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Why e-mail is killing your business

Originally published on November 6, 2015 as a Guest Column in The Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/why-e-mail-is-killing-your-business/article27123869/

Following a recent keynote I delivered, somebody asked me why an innovation guy like me would still be using a device as passé as a BlackBerry. “Two words,” I responded: “No typos.”

Viva keyboards! I went on to say how tired I was of receiving business e-mails with the “cute” disclaimer, “Please excuse the typos.” I always want to respond, “Excuse me for taking my business to a company that values accuracy of information and delivery as much as I do.”

Glib? Too harsh? Neither one. Would it be okay for your technology partners to say, “Please excuse the random mistakes, but the data is mostly correct.” Is it okay for an airline to say, “Sorry, we got the day right but we typo’d the time, so you’ve missed your flight.”

Obviously, these excuses would be unacceptable. So why tolerate mistakes in your e-mails?

Michael Eisner, former CEO of The Walt Disney Company, pointed out that your company’s reputation, or brand, “is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures.”

So exactly what is the brand message you’re sending when you let customers know that your brand of service includes typos?

Don’t let sloppy communication be your brand.

A related e-mail problem I’ve often encountered arises from the common complaint: “I regularly send e-mails to my team leaders or store managers, but they never seem to read them. What else am I supposed to do?”

One suggestion I often provide is, “Don’t write them. Or at least, not so many and not so often.” You know the definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

This comment usually elicits perplexed reactions – furrowed brow, furious rubbing of the temples, and a questioning stare that asks if I’m really advocating a return to the Stone Age. But think about it. Business success hinges on working with, managing, influencing and, above all, selling to people – and yet we keep choosing e-mail, the most impersonal means of communication available to us today.

The disconnect could not be more glaring.

Even when Walmart founder Sam Walton was the richest man in the world, he would still climb into his propeller plane and fly himself from store to store to greet team members and customers. He understood interpersonal communication, and the power that comes from speaking with your whole body: eyes, mouths, ears and even handshakes.

I understand that, as small business owners, we can’t all fly ourselves around the continent. But we can certainly mix up the way that we communicate with our customers and team members on a regular basis. Yes, there are e-mails and social media, but there are also powerful personal tools such as person meetings, the telephone, and even Skype and video conferencing.

You need to find and deploy the very best communication tools and customer experiences for your business – because building team and customer loyalty is getting harder and harder. Competition is increasing, attention spans are shrinking and consumers are more willing than ever to try something new.

Don’t make it easy for customers to take their business elsewhere. Keep things personal. Saying “no” in person or to somebody you know is much more difficult than deleting a message on your smartphone.

Here’s the interpersonal communications hierarchy I recommend for you and your team when communicating with each other or with customers.

  • For simple, fact-based communications, use e-mail
  • Use the phone for issues-based discussions
  • Conduct new or forward-looking discussions face-to-face

So many companies that I work with fail to grasp this essential truth: in business, communication is king. Don’t be sloppy. Take the time to truly engage your team and customers, and they in turn will be much more likely to engage with you.

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A good crisis can make for great opportunities

Originally published on September 4, 2015 as a Guest Column in The Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/small-business/sb-managing/a-good-crisis-can-make-for-great-opportunities/article26204036/

A few weeks ago, I went to Brazil to speak to a large group of manufacturers on the perpetually-topical subject of innovation in a time of crisis. The forum, held by FIERGS (Federation of Industries of Rio Grande do Sul), addressed the well-known struggles of the Brazilian economy. Unfortunately, those same issues are now being faced by the Canadian economy.

With the recent announcement that Canada is in a “technical” recession, these two resource-driven economies are slowing to a crawl. The good news? For me, there’s never been a better time for businesses to embrace innovation. And the best way to succeed in this perpetually challenging area is to look at innovation through the lens of crisis – or turnaround – management.

Innovation has always thrived in hard times. Desperation forces people to question the status quo. In good times, people may be less inclined to rock the boat, but when investors and customers are bolting for the doors, you have no choice. That’s probably why some of the world’s great companies were founded during recession – businesses such as General Electric, IBM, Disney, Microsoft and Adobe.

One of the world’s most successful innovators, Apple, wasn’t founded during a recession. But the same principle applies. When Steve Jobs returned to take the reins in 1997, Apple was facing crisis: too many products, too little focus, not enough revenue. What saved the day? Steve Jobs shaved Apple’s product lines by 70 per cent. Even the best companies can become bloated and undisciplined during the good years and forget the core competencies that made them great.

To stay true to your strategic core, you could do worse than look to the process of strategic turnarounds. Once a company has accepted that it has lost its way, a successful turnaround requires an extraordinary commitment to self-analysis, questioning, reflection and day-to-day change. The same turnaround tools can be adapted to meet the enormous market pressures all businesses face today.

The main reason many companies fail is lack of focus. They start off doing one thing well, and then get attracted to – or distracted by – other opportunities. Some may be successful, others not. But all of them distract the business owners and leaders from what they set out to do. And all too often these shiny new opportunities are well removed from the business’s original roots. That means there is little synergy with established operations, and way too much to learn – about new products, suppliers, distribution channels, markets and customers. It’s falling into this pit of guesswork and improvisation that leads most companies to call in the turnaround experts.

It takes courage to admit that your company needs to reverse course. But successful turnarounds require everyone involved to face the brutal truth.

The best turnarounds usually begin with a strategic review that asks: What are our strengths? What do we do best? Where are we losing money? What operations are most profitable? Where can we grow? Successful change also requires that you reconsider some of the specific actions that got you into trouble. Stop doing the same old things; one definition of insanity is doing the same things and expecting different results.

Here are some of the key elements of a successful turnaround:

  • You need the right people on the journey. A winning turnaround starts with shedding employees who aren’t contributing sufficient value, or lack passion for their job. Once you get rid of the complainers and the complacent, your company has a better chance to bounce back.
  • You need a “change champion” to manage the turnaround – someone who owes nothing to the old, failed ways of doing things, and is prepared to listen carefully, consider many new ideas, and take direct action. His or her objective must be to stop the bleeding and get the company moving in the right direction. This is usually a hard job for the original owner/manager to do. Regardless of who takes charge, they require a formal process. As outlined in my book, The 90% Rule, that means knowing where your organization came from, knowing what it’s best at, and finding more ways to create value for more customers.
  • Focus is key. Trimming marginal operations is imperative – as Steve Jobs knew when he cancelled 70 per cent of Apple’s product lines in order to focus on only the best and biggest opportunities. In crisis, protect the core. Pull the plug on non-core activities.
  • Review prices and margins. Many companies are afraid to raise prices or set minimum margins for fear of losing customers, but it’s the best way to figure out who your best customers really are, and to clear out the unprofitable ones. Every penny of these exercises goes directly to the bottom line. No surprise, then, that the companies I have seen do this all wish they had done it sooner.
  • Refocus on the customer: What do your customers want and need? What are their biggest pain points, and how can you relieve them? Get out and talk to the customers. (It’s a shame so many companies wait till they’re in trouble to do this.) Once you have identified new ideas, opportunities and solutions, let the customers know the new directions your company is taking – and how they contributed to its success.
  • Keep employees well informed of the company’s plans and decisions. In the absence of facts, fear breeds confusion and negativity. Keep everyone informed, involved, and marching forward.
  • Paint a clear picture of what you’re trying to do and the process you are following. Share this vision with all your all stakeholders (customers, employees, suppliers, investors, bankers, etc.). You want everyone to know that there is a better future ahead, and that their sacrifice, hard work and faith will not be in vain. Make sure to offer a specific reward at the end, whether it’s increased job security, bonuses, profit-sharing, and/or a blowout party to end all parties.

Diamonds can only be created under great pressure. Whether your company needs a major rethink or you are simply looking for new opportunities for growth, crisis thinking can create the new opportunities you and your team are looking for.

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‘Tis the Season of Falling Leaves and Growing Budgets

It’s that time of year again. With the turning of the leaves it is officially budget season!

Yes, planning for a new budget begins with everyone eagerly compiling their want list. Like kids creating a birthday wish list, there is wide-eyed excitement and hope that this will be “the” year. And, yes again, as the budget process unfolds inevitably there are a few disheartening adjustments to the wish list.

But, as the chorus of “ughs” begin, I offer some advice.

Rather than being the person who laments over what could have been, try this. Focus on leveraging one of the largest resources you have – your people.

Focusing on your people means focusing on your engaging your team with a view to driving your bottom line. Why?

  • Engaged people are more productive.
  • Engaging your people will increase productivity.
  • Engaging the hearts and minds of your people will help your company to recoup some of the $450 billion in lost productivity annually due to disengagement.
  • Engaged employees contribute to customer retention.
  • Engaged employees deliver revenue growth.

We all know it is easier to have existing customers buy more than it is to attract new customers. Research indicates the cost of customer acquisition is on average between four to ten times more expensive than customer retention. Investing in engaging your employees can be beneficial for your customer retention strategy.

The Disney Institute and McKinsey Company recently reported companies whose people consistently offered an exceptional customer experience realized a 2-percentage point advantage over their peers in revenue growth along with an increased employee satisfaction and engagement of 30 percent. Imagine what customer experience could do to your bottom line.

Through increased productivity, customer retention and revenue, you will be creating your own budget increases … freeing up more time to go outside and rake!

Are your people fully engaged? Here are a few tips to get started.

Ten Tips for Increasing Engagement:

  1. Develop inspirational leaders
  2. Hire motivated people
  3. Ask for input
  4. Do change well
  5. Provide learning opportunities
  6. Encourage calculated risk taking
  7. Get to know your people as individuals
  8. Deal with non performers
  9. Be true to your company values
  10. Celebrate success

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