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  • feedwordpress 12:35:19 on 2019/03/13 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , Philadelphia Business Journal   

    How to Make Your Customers Sparkle 


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    My husband and I have been loyal to the same dry cleaner for nearly three decades. Run by a husband and wife, we’ve discussed local issues, cars, the weather and then some. The owner’s son and our son are the same age and went to school together. We refer to them as Mr. and Mrs. Sparkle because their business is called Sparkle Cleaners. Yet, recently it occurred to us, that after all these years, we don’t know their real names.

    I find this a bit embarrassing. How can you interact with people for so long and not know their names? It would easier if we recently met and couldn’t remember their names. Or, if we saw them infrequently, perhaps we could just ask them. Since that’s not the case, asking would be very awkward not to mention insulting.

    I recently read an article suggesting that forgetting someone’s name can send a signal that you aren’t interested enough to bother remembering them. A psychologist quoted in the article says it’s like telling someone they’re a zero.

    Now I really feel bad.

    So, I started to think about how this spills over into the work world. For example, my husband isn’t very good at remembering names even after he’s met people a few times. How does that make someone else feel? At work, could he be perceived as not interested or not paying attention?

    Interestingly, he’s not alone and the experts agree it’s not his fault. Psychologists say name recall isn’t a strong suit for everyone. Because names are random and not always associated with something visual, some brains struggle to remember them. Mix that up with health issues, lack of sleep and whether or not you were fully attentive all play a part.

    At work, people can be less forgiving than in social circles. Even though you felt like you were paying attention while someone was speaking, clinical psychologist Dr. Josh Klapow says it’s likely you weren’t really listening to what was being said.

    “You were looking at them, observing them, noticing them and your visual senses were overriding your auditory senses,” says Klapow. “You heard the name, but it didn’t commit to memory the way the person’s facial features did.”

    Not to mention how busy our brains are. They get so full of information that we push the so called less important things aside.

    What happens if you don’t work at freeing up space in that brain to remember names at work and get to know a little about your colleagues? For example, where did they grow up? Do they have kids? Hobbies? Where did they last work? What types of projects are they interested in?

    This is far more than small talk. It signals that you are genuinely interested in team members, employees, customers and others you may interact with. There is a difference between asking prying questions and personal questions. Prying questions about intimacy, family problems or your financial picture can be too personal. Questions that help you learn about someone’s likes, dislikes and interests help you learn about people. Taking an interest in colleagues can help build trust, rapport and foster a sense of community at work.

    That seems to be true at Sparkle Cleaners. I’ve noticed those who work there seem to care about me. If I have a tough stain, they want to know how it happened and then they go the extra mile to remove it. If a button is missing on an article of clothing, they sew it back on without charge. Even in the heat of summer working in unairconditioned shop, they never complain. Instead they enthusiastically ask about our family, activities and how we’re holding up in the heat.

    They can certainly teach us a few things about communicating in the workplace.

    Attitude

    A good attitude goes a long way. Being friendly, pleasant and helpful even on a tough day is a lot nicer than greeting people with a cranky scowl.

    Extra Mile

    Tackling an extra task, staying late or taking time out of your jammed schedule to help someone else and not expecting anything in return shows that you care. It also tells colleagues and customers that they are a priority.

    No Excuses

    It’s easy to complain about circumstances or make excuses for why you can’t get something done. It’s more rewarding to accept responsibility and put the emphasis on your customers.

    As a leader or owner, you’ll benefit from increased business and referrals. You’ll also reap a great deal of respect because you’ve respected others by prioritizing their satisfaction. That makes them feel valued.

    As I was writing this article, I decided to take my own advice and make the Sparkles feel more valued too. So, I drove to the dry cleaner. They were surprised because I had just been there so there was nothing for me to pick up. That’s when I came clean. I told them after all these years, I was embarrassed that I didn’t know their real names.

    They introduced themselves as Young and Sung Suh. As we started talking, I learned they named their business Sparkle because they want to make your clothes sparkle.

    I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t asked and listened. When you communicate and take an interest in others, you also gain a better understanding of your customers and colleagues. 

    Young and Sung Suh do far more than make clothes sparkle. They make their customers sparkle as well.

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  • feedwordpress 20:26:55 on 2019/01/21 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Philadelphia Business Journal, Pickleball   

    What Pickleball Can Teach You About Business 


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    I play pickleball. For those of you not familiar with perhaps the fastest growing sport in America, it’s a cross between tennis and ping-pong played on a badminton-sized court with a tennis style net that’s about a quarter of the size of a tennis court.

    However, this is not tennis, not even close. Unlike tennis, it’s played with a small, solid paddle and plastic whiffle ball. And, unlike tennis that typically requires reserving court time and bringing others to play, pickleball is a meet up game. That means in communities where people play, there is open court time. You don’t have to know anyone and don’t have to bring anyone. You just show up and play.

    It’s also incredibly addictive. Picklers like myself, will go to great lengths to rearrange their schedules to be available for those meet up times. Additionally, some people, especially retirees play every day. I would if I could, but I’m not there yet, though I do play often. My husband has started calling himself a ‘pickleball widower’. He plays a bit too, though I’m more of a pickleball addict.

    There are a lot of nice players in my group of neighborhood picklers. Robin takes her time returning the ball, strategically aiming for the far corners. Gary is tall, so he’s worked on perfecting his lob shot. Greg is very safety conscious, clearing leaves and debris from the court and always arrives early to squeegee away any puddles that may be left over from the rain.

    Then there’s Andy. Andy is a nice guy, but he hasn’t mastered the art of the game, specifically the dink. That’s a pickleball term for trying to position the ball just over the net, which can give you an advantage. Instead, Andy continually slams the ball, sometimes yelling ‘kill it’. The end result is many missed points and lost games as he hits the ball into the net or out of bounds.

    Andy reminds me of the guy at work who makes his own rules. Instead of focusing on a long-range goal that includes teamwork, strategy and the basics needed to maximize outcomes, he is short-sighted and focused only on the moment at hand.

    When you concentrate on ‘I’ and not on ‘we’, you’re setting yourself up to fail.

    In pickleball, advanced players will tell you to prepare for the slam by keeping your paddle up. You have no way to return a fast slam if your paddle is below the net or down by your knees. At work, you need to prepare, plan and anticipate the needs and reactions of prospects and clients or you’ll be caught off guard.

    In pickleball, experts will tell you instead of making the game more complex by trying to slam winning shots, keep it simple by going back to basics, such as getting it over the net. At work, it’s not that different. As your expertise expands, you will become more valuable to those around you.

    In sports or in business, it’s natural to focus on our selves. We want to develop skills to improve our game or get promoted at work. However, we shouldn’t do so at the expense of our teammates or co-workers. When we focus on executing shots more effectively on the court or in the boardroom, we have a better chance of hitting them where we want them to land.  

    Comparing sports to business is hardly new. You can google endless articles, books and videos on the subject. However, the excellent examples I see inside corporate meeting rooms every day is not that different from what I used to observe when my son first played soccer.

    He was four years old and his team played against a girl who lived across the street. They were best friends and wanted to be on the same team but were not. She used to tell him that when she grew up she was going to marry him. (she married someone else). On this particular day as my son’s team was moving in one direction and her team was moving in another direction, their eyes met, they grabbed hands and began skipping down the field together. When you’re four, it’s cute.

    We can also learn from these four-year old’s, specifically what I call the three C’s.

    Collaboration

    Collaboration, interaction and building relationships with the other side goes a long way. When you interact with people who are different than you, you’re exposed to new ideas, insights and opinions. This can stimulate productivity, enthusiasm and unique approaches to problem solving.

    Characters

    Every office has a cast of characters. Some are leaders while others follow. All have different backgrounds. What’s most important is to respect their quirks and personalities. We don’t all approach issues the same way. There isn’t always a right and a wrong, but there are other ways to accomplish goals.

    Communication

    The importance of communicating on the field or in the office can’t be understated. Communication allows colleagues to build trust, credibility and permits people to speak openly without fear of being judged. The more we communicate, the more approachable we appear.

    Whether playing pickleball, soccer or negotiating a deal, to do it right takes hard work, preparation and perseverance. As we know, it doesn’t always go smoothly. It’s okay to hit hard and slam it out of bounds once in a while. And, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to win.

    However, in order for us to score points, we have to rely on others.

     
  • feedwordpress 13:50:06 on 2018/09/18 Permalink
    Tags: Philadelphia Business Journal,   

    Impression Management 


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    The client wanted me to turn eight unprofessional storytellers into professional storytellers in four hours. At completion, her company had hired a professional video crew to tape these people telling their stories in two minutes or less, based on the tips we shared with them. The plan was to show their finished video stories at a corporate meeting. The crew was available for two hours, so the client said surely, I had plenty of time.

    Realizing she didn’t understand the time frame wasn’t realistic, I offered options including bringing multiple coaches with me, so we had more time to help each individual shape, craft and practice delivering their stories.

    The client didn’t want to pay for multiple coaches.

    I suggested that we prepare over multiple days.

    The client said they didn’t have more than a day. She said when they recorded their stories on video, I would be there to coach them through, so they would be receiving professional help.

    Besides, she wondered, if eight stories are less than two minutes long, that’s sixteen minutes. She pointed out the camera crew is there for two hours, so even if it takes some longer than others, it shouldn’t take more than an hour to have everyone tape their stories. She said that’s what her boss wants.

    No matter who her boss is, it’s not realistic.

    Telling a clear, crisp concise story is not a born trait. It’s something learned, honed and practiced. With instruction, worksheets, some pre-work and a very structured session plan, I was confident I could help them tell their stories more effectively than when they first walked into the room.

    However, even seasoned professionals often need multiple takes and on-the-spot coaching requires starting and stopping. Expecting people with no real experience to sit in front of a camera and recite their stories on video to be shown at a corporate meeting is completely unrealistic.

    My client is what some would call a very ambitious worker who simply wants to know how to move a project forward in a way that gives the impression she is right on top of it. She wants to appear cutting edge.  The one who comes through. The term for this is impression management.

    There is nothing wrong with wanting to make a great impression. Most of us try to put our best foot forward so people will like us or feel they can count on us. Impression management is very important for leaders who want others to follow. But there must be a balance between authenticity and impression.

    In this case, the client could inadvertently be setting me up to fail, which will backfire on her. Instead of nailing it and impressing her boss, if we don’t deliver exactly what she wants, she will look bad. She will blame poor outcomes on us, even though she failed to heed our advice or speak up on our behalf.

    Impression management is defined as: “a process whereby someone tries to influence the observations and opinions of others about something”. For example, a manager might attempt to control information provided by a consultant, to give their boss the most favorable impression about what they can deliver.

    Baylor University Professor John Carlson has studied this behavior in the workplace and calls it “deceptive impression”. In his research, he labels people like my client “sycophant” which typically means brown noser. Carlson calls sycophancy the most highly used form of impression deception. He says these people do not provide genuine opinions or honest feedback to their superiors, for example, enthusiastically endorsing their superior’s idea even when they don’t like it.

    Interestingly, he concludes that sycophancy, has no significant effects on the relationship between the supervisor and supervisor’s evaluation of the subordinate’s performance.

    That leads me to believe the real losers are program participants and other employees, who could be reaping far more benefits if their superiors communicated clearly.

    In a similar event earlier this year, our team was hired to provide presentation training for a senior group of leaders. The client wanted us to teach her team how to become better presenters and provide “techniques to communicate messages”. Yet, she was unavailable for planning calls, didn’t respond to e-mails and despite repeated calls, failed to provide materials to help us prepare.

    After the program she said, “this was a terrific program and we all benefited greatly”, but observed the agenda “didn’t allow enough time for new comprehensive message development to be incorporated into the training”.

    On Sunday night, the evening before the program, she sent our lead trainer a multi-page wordy document of talking points and potential messages. No direction, no context. It was lengthy, written in corporate speak and difficult to understand. Then, without informing us, she sent the same document to her team. She instructed them to read it, use it to develop and write their own messages and bring it with them the next morning.

    These are people who have no experience with message development. They came to the program confused, stating they didn’t understand what they were supposed to do.

    What the client wanted and what she communicated to us were very different. Had she explained she was after comprehensive message development and subsequent presentation of those messages, we would have advised and structured differently.

    Like storytelling, message development takes time and is critical to an organization’s branding and marketing. Trying to do everything in one day is not realistic.

    Marge Piercy wrote a poem called To be of use. In it, she talks of people who strain in the mud and muck to move things forward. She writes “The work of the world is common as mud. Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust. But the thing worth doing well done has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.”

    Chances are, both clients want to do well. Like many, they are probably inundated, overwhelmed and buried in more work than they can handle. Hiring you is something they were told to do. Now that they’ve checked that box, they just want you to show up and deliver so they can focus on other things.

    The key to any successful project is clear concise communication. If outcomes fall short, sometimes it’s not a reflection on the work your team is doing, which is not to say that all of us should always be open to suggestions that help us improve.

    In case you’re wondering, the storytelling program was a huge success. Given the limited amount of time to turn inexperienced communicators into great storytellers, they did exceptionally well. The client said she was happy and her boss was pleased. However, she added, this should have been spread out over several days as they really needed more time.

    As for the other client, who was also trying to do so much in so little time, we set up a call and she took our advice. She wants us to allocate more time to facilitate message development with multiple teams before trying to help them deliver.

    Go figure. Sometimes, things just work out as they should.

     
  • feedwordpress 03:09:45 on 2018/08/02 Permalink
    Tags: , , Philadelphia Business Journal   

    Staying Present in the Moment 


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    It was early January and everyone in my family was sick. It was that awful coughing, sneezing, wheezing respiratory wipe you out type sick. In my case, it seemed all I could do was sleep. No matter how much sleep I got, I needed more. I would sleep twelve hours and then need to take a nap.

    I started to worry about myself, but everyone around me kept telling me to listen to my body. It had been an emotional and stressful time as my father had just died. My mother was staying with us. People were constantly in the house paying their condolences and there were a lot of details to attend to.

    I decided to heed the advice and give myself a break. So, I slept and slept and slept some more. I felt a little better, but the fatigue hung on. I told myself it would just take time.

    Fast forward to about ten days later. My husband and I were invited to a surprise birthday party for a close friend. I still wasn’t feeling well but didn’t want to miss it. I said we would just stay for a little while and I would take a couple of Tylenol before we left. As I was about to pop the pills into my mouth, I burst out laughing and said to my husband “I am such an idiot”.

    Without knowing it, I had been taking Tylenol PM on and off all day every day for about ten days. Thinking it was regular Tylenol, I would simply open the bottle without looking at it and pop the medicine in my mouth.

    It made me wonder, like absentmindedly reaching for Tylenol, how often do we just go through the motions without really paying attention? Our children might chatter on about something that happened at school, but we don’t really hear them. You’re on the phone with a friend, but don’t remember what they said because you were cooking dinner or checking tomorrow’s weather forecast.

    Blame it on multi-tasking, technology or having a long to-do list that challenges our concentration. According to a Harvard University study, it’s a serious problem. The study says almost half of our waking hours are spent not living in the moment. Maybe, it’s not that big of big of a deal. After all, we all get distracted without grave consequences. But, what if I had fallen asleep at the wheel? What if paying attention to a conversation could have shed light on a serious problem that might have been prevented?

    That’s why I now think of the PM in Tylenol as an acronym for ‘present moment’. How can we be more present, so we stay more emotionally connected to others and fully appreciate the now?

    Perhaps the best lessons can be learned from mindfulness such as yoga and meditation where you focus on your senses, so you are physically, spiritually and mentally connected to the moment. While we can’t always drop everything to practice mindfulness, there are a few things we can do to become more present.

    Start with your phone. Studies say even if you turn it to silent and place it face down, it is still difficult to resist the urge to check it. If you want to be fully present with family or friends, you might want to consider putting it where you can’t see it, so you don’t use it.

    Single Task. How often do you eat while answering e-mails or run the treadmill while reviewing an important presentation you’re delivering at work later that day? I do it all the time and should stop. If we focus on one task at a time, we will begin enjoying what we’re doing that much more.

    Do nothing. When you’re working, raising a family and trying to juggle it all, it seems as if there are not enough hours in the day, so doing nothing does not seem like an option. Yet, if you take a few minutes out of your day to sit down, be silent and focus on your breathing, you will teach yourself how to slow down and savor the moment.

    Take a walk. Sometimes a change of scenery is the best medicine you can ask for. A brief break such as enjoying nature can rejuvenate you.

    Mind the music. Turn on your favorite music and close your eyes. Even immersing yourself in one song can ease tension and help you relax.

    You don’t have to be a mindfulness expert to apply these present moment tips. Think about things you like to do and focus on that one thing when you’re doing it. It might be playing tennis, reading a great book, watching a movie, writing an article or eating a hot fudge sundae. When you’re doing it, you’re not thinking about being present. You just are.

    Thanks to my Tylenol PM experience, I am trying to be more mindful of slowing down and not just going through the motions. For starters, I marked that bottle with big black letters that say PM, so I don’t make the same mistake again. Sleeping through a week of my life reminded me that when we don’t work at being present, we may inadvertently slumber some of life’s important moments.

     
  • feedwordpress 14:32:56 on 2018/05/30 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , Philadelphia Business Journal   

    Leadership Lessons for Loudmouth Jerks 


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    I was in line to board the plane home when I heard a man about four people behind me speaking loudly into his phone.

    “Yes, we got this deal Jim. I really put a good one together. I did this, and I did that and let me tell you more about me.”

    Well, those were not his exact words, but you get the picture. As we trekked into plane, people kept looking at him as he kept talking loud enough for anyone in line to hear him, but he didn’t seem to notice.

    I was in row 10, aisle seat when, still barking into his phone, he motioned for me to get up, so he could get through as he was also in row 10, window seat. Lucky me.

    Still talking for most seatmates to hear, he informed Jim that he had “not for publication” information. He said his company was cancelling the sales training due to financial reasons and then broadcast how much would be saved.

    The woman across the aisle looked at him, then looked at me and rolled her eyes.

    Again, he warned Jim, this is “top secret” information that only he knows. All I had to do was kick his carry on over and I could see who he worked for.  But, it’s top secret so I left his bag alone.

    As we were about to take off and he was temporarily silenced, I started to watch a movie on my iPad. Because the window shade next to loudmouth was up, it was casting a glare on my screen and I couldn’t see.

    So, I tapped him on the arm and asked if he could lower the shade just a bit. He stared at me for a second, then looked away and completely ignored me. For a moment I thought about giving him a piece of my mind but didn’t want to end up being one of those nasty airline passenger stories that makes the news.

    I waited, thinking once we got above the clouds, the sun glare wouldn’t be an issue. I was wrong.

    About fifteen minutes later, as he buried his head in his computer, I tapped him again. Nicely, I explained why I couldn’t see my screen and again asked if he would lower the shade just a little.

    “I really like looking out the window, he said. Maybe later in the flight.”

    Then he returned to his computer screen.

    Maybe. Maybe this is a guy who gets inspiration from the clouds. Perhaps the serenity of the sky helps him crystalize his vision and strategize ways to inspire others. Maybe, but not likely.

    The woman on the aisle across from me had watched the scene unfold. To make sure others could hear, she bellowed “I hate people like him”.

    Then she invited me to sit with her. She gave up her aisle seat for me and moved to the window where she slammed the shade shut. Loudmouth pretended not to notice.

    For the next two hours as I comfortably watched my movie, I glanced at him from time to time. Not once, did I see him look out the window.

    Most of us would just classify this man as a rude jerk and leave it at that. However, I believe there are some significant leadership lessons to be learned from jerks.

    Here’s a guy who is intoxicated by the sound of his own voice. He’s self-important, condescending and likely talks over others in meetings. My guess is he puts others down if he thinks it will make him look good. Like gesturing his finger at me to move over because he’s way too busy to speak, it’s doubtful he values the importance of communication.

    Leaders like this can infect entire organizations. They have little interest in what others think or say. Typically, they are so arrogant and controlling, that they don’t comprehend how toxic their behavior can be to others. Like a bad flu season that infects even the healthiest people, patronizing superior conduct can contaminate even the most positive employees.

    Research conducted by UC San Diego’s James Fowler and Harvard’s Nicholas Christakis suggests that behavior is contagious. For example, if you are friendly with someone happy, the probability that you will be happy increases by 25%. The researchers say if you have overweight friends, you are more likely to be overweight.

    In a Harvard Business Review article, writers examined how this affects leaders and found significant correlations between the behavior of managers and their direct reports. They found if you’re a good boss, you probably work for a good boss.

    After two decades of coaching and consulting leaders, I have my own take on what contributes to the success or failure of a leader. While there are multiple behaviors and circumstances, truly successful leaders have one thing in common. To them, leadership is a philosophy. They understand that leadership isn’t about being in charge; it’s about behavior.

    It’s about looking people in the eye. It’s about truly listening when someone is speaking to you. It’s about making others feel valued. It’s about providing positive reinforcement. It’s about welcoming input from others. It’s about developing people skills. Strong leaders appreciate diverse personalities and use their people skills to bring out the best in each person to maximize productivity and results.

    During some of our communication programs, we create scenarios intended to put people on the defensive. It’s an excellent exercise to assess how individuals communicate when under pressure. Typically, when challenged, they react defensively. When you push them, they often speak in negatives instead of focusing on positives. They talk about what isn’t happening, instead of what is. We teach them how to communicate more effectively to resolve problems and use the right words to avoid confusion and misinterpretation.

    As our flight came in for a landing, I thought about saying something to loudmouth, but clearly, he wouldn’t be interested in what I had to say and there was no point in wasting my energy except for my personal satisfaction of telling him off. Besides, as exited my seat, he was already on his phone loudly discussing important business that for all to hear. He was a man in charge.

    Even when coming down from the clouds, his head appeared to remain there; out of touch, in a bubble and unaware of those around him.

    Strong leaders keep their feet on the ground to cultivate relationships, seize opportunities and enlist the support of others. When you only consider yourself, you’re probably not as great as you think you are.

     
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