How Senior Leaders Can Connect with Front Line Workers

This was the title of an October 14th, 2014 article in Smart Briefs, and I thought it deserved both some comment and wider distribution.

Here are the methods:

1. Distributed leadership. Push leadership down through your company to your direct reports, and they to theirs, but don’t forget to ‘manage by wandering around’. We’ve noticed among our clients that this is an important CEO attribute. If Alan Mullaly, the retired head of Ford can do it about once a month on an unannounced basis, you can too.

2. Make it safe to share. Solicit all kinds of feedback, positive and negative, and have employees understand that there won’t be reprisals for negative feedback. Keep the tone respectful in the exchanges.

3. Meet employees where they are. This is ‘management by walking around’, the famous Tom Peters phrase. Employee open houses are a good idea, but not in the executive area or floor, because they’ll feel threatened. Make it a neutral space, such as a break room.

4. Be flexible about the forum. If you’re an introvert, get outside your comfort zone for a bit. Meet wherever the employees feel most comfortable. Make it like ‘ask me anythng’.

5. Make room for impromptu encounters. Unscheduled, unscripted chats can do as much or more than scripted ones.

6. Ask good questions of those asking you questions. Don’t make the questions snarky, which might prove counterproductive. Explore what the asker has on his/her mind.

If you’re not doing all of these things, get with it. You’re sacrificing the culture of the company that you want. Or, just maybe you get the culture you want if you don’t do these things.

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Put a Dollar Value on Your Time

The Wall Street Journal is getting more like Entrepreneur every day, but since their circulation dwarfs all the other business rags, it’s good to see them doing articles that help small business entrepreneurs.

The thrust of this article is to farm out to outside vendors tasks that you could do yourself, thereby freeing yourself up to bill more hours.

For example, if you take your monthly income, say $10.000 and divide it by the number of hours worked, which we’ll assume is 100, then your income is $100.00 per hour.

So, if you can hire an invoicing clerk for $25 an hour, she/he should do all your invoicing. Same thing with QuickBooks…..you can farm out your accounting.

You might use a laundry service, rather than doing the pickup and delivery at your local shop. Unless you know the owner and you can talk over any business challenges that he has (our situation).  You might hire a housecleaner and a poolcleaner, too, for similar reasons.

As you might expect, there’s a website to help you work through all this: clearerthinking.org. They need a mobile app, although their courses can be downloaded to a mobile phone. Titles They probably need an 800 line for immediate handholding.

So, that’s it. Put the calculations to work and use your time more wisely.

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How Not to Treat Departing Employees

This post was inspired by my younger son, who is transitioning out of his job with one company and going out on his own in a profession.

What’s interesting about the process is the shabby manner in which his former employer has treated a formerly valued employee, who is training his replacement, at half pay and less than half benefits (more about that later).

There’s a reason that employees leave, which isn’t always about money, although in his case, he’ll probably make more as an independent contractor than he did working for his last employer.

Some thoughts:

1. Figure out why someone is leaving and what can be done about it. In my son’s case, he wants to spend more time with his two small children, which he can do if not chained to a desk. So, figure out a package that would be more flexible. Allow outside consulting, as long as it doesn’t conflict with the employer.

2. Do we want to retain this person? Is his/her work good? If so, what does it take to keep him/her? In my son’s case, he probably wouldn’t mind working half time.

3. Related to number 2 above, it’s interesting that all three of his former employers have sounded him out on project work. They value him. I listened to him negotiate a deal with one of them during a trip we were making to Home Depot. Impressive.

4. If the former employers had thought about it, they’d have realized that as a family, he and his wife make excellent money (she’s a successful real estate agent) and they live frugally, aside from a new house that they bought because they outgrew the old one. They also have a thriving rental property portfolio.

5. Don’t chintz on benefits; if one is working half time, then the benefits should be half time. Medical care is important. Instead, in my son’s case, the revised benefits package he estimates is 6% of the old one. They’d probably pay for full benefits, but 6% is just insulting.

6. Do an exit interview if you want to keep someone (you have a lot invested in them), figure out what it takes to keep them, and then put it in place.

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The Business Case for Immigration

Immigration has been much in the news recently, and I thought we should restate what our policy is (it hasn’t changed since Tomas Leon and I hatched it up over lunch about 5 years ago):

1. We have a different take on securing the border. We probably need people to work, given the low unemployment rate, if it can be believed (that’s the topic for another blog). Hispanic folks want to come here, probably in fewer numbers than five years ago, but they still come.

2.  As Brad Thor said, we can build a fence in a weekend from California to Texas. But, what we should do is put entry points in the fence every 10 miles or so. We do entry points in Canada, but not really on the Southern border.

3. When Hispanics (or anyone else) presents themselves for admission to the US, we should know who they really are, check identification, what their skill is, and where they are going. All this data goes into an all source ICE database, integrated with the one that they already have on immigrants.

4. All immigrants are required to check in with ICE every four months or so, to see if they’re doing what they’re supposed to, and how they’re coming on becoming an American citizen. We can grant them a provisional green card at the border, with a six month expiration date on it. So, they have to check in somewhere with ICE. If they don’t, they’re subject to deportation.

5. On deportation, if they commit even one crime, they’re going to be deported, or at least held in a jail  until their court hearing comes up. They could be released on bail, but only if they appear to be of otherwise good character. None of this nonsense about having five felonies and still walking around.

6 . No sanctuary cities. Why were these created in the first place? Their mere existence seems counter to a sound immigration policy. I know San Francisco is out there, even for the Left Coast, but really guys and gals.

OK, ACLU, take your best shot at this. Let’s get a dialogue going.

 

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Driving Customer Loyalty

We all know that customer loyalty is a good thing. After all, you spent money to acquire that customer somewhere in the past, and you’d like to keep him or her. Or, another customer referred said customer to you, and you’d still like to keep him or her.

Of all people, Comcast, the cable provider, wrote an article on driving customer loyalty that’s pretty good: one is tempted remark that they should take their own medicine, but that’s another story.

But the points of the Comcast article are pretty good, and struck me as something that you don’t see every day.

1. Use the Cloud as an Accelerator. By this they mean that one should use the cloud to tell customer stories to tie the customer to the provider. The examples are retail, but we’ve observed that this approach can work in B2B as well: blogs, Linked In, maybe Facebook and Twitter, all can help in customer loyalty.

2. Gather Feedback for Fine Turing. Use online channels for direct customer feedback, whether retail or b2b. Monitoring the same channels as item #1 can help. And, the next point is what to do about the feedback.

3. Offer ‘Instantaneous Information. To us, this means engaging on the web with useful content, and engaging with customers through their feedback. It’s timecosuming, and probably will need a lot of marketing time, but if customer retention is improved, it’s probably worth it. Try it and find out, and hope your people give you good feedback.

4. How Bandwidth Powers Your Presence. All this requires bandwidth, which is a not-too subtle ad for Comcast and their online solutions, but their point is valid. You can’t run programs like the ones above in the digital age on dial-up. How much bandwidth you need is a good question, since you generally take what one of the providers offers. Faster is better.

So, above are four things to consider in building customer loyalty through online means. Let us know how it works.

 

 

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Tweet Them Right

A question was asked Ted Rubin, one of the Entrepreneur columnists about using Twitter to boost customer loyalty using Twitter, and it bears reposting here:

1. Engage. Don’t just produce content, start a conversation with your customers. Look for what people are talking about. Rubin thinks the best content is a conversation.

2. Respond. When a follower asks a question, even one disapproving of your company, answer it publicly. And don’t be self serving (our add). Take the criticism personally, and make sure that it’s handled in a positive way. Companies learn from this process.

3. Add value. Rubin cites the example of Duane Reade, a chain of drugstores, that apparently does a lot of events that don’t directly have anything to do with Duane Reade. Community events, sponsor some kids at a math camp, etc.

I think these are good things to do, regardless of whether you sell wholesale or retail. Try it out.

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Obamacare for Business

Well, it appears that we’re stuck with this albatross for 18 months or so; I’m sure it will be at the top of the ‘repeal and replace’ agenda.

But, as businessmen, we have a couple of observations:

1. It appears, since there are still 30 million uninsured people, at least some of whom are probably working, that the mandate to get insurance was ignored by many.

2. As businesspeople, it’s the right thing to do to provide your employees health insurance; it probably aids in retention. What mix of coverage and deductibles you provide should be up to you.

3. However, if you reduced staff and/or put some people on 30-hour max workweeks, to avoid Obamacare,  it appears that you might not have to worry about whether you get hauled before the healthcare police, since a lot of people are still uninsured, and no one is going after them.

4.  You can rest assured though, that since the subsidies are the law of the land, and are pretty substantial, that your part time workers could, on their own, get healthcare insurance.

5. Down the road, we’ll go back to the way we were: some employers will provide health insurance, some won’t, depending on each company’s circumstances. It would be good if there were state exchanges on insurance, to check whether you as a business or individual are getting the best deal for what you want.

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Alibaba

I happen to like Alibaba, and I like that they’re trying to get more American businesses to list their products (it doesn’t appear that services are allowed) on alibaba.com.

But, there’s a big problem, $1395 big. Alibaba has stopped their FREE membership on their site, which would appeal to more businesses that would like to get their products listed.

We have made an inquiry to Alibaba on behalf of our school, American School of Entrepreneurship, because we’d like to list our top four courses, which have had Chinese enrollment, but only because they found us on the internet, US version. And we know the Chinese government restricts who can see us.

However, we don’t want to pay $1395 up front to list the courses. Getting back to breakeven on this promotion cost, with our course costs,  would be a long haul.

We’d rather see something like $100 up front and a percentage of our revenues to Alibaba based on how many courses we sell through them.

So, Alibaba, what do you think? Let’s not get greedy on the front end.

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Immigration

Andy Puzder, the CEO of CKE Enterprises had a good political post in the Wall Street Journal this morning on the need for the Republicans to get going on immigration, and we couldn’t agree more. Mr. Puzder probably has good reason to support immigration; his company owns Carl’s Jr. and Hardees, probably two fairly major immigrant employers.

However, there are business needs in expanding immigration besides the usual suspects in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

1. In this era of terrorists coming across a borders, we need to find out more about the immigrants: who they are, where they are coming from, where they’re going, and what they plan to do when they get to where they’re going. Put it all in a database.

2. Yes, they should all get in line, and those who arrived illegally should pay a nominal fine, say $1,000, for having not previously registered. Yes, we should deport the criminals, but only on evidence of a crime.

3. Dispense with the quotas. Let ‘em all in. In addition to the STEM preerences, we should give precedence to those who have a trade, such as plumbing, machining (especially tool and die workers). The market is self-correcting; once we get enough folks, they’ll stop coming or be reduced in numbers.

4. If they do it the right way, give them a provisional green card, maybe the real thing with a half-tone “P” on it.

So, politicians, let’s get on with it. The Dems already support immigration, although there’s no reason to do it through illegal executive orders. Let Co

 

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Diversity?

There have been quite a few articles about hiring a diverse workforce lately, but the articles have overlooked one salient fact: quality people may or may not be diverse. Minorities may not have the educational background you need.

As a business person, you want to hire quality people at rates you can afford, and this might not be the most diverse workforce. Usually, you take the first person who fits the criteria you’ve set up and ranked, right?

We even have a course to develop the rankings in our School, www.theasoe.com, based on successful people in a job.

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