Thursday, February 28, 2013

How to Empower Employees by Asking Questions

As a manager, asking questions can be a powerful means of focusing an employee's thoughts and encouraging him or her to come up with a solution independently. Socrates made the technique famous, allowing his listeners to reason out their own conclusions about life and the nature of things rather than imposing his own philosophy on them.

One experiment you can try is to spend an entire conversation asking only questions, says LeeAnn Renninger, director of professional-development organization LifeLabs. Rather than giving direct advice, phrase your statements as questions to lead your employees to a solution. Ask things like, "What are your thoughts on this so far? What have you tried? What options are you leaning towards?" The answer will often present itself. 

After working hard, play hard.

While building her real-estate empire, Barbara Corcoran became known for throwing wild parties for her employees and others. At one party, all the attendees were required to cross-dress. It's fine to be a hard-driving boss, but you have to provide ways for your staff to blow off steam -- preferably while bonding with each other. 

Reward impressive failures.

Creative employees need to know that they are free to fail when they implement bold ideas. A particular idea may not work out, but the attempt is still worthwhile if it contributes to a culture of innovation. "Celebrate the effort and audacity to innovate," recommends James Berry, an entrepreneur and management professor at University College London. "That sends a message to employees that you're rewarding the mindset and the willingness to try to improve." 

Provide calls to action in your mobile ads.

This isn't your grandfather's call to action: Whereas traditional online advertisements could do little more than send the user to a landing page, mobile ads can turn the click into a call to your reservation line or map directions to your business. Think about how to take advantage of the unique mobile environment when considering ads for it. As mobile ads account for a bigger percentage of total ad sales, the most successful brands will be doing just that. 

How To Run More Productive Meetings

We all know that meetings are expensive. Time is precious, and having many people in a room is costly by any measurement. The cost of an interrupted work flow is even worse, especially for a small business. Adequately utilising valuable employee time is one of a leader’s key responsibilities.

You might be especially productive early in the morning, from the moment you start working. I might require an hour or so of build-up time before I’m ready to get cranking. But when a meeting starts, our preferences and differences are cast aside. Meetings strip us of the core tenet of the creative process: autonomy.

Creating useful meetings

We can’t rid the world of meetings. After all, the benefits of meeting can outweigh the costs. But we can meet more wisely. Here are a handful of the tips I have observed in productive teams:

1. Beware of ‘Posting Meetings’

If you leave a meeting without action steps, then you should question the value of the meeting (especially if it is recurring). A meeting to ‘share updates’ should actually be a voice-mail or an email.

2. Abolish Monday Meetings

Gathering people for no other reason than ‘it’s Monday!’ makes little-to-no sense, especially when trying to filter through the bloated post-weekend inbox. Automatic meetings end up becoming ‘posting’ meetings.

3. Finish With a Review of Actions Captured

At the end of every meeting, go around and review the action steps each person has captured. The exercise takes less than 30 seconds per person, and it almost always reveals a few action steps that were missed. The exercise also breeds a sense of accountability. If you state your action steps in front of your colleagues, then you are likely to follow through.

4. Make All Meetings ‘Standing Meetings’

[VIDEO] 3 Tips for Branding Your Growing Business

How to Reframe Your Thinking to Sell Your Business Ideas

When you think of sales, you might conjure a car dealer swindling unwitting customers, or a telemarketer who interrupted dinner last night. But, no matter what your role is in your company, you're also in sales. As a business leader, you sell your ideas, your products, and your company on a daily basis.

"Like it or not, we're all in sales," says Daniel Pink, author of the new book To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others (Riverhead, 2012). All of us persuade, influence, or convince others to give us time, money, attention, or opportunity every single day.

In order to succeed, you must be an effective salesperson. But salesmanship today is not what it used to be. "[Buyers] have a huge information advantage," Pink says, adding that they often come to a conversation more informed than the seller. "That means [sellers] can't take the low road. They have to be much more transparent."

That shift requires a new way of thinking about how to sell your ideas or products -- an approach that accommodates a culture that now expects customization.

Try these tips to learn how to sell your ideas effectively: 

1. Rethink your pre-sale pep talk. 

Before you pitch an idea to an important person or investor, how do you boost your confidence? If you're like most people, you tell yourself, "I can do this." That might make you feel better, but it does little to improve your performance. 

Instead, ask yourself, can I do this? Even if you don't respond aloud, the question prompts an answer, reminding you of past experience and expertise. “Interrogative self-talk actually prepares you for the encounter," Pink says. The affirmation from answering your own question also helps you stay positive in case of rejection.

2. Aim to understand the buyer's point of view. 

To successfully sell an idea, you need to be attuned to the other person by making an effort to understand their perspective. "When we understand someone else's point of view, we're more effective," Pink says. That insight empowers you to allay any concerns or frame the idea in a meaningful light.

Pink calls this kind of attunement "empathy plus," meaning that you need to understand more than just how your audience feels. “Consider what they are thinking and what their interests are," Pink says. Addressing those thoughts and interests is the surest way to make a successful pitch.

3. Think of yourself as a curator.

Giving Thanks to Your Customers

What’s one memorable way startups can thank their customers this time of year?

The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.

1.)     A Personal Email From the CEO

A direct email. From the CEO, that I actually write. Think of those Steve Jobs emails. Everyone talked about them. I’m not Steve Jobs, but when the CEO takes an inbound call, writes a thank you note, or welcomes you from the front desk when you stop by the office it makes a lasting impression.

2.)     Get Creative (Really Creative!)

Our creative team made a Flash game for the holiday season called “Balls Of Snow.” Advertisers and publishers chose their side and engage in a virtual snowball fight. We thanked everyone on that year’s holiday card and included a link to our game.

3.)     December Discounts

To spur holiday sales and thank current customers, small business owners can offer a large discount for holiday purchases. Plus, you’re likely to offer plenty of discounts anyways during December, so you’re really not negatively impacting your profits as much as you might think.

4.)     Hand-Written Thank You Notes

Last November, we launched a new product. In advance of this launch we sent postcards with a personal message to over 1,000 customers. The time and money put into this, as well as the personalized message, showed these folks just how much we appreciated their support from the following year. Plus, we were able to create a fun and unique touchpoint – the physical mailbox instead of the email inbox!

5.)     Random Giveaways

Seven Tips to Increase Employee Productivity

Workplace productivity obviously affects your bottom line. If it’s down, you’re revenue is most likely down. If it’s up, your company should feel the difference in its cash flow, morale and impact. Every leader looks for ways to increase employee productivity. Here are seven simple tips for where to start.

#1 Prioritizing Priorities

This is also known as “The ABC’s of Productivity.” The ABC approach to increase employee productivity involves having your team make a list of what they do every day. You then have them appoint certain letters to the tasks they consider most important, somewhat important, and not important at all. For example, all critical daily tasks receive an A; somewhat important tasks receive a B and unimportant tasks receive a C.  There is typically a surprising outcome to this exercise, as many managers discover that what they think is critical receives a C from their employees, and tasks that can go undone with little or no repercussion will often receive an A from their employees. This exercise will increase employee productivity as both employee and manager are on the same page regarding prioritizing tasks. 

#2 One-Point E-mails

Make your emails short and to the point. One-point emails help increase employee productivity by keeping responses quick, and therefore easier to compose. Nido Qubein teaches the importance of one-point emails: “I instruct my staff to send me one-point emails that I can respond to with a word, a sentence. I don't care if you send me fifteen but make it one [point]; I don't have time to dig down in your email.” 

#3 Standing Meetings

A simple lack of chairs can turn a 45-minute meeting into a 15-minute marathon of productivity. The lack of comfort in a meeting environment tends to increase productivity through forcing people to work more quickly through the agenda. Give standing meetings a try particularly if you have employees who have the innate ability to make meetings stretch so they don’t have to get back to work. 

#4 Clarifying Standards

How to restructure and reorganise your business

Restructuring a business can be a turbulent time; you may be juggling legal issues with disgruntled employees, expansion plans with uncertain investors.

However, that isn’t a world away from the day-to-day nature of running a business, and you shouldn’t feel unnecessarily daunted just because you’re moving in a new direction.

Instead, draw on your management skills to steer your company – and your workforce – towards your new goal, and by dealing with their concerns, and properly researching the legal issues, you’ll be able to present the pitch for your new angle to those investors, and win them over more easily.

Plan your New Structure

Any restructuring of a business – whether it’s a plan for expansion, taking things in a new direction, or consolidation during a tough period – is more likely to succeed with careful planning.

Just like setting up a brand new business, do your market research and identify the opportunities, and ensure that you’re entering a profitable industry.

You may want to draw up a complete business plan, with both short-term and long-term earnings forecasts; this gives you something to show to investors, including the banks if you are seeking business loan funding, and also gives you something to fall back on later if your restructuring feels as though it has lost its way.

Involve your Employees

In general, things go better when employees are involved in the restructuring of a business – and as we’ll see below, you’re often obliged to at least inform them of any major changes to the company.

Holding regular meetings to let them know of the latest progress can let employees feel like part of the change, rather than feeling that their job is changing uncontrollably around them.

This is particularly important if some members of staff choose to leave, or if voluntary or compulsory redundancies are made, as the remaining employees may need reassuring that their jobs are not at risk.

In the most forward-thinking of companies, employees are involved from the very outset of any restructure, and you may want to canvass for opinions as to how the business can be driven forwards – you never know how useful the suggestions you receive might be.

Meet your Obligations

4 Storytelling Techniques That Can Help You Increase Your Sales

We've all heard of the elevator pitch : Explain your business in 30 seconds or less, the time it takes to get from the lobby to whichever floor your prospect is going. But what if your pitch is, shall we say, a little dull?

Kambri Crews is a renowned storyteller, and the owner of Ballyhoo Promotions, a New York City public relations company that specializes in stand-up comedy. In her memoir, Burn Down the Ground (Villard, 2012), she recounts her chaotic upbringing in rural Texas as the child of deaf parents. Crews began performing in storytelling events in New York City as an opportunity to work on her book and to practice what resonated with an audience.

We caught up with her to find out which storytelling tips can help small-business owners engage with prospective clients and secure the sale.

1. Practice your message. 

Writing for the ear (think: television or sales pitch) is very different than writing for the eye (think: newspaper or ads). Adapt your message so your sales pitch doesn't come across as wooden or generic. You shouldn't have a one-size-fits-all approach to selling your product or service. While continuity is important, your elevator pitch shouldn't be a verbatim recitation of your sales materials. 

2. Use bullet points. 

You never want to be fully scripted. "If you sound rehearsed, it turns people off and they tune out," Crews explains. "You want a spontaneous moment [that] you're experiencing with the audience. You won't get the same response [if you memorize everything] as if you're going off-book (not following a script),” she says. Speak naturally, try to be relaxed, and maintain eye contact with the people you're speaking with. In your preparation, the act of writing down what you want to say may help you remember it better, Crews notes. Carry your bullet points with you on an index card so you have something to refer to if you need it.

6 Ways to Enhance Your Credibility

You won't succeed in business if nobody believes in you. Here's how to make certain they do.

Your success in business is directly proportional to how quickly (and how well) you can establish credibility with your customers, investors, and colleagues. A while back, I had a conversation about credibility with Randall Murphy, president of the professional development firm Acclivus. Here's my interpretation of his ideas:

1. Be genuine about who you really are.

The days are long gone when customers were impressed by an illustrious corporate name or a fancy job title. Customers are more likely to respect you if you present yourself as an individual rather than a plug-and-play "representative." The moment you pretend to be more (or other) than you really are, your credibility flies out the window. Be authentic, even if all you bring to the table is your enthusiasm.

2. Know the legitimate value of what you provide.

When you know--truly know--what you're products and services are worth, you're unafraid to communicate both the strengths and the limitations of your offering.  You'll refuse to cave to unreasonable customer demands. You'll stick to your firm's policies and procedures, and explain to the customer why they make sense. You'll be strong and confident about what you can contribute, thereby creating credibility.

3. Have insights based on research and analysis.

Business Restructuring: A Look at Some Strategies

No business can continue to function in the same way forever. With changing times and changing business conditions, restructuring is one of the options for a business to stay on track. Here’s a quick look at how businesses have used restructuring to come out of difficult situations.

Organizational restructuring involves making changes to the organizational setup. These changes have an impact on the flow of authority, responsibility and information across the organization.

The reasons for restructuring vary from diversification and growth to minimizing losses and cutting down costs. Organizational restructuring may be done because of external factors like merging up with some other company, or because of internal factors such as high employee costs. Let’s take a look at some of the commonly used restructuring strategies.


Call it downsizing, layoff, rightsizing or smart sizing; in essence, it is all one and the same thing. This restructuring strategy is about reducing the manpower to keep employee costs under control. Take the case of auto-giant General Motors, which in 1991 decided to shut down 21 plants and lay off 74,000 employees to counter its losses.

Another example is that of IBM, which had never laid off staff ever since its incorporation, but had to layoff 85,000 employees to stay in business. This type of restructuring is tough to manage and is mostly adopted to overcome adverse situations. Downsizing is not always a result of business losses; it may be needed even in cases of takeovers, acquisitions and mergers, where duplicity of the staff propels this form of organizational restructuring.

Read More:

Why the Best Managers Ask the Most Questions

When your employees ask for help, how you respond can either empower them to find a solution or make them dependent on your input. One simple response consistently empowers employees: answering with a question instead of a statement.

"The most common mistake managers make when helping a direct report solve a problem is a knee-jerk reaction to deliver an answer," says LeeAnn Renninger, director of LifeLabs, a Manhattan-based professional development and research organization, which offers a class on this technique.

The problem with advice is that employees don't learn to solve problems independently. They rely on you for answers. Beyond that, advice conveys a lack of confidence in someone's ability to find a solution, so it erodes your employees' self-assurance.

LifeLabs has found, through extensive research, that extraordinary managers ask more questions. "Instead of simply giving an answer, they help their direct reports clarify and deepen their own thinking," Renninger says. "It quickly increases the performance of their team."

Thoughtful questions can move a meeting past a stuck point, uncover overlooked patterns, inspire innovation, and motivate employees. Plus, a team with a manager that asks more questions has higher work satisfaction and a greater sense of unity.

Here are four exercises to help you start asking more questions: 

1. Track how many questions you ask.