When shift happens and the world is rearranged, how do you emerge from a place of surviving to thriving? The coronavirus pandemic and the economic recession have been felt around the world. If your business has not been affected directly, someone connected to your business or to you have been dealt quite a blow. In some cases, a death blow. We are all connected, and the current situation proves this.

The enormous cost is unimaginable:

Businesses have closed and some will never reopen

Revenue streams have dried up

People are laid off and have no income

Decisions about the future are clouded with uncertainty

People are sick and dying

Strategic plans are of little use

Experience does not connect to the unknown future

What is the root of the problem?

At the core is an unprecedented jolt to the way we do business and conduct our lives. To stay safe, we have quarantined, shut down businesses, suspended schools, and cancelled events. The flow of commerce has come to a screeching halt. There is so much uncertainty, it is impossible to predict or plan. Experience does not give any clues about the future because there is no connection. The future looks nothing like the past so experience is of little use to us.

How to pivot to thrive when shift happens

Accept the current reality with brutal honesty

Imagine the worst case to best case scenario for your business, your customer, and your suppliers

Identify your customer needs

Identify your capabilities relationships and assets

Identify places in your business that you can leverage, develop, or acquire to pivot to meet the needs of your customers

Find opportunities to lend support with no expectation of anything in return

Know with certainty there is no going back to “normal”

An example of reimagining the future

Consider the architectural firm specializing in healthcare, hospitality, and retail. Design work in retail and restaurants has diminished significantly. However, the firm has become an expert in designing space to meet health standards for COVID-19. With a pivot, they have a new specialty that sets them apart from their competitors and meets the needs of customers. They are positioned to thrive.

Conclusion

When shift happens, it creates new opportunities as well as closing others. You are in the best position to thrive when your team and you have built a culture of trust and resilience. Keep in mind that you are also able to help others who are struggling. Help where you can with no expectation of anything in return. Now’s not the time to be keeping score.

It pays to be “ambidextrous.” Organizations must take care of business today with capabilities while exploring new ones for the future. What new strategy can you adopt today that will serve you well regardless of the future?

© 2020 Ann Elliott

Leadership is at a premium in scary times. Worldwide events in early 2020 demonstrate the importance of strong leadership from the local level to the international stage. For example, Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, has led her country of five million through the coronavirus pandemic with empathy and strength.  

With so much at stake in a crisis, it is crucial for the people to trust their leader. The way ahead is uncertain and difficult. For people to be willing to do the hard things, they must be confident in the integrity of their leader. To garner trust, it must be earned. People can handle the truth. Facts matter.

An important element is that the leader cares about the travails of the ones she is leading. Having a heart is not a weakness. It is a strength. Empathy profoundly conveys the message, “I understand, and I am standing with you shoulder to shoulder.”

Where to start in leading in scary times? The following strategies can support your planning, innovation, communication, and action as your team, and you traverse the unchartered territory ahead.

These uncertain, frightening times are forever etched in our memories. We are irrevocably changed because of it. We have an opportunity to chart a new path. Leadership in scary times makes for people who are stronger, wiser, and kinder. I am sure of it.

© 2020 Ann Elliott

 

Communication is the lifeblood of relationships, personal and business. The health of an organization can be measured in how it communicates not only internally but externally.

Bad communication habits can be sneaky and costly. It is easy to fall into bad habits without realizing how detrimental they can be. For example, my client told me the social media expert hired to manage the online presence for the firm quit. She refused to do any more work because of the way a member of the firm treated her. Snarky, disrespectful, curt communication did not sit well with this valuable resource.

Do these five bad habits sabotage your organization?

1)      Respond with “Yes, but….” This is a reactive reply that implies the listener already has the best solution to the issue. It’s an argumentative stance which does not respect the point of view of the other. This is a good way to shut down any constructive dialogue.

 

2)      “You Talk Too Much” by Joe Jones, a popular 1960 song describes it best.  How can you get another perspective when you are doing all the talking all the time? Not possible. Besides that, for introverts on your team it’s exhausting to be bombarded by a steady stream of chatter.

Joe Jones You talk too much - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GOYYbiEul0

3)      Allow distractions, electronic and otherwise. In meetings, when people are distracted by phone calls, emails and text messages, it says “What you are saying is not important to me.” No one likes to be disrespected.

 

4)      Hide behind technology. Cryptic text messages, for example, can be easily misinterpreted. An important element of communication is body language and tone. Technology cannot take place of a phone call or face to face meeting.

 

5)      Keep crucial information out of reach. Relevant metrics informs employees how the organization is performing and the part they play in its success. How do they know if they don’t have access to it?

 

Which of these bad habits is the biggest issue for you? To get started select the one that has the biggest impact on your company. If you are not sure, ask your team to give their perspective.

Here’s how to get started to turn these bad habits into productive ones:

1)      Listen carefully to what someone is saying. Ask open ended questions to understand more deeply the situation. Find out what the other person thinks is a good approach, “What do you think is a good first step?”

 

2)      Talk less to listen more. It may surprise you what others know and think.

 

3)      Silence, cut off and put out of sight all electronic devices in meetings. Use this in 1-on-1 as well as team meetings. Go dark at least for one 24 hour period each week. You will survive.

 

4)      Use the telephone and meet face to face as appropriate. I know it’s a quaint idea in the gilded age of technology.

 

5)      Share the up to date metrics of your organization. People who are engaged make better, happier employees. Tell them what they are doing makes a difference.

 

These five communication habits can have a significant impact on not only the morale but the bottom line in your company. Why not trade the five worst habits for the five best habits to improve the health of your organization?

 

© 2018 Ann Elliott All Rights Reserved

 

Computer technology is pervasive, a blessing and a curse. With the touch of a button you have access to an up to date picture of inventory, sales, and cash on hand. Assuming, of course, you have been disciplined about keeping this information current.  

Technology is great when it works. Most importantly, it doesn’t always work. With a population of approximately 490,000 people, the city of Atlanta discovered what happens to technology when it is attacked by cyber ware. Five of thirteen departments were hit. Services were disrupted. Some departments resorted to paper records. When technology failed, old school methods rose to the occasion.

We rely on technology. Maybe too much. Do you remember the last time you had to recall someone’s telephone number? Consult a paper map for directions is unheard of today. Just ask for directions from your phone or the navigation system in your car.

How do you make good use of technology without turning in your common sense? There are still some quaint, old school methods that are important to learn and to use.

Old School Methods for Today

  1. Know the cardinal directions of North, South, East and West. Since 2015 the US Naval Academy has required its seamen to learn how to use a sextant for celestial navigation.
  1. Take notes with a pencil and paper. Only do this is you want better retention of what you are learning.
  1. Write thank you notes by hand and mail them using a stamp. I prefer a colorful, interesting stamp. Email and texting may be faster. Nothing is as thrilling as receiving a thoughtful handwritten note by mail.
  1. Use electronic communication wisely. I wouldn’t want to be without it. A face to face conversation or meeting is an opportunity to read body language and facial expressions.  Spies prefer face to face because it's the most secure form of communication.
  1. Be comfortable doing basic multiplication and division long hand. You know like 3 x 5 = 15 or 1200 ÷ 150 = ___________.
  1. Drive without texting. Period.

Some ways to use old school methods to keep them in good working order: When the navigation system in your car says “Turn west on Sharon Road,” check the position of the sun to decide which way to turn. Or, at your next conference use pen and paper to make notes.

Final Thoughts

Use the power of technology wisely. Remember to give old school methods their due respect. Both have their place in a rapidly changing world.

© 2018 Ann Elliott All Rights Reserved

photo credit: Robert Björkén (Hobbyfotograf) Steampunk via photopin (license)

Many companies tolerate poor customer care. Could the damage be $84 billion annually for US companies as some sources claim? 

In a recent trip to an automobile dealer to purchase a car, the sales person stunned me. After a test drive in a pre-owned car with 25,000 miles, I asked for a copy of the CarMax report. He attached his business card to the report and put it on his desk. I explained this was my first stop in shopping for a car. He pushed the report across his desk to me. He said, “I hope I’ll be here to help you when you decide.” He stood up and walked away. That dealership has a slim to none opportunity to do business with me because of this experience.

Poor customer care costs companies of all sizes. CTMA, a research group from New Zealand, calculated an 87 percentage point drop in customer loyalty if a customer was “very dissatisfied.” Not only do customers find another provider, they share their bad experience with others. See previous paragraph.

Understandably business owners want to maximize profits by minimizing costs. Cutting costs in customer care training is false economy. Also, not knowing how your customers experience an interaction with your company, hides areas that could be improved or enhanced.

What can you do to be profitable while providing excellent customer care?

  1. Invest your resources to train employees in all areas to be great representatives of your company. Include marketing, sales, operations, finance, and everywhere else.
  2. Make internal customer care as important as external customer care. Each division serves the other.
  3. Use technology wisely to enhance the customer experience, not merely cut costs. Efficient phone systems may save labor costs but at what expense?
  4. Over deliver and under promise on the commitments you make to customers internally and externally.
  5. Admit mistakes and do what is necessary to make it right (even if it costs you money).
  6. Refer customers to other providers who can fulfill their needs when you cannot.
  7. Ask your customers, “How are we doing?”

The power of great customer care is hard to calculate. But imagine never having to advertise ever again, because every customer was so pleased they told five friends to shop at your store and those five friends all became customers and did the same thing. Cut down on cost and increase profits? It’s easy to say yes to this.

© 2018 Ann Elliott All Rights Reserved

One obvious requirement of business leadership involves the universally respected value of trust. This leads us to the topic of authenticity.

Are business leaders today seen as highly rated by their authenticity or are they seen as disingenuous, shallow, self-promoting or even dishonest? Are business leaders trusted?

This is a hard problem to quantify. Entire industries, as we know, are sometimes marred by isolated scandals that lower the public's view of them. When an oil tanker leaks, the reputation of an entire industry sinks. When the Great Recession hit in 2008, bankers were considered the scourge of their times.

When authenticity erodes, profits tumble and the public wants someone punished. In a publicly traded company, this often goes straight to the top office.

Your business is a microcosm of this dynamic. If a business leader is disingenuous or dishonest, middle management becomes restless and employees sense trouble. Discipline breaks down as employees begin to take shortcuts and feel more anxious about their job security. Morale falls and turnover rises. Blaming becomes commonplace.

In the words of Ricky Nelson, “…ya can’t please everyone, so ya got please yourself.” Trying to please everyone is an energy drain. Who respects a leader who tries to make everyone happy all the time at the expense of her values? This is not sustainable. It’s a recipe for burnout.

Authenticity promotes stability, strong company values and teamwork. It also promotes clarity and loyalty, both of which contribute to productivity.

What can you do to establish greater authenticity among a diverse group of managers, division leaders and employees?

Here are what your employees want you to do:

  1. Lead by example. Your behavior speaks volumes.
  2. Treat others with respect at all times, and especially when you have to give constructive feedback.
  3. Establish a company mission statement based on company values. Promote it extensively. Let this guide your decisions; it ensures consistency and provides clarity.
  4. Be the expert in your field to earn respect. Remember, however, you don’t know everything.
  5. Admit mistakes; learn how to apologize clearly, simply, without excuses.
  6. Practice open management. Divulging reasons for a decision helps people understand something they may not like although it is necessary.
  7. Be clear about what’s OK and what’s not OK. People respect boundaries.

It’s worth building your business on a foundation of authenticity. Your employees respect you. It’s easier to follow someone you respect. Aligning your values with your behavior serves not only the business but you. Self-respect is priceless.

© 2018 Ann Elliott All Rights Reserved

When the pressure is on, we worry. Everyone makes up stuff to some degree. Why allow these stories to occupy such valuable mental real estate?

Some of us are more susceptible to worry than others. Regardless of your propensity to ruminate, it is quite expensive. For one thing, it raises your cortisol level which has a negative impact on your immune system. It gives credibility to the expression, "I'm worried sick about _________."

Worry looks important and it gives you something to do but it doesn't get you anywhere--think rocking chair. So why do it?

If you worry, it's proof that you care. If you don't worry, you are an unfeeling, callous person. So, do you do it to impress others? Does it solve anything? Just as I suspected. Nobody is impressed.

It is an unproductive habit of recycling the same thoughts without any action to find a solution. With uncertainty of the outcome, it's natural to envision the worst possible result.

Most of the time what you worry about doesn't happen or the outcome is not nearly as terrible as you imagine. Why spend sleepless nights turning it over and over in your mind and it makes no difference. None.

Determine what you can control and make a plan to address your concerns.

For example, you cannot control the severity or direction of a major hurricane. However, you can take steps to protect your property and yourself from the storm. Consider such things as having the proper insurance coverage, board up the windows, back up computers, put sandbags in place, relocate vehicles, collect your important papers and, if necessary, evacuate.

Reserve your valuable mental space for creativity, problem solving, and building relationships. Be selective when choosing your tenants. Act courageously when it's necessary to evict a worrisome occupant.

© 2017 Ann Elliott All Rights Reserved

 

photo credit: zsrlibrary <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/57643208@N00/29228156925">Drywall in Classroom 624</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">(license)</a>The shared assumptions, values and beliefs in your business, are the culture producing your results.

How people in your organization dress, behave and execute their jobs is influenced significantly by this system. It’s everywhere. It permeates everything. It’s an invisible yet powerful force. It’s the corporate personality.

The cost of a toxic culture can be high turnover, customer defection, infighting, inferior quality products, and more. Save yourself the effort of a brilliant strategy to solve the problem. The underlying issue is the culture your team and you have created.

One summer I worked for a large state agency. I vividly recall looking up at the end of the day to see a line of my fellow workers waiting to walk out the door at 4:55 pm. I quickly learned that quitting time was 5 pm and not one minute later.

Leaders set the course for the culture of an organization by their own behavior and action. Behavior that is rewarded persists and becomes stronger. What you pay attention to indicates it’s important. Allocating resources to something means it is of value.

As an organization grows, leaders like to hire people like they are. So the behavior continues and it spreads. People who do not conform to the culture will either self-select out of the organization or will be fired. If they stay, it is at great peril to their wellbeing and that of the company. So to say they are “not a good fit.”

If your corporate culture is counterproductive to your goals, you can take steps to change it. It’s not a quick fix and it is not easy. You, however, can change the culture by changing the behavior. It’s time for a culture makeover.

Address a culture change with these steps:

1)      Identify a few critical behaviors that impact your business

2)      Define clearly how these behavior make a difference

3)      Enroll the informal leaders in the organization in the effort to change critical behavior

4)      Choose informal leaders who see the benefit of the behavior change and who can be advocates

5)      Devise a way to monitor the progress of the behavior change     

6)      Communicate the results of changing the targeted behaviors

To make your meetings focused and productive, unplug. Conduct your meetings without electronic devices in the room. This allows participants to put all their attention on the person speaking without distractions of an electronic screen. Listening to someone demonstrates respect. This one behavior could have a significant impact on your business.

The corporate culture you have fashioned is creating your results. The good news is that if you generated it, you can design something else that serves your company. You can create different results with a different culture. You decide. Is it time for a culture makeover?

 © 2017 Ann Elliott All Rights Reserved                                                                                                                               

Ask someone to define leadership and they might say something such as the ability to get others to follow. Can’t argue with that.

How do leaders behave? It’s mostly about what you do, not what you say that demonstrates leadership. Having a leadership title is the easy part.

The following are five hacks that leaders use:

1)      Use your company’s mission and values as a filter to make good choices. Ask “Is this action in alignment with our mission and our core values?” You have clearly articulated your mission and values, right? 

2)      Play the long game. (Or, as my mother would say, “Look past the end of your nose.”) Know the long term and short term impact of action you take. For example, ongoing mentoring for employees has a long term impact. Initially you may not see much of a return on the investment. It’s not either/or for long term or short term action and decisions. It’s both/and. 

3)      Recognize cyber security is a core business issue. Invest in the people, processes and technology to protect your business. This applies to a business with a team of two or a staff of hundreds. Cyber security deserves C-suite attention.

4)      Support people on your team by giving them guidance. It is unrealistic to expect people to improve without affirmation, correction and training. As the leader, it’s up to you to provide this often and consistently. 

5)      Honor your word. Truth telling leaders not only build trust inside their companies but outside as well. Trust is a strong foundation.

This is not an exhaustive list of leadership hacks. It’s not even in any particular order. Well, on second thought I’d put #5 at the top of the list.

What would you add to the list of leadership hacks?

© 2017 Ann Elliott All Rights Reserved

Entrepreneurs like to get things done quickly. They do not like to waste time because time is money. It is tempting to take a short cut Photo credit: Debbieallendale <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/142100186@N06/33070379162">Me</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">(license)</a>because it seems faster initially.

While a short cut works out occasionally, it most often takes longer and costs more.

We think fast is better. I heard an Atlanta developer say “patience is a sign of laziness.” Steady progress in pursuit of a worthy goal makes sense. Haste to get something done not so much.

Think of getting your team to embrace a goal you know is important to accomplish. The goal is simple, important and measurable. If the team knows why it’s an unrealistic to pursue it, they resist.

To push ahead is a set up for delays down the line. In fact, the goal may even go off the track all together. If you are forced to abandon it, the resources you invested are wasted. If you have not fostered a culture of debate, the team says “yes” but behaves in ways to sabotage the efforts.

“Short cutting” the switchback on a hiking trail is a bad idea.  It creates a new path up and down the hill which is faster. In time it kills vegetation and creates erosion. Restoring the trail to a functional state takes significant effort and resources.  Staying on the designated path takes longer in the short term. It pays off in the long term.

Use the following seven steps to start:

1)      Determine a goal or process that is simple, important and measurable

2)      Allow discussion amongst the implementers

3)      Debate the advantages and problems

4)      Make a decision (keep separate #2 and #3)

5)      Use scorekeeping that’s visible

6)      Communicate progress clearly

7)      Hold people accountable

 I witnessed the founder of his small company mandate the goals of the organization. The complicated measurements were difficult to follow. To my knowledge, the team did not engage in discussion or debate about the goals they were expected to execute. The scorekeeping for the sales team was visible. Each person had his or her own color. Good idea except the colors changed each month. You can see why people were confused when George was yellow one month and blue the next.

Whether your company has a team of 2 or a staff of 100s, take the time to engage them in discussion about the goal or the process. Give them an opportunity to debate the positive and negative impact not only on the organization but the people. Keep the goal simple, important and measurable.

In conclusion, this takes time. It is an investment well made. Your team owns the outcome. Everyone sees the progress. They understand the part they play in the success of the organization. Stay on the path. It is the shortest distance to your goal.

© 2017 Ann Elliott All Rights Reserved

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