Monday Mornings with Madison

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Look for Problems in 2018 – Pt 1

From the earliest age, we are taught to avoid trouble. Our parents teach us to sidestep difficulties and dodge danger. As we grow up, we learn in school to circumvent trials and elude strife. The savviest entrepreneurs are experts at evading challenges and finding the easiest and fastest ways to get things done. Let’s face it, we all try to avoid problems like the plague. And when faced with a problem, most people will wring their hands and lament in frustration. Problems are just hindrances that obstruct our path and keep us from getting where we’re going. Or are they?
Here’s the thing about problems. Because problems irritate, they eventually push us toward efforts to solve the problem. Thanks to our creative, sentient brains, humans are prone to search for solutions. The goal of solving an existing problem is the same for all types of challenges even if the solutions come in a variety of different shapes, sizes, and levels of complexity. When faced with a problem, people have used problem-solving strategies to create something new or innovate an existing idea in order to tackle these challenges. In this way, problems have led to inventions that have changed the world. Thus, problems are the pesky matches that spark creativity and spur innovation. In which case, shouldn’t every company be looking for problems within the business? And shouldn’t every aspiring entrepreneur be searching for problems that are just begging for a solution? That’s right, to change the world, we all need to be looking for problems. Continue reading

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Giving and Forgiving at Work

The concept of giving gets a lot of attention this time of year. Lip service is paid to generosity, whether it be giving of one’s time or money. People are encouraged to volunteer at organizations that help the less fortunate. Businesses are asked to give to charities that help the sick and needy. And charitable giving increases this time of year. We even applaud giving thanks… cheering an attitude of gratitude for what we have and what others do for us. Those are all laudable acts of generosity of spirit. Giving, in all its forms, is worthy of praise. But what about forgiving? Is that also a form of giving?
David K. Williams, a contributor to Forbes’ Entrepreneur called forgiveness “the least understood leadership trait in the workplace.” It is also, arguably, one of the least utilized traits by both leaders and staff. That makes forgiveness the rarest – and because it is rare, also the most generous — thing a person can bestow. While many are happy to give money or even time, those same generous-hearted people are often slow to forgive. Why do so many struggle with giving forgiveness and why is forgiveness so important in the workplace? More the point, exactly who benefits from forgiveness? Continue reading

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Humility: The Trait that Costs Nothing but Delivers a Huge ROI

In today’s PR-driven, social-media crazed, self-promoting world, humility is a quality that has perhaps lost its appeal. While everyone is busy yelling “Look at me! Listen to me!” with their selfies, posts, videos and TED talks, the humble are not boastful. They adopt a modest posture that refuses to draw attention for themselves. Humility is self-effacing, and unpretentious. The humble person will not think or act as if he is better than anyone else, and won’t try to impress others by appearing or seeming to have greater importance, talent or culture than he actually has. The humble person may even come across as shy, even if he is actually outgoing and confident. According to Meriam-Webster dictionary, humility is “a freedom from pride or arrogance.”
In the workplace, humble people often go unnoticed because of the very fact that they are not boastful. They don’t draw attention to themselves for their own benefit. When they share or contribute, it is because they have something to offer that adds value or helps others. Those who don’t brag are often seen as having minor value and contributing little to the team. Their modesty is attributed to their work rather than their personality. And yet humility is quite possibly the most valuable quality to have in employees and employers alike. Here’s why. Continue reading

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Fail Big in 2018

As this fiscal year rolls to a close, business people will invariably begin tallying their professional wins and losses of 2017. Corporate execs at every level will crunch numbers and calculate bottom lines. Managers will look at what they did well and what they did poorly. In taking stock, they will invariably start preparing for the year ahead. Goals will be set. Business, marketing and sales plans will be drafted. Resolutions will be made. That’s all fine.
But what if, instead of making big plans of how to improve and succeed in 2018, the plan was to fail… and not just fail, but fail big?! What if the goal for the next 12 months was to shoot for an epic failure? What would that plan look like? Would it start by setting unrealistic expectations and fantasizing impossible dreams? Would it include crafting major plans to expand, overhauling existing systems that work, aggressively hiring and training staff, and establishing sales quotas that would make even that most optimistic, can-do leaders balk? Would it involve enthusiastically renovating office or factory space and investing heavily in the latest “unproven” technologies like AI? Would it culminate with a miscalculation so big that it would rival those of Enron, Swiss Air or Borders? Who (in their right mind) would deliberately plan to fail… and fail big? Sounds insane? Perhaps. Or perhaps it’s crazy like a fox. Continue reading

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The Battle between Speed and Quality

In the business world, there is a constant tug-of-war between doing something ‘right’ and doing it fast. The pressure of profitability is forever pushing companies to get things done fast, and then faster still. Managers submit requests and the due date is “yesterday.” The more quickly a job is performed or a task is completed, the more it is praised by management and investors. Employees are urged to pick up the pace. An entire engineering discipline – ergonomics – was developed to focus on improving efficiency by saving time through small adjustments in motion. Sayings abound about not wasting time. Time waits for no man. Wasted time is a wasted life. Don’t waste time or time will waste you.
On the other hand, the more quickly a job is performed, the higher the chance of an error or mistake. Software updates are released too soon, full of bugs and glitches. New phones are rushed to market, often with serious defects such as combustive batteries. Haste is often the enemy of quality. That is why there are also sayings about the problem of rushing. Haste makes waste. And haste does not produce breakthrough ideas. Tham Khai Mend, Worldwide Chief Creative Officer at Ogilvy, one of the world’s leading advertising agencies, once said “Miners shift five tons of rocks to extract one ounce of gold. Just like you have to shift a ton of rubbish to get a good idea.” Detailed or creative work requires a great deal of thought, research, concentration, reflection and mulling over to produce the truly valuable nuggets. It is a process that cannot be rushed. And, work that requires precision and accuracy — such as surgery, architectural design, accounting, proofreading, and dispensing medicine – also cannot be rushed. In such work, quality is arguably more important than speed. So how does an employer balance the need for speed and efficiency against the often painstakingly slow nature of achieving quality? The answer is not to balance them. Improve quality and speed is sure to follow. Continue reading

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The New LinkedIn: A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

When LinkedIn launched, it was a social media site that encouraged people in the work world to connect with other known professionals for networking and career development. People were categorized as either (1st) which were direct connections, (2nd) which is someone who knows someone you know or (3rd) someone who knows someone that knows someone you know. They tracked up to three degrees of separation between people. In the early days of LI, someone with over 500 connections was considered to be a mover-and-shaker. The site discouraged linking to people outside those known at work, school or social circles. In turn, people were hesitant to link with people they didn’t know for fear that the site would be abused by salespeople and scammers.
Now, 15 years later, LinkedIn has evolved, describing itself as “a business- and employment-oriented social networking service that operates via websites and mobile apps.” The LI website says that “LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network with more than 530 million users in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide.” Their mission “is to connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.” Besides having direct connections, particularly “popular” people also have thousands to hundreds of thousands of “Followers” who simply want to read (articles and posts) what that person has to say. (For those unfamiliar with LI, a Follower isn’t necessarily a connection, but all of a person’s connections are Followers.
Some may wonder why anyone wants to “Follow” a person on LinkedIn that they don’t know and will probably never meet, and who might not even be in the same country and is likely to not even be in the same industry or field. Think of an Airline and Hospitality manager in Mumbai, India “following” a Chief Technology Officer at the Daily Mail in London. On the surface, they have little in common and are highly unlikely to ever interact. (These real contacts are, in fact, connected.) So what does an Influencer do that is deserving of so many Followers worldwide? Welcome to the new LinkedIn. It is a social media site where people not only connect with people they know, but actually seek to connect with people they want to know and people who offer information and insights of value. It serves as a public forum for professional voices. Some become so active that they are invited to be “Influencers.” Many of these Influencers are Recruiters and HR professionals, who are in the business of finding and knowing top talent. But many others are “gurus” in their own field such as leadership, management, marketing, technology, or sales. They not only offer advice and insights, but they also help those in their network in a variety of intangible and tangible ways. And even those who aren’t Influencers are helping contacts they hardly know, even when there is absolutely nothing in it for them. That’s because the focus of the new LI is not “what can you do for me?” but “what can we do for each other.” Continue reading

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The Smallest Gestures Can Have the Biggest Impact

Companies today compete furiously for market share. We see brick-and-mortar retailers fighting for every sale and struggling to survive. The Street announced that “Ailing department store operator Sears Holdings Inc. will shut down 63 more Sears and Kmart stores, the latest step as it hobbles to a likely bankruptcy.” [1] Restaurants are slogging it out with special offers, gimmicks and unique approaches that will attain and retain patrons. The New York Times recently reported that “There are now more than 620,000 eating and drinking places in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the number of restaurants is growing at about twice the rate of the population.” [2] Competition is tough, and marketing research shows that businesses in most industries are spending increasingly larger budgets to reach potential customers and woo existing customers. Clutch, a Washington, D.C.-based ratings and review firm, conducted a 2017 Small Business Digital Marketing Survey of 350 small business owners and managers (500 employees or less) in which 49% of entrepreneurs said they plan to spend more on digital marketing to boost sales and brand recognition this year over last year and 36% said they aim to boost their marketing budget by 11% to 30%. They are doing it all. PPC campaigns. Social media ads. Retargeting efforts. Network commercials. Seminars. Webinars. Video infomercials. Presentations. Mobile automated notifications. Text ads. The efforts are increasingly sophisticated and expensive. You name it. Businesses are doing it. Creating it…. deploying it…. and measuring the effectiveness of it. That’s a lot of time and money spent to cut through the noise and grab the audience’s attention with the hopes of driving sales and increasing repeat business.
The need to reach ever-larger audiences and cut through the ever-growing din of marketing noise is prompting companies to further automate sales and marketing efforts. Personalized eblasts are sent in bulk. Robo text messages pop up when a customer is near a store or eatery. Retargeting ads appear on websites that are completely unrelated to the site visited. Mass promotions are designed to have a “just for you” look. Websites welcome visitors back by name. And yet, despite or perhaps because of all those faux-personal, automated actions, many companies are finding that it is actually the one-on-one efforts and little niceties are having the biggest impact on capturing and keeping clients. Genuine, personal interaction and one-on-one service wows clients… and it doesn’t have to be costly or complicated. It’s often the modest gestures and pint-sized details that have the biggest impact. Continue reading

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Creating Great Digital Presentations Today

Auyush Jain of Microsoft once said that “A single 10-minute presentation has the power to convert an idea into reality.” That is perhaps why most companies that sell a product or service (something that is not a commodity) will use a “presentation” to explain their product or service to prospective customers. This is especially true for high ticket items, complex services and B2B sales. A typical presentation explains the product/service benefits and features as well as the company’s story and expertise. In the “old days”, before computers and software applications, salespeople would work with marketing to create the presentation on either boards or in a flip book or binder. In 1990, Microsoft revolutionized presentations with the launch of Powerpoint (which was invented in 1987 under a different name by a different company). Suddenly, anyone with basic technical skills could use software found on most desktops to create a digital presentation. Slides replaced boards and sheets. A presentation could be emailed to anyone, anywhere, at a moment’s notice. The use of presentations grew. They were no longer just used for sales pitches. Today, presentations are used for operational training, educational seminars, HR onboarding, and more.
Technology has evolved in leaps and bounds since Powerpoint launched and, yet, many people still use Powerpoint. On the 30th anniversary of this ubiquitous presentation software, business people everywhere still use the program even though it hasn’t changed much and functions in much the same way it did decades ago. Imagine if 30 years after automobiles became ubiquitous they still looked like Ford’s Model T. Absurd. So why is Powerpoint still so widely used? The reasons are varied. First, the software still comes with most computers, so why spend money to buy other software when Powerpoint can get the basic job done. Also, some people just don’t like change and see no need to find a new presentation tool when the current tool is still perfectly adequate to get the job done. Still others just don’t want to take the time to learn new software. And a Powerpoint presentation is familiar to most anyone who receives it, making it easy to open and view However, given the multitude of presentation programs on the market today, it is time to consider other options for creating and sharing great presentations today. Continue reading

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Professional Correctness is the New PC

Recently, CBS fired a legal executive in their organization over comments she posted on Facebook after the tragic incident in Las Vegas. The executive, who is an attorney and was Vice President and Senior Counsel in Strategic Transactions at CBS, posted her comment just hours after the tragedy. Without reposting what she said or opening the can of political worms related to her comment, suffice it to say that what she wrote was deemed by many to be emotionally-charged, callous and politically-volatile, and – of course — it quickly spread on social media and through online news outlets. Shortly thereafter, the executive was fired from her job. She had been employed by CBS for about a year. A CBS spokesperson said that “Her views as expressed on social media are deeply unacceptable to all of us at CBS.”
This begs the question, can the things that employees say or do in their private lives affect their employment? Given the First Amendment protection of freedom of speech, can an employer terminate an employee for a comment made on his/her own time on his/her own personal social media page? Is there a separation between personal and professional? The answer to all of these questions is basically yes. Yes, the CBS executive’s comment on social media is protected by the First Amendment and she cannot be arrested or punished by the government for her comment. And, yes, there is a line that separates personal from professional, but thanks to social media, that line is more blurry. Her freedom to speak her mind does not protect her from being fired from her job for violating professional standards of conduct, especially if she had an employment contract and was upheld to certain professional standards as an attorney. For those that bristle that this is just “political correctness,” it’s not. This is about being “professionally correct,” not “politically correct.” Thanks to social media, professional correctness is the new PC. So what exactly are the rules for being professionally correct and are those rules hard and fast regardless of a person’s position and employer? Are the professional standards of conduct the same for everyone? Continue reading

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Helping Underperforming but Unwitting Employees Improve Skills

A study of high-tech firms found that 32-42% of their software engineers rated their skills as being in the top 5% of their companies. This is mathematically impossible. A study at the University of Nebraska found that 68% of the faculty rated themselves in the top 25% for teaching ability, and over 90% rated themselves as above average, which is another mathematical impossibility. A study of medical technicians found that they consistently overestimate their knowledge of real-world lab procedures. This problem is not restricted to just employees. Studies also found this phenomenon in college students. Students in the bottom quartile of a number of tests on grammar, logic and humor grossly overestimated their ability. Those who tested in the bottom 10% for grammar actually thought they were in the top 33%. That’s a huge gap between perception and reality. And given that a study of over 30,000 employees found that fewer than half said they didn’t know if they were doing a good job while most managers believed their own performance was above par, then this phenomenon seems to also apply to those in management and leadership whose job it is to assess and communicate employee performance.
According to countless studies, many people have an inflated sense of their own skills and abilities. A large percentage of people are less skilled than they need to be in their work while their own perception of their skills is significantly higher than their actual skills. It is a common phenomenon. And, for employers, it is also a significant problem. Not only do most companies have many employees whose skills are subpar and thus aren’t doing their jobs well, but these marginally-skilled employees have no idea that they aren’t performing well. In fact, they usually think that their work quality is above average. This problem is not only widespread, but it is one that seriously hurts productivity and service delivery. This is known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect. But what is an employer to do when an employee’s opinion of his skills and performance don’t align with what is needed and expected for the job? Is there a way to help underperforming but unwitting employees improve their skills? Continue reading

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