Monday Mornings with Madison

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People skills

Staying Top-of-Mind… For Better or Worse?

There’s a saying that goes: “Talk good about me; talk bad about me; just as long as you’re talking about me!” It is also kiddingly said that the only thing worse than death is to be forgotten.  This may seem extreme, but it is emblematic of the pressing need to be known and remembered; an epidemic that has spread to all industries. Overwhelmed by constant digital noise, companies and business people struggle to be remembered and stay connected with contacts. It’s referred to as “staying top-of-mind.”

Staying top-of-mind is the great challenge in business today. Companies search for ways — from the legitimate to the trivial — to keep in touch with all of the customers and potential customers possible. Webinars. Blogs. E-mails. Advertising. Junk mail. Billboards. Sky writing. Commercials. The messages scream “Know me! Remember me!” All of this effort to stay top-of-mind is contributing to the white noise that, in turn, is making it ever harder to stay top-of-mind. It is the quintessential vicious cycle. So, is all of this effort really necessary? Or worth it? Most would argue “Yes!” Not only is it worth it, but it is absolutely necessary. So what strategies can a company or business person use to stay top-of-mind?
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The Many Facets of Leadership

Imagine that a company or business is like a boat and the boat has a destination… the port of profitability and growth. On the left side of the boat are the Marketing oars. On the right side of the boat are its Sales oars. If only the left oars are rowing, the boat will go around in circles, clockwise. And if only the right oars are rowing, the boat will go in counter-clockwise circles. Even if both sets of oars are rowing, but not in tandem, the boat will not move in the intended direction very swiftly. But if both sets of oars row in tandem, the boat will move forward. If guided by someone who knows the destination, it will move toward that spot. And the faster and more efficiently they row in tandem, the more swiftly it will get to its destination. The process of getting all the oars to row in tandem, efficiently and effectively, to a particular designation is management. Getting there faster than the competition is good management. And leadership is the wind in the sails of the vessel, which can help propel it even farther and faster. If the leadership is strong and steady, the work of the sales and marketing teams is made easier, and everything glides forward quickly.

Great leaders make the difference between an average performance and an extraordinary one. Today’s leaders do many things, including coaching, mentoring, counseling and, of course, managing. Employees today expect people in leadership roles to be willing to roll their sleeves up and keep managing and facilitating. In practical terms, what does good management look like today? It is more than just someone telling someone else what to do. Continue reading

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The Many Facets of Leadership

Much has been studied, researched, written and taught about leadership. There are even entire doctoral programs in leadership at prestigious universities. That’s because, arguably, good leadership allows companies to succeed when they might have otherwise failed. And great leadership pushes companies to rise above an ocean of mediocre ones. That is why the most successful investors — think George Soros and Warren Buffet, who achieved annual excess returns 15% over the S&P for over 30+ years — spend an inordinate amount of time every day studying not only a company’s financials but also the skills and track records of the leadership at those companies. Companies with the most innovative products can still fail to thrive without well-developed leadership. To state the obvious, leadership really matters.

Also, great leadership skills are not just essential for Presidents and C-Suite executives. Great leadership is invaluable for those directing divisions, departments, teams and projects. That’s because leaders are responsible for managing finite resources as well as planning and executing direction and action. In particular, one of the most important responsibilities of a leader is to help employees develop the skills and knowledge they need to succeed. That is called coaching and it is a key facet of leadership. So exactly what is coaching and what makes a great coach? And is there a difference between coaching and other things leaders commonly do such as managing, mentoring, teaching and counseling? Continue reading

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The Art of Negotiating Business Deals

One of the most challenging parts of working with a new client is finalizing the business agreement. This is the process in which the parties hammer out the details of the contract. The bigger the deal, the more complex the agreement. And negotiating the final terms of a complex deal can have its challenges. In those situations, a sales professional might find himself in a position where the customer holds all the cards. The salesperson may have invested a lot of time and effort in developing the opportunity. He may have even promised his boss that a commitment was imminent. The salesperson may feel boxed in and the customer may think he can dictate the terms. That’s a losing proposition for the salesperson and his company, even if they land the deal. Business deals that start out very lopsided – a win-lose proposition – don’t bode well for a good long-term business relationship.
The goal in any negotiation should be to achieve a win-win outcome. That may sound cliché and idealistic, but it is the secret to long-term success. But if the sales professional starts negotiating from a weak position, it will be hard to hammer out a win-win contract. To chisel out a win-win agreement, a sales professional must garner some negotiating power and then use smart negotiation strategies during the process to close the deal. Here are some tips. Continue reading

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How to Spot and Hire A Players for Key Positions

When organizations hire employees for key positions, they want superstars. They want rainmakers and movers-and-shakers. Basically, they want A Players. They certainly don’t set out to hire 10% A Players, 80% B Players and 10% C Players. But that’s what most companies have. Still, it is fair to say that no recruiter ever hired someone knowing he would be a C Player, nor could he have known with certainty who was an A Player and who was a B Player. If only 10% of the employees at most companies are A Players, then clearly HR departments are hiring lots of B and C Players. That implies that it must be hard (or should we say nearly impossible) to distinguish between A, B and C Players.
The truth is that it is a challenge to distinguish between A, B and C Players. But when hiring for key positions, spotting A Players is essential. Certainly, companies more capable of spotting and hiring A Players for key positions will likely grow and thrive. A Players are the ones most likely to deliver creativity and innovation. They are the ones most likely to drive productivity, growth, and sales. They produce results. By the same token, it is reasonable to conclude that companies that have trouble identifying, hiring and keeping A Players will likely be less successful. So how does a manager spot and hire the A-list for his roster when they are not only hard to spot, but also when every other company is vying for the same top talent? Continue reading

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A-Players vs. B-Players: Understanding the Value of Each Type of Employee

Employees are the most valuable resource of any company. From Apple to DeBeers to Walmart, employees are the ones who lead, manage, create, innovate, implement, interact and engage with others on behalf of the company. Only in the smallest companies do the owners perform the majority of the work. In most other companies, employees do most of the work that generates profit. For that reason, recruiting and hiring individuals with the skills and qualities to fit specific openings is the hardest thing any company does… even in the most successful organizations. And it doesn’t matter if the position is an entry-level receptionist, a seasoned salesperson, a highly-technical professional position, or C-Suite executive. Each opening has an ideal set of skills and qualities that would be the best fit for that job at that company. But the more remarkable the skills and qualities needed in an employee, the harder it is to find the right person to fill that job.
Given the importance of employees, one would think that companies should seek to only hire the most talented and successful candidates for every opening. They are often referred to as A-Players. But in reality, it is neither practical nor necessary for every employee at a company to be an A-Player. The truth is that not every opening at every company requires an A-Player and most of the time B-Players are a better fit for the majority of openings. What’s the difference between an A-Player and a B-Player (and what’s a C-Player)? When is it essential to hire A-Players? And how does one tell the difference between the A, B and C-Players when they apply for a job? Continue reading

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When “Company Policy” Creates Lifelong Customers… for the Competition

There are three little words that help businesses create lifelong customers more effectively than practically any other phrase: “It’s company policy.” The problem is that those words create lifelong customers for the competition of the company saying that to its customers. For businesses that want to drive their customers to the competition, have at it. Use that phrase to your heart’s content. Better yet, just close your doors now and save yourself the time and slow agony of going out of business the old fashioned way… failure to make money.
Let’s face it. Saying “It’s company policy” to a customer is just a nicer way of saying “We don’t want your business.” That is what a customer hears when an employee blames “company policy” for an unwillingness or inability to solve a problem or accommodate a request. And when a manager says “It’s company policy” to an employee, he is saying “If you don’t like it, go work somewhere else.” As technology and innovation continues to disrupt industry after industry, leaders and managers will be forced to decide whether they are going to stick-to-their-guns and cling to outdated company policies that kill business and alienate employees, or whether they are going to innovate and evolve with the times. Continue reading

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When Teamwork Breaks Down

It was recently reported that Usain Bolt – dubbed the world’s fastest runner – was stripped of one of his nine Gold medals. Unlike other occasions when athletes have lost a medal or award, in this case Bolt himself did nothing wrong. He was not guilty of cheating or unsportsmanlike conduct. Rather, Bolt lost the Olympic gold medal because his teammate, Nesta Carter, tested positive for a banned stimulant found during a re-analysis of samples from the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Carter and Bolt were teammates on the winning 4×100-meter team, which set a world record of 37.10 seconds. Carter ran the opening leg, and Bolt took the baton third in the race. But doping by even one member of the team disqualified the entire team – four athletes – from the competition.
Besides being heartbreaking for the three innocent athletes, this case is indicative of the importance and vulnerability of teamwork. And it is instructive about what happens when teamwork breaks down. In truth, while people tend to think that teams are the democratic—and the efficient—way to get things done, research shows that most of the time team members don’t even agree on what the team is supposed to be doing or what is most important. Getting agreement is the leader’s job, and he must be willing to take great personal and professional risks to set the team’s direction. And if the leader isn’t disciplined about managing who is on the team and how it is set up, the odds are slim that a team will do a good job. This is certainly true in Olympic sports and – although perhaps less glamorous — it is also true in business. So what do we know about teams, why they break down and what can be done to ensure they don’t? Continue reading

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Failures are Stepping Stones to Success

Failure and success. Winner and loser. Just what is the relationship between these concepts? Is there a vast ocean of qualities, traits, and achievements that separates failure from success? What makes a person a winner? Is success something you are, something you achieve or something you have? Do we consider someone a success because he or she has achieved certain milestones? What are those things? Education. Wealth. Respect. Fame. Power. Control. Relationships. Position.
What about failure? Does failing at some things in life make a person a failure? In truth, every person experiences at least some failures in their lifetime. Even billionaire President Donald Trump has had businesses that failed. That is just part of being human. People make mistakes. Social blunders. Professional missteps. Financial mistakes. Business miscalculations. Is it a cumulative effect? Does failing a certain number of times make a person a failure? If failing a lot doesn’t make a person a failure, then what does?
How do we define failure and success? Can someone who flopped at most everything he did for a large portion of his life later be seen as a success? There is plenty of evidence that failure and success seem to go hand-in-hand. Some of the people we most admire and respect in history were considered utter failures at one point in their life before achieving great success. Just how did those failures become successes? Is failure an essential part of the journey to success? Continue reading

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The Down Side of an Instant Gratification Culture

We live in an increasingly Faster-is-Better world. We want what we want… and we want it now. Waiting has become a cardinal sin. Waiting more than two seconds for a web page to load increases bounce rates. Waiting for pedestrians to get out of a crosswalk makes drivers dangerously antsy. Waiting on hold more than a minute for a company to provide service causes customers to hang up and go elsewhere. Speed has become so important that businesses have sprung up focused on providing faster service. Walmart, eBay and Amazon are all offering same-day delivery in many locations. Uber’s business model is built on ensuring that a person who needs a ride can get one at a moment’s notice anywhere. Drive-through windows have sprung up for everything from groceries to medicines. Some furniture stores now also offer same-day delivery. Even the world of entertainment has begun catering to the increasing demand for instant results. Companies like Netflix are now offering an entire season’s worth of programs all at once to feed the desire to “binge-watch” without having to wait for the next installment. This demand for “immediate” has seeped into every corner of life – both real and virtual.
Some see this growing trend toward haste as progress and impatience as a quality shared by highly successful people. If – as the saying goes – ‘time is money’ and wasted time equals lost revenue, then the desire for instant results makes sense. What’s more, the value placed on immediacy is creating businesses and jobs. Client demand for “now” is driving innovation. It could be said that the insatiable thirst for instant gratification is pushing – or should we say shoving — companies to be more customer-service oriented. And most would agree that that is a good thing. But there is also a saying that ‘haste makes waste.’ So is there a problem with this increasing need for speed? Continue reading

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