Monday Mornings with Madison

Category Archives:
Planning & Strategy

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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Preparing a Business for Emergencies

While it might seem impossible to prepare for the “unexpected”, business owners must think about and prepare for crisis situations. Some of those might be man-made, such as a cyber attack by hackers. More commonly, though, those unexpected events are those of nature, such as the massive flooding of the last few weeks experienced in Houston due to Hurricane Harvey and the rampant forest fires that are sweeping through California right now. Blizzards. Tornadoes. Earthquakes. There is no limit to the kinds of crises that businesses can experience, and they can happen anywhere, any time. Whether natural or man-made, these events are a cautionary admonition that the unexpected can and does happen.

It is up to business leaders to prepare for all types of emergencies in order to offset the impact of those situations on the bottom line. So how does a business owner prepare for the unexpected? Regardless of the location or type of business, every company should have an Emergency Preparedness Plan to deal with crisis situations. It is just good sense for every company to have and share its plan of action with staff. And some measures should be thought through and taken long before an emergency occurs. If no plan exists, it’s time to create one. Here are some things to consider in developing a corporate Emergency Preparedness Plan.
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Getting Back in High Gear after a Vacation

Everyone needs a vacation every so often. According to countless studies, people need time to disconnect from work and allow time for “play.” For some, play might mean just relaxing at home, reading a book and doing some gardening. For others, play may constitute high-adrenaline sports such as snowboarding, skydiving or bungee jumping. For the vast majority, play is all about changing scenery and exploring a new place and all that entails. Culture; architecture; cuisine; language; history; the arts. Whether it’s an adventurous vacation or a calm staycation, the one thing all vacations have in common – if done right — is a complete disconnect from daily grind of work. It’s a mental break… as in breaking away from the day-to-day routine. Even people who love what they do for a living and thoroughly enjoy their jobs need an occasional vacation.
But, from a global perspective, Americans are among the worst at taking vacation time. They are notorious for not taking all (or sometimes even any) of their vacation time each year and for often working during vacations. Americans vacation less than workers from most other industrialized nations of the world. Consequently, by the time Americans do take a vacation, it is often desperately needed and long overdue. The tough part is that once a person finally gets relaxed enough to be really enjoying their time off, it’s time to return to work. At that point, it is hard to shift back into high gear after letting go of it all. Some find it hard to bring their A Game after a week or two break. But there are ways to shift back into high gear quickly and easily after returning from holiday. Here are some tips to make the transition smoother. Continue reading

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Turning Storytelling into Sales

Great storytelling – from Rumpelstiltskin to War and Peace– is one of the basic tools invented by the human mind for the purpose of understanding. There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories. Storytelling has been important to every people in history. It is a cornerstone of human existence, enabling people to communicate and connect. It’s been a primary tool used in government, religion, education, and – of course — business. The world’s most persuasive, compelling, and successful communicators were all great storytellers. Socrates was a great storyteller. Ben Franklin was even better. Walt Disney was masterful.
Thanks to the Internet, mass media and social media, storytelling has become a quintessential part of sales and marketing strategies. So how does a company take good information and turn it into a great story? For stories to be impactful, they need to be easily recalled and they need to motivate people. They must have emotional resonance and relevancy — most of which comes out in the details. A good story holds the audience captive. It stretches the limits of the imagination and allows listeners to marvel or wonder at something. It touches them and leaves them vulnerable. That’s why stories are such an amazing communications tool. Here’s how to turn a product or service into a great story that enhances the bottom line.
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How Good is Your Company’s Storytelling?

Today’s sales and marketing efforts require good storytelling. But storytelling is nothing new. Even before people could write, they were telling each other engaging stories to share information. That’s because no one is – or has ever been — interested in absorbing dry information. Even with today’s technology, dry information is still unpalatable whether it is delivered in a print ad, a radio commercial or video. Information is simply more likely to be accepted if it comes gift-wrapped in a story. Storytelling has the power to transform drab business details into something interesting.

Why do people find stories more compelling than other information? It’s physiological. When we listen to a standard presentation presenting dry information or hear a boring lecture, the Broca’s area of the brain is stimulated. This is in the side of the brain that deals with language and logic. However, when we are told a story that is rich with meaning and visual cues, there is a dramatically different response in the brain. Both the right and left lobes of the brain are activated. In addition to engaging the left part of the brain that handles logic and language, a good story also engages and stimulates the right side of the brain– what is deemed as the creative part. Stories grip us and help us experience emotions.  It is those emotions that help us connect with a brand, service or product. Storytelling helps shape the narrative surrounding a product or service. The goal, then, should be for a business to wrap every effort within a compelling story. Here’s how to start.
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Growing a Business

Most companies are in growth-mode. Successful businesses are always looking for ways to increase sales, revenue and – ultimately — profits. And there are a multitude of ways for a company to grow. A company might be ready to expand its geographic reach and open another location or hire more sales staff. Or it might want to diversify its products or services. Or it might have won a major government contract that necessitates operational expansion. Or it might be looking to franchise its operations. Alternatively, it might want to license its products so it can be sold by other companies. Or it might want to form an alliance with a partnering organization or merge with another business entity. These are all valid approaches to grow a business.
While approaches for growth vary, the elements to grow a business are usually the same for most companies. In fact, the variables for growing a business are somewhat similar to growing a garden or harvesting a field. Just as with a garden, there is an ecosystem or market in which a company will grow. A garden must have the right space and soil to expand and a business needs the right facility, plant, office space or storefront to grow. And a garden must be properly fertilized and watered, while a business needs marketing and advertising to nurture the business. Also while a garden must have the right amount of energy or sunlight to grow, a business needs the right sales and business development support to generate orders. And just as there must be a strategy to keep all manner of bugs and pests from destroying or consuming what is produced in a garden, businesses need to keep competitors and regulations from eating away at profits. Gardeners must have some level of training and experience with agriculture or horticulture, a company’s employees need training and expertise in the business’ niche. And they must not only know what they are doing, but they must be efficient and effective in their work to maximizer the ROI. There must also be a way to harvest the yield in a timely manner. And the quality of what is produced must remain high, and be as good as or better than the competition’s produce or else no one will want it. Just as only the best gardeners are successful expanding a small garden into a thriving, productive farm, only savvy, shrewd business owners can grow a company.
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Under-Promising and Over-Delivering

It’s been said (many times) that companies should strive to under-promise and over-deliver. Under-promising and over-delivering is seen as a good philosophy to control customer expectations and ensure that every customer becomes a raving fan when they get more than they expected. On the other hand, there are those who would argue that this is a great way to drive a business into the ground. Some see this as a formula for failure because it lowers the bar internally so that what is considered “above and beyond” is really nothing more than what the competition does on a regular basis without breaking a sweat. It therefore encourages mediocrity. Which is true?
Should a company seek to under-promise what it is offering clients? And should a company try to over-deliver, going above and beyond what is standard? Or should they set the bar high and strive to go above and beyond that? This is the conundrum with which leaders have wrestled since companies first began competing for business. There is no easy answer. The truth is that it depends. In certain situations, it is helpful to under-promise and over-deliver, but there are also times when under-promising and over-delivering actually hurts business. Understanding when it is good to do this and when it isn’t is the key.
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The Video Revolution – Part 3

When we think of the work that salespeople do, we generally think of one-on-one selling. For anything that is not a commodity, a salesperson will speak face-to-face to another person and “pitch” a product or service. The ‘traveling salesman’ is the quintessential image of sales. But, obviously, that kind of selling is limiting. It is limited by how much time and how much distance a salesperson can cover. Even in dense cities like New York, Chicago, or San Francisco, a salesperson can only make so many sales calls in one day. And in cities or metropolitan areas that are more diffused, such as Los Angeles, Atlanta, Triangle Park or Miami, traveling from place to place for sales meetings can consume huge swaths of each day.

Because of that, sales teams have always looked for ways to compress the sales cycle and use technology to assist in the sales process. Call centers. Robo-calling. CRM systems. Email. Text messages. And now, video is emerging as a useful sales tool as well. When done right, videos can speak directly to prospective clients and guide them through the sales funnel. But some still wonder if video can really be effective in the sales process. And there are many questions surrounding how to construct sales videos. Should a video sales pitch focus on a product / service features or should it focus instead on the benefits / solution? Can a sales video or series of sales videos help move the sales process more quickly toward the close? And can a sales video actually close a deal? If sales videos are effective, can a company just create sales videos and not have salespeople? Here are what the experts think.
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The Video Revolution – Part 2

Two of the biggest challenges that regional and national companies face are training new hires and then keeping all staff up-to-date on company changes such as new software programs, updated policies, and evolving procedures. Just getting corporate office staff trained and keeping them current is enough of a challenge. Training takes time and consumes resources. A lot of information is thrust at employees at one time. Meanwhile, productivity drops or stops during training. Customer service suffers and employees are tasked with keeping up with the workload while making time for training. If doing that for corporate staff is hard, then training regional or national employees is even more difficult, especially when some or all of those employees are working remotely from small regional offices, executive offices or home offices. This is particularly difficult in the U.S. due to the country’s vast geographical size. Bringing a cadre of regional or national staff together to one location for training incurs a lot of hard costs and generates a lot of down time not just for training but also for travel.
The challenge for training new hires is even greater. Managers need to share a great deal of information with new employees in a very short amount of time. New hires often report that it is like drinking from a fire hose. This is not the ideal way to retain new information or make a new hire feel comfortable and confident. Bringing all new employees to one central location for in-person training is also hard and expensive. New hire training often can make or break an employee’s effectiveness for years to come.
To tackle both issues, companies are discovering the value of training videos. Video facilitates training and ensures that training is effective. Live Webcasting and dynamic on-demand training modules that employees can watch and process at their own pace help increase retention. And video-based training can be done without travel—at employees’ exec suites, home offices, or even a nearby Starbucks. This minimizes disruption and costs. Here are tips and best practices on how to use video for training.
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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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