Tagged: Philadelphia Business Journal Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • feedwordpress 01:47:53 on 2017/04/20 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Philadelphia Business Journal   

    Poise & humor count: How to recover from embarrassing moments & other near-calamities 

    The Bacon Brothers band had fans on their feet at a concert in Ocean City, New Jersey when the microphone squealed and speakers started blaring high pitched ear-piercing squeals called feedback.

    The audience grimaced, some holding their ears, while the band instantly stopped and started fiddling with the dials on their amplifiers. Yet, what could have turned negative by turning fans off, actually turned positive thanks to the quick thinking and perhaps experience of lead singer Kevin Bacon.

    Instead of making his audience uncomfortable by acting uncomfortable or showing embarrassment over the mishap, Bacon said “typically these things happen during sound check, where only special people are invited. You, my friends, are these special people.”

    The audience roared with laughter. Not only did Bacon turn what could have been an embarrassing moment into a joke, but he made the audience feel important.

    This is an important lesson for speakers of all levels. All of us make mistakes. The slides crash. We forget what we wanted to say. We leave out an important point. Perhaps we trip or stumble in front of a group. However, if we are not embarrassed, our audiences won’t be embarrassed for us. How we react and recover is how we’ll be judged.

    Leading in times of crisis is no different. How an executive or spokesperson reacts under pressure can determine how their company or product will be judged.

    Consider Captain “Sully” Sullenberger, the retired airline pilot who made a successful emergency landing in the Hudson River with 155 passengers on board. A flock of geese flew into the jet during take-off. All passengers survived and no one was hurt.

    In an interview with Parade magazine, he talked about the importance of staying calm when announcing “brace for impact” to passengers just 90 seconds before hitting the water. He said “I wanted to be very direct. I didn’t want to sound agitated or alarmed.”

    Sharp leaders understand that tone and words make a difference if you want to keep others calm during a crisis.

    My father is one of those leaders we can all learn lessons from. Last year, he was diagnosed with a significant health issue. Despite the severity of the disease, endless treatments and infusions, he has stayed calm and upbeat throughout the ordeal and that is what has kept our family calm.

    Those who study stress will tell you it’s natural for people to panic, react emotionally and think about worse case scenarios when something negative occurs. Yet, if you can take a step back and gather the appropriate information before instantly reacting, you will be better positioned to take a more measured and thoughtful approach to the situation. In our own crisis training programs, we encourage people to focus on the opportunity moving forward, not wallow in the crisis.

    For example, if you unexpectedly lose your job, it’s easy to focus on your anger, defeat, or the boss you didn’t like. If it was a job that required a lot of unwanted time away from your family, perhaps there is now an opportunity to re-evaluate your priorities and pursue different avenues.

    The iconic late Steve Jobs is an excellent example of someone who turned crisis into opportunity. When Jobs was fired from Apple, he went to work for an animation company that is now Pixar. When Disney bought Pixar, he became the company’s largest shareholder.

    Whether professional or personal, we will all experience some type of embarrassment or crisis in our lives. The key is to change the conversation you’re having with yourself. When you do that, you will change the conversation you need to have with others.

    My youngest son was 12 years old when he landed a lead role in his camp production of the Greek comedy Lysistrata. Toward the end of a wonderful performance, he forgot his lines. The audience fell silent. For my husband and me, the seconds that followed ticked endlessly as we were nervous for him. Suddenly, a proctor standing off to the side of the stage shouted out the line. He looked off stage and shouted back “what”?

    She yelled it again, this time loud enough for the entire audience to hear. We sunk in our seats as some of the campers in the audience started to snicker. But our boy didn’t let that get to him. He stopped, smiled, looked out into the audience, and then pointing off stage quipped, “Whatever she said!” The crowd laughed loudly and thundered applause as the aspiring actor took an unscripted bow. They were laughing with him, not at him. He changed the conversation.

    I read an article that said “in a crisis, it’s important not to let your emotions hijack you” if you want to manage the fight or flight response. It went on to point out that science has shown the best way to create a cohesive and coherent response is to do so with your head, heart and gut.

    That means balanced breathing to calm down so you can tap into your heart to identify what’s important to you. From there, you can use your head and trust your gut to make solid decisions when you speak and act.

    Whether dealing with something as critical as a life-threatening emergency landing or something far simpler like forgetting your line in a play or having your speakers blare feedback, when it’s happening to you, it feels like a crisis. Yet there is a similarity in all of these situations.

    Like the Bacon Brothers, when we tune ourselves to focus on others, we can often turn something negative into something positive.

     
  • feedwordpress 17:31:05 on 2017/04/11 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Philadelphia Business Journal, political, Politicians,   

    Leadership Lessons from Political Campaigns 

    As I exited Amtrak at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station and made my way to the escalator destined upward to the grand train lobby, the oddest thing happened. The moving staircase that was still packed with people heading down to the train platform suddenly changed directions and headed up. Like a scene from a bad You Tube clip, surprised passengers stumbled over their own feet trying to walk down the up staircase while spectators laughed out loud when suddenly, the irony of the situation struck me.

    How often do we step backward when trying to move forward? How frequently are our personal and professional goals thwarted with unanticipated hurdles that threaten to prevent us from accomplishing our goals? The lesson is not in the answers to these questions but rather how we learn to turn these mis-steps to our advantage. I believe some of the best examples can be found in political campaigns which can teach leaders’ volumes about communicating more effectively in today’s fast-paced attention challenged workplace.

    More than a decade ago, I ran for the Pennsylvania state house and lost in one of the closest state races in the Commonwealth’s history.  At the time, I was hard at work building my own business which included coaching and training members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. The state representative in my district had received a lot of negative press for allegedly smacking his girlfriend in public so opposing party leadership saw a good opportunity to reclaim the seat and thought tapping a former television reporter with name recognition was a great strategy. When I was first approached, I laughed out loud as the conversation went something like this.

    Leadership: “How would you like to run for PA House?’
    Me: “Not a chance.”
    Leadership: “Why not?”
    Me: “Should I tell you the truth or tell you what you want to hear?”
    Leadership: “Oh please, we want the truth.”
    Me: “For starters, I’ve interviewed hundreds of politicians and was never that impressed so no offense, but I have no real desire to be like any of you.”

    Then I signed up.

    Like any product, promise, service or idea, the key is to inspire and motivate so people believe in what you’re selling. As an example, politicians have to sell themselves every time they speak. Let’s say a candidate appears warm, friendly and sincere but when you meet them in person, they are scowling, not as happy as they appeared on TV, offer a droopy handshake and seem distracted as you speak to them. You would probably re-think your decision to vote for that person just as you would probably not be inclined to follow their lead in the workplace.

    While social networks were not as prominent when I ran for office, they were already forcing people to have conversations in order to motivate and empower others. That meant talking with listeners instead of at them as I had learned form a twenty year career in television news. When we interviewed people, they wanted to share their stories. When we edited it for broadcast, we wanted snippets of information that made our viewers and listeners feel what it must have been like to be at the scene of that story. That meant making information relevant to others.

    Step One: Keep the Conversation Real
    When I ran for office, urban sprawl was a hot issue and my opponent was a member of the township planning commission and a self-proclaimed topic expert. Every time we were both questioned about it, she talked from experience and was usually quoted. I was not. That’s when I realized I needed to keep the conversation real and speak people’s language so I changed my approach. The next time I was interviewed I said: “Traffic has gotten so bad out here in Montgomery County, that I could balance my checkbook on the way home from work.” Granted, you don’t need a college education to come up with that one, but it resonated with readers and every time I said it, I got quoted so of course, I said it all the time.

    Politicians understand the importance of using real life examples and storytelling to impact listeners but business communicators often lag behind fearing what’s appropriate in other settings is not appropriate in the workplace. Quite the opposite is true. In medicine, it’s the stories of sick patients that inspire researchers to search for cures. In war time, we cling to stories that offer hope about people who have overcome insurmountable odds. The stories of grief, hope and optimism that immediately followed the horrific events of September 11, 2001 are forever etched into our personal and national psyche. Stories are real and create rapport communicators need to share if they hope to drive the message home.

    Step Two: Be Accountable
    In my campaign office, we had a young woman in charge of our door to door walking campaign. It was up to her to determine what neighborhoods we canvassed and how many times we returned. There was a big map in the office with colored pins stuck on streets that illustrated where we had trudged. Shortly before the election, I noticed we missed an entire section of the district. When I questioned her, she became very defensive and claimed her strategy never included campaigning in this area. As it turned out, she made a mistake and was embarrassed to admit it. If she had taken responsibility, we could have changed course and potentially secured additional votes.

    When people are unaccountable, they often make excuses, blame others or play dumb which can create an atmosphere of mistrust. In campaigns as well as business, accepting responsibility and not being afraid to say you erred in judgment makes you real and can actually increase confidence in your ability to lead.

    Step Three: Have Heart
    My older son was only nine during my short lived political career but he taught me a lesson I will never forget. It was a very competitive race where many people said they would only vote their party regardless of personal beliefs. On election night, my son and husband were assigned to hand out literature at a polling place. Every time someone would walk in the door, he would run up to them, hand out my flyer and scream “vote for my mom”. On the way out of the voting booth, an older man grabbed my husband’s arm and said: “I’ve never voted for another party in my life until tonight and I did it because of your son.”

    Without knowing it, this nine year old instinctually knew that politicians can’t win races without good grassroots organizations, but more importantly, he cut through the politics and grabbed at their hearts.

     
  • feedwordpress 19:11:12 on 2017/01/18 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , people skills, Philadelphia Business Journal, soft skills   

    Sharpening your soft skills 

    The letter from the local tax collector’s office said we were being penalized for failing to pay school taxes last year. It threatened if we didn’t send money by a certain date, there would be additional consequences.

    I looked at the letterhead and didn’t recognize the name of the tax collector, which seemed odd as I’ve known her for years. The tone of the letter was also terse; not at all like Patti, who was sweet and understanding. A long-time popular public servant who had been re-elected multiple times, she was a fixture in the township building who always greeted you with a bright smile. A letter from her would have a much softer tone and say something like “perhaps you’ve overlooked the due date of your last school tax payment”. This made no sense to me. So, I called the office.

    Imagine my surprise to learn that Patti had suddenly died.  The letter we received was from the newly appointed temporary tax collector. After my initial sadness over Patti’s loss, anger set in. Instead of a threatening letter, why didn’t this individual introduce himself and share that his predecessor had died? Why didn’t he say something nice about her and offer to help people during this surprising and upsetting transition?

    We did miss our tax payment, but not purposely, which Patti would have understood. Even if she couldn’t forgive the penalty, she would not have made us feel like slackers trying to get away with something.

    There are hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills are job specific. These are technical skills and expertise required to do your job. Soft skills are people skills. It’s about relating to others. Think of it this way.  Let’s say you have a choice between working with two different accountants. One is slightly more qualified than the other, but can be short tempered, rude and not easily accessible. The other is warm, friendly, always picks up the phone and seems to care about you. Who would you choose? Most of us would choose the latter. A person’s expertise might bring someone in the door, but their ability to communicate and relate is what will keep them there.

    It’s those soft skills that help us problem solve, collaborate and build constructive relationships with others. When organizations encourage development of these skills, they create positive environments where people feel valued. That goes a long way toward strengthening relationships with customers, colleagues and other stakeholders. In fact, a national survey conducted by the Harris Poll found that 16 percent of hiring managers believe soft skills are even more important than hard skills.

    So, which soft skills should we develop and why? Let’s focus on four:

    • Empathy
    • Communication
    • Self-Awareness
    • Non-Verbal

    Empathy, especially during difficult times, conveys caring and understanding. During very public situations when a company has done something wrong, it’s most important skill a spokesperson can develop if it’s genuine. While facts are important, it’s how those facts are communicated that form perceptions.

    Your ability to communicate clearly, concisely and openly speaks to trust and credibility. There may be times when you can’t share information. Instead of shutting people out, listen to their concerns and let them know you will share information as soon as you are able.

    Becoming more self-aware of your short-comings will help you change and improve behaviors. People who are self-aware are perceived as open and willing to learn new skills.

    Lastly, never underestimate the importance of eye contact and body language. Making direct eye contact suggests you consider someone important. Open gestures, facing the person who is talking to you and a smile when appropriate positions you as approachable.

    There is also the issue of tone whether intended or unintended. Recently, I inquired as to when we would receive a deposit for an upcoming program. The contract office shot back an email that said: “As I stated in our original email, the deposit will be sent out on x date.”

    I wondered why the nasty tone.  Were they mad at me? Were they annoyed that I didn’t see or remember the date? Were they trying to let me know who is in charge? Or, maybe the sender didn’t realize how they sounded. Maybe they meant nothing at all.

    Maybe, the tax collector didn’t realize how harsh he sounded, especially so close to his colleague’s death. Tone can be very misunderstood when someone can’t see you or hear you. Tone conveys attitude.

    Winston Churchill once said, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” Attitude is a soft skill. Whether writing a letter, sending an email or speaking in person, an upbeat positive attitude is contagious and can patch up misunderstandings.

    If you just take an extra second and proceed with caution, you might prevent misunderstandings that can sabotage relationships and convey a negative impression you never intended.

     
  • feedwordpress 20:20:11 on 2016/12/09 Permalink
    Tags: , , customer service, customers, doing business, , internet, , , Philadelphia Business Journal, Xfinity   

    Make it easy to do business with you 

    It was in the crunch of early morning emails when I realized the internet wasn’t working. I immediately started trouble shooting. I rebooted my computer, turned the internet router off and then back on, and pushed a few unnamed blinking buttons on the box. Nothing worked, so I took the next measure. I texted my husband who was away on a business trip.

    Me:                    The internet isn’t working and I don’t know why.

    Husband:         Turn the power strip off, wait a minute and turn it back on.

    Me:                    What about the button that says WPS?

    Husband:         Don’t touch it.

    Me:                    Oops, I already did, now what?

    Husband:         I don’t know, call Xfinity.

    So I did and immediately got a recording saying they were aware of internet outages and were working on it. Then the voice advised me to log onto www.Xfinity.com to check for updates.

    Seriously? Did they really say that after acknowledging that the internet was down? I could probably log on from my phone or iPad, but not everyone has an additional device. If the internet is out, then why would you direct people to your website for additional information?

    Communicating robotically or thoughtlessly is almost as bad as not communicating at all. Part of your job as a service provider is to make life easy for your clients and customers. Given the wealth of competition and options, I would think you would strive for people to tell others how easy it is to do business with you.  When it’s not, it’s frustrating and sometimes, hard to keep your cool.

    As another example, earlier this year we were awarded a contract with a corporation that attempted to simplify complicated billing procedures by hiring a third party to process vendor invoices. However, this required completing multiple forms, submitting pages of documentation, completing numerous questionnaires and being bombarded by e-mails from a variety of different company departments. When we finally received approval to bill through their on-line-system, their system wouldn’t accept our invoices.

    It turns out the so-called simplified process required many more steps, approvals, signatures and actually made the invoice submission even more complicated than the original process. Unfortunately, the client, who clearly has more pressing tasks than navigating a new invoice approval system, had to spend months digging through the corporate maze to file additional work statements so she could continue to work with us and so we could get paid.

    In an effort to shed some light on the issue and help the third party become more customer friendly and efficient, I called and made a few suggestions. Instead of listening or trying to understand my frustration, they defensively rattled off a bunch of IT jargon as an explanation as to why a cumbersome system was necessary.

    If that’s not frustrating enough, when we were directed to re-submit the additional information through yet another new improved portal, the system rejected it again. Back to the phone, a young woman, clearly confused and bewildered, finally diagnosed the problem.

    “You can’t submit the exact amount you’re owed” she observed.

    Now it was my turn to be confused and bewildered so I asked why.

    “You have to round off numbers when you submit your invoice” she answered.

    I explained that when expenses are added to professional fees, numbers don’t always round off evenly. She said other vendors had also complained, but if we didn’t do things the way the system is set up, we’d have to call the client and have them start the entire process over.

    Why would a customer want to continue to do business with us or anyone if it’s complicated and time-consuming? It doesn’t matter that we’re victims of a cumbersome system. To the client, it’s just one big hassle. It’s like calling a customer service number and being asked for your account number three times by three different people after you’ve already punched the number into phone. Annoying. Frustrating. You want to hang up. To me, this says the company’s priorities are out of whack.

    According to a Customer Experience Board survey, meeting and exceeding customer expectations is not enough. The survey found minimal customer effort impacts customer loyalty more than anything else. So, if you want to make it easy to do business with customers or their customers, start by asking how you can make things easy for them?

    Technology is a good place to start. Just because you put an on line system in place to keep up with the times, doesn’t mean you’re making things easier for your customer. Like you, your customers are busy people. They value time. Complex multiple-step technology makes them work harder and robs them of important hours. So how do we make life easier for customers so they want to keep doing business with us?

    1. Pay attention. If numerous customers are complaining, listen. It doesn’t mean you need to throw out the rules and do everything they say. It does mean being flexible so you can make changes that make things better for your customers.
    1. No excuses. Instead of being defensive or making excuses, focus on fixing the trouble and being a problem solver.
    1. Sit in their seats. If the customer is clearly in pain, ask questions to better understand the issues and make them feel their opinion truly matters.
    1. Nix the biz speak. Instead of rattling off internal jargon to sound smart, help customers through the process. That means speaking their language, not yours.
    1. Replace “I” with “you”. When we continually use the word “I”, it’s about you. When we use the word “you”, it’s about them. Focus on the customers needs, not your own.

    Finally, communicating is not about talking. It’s about connecting. That means being empathetic to your customers concerns, even if you don’t have an immediate solution. Most of us simply want our feelings acknowledged. When someone makes a true effort to understand the customer, that customer feels valued. A valued customer is likely to hang in there with you because ultimately, they believe you will do what’s best for them.

     
  • feedwordpress 05:03:02 on 2016/10/31 Permalink
    Tags: Philadelphia Business Journal   

    When business gets personal 

    When you do something stupid, you know you’re doing it as you’re doing it. This was the case with me, as I was watching a nationally televised town hall meeting featuring the two presidential candidates. I make it a practice not to publicly voice my political opinions, as our client base is diversified and my personal preferences have nothing to do with our ability to work together.

    On this particular night, for whatever reason, my stupid gene got the better of me. Annoyed at the interviewer’s line of questioning, I tweeted a criticism of the interviewer to my followers. Seconds later, a client privately replied: “I saw your tweet. Which political candidate did you think was being treated unfairly?” I made the mistake of answering.

    The corporate communications director at this well-respected firm has been a trusted colleague for nearly two decades. I’ve spoken at many of the company’s corporate events and our team has provided ample consultation and coaching. I was tentatively scheduled to speak at their upcoming corporate retreat. That is, until the morning after my tweet when I received an email from my client. It told me to release the date as they’ve decided to go in a different direction.

    Really? A different direction? Why couldn’t they just say we disagree with your political position which is different than ours and that’s why we’ve decided not to work with you? Assuming that’s the reason, it would have been more truthful, even if it’s not politically correct.

    Tweeting was stupid and perhaps unprofessional. Given I tell my clients, colleagues and my husband not to post personal view points on social media, I should know better. Yet, I would never fire someone for having an opposing viewpoint.

    From gun control to immigration to abortion rights to a host of other hot button issues, my graphic artist and I are on opposite sides of the political fence. Yet, I consistently hire him because he’s great at what he does. From Pennsylvania to Texas, we’ve had lengthy discussions about our differences and agree to disagree because we know we’ll never agree. However, we still respect each other’s professional opinions and move on.

    This client couldn’t get past my tweet, not because I tweeted, but because I am diametrically opposed to his beliefs which he has shared with me in the past. That’s unfortunate because we have done great work together and always enjoyed working together.

    In most cases, mixing personal viewpoints with business relationships isn’t a recommended recipe. In business people expect an outside advisor to offer their expert advice even if it’s contrary. They want your experienced insight no matter how unconventional. That’s what they pay you for. Voicing your unsolicited opinion on personal matters is an entirely different story.

    In that case, if they want your opinion, they’ll ask for it.

     
c
compose new post
j
next post/next comment
k
previous post/previous comment
r
reply
e
edit
o
show/hide comments
t
go to top
l
go to login
h
show/hide help
esc
cancel