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How leaders can engage employees (review of Alive at Work)

alive at workThis review first ran in the Nov. 10 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Alive at Work: The Neuroscience of Helping Your People Love What They Do

By Daniel Cable

Harvard Business Review Press

$39

Here’s a lesson for any leader who’s looking to leave a legacy.

Write down the names of your maternal and paternal grandparents. No checking Ancestry.com or calling your family’s resident genealogist.

Now write the names of your great-grandparents.

Don’t feel bad if you can’t name everyone. Lots of us draw blanks as we work our way down the family tree.

“And that’s the legacy for us: our own family isn’t going to remember our names in two generations,” says Daniel Cable, author of Alive at Work.

“Lots of leaders spend time thinking about their legacy but really all we have are the positive effects that we can have on each other today. As leaders, we have a chance to make life more meaningful, and more worth living, for the people we lead.”

engageSo how exactly do you make that happen? Focus on firing up the seeker system that’s hardwired into our brains, says Cable.  “Our seeking systems create the natural impulse to explore our worlds, learn about our environments, and extract meaning from our circumstances. When we follow the urges of our seeking system, it releases dopamine – a neurotransmitter linked to motivation and pleasure – and that makes us want to explore more.”

When our seeker system’s up and running, we’re excited. We’re learning new things. Our world feels like a better place to live. We’re more creative and productive. We perform better, we’re happier overall and we’re alive at work.

“Our evolutionary tendency to disengage from tedious activities isn’t a bug in our mental makeup – it’s a feature,” says Cable. “It’s our body’s way of telling us that were designed to do better things, to keep exploring and learning.”

Bad things happen when we’re locked into tedious work and unable to explore and learn. Our seeker system shuts down. Work turns into a grinding and frustrating commute to the weekend. As neuroscience pioneer Jaak Panksepp puts it, “when the seeking systems are not active, human aspirations remain frozen in an endless winter of discontent.”

That discontent is reflected in ugly Gallup poll results that show the majority of us are disengaged and not contributing to our fullest potential at work. The lack of employee engagement isn’t a motivational problem, says Cable. It’s biological.

Organizations are failing employees by smothering their seeker systems with policies, procedures and processes. The rituals of SMART goals (specific, measurable, actionable, relevant and time-bound) and the fixed distribution of performance ratings fire up our fear systems and distract us from learning, taking risks and solving problems with new approaches.  Fear is kryptonite to our seeking systems, says Cable.

“Even though we may say we want employee creativity and innovation, we place even greater value on exploiting existing ideas and processes that are tried and true.”

It takes humble leaders to restart our seeker systems, says Cable. We need more leaders who’ll express feelings of uncertainty and humility, share their own developmental journeys and spend more time observing, listening and actively encouraging their teams to play to their strengths, experiment, explore and rediscover a sense of purpose with their work.

Being humble won’t just benefit the people you lead. “Finding ways to trigger employees’ seeking systems will do more than increase the enthusiasm, motivation, and innovation capabilities of your team,”says Cable. “By improving people’s lives, your own work as a leader will become more meaningful, activating your own seeking system.”

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999. 

The 4 keys to giving your customers something to talk about

triggerThis review first ran in the Oct. 27 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Talk Triggers: The Complete Guide to Creating Customers with Word of Mouth

By Jay Baer and Daniel Lemin

$36

Portfolio / Penguin

It’s the bonus chunk of kielbasa that comes with the mixed meat sandwich from Starpolskie’s Deli in East Hamilton.

It’s the Tim Horton’s gift card you’re given and told to use while your kid spends the next 90 minutes getting his braces put on at Taylor-Edwards Orthodontics.

It’s also the warm chocolate chip cookies at DoubleTree by Hilton, the Graduate Hotel room keys that look like college student ID cards, the free and unlimited soft drinks at Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari, the Cheesecake Factory menu that run to almost 6,000 words and the silver telephones at Umpqua Bank branches that connect directly to the president.

These are all examples of what Jay Baer and Daniel Lemin call talk triggers that drive word of mouth. None of us talk about a good customer experience. But we’ll rave online and off about something that’s different, unique and unexpected. Research shows that word of mouth drives five times more sales than advertising so smart organizations are deliberating engineering these conversations.

“Word of mouth is perhaps the most effective and cost-effective way to grow any company,” says Baer and Lemin. “We’re in an era where trust matters more than truth, and the truth is that your customers simply don’t trust you as much as they trust each other.

“The best organizations are purposefully crafting differentiators that get customers to tell authentic, visceral, trusted stories about the business and its products or services – stories that create new customers through referrals and recommendations.

“A unique selling proposition is a feature, articulated with a bullet point, that is discussed in a conference room,” says Baer and Lemin. “A talk trigger is a benefit, articulated with a story, that is discussed at a cocktail party. Done well, talk triggers clone your customers.”

So here’s how you do it well. Your talk trigger must be remarkable, relevant, repeatable and reasonable.

Take DoubleTree’s chocolate chip cookie. No other hotel chain gives away 75,000 cookies each day to every guest whenever they check in. The cookies are baked onsite and served warm. The free cookie reinforces DoubleTree’s brand promise of a warm welcome and triggers conversations. When surveyed about the hotel’s best attributes, guests rank the cookie just below friendly staff and comfortable beds and more than a third of guests tell others about the cookie.

DoubleTree’s talk trigger would be nothing more than a marketing and PR stunt if the cookies were only given away on the first Saturday of the month or during the holidays or just to Hilton Honors members or first-time guests or if a suitcase-sized cookie covered in gold leaf was given one-time only to a randomly chosen customer.

A talk trigger falls into one of five categories based on empathy, usefulness, generosity, speed or attitude. Choose the category that works best for your organization and come up with something unique. Same is lame, say Baer and Lemin.

There are then six steps for successfully launching your talk trigger. You start by gathering internal insights from marketing, sales and service and having this cross-departmental team sift through data about your customers, your business and the competition.

Get close to your customers to better understand what they really want.

Come up with four to six potential talk triggers and then assess for both complexity to deliver and customer impact. Focus on a trigger that has medium impact and complexity.

Now test and measure your talk trigger with a subset of customers. Is it spurring conversations, emails, online comments and reviews?

If your talk trigger gets people talking, roll it out across your entire organization to all your customers.

Finally, amplify your talk trigger through paid advertising so everyone knows both the what and they why. DoubleTree tells guests the cookie is part of their commitment to a warm welcome. Guests can also order the cookie dough and have it shipped to their homes.

Baer and Lemin show how any business or organization can drive word of mouth by doing something remarkable every time for every customer. They also offer their own talk trigger to readers. If you don’t like their book, just send Baer and Lemin a note and they’ll buy you whatever book you want. While it’s unlikely to get many takers, it’s the thought that counts and gets people talking.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

An introvert’s survival guide for mixing and mingling (review of Hiding in the Bathroom)

hidingThis review first ran in the Oct. 13 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert’s Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay Home)

By Morra Aarons-Mele

HarperCollins

$31.99

You’re about to walk into a room full of strangers for an hour of mixing and mingling.

Will you have a blast shaking hands, making small talk and swapping business cards?

Or will you repeatedly skip to the loo to screw up your courage, calm your nerves and recharge your batteries?

Morra Aarons-Mele feels your pain. The author of Hiding in the Bathroom is an extreme introvert and self-proclaimed hermit entrepreneur who’s spent a lifetime wrestling with mental health challenges.

“Given my natural inclinations, I would hide almost all the time,” says Aarons-Mele. “I would rarely chose to leave my house. But as extensive as my online network is, I could not sustain a business that way. So I’ve learned to get out, building in strategies and tricks that allay my anxieties and introversion while I’m at a professional gathering or client meeting, then creating home time to recharge, be on my own and do the work.”

So here are some of Aarons-Mele’s tried and tested tricks for surviving social situations like conferences, dinners and networking events that can exhaust and overwhelm an introvert.

Channel your inner Oprah. “If you feel alien, unworthy, shy or nervous in a room full of powerful players, pretend you’re there to report a story. Ask people lots of questions – this is your strength as an introvert.”

Remember you are there to work, not to make people like you. “You’re a grown-up, it’s not middle school and you don’t need everyone to sit with you anymore.”

Make someone else comfortable. Asking someone how they’re doing is the gateway drug to feeling comfortable, says Aarons-Mele.

Find a conference “spouse” for cocktail chatter and to kill time while standing in line.

Be prepared. “When I have to go out in public and be awesome, I’m training for the Olympics,” says Aarons-Mele, who puts together a briefing book for small talk and rehearses names before she walks into a room.

Connect and move on.  Master the art of the “cocktail bump” where you introduce people and then let the conversation go on while you slip away.

Chunk your time. Set a minimum target for how long you’ll be an event before you need a time-out to recharge.

Know what comes next at the conference or event. “The more you plan your schedule so you know you’re hitting what you need to, the calmer you’ll be and the quicker you can exit.”

Aarons-Mele also has strategies for avoiding social media’s twin plagues of achievement porn and FOMO (fear of missing out). “If you’re an anxious introvert, an Instagram picture can turn into a dagger. If only I were different I too would be invited to that party. I’d be getting that award. Instead, I’m hiding.”

Every time you feel left out or there’s a twinge of envy, remind yourself why what you’re doing is right for you. Turn FOMO into JOMO or the joy of missing out. Feel grateful for what you have instead of resentful for what you’re missing. You can also break the cycle of bragging by using online communities for getting and giving advice.

While introverts need to work at getting themselves out there, Aarons-Mele says employers must also do their part and recognize our skills and strengths.

“As we recognize neurological and emotional diversity in all its forms, workplace culture needs to begin to make room for the Technicolor range of emotion. Although so much has been done to promote diversity at work, there’s a giant hole in the understanding of how temperament and emotions play not just into our daily grind at the office, but into the very trajectory of success.

“It’s my fondest wish that managers and HR professionals begin to recognize the ambivalence and inner conflict that many insanely talented people feel. Because when they get the space they need, great employees have no reason to quit or feel miserable. Great things happen when teams are truly diverse and team members can be honest about who they truly are.”

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for The Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Why you need to be both a mentor and an intern at work (REVIEW)

wisdomThis review first ran in the Sept. 29 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Wisdom @Work: The Making of a Modern Elder

By Chip Conley

Crown Publishing

$36

The future belongs to those who give the next generation reason to hope.

Philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said it. And those of us in the back half of our careers are uniquely positioned to give this to our younger colleagues.

The timing’s right for elders to make a comeback in the workplace, says Chip Conley, author of Wisdom @ Work. Conley sold his boutique hotel business and joined Airbnb when he was 52 years old, working alongside 20-something digital natives and reporting to a CEO who was young enough to be his son.

Lots of us will find ourselves in similar situations at work. In 2002, 24.6 per cent of the American workforce was 50 years or older. That grew to 32.3 per cent in 2012 and could hit 40 per cent by 2032.

Every organization would be wise to adapt to an aging workforce and hire more people like Conley. Demographic diversity should be included along with gender and ethnicity as employers make the move to becoming more inclusive, welcoming and supportive organizations.

Along with providing “wisdom insurance” to young leaders, elders can offer high emotional intelligence, good judgment built on decades of experience, specialized knowledge, humility, holistic thinking, an ability to see the big picture and a vast network of contacts. Elders do a masterful job of combining know-how and know-who.

“In an era of machine intelligence, emotional intelligence and empathy – something older people have in spades – are more valuable than ever,” says Conley. “As we enter midlife, we embark upon a creative evolution that amplifies our specialness while editing out the extraneous. After a lifetime of accumulation, we can concentrate on what we do best, what gives us meaning and what we want to leave behind.”

Before signing on as an elder, you should know the job description’s changed. You’re no longer dispensing words of wisdom or being counted on to have all the clever answers. Instead, you’re now expected to be both a mentor and an intern. The transfer of knowledge needs to flow both ways.

So take a hard pass if you believe there’s nothing left for you to learn or if you think your primary responsibility is to provide adult supervision and be the only grown-up in the room.

“If you’re only making wise pronouncements from the pulpit, you’re unlikely to grow much of a congregation,” says Conley. “It’s time to stop with the generational name-calling and recognize we all have something to learn from each other.

“With five generations in today’s workplace, we can either operate as separate, isolationist countries with generation-specific dialects and talents co-existing on one continent, or we can find ways to bridge these generational borders and delight in learning from people both older and younger than us.”

To succeed as an elder, Conley says we must be willing and able to evolve, learn, collaborate and provide counsel.  “Being a Modern Elder is all about reciprocity. Giving and receiving. Teaching and learning. Speaking and listening. Everyone gets older, but not everyone gets elder. The first just happens (if you’re lucky and healthy). The other you have to earn.”

Conley’s written a playbook for those of us who want to be a teacher, mentor, student and intern. Why be a carton of milk with an expiration date when you can be a bottle of wine that gets better, and more valuable, with age.

The last word goes to Airbnb cofounder and CEO Brian Chesky, who wisely hired Conley and leaned on him as an elder. “When you open your eyes, ears and heart, you’ll find that everybody has a story worth hearing. And if you’re paying close enough attention, someday your story could help others write their own.”

@jayrobb serves as director of communications at Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

The 8 expectations you must meet when a crisis hits your organization (REVIEW)

This review first ran in the Sept. 15 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Crisis Ready

By Melissa Agnes

Mascot Books

$34

The answer to the question “can people really be that stupid?” is always yes.

I keep this reminder in a frame beside my phone at work.

You may want to get one too for your office.

desk

Even if your organization is blessed and loaded with really smart people, it takes just one employee to ignite a crisis by saying or doing something illegal, unethical, immoral or wildly inappropriate.

You should also assume it’s been captured on video. It’s one of the rules in a new book by crisis management expert Melissa Agnus.

The world watched a dazed and bloodied Dr. David Dao get dragged off an overbooked flight so a United Airlines crew member could take his seat. We saw an Uber driver get berated by former CEO Travis Kalanick. And we lost our appetite over a video of two Domino’s Pizza workers who grossly violated every imaginable health code standard.

“We got blindsided by two idiots with a video camera and an awful idea,” a Domino’s spokesman told the New York Times. “Even people who’ve been with us as loyal customers for 10, 15, 20 years, people are second-guessing their relationship with Domino’s, and that’s not fair.”

It may not be fair but it’s the reality for every organization.

When a video goes viral and spawns a crisis, there are eight expectations you must immediately meet if your organization has any shot at minimizing the financial and reputational hit. It took United Airlines two days to issue a public apology. In those two days, the airline’s market capitalization fell by $1.4 billion in pre-market trading.

  1. Notify your key stakeholders immediately and directly. If they matter to your organization, they need to hear the bad news from you first and not through the media or social media.
  2. Be transparent. Your attempted cover-up will be worse than the crime. “A mistake can be forgiven. The appearance of a cover-up will not be,” says Agnus.
  3. Deliver timely, consistent communication. “The longer you wait to communicate in a crisis, the more risk there is of the crisis spiralling out of control, and the more you risk losing trust and credibility.”
  4. Listen and validate feelings and emotions. In a crisis, emotion will always overpower reason. “If you want your message to be heard by emotional people, they need to feel as though you truly care about them, the situation, and its consequences.”
  5. Engage in two-way communication. “Gone are the days when you could deliver your statement, turn around, walk away, and go back to managing the incident behind the scenes.” In a crisis, we’ll be on social media, expecting real-time, back-and-forth dialogue.
  6. Communicate as a human and not as a lawyer or a logo. Yes, you’ll need a legal strategy to deal with a crisis but Agnus says it can’t be the public face of your response. Never leave stakeholders with the impression that covering your legal liability is your number one priority.
  7. Answer the most pertinent and pressing questions. “The longer you take to give people the answers to their primary concerns, the more frustration and loss of trust you will experience against your organization.”
  8. Hold yourself accountable and responsible. Prove that you’re serious about righting wrongs and committed to change. “People aren’t fooled by meaningless words, no matter how good they may sound.”

It’s no longer good enough to just have a crisis management plan, says Agnus. “It used to be that organizations – the smart ones, anyway – would create a crisis management plan, store it on a shelf or in a file, and rest assured that if a crisis were to strike they would be ready, as they had a plan just waiting to be activated. Today, choosing to rely on a crisis management plan is no longer sufficient. In fact, it puts you at a disadvantage.”

Instead what you need is an organization-wide and deep-rooted culture where your people are taught and empowered to mitigate risks, meet expectations and make smart decisions in real time.

“Crisis management isn’t a linear strategy,” says Agnus. “Unforeseeable, unexpected developments will occur, sometimes amplifying the challenges and other times lightening the load. You want to get your team to a level of preparedness that is instinctive, rather than solely being dependent on a linear plan that cannot possibly account for all the variations, bumps and turns that may present themselves.”

Agnus shows how to get a crisis ready program in place before you get the call about someone behaving badly and putting your organization’s reputation at risk.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications at Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

The 3 phases for getting customers to know you, like you and trust you (REVIEW)

marketing planThis review first ran in the Sept. 1 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The 1-Page Marketing Plan: Get New Customers, Make More Money and Stand Out From the Crowd

By Allan Dib

Successwise

$19.95

You deep fry Hamilton’s best donuts. You bake the city’s best bread, brew the best craft beer or serve the best burgers and fries.

You’re Steeltown’s most talented stylist, photographer, event planner or yoga instructor.

But we won’t know that you’re the best or the most talented until we buy what you’re selling. Until then, we only know how good you are from your marketing.

And the best marketer wins every time, says Allan Dib, a serial entrepreneur and author of The 1-Page Marketing Plan.

A compelling argument can be made that Grandad’s Donuts at the corner of James North and Burlington Street sells Hamilton’s best donuts. Yet it’s Donut Monster on Locke Street that sells Hamilton’s best marketed donuts. Donut Monster has nearly 9,000 followers on Facebook and almost 4,000 followers on Twitter while Grandad’s has 4,000 Facebook followers and 463 followers on Twitter.

It’s the quality of your products or services that keeps us coming back as customers. It’s the effectiveness of your marketing that brings us through your doors for the first time. Marketing is how we get to know you, like you and trust you.

“The graveyards of failed businesses are full of businesses that had excellent products and services,” says Dib. “For the most part they failed because those running them didn’t pay enough attention to marketing. By far the biggest leverage point in any business is marketing. If you get 10 per cent better at marketing, this can have an exponential or multiplying effect on your bottom line. “

Don’t try copying the marketing strategies of your larger, more established competitors. Dib warns that entrepreneurs and small business owners don’t have the money, staff or time for building brand awareness.

Instead, you need to find the fastest path to making money.

Dib maps out that path in a one-page, at-a-glance marketing plan that can be filled out in less than 30 minutes. It’s a plan with three phases and each phase has a different marketing focus.

The first phase is all about getting prospects to know that you exist. You’re identifying a target market, crafting a compelling message and delivering that message through advertising media.

Believing that everyone is your target market is a newbie marketing mistake, says Dib. “Being all things to all people leads to marketing failure. Targeting a tight niche allows you to become a big fish in a small pond. It allows you to dominate a category or geography in a way that is impossible to being general.”

The next phase in your marketing journey is about getting people to like you. We become interested in what you’re selling and we’re thinking about buying from you for the first time. Your focus is on capturing leads, delivering value-building information and then converting leads into customers.

Your third and final phase is all about getting us to trust you so we become loyal, repeat customers and raving fans who’ll refer you to family and friends. You’re focused on delivering a world-class experience, increasing the lifetime value of your customers and orchestrating and stimulating referrals.

Approximately half of all small businesses fail. Many of the survivors limp along, with owners taking an involuntary vow of poverty. Dib’s marketing plan won’t save you from this fate if there’s no compelling reason for you to be in business beyond paying the bills. “If you haven’t first clarified in your mind why your business exists and why people should buy from you rather than your nearest competitor, marketing will be an uphill battle.”

As to how much money you should spend on marketing, Dib makes the case for having an unlimited budget. The key is to know where to invest. If every dollar you spend on marketing keeps bringing in more than a dollar worth of business, think of it as your legal money printing press and crank it up.

“It’s time to decide to become a great marketer and transform yourself from a business owner to a marketer who owns a business,” says Dib. “Once you make this exciting transformation, you and your business will never be the same again.”

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

8 steps to turn your potential into high performance (review)

This review first ran in the Aug. 18 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.eight steps

Eight Steps to High Performance

By Marc Effron

Harvard Business Review Press

$39

There will always be someone who’s smarter than you.

And there’ll be someone who’s been blessed with better genes and looks, a more winning personality and a life of privilege thanks to mom and dad or their grandparents.

You can feel cheated. You can be resentful. You can feel sorry for the hand you’ve been dealt.

Or you can outperform pretty much everyone else by focusing on what Marc Effron calls our flexible 50 per cent.

Our unchangeable fixed 50 per cent includes our intelligence, core personality and socioeconomic background.

Our changeable flexible 50 per cent is all about how we set goals, behave, develop, network, present ourselves and manage our sleep. Your fixed 50 will only take you so far. It’s your flexible 50 that turns potential into high performance.

When it comes to becoming a high performer, there’s no shortage of well-meaning advice from books, bosses, family, friends and the Internet.

“Our quest for high performance is often guided by trial and error, as we do what we think is right and then hope for the best results,” says Effron, founder and president of the Talent Strategy Group.

Instead, Effron has identified eight science-based steps to becoming a high performer:

  • Set big goals and adopt a fewer, bigger mindset. “High performers want to meaningfully overachieve in the areas that matter most to the company – they promise big and deliver big.”
  • Behave to perform. “High performers work hard to identify the most productive behaviors, learn new behaviors where needed, and stop showing the less helpful ones.”
  • Grow yourself faster. Adhere to the 70 / 20 / 10 rule. Seventy per cent of your professional growth will come from your work experiences, 20 per cent will come from interactions with others and 10 per cent will come from formal education. To grow faster, identify which work experiences matter most to your organization and do as many of them as quickly as you can. Get both feedback and what Effron calls feedforward.
  • Build networks both inside and outside of work. “Those who connect more effectively have higher performance because they’re able to get more insights, favours and answers from more people.”
  • Maximize your fit. You’re more likely to succeed when your capabilities align with the needs of your organization. “It’s this fit, not just individual brilliance, that science says helps predict strong performance.” Know that as the needs of your organization change, so too must your capabilities.
  • Fake it. “A high performer needs to understand and display the few most powerful behaviors needed at that moment. Since you have a preferred way of behaving, you’re faking it any time you consciously display a behavior that doesn’t agree with your preferences.”
  • Commit your body. Science shows sleep matters most to our performance, exercise matters a little and diet has no measurable effect. Pay attention to both the quality and the quantity of sleep. Six to seven hours of shuteye is the sweetspot.
  • Avoid distractions. Steer clear of the too-good-to-be true performance fads that defy common sense and promise easy fixes. Effron advises against focusing on your strengths and says that science shows emotional intelligence doesn’t predict leadership success, a growth mindset is great for children and power posing is possibly the dumbest management fad to ever grace a TED Talk stage.

You can start taking these eight performance-boosting steps at any time, whether you’re at the front or back end of a career that’s on an upward trajectory or has stalled out and left you in a rut.

“The eight steps are straightforward, but they are not easy,” says Effron.  “Achieving them will take meaningful effort and personal sacrifice. High performance is a choice. Focus on what you can change and ignore the rest.”

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and lives in Hamilton.

The 3 types of leaders who make us quit (and the 2 who inspire us to stay)

great placeThis review first ran in the Aug. 4 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

A Great Place to Work For All

By Michael Bush

Berrett-Koehler Publishers

$25.95

You may want to see what’s being said about your organization on Glassdoor.

It’s a website that combines job postings with reviews from current and former employees. They rate your organization on work-life balance, culture and values, career opportunities, compensation and benefits and senior management. They also leave  comments on the pros and cons of working for you.

When the reviews are bad, lousy leaders are invariably to blame.

These leaders dwell at the bottom of five levels identified by the Great Places to Work research team. The team pulled data from hundreds of companies and 75,000 employees.

“A great place to work for all must have great managers for all,” says Michael Bush, CEO of Great Places to Work. “When leaders are more inclusive, more inspiring and more caring, they win on outcomes like talent retention, innovation and revenue growth.”

But when they’re clueless, cruel and confidence killers, they’re unintentional leaders. They’re often star performers who got put into leadership roles despite underwhelming or non-existent interpersonal skills. “These are leaders who don’t seem conscious of the impact they have on others, so their behavior can hurt the people they work with and the organization,” says Bush. “Employees reporting to an unintentional leader might feel like passengers on a bus whose driver doesn’t have a destination in mind and doesn’t tell the passengers what’s going on.”

While we join organizations, we quit unintentional leaders and two other lackluster types.

quit

Hit and miss leaders run hot and cold and don’t always step up. Life is good if you’re one of the leader’s favourites and it’s like your worst day of high school if you’re on the outside looking in. “They don’t actively hurt an organization but neither are they actively supporting their team or performing their duties to the extent the organization needs.”

Transactional leaders get the job done and nothing more. “They are mainly concerned with checking tasks off a to-do list or hitting key performance indicators and consequently are not as forward-thinking or charismatic as leaders at higher levels.” These by-the-book leaders value getting things done over talking to people which leaves them with few, if any, personal connections. These leaders will have no idea and zero interest in learning what you do outside of work. You should get paid time and a half whenever you try to engage in small talk with a transactional leader who has all the warmth and personality of a bag of ice.

Good leaders are consistent, inclusive and sincere. They’re easy to talk to, understanding and fair. Employees will stick with the organization if they work for a good leader. If there’s a downside to good leaders, Bush says it’s their tendency to believe the ultimate responsibility for reaching goals lies with them and not their team. “Leaders at this level must abandon any ego attached to being the boss, and subsume their own interests in the service of helping others shine.”

The gold standard are what Bush calls “for all” leaders. These are those rare dream bosses who get the absolute most out of their teams and inspire loyalty and full engagement. No one leaves their teams and everyone wants to join. They prefer to lead from behind so the people who report to them will shine and do their best work. “For all leaders make everyone feel welcome and treated fairly and establish a strong sense of collaboration within teams as well as through different areas of the organization. They stand out for their ability to reduce politicking and favouritism to nearly imperceptible levels, perhaps because they do a great job of getting feedback from everyone and involving them in decisions.”

Most important, “for all” leaders go beyond the boundaries of business. They use their leadership position and profile to help promote positive societal change, from closing gender pay gaps to championing environmental sustainability and fighting racism. They speak up and take stands on issues that are important to employees, their families and society.

“The new frontier in business is about improving results by developing every ounce of human potential,” says Bush. His book shows how leaders can step up their game to develop that potential, turn their organizations into great places to work and earn top marks from current and former employees.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

 

Are you answering what your customers wonder and worry about? (REVIEW)

they askThis review first ran in the July 21 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

They Ask You Answer

By Marcus Sheridan

Wiley

$30

Marcus Sheridan was on the brink of financial ruin.

The bank was calling. His credit cards were maxed out. His employees were sitting at home wondering if they still had a job.

Sheridan’s company installed fiberglass swimming pools. Finding homeowners willing and able to spend $50,000 on a pool was a tough sell in the aftermath of 2008’s global financial crisis.

Sheridan needed a miracle. “Unless we found a way to garner more leads and sales than we’d ever had, even though there were fewer potential buyers (because of this economy) than ever before, we were going to go out of business within a matter of months.”

The miracle arrived when Sheridan made his company a teacher of fiberglass swimming pools. Sheridan became obsessed with answering questions with fierce honesty. While competitors talked about themselves, Sheridan focused on addressing what prospective buyers were wondering, worrying and asking about.

They ask, we answer became Sheridan’s business philosophy and it saved his company.

lion question markHe started publishing articles and posting videos every week to his company’s website.

“How much does a fiberglass pool cost?” was one of the first articles to go up on the website. Pricing and cost were not something that pool builders posted on their websites. “The fact that no one had addressed this question meant a blue ocean of opportunity for the business,” says Sheridan. “The marketplace was dying for someone to be open and honest enough to address this question and so that’s exactly what we did.”

Sheridan also posted articles where he acknowledged that fiberglass swimming pools weren’t for every customer and even made referrals to other local installers.

Sheridan tracked what prospective customers did after reading and watching the content he posted online. The more content they consumed, the more likely they were to become customers.

His article on the cost of fiberglass pools would generate $3 million in new sales.

“Without exaggeration, this single article saved my business. It saved my home. It saved the homes of my two business partners. It also saved the jobs of all our employees.”

In 2007, Sheridan’s company sold 75 pools after meeting with 250 prospective customers for a closing ratio of 30 per cent.

By 2013 and with a website full of content, that closing ratio jumped to 79 per cent as appointments with 120 homeowners resulted in 95 sales. Sheridan’s team met with far fewer prospects yet sold more pools.

On average, the 95 customers who bought pools had reviewed 105 pages of content posted to the company website. They were well-informed and ready to buy when they met with Sheridan and his team.

Sheridan also discovered that the overwhelming majority of prospects who looked at less than 30 pages of content prior to an appointment never made a purchase. Care and attention could then be redirected to providing even better service to customers.

Whatever product or service you sell and whether you’re in the private, public or non-profit sectors, Sheridan says you are first and foremost a media company. To earn our trust and our money, you first need to show us your story, your company culture in action and the people who work for you. Customers are vetting businesses more deeply than ever before and we want to know what you believe and why you believe it.

Get everyone involved in drawing up a list of all the questions and concerns that you’ve heard from customers. Sheridan recommends hiring someone with journalism training who knows how to create clear and compelling content and work to deadline.

“As consumers, we expect to be fed great information,” says Sheridan. “Are you willing to meet their expectations? Or would you prefer that the competition be the one who answers the question for them? Remember, they’re going to get their answers from someone, so wouldn’t you prefer they get their answers from you?”

Sheridan is now the founder and president of a coaching and consulting firm that helps other companies create customer-focused content that drives sales.

His book gives you permission to do what you’ve always known your business should be doing to win customers. Quit talking about yourself. Instead, be the best teacher within your industry. Obsess over your customers’ questions and concerns. And win their trust and their business by answering with fierce honesty.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Media relations 101 for entrepreneurs

My colleague Jane Allison and I got to spend a morning with entrepreneurs participating in the 2018 Lion’s Lair competition organized by the Innovation Factory in Hamilton, Ontario.

We offered up media relations advice to an amazing group of job creators, prosperity builders, problem solvers and change makers.

Jane and I have been running free media relations workshops since 2007 as a way to thank non-profits, community groups and entrepreneurs who have inspiring stories to share.