About Workforce Echoes

Monday, December 27, 2010

Organizational Values (4 in a series)

Moving Together In The Right Direction
Our last three blog postings have been about organizational values.  Before I switch to another subject, I think it’s important to make one more point about values.  Organizational values define the “right way” for how things should be done in your workplace.  With any goal, there is the “right way” to do things and the “right results” to achieve.  We have all worked with people who do what they are asked to do, but perform in a manner that ends up being destructive to the organization.  For example, consider the sales person who bad mouths other sales team members with the goal of making all of the sales on his own.  He ends up having a high sales volume, the “right results,” but his methods were not the “right way.”  When only the results are made clear, and values are not well defined, people will use whatever behaviors work for them to achieve the goal.  This can create an unengaged work environment and a bad reputation for your company.

TEAM: Together We Achieve More! 

Behaviorally-based value systems take the "wiggle room" out of interpreting the “right way.” Once organizational values are defined, expected behaviors to display those values are also outlined.  For example, we value collaboration and therefore expect all team members to consider others’ ideas, and to have drafts and finished products reviewed by at least one other team member. These expected behaviors are communicated to all team members.  Team members can use a variety of methods to achieve goals, as long as they stick to behaviors that fall in line with our value of collaboration. 

It’s just as important to build a great reputation for your organization as it is to work towards defined sales or productivity goals.  A solid reputation is built when all employees understand and adhere to expected behaviors that communicate organizational values.  The “right way” must be understood.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Organizational Values (3 in a series on values)

By Jeff Sullivan

Whether or not you choose to create a strategic well communicated set of values, your organization will make decisions and take action on a set of values.  Absent a deliberate plan, these values will grow organically and most likely represent the personal values of the people who can help or hurt you the most.  In larger organizations this can mean that you have competing sets of values that are at odds with one another, creating a serious distraction and wasting valuable resources.  For example, if an employee knows that the CEO values “no mistakes” but her direct supervisor values “creative ideas” she will often find herself in conflict between the “sure bet” way to no mistakes versus taking a risk and trying something new.  Similarly, if the direct supervisor values high profit margins but an employee’s major client values integrity, the two values may at times collide, and the employee will not know the “right thing to do.”  Successful organizations run a single value system imbedded into all of its people practices.  These well communicated and integrated values serve to reduce distractions and conflict and make decision-making easier.

Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple Computer, put it well.  “The only thing that works is management by values.  Find people who are competent and really bright, but more importantly, people who care exactly about the same things you care about.”

Monday, December 6, 2010

Organizational Values (2 in a series on values)

What exactly are values?  Values are the core set of principles that drive your decisions and behavior.  They are "valuable" in the sense that they are an important compass for us as we cycle through life.  A well understood value system becomes most valuable in ambiguous circumstances--times when you cannot find the answer in a book, the Internet or the law.  I'm talking about situations that compel you to make a judgment call in unfamiliar territory.  When you are experiencing something for the first time, you don’t have past experience to rely on in making a decision.  Values are the guide.  These same issues exist within organizations as well.  Having a deliberate and clear set of organizational values is essential for success in the world we operate in today.

As a manager you have two choices.  You can attempt to write a policy and procedure manual that covers what to do in every possible situation, or you can integrate values into your people practices and rely on employees to make “good” choices based on those values.  The first alternative is all too often tried, but always fails.  Employees can’t memorize volumes of policy and procedure and often end up feeling as if they can’t move without checking the policy manual first.  They can however learn expected behaviors as they relate to clear organizational values.  The most successful organizations have followed this path leading to a values based and well-known organizational culture.
                                                                                              By Jeff Sullivan

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Organizational Values (1 in a series on values)

Values Determine Behavior

Do you ever step back, look at your life, the decisions you've made and the things that you have done and wonder why?  Why do you consistently follow a pattern when reacting to the world around you?  If you did step back, you would likely see certain patterns. Fear of certain things, the tendency to gravitate to similar types of people, or always avoiding certain situations, are examples of behavior patterns.  Mostly likely, you are using your own set of personal values to guide your behavior.  Your values are formed by the environment you grew up within--parents, teachers, significant events etc.  These events and experiences lead to certain beliefs which then serve to form your values. 

Organizations behave similarly. Whether an organization has declared values or not, values WILL determine behavior in all organizations.  Successful organizations have a set of strategic values integrated into all people practices.  This forms the foundation for the business ecosystem.  Values impact how employees behave and respond to customers, what goals are set and reached, what policies and procedures are followed, how managers treat employees, and how employees treat each other.  Just watch behavior.  You can also determine an organization’s values by finding out where time and money are spent.  Organizational leaders have a choice: allow any old values to naturally grow, or create, communicate and integrate strategic values that purposefully move the organization forward.  What values are controlling behavior in YOUR organization?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Organizational Culture (4 in a series)

Friendships in the Ecosystem
I am continuing one more week with our ecosystem analogy.  Today I want to make the point that you create a work environment in hundreds of ways.  When we think of all the people systems within the work environment, the typical thoughts go to hiring, rewarding, performance appraisals, and communicating expectations.  Yet it goes way beyond this.  Trust, freedom, supplies and equipment provided, procedures, space, colors, moods, signs, newsletters, emails, and on and on all have an impact on the environment you grow. 

For this week, I want to focus on the impact of friendships on the environment.  Think of how different the culture of an organization will be if employees get along well and maybe even like and respect each other!  You can’t force friendships.  But you can hire right.  You can provide time and places for socializing with colleagues.  You can learn about and implement team building practices.  You can take personality into consideration when making specific job assignments.  You can resolve performance problems immediately, and treat people fairly so that resentment doesn’t build.  There are many things you can do to help build trust, respect, and friendships within your environment.  A Gallup study proved that one of the key ingredients to employee engagement was having a close friend at work.  When people get along well, they WANT to help each other because that’s just what you do in a cohesive community.  They care about each other and it will show in their behavior and actions.  The company doesn’t have to dictate the rules as much because behavior is impacted so greatly by positive emotion, friendships, and relationships.

I use the term “touch points” to mean all of the various ways, both small and large, that employees are impacted by policy, procedure, their boss, colleagues, employees, customers, and the overall work environment. Everything that impacts an employee’s attitude towards work in general and each work day are touch points.  What makes their day pleasant?  What makes their day frustrating?  It helps if you focus on your own work day, and the multiple ways in which your own mood is impacted by policy, procedure, and people.  These are the touch points and should be your focus as you work towards creating a positive work environment.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Organizational Culture (3 in a series)

The Answer is an Absolute “Yes!”
As an American who has grown accustomed to a fast paced life and the need for fast food, I’ve also developed my expectations for the service I’ll receive in these fast food restaurants.  I know that the employees who work in these establishments are paid very little.  I know that many of the employees view this as a temporary job.  I know that most of the front line staff work there for one purpose only; to make money.  This is how I justify the poor customer service I’ve grown accustomed to.  It never surprises me to deal with seemingly grumpy staff, to rarely receive a friendly smile or even eye contact, and more often than not, to have my order be wrong.  Despite this, I keep going back for more.
Our last two blogs have focused on viewing the business environment as an ecosystem.  So, if we are saying that managers can create this ecosystem, is it possible to create a friendly and engaged environment at a fast food restaurant?  The answer is an absolute “YES!”  As an example, there is a Chick Fil A in Edgewater Maryland.  The manager here must deal with the same elements that other managers of fast food restaurants must deal with.  That is, the difficulty in recruiting quality people, the low pay, the attitude of this job being temporary, and the fact that the front line employees rarely have a purpose in working there other than a pay check.  Yet this particular manager has created a friendly and engaged environment.  I go there more often than I care to admit.  Every single time, consistently, I am greeted with enthusiasm, a smile, an attitude that says “what can I do to help you?” and always a very friendly “thank you.”  I always feel that my business there is appreciated.  This manager has created an engaged work environment and it is noticeable to every customer.
Environments are created.  Cultures grow.  No matter your workforce, no matter your industry, it is possible to create a positive environment.  Examine your hiring practices, reward practices, performance management systems, communication habits, expectations, and goals.  Examine all the ways you and the business impact employees.  It takes time and patience, but with some determination, you can begin to change the work environment and allow desired culture to grow.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Organizational Culture (2 in a Series)

For this week’s blog I’m going to continue with the garden analogy from last week; i.e. that being a manager is similar to growing a healthy garden. This analogy enables managers to view behavior as logical rather than random.  The focus this week is on performance problems, the weeds in your garden. 

Some gardeners tend their garden regularly.  Weeds don’t have time to take over and when even a single weed pops up, it is noticed immediately and yanked out. A beautiful and healthy garden is allowed to flourish. In the business world, managers who handle people problems on a regular basis, and who do not allow problem behavior to go unnoticed, are able to grow an environment of engaged and productive employees that is noticeable to anyone observing this team.   On the other hand, a manager who focuses on performance issues only once per year at the annual review, will have a garden that has been so taken over by the weeds that it seems overwhelming. Problem behavior becomes the norm, and desired behavior will get choked out. When you stand back and observe this team, you will observe conflict and chaos.

If your work environment is currently filled with conflict and chaos, there is hope!  It is a lot more work than plucking a single weed, but it CAN be done.  Clearly state expectations and goals.  Monitor behavior and progress daily.  Deal with problems immediately. This will be equivalent to a large scale climate change in the environment, and you should expect it to take a while for the ecosystem to settle and become sustainable again. When it does however, you’ll find that desired behaviors become the norm.  The environment change will eventually change the organizational culture.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Organizational Culture (1 in a Series)

Managing is just like gardening. I did a simple Google search on “planning a garden” and, on the first page of search results alone, was quickly able to find the following quotes:

“A well-planned garden is easier to care for. It saves time in the garden and is more productive than an unplanned garden.” http://urbanext.illinois.edu/tog/planning.cfm

“When getting started, carefully planning your garden now can save a lot of trouble in the future.” http://www.gardensalive.com/article.asp?ai=74

“A vegetable garden should do what you want it to, so ask yourself what your desired outcome is.”

Do you notice the analogy? Just like the first quote, a well planned business is easier to care for. Planning saves time and is more productive than an unplanned business strategy. Have you defined specific goals? Can you visualize what your garden, I mean business, will accomplish and produce? The second quote also applies. Carefully planning your business goals now can save a lot of trouble in the future. The third quote can equate to both planning and hiring. Are the employees you’ve hired able to do what you want them to do and achieve the desired outcome? In the business environment, people you hire replace the seeds in a garden. What have you planted in your business environment? What type of person and what talents will help the business achieve defined goals? A haphazard hiring system is equivalent to throwing out a package of mixed up unknown seeds and then feeling frustrated that you’re not growing roses. Take a moment to sit back and analyze the garden you’re growing. If you find business articles boring to read, perhaps a good book on gardening could help you produce a winning team!! We will continue this analogy with our next several blogs. Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Find Your Focus

Have you ever had the feeling that you work your tail off but accomplish very little? It’s like you see this long road ahead, and you run and run, but the end never seems to get any closer. I go through these phases sometimes but if I take the time to think everything through, the reason is typically crystal clear. I’m usually just too busy to do anything about it!
One of the major reasons I find for working hard and accomplishing little is a lack of focus. I know I’m in trouble when I can no longer set priorities. I’ll sit down at my desk, piled high with half complete projects and ideas, and have no idea what I should be working on. I also can’t tell the difference between distractions and productive time. Everything just blends together.

If you feel like you’re spinning your wheels but accomplishing little, possibly it’s time to take a day or two off just to think. Why did you take this job or open this business in the first place? What was your purpose? What do you like to do best? What changes could be made and what decisions are needed? What tasks could be put aside for a while? Take charge and make a change. People often take a couple days off and try to put work completely out of our minds. Sometimes you need this. But if you’ve lost your focus, you need to spend time away from the chaos just thinking, talking to someone, and planning. Otherwise you head right back into the busy schedule and continue to accomplish little.
Here are some other ideas to help you gain focus:

• Turn off your computer and work with paper and pen for a day. Draw, visualize and map out ideas without the distractions of Email, web browsing, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
• Talk to people instead of email. Communication is far better that way.
• Break larger goals down into smaller tasks. Focus on achieving one task at a time. You can clearly see progress which helps you maintain your focus and motivation to keep moving forward.
• Set and keep deadlines for yourself. We all need accountability.
• Keep a time tracking journal. What exactly are you doing every day? Where is time being wasted?
• Stop trying to do everything well and pick one thing to do really well instead. Even if this is just temporary, focus time on accomplishing one important goal rather than working towards 10 at the same time.

In my experience, the longer I get off course, the longer it takes to get back on course. It’s like driving aimlessly for weeks versus a couple hours before remembering where you were headed in the first place. No one likes working hard with seemingly little progress. Take those couple of days off to think. Turn on your internal GPS. Remember what you like to do, how you like to do it, and what you hope to accomplish by this time next year. Then plan your course. The added benefit is that priorities will be clearer and you’ll be able to recognize distractions for what they are. We all need a distraction every now and then; it’s just nice to be able to recognize them.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


I’ve titled this article after one of my favorite quotes.  The quote is about the potential negative repercussions of comparing ourselves to others. 
“Don’t blow your candle out because someone else’s is shining brighter.”
It is human nature to compare ourselves to others.  Yet it is crazy how often we allow this to steel our joy and motivation.  She has a bigger house than mine so suddenly my perfectly nice house seems pathetic.  He has a degree from an Ivy League school so suddenly my degree seems insignificant.  The business down the road has five times as many employees as mine, so my business isn’t as good. 
This phenomenon is important for anyone in a leadership position because it can have a huge impact on your team’s creativity, motivation, and ultimate success.  Over the next few weeks, try to keep the candle quote in mind and notice how frequently it impacts behavior.  Take note of the quiet employee who may feel intimidated by other members of the team.  Pull him or her aside, and listen to their thoughts and ideas.  Take note of when your own attitude and words make other’s feel not as smart as you and thus not motivated to offer ideas.  Take note of that employee who didn’t receive proper training and now her confidence is going down the drain.  You need your entire team to feel motivated and energized and taking note of when and why people are losing that motivation is a first step to fixing the problem.  If you notice and react to these situations quickly, the “fix” is a lot easier than if you wait till you have a fully disengaged team.
If you’re in a leadership position, one of the common ways we let our candles fade is when comparing our business to the competition.  Sometimes, especially when you’re just starting out or just heading down a new path, this can be discouraging.  The competition may have come out with an innovative new product you never thought of.  They may be bigger and better established.   They may have more clients.   Attitude is a choice.  We can get discouraged, which will infect your entire team, or focus on what your team does really well.  Maybe you can’t produce a new product as fast as that business across town, but perhaps your product is better.  Maybe you have 10 employees on your team instead of 500, but you may offer better customer service, and decisions can be made significantly faster.  Maybe you have five clients instead of 100, but you offer customized solutions rather than a cookie cutter approach.  When you focus on what you do well and the talents of your team, this confidence will shine through to potential clients and customers.  
As a business owner or team leader, one of the major secrets to success is finding, hiring, and managing extraordinary people.  Keeping everyone’s candles burning bright is key.  You can’t control the attitudes of others, but your CAN focus on what your team does and could do well.  You CAN encourage and point out when someone blows out their own candle for ridiculous reasons.  You CAN give everyone an opportunity to be heard and to find ways to use their talents to achieve business goals.  Most importantly, your own positive attitude and belief in your team will be contagious.  It’s amazing what a motivated and energized team of people can accomplish, no matter how many candles are shining brightly around them.

Friday, May 28, 2010


Many large scale studies have proven the connection between employee engagement and financial performance.  The correlation is undeniable. If you are running your own business now, or just starting up a new company, do a little research on employee engagement.  As Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines said, “There is one key to profitability and stability during either a boom or bust economy: employee morale.”  As the saying goes, “the soft stuff brings hard results.”  Are your employees engaged?

If you don’t know exactly what is meant by “employee engagement” just do a little experiment.  For the next week, take careful note of the behaviors and attitudes of employees in any business you walk into wherein YOU are the customer.  Are employees helpful?  Are they complaining about having to work or are they engaging in friendly conversation with customers?  Do you get ignored or do employees seem to WANT to help you?  If you have a question or request, are you able to get a satisfactory answer?  Do employees seem more anxious to get off of work or to meet your needs?  Can you even find someone to answer your question?  It’s hard to put your finger right on employee engagement but you definitely can feel when it’s there and feel when it’s not.  What are customers feeling when they walk in YOUR business?

How many times have you been in a customer service situation where you’re frustrated by the fact that the employee you are dealing with is clearly powerless to do anything but follow rigid rules?  More importantly, they don’t seem to care that they cannot meet your needs.  Rigid rules do not engage employees and frustrate customers.  Let me give an example.  The other day I was at Subway, the fast food chain restaurant across from my office.  My sister asked for a bowl of soup and requested some bread to go along with the soup.  As we looked at the employee we could see about 500 loaves of bread in racks behind her.  However, we were told that she could NOT serve bread with soup, only with a sandwich.  To make matters worse, the employee came across as if she was irritated by the request.  She didn’t smile or make eye contact or do anything to indicate she cared about customer service.  She was just earning a paycheck.  We ordered a turkey sub minus the turkey, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise…….and soup.  Unengaged employees who must follow rigid and ridiculous rules make customers like me tell everyone I know about the stupid rule and then post a blog about it.  

Try to experience your business from a customer’s perspective.  I was in a Walmart a couple days ago and can only hope that if the manager had witnessed the incredibly poor customer service and unengaged attitudes I dealt with there, several employees would be fired.  If you aren’t paying attention to employee engagement, you’re losing customers and losing money.  You may not be measuring this, but it IS happening.
In our next blog posting, we will continue with some easy to implement employee engagement techniques.  

Monday, April 26, 2010

How Engaged Are Your Employees?

One of the most frustrating aspects of being a manager is dealing with an under performing employee. Often it seems like the easiest thing to do is ignore the situation and have someone else pick up the slack. After all, you’re busy and don’t have the time or patience to deal with these annoying problems. It’s the old problem solving choices of fight or flight. Ignore the problem until you completely lose your patience, then deal with it ineffectively. The bad news is that this problem avoidance tactic is building a culture of low performance and mediocrity in your organization.
Most businesses have their superstar employees. Those are the people who will pick up that slack and do whatever it takes to get the job done right. They are the people who help you reward the low performer for his or her lack of motivation. The low performer can spend time chatting with friends or searching the web knowing that there will be little or no repercussions. The superstar picked up the slack and at the end of the day the tasks were completed and the boss is happy. How long will it take before other’s notice that it’s okay to not work really hard? How long will it take before that superstar employee gets tired of picking up the slack and unexpectedly quits? The easy way out of ignoring the problem is actually not an easy way out at all.
If you have one of these under performing employees, first decide whether they aren’t doing the job because they CAN’T or because they WON’T. Under the category of “can’t” you may have problems such as unclear expectations, insufficient resources, or a lack of knowledge or skill in completing the job at hand. Under the category of “won’t” you may have problems such as being inadvertently rewarded for low performance, or different priorities, or a lack of agreement on how things should be done. As a manager you have to understand why they aren’t meeting expectations before you can resolve the problem. Determining whether you are dealing with “can’t” or “won’t” is a good first step.

Wouldn’t it be great if all employees just came to work excited and motivated to reach important goals? One of the basic building blocks to reaching that highly motivated workforce is to deal with performance problems early. There are only a handful of employees who are naturally motivated no matter the environment. There is another handful that are naturally unmotivated no matter the environment. The vast majority is in the middle and can go either way depending on the culture that you, as the manager, build. What is considered normal and acceptable behavior in your department or business today? What culture are you building?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Titles and Job Descriptions

By Jennifer Good

This article was inspired by a lengthy debate I had with my co-founder, Laura Sita.
She won.

Title: Team Member
Duties: Must be able to type 90 words per minute, answer all in-coming phone calls, manage large filing system, act as time management coach for our CEO, serve as a member of the  Executive Committee for Marketing Strategy, and any other talent you can bring to the table.

Just for a moment, toss aside your preconceived notions of typical job titles, job descriptions, and hierarchical boxes on the organization chart. It is not that far-fetched to think that an organization might have the exact list of needs as described in the job description above. Yet we probably would not advertise a job such as this because, well, it just doesn’t fit a standard job title. What box would this job fit into? Would it be low on the totem pole due to the typing and filing? Would it be right next to the CEO as an assistant? Would it get buried somewhere in the middle of the marketing department?
While you might not advertise a job exactly as listed above, this particular set of duties could easily evolve in the right organizational culture. First we must be willing to accept the notion that there are superstar talents hidden within employees at all levels of the organization. These talents go untapped simply because they do not fit within the person’s assigned role. It would make more sense to be flexible and remember that job descriptions are not written in stone. They should not prevent talents and skills from shining through.

Imagine a person who has just one very strong talent. Perhaps it is coaching. Talking to his prior supervisors reveals many complaints: doesn't understand marketing tactics, disorganized, doesn't understand technology, etc. These shortcomings will keep this talented coach from rising in the hierarchy of the organization. His single superstar talent doesn’t fit the needs of a complete box on the organization chart. Never mind that this person gets people to move forward with innovative ideas. Never mind that he puts enthusiasm into the team and creates success through his unique coaching ability. We are willing to pay for a laundry list of mediocre talents but not for someone with a single superstar talent simply because it doesn’t fit all of the needs of a standard job title.

Too often, job titles, standard job descriptions, and our own preconceived notions are obstacles that get in the way of the free flow of communication and ideas. With these obstacles in place you may never know that the best winning sales strategy lies in the imagination of your graphic artist. You may never know that your annual conference could be twice the success if you tapped into the event planning talents of your accountant. We are in an age of creativity and innovation. Successful companies are finding out that rigid bureaucracies, three levels of approvals, and ignoring ideas that don’t come from the right box are not on the path to sustainable success. Our old approach creates waste; talents untapped and opportunities lost. We can no longer turn away talent because it doesn’t fit our mold.

There are many ways to identify the talent pool within an organization. Surveys might be helpful but generally we have to witness talents first hand to truly appreciate someone’s capabilities. Providing opportunity is the key. Open up the lines of communication and create networks rather than organization charts. Invite employees from all levels and departments to offer ideas and assist with projects. Talents can also be identified by listening to your team, through interviews, and by talking to managers who pay close attention to their employees.

The talents within your company, no matter who has them, are your greatest  competitive edge. Successful businesses must have continual and easy access to the talents and knowledge needed given the problem they are trying to solve or the opportunity they are trying to create. Be willing to rewrite job descriptions, to create
communication networks, and to view everyone as an equal and important part of the team.

I have worked in human resources for many years and am fully aware of the challenges this new way of thinking creates. How do we compensate people that don’t fit in a neat little box? How do we benchmark their position against the rest of the industry? Who would they report to and how would you measure success? These are not insurmountable problems, especially considering the benefits to both individuals and organizations in doing a much better job of utilizing talents in the workforce. Research has clearly tied motivation and productivity with employees being allowed and encouraged to do what they do the best. Your business will be able to adapt faster, be the first with innovative ideas, and will benefit from the improved performance of a motivated workforce.

Take a close look at your team or department or company as a whole. What talents are you ignoring simply because they aren’t paired up with another important talent? Whose ideas are you ignoring because they aren’t high enough on the organization chart? Great managers do not have all the answers; but they do know where to find those answers.

Toss aside that organization chart, ignore job titles, and search for talent. You may be surprised at what you find.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Behavior Changes! What do You Need, Knowledge or Desire?

My last blog posting was about motivation. Most of what I write about and most of my work in my business has to do with behavioral topics such as this. Here’s the problem however. I am providing information; but so many of our problems in life and business are NOT due to a lack of information, but rather are due to us not using that information. We have the knowledge, we just won’t use it.
Maybe some examples will help illustrate this point. Think about time management. Perhaps this is something you aren’t good at, and not being good at it is holding you back from achieving important goals. Is it really because you don’t know the standard techniques of effective time management? Probably not. Plenty of information is available at your finger tips: plan your time, learn to say “no,” differentiate between urgent and important. All of these bits of information would help you. You have the knowledge, but will the behavior change?
Conflict and anger management are another good example. Is conflict taking the joy from your days? Do you have trouble controlling your temper? We all know how ineffective we are at resolving problems when we’re really angry. This isn’t rocket science. Again, these types of problems are usually not due to a lack of knowledge. Just Google “anger management tips” and you’ll get over a million hits. Take a “time out.” Avoid the person who makes you angry until you can deal calmly with him or her. Get some exercise. Change your expectations. Talk it out with someone you trust; how is this person or situation making you feel and why? Listen to different perspectives, and then let it go; anger is hurting you more than the other person. Don’t scream; it causes an adrenaline rush that takes away all reason and logic. These are just a few tips I found in a 60 second search on the internet. Handling conflict well requires knowledge for sure, but knowledge doesn’t always improve behavior.
Here is a final example. Are you overly accommodating? Do you give in too easily but feel frustrated inside? Is it because you haven’t been told how to be more assertive? Again, probably not. You’ve probably had at least one boss or friend or relative give you a much needed “how to” lecture. No, it’s not because you don’t know how, it’s because you won’t.
I’ve been dealing with someone with an alcohol problem over the past many years. I am so often frustrated by his behavior. I often complain that he’s been to rehabilitation and countless A.A. meetings and certainly knows what he needs to do to say sober. But he doesn’t. It’s dragging down his life quickly, but he just won’t use the knowledge he’s been given. You might think, well that’s different, it’s a disease. Yes, I know; but what is it called when one of our own behavior problems is causing huge problems in our life yet we don’t stop? Isn’t it just a little bit the same? We can’t blame it on a disease, so what is it? Stubborn? Even when we have great advice and know exactly what we SHOULD do to improve our behavior, we don’t.
I’d like to make it clear that I do know it is possible to improve behavior; it happens all the time. Workforce Echoes is in that very business. The article is about the problems we complain about but do NOT fix. For those people that do successfully and regularly strive to improve themselves, I know that you need constant reminders and encouragement. Maybe the occasional blog posting will help!! Here is my challenge to both myself and to all of you. Choose a behavior you want to improve. Think of all the good reasons to improve that behavior. Then, write down 2-3 methods you will use to make that improvement. Knowledge is everywhere, maybe even in your own head!! Think back to all the advice you’ve ever heard, all the things you know, and everything you’ve ever read on the subject. Then, armed with the knowledge and goals, JUST DO IT.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

When Motivation Takes a Nose Dive

As a business owner, manager, or team leader, you are expected to stay motivated and set a positive example for those working for and with you.  What happens however, when your motivation and attitude take a nose dive?  It’s impossible to stay upbeat 100% of the time.  We all have bad days.  Missed deadlines, stress, unhappy customers, set-backs and people not pulling their weight are just a few of the problems dealt with on a regular basis.  However, if you’re leading a team, you better be really good at picking yourself up, dusting off, and moving forward.  You cannot stay down for long or you might just pull the business with you. 
Here’s another worthwhile saying; “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”  We are responsible for our own attitudes.  One thing I find helpful is to look beyond the problems of the day and keep my eye on the bigger picture.  Why did I go into business for myself anyway?  If my reason was to not have to answer to anyone but myself, or to make lots of money, or to work less, I’d better think again.  I need a bigger reason.  I need a purpose, a passion, a drive to improve or change something.  I must fully believe in my products and services.  I am more likely to achieve financial success if I’m working to make some difference in the world rather than only to make money.  The money will follow.
This is not to say that extrinsic motivators, like making money, are not helpful.  Just take a look at Howard Schultz who grew Starbucks from four stores to the world wide company it is today.  He once had a goal of building 2,000 stores by the year 2000.  (He beat that goal by a long shot.)  This is obviously a financial type of goal; an extrinsic goal.  Yet Schultz had intrinsic motivators working as well.  Schultz was quoted on many occasions as saying that his vision for Starbucks was to become a national company with values and guiding principles that employees could be proud of.  He wanted Starbucks to become the most respected brand name in coffee and for the company to be admired for its corporate responsibility.  Along the company’s route to success he offered employee benefits and incentives unheard of in most businesses and started many foundations to support worthwhile causes. 
So, are you having a bad day?  Get over it quick!  The costs of a bad attitude are just too high.  Read a motivational book.  Spend a day relaxing and thinking and talking to someone you trust.  Take a day or two to learn something new that might help you with your current setback.  Then, get up, find your motivation, and keep moving forward.  Think strategically and make your vision a reality one small step at a time.
I’ve listed below a few websites with helpful advice and resources for small business owners.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


"We don’t know a millionth of one percent about anything." - Thomas Edison
“Surround yourself with smart people” is advice you will hear many times over in the business world. It does not necessarily mean to find people with higher IQs than your own. It is much broader than that. Emotional intelligence also plays a huge factor. In addition, the advice refers to surrounding yourself with people who have different talents, skills, experiences and abilities from your own. Why? One of the most important lessons you will learn as a business owner, or manager of any team, is that you don’t know everything! That’s a hard pill for some to swallow. It doesn’t matter if you have the highest IQ of anyone in the country, you still will not have had all the experiences nor have all of the talents and skills to make the best decisions about every topic every time.

I can offer so many examples of this in my own business that it is hard to even know where to start. Let me just briefly describe three examples that have occurred just in the past week:

I was signing up to attend a training course to become certified in a certain personality/behavior profiling instrument. The certification training would have cost $2,500. I had researched many other profiling instruments and felt that I had made a good choice. However, before scheduling my travel arrangements I sent a quick email to a friend who is certified in many of these types of personality and behavior profiles. I asked his opinion about the certification I was about to attend. He sent back a message that completely changed my plans. His experiences with both marketing and delivering this particular profile far surpassed my own knowledge. Had I not sought his advice, I would have wasted $2,500.

I am developing the outline and content for a team building presentation. I brought my plan to my business partner who handles all the design for our presentations. Despite the fact that she handles design and I handle content, we always bounce ideas off one another. In this particular example, she made several comments about the flow of the presentation that improved it many times over. Together we produce a better presentation than one of us alone could do.

Last year we made a big investment on computer equipment, software, and software training. This week, after a two hour demonstration at the Apple store, we realized we made some bad choices in the equipment and training that we chose. In total this was about a $10,000 mistake, not including the time we could have saved by having the right equipment and software that would have significantly increased our productivity over the last year. If we had brought in the expertise last year that we sought this past week, we could have avoided this mistake.

REACH OUT! Talk to people, listen to people, and learn from other’s experiences and talents. The smartest people are “smart” because they take full advantage of the talents, knowledge and experiences that surround them

Monday, January 25, 2010


In our last blog we told a story about a gourmet bakery that turned into a pizza shop.  Today we take a look at what went wrong.

To begin with, if your one and only goal is to make money however it can be made, then perhaps turning your dream bakery into a pizza shop is no big deal.  “Go with the flow” may be your philosophy.  There is nothing wrong with that if it works for you; but in the previous story, the owner ended up shutting down.  He had not intended to become a pizza shop!  It happened slowly with seemingly small daily decisions.  He was focused on solving the problem of the day rather than looking into the future. 

So what went wrong for this new business owner?  First, the owner noticed his sales from the bakery items dropping.  Instead of doing some research, talking to customers, and brainstorming with employees, he got busy making pizza.  He was so busy that he never found time to look beyond what had to be done today.

Secondly, the owner did not make his decisions based upon his vision or long range goals.  Instead, he made a decision based on what would help him out immediately.   This decision making method may relieve some stress for the day, but tends to create problems in the future.   His concern that sales were dropping made him jump at the first opportunity that arose.  It solved an immediate need, but destroyed future opportunity.   More importantly, the most successful business owners like what they do.  They have a vision for their lives and their work and they work towards this every day.  When an opportunity comes along that does not fit their vision, it doesn’t bother them to say “no.”  They are willing to be creative and adapt, but always with an eye towards their vision. 

What do you like to do and what is the vision for your company or department?  This vision or purpose is what will keep you motivated.  Consider whether today’s decision will keep you on course towards your vision or take you on a completely unchartered path you did not intend.

Just starting a business?  I highly recommend reading The E Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, by Michael E. Gerber.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Surviving or Thriving?

Surviving or Thriving?
Frank left his high power executive’s position to open a bakery.  It had always been his dream and finally he was prepared to make the leap.  After six months of hard work, his new bakery opened.  Breakfast pastries, desserts, and wedding cakes were his specialties.  Business was great for the first three months but then fell off significantly.  Frank quickly grew very concerned about his small and declining profit margin.  What was going wrong?
His bakery had been open for five months when a man came into his shop and asked if Frank made pizza.  Frank answered “no, we are a bakery.” 
The man replied “Yes I do love your pastries.  However I need someone to make 125 pizzas for me every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  It’s for large groups of teens we regularly host for training programs.  Our training center is right across the street and I was just hoping you could help us out.  We may need orders on occasional Saturday’s as well.”

Well, Frank’s eyes lit up as he calculated the profit he could make on a regular basis.  He hated pizza, had no interest in making it, but after some discussion, he agreed.  At least it would bring in some profit while he figured out how to make his bakery work.
The pizzas were a big hit.  The teens loved them so much that they frequented Frank’s bakery asking for pizza!  Frank had to add them to his menu.  Pretty soon, 70% of his revenues were from pizza.  He and his staff were so busy making pizza that little time was left to focus on the bakery items.  Customers that did come in for bakery items were disappointed at the slim selection.  Frank was so busy keeping up with the pizza business that no time was left for the planning, creative problem solving, and marketing needed to get his bakery back on track. 
Six months later, Frank shut down his bakery turned pizza shop.  He hated making pizzas.  It was not his dream.  
What went wrong?  Actually Frank never took the time to determine what went wrong when his bakery sales dropped. 
Is your business a gourmet bakery turned pizza shop?   Is your business focused on surviving rather than thriving?  Our next blog postings will focus on what went wrong and how to avoid this all too common problem.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Workforce Echoes Changing

This posting marks the official beginning to a totally new format and purpose for our blog. We’ll save the informative articles for our newsletter. As of today, this blog will focus on the challenges of opening and managing a business. Our blog will offer real experiences, practical advice, ideas, and stories of successes and failures. We’ll also provide links to great articles, recommendations for books, and links to resources that may be helpful for entrepreneurs, business owners, managers, or those of you who simply get bored easily and like to hear new ideas.

We will also keep you up-to-date on an important company goal. As a business, we value creativity and NOT doing something simply because it’s the way we’ve always done it. The world is changing too fast for that mindset. Plus, we get bored easily! We also value continual learning and our motto is “keep moving forward.” So, for Workforce Echoes we’ve challenged ourselves, as a business, to do at least 12 completely new things this calendar year. We’re looking at our annual goals, at new learning opportunities, new technology, new services, new certifications, new blog formats (!!) and all sorts of other potential NEW things to try. Some might be good, some might not work out as planned. We’ll live and learn and describe the experiences. Do you have any ideas for something new? Send them our way or let us know your own experiences.

Stay tuned!