Monday Mornings with Madison

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A Succession Plan

In business, as in life, there is generally a hierarchy and structure for how things run. Leaders are identified. Departments are established. Managers are appointed. Processes are set. And, if all is as it should be, all of the cogs fit together and run like a well-oiled machine. The best organizations even create redundancies to ensure that when key personnel are out sick or on vacation for a few days, there are other knowledgeable individuals who can step in temporarily to ensure that operations continue smoothly.

However, many companies fall short of actually creating a full Succession Plan in case a vital cog in the machinery breaks and must be replaced. Most organizations do not have any preparations in place that will go into effect if a vital member of the team is suddenly gone either by choice or chance. For example, Business Week magazine featured an article questioning why Herb Kelleher, CEO of Southwest Airlines, had not designated and groomed a successor. This exposed a weakness that exists in many companies’ strategic thinking. Indeed, many companies lack ‘bench strength’ or sufficient ‘ready now candidates’ to replace planned and unplanned losses of key leaders and staff. As a result, the future continuity and performance of the business is at risk. While it may seem grim and cold, a Succession Plan is actually one of the most responsible and considerate things any business can do for the good of the company. Here’s how. Continue reading

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Count Blessings Even In Tough Times

At this time of year, there is a natural tendency to get a little more introspective. Folks will reflect on the past and contemplate the future. Some may stop to consider what has happened, both good and bad. They may think about what they have, don’t have, or what they want. It is natural to do a personal inventory of one’s life during meaningful holidays or after milestone moments or major events.

However, in tough times, there is a danger that such an exercise can do more emotional harm than good. Anyone that has experienced a major loss – due to a natural disaster, illness, career setback, business challenge or personal problem – may find taking a personal inventory depressing. It doesn’t have to be. In fact, some deep, personal reflection can help bring into focus what is most important and provide fuel to move forward with purpose. As Alexander Graham Bell once said, “Sometimes we stare so long at a door that is closing that we see too late the one that is open.” Even in tough times – especially in tough times – it is important to look not at the doors that have closed but at the ones that are opening. Here are 10 tips to help with the process.
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Ten Tips For Giving Gifts To Clients

To gift or not to gift, that is the question. For the last five or six years, companies cut back on the quantity and value of corporate gifts given to clients. It was understood that times were tough and businesses could scarcely justify giving gifts to clients when they were laying off staff, freezing hiring, cutting salaries and increasing workloads. The economy could legitimately be blamed for a reduction in gift-giving. After all, corporate profits in the first quarter of 2009 hit its lowest level in a decade.

However, the economy seems to have turned a corner. According to a recent report from the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. corporate profits for the third quarter of 2012 reached a record high, even adjusted for inflation. Moreover, the increase was entirely a result of stronger business at home. Likewise, the real estate sector seems to be bouncing back. The current share of non-distressed sales is at its highest level since August 2008. With these positive signs, businesses are once again contending with the annual discussion around client gifting. Should we or shouldn’t we? If we should, to whom do we give? Who will compile the list? How much should we spend? What level of gift should go to which people? Must we match or up the ante over what we gave last year? These can be tricky questions. Here are some suggestions for creating and fulfilling the shopping list for clients. Continue reading

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Does Practice Make Perfect?

The old adage of ‘practice makes perfect’ conveys the idea that with enough practice a person’s performance can achieve perfection. Yet, the term ‘perfection’ itself seems to fly in the face of the essence of being ‘human.’ It is universally understood that to be human is to be imperfect. So if that’s true, just how much can practice improve a person’s performance at any given task or skill?

The issue of ‘practice’ has been examined and re-examined by teachers, industrial psychologists, and coaches the world over. Does practice make perfect? It is certainly the question that anyone trying to achieve an exceptional level of success would want to know. And certainly any business owner or entrepreneur should wonder just how much ‘practice’ do skilled employees need to achieve mastery in their profession. If practice makes perfect, just how much practice is that? Continue reading

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Preventing Human Error

It’s been said many times that ‘to err is human, to forgive divine.’ Few would argue that at least the first part of that statement is absolutely true. No one is perfect. To be human is to make mistakes. Isn’t that why they put erasers on pencils? But when people make mistakes at work, those errors can hurt business. In fact, Marketwire reported in 2008 that human errors among employees cost businesses in the US and UK more than $37 billion in lost productivity. While the vast majority of mistakes at work are minor and do little real harm, some mistakes are serious enough to reduce sales, damage customer relations, hurt the bottom line or even cause sentinel events — unexpected occurrences involving death or serious physical or psychological injury.

Although it is normal for people to make mistakes, human error is never welcome at work. Companies have a vested interest in minimizing mistakes. But is that even possible? While it isn’t possible for any company to completely eliminate all slips and mishaps by staff, there are things that businesses can do to help reduce the quantity and impact of errors in daily operations. The first step is to understand the finer distinctions in the nature of human errors and what factors cause employees to make more mistakes and slips. The second step is for companies to design protocols that help to minimize errors. Make no mistake, it can be done. Here’s how. Continue reading

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Unknown Unknowns – When You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Knowledge is power. That’s true in any society or culture anywhere in the world. Knowledge empowers one to navigate a complex world in the best, most efficient, most effective way with the least amount of snags and waste. This has been true since before recorded history. In fact, the 13th century Persian-Tajik poet Ibn Yamin wrote about men and knowledge:
One who knows and knows that he knows…
His horse of wisdom will reach the skies.
One who knows, but doesn’t know that he knows…
He is fast asleep, so you should wake him up!
One who doesn’t know, but knows that he doesn’t know…
His limping mule will eventually get him home.
One who doesn’t know and doesn’t know that he doesn’t know…
He will be eternally lost in his hopeless oblivion!

It is important to be ‘in the know.’ But given today’s sophisticated, complex, high tech society, having complete knowledge about everything is impossible. In an ever-increasingly intricate world, there is so much to know about so much. No one’s knowledge is ever complete. We each have many important things that we know are unknown, and many more unknowns of which there isn’t even an awareness. These are the unknown unknowns.

So how do we come to know something we need to know but don’t even know that we don’t know? It is something of a conundrum. For people in business, it is a catch-22 that can be costly.
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Ten Strategies for dealing with Prolonged Stress

During a crisis, there is usually an initial period of intense stress for any individual involved. The body and mind achieve a heightened state of alert to deal with the situation. The heart pounds, chest heaves, and muscles tighten. Senses sharpen. Time slips into slow motion. The body becomes impervious to pain. This is the normal reaction. The human body responds to a stressful situation by flooding the body with endorphins and adrenaline to deal with the situation at hand. After the initial shock wears off, the body eventually returns to a state of equilibrium. However, when there is a stressful situation that is prolonged — whether it is a life-threatening illness, a terrorist attack, a natural disaster or some other ongoing event — the stress usually doesn’t end right away. In fact, the bigger the catastrophe, the more likely the stress will continue for a long time.

Indeed, after a major calamity, the body must continue to deal with the fallout of the situation. Unfortunately, long-term stress is harmful. Studies have shown that prolonged stress can be very damaging to both body and mind. But any person dealing with a major life crisis cannot just remove him/herself from the situation and stop the cause of the stress. A person dealing with a major illness or a major disaster simply cannot walk away from the cause of the stress. So what is a person to do? How does one cope with prolonged stress? Here are 24 health reasons to pay attention to ongoing stress, and 10 strategies to help decompress. Continue reading

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How A Company’s Reputation Impacts Its Ability to Attract and Retain Top Talent

Coca Cola. Google. IBM. Apple. Starbucks. Microsoft. Mercedes Benz. Zappos. Amazon. What do all of these companies have in common? Besides having a global market following and a very healthy balance sheet, these companies have at least one other thing in common: the ability to attract top talent just based on reputation. Companies that attract top talent are likely to stay at the top of the Fortune 500 list because human potential is the one thing that cannot be forged, copied, imitated, duplicated or easily replaced. So attracting top talent breeds success and success attracts top talent.

Indeed, human resources are probably the most important asset of any company. Employees are responsible for the quality, quantity and consistency of its products and service. Employees bring creativity to bear on behalf of employers. Employees do all the heavy lifting that keeps a business running. And ultimately it is the workers who interact with, win and retain customers. It is their ingenuity, skills, effort, passion, work ethic, and attitude which largely determine the success, mediocrity or failure of an organization.

That is why, every day, companies are not only competing to generate sales and win customers, they are also in a race to attract and retain the most talented workers. From entry level employees to C-suite executives, every company wants – or should we say needs – to employ the best and brightest. When the economy was in a tailspin, the most talented, skilled and experienced employees hunkered down and stayed put even in companies where they were no longer satisfied, appreciated and/or challenged. The best and brightest kept from changing jobs even when they were overworked, underpaid or both. But with the economy ‘turning a corner’ and the unemployment rate slowly dropping, companies will soon – if they aren’t already – need to compete to attract the best workers. The most qualified candidates are likely to look first to companies with a solid reputation. So just how much does a company’s reputation impact its ability to attract top talent? Continue reading

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Beyond Absenteeism – Part 2

Presenteeism is a work issue that is more costly to businesses and more pervasive in workplaces than absenteeism and tardiness combined. Estimates for business losses from presenteeism range from $150 to $250 billion annually and many think that it is as much as three times that. Employers are only just starting to realize and contend with this HR issue.

Part of understanding and coping with the issue has been to define it. Once thought to describe only employees who weren’t fully productive at work because they were working sick, today the term presenteeism is used to describe employees who are less than fully productive at work for a myriad of reasons including acute, chronic or episodic illness, difficulty adjusting after an illness or injury, a major personal or family problem, child care or elder care demands, or deep employee dissatisfaction. Given how prevalent it is and how costly it can be, is there anything that employers can do about presenteeism? Here are seven winning strategies to help reduce presenteeism. Continue reading

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Beyond Absenteeism – Part 1

Absenteeism is a work behavior that every manager and Human Resources department deals with and dreads. When an employee fails to report to work, it often creates a hardship for that employee’s coworkers, manager and — depending on the position — customers. It is to be expected that employees may have to miss work occasionally due to all kinds of reasons. But it is actually a fairly expensive problem that is on rise. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, unplanned absences cost American businesses an average of 2.8 million workdays each year – equivalent to the loss of $74 billion dollars. Others think the cost to business may be three times as high.

Yet, as expensive as absenteeism is, there is a work-place issue that is even more costly and pervasive, affecting a much larger part of the workforce. It is called presenteeism. The term presenteeism originally referred to employees that aren’t absent from work but aren’t fully productive at work because they are sick. However, since then the definition of presenteeism has been expanded to include other reasons that cause employees to be less than fully productive at work. Today, employers and HR Departments have shifted their focus from issues such as tardiness and absenteeism to the larger and more pervasive problem of presenteeism. Considered now to be one of the biggest HR issues facing business, just exactly what is presenteeism? What is its cost to business? And, most importantly, what can be done about it?
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