want to go?”  

2. To Close a Client During a Meeting. For many companies, business development is not a one-step close. During an initial get together you gather information and in the subsequent meeting you propose a course of action. This is the time to add a case history story of a client that was in a similar situation.

3. On a Website and in Collateral Material. Get rid of those dry case studies on the website. Instead, convert them to the more persuasive story format of the six-step formula. This also applies to your marketing collateral. Don’t just tell when stories will sell. In your brochures and information kits replace drab case histories with persuasive heroic success stories (remember your role is as a wise mentor).

4. During a New Business Presentation. Oftentimes, you may be asked to make a presentation to a group.  Because humans are hardwired for stories, this is a perfect opportunity to make your pitch memorable.

5. During a Speech or Media Interview.  Occasionally you may receive an invitation to make a speech or give an interview to the media. Illustrate your message with a pithy story.

6. To Train Employees on Core Values.  Stories can also be the gift to your business that keeps giving. Reinforce core values with employees and new hires through sharing the inventory of stories.

Bottom line: Nothing is as persuasive as storytelling with a purpose. The right stories can work wonders whether you are using them in a one-to-one meeting, in a presentation that is one-to-several, or in a speech or publicity that is one-to-many. Start today to build an inventory of persuasive stories.

Henry DeVries, CEO of Indie Books International, works with consultants to attract high-paying clients by marketing with a book and speech. As a professional speaker, he teaches sales and business development professionals how to build an inventory of persuasive stories. He is the author of “Marketing with a Book” and “Persuade with a Story!” For more information, visit www.indiebooksintl.com

Be a Force Multiplier

Accomplishing More with Existing Resources

By Elizabeth McCormick

Elizabeth McCormickThe U.S. Department of Defense defines “force multiplier” as a capability added or employed by a combat group that significantly improves their combat potential, enhancing mission success probability. A force multiplier could be anything from new weapons technology to fresh food in the mess hall; anything that perks up and improves the effectiveness of our world-class armed forces.

The Challenge-Discernment in Using Resources: In the general workforce of corporate America, problems are many times solved by throwing resources at it—time, money, and effort. However, that’s not always the wisest course of action and much of those valuable resources could end up wasted. For those trained in the armed forces, their approach is different. Due to their training and experiences, their ability to enhance the effectiveness of the existing resources they have at their disposal is really the key behind the phrases about working smarter—not just harder.

The Solution-Force Multipliers: Incorporating the unknown elements and outcomes of a new strategy can sometimes be met with trepidation since it usually requires people to embrace the unfamiliar. However, with force multipliers, the foundational elements are usually already known and what changes is an updated strategy or reconfiguring other correlated elements that will inevitably improve its overall effectiveness and result.

Here are six multipliers you can explore and implement to help you work smarter:

1. Technology: To be most effective in both business and life, the ability to react is necessary, but being proactive and taking initiative first is where you will find the battle is won. Certainly, when you look to the likes of Apple or Facebook, their proactive stance on new technology leverages into a significant force multiplying advantage. This tech might be the defining force multiplier of your time. However, technology is moving into a plateau period where everyone has access to technology, balancing the playing field. There will always be innovative products. The game changers that propel things forward, but most of us aren’t engaged in enterprises that rely on innovation in that way. 

Instead, the force multiplier looks at technology and determines how its use extends effectiveness, for the multiplier themselves or for members of their team. A sales manager may, for example, implement an app that provides field sales staff with past ordering information for clients quicker. Field sales use this information to respond proactively during client calls. Effectively using the capabilities of smartphones has come a long way since the era of the revolutionary briefcase-sized cell phone.

2. Data: The smartphone example underscores the importance of data. On the battlefield, it’s called intelligence, reconnaissance or simply knowledge of one’s own numbers of personnel and hardware capabilities. Having complete and accurate information multiplies the chances of effective decision-making. Knowing where an enemy is, their numbers and the weaponry under their control permits an accurate and measured response, rather than sending blunt forces in the enemy’s general direction.

Consider the sales manager again. There’s no sense sending field sales into a suburb when they sell industrial cleaning products. It’s a simple example, but without knowledge of a region as suburban, effectiveness is diluted. 

3. Collaboration: Delegation is one way to use human resources, and that is essential. In traditional hierarchical organizations, that top-down direction of management is typical. It’s also quite rigid. Information and innovation typically follows that hierarchical pattern as well.

The contemporary world shifts to collaborative work groups largely due to the lateral spread of information that the computer age grants. Length of service with a company no longer describes experience with information or tech. Therefore, information is shared laterally as well as hierarchically. Multiple-pronged communication becomes more natural and, for the Force Multiplier, more critical to success.

4. Psychology: The most obvious psychological force multiplier is of course morale. Positive morale motivates a fighting unit in precisely the same way it boosts the efforts of a workplace team. Shared vision unifies effort and provides natural group cohesion.

Negative morale divides teams. In military terms, propaganda is a tool used to negatively affect opposing forces, which can counteract a number of factors that might otherwise aid the enemy’s advances.

While bringing down competition may not be a practical goal in the business world, bolstering the positive and avoiding the negative in work groups is critical function for the force multiplier.

5. Strategy: The Force Multiplier is always thinking in terms of strategy and implementation. Effective leaders take the knowledge of what resources can accomplish through tactical means. As the other aspects of force multiplication take effect, plans adapt to the increased capabilities. For instance, with the right tools and training, a sales team of three can increase sales in an area where six used to simply maintain current levels.

6. Leading by Example: Becoming an effective force multiplier means constant attention to improving your own skills and knowledge. When you start asking more from others in your organization, you better believe they’ll be watching you to lead the way. They know that you can’t be in the trenches with them all the time, but they need to know you can get your hands dirty and are willing to serve beside them. And of course, demonstrating that is a force multiplier technique.

As you become more aware of your force multiplier capabilities, you will realize that it’s almost a lifestyle choice with far reaching implications. Better still, force multiplication inherently implies continual improvement—of yourself as a leader, of your systems and of your team. Rather than something that’s overlaid, continuous improvement naturally emerges from the force multiplier process.

Elizabeth McCormick is a keynote speaker, author, and authority on leadership. A former US Army Black Hawk Pilot, she is the best-selling author of her personal development book, “The P.I.L.O.T. Method; the 5 Elemental Truths to Leading Yourself in Life.” Elizabeth teaches real life, easy to apply strategies to boost your employees’ confidence in the vision of your organization and their own leadership abilities. For more information, please visit: www.YourInspirationalSpeaker.com.

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How to Make Your Training Stick

How Much Information Sticks during Training?

By Brannon Dreher

Your company delivers an expensive new training program to employees and then, like any smart company does, spends the next few months measuring the effects. Immediately after sales training, you find that your newly trained salespeople are only using two of the six selling approaches that training presented to them. Or six months after you trained your front-desk hotel staff, you discover that right after training, they started applying some of the customer-service strategies you taught them, but have now abandoned them and it’s back to business as usual. 

Frustrating? Costly? Infuriating? Yes, it’s all those things, and worse. How can you get trainees to absorb more of the information you give them, and increase the chances that that information will stick and be put into use for the long term? Let’s take a closer look.

Cognitive Load Theory: According to psychologists who have studied how people learn (like Prof. Ton de Jong at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, John Sweller at the University of New South Wales, and many others), the human brain can be expected to absorb a relatively small percentage of the information delivered in a learning situationat times as little as 10 percent. But it is possible to improve that percentage dramatically.

To understand how that percentage can be increased, it is important to understand Cognitive Load Theory, which is a way of understanding the effect that sensory inputs have on your ability to process information and learn. When your senses are processing a lot of input, they filter how much information gets passed on into your short-term memory. As an example in training, your learners are dealing with a lot of input that is competing with the information you want to teach. They’re adjusting their eyes to see your slides, getting distracted by other trainees at their tables, trying to get comfortable in their seats, and maybe even getting their first gulp of coffee.

When information does get around that sensory/cognitive load, it makes it to your short-term memory, where you think about it. You judge it and if it is memorable, it then gets passed into your long-term memory where we can use it later.

To summarize, if a learner decides that information is important when it is in short-term memory, he or she will unconsciously transfer it to long-term memory. That information becomes what he or she learns because of training.

How Long Does Information Reside in Short-Term Memory? The answer to that question will probably surprise you, because new information only gets processed for between ten and fifteen seconds in short-term memory. If that information doesn’t stick during that time, it is lost. So, think of short-term memory as a kind of buffer zone that fills up quickly, and then empties as new information flows in.

What Can Help Get Information Passed from Short-Term Memory to Long-Term Memory?

  • Mnemonic devices: Back when you were a student in high school, you might have memorized the sentence, “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas” to help you memorize the planets in our solar system in the order in which they appear from the sun. (The words in that sentence stand for Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.) Acronyms are useful in training too. For example, the acronym AIDA (standing for Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) is sometimes used to remind sales trainees of different stages of making a sale.
  • Activities: Participation in shared group activities is another effective way to reinforce concepts and help them move into long-term memory. So are quizzes and self-tests delivered at key moments during training that reinforce concepts and skills.
  • Resources to be used after training: A content library for trainees to use once training is done can be very effective in making sure key concepts move into long-term memory. For example, you can create an online content library for field technicians to access; it explains procedures and concepts that were covered in training, though probably not fully absorbed.
  • Storytelling: Let trainees tell stories that explain experiences they have had that relate to a concept or skill you are teaching. (“Here’s what I once did when a customer was having that problem . . . “) Storytelling reinforces key concepts for the person who is telling the story and for the people who are listening too.
  • Scenario-based learning: Present a simulated situation and let trainees work through and try solutions. This helps learners realize, “If this happens, this is how I will handle it.”
  • Certificates and certifications: They allow trainees to feel satisfied and rewarded for learning specific skills or behaviors. When trainees have been recognized for learning important information, it tends to stick.

And Include Games Too: Games resonate especially well with millennials, although everyone likes them. They work much better than bombarding trainees with information. For example, you can have trainees practice new skills in a virtual environment that replicates one of your stores.

And add a competitive element, because competitive games can help training concepts stick. Healthy competition, in which learners try to outperform other trainees, can go a long way toward getting learning to stick. For example, you can give a quiz and keep score on a leaderboard until someone wins.

In Conclusion: Evaluating training programs can boil down to one simple, but somewhat profound, question:

Why are you spending time and money on training if nothing changes?

There are many ways to get a better ROI from training. You can revise your materials, hire more energetic trainers, send trainees off to a weekend retreat, and take other steps. All good ideas, but ultimately unlikely to provide a big payback unless you make sure that you are delivering training that sticks.

Brannon Dreher is a client engagement manager at Tortal Training. In the learning and development space, Brannon provides blended learning solutions for companies based on need and to create customized learning solutions for the clients, while increasing the effectiveness of company’s human capital. Brannon brings a continual learning focus, and communication skills to produce quantifiable results. For more information about Brannon Dreher, please visit www.tortal.net