Monday, January 31, 2005

Stronger Business Quote: Thomas Edison

I never perfected an invention that I did not think about in terms of the service it might give others...I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent.

-- Thomas Edison

This quote underscores the genius of linking market research to product development.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Job Satisfaction Impacts Retainment Capacity

We've all heard how keeping employees happy keeps employees on the payroll, and that job satisfaction includes thinks like being inclusive, open, appreciative, helping the employee see how his role fits into the larger organizational mission, providing opportunities for developing skills and following advancement paths, and so on.

Today I came across a quantitiative measure that shows the relationship between pay rate and the probablility of retention that I found very interesting because it presents the information in a way that every business leader can use as a litmus test to see which employees might be lost to a better offer.

W. Michael Kelly of the Saratoga Institute says, "The rule of thumb is that in a healthy job market an unhappy employee will bolt the company for a 5 percent pay increase, but it will take at least an increase of 20 percent to compel a satisfied employee to jump ship."

"Doing something" to show employees that they are valued is better than doing nothing. A thoughtful manager could spend time reviewing an employee's goals (or meeting to set those growth and achievement goals!), send a note of appreciation for a job well done, or appoint a high-potential staffer to lead a new project or initiative, among many other steps.

These things require clear thinking, prioritization, and follow-through, not a big budget, right? It's the strategic use of discretionary time.

What have you done lately to improve job satisfaction at your company?

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Saying You'll "Underpromise and Overdeliver" is an Insult

C'mon, people are smarter than that cliche gives credit.

If a sales person agrees to set 10 appointments next week when she really expects to make 15, don't you think her sales manager will catch on after a week and simply raise the bar?

If a middle manager promises his direct reports 45 minutes for weekly catch-ups and regularly goes an hour or more, don't you think that after the second or third time the staffers will realize the gesture as an empty quantity over quality (depending on how the meetings go) or a terrible example of time management?

If a computer consultant claims to be able to fix a problem (that he's fixed before but not revealed to the client) in less than 3 hours when it actually takes 30 minutes because he wants to promote his "genius" reputation, guess what happens when the hype meets a problem that he doesn't have the answer to in his back pocket?

If an outside accountant promises that batch of 1099/W-2 forms by Friday and you say you need them by Thursday because of another deadline, the accountant should be able to deliver the forms without a long story of how he killed himself to get them to you on time. The martyr story just throws into question the accountant's lack of a system to process this routine request, or lack of project management skills to juggle multiple priorities.

I've heard all of these from client experiences or seen them first hand.

Here's my advice if you've ever done this or feel tempted to do so in the future: stop it.

It's not only insulting to "underpromise" when you know you can do better, but it's a distraction from the true mission of adding value to a business relationship and doing so erodes your authenticity. Focus on the higher priorities and the bigger picture.

That's my position, what's yours? Do you think underpromising and underdelivering is ever a good idea?

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Stronger Business Quote: Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is one of the beautiful compensations in this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

This quote provides context for service leadership.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Cap It So You Can Keep It

The EPA's report released a few days ago confirmed previous tests that airline drinking water did not meet the agency's safety standards.

Obvious implication: when you fly, bring your own bottled water; or, request bottled or canned beverages on board, because even tea or coffee can contain the "compromised" water.

Now, here's the part that really makes my turbines spin: From Q3 2004 testing period to the Q4 2004 testing period, coliform bacteria was found on MORE planes, not fewer. In September, it was found in 13% of the planes in the sample, in December, it rose to 17%. That's approaching almost 1 in 5 planes ...and this reading takes place 3 months after warnings were issued!

OK, the airlines are getting an undue share of the public's attention and criticism (so many of us are concerned!). Perhaps we can't make changes to airline operations and stocking procedures. However, let's take a quick check in our own back yard.

What's one small, simple-to-correct flaw, mistake, or weakness in your business that you've been tolerating even in the face of client (or, gasp, government regulatory) feedback?

Three words of advice from this business leadership coach: fix it now.

Cap your water when you travel so you can keep your lunch; cap these energy leaks in your business so you can keep it healthy and growing.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Celebrate Ben Franklin Today!

Ben Franklin's inventiveness, curiosity, talent, dedication to public service, and entreprenurial spirit live on and light our world today, perhaps more than any other American.

Here are a few of my favorite Ben Franklin quotes in honor of this feisty fellow Philadelphian, particularly apt for those who want to build a stronger business:

  • A cat in gloves catches no mice.
  • A penny saved is a penny earned.
  • Lost time is never found again.
  • The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
  • If you'd like to know the power of money, go and borrow some.
  • Experience keeps a dear school, yet fools will learn in no other.
  • Human felicity is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happens, as by little advantages that occur every day.
  • Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.
  • There never was a good war or a bad peace.
  • Laws too gentle are seldom obeyed; too severe, seldom executed.
  • In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.

    Do you have a favorite aphorism or quote of his that you'd like to share?
  • Sunday, January 16, 2005

    Stronger Business Quote: Dolly Parton

    If you actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more,learn more, do more, and become more, than you are an excellent leader.

    -- Dolly Parton

    This quote reminds us of the essential qualities of leadership in plain English.

    Saturday, January 15, 2005

    Why "Failure" Isn't an Option

    Why is it that I deliberately avoid using the word "failure" when referring to human performance?

    Is it because:
    a. I don't recognize that the opposite of success is failure?
    b. I'm one of those touchy-feely kinds of people who avoid contrarian positions?
    c. I'm incurably idealistic and think that given enough time, any set back can be turned around?
    d. For another reason: it's creates obstacles instead of solutions.

    From a strongly pragmatic point of view, I don't find it helpful to use that label in this context.

    Instead of asking, "What or who failed?" in a consulting or business coaching (or managing or supervising) relationship, I encourage you to ask, "What did we just learn?" to discover meaning in the results you just achieved.

    Blink Think - Immersion Leads to Better Hunches

    Malcolm Gladwell's new book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking was reviewed by David Brooks in the Sunday NY Times this weekend.

    Gladwell's primary premise reminded me of a survival phrase we used in college to remind each other that we could hone our instincts for scientific and engineering thought processes through sufficient immersion in the subject matter. The expression was, "that's intuitively obvious to even the most casual observer."

    An example from Physics: acceleration is force divided by mass. Intuitively obvious to even the most casual observer (...who understands how to manipulate some form of F=MA, the meaning, units, and relationships between those entities, and how to diagram and apply them).

    An example from Chemistry: compounds formed from covalent bonds are usually liquids or gases at room temperature. Ionic compounds, by contrast, make up the room temperature solids. Intuitively obvious to even the most casual observer (...who understands electron balancing, molecular diagramming (those Lewis diagrams with the 'parking spots' in particular), balancing chemical equations, and so on).

    An example from Computer Science: for quick and dirty on a relatively small group of items, nothing beats a bubble sort. It just writes itself. Ah, intuitively obvious to even the most casual observer (...who has studied several different types of sorting algorithms, written and tinkered with them, analyzed how a group of methods performed on different data sets to judge relative strengths under controlled conditions, and has the experience to implement different sort routines in different languages and/or computing environments).

    Gladwell's research sustantiates this perspective (as you knew it would when you started reading this entry!).

    Now, this may seem esoteric techie trivia for building a stronger business, but you'll see the point when you consider that what you know that is specialized -- your processes, your business, your industry, for examples -- is esoteric to others, which is why they rely on your expertise.

    It's when you're out of your domain and don't have that that expertise behind you, that you can get into trouble trusting your 'blink think.'

    Three quick implications for business owners:

    1. Continue to immerse yourself in your discipline so that you develop greater gut accuracy. The stronger and more current your knowledge base, the better your starting point is for 'blink think,' as Gladwell would say.
    2. When you are seeking out expert advice, gather a sampling of opinions/recommendations.
    3. Conduct your own experiments to develop greater trust in your own 'blink think' by paying attention to your gut instinct and deliberately decide to follow that hunch. This will develop your gut instincts in other areas.

    How do you develop better instincts?
    By developing greater confidence in your decisions. Start off with low-risk, low-frequency situations, say, travel decisions 5 times a week. Keep a record of those decisions and how they turned out. (Hmm, somehow I knew that road would be closed today. Glad I took the old shortcut. I wonder why that made sense to my guy? Oh, yeah, now I remember that I heard about the construction starting on the radio last week.) Sometimes you'll find evidence, sometimes you won't. What matters more is that you recognize your successes in proportion to your non-successes.

    It becomes a positive re-inforcement cycle: the more you trust your gut or 'blink think', the more fully you will tap into the capabilities it holds and expand the range in which it serves you.

    Wednesday, January 12, 2005

    The Best Paper-Based Filing System Ever

    Are you someone who hates to file, but who hates even more to not be able to find a file?

    Do you resist filing papers that have accumulated on your desk/workspace at the end of each day because it's a tedious chore?

    Do you realize how much more productive and satisfied you'll be if you overcome this simple, but pervasive hurdle to business success?

    Make this the year that you put that time- and energy-wasting obstacle to your productivity behind you!

    This is a system that I use everyday to put my hands on any paper-based file in my system in less than a minute. I can do the filing, or my assistant can do it, and either of us can find anything in there.

    Best of all it only costs your time to implement.

    It's called giving up alphabetical filing and moving to a numeric look-up system.

    In practice, it means using the tabs of your folders for numbers, not names (of people, projects, resources, etc.), and putting an index on a spreadsheet. When you file, you records the next sequential number in a row, followed by an optional category/location, followed by as much descriptive detail as you like. When you want to find something, open your spreadsheet up and do a quick "find" on the key word/phrase that you're looking for.

    For instance, here are my top four categories (because each has its own filing cabinet or drawer):
  • Administrative Financial
  • Business
  • Household
  • Speaking engagements

    In row 33 of Household, I list every home appliance manual I own. As new ones come in, I add to the details "Toro lawnmower", "powerwasher - 1800 psi", etc., so it's easy to find when I'm looking for it again.

    If you're looking for more guidance/structure, I recommend that you visit Barbara Hemphill's website Productive Environment . She's and entrepreneural genius in this field, and has developed several great products such as "Taming the Paper Tiger" that you might enjoy. She also trains professional organizers if you want some help with your business or household organizing.
  • Tuesday, January 11, 2005

    "Check Your Credit Score for Free" Roll-out Schedule

    Business owners are ever-conscious of their credit rating because it affects their ability to borrow money from banks and insurance rates.

    Starting in December 2004, US citizens are eligible to receive one free consumer credit report annually.

    This is a good offer to take advantage of for many reasons, especially if you've not reviewed your credit rating in awhile.

    The primary driver of this is to uncover identity theft sooner and to limit the losses from this insidious crime that will affect upwards of 7 million adults in the US alone in 2005.

    The one catch to the free annual credit report is that it becomes available to individuals on a set date based upon your state of residence. Here's the basic schedule in the USA:
  • Western States - December 2004
  • Midwestern States - March 2005
  • Southern States - June 2005
  • Eastern States and all US Territories - September 2005

    Visit the Annual Credit Report web site to claim yours and review it carefully.

    The web site has an interestign FAQ page and links to the 3 major credit bureaus if you want to act sooner and pay for your report.
  • Sunday, January 09, 2005

    Stronger Business Quote: Charlie "Tremendous" Jones

    You are the same today as you'll be in five years except for two things, the books you read and the people you meet.

    -- Charlie "Tremendous" Jones

    This quote inspires me to write powerful entries in this blog so that its cumulative effect makes a positive and noticable improvement in your business life.

    Parables and elevator speeches make valuable feature articles

    Since I spent a few days with like-minded entrepreneurs in December, it seems like I'm tuned it to parables and elevator speeches more so than ever before.

    The latest example greeted me in the Sunday New York Times, where a man was written up for starting his own butler services al a carte business.

    He immigrated to the US via Canada from India to marry his wife, who his parents would not approve of. His wife died, unfortunately, and he struggled as a single parent. Out of that pain, he realized that others must have a need for help with personal organization, walking pets, preparing meals, and other general errands and administrative stuff (think of PA's, not VA's!).

    It's a great story and fits the model I teach and coach entrepreneurs to use.

    Here's the link, in case you're interested:

    Registration on the site is required, and free.

    I'd be interested in examples of parables and elevator speeches that
    you come across in your travels/reading.

    By the way, the fellow in the article is admittedly lousy at marketing, but having his business written up in the Sunday Times just might turn that around.

    Hint, hint: Do you have "sharing your parable with a magazine/newspaper journalist" as one of your 90 day business development goals?

    Saturday, January 08, 2005

    Inc Magazine's Forecast for 2005 is Tough on Small Businesses

    Amy Gunderson layed out these forecasts for 2005:

    1. Shortage of raw materials

    2. Higher benefits costs

    3. More import restrictions

    4. Tighter state budgets

    5. Increase in venture capital for start-ups

    Four of the five impact profitability with downward pressure for businesses of all sizes, both private and public.

    Read the article for yourself.

    Particularly hard hit will be human-capital intensive companies that rely on industrial materials who compete for state contracts, such as construction companies.

    Companies from solo entrepreneurs on up that employ the following the following approaches will have an advantage:

    • Look for alternatives to wood, steel, and cement in synthetics and pre-fabricated structures.
    • Incorporate contract clauses that protect you from sudden raw matrial price hikes and delays due to factors outside your control.
    • Investigate storage opportunities to stock up on materials that might get tight later on in a project.
    • Leverage this storage arrangement by exploring the possibility of selling excess stock materials to competitors at a premium.
    • Retool your marketing to diversify your market base.
    • Offer discounts for project pre-payment to avoid being caught in a mid-year or mid-session budget squeeze. By law, many organizations are required to take advantage of fee discounts whenever prudent to save actual budget dollars.
    • Implement strict spending curbs now if you'll be seeking venture capital. Showing fiscal discipline will help you approach the negotiation in a better cash position and be respected by the investors as much for your financial leadership as your business product.

    All of these techniques are transferable to some degree to almost any business. What course corrections will you be taking?