This Year I Hope to [Insert Answer Here]

By Jeff Bush

Imagine closing your eyes, throwing a dart at the Wall Street Journal to pick a stock you had to invest your entire savings in. You can’t look at the price until the last day of the year; nervous? But yet, this is how most businesses plan. They choose one time a year, develop a plan, put it in the drawer only to review it at the same time the following year and hope they achieved their goal. This approach is not a good investment strategy, nor is it a good business planning process.

Everyone has heard the saying, “hope is not a plan”. That’s because it rings true. But equally true is that your life is only limited by the work you don’t do. You work to achieve. Achievement is the manifestation of executing more consistently and methodically. Are you ready to achieve your goals? Are you prepared to get your business back on track? Try this strategy.

A more fluid approach to business planning is more realistic in the “real world” vs. the one-and -done way you’ve always done planning. Business planning should be a living, breathing process that follows a cycle of brainstorming, winnowing, executing and measuring which naturally leads to the next planning opportunity. This process can be as short as weeks or as long as years. Each part of a business follows different timelines and the planning process for each, should match.

Just like New Year’s resolutions fall away quickly because of a lack of an execution strategy, business plans succumb to the same fate; destined to collect dust on a shelf or occupying the ignored bottom position in your inbox. Why? Because these methods lack a quantifiable execution and measurement strategy, which is a pivotal portion of the planning process—the part of the process where most fall short.

Whether you’re well on your way to achieving your business goals and you are ready to shoot for something bigger, or you’ve fallen short of expectations and you are looking to get back on track, a measurable execution strategy must be deployed and continuously redeployed through the process.

The first step in any execution strategy is to define the issue in sufficient detail such that anyone in your organization will intuitively understand the incremental activities necessary to achieve the goal. If you cannot break the goal down into actionable steps, you need to continue refining your goal. A goal is only actionable when it is evident to everyone in your business what those actionable steps are.

The most straightforward example is a sales goal. Most business plans will state a specific numeric goal, “50,000,000 dollars in product sales”. But if your organization doesn’t understand the connection of that goal to their unique job duties it will likely never happen.Your life is only limited by the work you don’t do Click To Tweet

Instead, restate the goal to something more actionable, “Maintain 100 percent client retention of profitable $1mm clients while sourcing, vetting and closing one new client that will average $5mm in sales each week.” If the goal is restated in such a way to that every department of your company understands their role in achieving that goal it is much more likely to happen. A sales goal is not going to get a person in accounts receivable to change their behavior. Arguably, an overly zealous receivables person could be detrimental to your goal by collecting in such a way that drives clients out the door. By changing the focus of the goal to an action statement, it changes the way your organization views their role in executing their part in the process. It focuses a goal into a philosophical change with obvious incremental steps. Now list the steps, as few or as many as it takes, but it must be actionable and measurable.

  • Identify five leads weekly
  • Qualify three prospects per-week from the leads
  • Close one client per-week with a potential average $5mm in annual sales per month (keep in mind, if you onboard a new client late in the year, they likely will not do $5mm in sales this year.)
  • Reduce new client onboarding time to three business days
  • Prioritize our customer service model, so we are spending 80 percent of our time with those clients making up 80% of our sales. (Once again, the old 80/20 rule)
  • 100 percent on-time shipping every day.
  • Reduce accounts receivable to forty-five days.

Secondly, you have to do the work. While this seems obvious, the majority of goals find their way to the scrap heap for the most basic of reasons. The work was done intermittently, but honestly, the work was not done.

Someone first said, “What gets measured gets done.” And they were right. So measure your action steps. Use technology to help keep track of your progress. Reminders on your phone work, but some prefer something more visual. Use a spreadsheet program to come up with a customized action tracking sheet.

A suggestion would be, at the end of the measuring period, color code the boxes to highlight successes and challenges. Distribute the finished sheet each period to all stakeholders.” What gets measured gets done”.

And finally, you need to have a consistent and honest accountability system. Accountability to do the small, necessary steps to accomplish your goal, both in quantity and quality. The fallacy of the spreadsheet of reminders is we can lie to ourselves. As human beings, we have a horrible ability to lie to ourselves and, worse yet, believe our lies.

So how do you manage this fault? Have an accountability partner. Find that person who cares enough about your success that they won’t tell you what you want to hear or make you feel better about only half-hearted work. Share with them your spreadsheet each week and go over every single event. Mutual accountability works well. Find a fellow salesperson, manager, significant other or business owner that is working on their own goals and be accountable to one another.

It has been said, “If success were easy, everyone would be successful.” While it is not easy, you have more control over your success than you think; and sometimes it is just about having a definable goal and doing the work consistently and being honest with the quantity and quality of your efforts.

Jeff Bush, Wall Street’s Washington insider, is a dynamic and insightful speaker on tax and fiscal topics, and the author of American Cornerstones: History’s Insights on Today’s Issues. A 28-year veteran of the financial industry, Jeff works with executive teams, business owners, and high income individuals to proactively prepare their organizations to succeed in an ever evolving-market place. For more information on Jeff Bush, please visit www.JeffBush.net.

10 High-Impact, Low-Cost Ways to Drive Higher Levels of Employee Engagement and Help Your Customers Love You!

By Curt Redden

We all seem to get it by now—more engaged employees perform at a higher level. The organizations that get their strategy right in this area provide a superior customer experience; have lower levels of employee churn, higher morale, and ultimately much higher financial performance. Their customers love them more! What are some things you can easily implement that will give you big lift in your levels of employee engagement with the lowest investment?

First, hire right. Making the right hire is well over half of the battle in your employee engagement levels. Hire people who believe what you believe, and have the attitude you want. Get that right, and the following ten ideas can help them thrive.

1. Embrace and Adopt a Strengths-Focused Culture. People excel in their areas of talent and strengths. You can find many assessments to help you in this area. But the key is focusing on people’s strengths first. Identify them, and then figure out how you can stretch them in those areas. Once it takes hold, it impacts decision-making, structuring project teams, and the particular talents are required for a specific project. It does not mean you ignore their weaknesses, but your people become more engaged when doing what they naturally do best.

2. Volunteerism and Company Support from Top-Down. It’s important to help the communities in which you serve. You cannot underestimate the impact of allowing your people to volunteer (yes, even on company time). It is beyond giving back, it is team building, networking, and uniting around a common problem to overcome obstacles. In regards to engagement levels, this is one of the highest-rated items on many Employee Engagement surveys, and it is a multiplier in terms of return on happier and more satisfied employees.

3. Make Friends At Work. Some of you may be skeptical, but according to the 2017 Gallup Study of the American Workplace, having a best friend at work has a high correlation with engagement and higher productivity. But how can your organizations help support this? Formally, you can embrace deeper mentoring programs and relationships. This should be aligned in initial onboarding so the mentor can assist and facilitate introductions, networking, and group activities. Informally, the more in and out of work activities that you can schedule aids in bonding, networking, and ultimately friendships.

4. Establish “Fun” Committees! Whatever you call or brand your internal efforts to schedule fun stuff, give it to the people who are passionate, and let them run. Never underestimate the impact of happy hours, food trucks, bowling and other fun activities to help your people get to know each other better on a personal level, and perform better in teams.

5. Flexibility. Wherever possible, err on the side of providing more flexibility for your people. You hired them so hopefully you trust them, and if you don’t you probably should not keep paying them. It is about the “job to be done” and not where it gets done from. Working from home a day or two a week or extending flex time goes a long way in helping people better balance their lives.

6. Contact with Senior Management. Leadership by simply walking around is a really big deal. Have your senior staff pop in on random employees to just see what they’re most excited about working on. Top organizations in engagement consistently show that access and informality with senior staff drives employees to feel more comfortable, enjoy their work more, and provide more discretionary effort.

7. Really Celebrate Successes and Wins. When someone does something awesome, find ways to recognize and reward the behavior you want. It is amazing how many employees still only get feedback primarily when they have done something wrong. So many leaders simply expect great performance, and then think they are providing fantastic coaching and leadership when they rip apart someone’s performance that screwed up. That management style is already going the way of the dinosaur if you are really looking to attract and retain the top employees of tomorrow.

8. Extend Trust to Get Trust. Play a game of “What Rule or Outdated Process Can We Kill?” Once a quarter, include in any regular scheduled meetings, “Keep it, or Kill” it as an exercise. Employees get to nominate rules or processes they believe do not add value. Leadership still has veto authority, but the goal should be able to kill at least one (and you can’t add one to replace it). There are so many areas you can see this have impact. Often times, entire rules and procedures are put in place to avoid a few exceptions. Again, if you trusted them enough to hire them…

9. Extend Trust to Get Trust (Part 2). Your people are on social media. While there are some specific instances of needed prohibition of access to some sites and/or personal devices, the best companies are moving towards the understanding that people are increasingly not separating their work and personal lives. Embrace this! Regarding social media specifically, encourage and help your people to be brand ambassadors on all platforms, not just the ones you think are for business.

10. Let Your People be Authentic and They Will be Their Best for You. We have finally reached a tipping point where the vast majority of organizations understand the value of diversity in their teams. They not only get it, they strive to leverage it for a competitive advantage. Appearance standards have shifted drastically of late, as many companies are now not only allowing, but encouraging, unique looks and individuality in their employees. Some companies are hesitant to permit their staff to work with visible tattoos, facial hair, or body piercings—especially if they are seeking to maintain a carefully curated brand—but where possible allow your people do be themselves. The key is getting and keeping the best talent, not the talent you thinks looks the best (unless that’s your goal). You should seek employees who are passionate, talented and believe in what you believe. Those are the ones who become truly engaged and deliver the ultimate customer experience and help build the brand you deserve.

All ten of these tips can help you immediately in your employee engagement efforts at a relatively low cost. The key differentiator for organizations moving forward will be in how they become an employer of choice for pool of top talent. It is not just about happy and satisfied employees—it is about those who are able to bring their best effort and energy to work each day. Those are the ones who become truly engaged and deliver the ultimate customer experience and help you build the loyalty you deserve.

Curt Redden is a speaker, talent-development expert, and co-author of Going PRIMAL, A Layered Approach to Creating the Life You Desire. Curt has spent more than twenty-five years working to support and encourage employees as they strive for success. He currently is the head of global talent development for a Fortune 50 company. He is also certified by the Association for Talent Development as a master trainer and performance-improvement consultant. For more information on Curt Redden, please visit: www.primalsuccess.com.

What Do My Employees Need To Know About Cybersecurity?

By Bryce Austin

http://www.bryceaustin.comIf you are not educating your employees on cybersecurity best practices, you are missing the biggest opportunity for improvement in your entire cybersecurity profile. Your employees have business-need access to a lot of important data, and their ability to protect that data—or to inadvertently let it walk out the door of your organization—is strong.

Lack of education was at the heart of a number of incidents of a major security breach. You have probably heard about the new HR employee that got an email from the president of the organization asking for all the W2 information on every employee, so that person sent them exactly as instructed. The employee did not recognize the fact that the email came from a hacker impersonating the CEO, and a major security breach took place. Your employees need to be educated on cybersecurity best practices. Click To Tweet

Entire business models are based on this kind of fraud. Let’s pretend that I am going to build a site with the world’s best collection of cute pet pictures. I’ll give you the first ten for free (and those ten are the most adorable pictures you have ever seen), but to see more, you need to set up a username and password. The access is still free, though.

No big deal, right? Wrong. In this scenario, I own this website and I am a criminal, and my business model is to try to use the username and password you just entered at every major banking website, on all major email providers, on your company’s VPN portal, and anywhere else that I think you might have used the same username and password. I will then extract any valuable information I can from those sites, sell the information for a profit, possibly ransom your own data from you to make even more money, and then move on to the next victim.

Need some numbers to illustrate why educating your employees about cybersecurity practices is important?

  • Per IDG’s 2016 Global State of Information Survey, 48 percent of data security breaches are caused by acts of malicious intent. Human error or system failure account for the rest.
  • According to the Ponemon Institute, 60 percent of employees use the exact same password for everything they access. Meanwhile, 63 percent of confirmed data breaches leverage a weak, default or stolen password.

So where can your company start? Start with a training program. Your employees need to be educated on cybersecurity best practices.   One of the issues that any cybersecurity awareness training program should address:

Implement real password policies:

There’s no easy way to say this, so I’m just going to say it: Passwords stink. They are no fun to create, no fun to remember, and no fun to type in. That being said, passwords are still the most common authentication method today. It is imperative to implement a password policy requiring complex passwords that can’t easily be guessed, and end-user training to go along with it. Microsoft’s Active Directory “require complex passwords” setting is a start, but end-user training is also mandatory.

Many users use the same passwords for every online system they need a password for. This is a problem. If one site gets hacked, cybercriminals will try your credentials at all common websites, and possibly at your business’s VPN. It is imperative that your cybersecurity awareness training program encourage your team members to use different passwords for different sites, and especially for any system that your company uses.

Most companies have some sort of safety guidelines that their employees must follow or be aware of and cybersecurity should be no different.  There are a number of companies that specialize in this type of training, and they may or may not be a good fit for your company culture. Picking the right type of training is critical; having a good cultural fit is more important than the actual content. Be sure to do proper due diligence to ensure that the training content offered by the company or companies you are considering is a good fit for the culture of your company.

The important message here is that you already know you must train your employees on certain things in order to have them perform their job functions. Cybersecurity is one of those things. If you are uncertain as to how to structure a cybersecurity training program, find an advisor that can help you.

Questions to explore this topic further with your company’s leaders:

  • When was the last time you were trained on cybersecurity? What did you take away from it?
  • Do your team members who have access to sensitive data get additional training above and beyond those who do not?

Bryce Austin is the CEO of TCE Strategy, an internationally-recognized speaker on emerging technology and cybersecurity issues, and author of Secure Enough? 20 Questions on Cybersecurity for Business Owners and Executives. With over 10 years of experience as a Chief Information Officer and Chief Information Security Officer, Bryce actively advises companies across a wide variety of industries on effective methods to mitigate cyber threats. For more information on Bryce Austin, please visit www.BryceAustin.com.

Powerful Team Conversation: The Foundation of a Successful Team

By Chris Ciardello

When faced with a problem, it often helps to grab someone and talk it out. This is a great collaborative strategy to problem solving. Everyone has a different personality, and everyone sees the world in a different light. What happens when the problem you have is with another person? A common answer is, “I just need to vent, to get this off my chest.” The drawback with handling your problem with another person is that it now becomes gossip. Gossiping is a cancer in any office or social environment. It builds walls and divides teams.

A major subject in many offices and workplaces is conflict resolution. Every office has conflict, but not every office handles it the same way. That is why it’s a topic that should be discussed clearly with your team. Workplaces are full of diverse personalities who communicate in unique ways. These differences in personalities are what make conflict resolution an uncomfortable and touchy subject.The first step to successfully deal with conflict is to bring both parties together and have a meeting of the minds. Click To Tweet

The first step to successfully deal with conflict is to bring both parties together and have a meeting of the minds. The parties involved in the conflict need to sit down and talk it out.

Prior to this meeting the ground rules need to be explained.

There are four ground rules to successful conflict resolution.

Rule #1:

Each side must listen fully to the other side before responding. Often times when one party is explaining something that is bothering them the second party will feel defensive and want to jump in and explain why they did XYZ to justify their actions. There is nothing more frustrating when someone interrupts you, especially when trying to resolve a problem. The first person listens to everything the other person has to say, and then the second person will have their opportunity to explain their side. This process is repeated until both sides have sufficiently made their case.

Rule #2:

Identify the issues clearly, professionally, and concisely. Unless the issue is identified, a resolution cannot be found. This morning Betty came into work and she threw her purse on her desk and snapped at Sally when Sally said good morning. The reason that Betty snapped at Sally when Sally told Betty good morning could be that Betty got a frustrating text from her child saying they forgot their homework. This has nothing to do with Sally, yet the frustration was taken out on her, and this caused some tension between the two of them the rest of the day. In some cases this kind of tension can simmer and slowly build up to a boil making it extremely important to have open communication with your co-workers. You may not always know what is going on in another person’s life, so try not to jump to conclusions.

Rule #3:

When both parties meet to discuss their issues, they are only allowed to use “I” statements. “I felt ignored at the meeting this morning when I was trying to explain the details about Mrs. Jones.” Framing an issue you have with another person with an “I” statement helps to bring their defenses down so that a resolution can be found among the conflict. ‘You’ statements tend to put people on the defensive because they feel like their integrity is under attack.

“YOU always put the instruments back wrong.”

“You never take out the trash.”

When someone starts to get on the defensive they stop hearing everything that is being said. They are focusing on how to defend their integrity. “I” statements diffuse anger and assault.

“I get upset when I can’t find the instruments I need.”

“I feel demotivated when the chart is ripped out of my hands.”

“It hurts my feelings when a harsh tone is used when asking for a favor.”

When you bring the problem back to how it makes you feel it will bring guards down and a conversation can begin.

Rule #4:

The final and most important rule is that there are no personal attacks, name-calling or finger pointing. These are a sure fire way to get the other person on the defensive, and there is just no need for petty attacks a professional environment. When voices raise, the control of the conversation is lost. This prevents both parties from being able to continue the conversation with a level head. As soon as the voices raise, or tears start to flow each side needs to pause (maybe even step a side for a few moments) to gain their composure so that a civil conversation may continue.

Having conflict in an office is ok; in fact, it’s actually healthy. However, preventing conflict from turning into heated conflict is crucial to avoid division in an office. If a resolution cannot be found with the two parties sitting down and talking it out, then it is time to bring in a mediator. Often times this will be the doctor or the office manager. Whoever it is, they need to remain as neutral as Switzerland. The mediator cannot and should not pick sides, and the same ground rules apply. Everyone wants to work in a happy, peaceful environment, so it’s important to talk it out.

Chris Ciardello is a practice management consultant with Global Team Solutions. Passionate about sharing his expertise in technology and marketing, Chris has a distinctive knack for understanding the needs of office environments and assisting companies in building productive, cohesive teams. He began his career in dentistry as an office manager after graduating from the University of Texas, San Antonio with a BA in marketing. For more information on Chris Ciardello, please visit: www.GTSGurus.com.

Social Media: Opportunity or Distraction?

By Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorFor some, the mere mention of social media produces a crooked smile and lights up their eyes. To them, it’s the preferred way to communicate; they would be lost without it.

Others groan and roll their eyes at the mention of social media. Some give it a resigned yawn, quickly tuning out the discussion or leaving the room. Still others are desperately trying to figure it out, while some don’t understand the fuss, and more than a few simply don’t care. What is all the fuss? Why should you care? The reality is that we should all care, because the future of your business may be at stake.

For businesses social media allows you to promote your business, reach out to prospects, connect with clients, and recruit and support staff. Regarding this, there are two major considerations.

First, if your competitor provides customer service via social media, can you afford not to?

Second, if the businesses that tap your labor pool use social media to find new hires, shouldn’t you do the same? These social media opportunities have been amply covered by others. However, before rushing into social media, consider the time it will take and personnel who will be involvedDon't ignore social media—the future of your business may depend on it. Click To Tweet

Email: Email is both a prelude and an entry point to social media. Succinctly, everything you currently do with phone calls, you need to apply to email. Answer email, screen email, route email, add value to email, prioritize email, and escalate email.

Chat: Having the option to engage in text chat is an increasing expectation on consumer websites. You can do the same things with it that you currently do for the phone number that is listed there: answer questions, assist with site navigation, and keep visitors from abandoning their shopping cart.

Facebook: Making a Facebook page is easy. However, to be of use, relevant content needs to be posted and, more importantly, the people who “like” you deserve interaction. When customer service issues surface on Facebook, they need to be quickly addressed. Similarly, if an inquiry materializes, it warrants a speedy response—just be sure to follow social media etiquette; doing sales wrongly in social media can be a painful and damaging experience.

Blogging: Most blogs allow comments to be made, but to protect against spam, comments are often manually screened and approved. Additionally, a response to the comment is sometimes called for and a dialogue can take place, be it within the blog’s comment section or via email.

Twitter: Although Twitter is a broadcast medium, sometimes a tweet may warrant a personal response. Don’t forget to check your Twitter feed and then follow through.

Media Alerts: There are services that scan cyberspace for mentions of a word or phrase, such as a company’s name, a trademark, or an individual’s name. Although helpful, this information generally needs to be filtered. For example, one of the magazines that I publish is Connections Magazine. There are scores of magazines with “connections” in the title, so my media alert for “connections magazine” contains numerous false matches.

Other Ideas: These are just a few ideas. As you investigate social media, you will assuredly come up with more. Consider LinkedIn, Flickr, and YouTube.

If any of these seem worthwhile to you, then please check them out—otherwise, feel free to pass. Just don’t completely ignore social media—the future of your business may depend on it.

Final Thoughts: In pondering the question posed in this article’s title, social media is both an opportunity and a distraction. I’ve been on LinkedIn the longest, and I welcome those who want to become part of my network and occasionally send out similar requests to others, but I’ve yet to actually use it for something practical.

Next, after hearing horror stories of the time-consuming and even addictive nature of Facebook, I long resisted it, only acquiescing to it in the past year. Though Facebook held an initial intrigue, the criticism of it being a time-waster quickly proved true. I haven’t “checked” Facebook in days; I now use it primarily to communicate with friends who won’t respond to an email or phone call.

In answering the question of who will perform all these backend and follow-up activities, know that many, if not all of them, can be outsourced. For example, some contact centers specialize in providing email processing services and text chat services to their clients. Many of them can also address these other social media response issues as well.

Peter DeHaan is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.

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