How Great Is Your Company? Answer These 4 Questions.

happyworkGreatness is determined on many levels.  Seldom is it one thing that defines a great company.  This year’s list of 100 Best Companies to Work for include: Google, SAS, CHG Healthcare Services, Boston Consulting Group, and Wegmans Food Markets rounding out the top five.  What makes these select few stand out among the millions of companies doing business every day?  Is it the free lunch that Google offers or the casual dress code at SAS, or the leadership development programs offered at Boston Consulting Group that make the difference?  More than likely it’s those things plus other less tangible things that have elevated these companies to becoming employers many people aspire to work for.  If you’re considering a move, or simply trying to decide if you should stay or go, look at the following 4 areas and answer the questions I’ve posed.  This may provide you with the insight you’re looking for to make your decision.

  1. Employee morale.  Some companies conduct regular surveys of their employees to measure morale and job satisfaction.  Poor morale can lead to many negative side-effects for a company and its employees.  Here are some signs you may have a morale problem:  increase in sick time, customer service levels dropping, longer than scheduled employee breaks, increase in personal phone calls, visible avoidance of senior management.  Typically low employee morale is the result of uncontrolled stress or strain in the workplace.  However, in companies with strong employee morale you see higher engagement, lower usage of sick-time, and perhaps most importantly a culture of innovation that leads to strong customer satisfaction levels.  Engaged employees offer new ideas, suggestions, and solutions for how to improve things across the business.  The key driver to making this happen?…managements ability and desire to listen and act in collaboration with their employees.  How is your company’s morale?
  2.  Creativity.  Positive energy generates positive thoughts.  Positive thoughts produce creative ideas and solutions.  When a company’s culture is negative or numb, it loses its ability to create new ideas, concepts, products, or services.  Creativity is a required ingredient for innovation and invention.  Without it, you will successfully secure your spot in the purgatory of status quo.  Companies that thrive in a highly creative and innovative world have mastered the power of creative thinking.  They have accomplished this by instituting a level of controlled, creative tension.  Management expects employees to generate new ideas and employees expect to be heard.  This dynamic of a two-way-street creates a steady stream of creative traffic that produces ongoing positive results for both the company and its employees.  Is your company a culture of creativity, what example can you give?
  3. Turnover.  Life is all about relationships and the workplace is no different.  According to a recent Dale Carnegie Training study, the #1 reason people leave their job is because “their boss sucks”.  People don’t leave companies…they leave to get away from other people.  Companies with high turnover, which I would define as more than 10% annually should take a deep look into what is driving their turnover.  Often times exit interviews and surveys are the relied upon methods for gathering feedback from a departing employee.  However, these tactics come after the fact…when nothing can be done to salvage a high-value employee who has decided to leave.  High turnover can also suggest a disconnect between the management team, the company vision, and employee goals or quotas.  What’s the turnover rate at your company?
  4. Transparency.  It’s either there or it isn’t.  You know as an employee how your work impacts the top and bottom line…or you don’t.  Management communicates a clear vision that includes the company’s goals, the timeframe for achieving them, and regular updates on the health and progress of the business relative to these goals.  Creating a culture of transparency requires time, commitment and most importantly trust.  Management must trust the employees with information, and employees must trust their management to provide this information with accuracy and honesty and hold it in confidence.  A breakdown on either side of this relationship ultimately leads to the elimination of transparency further leading to many of the above symptoms taking hold:  poor morale, turnover, and lost productivity/creativity.  How much do you know about your company’s goals and objectives?
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P-cubed = Profit

Profit

For-profit companies operate with a simple goal – make a profit.  Profits are the essence of life and growth for all businesses.  Investments in talent, innovation, and new markets are all dependent upon a company’s ability to generate profits with which they can invest back into its business.  In the absence of profits, some businesses start on a path to leverage…borrowing today on a bet that tomorrow will be better.  Many times this approach leads to disaster.

There are three (3) critical factors in driving profits for any business.  And while there may be thousands of criteria that enter into a profit equation, just about all of them can be bucketed into these three categories.

  1. People.  The first ingredient required to drive profit.  People generate the ideas, relationships, and creative thinking that’s required to grow a company.  Great leaders know how to identify the right people to introduce to their specific work culture.  Many companies make the mistake of seeking only the “top performers” from their competitors.  Unfortunately this approach often leads to failure and disappointment.  Why?  Because leaders often lose sight of the fact that beyond the person, they also need two other factors to succeed…a plan and process, and herein lies the problem.  No two companies operate the same, have the same plan, or the same process/infrastructure to execute with.  Therefore what makes someone successful in one environment does not equate to success in a different environment.
  2. Plan.  As the saying goes, “failing to plan, is planning to fail”.  Successful companies have a plan including a 12 month, 3 year and 5 year plan.  They know that the further they look into the future, the more uncertainty the plan takes on – but that doesn’t stop them from the exercise of planning.  The biggest benefit of having a plan is not always the plan itself but what was learned and gained from the act of planning.  Deeper insights, critical understandings, and lessons learned, are all positive outputs from a detailed planning process.  Once the plan is made it MUST be communicated or cascaded throughout the organization.  Without clear line of sight, employees are left with an empty feeling that results in a numbing effect taking ahold of the business.  This leads to morale issues, turnover, and a general decrease in quality of products produced or service delivered.
  3. Process.  The process factor is one of the most overlooked factors in generating profits.  Existing companies feel that they know what they do, and start-ups feel like they’ll figure it out along the way.  Both are wrong.  Processes must be documented, monitored, measured and improved.  The Toyota Production System, otherwise known as TPS, pioneered the Kaizen – a philosophy that embraces continued improvement.  All processes can be improved or enhanced.  To drive improvements requires a deep understanding of your people (internal and external) and your plans.  A great book that illustrates this philosophy is The Toyota Way by Jeffrey Liker.

Focus on these three factors and they will help you build a better road map to achieving stronger profits.  But remember this…it all starts with having the right people.  As Herb Brooks, the coach of the 1980 U.S. Men’s Hockey team said when putting his team together, “I’m not looking for the best players, I’m looking for the right players.”  This quote validates the importance of knowing your culture, how it operates, what its strengths and weaknesses are, and what type of individual would thrive within it.  It all comes down to people…and it starts with you.

Your Leadership Style + Your Company Culture – Is There a Disconnect?

perception

Carrot and stick.  And so goes the age-old debate of how to achieve great business results.  Do you shower your employees with accolades and pats on the back?  Or do you focus on the consequences for under performance?  Is your tone one of optimism and assumed-success?  Or is your temperament such that you lead with a, “if we fail” mentality?

There are as many different leadership styles as there are leaders.  Our styles are born from our life experiences from childhood, up to and including, the role we currently occupy.  How you were raised is as important as how you were managed in the first several years of your career.  Most experts agree that the “formative years” for a child occur in their first 12 years of life.  Likewise, the formative years of someones career is their first 5 years in the workforce.

Human beings are natural-born observers.  We watch.  We absorb.  We learn.  We take what we learn and begin to construct potential outcomes for the scenarios we encounter later in life.  Like, cause-and-effect, we begin to build a mental inventory of outcomes based upon actions and reactions.  We learn how to alter outcomes by changing our actions or behaviors.  Yet we all learn in different ways.  Two people can experience the exact same event and have completely different views or perceptions of that event.  And herein lies the formula for how our leadership styles evolve.

Are you a positive motivator or negative?  How do you know?  Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do you work in your office all day with the door closed?
  2. When was the last time you sent a communication to recognize a team member?
  3. How often do you walk around the office making eye contact, saying hello, and simply engaging people?
  4. How many people on your team do you rate as a top performer, and if so, when was the last time you told them how much you appreciated them?
  5. Are you losing more than 20% of your employees each year?
  6. Do you hold regular team meetings or even informal get-togethers?
  7. Do you consistently meet, or miss, your numbers?

How you answered these questions may be an indication of your style of leadership.  On the other hand it may also be a reflection of the culture within your workplace.  Either way it’s worth your time to evaluate.  Why?  Because there are several reasons to have a true understanding of your personal style and that of the culture in which you work.  If you genuinely want to build lasting value – for your company or your client – the first step has to be the development of relationships.  In the absence of trusting relationships a company will not be able to experience sustained growth, and nor will you.

According to an article published earlier this year by Forbes, the number one reason people left their job was for stability reasons.  People leave when they don’t feel secure.  Insecurity is often the result of a bad manager.  In fact a subsequent article in the Huffington Post Small Business, it cites the number one reason employees quit is “Their boss sucks”.  Micromanagers and poor communicators topped the list of horrible bosses.  The negativity that flowed from these bosses infected the workplace so much so that people run for the doors.

According to the American Institute of Stress, the top 2 causes of stress in the workplace are work overload and people.  The AIS estimates that stress causes American businesses more than $300 billion each year in lost productivity with a major contributor being a negative workplace.  So how can you change it?  First change your behaviors.  Try doing these three things each day:

  1. Walk around the office at least twice a day and say hello to folks.
  2. Work with your door open (if you have an office) when you can.
  3. Look for the good things that are happening and recognize them.

These are all within your control.  If you’re working for a company that has a negative-tone culture you may need to reevaluate what’s most important to you.  Remember, jobs come and go, but your reputation stays with you no matter where you are employed.  Don’t let the dynamics of an organization define who you are and how you act.  If your belief system is in direct conflict with the office culture, you may need to make a change.  Great teams are built by great leaders, and to be a great leader you’ve got to recognize and acknowledge that your people are in fact your biggest asset.   Only by growing your workplace relationships, developing trust, and displaying respect will you be able to develop a high performing team.

8 simple steps to creating a strong brand promise

In my prior blog, How Difficult is it to Change Your Brand Promise, I talked about some companies that did an excellent job of delivering on their brand promise, as well as one company in particular that didn’t deliver on their promise.  A visible disconnect between your promise and what is actually delivered, many times is the fatal flaw that brings down a company.  Even companies who are considered “Great” by today’s standards can fall prey to a faulty brand promise.  Therefore it is crucial that you ensure your promise is aligned, and able to connect to your delivery.

Developing a strong brand promise requires attention to detail.  Having a process to follow as you build or revamp your promise is necessary to maximize your success.  Here are 8 simple steps to creating or modifying a brand promise:

  1. Involve key stakeholders – having the right people involved from the onset of this journey will help with alignment at the end when implementation is critical.  People are most likely to support something they had a hand in developing.
  2. Talk to your customers.  Not just your favorites, or the customers you know will say good things.  Test the waters using VOC tactics to obtain a broad and random voice.
  3. Understand your competitors.  One of the most commonly missed steps of the process.  Why?  Because most people/companies think they already know everything about their competitors.  Wrong!
  4. Size your market opportunity to justify a change in your promise.  Think Amazon Prime.  Amazon changed how merchandise was shipped.  They strengthened their promise but not before researching and understanding the potential takers for this service.  Earlier this year the Business Insider indicated Amazon had reached 10 million Prime members.  At $79 a year that’s not a bad addition to the top line!  All from taking the time to understand the market opportunity.
  5. Develop your core brand attributes and identify statement – value proposition.  If a core attribute of your business is “easy” then you need to make sure that everything you do checks back and balances to easy.  If you market an “easy set-up” and set-up is actually time and labor intensive you’re already disconnected from your promise.
  6. Establish an Advisory Group.  Create a Council or Group of 9 to 11 members…always an odd number to ensure voting efficiency on topics and items that require decisions.  Use this group to test attributes, messaging, and most importantly experience.
  7. Talk to your employees.  Too often companies exclude the “rank and file” from this work believing it is an executive function only.  The problem with this mentality is that it’s all wrong.  I have witnessed countless times when an employee reviews branding work and raises a topic or issue that no other executive caught because the employee is closer to the action.  Involve your employees and you’ll see results in improved morale, better processes, and overall better performance.
  8. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.  Once you’ve locked into your brand promise share it.  Tell your story.  And most importantly monitory your results.  Is our promise connecting?  How are our customers and prospects reacting?

I will post future blogs diving deeper into each of the above 8 steps.  Until then remember:  “Do what you say, and say what you do”.  That’s your promise.