Wednesday, November 30, 2011

4th Quarter Productivity: Make the season work

You and your team have been working hard all year. First quarter, second quarter, third quarter, and now rounding towards – a holiday party? Even if the holidays are your favorite time of year, it’s hard not to worry that productivity could be sidetracked by distractions during 4th quarter. So how can we get the numbers where we need them without turning into Scrooge?

Checking it twice: Start by assuring that your Human Resources department has sent out a list of your company holidays and time-off policy well ahead of time. You may want to suggest a deadline when all requests need to be in order to be considered for priority.

All is calm: Have your Project Management team conduct more resource planning check-ins and detailed time-off calendars to assure your planned work is covered. Since distractions and time-offs during this time of year are a given, build some extra time into each project. Be sure to include any of your holiday parties into the work schedule, too.

Shake the tree: Your Sales team should follow up with prospects one more time to see if any year-end sales can be added. A sales challenge with a respectable prize can be tied in with your holiday theme. Don’t forget that some clients may have annual budgets to use or lose. Propose concepts that bring some last minute value and lead to more work in the new year.

Setting a jovial tone during the holidays can motivate your team to face year-end challenges with determination. Accept that some decline in productivity is a reality at many companies this time of year. Showing your teams gratitude, tolerance, and flexibility in the face of holiday time-off requests can make the hours they are at work as productive as ever. And proving that you are there to hold down the fort no matter what is a great way to remind your team that we still have a job to do.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Text vs. Email vs. Call: Etiquette for Today's Technology Obsessed Culture

Perhaps more than any time in history, the variety of communication tools at our disposal is greater than ever. As valuable as they have proven to be, when it comes to the electronic communication tools, all platforms are not created equal – nor were they meant to be treated as such. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind to keep the electronic channels of communication running smoothly.

First and foremost, when establishing a relationship with a potential client, find out which communication method they prefer. If you’re not in the habit already, ask them when you share business cards. With existing clients, it’s best to reply in whichever method they use, unless for security reasons, it does not meet your company policy.

Similarly, at hire, be sure to let your employees know how you prefer to receive messages. In management positions, it is easy to spend critical hours of your day reading and replying to emails. As with paper correspondence, if you do not have enough time in the day to monitor and reply to your electronic inbox, have an assistant field and filter your incoming messages for you.

Texting: A short message might mean a short business relationship
While useful at times, most of us know that texting is not a good way to conduct any serious conversations. Sure, it can be a great way to alert your team with a status update when you are offsite but for anything important, ask yourself if an email wouldn’t be better. If a client requests that you message them, it’s best to start the text by asking if they are available to IM at that moment. And mind the spellcheck – sometimes your smartphone can do some not-so-smart things with your intended words.

Email: If it’s good enough for the Queen
Queen Elizabeth was the first head of state to send an email way back in 1976. Since then, email has replaced the majority of business communication that goes on in almost every office. It’s reputation as a good way to conduct business has changed from a novelty to a necessity. When is the last time someone told you they didn’t have an email address? As a CEO, you should draft your emails to clients in the same way you would a typed letter, letterhead, signature and all. Or, if you wish to send an even more formal message, attach a PDF of your electronic letter. Email continues to be a great way to establish a time-stamped electronic papertrail, as well as a great data storage service. 

Telephone: Still a valid way to ring up a few more sales
In some offices, the ring of a phone is nearly extinct, in favor of email. Yet there are scenarios where nothing can express your personality like a phone call or video-conference. Your tone can easily get lost in email, and often times, that is the only way your authenticity can truly come through. Not only is your tone more clear, the tone and reaction of your client is more apparent. If you are gifted in the art of conversation, you can learn a lot about your client’s comfort level just by listening. Of course, if the situation is delicate, nothing beats a face-to-face conversation.

Depending on the tech savvy-ness of your business, you probably have a sense of which messages are best suited for which technology. Company guidelines have probably morphed over the years, and often times a CEO will be the one who sets the standard.

Take note of how the business communications of your team are being delivered. Are your employees sending abrupt text message to an important lead? Is an eco-conscious client being sent paper invoices? Maybe it’s time to review your own practices and set some new ground rules. Year-end might be a good time to revisit your communication methods with your clients and coworkers.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Lessons Learned Part 1: CEO Case Study – Netflix’s Reed Hastings

“I messed up,” began Netflix CEO Reed Hastings in a September 18th blog post and email to customers. Such a straightforward and personal acceptance of responsibility should have set the tone for an apology that would make it easy for customers to forgive and forget, so why did it only fuel a backlash against his company?

As you likely know by now, Hastings was not apologizing for raising prices and complicating things for his customers by separating DVD rental and streaming services. No, he apologized for the way the company mishandled the way they broke the news. “It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming, and the price changes,” the post continued. “That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology.”

Hastings went on to announce even more changes, separating the services into two companies with two pay structures, demonstrating that he clearly hadn’t heard any of the original concerns. He even seemed to poke fun at the fact that they had raised prices instead of confronting it head on, creating an even wider chasm in appearing not to take concerns seriously.

But what could he have done differently? Public apologies are never easy, but could he have done better? Here are some things we can learn from Hastings’ ordeal, should we ever find ourselves in a similar unenviable position.

  • Be authentic – Hastings’ apology was hardly clear or unambiguous, making it much less effective. A direct response to customer concerns is the only way to make it clear you mean what you say, and the only way to avoid further apologies to clarify your statements.
  • Respond immediately – Netflix announced their plans to increase rates on July 12th, and Hastings’ half-hearted apology came September 18th. As the immediate onslaught of 5,000+ comments in response to his blog post will attest, his mea culpa could have come earlier. The lag time made it appear his hand was finally forced.
  • Be personal – Hastings could certainly have appeared more contrite if he had looked his customers in the eye in a press conference, and invited questions. Instead, he pushed out an unexpected and faceless email with carefully constructed language, and engaged in no immediate Q&A.
  • Be humble – Hastings titled his post, “An Explanation and Some Reflections”, which immediately strikes a defensive tone. “An Apology and Some Reconsiderations” may have gone further to win back the hearts of those he may have alienated. He declared many new changes to be “necessary”, which implies his audience feel as if they have no voice (and has since gone back on some of the company’s major plans, now demonstrating that they were never necessitated in the first place).

As is the case with any CEO, Hastings is free to run his company as he sees fit, and his customers and stakeholders will decide how he’s doing. But we can all learn some lessons when facing up to our mistakes, no matter how public or private. It will help us personally, and help the company maintain credibility long-term.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

CEO Behavior Sets the Tone for the Entire Enterprise

It’s tempting to dismiss clich├ęs such as, “actions speak louder than words”, but in a leadership role, it’s vital to understand that your personal and corporate behavior will influence your entire organization.

Now, we’re not going to state the obvious about engaging in illegal or inappropriate activities that will put the company at risk. The behavior we want to focus on here is more subtle. We’re not telling you to change your lifestyle, just to remain aware that small things can make a big difference in the way you influence group behavior.

As a leader, you want and expect the respect of those around you. With that respect comes responsibility, as those who look to you for behavioral signals will – naturally – follow your lead.

  • Do you expect your employees to remain positive, excited to be at work? Then you must appear positive and excited by way of motivation.
  • What are your values as a company? The words that you want others to use when describing your company should also describe the way you conduct your daily business. 
  • Are you actively involved in the daily business of all departments? Don’t micromanage, but remain available and communicate openly, transparently.
  • What do you want your company to have their sights set on? Make sure you are focusing on that same goal in your own work. 

It’s the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The way you perform and the expectations you have of the group are vital to the culture of your organization. Make sure to meet or exceed the expectations you place on others’ performance.

Remember, people are watching. Yes, part of leadership is about making decisions for the company, but you can also help individuals make positive decisions by managing your own words and behavior for a positive outcome.

Actions DO speak louder than words, so show – don’t just tell.