Thin Difference is a virtual table where we can sit down to exchange ideas, tips, and insights across generations. Millennials, or Generation Y, are the new generation of leaders, and the future is bright with their talent and energy. Our mission is to encourage, empower, and inspire them to create a big leadership story.
“The way management treats the associates is exactly how the associates will then treat the customers. And if the associates treat the customers well, the customers will return again and again, and that is where the real profit in this business lies, not in trying to drag strangers into your stores for one-time purchases based on splashy sales or expensive advertising. Satisfied, loyal, repeat customers are loyal to us because our associates treat them better than salespeople in other stores do.”
This philosophy – treat your people well so they can treat your customers well – has been at the core of many successful businesses of the last half-century, including Southwest Airlines, Ritz-Carlton, Home Depot, and Wegman’s.
The problem is I’ve yet to encounter a company or organization who doesn’t list their people as their most important resource. Yet, like me, you’ve more than likely worked for a company which said they valued people but never bothered to inform their people.
When There is One Story at the Top, and Another at the Bottom
I once met with a founder of an organization who described his employees as family. He talked about the meal they shared once a week, the collaboration they shared and the fun they had with one another. It sounded like a great place to work.
But I watched five young leaders, with excellent skills and dynamic personalities, leave that organization in a few short years. When I heard their side of the story, it turned out there were collaboration and shared meals, but not a lot of fun. The organization may have valued people to a point, but it valued the leader’s ego more. He was demanding and lacking self-awareness. His feedback was harsh and demoralizing, creating a toxic work environment.
As in many places, there was one story told from the top and another experienced on the bottom.
In organizations like that one, employees walk by motivational posters on a wall, which extol the organization’s commitment to their people, wondering what those words actually mean. We’ve all learned that words on a poster are cheap, but consistently embodying them is much harder to do.
And it’s not just hard to do when you’re small. It’s increasingly difficult as a company succeeds and expands.
The Trickle-Down Effect
You may have noticed I intentionally withheld the attribution of that introductory quote. You know who authored those words about front-line associates being the key to the company’s success?
Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart.
Those words came from his autobiography, Made in America, published in 1992. In the book, Walton outlined the vision which drove his leadership at Wal-Mart and why he believed the company had succeeded.
Wal-Mart polarizes people. Regardless of your opinion of the company, though, I doubt they were your first guess before I revealed the secret author. Most people don’t think of Wal-Mart embodying the kind of philosophy Walton articulated.
So, how did Wal-Mart move from the vision outlined in that opening quote to where they are today?
In his 2011 book, Start with Why, Simon Sinek described his explanation. He believes Wal-Mart lost it “why,” leading to 73 class-action lawsuits related to wage violation. According to Sinek, the company shifted from a “why” which valued front-line employees to a “why” which valued low-prices, regardless of the “cost.”
In 2017, the New York Times published an article, outlining a report from a worker-advocacy group who found Wal-Mart “routinely refuses to accept doctors’ notes, penalizes workers who need to take care of a sick family member and otherwise punishes employees for lawful absences.”
I don’t have a Wal-Mart ax to grind; I stopped in there to pick up a couple of items last week. But, after reading about these struggles, I looked at the employee’s faces in a new way.
And I came back to my office, where I lead my organization, with a fresh perspective as well.
Any leader can say that their people matter. Any HR department can list their purpose as caring for the people who serve the organization. But, truly valuing people is a high calling and the higher you go, and more you succeed, the harder it gets.
Cultivating a Consistent Narrative
Leaders need to go looking for the truth — even when the truth makes us uncomfortable.
So, what can a leader do to ensure the same story told at the top is told at the bottom?
Create a Mechanism for Feedback Without Penalty
Whether this means a 360 feedback system, company-wide survey, or aggregation of performance reviews, leaders need to go looking for the truth — even when the truth makes us uncomfortable.
Ensure that What Makes People Feel Valued is Most Important
I meet leaders all the time who are shocked by the gap between what they think matters to their people and what actually matters. Often, it’s a small adjustment or an inexpensive investment which makes all the difference. Gary Chapman revolutionized relationships with his love language paradigm. He helped millions understand that people give and receive love in different ways. Wise people learn how the people around them receive love and adjust as a result. It’s not about how we value people – it’s how they experience value.
Shift your Approach to Valuing People
While I was engaged, a friend told me an old joke about a wife who asked her husband after many years of marriage if he loved her. The husband replied, “I told you I loved you on our wedding day and I’ll let you know if that changes.” Apparently for that guy, saying it once was enough.
But anyone who is (or has been) married knows differently. Valuing people isn’t a destination; it’s a never-ending pursuit. In the same way that we cannot simply tell our spouse we love them just once, we need to value people consistently and continually.
If Sam Walton was correct all those years ago, the future success of our organizations depends on the way we people on the front lines.
Wonderspaces, a mobile collection of art from various artists, set-up its wondrous space in San Diego. I was given tickets, and having no idea of what I was about to experience, I went in with as much expectation as there is paint on a blank canvas.
This, by the way, was an odd feeling. Between crowdsourcing, Yelp research, hashtag searching and just about any other way to experience something before actually experiencing it, I usually know what I’m about to get myself into.
Upon entering the exhibit, I immediately thought, “Oh wow. This is pretty cool.”
Explaining any of the pieces wouldn’t do them the justice they deserve. The best I can say is that it is the type of art that allows you to immerse yourself in it. There were virtual reality headset experiences, I walked through 8000 dangling LED lights, and stood in a room of mirrors while bathed in reflecting light.
This wasn’t a stare-at-a-painting-on-a-wall situation. It was, to be frank, an Instagram-worthy situation.
The artwork had all the ingredients for the perfect Instagram post. Bright colors, reflective tones and that thing where you look really small in comparison to what surrounds you. The type of posts that get, at a minimum, 100 likes.
And that’s how I proceeded throughout the rest of my visit – posing with the art and posing my family with the art. Before long, I had Instagram content for days. I wasn’t allowing myself to go deeper into the art, just taking what it was offering me on its first layer.
One particular favorite image I snapped was in front of the piece titled “To Do.” It was also that thing where I looked really small in comparison to my surroundings.
It was made up of thousands of blank Post-It notes. Pink pieces of paper positioned to spell out the words, “To Do,” while yellow ones framed the wording. In keeping with the theme of immersion, visitors were encouraged to write their own “to dos.”
I had planned for this photo to be my first “after” Wonderspaces visit Instagram post. The caption I had planned was going to be along the lines of, “When your to-do list is 5,000 Post-It Notes long.” Simple. Slightly humorous.
But just before I was ready to post, I found out Anthony Bourdain died.
The news of yet another tragic death to suicide had me looking at the artwork much differently than when I first saw it 24 hours ago.
On the surface, I found a clever piece of art. I also interpreted the overwhelming number of pieces of paper to parallel the feeling many of us experience when staring at our own to-do lists.
Choosing To Do
While we cannot all relate to having symptoms of mental illness and being suicidal, we can relate to the sense of being overwhelmed. We can relate to overcommitment. We can relate to a wall, filled with thousands of 3-inch-by-3-inch Post-It notes, written with stuff to get done, people to see, bills to pay and everything else that fills our 24 hours.
That’s the thing about the sense of overwhelm. It is a big scary wall of a million things we are battling, dealing with and pushing through. For many, it reaches a point where we walk away. At best we procrastinate by watching YouTube videos or engaging in some other type of distraction. At worst, there are those that take the dark path that Anthony Bourdain and many others before him have gone down.
I have nothing to offer regarding cures for mental illness. But I can encourage everyone to look at their walls a little differently.
I looked at this wall with a whole new perspective. It goes along with all of those clichés of “taking one day at a time” and not “biting off more than you can chew.”
I no longer see a thousand pieces of paper. I see the two colors, pink and yellow. I see a wall screaming at all us, “You have two choices!”
You can either do or not do. You can try or not try. You can ask for help or suffer alone. You can reach out or keep the status quo.
When faced with just those two choices, I think the best practice will always be “to do.”
Have you ever taken an Improv class? Until recently, I hadn’t. It seemed daunting, intimidating and slightly dangerous.
So when a friend who is in the middle of a 100-day project (she’s doing things that scare her in an effort to be bolder!), invited me I accepted the challenge. If she can be more daring, so can I!
With a few butterflies, I signed up for a test drive class at The Second City. Turns out, it was more fun and less intimidating than I expected, and introduced me to skills that I suspect will be useful in my everyday life. I didn’t take the class planning to re-think my communication style, but that’s precisely what happened.
How Improv Can Lead Us Toward Common Ground
I signed up for the class as an improv newbie. I knew very little about the art form and had no idea how the class would be structured. It was a relief to discover that while the folks at The Second City take comedy seriously, the atmosphere is incredibly relaxed.
For two hours we played games and participated in exercises that revealed essential pillars of improv. As the lessons were introduced, each was more applicable to effective communication and collaboration than the last. Here are a few of those lessons.
We started the evening with a simple game to get our bodies moving. As we ran around the room, I could feel my tension and fear begin to fade. Right away, I noticed my classmates looked as silly as I did and there was comfort in that. I didn’t feel alone, I felt less edgy, and the physical movement helped me to release nervous energy and loosen up.
When we find ourselves in a situation where we’re working toward common ground, it means we must be starting from opposite sides. Tension, fear and adversarial energy are inherent in that. While some of that energy can be useful, too much can be a roadblock. Remembering to take a minute to loosen up — either physically or mentally — is helpful. Jump up and down, shake it out, or just take a deep breath to let go of some that excess tension.
At one point we were paired up with a classmate and challenged to start a sentence with the last word of our partner’s sentence. It worked like this:
Partner One: I like strawberries.
Partner Two: Strawberries are good for you.
Partner One: You should eat them every day.
Partner Two: Day or night, strawberries are a delicious treat.
What if we couldn’t plan our response until someone else had completed her thought?
Throughout the game, you are forced to listen all the way to the end of your partner’s thought. The game’s parameters keep you from thinking about what you’re going to say next until your partner is completely finished with her sentence. You can’t jump ahead. You’re forced to stay present and listen carefully.
Can you imagine the implications this could have in our personal and professional communication? What if we couldn’t plan our response until someone else had completed her thought?
The one improv phrase I was familiar with before class was, “Yes, and…” It appears to be the cardinal rule of this kind of comedy. During a skit, actors are compelled to keep the “yes, and…” spirit alive. No matter where your scene partner takes the story, you must agree and add to the narrative. It keeps things moving forward.
For instance, if your partner says, “I’m headed to market, can I grab you anything?” A “yes, and…” response might be, “Sure! Could you pick up some earplugs? That banging is really giving me a headache.” Your response is continuing to build on what your partner said. You’re creating a scene together. It’s much more helpful than responding, “No, I’ve got everything I need.” That response stops the momentum and leaves your partner alone to move the scene forward.
It isn’t always possible to affirm everything your conversation partner says — especially when you find yourselves on different sides of a professional issue. However, in the spirit of working toward common ground, it’s probably likely that there is a portion of what she said that you can build on. Focusing on that nugget of commonality and keeping the conversation moving forward would be helpful.
Relinquish Control and Share the Spotlight
We played several different games that forced the entire to class to collaborate and create a story as a team. In one game we stood in a circle and took turns contributing one word to tell a story. It was much harder than I thought it would be! We started with a title to give us some direction and began going around the circle each saying one word at a time.
It forced me to let go of my expectations about where the story was headed and share the story’s creation with my classmates. It also meant that sometimes my word was “the” or “and” — not the most exciting contributions. At the end our instructor pointed out, we all want to shape the narrative using words like “lasagna” or “snorkel,” but sometimes the sentence needs a simple conjunction to make sense.
Starting a conversation with expectations is easy. We often have a predetermined route the discussion is going to take and an end in sight. However, common ground is found collaboratively. That means we have to throw out the map, and trust our conversation partner. That means occasionally we have to let someone else take the wheel.
As I rode the train to class, I was nervous. What would it be like? Would I look silly? Would my classmates laugh at me for the wrong reasons? It didn’t take long to recognize that we were there to have fun. When performers have fun so does the audience. The best lesson of the night was to release the fear and embrace joy.
That lesson applies to tough conversations too. Finding common ground is a good thing. Getting there will likely be tough. It might force us out of our comfort zones. We will probably have to compromise, change our plans, or let go of some expectations. But in the end, collaboration has the potential to benefit more people than allowing just one side of an issue to be heard. I’ll admit that isn’t always easy for me. I think I know best. However, embracing the idea of seeking common ground and taking steps to find the joy in cooperation is making me a stronger person and better communicator.
After taking a test drive, I have my eye on an eight-week improv class this fall. While I don’t expect to be headlining on the main stage any time soon, I’m curious. I want to hone the communication skills the two-hour class introduced. Finding common ground continues to be a struggle for me personally and professionally. If I can laugh my way toward finding it, how can I resist? I’m not trying to say that improv could change the world — wait, maybe I am!
Personal branding is oversold. Ever since Tom Peters wrote that infamous article in 1997, it unleashed an overinflated sense of self. Too many individuals tried to figure out how to be different or how to fit into a category. Individuals on the edge of Gen X claim to be Millennials, and individuals on the edge of some new technology claim to be experts. Even though too many try to stand out, they just really wanted to be a part of something. They want to belong in the group that they put a personal brand wrapper around.
Societal branding is not about you. It is not Me, Inc. It is We, Inc. By “we,” it is how you and me interact and work together.
To add fuel to our desire, social media platforms gave everyone access to spread their personal brand. Social media became a dumping ground. Think about it. How many LinkedIn groups are you a part of in which personal branders just post their own links and leave? No interaction. No conversation. It is easy to do, and that is the part of the problem.
I have done it, too. After all, as a personal brander, it seemed like the “best practice.” The goal – get your content into as many channels as possible as often as you can. If you read an article taking off in social media, add your own to the mix. What happens? We live in a canyon filled with echoes. We keep hearing the same thing and, although we may try, we all sound the same. And no one is listening. And no one is discussing real issues in a real human way.
It is time to end personal branding. We need to build a reputation. We need to have good character. From here, we need to think about our societal brand instead of a personal one.
Is societal branding just a re-brand of personal branding?
No. Some may try to just re-package, but true societal branding will expose the flaws and – to coin a personal branders favorite term – lack of authenticity. Societal branding is not about you. It is not Me, Inc. It is We, Inc. By the “we,” I mean how you and me interact and work together.
The dimensions of societal branding answers a different set of questions. In many ways, this is a differentiator. Societal branding demands we answer questions about how we fit in with others. Personal branding says figure out what your good at, find the right social platform, and then launch.
Let’s discuss several of the key societal branding questions. Most the suggested questions center on how you do certain things.
How you solve problems?
In our business and society, problem solvers are a necessity. Societal branding asks how you evaluate a situation and how you listen to others in their analysis of the situation. Based on the evaluations, how do you work with the others to pull together a common view of the problem? With a mutual understanding, how do you begin to test and develop solutions? Crafting solutions with others says a lot about you and your role with others.
Building a societal brand requires honest conversations with individuals that you work with and understand how they view you in problem-solving situations. Societal brand is not about who you want to be. It is who you are and then how you can get better.
How you add perspective?
Adding perspective is about how you express insights and concepts. Do you build on other people’s ideas? Or, do you dominate and dismiss others? Does the idea have to be yours, or can you accept another’s solution? Based on our experiences, what we read, and how we interpret both lead to developing a perspective. This may be our unique value but only in how we offer it, keep it in check at times, and develop it with others over time.
Building a societal brand requires blending perspectives. Think of perspectives as ingredients. If we only use our ingredient, we never bake anything completely. A good result is when the right ingredients are blended together to produce the end product.
How you participate in a meetings and conversations?
Do you make others feel as if they are the most important person in the room? Societal branding is about how you make others feel in meetings and conversations. Feeling good during and after meeting does not mean the tough issues are not handled. Just the opposite. Tough issues are discussed and resolved with respect, honesty, acceptance, and finding the common ground to move forward firmly.
Societal branding is how you listen, converse, and resolve. Meetings are the great equalizer in that they can show a person’s true colors in who they are. To build a societal brand, think about how you participate and how you can do so in better ways.
How you start? How you finish?
Whether we think about it this way or not, we all start things, and we all end things. The questions on building a societal brand has been about what happens in the middle. Another essential branding element is how we begin projects, meetings, conversations, and other interactions and work. Equally important is how we end each.
Crafting our societal brand starts with how we begin. How people remember us relates to how we end. In between is where our reputation and character exist. How we improve the beginning, middle, and end is our societal brand.
Stop personal branding now. Craft a societal brand.
My hope is you notice the difference. We have enough personal positioning. In all of our positioning, we have lost sight of who we really should be and, more importantly, who we are as a society. We can have an impeccable brand while society fails. It is difficult to have an impeccable societal brand and fail personally.
Here’s the key difference.
Personal brand asks many more “what” questions with a few “why” questions sprinkled in to make us feel good.
Societal brand asks many more “how” questions. How we collaborate is who we really are.
Woven into these questions is a mindset. A societal brand mindset knows betterment is a key part of the formula because we only get better as individuals when we get better as a society.
It’s June, aka halfway through the year. For most people employed in a corporate setting, this means mid-year performance reviews are in full spring.
While you’ll be receiving reviews from your peers as well as your managers and superiors, you’ll most likely be asked to write the infamous “self-review.” It is here, in this self-review, that you’ll be asked to give an honest assessment of your own progress, achievements, and shortcomings. This is problematic.
Self-reviews, and any self-assessments, really, are prime areas for all of us to participate in a bit of self-bias. What’s self-bias? It can take many forms, but in broad terms, it’s our inability to properly and accurately assess ourselves, mainly because we only have internal perceptions of our abilities, while good, proper assessment usually requires external perceptions. We can’t always rate our own abilities accurately because our internal perception may be skewed by our emotions, our intentions, and our numerous motivations.
How to Minimize Bias in a Self-Review
So when it comes to writing self-reviews, can self-bias be completely eliminated? No, I don’t believe so, but it can be reduced. Here are a few things I’ve kept in mind when writing self-reviews.
Gather Evidence From External Sources
At my job, we use an instant messenger client called Slack. Next to all your coworkers and dedicated workgroups to whom you can send a message, there’s an area where you can jot down notes, lists, to-dos, save images, and just generally keep track of day-to-day minutiae that doesn’t need to be communicated directly to others. It is here, throughout the work year, that I gather evidence that may be valuable to me during review times.
But what do I mean by “evidence,” exactly? And why do I need “evidence” for mid-year reviews anyway?
By evidence, I speak mainly of external examples of good performance on my part. These may be screenshots of praise from teammates or managers, words of appreciation from clients for a productive meeting or a promptly answered question, promising results or trends for client-based on work I did or heavily contributed to, notes detailing ideas I think of, or records of particularly difficult problems I’ve faced and solutions I’ve found to them … the list goes on.
This evidence is a collection, essentially, of proof that I’ve done some useful things during the span of time between reviews.
Why is Evidence Necessary for Self-Reviews?
First, when asked to evaluate our performance, specifically why we think we performed well at something, most people will respond in one of two fashions: they’ll overrate their performance, or they’ll underrate it.
Some people believe their performance and achievements are far greater than what they might actually be. Others, end up selling themselves short.
Self-bias has a duality to it, you see. Some people believe their performance and achievements are far greater than what they might actually be. Others, no doubt seeking to avoid thinking like that, are a bit too humble when it comes to speaking to their achievements. They end up selling themselves short. I often find myself in this latter group.
Given that it’s collected from external sources, our evidence allows us to check our perceptions of our performance against what others have observed. When review time comes around and we look at the evidence we’ve collected, what does it tell us? Is there a lot of it? Is it few and far between? What was our performance being praised for, exactly? Did we build a good rapport with both coworkers and clients? Basically, when we write reviews based on definitive evidence of our good performance as opposed to our own perceptions of our performance, we can come closer to hitting the ideal middle ground between overrating and underrating.
That brings me to the second reason for gathering evidence: most people, myself included, have fairly poor memories. We may remember large achievements or particularly noteworthy examples of praise, but a lot of progress at work, I find, isn’t contained solely in “big wins.” Good performance builds up cumulatively, especially with general business skills like communication and project management. We improve gradually over time, sometimes dramatically, but we may not remember or even notice this progress if we aren’t actively measuring and recording it.
Collecting evidence for reviews allows us to keep tabs on these smaller examples of good performance. Likewise, collecting evidence from our big wins will allow us to remember them and better elaborate on them in our reviews.
Be Honest About Shortcomings — But Have a Plan
Just as I think we should all be as honest and accurate as possible about our positive performance in our self-reviews, I think we must be equally honest and accurate when it comes to our shortcomings, weaknesses, and areas of improvement.
Initially, acknowledging your weaknesses in a self-review for work may seem like a bad idea. I mean, you’re supposed to put your best foot forward in reviews, right? Yes, that’s right, and often the best employees, best leaders, and best people are those who are aware of their limitations, aware of what they can and cannot do, aware of when they can handle something and when they need help from others.
Acknowledging your weaknesses is a sign self-reflection and transparency — transparency with yourself and others. It conveys a certain sense of humility, a consciousness of yourself that most people — managers and superiors especially — should respect.
That being said, I think when you acknowledge your weak areas in a self-review, you need to do so strategically. You need a way to turn current negatives into future positives. I’ll give you an example.
On my company’s mid-year self-review, each question asked us to provide an answer on a 1 to 5 scale — “1” being not good and “5” being very good. We were also asked to elaborate on our answer in a comment box below.
I’m relatively new to this company as well as the discipline in which I work, so for many of the questions, I found myself putting mostly 4s along with some 3s. A 60/40 split, I’d say.
In the comments section below each question, I leveraged relevant collected evidence to explain why I chose each score. I also acknowledged areas of improvement (indicated by gaps in my evidence or an overall low quantity of evidence in a certain area). After acknowledging a given weak area, however, I made sure to include a paragraph or two explaining what I needed to do to get to the next level — what would be necessary to improve a “3” to a “4” or a “4” to a “5”?
Was more effort needed? Did I need to be more detail-oriented? Did I need to be more open to seeking out and accepting help? I stated what I thought the problem was and what I planned to do about it going forward.
When it comes to self-reviews, you have to have a little bit of negative thrown in with all the positive; no one’s perfect, after all. But that negative doesn’t have to hurt you or your superiors’ perception of you. Don’t just list your weaknesses and leave them there — that’s how you do actual damage in a self-review. Rather, acknowledge your weaknesses, but use them as a platform for detailing future progress.
Take It Slow — And Be Thoughtful
The self-review is not something you should blow through.
It’s the review that’s most important, most directly connected to your career and your potential advancement. It’s your chance to advocate for yourself and your progress, your chance to be honest about what you like and dislike in your workplace. Take it slow, and be reflective.
I believe self-reviews should be written with patience. Rushing through a review, either because you find it boring or because you’re facing a deadline or because you have something else to do, can really hinder and/or hurt you.
You may rush and fail to properly promote yourself, your talents, and your recent performance. You may fail to leverage any evidence you’ve collected from external sources optimally, or you may fail to leverage it at all. You may cover the superficial nature of the progress you’ve made, but fail to reflect more deeply on why/how you made that progress and how you plan to maintain it or enhance it going forward.
Take your time, be reflective and introspective. Be honest, too. Put in a good word for yourself.
My friend and I have a small business together. We sell whipped body butter and scrubs to a small and select clientele. We have been doing this for about five years and take pride in our product and process to make the perfect batch. We are constantly tweaking the ingredients and label design, searching for the perfect container that speaks to who we are as a business and the quality of the product itself. We know the product is good, because we are directly in contact with it at all phases — doing everything ourselves by hand.
When to Compromise and When to Hold Your Ground
Recently a friend reached out on behalf of someone she is in an organization with, who wanted some of our “butters.” My friend was acting as the go-between, communicated the needs of this woman via a series of rapid-fire texts we exchanged.
As a small business, my partner and I are always open to new opportunities to expand and build. Notice I said, we are open to new opportunities, not that we are looking for new opportunities. I have a full-time job and she is super busy managing a household. We never want the product’s quality to suffer; we want to give the process our full attention.
Navigating Small Business Negotiations
The woman wanted 60-65 sample-sized butters by the following Sunday – less than seven whole days. I asked what their budget was, to gauge what was possible. She came back with a figure that was less than what we proposed. When we presented our price, she began altering her request. Now she only wanted 50, and wondered if it would be cheaper if we didn’t add a scent, or if she printed her own labels. I took all of this information back to my partner; I try not to make decisions without her involvement. We agreed the price would not change. No matter if we reduced the number being packaged or not, we can’t skip steps in the process. Plus, rush orders would incur a fee. Finally, what would be the purpose of doing the batch if they were not branded with our names?
What my partner and I both understood was that without even starting, the project was presenting itself to be taxing. We were asked to alter our production to fit their budget. We needed to rush something that we, ourselves, never rush. And we were being low-balled. My friend, the intermediary, totally understood. There were no hard feelings.
As a small business, you are torn between taking any and everybody’s business and also understanding your limits. There is a product we like to put into the world and we don’t want that hindered by someone else’s lack of planning. It is also difficult at times to not try to “work with people” and meet their budgets. What I remind myself and others is, we are a small business, we are in no position to give deep discounts and lose control of our process. Also, what standard are we creating by faltering on things as basic as price? Finally, as my partner brought up, “You wouldn’t go to Barneys and ask them to reduce their prices.” She’s right.
As consumers, we are so inclined to haggle with small businesses. I was empowered by our decision and emboldened to keep that same energy for future projects. It made me love our business more and take even greater pride in our butters.
In what way have you taken a loss in business when you should have held your ground? How do you decide which clients are worth your time? Are you quick to take on any new client? Give these questions some thought. You might be surprised at how your business is affected by the tone you set with clients.
If you run your own business, you’ll be only too familiar with the feeling that there are never enough hours in the day to get everything done. What’s more, there may be only one of you but a multitude of important management tasks to be tackled. From Finance & Accounts to HR Management, Marketing, Customer Services and more, you’re invested both financially and emotionally, so obviously you do the best you can.
Make the Most of Your Management Time
As a small business owner, time is your most valuable asset. More than your IT systems, staff or commercial premises, if you can optimize your time management so that you get the most out of each day, you’ll be giving your business the best possible chance of success.
The best place to start is by reviewing how efficiently you currently use your time and utilizing the skills that make you irreplaceable as a manager. Ask yourself these three important questions and record accurate information that you can then use to base any improvements on:
How should your management time be allocated?
First of all, make a list of all management tasks in order of importance. Create categories that are meaningful to your business – this could be customer calls, sales meetings, invoicing & admin, report writing, order fulfillment, social media support, etc. Next, divide up the working week and put what you think is the right amount of time against each category. This is your perfect week.
How do you actually spend your time?
In order to discover how your ideal scenario compares to your daily reality of how you actually spend your time during the working week, make a point of logging every hour of activity you spend on each identified activity. Record the results in a notebook, spreadsheet or however is most convenient, and do this for at least a week, ideally longer.
Are there any deficiencies or areas for improvement?
Now total up the time for each category and compare the two data records – how do they match up? Are you really dedicating the most time to the most important tasks? If there is a discrepancy between how you think you should spend your time and how it is actually spent, there are two possible reasons: Your first list is wrong, and you lack an understanding of the most important business tasks. Go back and review your priorities. Or your first list is right but you’re not managing your time in accordance with your business priorities.
Making Improvements to your Time Management
If you optimize your time management, you’ll be giving your business the best possible chance of success.
Armed with the above information, you can now make the necessary adjustments to improve how you spend your management time.
Scrap: Cut out time wasters: Once identified, you can easily eliminate tasks that take far too long and produce little useful results. Social media and email management, for instance, can be notorious time sinks. Be ruthless and get them off your to-do list.
Delegate: Do you really have to do every task yourself, or are you perhaps in danger of micromanaging? Why not delegate, say, social media updates, to someone else, freeing up some of your valuable time for more important tasks?
Hire: Perhaps you simply need more boots on the ground to get everything done? Or maybe there are tasks that you are struggling with due to lack of skill? Whether it’s a chef or a bookkeeper you need, it may be wise to take on additional staff.
Tried and Tested Time Management Techniques
Once you’ve ironed out the obvious problems and made the necessary adjustments to how your (and your staff’s) time is spent most efficiently, the trick is to keep it going. Luckily, there are many tried and tested strategies, techniques, and tools available to help keep you on the straight and narrow. Here are some favorites:
Remember the Pareto Principle
According to this theory, it should only take 20% of your effort to achieve 80% of the desired result, yet many people use their time in the opposite manner, spending far too much time to achieve far too little. Are you focusing on the items or activities that produce the most significant results in your business? Or are you sweating the small stuff with not much to show for it?
Don’t be Afraid of Technology
Time management software can be a godsend, particularly for small business owners who struggle. Online time tracking, project management, and staff rota software tools are widely available to take the strain out of managing your business and keeping an overview of who is (and should be) doing what and when. Move with the times and get smart.
Use the Pomodoro Technique
This is a simple time management technique that can help eliminate distractions and unproductive time from your working day. Using a simple timer, it forces you to concentrate for short bursts (usually 25 minutes) at a time, then have a break. Work periods are strictly timed an uninterrupted, giving you the best chance to work productively.
More To-Do Lists, Fewer Meetings
Don’t underestimate the humble to-do list – it’s an easy way to take the pressure of remembering important tasks, simply by writing them down. Meetings, on the other hand, have the potential to waste inordinate amounts of time. Keep them short and to the point, and only schedule a meeting when really necessary.
Value White Space
Finally, it’s important to schedule breaks into your daily schedule. Far from wasting precious time, a deliberate break – 5-minute meditation, 10-minute walk in the fresh air, ½ hour power nap, 1-hour lunch break away from the desk – gives you the opportunity to refresh and recharge your physical and mental alertness. This will benefit your business much more than if you are permanently exhausted.
Mike James is an IT and business consultant based in Brighton, UK. An author for a number of online and print publications, Mike specializes in cybersecurity, business management and how best to fit the two together for organizations of different sizes.
When I started working in the mid-1980s, I never thought about personal brand. Personal branding was not a thing. Today, it is what most people seem to be doing. Type in “personal branding” and over 28 million Google results appear. In 1997, Tom Peters started it all with an article in Fast Company entitled “The Brand Called You.” Social media was not in full force, but a business mindset shift was well underway. Business leaders used “maximizing shareholder value” as the way to manage and lead operations.
Maximizing shareholder value meets personal branding.
In Robert Reich’s thoughtful book, The Common Good, he outlines how the business mindset moved from “balanced interests” to “shareholder value.” Business leaders shifted from being stewards to being driven, almost by fear, to increase stock prices. Even though thoughtful leaders, like Peter Drucker, argued that the “purpose of business is to create and keep a customer,” too many business leaders have aligned shareholder value to short-term stock prices. What gets lost in the mix is the concept of “balanced interests.”
We have a shareholder-driven business mindset combined with a personal-driven brand. If companies are going to layoff thousands of individuals and widen the gap between CEO pay and worker salaries, then the individual must do something to enhance their personal value and marketability.
What we get in the middle is a lot of self-interest.
What Tom Peters said in the 1997 article drives the selfishness point home. He said, “I know this may sound like selfishness. But being CEO of Me Inc. requires you to act selfishly – to grow yourself, to promote yourself, to get the market to reward yourself. Of course, the other side of the selfish coin is that any company you work for ought to applaud every single one of the efforts you make to develop yourself.”
When you read the 1997 article, you get a sense that an individual must continue to learn, change, and improve themselves. Each element is important and vital to stay relevant in our global world. What we experience now is extreme positioning and an overflow of content in which everyone drowns in irrelevancy, losing our sense of what is right and, oddly enough, who we really are.
For CEOs, pay structures changed to align with shareholder value. This shift “helped spawn the rise of executive pay tied to share prices – and thus the huge rise in stock-option pay. As a result, average annual executive pay has quadrupled since the early 1970s.” No wonder the focus is on personal wealth and short-term actions.
The result through the 1980s to today is a lot of self-centeredness by CEOs and individuals. You can call it shareholder value or personal brand, but the reality is selfishness.
What will return business and society to a balanced interests way of thinking and acting again?
The answer to the above question seems to be problematic right now. What our current politics show is the culmination of self-interest over all else. We have individuals around the president stating that he could pardon himself or even shoot an FBI director and not indicted. The White House refuses to respond to the General Accounting Office’s request for information. Although other examples exist, Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, serves as the bad example of serving himself rather than the United States. All this shows is how self-interested our leaders have become.
Our business and society are at a tipping point free-fall into chaotic self-centeredness. We need to change our direction now.
Today, the big gap widens on accountability. Both political parties seem absent. Some citizens seem to latch more on self-absorbed, negative chants than a conversation of the greater good. Self-interest grows in a non-accountability world.
The result of our personal brand and shareholder value focus is self-centeredness, accountability absence, and purpose vacated.
Moves toward social enterprises and corporate social responsibility are encouraging. The rise of B Corporations and Conscious Capitalism offer a back-to-the-future move to “balanced interests.” For me, the concept and examples of business leader activism offer the greatest hope for positive change, but we have a long way to go.
In businesses, we need a shift from shareholder value to collaborative value.
With individuals, we need a shift from personal brand to societal brand.
Collaborative value focuses on innovation by working with all stakeholders within a corporate community. Societal brand focuses on how individuals can come together to achieve more, for more people, more of the time.
Four essential questions to consider:
How can a company create greater future value together than separately?
What investments can a company make for collaborative value?
How can an individual raise their value by bringing others together for the greater good?
What investments can an individual make in society – business and community – to become better citizens while encouraging others to do the same?
Rather than self-centered objectives to create short-term value, we need to shift to how we can create long-term value and be greater-good centered. Our business and society are at a tipping point free-fall into chaotic self-centeredness. We need to change our direction now.
HR departments face a major problem when it comes to Millennials that work in their organization. Most of them don’t stick around for very long. In a 2014 study conducted by Bayt, 46% of Millennials said that they saw themselves working in their current job for the next two years or less.
Is there anything HR can do to stop the attrition of Millennial employees? Or should we resign to the facts and keep churning through employees like a set of used tires?
The good news is that there are a few simple things businesses can do to improve retention of Millennial employees. Many of which are ideas and initiatives human resources can impact directly.
Human Resources: The New Culture Creators for Millennials
Millennials perform best in a workplace with a rich and inclusive culture.
Workplace culture is an important factor in keeping millennials engaged and excited about their work. Millennials perform best in a workplace with a rich and inclusive culture. Because of the where they sit within the organization, HR departments can play a critical role in helping create the type of culture that brings out the best of Millennials in their workforce.
Here are a few specific ways human resources can influence the culture within an organization to meet the needs and expectations of Millennial employees:
Provide opportunities for Millennials to connect with business leaders and senior management. If there’s one thing Millennials crave in the workplace, it’s intentional mentoring. As an HR department, you have the unique opportunity to create this kind of culture within your organization by developing programs and systems that support it.
Educate bosses on the best way to provide feedback & criticism. When employees are faced with a decision-making difficulty, they’re often seeking an outside perspective to validate their thinking. Helping leaders and managers by teaching them how to provide criticism and feedback to Millennials will go a long way in making both parties more successful in the long run.
Create opportunities to feel like they’re being heard. Whether it’s a formal 360 performance review process or an informal lunch for employees to share their challenges and ideas, allowing Millennials to feel like their voices are being heard is a great way to earn their trust and respect. I know what you’re thinking… “Who cares what they think? They should just get over it.” While you might be right, you’ll probably keep repeating yourself as Millennials continue to leave your company for other opportunities.
A lot has been written about how Millennials are shaping the workplace. HR is not exempt. The traditional and transactional role HR has played is on the verge of extinction as employees are looking for the companies they work for to be more proactive in their professional development. A modern-day approach to human resources requires creating a culture where Millennials feel like they have a voice and are being invested in by the people above them.
Growing up, I always heard the phrase, “Nice guys finish last.” Friends would say being nice doesn’t get you anywhere. Nice guys don’t get the girl. Nice guys don’t get famous. Saying someone was nice wasn’t a compliment. It was a slight. It meant someone was weak – a pushover. They weren’t people who generated respect.
Has Being Nice Gotten a Bad Rap?
However, in today’s current cultural climate, can’t we all agree we could use more nice people? There are many celebrities, politicians, producers, pastors (unfortunately), and business people who have gotten famous (more like infamous) for not being nice, respectful, or even remotely decent human beings. We can look at these people and shake our heads in disgust. However, we should also stop for a moment to see the path that got them to where they are and see if we’re traveling in any way down the same road.
Maybe we need to reconsider the advice we’ve received. Maybe nice people don’t finish last – they finish well, strong, and respected. You can be genuinely nice and seriously respected. They aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, often they’re linked.
This isn’t just true of celebrities. Some of the people we’ve most admired in our own lives treated others well. They cared about us. They showed concern. Quite simply, they were cool to be around.
Are You Nice to Work With?
So, how nice are you? How would you know if you are? Let’s get specific – what would it look like for you to be known as the nice person at work? Here are ten signs that point to a nice person to work with.
You remember key names and dates. Do you know the names of the people who work with you? Do you know the names of their spouses and kiddos? Do you recognize work anniversaries? Nice people care enough to know the people around them.
You notice someone who’s having a bad day. Nice people slow down enough to see if people around them are hurting. And they care enough to ask, “Are you okay?” and “Can I help?”
You show up at (and even contribute to) office functions. If there’s a holiday party, a retirement celebration, a team building activity, or something else, nice work people jump in. They see these as more than inconvenient HR activities – they know these are opportunities to connect and honor others.
You don’t badmouth people or gossip. It’s easy to participate in office gossip or to trash the boss. Initially, this might even help you connect with others. But, deep down, we know if someone is gossiping or badmouthing someone to us, there’s a good chance they’re gossiping or badmouthing us to someone else. Nice people refrain from jumping into the muck.
You don’t sugarcoat reality. Being nice doesn’t mean you need to be fake. Nice people live in reality – they acknowledge it. Ignoring the fact that a situation is hard or toxic isn’t nice – it’s frustrating and annoying. However, nice people are also able to be caring, considerate, and helpful when times get tough. That’s when kindness stands out the most.
You are interruptible. Are you okay with giving someone who desperately needs you five minutes of your time, even if you’re in the middle of something? Or, are you unapproachable? Nice people are.
You look for ways to affirm. Most people don’t get positive feedback in their jobs. We hear about it when we mess up, but not when we’re doing something great. Nice people are trying to change that norm. They go out of their way to catch people doing something great, and then they say so.
You are a source of inspiration. Do people come to you when they need a great idea? Are you known for being passionate about the mission of your organization? Nice people are magnetic to be around. They attract good ideas. And, people are drawn to them when they need to be built up.
You are eager to serve, even when it has nothing to do with your thing. We’ve all been there – the “all office” email goes out asking for help somewhere. Nice people step up to help, whether or not it shows up in their bottom line.
There are more signs than these. And, none of us does all of this perfectly. I’m absolutely terrible at remembering names and milestones. I need to do better. I can be more kind. You probably can too.
It’s worth our time to take a few moments to think about how nice we are, starting with our jobs. It could be the difference between being famous and infamous. It often separates those who work somewhere six months and six years. And, the funny thing is, most of the things listed above don’t cost us much at all. It’s not that difficult. But, it takes intentionality and a willingness to play the long game – to not just focus on our immediate goals and instead think about our reputation and legacy.
Being nice matters. We could use more of it in our world. So, do something nice today. Be like Tom Hanks. You might be surprised how big of a difference it makes.