All posts by admin

Networking NO-NOs

Have you noticed that you are receiving MUCH more invitations to networking events than you ever did before? It’s no accident. With the job market in upheaval and so many people starting their own businesses these days, more people are pursuing more networking opportunities than ever before.

The problem is, many people DON’T know the first thing about working a networking event SUCCESSFULLY.

Instead of going into a networking event with the mindset that you are going to “sell” to people at all costs about yourself and/or your company products and services, try a different approach…

…ask people what the most critical challenges are that they face. Ask them how the depressed economy has hurt their prospects, their job search, their business. Find out from them what are the greatest challenges they face in growing a business, generating leads, introducing new products to market, advertising/promotions, retaining staff, expanding their business into new markets, etc. Your approach when it comes to networking is to be as interesting and interested in others as possible.

Research who will be in attendance before you go to a networking event. Most people have bios written about themselves, either on a social media site such as LinkedIn or Facebook, or they have a bio on their company website, a panel dsicussion they participated in, a professional Association they belong to, etc.

The more you learn about others beforehand and then during an event, the more likely you will be to make a great first impression. Always approach a networking event as an opportunity to build relationships and add value to others.

Someone who can help people resolve their own issues by generating revenues, reducing costs, improving processes, or just plain old solving others’ problems will be extremely successful. If you take the approach of forcing yourself on someone, the desperation in your approach will come through loud and clear. People will almsot assuredly go out of their way to avoid you or choose not to pursue a relationship with you.

What are your thoughts? Any great networking tips or HORROR STORIES?

Why Customer Care Stinks in this Country

Why is it that with jobs so scarce and so many extremely gifted people out of work these days, are the ones in the service sector (customer service, retail, and hospitality) so pathetically disengaged and horrible at their jobs?

Have you noticed that nowadays when you have someone wait on you in a restaurant, or go into a store to make a purchase, or go to a teller at your bank, or the super market, or the Post Office…etc, that the people in these “SERVICE” based settings that are tasked with HELPING (“serving”) the public so sullen, inarticulate, lazy, foul-mouthed, and disengaged?

It used to be that receiving awful service was a 50-50 proposition. Toss a coin…heads you get passable service, tails you get a lousy experience. Now it seems like virtually EVERY experience you have is awful.

As we moved from a manufacturing, production-based economy to a service-based economy, you would have thought we would have gotten better as providing service. But in fact we’ve gotten much worse.

Why do you think that is?

When Do We Admit We're in a Depression?

With all of the bad economic news we have been hammered with for the last year and a half, I wonder when we as a Nation can finally admit that we are in a Depression?

Certainly, there are no new Hoovervilles in Central Park (NYC), people have not been reduced to carrying money around in wheel barrels or jumping out of windows by the thousands. But when millions of Americans have quit looking for work, are working without insurance, and degreed professionals are struggling to maintain full-time jobs at a minimum wage, such a condition surely exists in spirit, if not in name.

When life savings are destroyed, retirement accounts decimated, future jobs prospects bleak at best, trusted manufacturing jobs a distant memory, and many once core American competencies outsourced to other nations and we have become a Debtor nation, we have to ask ourselves if we are in this nation’s second Great Depression?

The nature of work has changed in our society. We have transitioned from a once proud Nation that built things, sent astronauts to the Moon and built a Great Society, to the Twenty First Century contract-based, shrinking economy. Loyalty from employers to employees no longer exists. The notion of guaranteed employment is gone. There is NO guarantee that our children or grandchilren will be better off than we were.

When many once proud American institutions from Lehman Brothers to AIG, General Motors to Fannie Mae teter on the brink of failure and require Government bail-outs for their survival, what should we call this period in American history if not a Depression?

What do you think?

The Need For a Human Capital Audit

One of the most powerful tools available to small business owners is the “Human Capital Audit“. The human capital audit is a process I teach business owners to use, in order to most effectively leverage the specific skill sets, past experience, and core competencies of each and every employee in the company.

For each employee, look at their current roles and responsibilities. Then, identify their core competencies. What are their key strengths? Based on their day-to-day functions, ask yourself which core competencies they are using. It is absolutely critical that each employee be placed in a position in which they are performing ALL of the tasks that they are most skilled at. Where you identify areas for your employees to begin doing new tasks that fall into their skill set “sweet spot”, you need to develop a plan including a time frame to have them implementing these new skills, a set of metrics to measure their performance in these new areas, and identify the resources required to make this new part of their day to day functions a reality.

As you introduce these new skill sets into your people’s repertoires, you need to also determine any contingencies that might affect their ability to perform these tasks, perhaps finding mentors and other training assets you can provide for them.

This is a very easy, highly effective and tremendously powerful tool to leverage in these tough economic times. But to make the human capital audit work for your company, it needs to be implemented across the ENTIRE company, form senior management to front-line personnel, and it has to be developed as a company process that is NOT punitive, but a way to make employees, happier, more engaged in the success of the company, and a means to increase employee retentiaon by aligning their work processes withtheir strengths and interests.

What do you think?

Our Visionary Corporate Leadership

It’s been quite a decade for our Captains of American industry.

598k jobs were lost in January, the fifth striaght month that the American workforce lost more than 400k jobs. 2.6M jobs disappeared in 2008. That’s more jobs than in any other year since 1945.

Let’s start our tour by checking in on banking, which is in a state of ruin. Their reckless lending practices have led to the current sub-prime mortgage fiasco, which began in 2007 and has turned the collective American dream of home ownership into a nightmare. American Insurance Group, at one time one of the world’s most powerful insurance companies, reported losses from the mortgage crisis of up to $5 billion.

Those bastions of visionary leadership in the financial services industry have not fared much better of late. For proof, one only has to look at Merrill Lynch and Citigroup, who had to go seeking investments from Asian and Middle Eastern Governments last year to improve their balance sheets. U.S. investment bank Bear Stearns collapse is epic, even by Depression-era standards. Its stock price dropped from a high of $169 to $2 last year, and it had to be bought by J.P. Morgan with backing from the U.S. Federal Reserve.

And then there is automobile manufacturing, struggling to compete and failing miserably for nearly thirty years with aggressive foreign competitors and shifting market conditions. It got so bad for GM last year that at one point it announced a $15.5B quarterly losses, third most in its 100-year history. Ford Motor Company announced a loss of $8.7B, Chrysler decided to stop leasing cars and trucks, and GMAC announced a $2.5B second quarter loss. Then GM and Chrysler went backing for cash to remain in existence in 2009.

Cable and telecom companies have practiced their own fair share of questionable business practices, such as price gauging their customers by charging them for hundreds of unused channels of content or burying inexplicable surcharges and taxes in overwhelmingly complicated monthly consumer statements.

Even more unsettling than the incompetence of American business leaders has been the seeming proliferation in a lack of ethics that American business leaders exhibit to excess. Senior executives at Enron, Tyco, Adelphia, Global Crossing, etc. merely reinforced the belief that business leaders use their companies as a tool to ensure their personal financial well being at the expense of their employees and all other considerations.

Given all of this bad economic news spread across the American business landscape, now seems an IDEAL time to ponder whether anyone in corporate leadership is awake at the wheel.
We have to ask ourselves who will step forward from today’s American enterprise to lead with vision? American companies seem devoid of any ability to combat global economic threats and paradigm shifts. The “C” suite of Corporate America is sputtering and flailing for a lifeline, grasping at desperate acts such as outsourcing and off-shoring many of their core functions. Their knee-jerk decisions are aimed solely at achieving ill-defined, short term gains. Business leaders in most industries and sectors seem to only have one solution to deal with rapidly changing economic challenges, that being massive layoffs.

Our military industrial complex is comprised of companies that (intentionally or not) allow significant military secrets to migrate to global powers such as China, India and The former Soviet Union as we outsource key top secret development to them as we pander to gain access to their markets.

All this begs the question, what is going on in the mind of the American CEO? The answer today remains the same as it did at the turn of the last century…the sole pursuit of profit at any and all costs. When will American business be driven by ethical visionaries with a moral compass and the fortitude to tackle problems with creative new solutions, make knee jerk reactions that only serve to ensure their own economic situation? Only time will tell, and unfortunately the business leaders guiding our future have not established a stellar track record to garner much hope.

If the chief executive of a company performs so poorly they are urged to resign by the company’s board, they are allowed to sail off in the sunset5 with golden parachutes of millions of dollars.

On the bright side, there is ONE industry that seems to be doing quite well for itself of late, as evidenced by Exxon Mobile’s second quarter 2008 earnings reached a record high of $11.68 Billion. British Petroleum also reported record second quarter 2008 profits of $9.46 Billion, as did Royal Dutch Shell at $11.56 Billion. It seems like the $4 per gallon gas threshold being breached in 2008 before coming back down to $2 didn’t hurt ALL of America’s industries.

At least we can drown ourselves in the mind-numbing insipid formulaic unreality of our reality TV.

Employee Training and Development Program

Your people are your business. They are the heart and soul of your company’s brand, the front line facing clients, your image, the company’s face behind your products and services…everything! Therefore, a top priority for your business should always be the development of your employees.

Before you develop an in-house training and development program, you will need to conduct an up-front skills assessment to identify specific metrics that will be employed, in order to define a successful program and to objectively assess employee increase in some pre-defined level of performance before and after the employee completes the program. Some metrics to apply when assessing the success of the training program on employee performance include:

Increase in company standardized test scores
Increases in productivity
Feedback from program attendees’ managers
Improvements in performance as defined in specific skill categories

Some examples of how a Training Program can impact performance across the Functional areas of your business include:

Increase in data entry skills or a reduction in errors for administrative support staff

Increase in calls handled over a given time period, decrease in average per call time or increase in the number of calls successfully handled in a single session for customer care professionals

An increase in the number of records processed by medical billing professionals

The selection requirements used to identify standards for employee participants need to be documented and communicated to your entire organization, to foster an inclusive program. You need to avoid the perception of, or the actual preferential treatment of, certain departments by including all employees.

Two types of skill sets for development include hard and soft skills are ideal for development:

Soft skills: Communications skills, team-building, problem-solving, presentation skills, project management skills, negotiating tactics, etc. These skills cannot be measured quantifiably.

Hard skills: Task-oriented training to accomplishment specific technical requirements, measurable skill sets required from the job.

Training requirements vary by industry and by functional area so you will need to establish a program that adequately addresses the specific needs of a broad range of program participants. Some standards to apply include:

Manufacturing firms require skills in kaizen-style lean manufacturing processes, which demand entirely new skill sets for production line workers to acquire.

Companies in logistics management (ex. freight forwarders and shipping companies) need skills in all of the latest inventory management tracking and product flow management techniques.

Finance professionals need to remain on top of the latest applicable regulations i.e. Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, ACH Check 21 rules and regulations, etc.

Prior to each session, the candidates enrolled in the campaign should have their performance review evaluated, with an emphasis on areas identified requiring improvement. The Train Me program committee assigned to implement the program should also revisit each participants’ goals and objectives for the year, and the roles and responsibilities identified in the employees’ job posting in order to determine potential areas for development.