The Dignity of Work – Down But Not Out

ThinkstockPhotos-832112086Albert Serur was just a young man when he passed out cold in his client’s office. Only four months into his job, a previously undiagnosed heart condition might have sidelined him permanently. But Serur didn’t go down without a fight. Rather than recovering from emergency surgery at home, he hired a driver so he could sleep in the car between sales calls.

“Adversity helps you deal with who you are,” he says. “If you can start preparing for things proactively both personally and professionally, you’re going to be ready, and you’re going to be a better leader.”

“Will-Set” that Trumps a Skill Set

At 28, Serur is the youngest state director at American Income Life and chief executive of its Wilmington subsidiary. Serur Agencies brings weekly employee training sessions that focus less on technical abilities and more on workplace camaraderie, helping people develop a “will-set” with emotional tools to handle challenging situations. These offerings are a timely response to a felt need; in a recent Society of Human Resource Management report, “respectful treatment” was a top priority of the workers, even above pay.

“I’ve seen many people who have more God-given talent than I have, but if they have one difficult relationship issue, they just fold,” says Serur.

Valuing the “Dignity of Work”

Workforce prioritization was how Starbucks recently explained the “fairly flat” performance of its stock. While a recent reduction of corporate-tax rates made the company hundreds of millions of dollars, Starbucks chose to re-invest this money in its workforce rather than funneling profits back to shareholders. Priorities included closing gender pay equity gaps worldwide, offering stock grants of $2,000 for managers and $500 for employees, expanded paid parental leave, and even access to critical illness insurance for parents of employees. Executive chairman Howard Schultz says people are an enduring priority:

“We’re trying to make long-term decisions,” Schultz said. “We’re trying to value the dignity of work. We’re trying to do everything we possibly can to demonstrate to the world … that the better way is not a zero-sum game where you leave your people behind.”

Microsoft has also seen a shift toward creating workplace wins. Several of Microsoft’s former employees have returned to the company after CEO Satya Nadella took over. These “boomerangs” say workplace culture has changed significantly under Nadella’s emphasis on “One Microsoft,” a collaborative environment that hasn’t existed in the past. Nadella has shifted reviews toward solidarity and teamwork, where employees are rewarded not just for their own work but how well they’re able to make use of others’ contributions. Boomerangs say this step away from the “smartest person in the room,” intimidation tactic has brought a more conversational, empowering environment. Microsoft has emphasized patience before perfection, incentives for developing others, and teaching staff to diffuse tension after disagreeable meetings.

Bonds that Last

Some companies use humor to grow unity. The Improv Asylum comedy troupe teaches communications skills at organizations like Google and Intel. This troupe’s mantra is that one person must always accept the premise given and then expand on the idea. “The sink is going to start spraying pink paint, you say?” “Well, yes, AND . . . lucky for us, we’re hosting the abstract art seminar this weekend!”

As it turns out, this is also a great workplace communication technique:

(The phrase) “‘Yes, but’ is prevalent in the corporate culture, and that shuts ideas down,” says Bob Melley, director of corporate training at the Boston theater company. “‘Yes, and’ encourages everyone on the team to offer ideas. It creates a bond and establishes trust.”

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3 Opportunities for Better Customer Follow-up

ThinkstockPhotos-843169968Have you ever considered an online purchase but been put off by taxes or shipping costs? That’s what a Reddit user (Doug D.) experienced when he fell in love with a sweatshirt from Archrival Clothing. Doug, a UK resident, added the item to his cart, but was disappointed to find he couldn’t get Archrival’s alluringly low shipping prices since the company was based in the US.

Winning Follow-up

Game over? Not quite. Someone from Archrival took note of Doug’s abandoned “Shopping Cart” and realized the shipping prices were probably to blame. This resourceful employee immediately e-mailed Doug, offering several alternatives to ship the order for less, including a FedEx International Economy option, Delayed First Class Overseas Mail (on the company’s dime), or European purchasing options.

Doug’s reaction? Rave online reviews for the company itself:

“Wow. My mind is blown. This is potentially the best customer service I have ever experienced. You definitely deserve a purchase just for this e-mail.” Doug and his girlfriend bought several items, ordering more than originally intended, all due to proactive customer care.

Leaky Buckets Bring Lost Opportunities

Business is all about relationships, and good relationships are built on great communication. In today’s wired world, we communicate constantly, yet connections are frequently missed. Author Dan Kennedy describes these botched follow-ups as the “hole” in our buckets. If business is the bucket where we pour energy, ideas, and money, the “holes” are wasted time, money, or failed follow up. This may include failing to track contact information, not rescuing lost customers, or belated follow-up with prospects.

What impact does correspondence have? According to Harvard Business Review, the most frequent customer complaint is poor follow-up. Fifty-six percent complain that they need to re-explain their issue when calling back. Sixty-two percent need to repeatedly contact the company to get issues resolved. As a result, 65% are likely to speak poorly about the company and 48% go on to tell 10 or more people about their bad experience. Poor communication can influence not only your customer but spill over into the public as well.

Show Them the Love!

Sometimes we fail to communicate because we are forgetful, have full schedules, or we fear looking pushy. But consistent follow-up builds sturdy bridges, and any step toward better communication will bear long-term fruit. Consider these opportunities for better follow up:

  1. Always acknowledge a message from a customer: with gratitude, with further questions, or with a confirmation of the request
  2. Give a brief status update of the issue at hand
  3. Respond via the customer’s preferred method of communication (e-mail, website, phone call). If uncertain, reciprocate with the method the customer initiated with

Use stronger written follow-up communication to:

  • Make a calendar request or recap a meeting
  • Ensure your last message was received or inquire about further questions or concerns
  • Express gratitude for an introduction or appreciation for their business
  • Congratulate clients on a recent accomplishment
  • Wish customers luck on an upcoming project or personal endeavor
  • Solicit feedback on a future project or decision
  • Send helpful information or resources (pertinent to your previous conversations)
  • Make people personally aware of upcoming incentives or promotions

To make good intentions a reality, consider adding correspondence goals to your schedule (placing reminders in your phone or calendar or sending unique printed thank you notes on a bi-annual basis) and chart a new course of consistency to ensure your relationships receive the optimal care they deserve.

The Magic of Dialogue

ThinkstockPhotos-584853270.jpgWho doesn’t love a great conversation? There’s something compelling about swapping stories, sharing hurts, and multiplying joys as we connect together each day. Companies are finding the catalyst to true connection often comes through listening.

Marketing and editorial strategists Michelle Horowitz and Kendall Meade believed so strongly in conversation that they launched an entire online platform called InTELLects to grow real-life interactions that promote conversation, creativity, and community:

“I’m energized by making connections and asking people deeper questions,” says Michelle. “It’s how I learn, and it’s how I grow.”

InTELLects features notable leaders, thinkers, and change agents, building a community of mentors and offering users the chance to ask questions – any questions – to grow the collective conversation. The co-founders believe authentic discussions pave pathways to clarity, grow existing communities, and instigate this new universal truth: “ask, and you shall succeed.” InTELLects is promoting a paradigm shift that’s moving companies away from “shoving a sales pitch” and toward authentic customer engagement.

The Critical Surfing “Slow Down”

 

In today’s complex ecosystem, marketers are realizing that consumer engagement (or return on EXPERIENCE) is a long-term, holistic measure of a customer’s encounter with a brand. Engagement includes any action a customer takes to connect with a company: downloading an app, participating in a forum, or referring products to friends. Engagement brings significantly greater return than website traffic, as researchers report that attention span in “surfing” is typically less than nine seconds per page.

How can we slow people down? Horowitz says asking questions is a wonderful place to start.

“True engagement stems from building a place where people can honestly learn, share, and engage,” she said. InTELLects believes that real conversations transcend the noise and forge emotional connections.

Through digital channels, today’s entrepreneurs have powerful tools to create highly personalized relationships. While community forums have been around for ages, expanding social networks like LinkedIn Groups and Google+ Communities offer a chance to connect with customers and ask questions that can build emotional connections that last. Recent data shows that 68 percent of audiences spent more than 15 percent of their time reading the comments section of a story – revealing the allure of dialogue to build powerful community connection.

Growing the Conversation

 

As you seek to build your own “conversational opportunities,” here are a few questions to consider:

  1. What does your target audience connect with?
  2. What questions do they have about your product?
  3. What is their favorite feature of your business?
  4. Where can you proactively predict what they want to stay ahead of the design curve?
  5. What educational or training gaps could your company offer on their behalf?
  6. What are some practical questions you could pose to gain insights in these areas?

Need ideas to get you started? Grab your team and brainstorm how you might:

  • Host a contest
  • Promote customer achievements on your own social media page
  • Allow your VIP customers to co-create content
  • Host webinars or events
  • Make someone your “brand ambassador” for the month
  • Allow users to have fun, like the Reddit community did in its season-long Fat Tire experience

As technology barrels ahead, one of our own goals is to keep people at the forefront. Whether it’s online forums, beautifully handcrafted printing, or just the face-to-face interactions we have with you every day, we believe nothing trumps relationships. We enjoy hearing about your own questions and ideas, and we look forward to serving you this year. Let’s keep talking!

Best Practices For Integrating Your Remote Workforce

ThinkstockPhotos-498832710As technology continues to evolve, so do the lives we lead – both personally and professionally. According to one study conducted by Gallup, nearly 43% of employees in the United States spent at least some time working remotely in 2016 – a significant 4% jump from just a few years earlier in 2012. Remote work is such an attractive proposition that it has even begun to play a major role in an employee’s decision of whether to work for a particular company – something that poses a number of interesting implications for their employers.

Chief among them is the idea of what a “team” is supposed to be. Your employees are all important individually, but their contributions are supposed to add up to a larger, more critical whole. How is that possible when a large part of your workforce barely sets foot in the office, if they do so at all? In truth, integrating your remote workforce into your in-office one is a lot more straightforward than you might think; you just have to keep a few key things in mind.

Integration Begins With Leadership

The absolute best practice for integrating your remote workforce in with your “live and in-person” employees begins and ends with you: their leader. Never overlook an opportunity, no matter how small, to bring remote employees into the fold and make them feel like they’re a part of the greater good. If you start an email chain, for example, don’t just include the “in-person” employees.  Make sure that everyone who needs to know is involved, regardless of location.

Don’t hold those weekly meetings on-site and then send remote workers a summary after the fact. Embrace the benefits of teleconferencing and allow them to dial-in live and in person. If you’re hosting a company get-together or are taking employees out for a well-deserved meal, make sure that you extend the invitation to those outside the office. This is especially important if they work from home (or elsewhere) 100% of the time. These are small moves, but they’re also meaningful ones that help remind people that wherever they are, they are equally valued in your eyes.

Encouragement and Communication

Another critical step to take to integrate your remote workforce better involves slightly adjusting the way your in-person teams communicate. Make it a priority to embrace instant messaging or collaboration platforms like Slack to keep team members connected together. Not only will this make in-person employees feel a bit like they’re a part of the “remote” world, but the reverse will also be true. Your remote workers will feel more connected to your office as well.

Always remember the one factor that matters the most: encouragement. If someone does a terrific job or blows your expectations away, acknowledge them on the most prominent stage even if they work remotely. Just because someone isn’t regularly in the office or the other employees don’t see them every day doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve their fair share of recognition. Any move that you would make to reward an in-person employee should be extended to your remote workforce. Not only will this help make them feel like they’re equal contributors, but it will also go a long way towards bringing your teams together to form the cohesive whole that you need them to be.

The Rise and Fall of Nate Silver: A Lesson in Risk Communication

ThinkstockPhotos-543817436.jpgPolitical prognosticator and analytics guru Nate Silver rose to national fame by correctly predicting elections. But in 2016, Silver joined almost every other analyst by projecting a victory for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. Was Silver’s good luck over?

Cognitive Bias and the “Failure” of Data

Actually, Silver’s estimate for the 2016 election was closer to correct than almost anyone else’s. He saw Clinton as a heavy favorite, but still gave Donald Trump a roughly one-in-three shot of winning. But the world didn’t remember that part of the projection once the election results came in. They just remembered the part Silver got wrong.  Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman has an explanation: cognitive bias.

Kahneman studied how people make decisions and judgments, and he quickly discovered that they don’t make any sense. People like to think of themselves as logical and rational, but they mostly use logic to justify believing whatever they want to believe anyway. And one thing people absolutely love to believe is that the future is certain. Human minds loathe uncertainty. Uncertainty breeds anxiety and fear—sometimes paralyzing fear. So when given a number like “one in three” or “ninety percent,” they subconsciously convert the odds to “yes” or “no.”

This cognitive bias is often very useful. You probably never consider the statistical chance that you’ll be run over by a bus because if you did, you might never leave the house. It’s far easier, and probably mentally healthier, to treat the risk of bus accidents as a 0. But the tendency to round probabilities up or down can be disastrous in the business world.

Communicating Risk

Have you told your boss that there’s a 90% chance you’ll make the sale? If the deal didn’t go through, you were probably in a bit of hot water. Has a supplier ever told you her product’s failure rate was less than 1%? You’d probably be pretty mad if your order was a dud. The problem with both of those statements of probability is that they do a poor job of communicating risk. They invite the mind’s cognitive bias to take over and convert the estimate into a certainty. When that certainty turns out not to be so certain, it feels like a broken promise.

That’s why the world decided Nate Silver was wrong. They had rounded up the probability of a Clinton victory to a guarantee. When Trump won, it felt like Silver had broken his word. His failure wasn’t in the data—it was in the way he communicated the risk.

The lesson here is that quoting numbers won’t save you. Don’t just toss out percentages—put them in context. Visualizations are one useful technique. If a product will fail one time in a hundred, a graphic with 99 white shapes and one black shape gets the message across far more effectively than the numbers. Analogies are also effective. A 90% probability? That’s about the same as the chance that an NFL kicker will make a 32-yard field goal. Anchoring the numbers to a familiar context creates a lasting impression. It forces the mind to acknowledge uncertainty.

In business and life, people care about honesty. But if your goal is to be trustworthy, it’s not enough to state the facts. You have to make those facts sink into others’ minds. When it comes to probabilities and risks, that task is taller than it looks.

Learn How to Communicate on a Case-by-Case Basis for Better Results

_ThinkstockPhotos-76756624.jpgTo say that communication is important in the workplace is an understatement. This is true regardless of the type of business you’re running or even the industry you’re operating in. One study from McKinsey Global Institute found that not only does active communication bring people closer together in the workplace but in these types of situations productivity tends to improve between 20% and 25% on average.

At the same time, there is no “silver bullet” method to communication that will instantly get everyone on the same page. Only by looking to your employees as individuals, and playing to their own individual strengths and preferences, will you finally be able to see the communication gains that you so richly deserve.

Let the Employee Be Your Guide

Perhaps the most important thing for you to understand is that communication no longer means face-to-face conversations, -or at least it doesn’t exclusively. This is particularly the case regarding introverted employees, a staple at any organization.

Just because Ryan from Accounting doesn’t like to speak up in meetings doesn’t mean that he lacks communication skills. It just means that speaking in front of a group isn’t necessarily his forte. Instead of trying to force Ryan to adapt to your wishes, consider how Ryan would prefer to communicate.

Emails, memos, texting, one-on-one meetings, phone calls: these are all viable options regarding getting ideas across in the modern era. As a business leader, it’s not your job to get everyone to communicate the way you want to just because you prefer looking someone in the eyes when you tell them what they need to do next. It’s your job to make a note of the conditions that a person excels under and then do whatever you can to facilitate those needs whenever possible.

The Larger Implications of Communication

Consider the fact that according to one survey, an incredible 46% of employees said that they “rarely, if ever” leave a meeting knowing exactly what they’re supposed to do next. This is the danger of a “one size fits all” approach to communication. You end up becoming something of a “jack of all trades, master of none.”

One study revealed that 26% of employees think email is a major productivity killer. But when you reverse that, it means that 74% of employees think email is just fine. But it’s important not to create an “either/or” situation where one doesn’t have to exist. If you know that Robert is going to get the information he needs from an email, send away. If you know that Brenda is the type of employee who needs to sit down and talk out her next objective in person, be sure you make time for her in your schedule.

It’s up to you to find the right communication method that works for the individual so that everyone can be on the same page when it comes to contributing to the whole. 

It’s important to remember that according to a recent Gallup poll, 70% of employees in the United States said that they just weren’t engaged in work anymore. Creating an environment of open and honest communication is one of the keys to combating this issue head on. But you must also remember that no two employees are created equally.  An approach that works great for getting one employee to open up and become engaged in their work may be woefully inadequate for the next.

Only by making an effort to communicate on a case-by-case basis will you be able to generate a workplace where success is no longer a question of “if” but “when.”

Communicate Faster

AN IMPORTANT SKILL FOR SOCIAL AND PROFESSIONAL COMMUNICATIONS

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Keyboarding has become an important skill for social and professional communications. The faster and more accurately you can type, the better you can communicate with your audience.

If you’re not feeling up to speed on a keyboard, here are a few ways to improve your typing skills:

  • Place your hands properly on the keyboard. Your fingers on your left hand should be on A, S, D, and F. The fingers on your right hand should be on H, J, K, and L.
  • Once you are comfortable knowing key placement, avoid looking at the keyboard. This prevents you from editing your copy in real-time, which means more mistakes and wasted time editing later.
  • Chat with family or friends to have fun while learning to type. Programs such as Skype can help you not only keep in contact with others but also help fine tune your typing skills.
  • Check out free online typing resources, such as www.typing.com. It is a great learning tool for all ages and levels.
  • Consider online typing games that make learning more manageable. While many popular resources are designed for children, they can be used for any age to learn typing skills one step at a time. Qwerty Warriors is a fun example.
  • Once you have become more comfortable in your typing skills, test yourself often to improve the speed of your communication. Check out this free tool on Live Chat.

As with everything, practice makes perfect. The more you type, the more familiar you will become with the position of the keys. If you’d like help creating a newsletter or other marketing materials to increase communications with your audience, give us a call today at 856.429.0715!