Monday Mornings with Madison

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Time Management

How to Use Artificial Intelligence to Boost Business

Word Count:  1,751 Estimated Read Time: 7  min. As news articles tout how big advances in technology will make certain jobs obsolete, fear of technology is growing.  Think robotics and blockchain.  This fear of displacement is real and, to some … Continue reading

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Grit is an Essential Ingredient for Success – Part 2

Most every leader, entrepreneur and manager wants to have and hone the qualities that contribute to and best predict success. For example, most leaders want to demonstrate the qualities of confidence, organization, selflessness, structure, humility, and conscientiousness. But, in excess, even the best leadership qualities can become flaws. Someone who is too confident can become arrogant. A person who is too organized can become obsessive. A person who is too selfless can become a people-pleaser. A person who is too structured can have trouble being creative. A person who is too humble may not be able to inspire others to follow. A person who is too conscientious can become neurotic. However, there is one trait that every leader should have in as much abundance as possible. That is grit, a perseverance and passion for long term goals. There doesn’t seem to be such a thing as too much grit. The more grit a person has, the more they press on in the face of adversity. There is no downside to it.
Grit is a key trait – or combination of traits – that is absolutely essential for success. And, according to Dr. Angela Duckworth who won the Genius grant for her study of grit, it is also an excellent predictor of success. People with grit usually demonstrate courage, resilience, conscientiousness, follow-through, and excellence in very specific ways. A person with grit usually has a goal he/she cares about so much that it organizes and gives meaning to almost everything he/she does. Best of all, grit is something that can not only be learned, but also something that tends to increase with age. 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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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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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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11 Things Salespeople Should Do but Often Don’t

Ask any salesperson and they will tell you that selling is hard work. In fact, anyone who has ever had a job in sales will likely admit that it’s the hardest work they’ve ever done. If a salesperson gets a yes immediately, they haven’t really sold anything as much as taken an order. Selling starts the moment a prospect says no. Selling is what happens when a salesperson turns a No into a Yes. And yet, most salespeople make common mistakes throughout the sales process that keep them from making a sale.
There are a myriad of things that sales people should do… could do… would do… but don’t for a multitude of reasons. Sometimes salespeople are taught wrong. They are told to do things a certain way even though those techniques, approaches and strategies haven’t worked for half a century. Sometimes salespeople are taught the right things to do and they just don’t do them, either because they don’t believe the sales program is effective or they think their way is better. But a lot of the time, salespeople aren’t taught at all how to “sell.” So they emulate the worst examples of salesmanship, which just makes the job of sales even harder than it already is. The following are things a salesperson should do to make the sale.
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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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Focus on Conclusions… Not Resolutions

As the end of the fiscal year draws near, businesses hurry to finish deals, take inventories, close out books, and develop plans for the future. Grand goals are set to double sales, triple territorial reach or quadruple orders in the year ahead. People also look ahead; setting goals and preparing resolutions on how to become more successful and happier. Some make resolutions to quit smoking or lose weight. Others set lofty objectives such as start a business, write a book or run a marathon. The sound of the clock ticks louder and a feeling of urgency pushes everyone make plans and think ahead.
While all of that may sound good – and there is certainly nothing wrong with planning ahead — perhaps it is the exact opposite of what we should be doing right now? What if, instead of looking to the future, we use this momentum to look back? A look back might reveal a lot of ideas and plans that were begun but never finished. Projects that were started but never completed. Ideas that hit a road block and fizzled out. Tasks that were begun but not done. So many loose ends; so little time. Perhaps what businesses and employees should do with the last few days of the fiscal year is to make a list – not of Resolutions – but of Conclusions! Here’s how. Continue reading

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