Tag Archives: business

Stop Falling Behind Your Competitors

Seven Steps to Gain a Competitive Advantage

By Brad Wolff

Brad WolffDoesn’t it seem that business is more competitive and difficult than it used to be? ABC, Inc. experienced this challenging business atmosphere firsthand. A building materials manufacturer that previously dominated their marketplace, ABC suffered staggering losses in the previous fiscal year. It became blindingly apparent that what had worked in the past was no longer effective, and the company president had no idea how to fix things. It was time to use proven techniques for achieving a competitive advantage.

ABC engaged a firm that identified the root causes of their problems. After two years, sales and profits dramatically increased—even with the same leaders. The results came from a seven-step process based on sound principles that put a focus on leveraging their internal talent. If you find your business falling behind, you can follow ABC, Inc.’s lead by putting these seven steps into practice.

1. Employee alignment

When a significant percentage of duties performed by employees don’t fit their innate characteristics or core nature, they won’t perform well. For example, people low in detail orientation doing work that requires high detail. Training and development, management encouragement and other well-intended efforts will not fix alignment issues. As Peter Drucker said, “A manager’s task is to make the strengths of people effective and their weaknesses irrelevant.”Personal growth results in professional growth. Click To Tweet

2. Creating a competitive advantage through a culture of personal growth and development

In truth, personal growth results in professional growth. It results in a greater capacity to handle life challenges, accomplish long-term goals and work well with others. Personal growth and development includes an increased awareness of self and others, the ability to manage one’s ego, ability to manage emotions and development of innate talents to maximize productivity and effectiveness. Most performance issues that managers complain about relate to one or more of the above. These are fundamental character traits of success.

3. Aligning employees with the mission and vision of the organization

Human beings have an innate need for meaning and purpose in what they do. This means that they care about how their efforts affect the world outside themselves—people, the environment, animals, etc. For example, take assembly line workers that produce incubators for premature babies. In one scenario the workers are only told to mechanically perform the prescribed duties. In the other scenario they are crystal clear about the importance the quality of their work has on the survival of infants. Which workers do you think are more motivated? Engagement and performance are directly affected by people’s connection to the outcomes of their work.

4. Aligning employees with the culture and values of the organization

People need to feel that they fit in with their social groups. Employees who are significantly out of sync with an organization’s culture and values will never make their highest contribution. Having perfect alignment is not the goal, since diversity of thought and behavior allow a culture to adapt and thrive. However, significant misalignments are damaging. It’s also important for leaders to consider whether they should change their culture. Examples of this would include a culture that they know is toxic and when there’s shrinking population of workers who fit the current culture. In both cases, without the ability to attract and retain needed talent, organizations will fail.

5. Aligning roles and responsibilities with organization’s strategies and goals

In today’s environment, organizational goals and strategies must change to adapt. Frequently, roles and supporting job duties don’t adequately change to align with these shifts. When this occurs, some or much of employee work efforts are out of alignment and can impair the ability to achieve the desired outcomes. For example, a company changes strategy to shift most customer communications from telephone to online, yet the employees’ duties and training continue to focus on telephone communications.

6. Assessing personal and professional weaknesses, starting from the top

Weaknesses are the negative side of strengths. It’s impossible to have a strength without its vulnerable side. We’ve been taught to hide or deny our weaknesses despite them being obvious to others. Our ego’s impulse to protect our self-image is normal but counterproductive. It hinders our true potential from being realized—a loss to the organization and ourselves. When leaders openly and honestly acknowledge “challenge areas,” this sets the example for others. The organization opens the door to growth and development.

7. Committing to work on the personal and professional challenges discovered in the assessment process

Studies on human potential and positive change demonstrate that self-awareness is the first step—but it’s not the last. Committing to take steps (starting with baby steps) and taking them allows for the development of positive habits that create lasting positive change. Deliberate change intended to meet the needs of your environment creates a flexible, adaptive organization—one that is poised to thrive despite the torrent of unpredictable/unwanted change that defines your world. Thriving in an unpredictable world is about you. Your willingness to acknowledge change that you don’t like, openly discuss it and consistently take the actions required to adapt and emerge stronger.

At the end of the day, leaders are simply making choices that define the present and future of themselves and their organizations. There’s nothing magical about the most effective leaders. They’re just making more effective choices. These choices encompass how they decide to see the world, their openness to challenge their beliefs and their willingness to experiment with innovative ideas that can capture breakthrough advantages. Equally important choices include their willingness to objectively look at themselves and take actions to grow in areas. They choose to become a greater, more effective version of themselves. They know that what they demonstrate (not what they say) is what has the greatest impact on the entire organization. As a leader, the question is, what choices are you going to make?

Brad Wolff specializes in workforce and personal optimization. He’s a speaker and author of, People Problems? How to Create People Solutions for a Competitive Advantage. As the managing partner for Atlanta-based PeopleMax, Brad specializes in helping companies maximize the potential and results of their people to make more money with less stress. His passion is empowering people to create the business success they desire, in a deep and lasting way. For more information on Brad Wolff, please visit: www.PeopleMaximizers.com.

Seven Steps for Solving Business Problems

Learning How to Eat an Elephant

 By Mitzi Perdue

Mitzi Perdue-solving problemsSuccessful people all do one thing: they solve problems. They don’t just stare at a problem and wish it would go away.

The magic key to solving your big, difficult, looming business problems is to break them down into smaller parts and then deal with these smaller parts. By viewing your issues through this prism you can focus intently on solving a problem through a series of steps instead of preparing to tackle it all at once.

It’s the old, “How do you eat an elephant?”

Answer: “One bite at a time.”

Your Seven Steps for Solving a Problem

Successful people all do one thing: they solve problems. They don't just stare at a problem and wish it would go away. Click To Tweet

1. Describe the Problem: Do this in writing. Often, you’ll find that simply explaining the whole problem to yourself will cause you to see the solution. But not always, so if that doesn’t make the situation clear, go on to #2.

2. Break the Problem into Smaller, More Manageable Parts: Make a list of the parts of the problem, breaking the problem down into manageable parts that don’t seem intimidating. If one item on the list still seems too hard, break it down still further into even smaller parts. Then arrange your list in a logical order according to what to do first, second, third, and so on.

3. Write Down the Obstacles: This step may come as a surprise, but it’s important. Take a clear, hard look at what the obstacles are and then list them. Being optimistic is a good thing, but no matter how positively you think about a problem, you’ll improve your odds of success if you pay attention to and prepare for the likely obstacles.

4. Brainstorm Possible Solutions: Write down as many solutions as you can. Be as creative as you can be. At this point, your goal is quantity not quality. Don’t keep from writing down an idea just because it seems stupid or irrelevant. Often what seems like a bad idea can spark your imagination in ways that lead to good ideas. These new ideas can turn out to be highly creative ones that might never have occurred to you otherwise. You’d be surprised how often this happens.

5. Stretch to Find One More Solution: Ideas that come when you’ve had to stretch for them often turn out to be the most useful of all. There’s a reason: In many cases if the answer were easy or obvious, it would already have been done by now. It’ s when you stretch to get a new idea that you come up with the most creative ideas—the ones that not everyone has already thought of. The most creative, least obvious solutions may have the best chance of solving your problem. Oh, and something to keep in mind at this point: Thomas Edison was right when he said: “When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this: you haven’t.”

6. Pick the Best Solution: When you’ve gotten as far as you can with the brainstorming aspect of problem-solving, it’s time to put on your realist’s hat. Remember, it’s a different mindset at this point. Your job is to figure out, of all the ideas you’ve come up with, which is the best? What solution or solutions best combines: a) Solving the problem; b) Getting the job done on time; and c) Having the resources available for accomplishing it.

7. Act on it: Surprisingly often, people may come up with a good solution, but they don’t “pull the trigger.” That is, they procrastinate when it comes to implementing the idea. Successful people, in contrast, have a penchant for action. They are not only good at thinking of solutions; they’re very good at plunging in and doing them. They know that the problem isn’t solved until the plan is put into action and completed.

Three quotes that express the importance of action:

“To know and not to act is the same as not to know.”

“It’s not what you know, it’s what you do.”

“Done is better than perfect.”

Developing skill in problem-solving is an invaluable skill. The best leaders are the best problem solvers. Invest in yourself by learning to be the best problem solver that you can be.

 Checklist for Solving Problems

  1. Have I described my problem in writing?
  2. Have I broken it into manageable chunks?
  3. Have I made a clear assessment of the obstacles?
  4. Have I brainstormed solutions?
  5. Have I stretched to find one more solution?
  6. Have I picked the best solution?
  7. Have I put the solution into action?

Mitzi Perdue is a celebrated speaker, businesswoman, and author of How to Make Your Family Business Last. A cum laude graduate from Harvard University and holder of an MPA from George Washington University, Mitzi draws from her direct experiences in two long-lasting family enterprises to assist businesses in preparing for lifelong success. She is a past president of the 35,000-member American Agri-Women, a former syndicated columnist for Scripps Howard, and the founder of CERES Farms. For more information on Mitzi Perdue, please visit www.MitziPerdue.com.

Three Simple Training Tips to Dramatically Boost Company Performance

By Cordell Riley

Company Perfomance-Cordell RileyMany companies view training as a “nice to have.” They think it is important to create an attractive, engaging training program for new hires, and that it might be good to have a focused course that teaches employees how to perform certain tasks or use certain pieces of company technology. Once those companies cover the bases by offering training in just a few areas like those, they turn the page and start to think about other realities of doing business.

But what if . . .

What if those companies thought about employing training in a larger, more strategic way to improve performance in a wider range of business activities? What, for example, if they stopped to consider that a 10,000 dollars  investment in training could net a 10 percent increase in the sales made by each salesperson, resulting in an additional 10 dollars million in annual sales revenue? What if they stopped to think that a similar investment in training could result in a 10 percent increase in the accuracy of order filling, and would save 1 million dollar a year?

In short, what if companies made the connection between training, performance, and the bottom line?

And what if your company did? You see, training offers you the potential to dramatically increase profits and performance. Here are three tips to get that to happen for you.

1. Start with the End in Mind

Chances are you know where you would like to see improved performance or profits in your organization. But specifically what would those improvements look like? Would there be fewer defective products, better company reviews online, a 15 percent increase in the sales of one of your product lines—specifically, what?

Specific goals begin to emerge when you consider questions like those. They help you define the specific business challenges and goals you need to address. And once you have defined those issues and goals, you can begin to determine if there is training that will assist in reaching them.If you don’t measure and adjust, your training will never deliver the results it is capable of. Click To Tweet

2. Develop an Appropriate Curriculum

Your curriculum should be designed to teach people the skills they need to learn or improve in their specific role. But developing an effective curriculum is a bit more complex than simply defining skills. It should be right for the people in the roles who are performing the tasks and jobs that your training addresses. And it should be designed to have a focused, specific impact on the business items where you are trying to “move the needle” and bring about change.

An appropriate curriculum is also about more than just a list of skills and behaviors. It should consider how those lessons will be delivered—by a live training presenter, on phones or tablets, enlivened with games and exercises, in short “chunks” or longer lessons, for example. Creating an effective curriculum depends on considering who your learners are, where they are, and how they would prefer to learn.

3. Measure Results, then Tweak and Adjust Your Training Accordingly

At this point, you loop back to the decisions you made in the first step, when you started with the end in mind. The difference is that you are now going to develop ways to measure the change you have brought about through training.

You might decide to measure how much more each of your retail salespeople is selling on an average sale, whether fewer of your products are being returned, whether your rates of repeat business are improving, whether your online reviews are more positive, or other hard or soft metrics that tell you how effective your training has been.

Once you are measuring, you can tweak, modify your training, and find ways to improve results. But one thing for certain? If you don’t measure and adjust, your training will never deliver the results it is capable of.

In Summary

Start with the end in mind, develop an appropriate curriculum, then measure results and adjust your training. That is a simple, yet powerful, approach to improve company performance. And you can use it to improve more company performance that you have probably stopped to consider.

Cordell Riley is sought-after keynote speaker, and the Owner and President of Tortal Training, a leading training development company he founded in Charlotte, North Carolina. Tortal uses strategic engagement methodologies and specializes in developing mobile training platforms for organizations with distributed workforces. A recognized training expert with extensive experience in the service, automotive and franchising sectors, Cordell has spent more than twenty years helping thousands of companies achieve outstanding success through training. For more information about Cordell Riley, please visit: www.Tortal.net.

Call Center 101

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

I receive calls and emails from people who want to start a call center or contact center. I used to spend quite a bit of time with them discussing the nuances, ramifications, and challenges of starting a contact center. (They would already be optimistically filled with the upside, so there was no point in covering the satisfaction of helping people, the variety of work, and the profit potential.) However, after numerous such calls, I grew weary of repeating myself, so I put the basics online and simply refer people to www.StartACallCenter.com.

In talking to these inquirers, I would ask two questions. This helps me could provide the information relevant to their goals. The first was, “Will your call center do inbound or outbound work?” This sometimes confused people. On inquirer, who claimed 15 years of contact center experience, responded with, “What do you mean? I don’t understand the difference.”

My second question was, “Will this be an in-house or an outsourcing call center?” This query generated even more confusion. One caller gasped; her nonsensical retort was, “We’re in the United States!”

In similar fashion, when people subscribe to my call center magazine, Connections Magazine, I ask if they are an in-house or an outsource call center. I’m surprised at how frequently this question is fumbled. In view of all this—and at substantial risk of offending knowledgeable contact center veterans—I offer the following:To be successful, the work must be done well. Click To Tweet

Inbound Call Centers

Inbound call centers answer calls. Their agents are in a reactive mode, waiting for the phone to ring or the next call in queue. Inbound call centers are equipped with ACDs (Automatic Call Distributors) to efficiently send calls to the “next available agent.” Many inbound operations are staffed 24 x 7, with their agents scheduled to work in anticipation of projected call volume based on historical data and marketing initiatives.

Outbound Call Centers

Outbound call centers make calls to customers and sales prospects. Their job is proactive. Even if agents work is not sales per se, they still need a sales mentality. They must engage the called party, lead them towards an objective, and deal with rejection; some of which may be personally directed. Outbound call centers rely on predictive dialers to place calls. Agents are scheduled as needed to complete a requisite number of calls within a certain window of time, as limited by law.

In-house Call Centers

An in-house call center is an internal department or division of a company; it provides services exclusively for their own company. The chief advantage of an in-house call center is that greater control and oversight can be given to the call center, its agents, and their activities. An in-house call center can be a cost-center or a profit-center. Cost-centers they do not generate enough revenue to cover their expenses. They need to be subsidized by the company, whereas profit-centers generate enough business to cover their expenses.

Outsourcing Call Centers

An outsource call center does work for other companies. Their business is making and receiving calls. They often enjoy an economy-of-scale that is not feasible for the in-house operation. As such, their margins allow client’s to save money, while they make money. Agents at an outsource contact center work for their clients, but work with their clients’ customers or prospects. Outsource call centers are increasing in number and importance as more companies look to outsourcing as a way to increase service levels and options, return to their core competencies, save money, or all three.

Offshore Call Centers

An offshore call center is simply any call center that is located in a different country, or “offshore.” Offshoring is often erroneously considered synonymous with outsourcing. Offshore call centers are a subset of the outsourcing call center industry. (An in-house call center can be moved “offshore” as well.) A recent trend has been moving call center activity to other countries that boast stable technological infrastructures and offer qualified workers who possess lower wage expectations. This is offshore outsourcing, which is too often incorrectly shortened to outsourcing.

Despite all these distinctions, the essential lesson of Call Center 101, is that to be successful, the work must be done well!

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is a published author and commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services.

You Want Your Family Business to Last?

Five Tips for Getting There!

By Mitzi Perdue

You may be familiar with the statistic that 70 percent of family businesses don’t make it to the second generation. The big question is: how can you beat these odds?

Family members need to learn some basic cultural attitudes. They need to know that they’re part of something bigger than themselves. They need to know that they can’t always be right. They need to learn that being a member of a family business sometimes requires sacrifice.

The biggest reason that business families fall apart is that the family hasn’t developed the kind of culture that supports keeping the family business in the family. Families that leave this to chance rarely make it to the next generation.

So, how do you create this kind of culture?

1. Know Your Family Stories. We are the stories we tell ourselves, and high-functioning families have heard their family stories over and over again. How much does your extended family know about where the family business came from and what made it what it is today? How much do they understand the sacrifices, efforts and tenacity that went into making family business you have today? Do they know stories about family members putting the good of the family ahead of their own interests? Be intentional about telling these stories. The more stories, legends, myths, and parables, the stronger your family’s culture and the more likely your family business is to endure.

2. Have Family Vacations. Your family vacation could be five people or 100 people, but whether it’s a large group or a small one, having aunts and uncles and cousins spending time together greatly increases the chances of building a family business that lasts. A vacation means time set aside to share experiences and to get to know and appreciate each other and to embed the family’s values. It’s a time for all branches and all generations to build the shared stories and memories that lead to trust and caring. This is especially important if family members are geographically dispersed, because it allows extended members to get to know each other.Family harmony is so important, that anything you can do to nurture it is a wise investment. Click To Tweet

3. Subsidize a family vacation after you’re gone. All too often when the patriarch or matriarch passes on, family members stop seeing each other. Maybe for the first few years they’re together at major holidays, such as Thanksgiving. And later on, maybe they get together for weddings. But gradually, there’s nothing left and family members have superficial relationships—or no relationship at all. A highly effective antidote to this is, leave money in your will to pay for a yearly get-together. Some families subsidize an annual dinner while others pay for a nice vacation. Either way, having an endowed yearly meal or vacation can keep families together across the centuries. Ideally, there’s even money budgeted for baby-sitters and child-friendly activities. ­­Endowed family get-togethers can be a highly-effective tool for helping the family continue across the generations.

4. Write a family newsletter. In a geographically dispersed family, a newsletter can play a huge role in helping the family to maintain a strong and vibrant culture. Include in it interviews with the older family members or employees about the early days and some of the company’s struggles. Maybe interview the matriarch or patriarch on such issues as why it’s good to be public, or why our family should never wash its dirty linen in public, or why it’s a terrible thing to be “addicted to being right.” The newsletter can also help people catch up on family news— maybe someone became an Eagle Scout, got into the college of his or her choice, or got a promotion. It’s also excellent for recording weddings, births, or in the case of an engaged couple, telling the story of how they met. Other topics for your newsletter can include what’s going on in the company, including company milestones. Make it short, ideally no longer than one or two pages. You want people to read it, and unfortunately, there’s an inverse connection between how long it is and how many people will read it. If it’s limited to one page, your family members are more likely to read it when they get it, as opposed to putting it aside for later and then never getting to it.

5. Get help if you need it. Fortunately, there’s a whole new ecosystem of family advisors who can help. There’s no such thing as a family business that doesn’t have conflict, and when there’s a serious family conflict, the pain from it can permeate every hour of every day. Not to mention that it can blow up the whole family, and with it the family business. So just as you’d get medical help if you if you had alarming chest pains, don’t put off getting professional help if a conflict in the family is getting out of hand. If you Google “family business advisors” you’ll get more than 45,000 hits in half of a second. Or if you have a financial advisor, he or she is likely to be able to refer you to a professional trained in family business relationships.

Family harmony is so important, that anything you can do to nurture it is a wise investment. Many families don’t stay intact over the generations. This is likely to happen when a family leaves its culture to chance. The good news is, planning is something you can do, and even better, the implementation can be enjoyable and fulfilling.

Mitzi Perdue is a celebrated speaker, businesswoman, and author of How to Make Your Family Business Last. A cum laude graduate from Harvard University and holder of an MPA from George Washington University, Mitzi draws from her direct experiences in two long-lasting family enterprises to assist businesses in preparing for lifelong success. She is a past president of the 35,000-member American Agri-Women, a former syndicated columnist for Scripps Howard, and the founder of CERES Farms. For more information on Mitzi Perdue, please visit www.MitziPerdue.com.