How to Create a Closing the Loop Culture

By Dana Borowka, MA

In business jargon, “closing the loop” means to follow up on and/or close out an area of discussion. The phrase is closely related to “circle back around” and “loop in.” To better achieve your objectives, experts say it’s vital that you learn to close the loop on actions so that the important actions can get done.

1 Dec 2013The metaphor is from the closed loop control process that assures a system performs within its control limits. By closed loop, this means a process where the output of the system feeds back to directly adjust performance of the system. For example, a thermostat and a furnace work together in a closed loop to control room temperature.

Another example is the recycling world, where the closed loop system gets consumers, recyclers and manufacturers to work together to reclaim valuable materials from our waste stream and use them to make new products. For a graphic illustration on the “closed loop” idea, look on the bottom of a plastic soda bottle. The familiar chasing arrows recycling symbol is a graphic depiction explaining the concept.

“In business ‘closing the loop’ is akin to following up, checking in or closing the deal,” says Jarie Bolander, a writer for TheDailyMBA.com. “The term comes from control systems where they close the control loop in order for the system to remain stable. The opposite of a stable system is one that is unstable. In control system parlance, this is referred to as an open loop system since it has no feedback and thus will likely spin out of control — kind of like projects without any follow-up.”

Bolander is an engineer by training, entrepreneur by nature, and leader by endurance. He is the author of two books: One to help technical managers become frustration free (Frustration Free Technical Management); and one to help all of us endure our struggles and hardships (A Little Nudge to Keep You Going). He holds a BS in Electrical Engineering and an MBA in Technology Management. “A lot of us struggle to get stuff done because we have to rely on others,” says Bolander. “Unfortunately, this reliance is just part of doing business.”

According to Bolander, most of us in business have had situations where we thought someone would do something and it turns out they either forgot, ignored you or did the wrong thing. All of these issues are a result of not closing the loop. In order to save you from suffering and heartache, here are some steps from Bolander that will ensure that you close the loop every time.

Step 1: Have Clear Objectives

One of the biggest challenges with getting stuff done is understanding your true objectives. Nothing will frustrate you more than launching someone off on a task that is really time sensitive but is not communicated that way. Having clear objectives means that you think about what needs to get done and craft a plan that makes sense. The trick to this is to prepare carefully and nail down what objectives are important and who you need to do them.2 Dec 2013

Step 2: Communicate Clearly

Clear communication means that your message or task is registering with the audience. This does not mean you talk slow or use 4th grade English. Rather, you need to have points in your meeting or conversation where you query for clarity and that your message is getting across. Remember, that what you say may not be communicating the message you intended. That’s why you need to constantly listen to what people say and confirm that your message or task is getting across.

Step 3: Create Natural Follow Up Points

One thing that most people struggle with is how to follow up with someone on a task or assignment. This can be a challenge for some people because it’s unclear when to follow up. If you create natural follow up points, then all sides will feel a lot more comfortable in taking your call or email. These natural follow up points are created by the person that desires the action to be completed the most. A couple of examples of natural follow up points are:

♦ Taking the action to follow up in a week if you don’t hear from someone.

♦ Set a mutual deadline that everyone agrees to.

♦ Providing information or feedback before a certain date.

♦ A personal action to follow up with data/recommendations, etc.

♦ Providing a status update when something material happens (e.g. another deal closed, hit a milestone, etc.)

There are several other natural follow up points that will become obvious to you once you start looking for them.

Step 4: Document Discussions/Actions/Agendas

Probably the single best thing you can do to close the loop is to send out meeting agendas, notes, actions and conclusions. This may seem like a lot of work but it’s a great focal point for discussion. When you send out meeting notes, you are opening up a natural follow-up point that can be leveraged to close the loop on several actions. Without this focal point, all those dangling actions will have no home. Your meeting notes and follow-up on them will provide those actions a natural home.

Step 5: Follow Up When Promised

If you want people to promptly follow up on your actions, then you need to set the example. The tone and tenor of your follow-up coupled with your punctuality will show that you care about closing the loop and this will naturally rub off on others. Nothing tells someone that it’s important to close the loop like doing everything you can do to make it easy for them.

Step 6: Repeat Until Closed

Just because you ask someone to do something, does not mean they actually heard you or acknowledged that it will get done. This means that you have to repeat the above steps until you reach the resolution you want. This might take several meetings or phone calls. In fact, it might take longer than you anticipated. The thing to remember is that you must be diligent if you want something done. That requires you to constantly communicate your desired results and close the loop to make sure it gets done.

Often Closing the Loop Means Delegating

“The best delegating tip I have is to delegate to people’s strengths and away from their weaknesses,” says workplace expert Vicky Oliver, author of five books including Bad Bosses, Crazy Co-Workers and Other Office Idiots. “Otherwise, you are trying to force fit people into roles and tasks they don’t appreciate. Perhaps someone on staff is a great writer but a poor administrative person. Don’t force him or her to complete a lot of paperwork.”

3 Dec 2013Instead, says Oliver, look for someone else on staff to whom you can delegate that role. Another person on the team may be a good “people person”, but is disorganized. Find someone else in your employ to whom you can delegate the organizational duties.

“From a hiring standpoint, it really makes sense for managers not to hire those who are exactly like them, as there will be glaring weaknesses in the team that can’t be fixed,” says Oliver. “This can be counter-intuitive because we tend to bond with those who share our interests and sometimes duplicate our strengths.”

Rather than look for clones, use an in-depth work style and personality assessment to improve hiring success. While an assessment can be a valuable resource before you hire, perhaps the true value of any assessment comes in using the insights it provides along the entire spectrum of employment. Assessments lend objectivity to decisions that may otherwise be largely subjective.

A proper assessment should reach beyond simple profiles and decipher an employee’s underlying needs. This is key for employee development, team building, conflict resolution and succession planning.

Create a Closing the Loop Culture

Below are five ways to use an in-depth work style and personality assessment in the workplace to help bring out the best in your employees at all levels in an organization, which can go a long way to creating a “closing the loop” culture.

1. Get the real picture.  Of course, every candidate wants to put their best foot forward during an interview.  However through an in-depth work style and personality assessment, you uncover a great deal about their ability to work well with other personalities, their problem solving abilities, their thought processes and their ability to tolerate stress. Assessments give you objective information that can help you make an informed decision on whether this person is a good fit for the job and for the team. If you decided to hire the person, the questions you ask during the hiring process will reduce your learning curve as a manager on how best to manage this person from day one. Ask yourself, is this someone who would be good at closing the loop.

2. Help them be all that they can be. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Find out the real truth with an objective 4 Dec 2013measure. Once you pinpoint the good and the bad, then you place them in the right position and coach them on where to improve. As part of the coaching, stress the importance of closing the loop to your company culture.

3. Take me to your leaders.  Work style assessments give the manager and employees a common language about how they like to interact.  The assessments can help you train future managers on how to get the best out of the team.

4. Know how to manage difficult people.  The number one reason that a loop doesn’t get closed is that a person decided they wouldn’t do it or didn’t know how. Face it, there will always be difficult people, screw-ups and flare ups on the job. Use an objective assessment to understand potential sources of workplace conflict. The best way to deal with a problem is to prevent it in the first place.

5. Get everybody to play nice. Sales and marketing, operations and financial people have to interact to make the company run smoothly. Too many employees get frustrated with other co-workers and just wonder why everyone doesn’t act like them. Through the use of in-depth work style and personality assessments, managers can coach employees how to interact better with peers.

“But you don’t want to overcompensate for people’s strengths and weaknesses so much that you inadvertently create a ‘star system,’” says Oliver.  “You really don’t want a lot of prima donnas on the team who won’t touch the grunt work! In the corporate philosophy, it helps to explain the idea of teamwork–everyone helps each other out– and the rewards for it, as well.”

Lastly, if you have hiring responsibility, I believe it helps to look at the team strengths and weaknesses. Maybe today’s glaring weakness can be corrected with one good hire.

In my view, culture trumps strategy every time. So create a culture of closing the loop at your company. Hire with that in mind, coach with that in mind, and communicate with that in mind. Click here for our bonus checklist, Quick Tips for Creating a Closing the Loop Culture.

To read Jarie Bolander’s full article, 6 Steps to Closing The Loop, please visit: http://www.thedailymba.com/2010/02/27/6-steps-to-closing-the-loop/.

Permission is needed from Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC to reproduce any portion provided in this article.  © 2016    This information contained in this article is not meant to be a substitute for professional counseling.

Dana Borowka, MA, CEO of Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC and his organization constantly remain focused on their mission statement – “To bring effective insight to your organization”.  They do this through the use of in-depth work style assessments to raise the hiring bar so companies select the right people to reduce hiring and management errors.  They also have a full service consulting division that provides domestic and international interpersonal coaching, executive onboarding, leadership training, global options for expanding your business, sales and customer service training, operational productivity improvement, 360s and employee surveys as well as a variety of workshops.  Dana has over 25 years of business consulting experience and is a nationally renowned speaker, radio and TV personality on many topics.    He provides workshops on hiring, managing for the future, and techniques to improve interpersonal communications that have a proven ROI.  He is the co-author of the books, Cracking the Personality Code and Cracking the Business Code.  To order the books, please visit www.lighthouseconsulting.com.

If you would like additional information on this topic or others, please contact your Human Resources department or Lighthouse Consulting Services LLC, 3130 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 550, Santa Monica, CA  90403, (310) 453-6556, dana@lighthouseconsulting.com & our website: www.lighthouseconsulting.com

Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC provides a variety of services, including in-depth work style assessments for new hires & staff development, team building, interpersonal & communication training, career guidance & transition, conflict management, 360s,  workshops, and executive & employee coaching.  Other areas of expertise: Executive on boarding for success, leadership training for the 21st century, exploring global options for expanding your business, sales and customer service training and operational productivity improvement.

The Remote Worker Dilemma

By Dana D. Borowka, MA

Why You Should Desire, Hire, and Inspire Remote Workers

[dropcaps type=”circle” color=”” background=””]M[/dropcaps]elissa Meyer will long remember the firestorm she created over remote workers. Soon after starting her position as the new CEO of Yahoo, Mayer instituted a policy to eliminate remote working and bring employees back to the offices. This caused quite a bit of anger among employees, who leaked the memo to the press. A major debate on the issue ensued in the media with the merits of telecommuting being discussed from the front page of the New York Times to parenting blogs.

img001Despite the new policy at Yahoo — which Mayer defended as “right for Yahoo right now” as opposed to an industry standard (because perhaps the remote worker policy at her company was broken and needed fixing) — there is a growing body of research that indicates there are some major benefits to allowing employees to work remotely. A study from Stanford University indicated that call center employees who worked from home increased their productivity by about 13 percent and had more job satisfaction and lower turnover. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found similar results in a study released last year. These studies also suggest this may lead to longer hours worked and less sick days taken. Additionally, it can save a business real estate costs and broaden the pool of available talent (since location is no longer a major factor).

The book, “Remote: No Office Required” (fall of 2013) by the company 37Signals says, “As an employer, restricting your hiring to a small geographic region means you’re not getting the best people you can. As an employee, restricting your job search to companies within a reasonable commute means you’re not working for the best company you can.”

Could there be an opportunity for remote workers in your company? If you are interested in incorporating remote workers into your organization, it is vital that you find the people best suited to it and then manage them properly. Here are some suggestions on how you can benefit from some of that increased productivity and job satisfaction.

How to Test Potential Remote Workers

Obviously, working remotely is not for everyone. Working away from the watchful eyes of the office requires autonomy and a limited need for social interaction that, to be frank, some just do not possess. Some workers are pretty good at it and others are pretty ugly. The trick is to find the great people who are self-motivating and can concentrate better without the distractions of a traditional office. The payoffs can be huge. But how can you find the ideal people who will thrive in a remote environment?As a trial experiment, you could start with current employees who may do well working from home. Many people may volunteer to do this, but that doesn’t mean they are the best candidates for it. As part of your initial set up of remote workers, try using an in-depth work style and personality assessment to gain objective information about your employees.

Our research for our book, Cracking the Personality Code, reveals that this is not guesswork or an untested science. Work style assessments are a standard recruiting practice for bizwoman under magnifyglassmany branches of the government and military, as well as many Fortune 500 companies when assessing potential hires for key or critical positions. We will discuss hiring in the next section, but you can start with evaluating current employees.

What are you looking for in an ideal remote worker? First of all, be sure to use an established assessment company that utilizes multiple rating scales and evaluators with comprehensive training. The assessment company you choose should help you create tailored interview questions based on the candidate’s specific personality. The purpose is to probe facets of the work style and personality you need more details on. The assessment organization should also have a copy of the job description and resume as part of the debrief discussion.

Here are some areas you may want to focus on for a work style assessment:

Determine patterns for coping with stress.

Stress is a force that tends to distort the body, a factor that induces bodily or mental tension, or an automatic physical reaction to a danger or demand in the environment. As one physician stated, “Stress is any demand, either internal, external or both, that causes us to mentally and physically readjust in order to maintain a sense of balance within our life.” Without a doubt, stress is a fact of life in today’s work world. So determining a candidate’s or employee’s ability to cope with stress is critical for a manager.

Assess their problem-solving resources.

Is this person a problem solver? If so, what kind of problem solver? Each of us has unique problem-solving resources on which we rely. Determine what the candidate’s strengths are when it comes to problem solving. What are the usual approaches this person will use to resolve these problems?

Examine their interpersonal interaction styles.

Breakdowns in communication are never good for an organization. So take a good look at the individual’s style for relating and communicating with others. How do they usually react in dealing with others? What is their comfort level in interacting and connecting with others? Personality assessments can tell you the person’s major sources of gratification and satisfaction when building relationships. Since remote workers are isolated, they need to be very effective at communicating when they do interact with managers and other employees. This is an area to really focus on in the evaluation.

Explore thought flow.

Of course, not everyone thinks and processes information the same way. A good personality test will give you insight into an individual’s thought flow. This not only helps with hiring, but understanding how someone’s thoughts naturally flow is also a very powerful management tool. Sharing this information amongst the team helps employees communicate more effectively with other members of the team.

Investigate career matching.

Certain personality tests help you gain information which may either support the person’s present career choices or assist them to explore, consider and plan for another career direction. Ask your assessment company if they have specific remote working questions that can help indicate this aspect of career suitability. A personality test can give you an indication of which jobs match the candidate’s personality type and which careers they may have an aptitude for. You do need to remember that the test results are only an indicator and should not be relied on as an absolute assessment of which career is best for the person.

Evaluate Strengths and Weaknesses.

Personality testing is a proven and effective way to create highly functional teams. This starts with a summary of each person’s strengths and weaknesses. Once you know which personality types work best together, you can mix and match your people so that you get the worker handoffmost out of each of them. For every strength a person possesses there is a corresponding weakness. Being assertive is a strength. However, a person can be too assertive and off putting for some people or in some situations. This may be useful in matching your remote workers with managers and colleagues in the office.

Since remote workers can be a bit isolated, it is essential that they be proactive, problem solvers. Additionally, they need to be happy without the social aspects of the workplace. Above all, they need to be excellent at written communication, since so much will need to done through e-mail.

How to Recruit Remote Workers

If you don’t have any suitable candidates in your office now, or you’d like to expand your remote working talent pool, you may need to recruit.

“The recruitment and sourcing is easier since you’re not asking candidates to consider relocation,” says Barry Deutsch, executive recruiter and author of You’re Not the Person I Hired. “This is particularly important to candidates with ten plus years of experience who most likely have put down roots in their local community through schools, non-profit involvement, friends and neighbors, religious organizations, and sporting organizations, such as little league or AYSO soccer.”

You can start your search in the same ways you would for in-house workers: networking, employee referrals, job board advertising, and broadcasting through social media. But since remote workers can be so specialized, you need to avoid common pitfalls of the hiring process.

Deutsch commissioned a study to identify the most common mistakes executives make in their hiring process. The top ten are:

  1. Inadequate Job Descriptions
  2. Superficial Interviewing
  3. Inappropriate Prerequisites
  4. Snap Judgments
  5. Historical Bias
  6. Performance Bias
  7. Fishing in Shallow Waters
  8. Lack of Probing Questions
  9. Ignoring Candidate Needs
  10. Desperate Hiring

Many of these mistakes apply to hiring remote workers as well. Here is some advice from Deutsch to improve your odds of hiring the right remote workers.

Inadequate job descriptions.

The job description you write for these positions will be extremely important. Not only does the description need to be clear about the situation, it should be crafted to entice the right kinds of people to apply.

Inappropriate prerequisites.

First, compare their resume against your job description. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Surprising how easy it is to blow right past this step in the hiring process. Past experience alone is not what you are looking for when you review the resume. You are looking at how well they performed, what their successes were, and how adaptable they might be to the job that needs to be done for your organization. Experience is nice, but results are what really count.

According to Deutsch, “It’s very important to understand the environment and culture remote workers come from. For example, if someone has never worked remotely before, it’s likely the transition to remote working might end up being a failure since they are learning on your watch.”

Superficial interviewing/Lack of probing questions.

To be sure they have the experience or attitudes you are looking for, ask the right questions. Ask them about working independently from home or an executive suite. Are they able to manage themselves? How do they maintain productivity remotely? Deutsch also recommends discussing how they were managed in prior remote positions to avoid clashes in corporate culture or style. “Probe for examples of how they are managed: rigor of reporting, calling into bosses for discussions – daily-weekly, formal and informal updates, tracking of activities worker cooperationand productivity. What are the process/tools in your company compared to their prior environments and cultures? “As a means of avoiding these mistakes, many employers are now doing “behavioral interviews.” Rather than focusing on resume and accomplishments alone, use the personality test as a jumping off point to ask open-ended questions that will cause the job candidate to describe real circumstances and their responses to them. Ask them to describe in detail a particular event, project, or experience and how they dealt with the situation, and what the outcome was. This type of interviewing is the most accurate predictor of future performance.

How to Manage Remote Workers

If you would like to use remote workers, be prepared to change your own management style. Since you can’t just walk by their desk to check in, it is crucial that tools and processes be put into place that will allow you and your employees to remain connected.

First of all, be sure that your remote worker has a dedicated workspace, whether that is a room in their home or a rented space. If they are trying to concentrate while their kids run around them playing, it simply will not work in the long run. Many companies stress that remote working should not be considered an alternative to childcare. Be sure your employee understands that they are expected to focus on their work.

Have managers and remote workers take personality tests. The results of the tests can be used as tools for productive conversations on workplace styles and expectations. Helping a remote worker understand how best to communicate with managers and supervisors can be invaluable.

Also, be sure they have all the tools they will need to complete their work. It may be a wise investment to provide the employee with a computer and printer, or whatever other technology is necessary to their job. Additionally, you should be sure they have access to online technologies that will enable you to communicate with and keep track of them. Google has some helpful free tools, but there are many other solutions that could also be helpful for your business.

Remember that communication is key. Although your remote staff will need to be able to manage their own day-to-day workflow, you and the team (whether also remote or in the office) need to be appraised of the status of their projects. Establish consistent check-ins with your remote staff (via phone or an online tool like Skype) and be sure to include them in departmental meetings, so they are in the loop.

Although they may be fine without the daily water cooler conversations of an office, you want to ensure that your remote staff can maintain social connections with the other employees of the company. Encourage them to have discussions with other staff members so that they can continue to collaborate. Also, it would be wise to bring your remote workers together at the office a couple times a year so that they can have some face time with you and their colleagues.

Since you won’t interact with them daily, it is important that you are clearly setting goals and measuring results to evaluate remote worker progress. It is important that you give feedback to remote workers, either as part of your regular check-ins, or in established performance review sessions. This will obviously require more effort on your part but will help your remote workers understand how they are doing and how they can improve.

Lastly, don’t let your remote workers be “out of sight, out of mind.” One of the biggest challenges to job satisfaction for remote workers is the perceived lack of advancement in the company. Be sure you are evaluating their results and considering them for work that would help them with career development. Do not forget to include them on projects or committees where their expertise would be useful.

To get a copy of an action item list, 10 Things to Do for Managing a Remote Workforce, please click here and sign up for our Keeping on Track Newsletter.

Permission is needed from Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC to reproduce any portion provided in this article.  © 2014

If you would like additional information on this topic or others, please contact your Human Resources department or Lighthouse Consulting Services LLC, 3130 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 550, Santa Monica, CA 90403, (310) 453-6556, dana@lighthouseconsulting.com & our website: www.lighthouseconsulting.com

Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC provides a variety of services, including in-depth work style assessments for new hires & staff development, team building, interpersonal & communication training, career guidance & transition, conflict management, 360s, workshops, and executive & employee coaching. Other areas of expertise: Executive on boarding for success, leadership training for the 21st century, exploring global options for expanding your business, sales and customer service training and operational productivity improvement.  To order the books, “Cracking the Personality Code” & “Cracking the Business Code” please go to www.lighthouseconsulting.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

InBoarding Sets Up Employees for Success

By Larry Cassidy

[dropcaps type=”circle” color=”” background=””]I[/dropcaps]f onboarding is such a great business idea – and it is – why should it be reserved for only new employees? Maybe the time has come to give in-boarding a try.

Onboarding = Success

climbing ladderOnboarding is more than just a solution for employees with the new job jitters. Getting new employees ready to be productive is one of the toughest jobs managers face. Failure to set new employees up to succeed can lead to a slow ramp up to productivity, unhappy new hires, and, ultimately, failure to meet your critical business goals. Rather than recruiting, hiring and throwing employees in the deep end of the pool (“Sink or swim!”), there are much better onboarding practices to increase the worker’s odds of success.

To many a business school professor, onboarding is known as organizational socialization mechanisms. In layman’s terms, this means the ways new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills and corporate culture to become effective team members. Think beyond just a simple new employee orientation. The process might include formal lectures, videos, training booklets, computer-based simulations, and even such basic steps as having someone welcome the newcomer and take them to lunch the first day.

This is a far cry from what we called onboarding when I was a captain in the Marine Corps: boot camp. Obviously stress reduction was not on our priority list. While there are no drill instructors at your company yelling at new recruits to drop and give me twenty (at least I hope not), the purpose is the same. You want to prepare newcomers for success in the organization.

More than 80 percent of organizations reported that they have either formal (i.e., written, documented, standard) or informal onboarding programs and/or practices, according to a study by the Society for Human Resources Managers (SHRM).  The vast majority of organizations indicated that providing communication, training and resources is extremely important for the successful adjustment of new hires.

So, one in five business leaders are still holdouts, reasoning that traditional human resources orientation sessions are good enough. They fail to see the cost/benefit payoff of investing so much time and energy in the new hires. This is miscalculated reasoning.

Public and private research has proven that onboarding leads to such positives as higher job satisfaction, better job performance, greater commitment to the organization, and stress reduction. Advocates say onboarding does more than shorten the learning curve of new hires. The ultimate payoff is reduced turnover and getting productive workers to increase their tenure at the company.

But Why Just the Newbies?

If you agree with the mounting evidence that onboarding is the way to go, here is an important question: Why wouldn’t you do the same to accelerate the progress of the employees you already have? There is no reason to think that it is too late for the rest of the roster who arrived after onboarding began or have already gone through onboarding.

Consider it inboarding, an extension of the idea of onboarding. The purpose of inboarding is to set existing, rather than new, employees up for greater success. You want the same payoffs: higher job satisfaction, better job performance, and greater commitment to the goals of the organization.

Employees are not set-it-and-forget-it machines. The need for input is ongoing. Many inboarding communications tools and channels can be used to continually get the information across. If onboarding is like an inoculation, then inboarding is like booster shots.

When I was president of a 150-person consumer optical company, I discovered there are two groups of employees that are ideal candidates for what I now call inboarding: all employees and specially selected employees.

All Employees

paint rainbow

First, let’s consider all employees. That’s right, all employees. Do you have employees you don’t care if they are successful or not? If yes, I recommend you get rid of the position or get rid of the person in the position (maybe that should be called offboarding, but that is a whole other article). In today’s world of lean companies and global competitiveness, every employee counts.

I am a believer that you help employees be more successful at accomplishing corporate goals if they know what’s going on, where the company is going, why it is going there, what is expected of them, how they can contribute and what the payoff is for them.  A leader wants to know the answers to those questions, and so does the entire team.

Treat your employee base like adults who are as interested in the future and success of the company as you are. Here are the tactics that can make inboarding work. Try town hall meetings, roundtable discussions, and even monthly newsletters (just the facts, not the fluff).

Please understand… I am not talking rah-rah, go-team-go cheerleading sessions. This is honest sharing of information. The important news to always stress is where are we going, why it is important, what the opportunities are, what we need from you the employee, and what is in it for you. Bottom line: We get more business, everyone is more secure.

There is an old adage: “If you don’t know where you are going, it doesn’t matter what road you take.” In my experience of coaching more than 300 companies, the information about company success metrics does not easily filter down from the management team and supervisors to the rank and file. People are often in the dark on how they relate to success. Everyone who goes to work wants to go home feeling they accomplished something and that it was important.

Here is one technique I recommend. Set up idea exchange sessions comprised of representatives from various functional areas of the organization. Have them share why they think another area is important. They might make comments like: “Marketing is important because if we don’t have a steady stream of customers we are out of business.” “Operations is important because if we don’t deliver on time that hurts our cash flow and reputation.” “Accounts receivable is important because if they don’t do their job we don’t get paid by customers.”  Having that feedback from other people in the organization can really open their eyes to the fact that what they do really matters. They come to work with their heads held a little higher and their focus more intent.

Specially Selected Employees

The other prime candidate for onboarding is specially selected employees who possess high potential for growth. These are the people you know would like to be major players for you as you go down the road. Inboarding can focus on a number of actions to get them ready to become better, rather than pigeonholing them in the job they already have.

Many managers are afraid to groom a high performing employee for promotion, because they hate to lose someone good. Wrong, wrong, wrong. A manager’s job is to grow their people and find the right new person to replace them.

finish lineWith a small to medium company there can be a challenge to find slots to move a high performer up a ladder. Unlike the days when I was an executive at General Mills, in a small organization there are not as many opportunities for promotion for an up-and-comer.

The solution is for Project work is another inboarding technique. You might say to one of these special employees, “You have a chance to be a manager, but right now we think you are short on finance. So I am going to give you a project that lets you get your nose into the numbers.”get about the vertical ladder and, as proposed by Vistage speaker and consultant, Amy K Hutchins, consider a horizontal ladder. This means moving employees laterally into new and different experiences. Moving sideways can keep the employee fresh (not too different from how the military cross trains its personnel).

Maybe the solution is as simple as cross training. The restaurant chain, PF Changs, took two important actions during the recession.  First, they got rid of everything on the expense side that did not enhance the customer’s dining experience. Second, they did a great deal of cross training, which allowed them to reduce head count because kitchen staff could fill in for wait staff and vice versa. More important, morale went up because the employees better understood what it took for the entire restaurant to be successful.

Final Thoughts on Inboarding

Inboarding should be done on a regular, continual basis. If you do it episodically, then the employees tend to look at it as something the leaders do when something is wrong or when you get a big order. Communicating on a monthly or quarterly basis is something to strive for, but not less than every six months.

Don’t neglect the social side. Functions like the company picnic and the holiday party are important. So is the celebration for the big win. In my experience, companies who celebrate victories do better over time.

up the hillBreaking bread is also a proven strategy. Regularly take a cross section of employees out for a lunch discussion. If you show genuine interest in your employees, they will know that you care. Then they are more likely to open up to you on what is really going on. Tagalongs are another strategy. Have a younger employee shadow you for some client meetings, lunches and project work.

Overall, the inboarding payoff can be enormous. Never forget, it is the leader’s job to create employee alignment with personal goals, management objectives, and company goals. Inboarding will give you better players and deeper bench strength. Technology is great, but technology doesn’t give you the edge. Business is still about people.

Action Item List

Now it’s time to try out the ideas shared in this article. To receive the specific action items list, please click here and sign up for our Keeping on Track Newsletter:

For more information on how to get an inboarding or onboarding program started, please contact Dana at (310) 453-6556, ext. 403 or dana@lighthouseconsulting.com.

Larry Cassidy is a Senior LCS Consultant and a Chair with Vistage International for the past 25 years. He currently works with some 50 executives every month and has facilitated over 1,200 executive group meetings, and participated in 11,000 face-to-face discussions with chief executives about all aspects of their businesses. He prepared for this journey at Miami University (Ohio) and Northwestern (MBA); as a Marine Corps officer; with public companies (General Mills, Quaker Oats and PepsiCo), private, family and foreign-owned firms; and, in the 1980s as General Manager and CEO of local companies. He does executive coaching and also serves on advisory boards. You can reach Larry at Larry@lighthouseconsulting.com.

Permission is needed from Lighthouse Consulting Services to reproduce any portion provided in this article. © 2014

If you would like additional information on this topic or others, please contact your Human Resources department or Lighthouse Consulting Services LLC, 3130 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 550, Santa Monica, CA  90403, (310) 453-6556, dana@lighthouseconsulting.com & our website: www.lighthouseconsulting.com.

Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC provides a variety of services, including in-depth work style assessments for new hires & staff development, team building, interpersonal & communication training, career guidance & transition, conflict management, workshops, and executive & employee coaching.

To order our books, “Cracking the Personality Code” and “Cracking the Business Code”, please go to www.lighthouseconsulting.com.

 

Identifying Sales and Marketing People Who Flourish in Today’s Environment

By Dana Borowka, MA

Not all sales and marketing people are created equal. In a challenging economy, you want to hire people who are creative, image001innovative and can get results despite the roadblocks. After all, today is a new day with new opportunities for those that are open to them. To improve hiring decisions, many companies have found out how to crack the personality code by using robust in-depth work style personality testing. Work style assessments are a standard recruiting practice for many branches of the government and military, as well as many Fortune 500 companies when assessing potential hires for key or critical positions.

Our research for our book, Cracking the Personality Code, reveals that this is not guesswork or an untested science. Here are eight proven ways to use in-depth work style personality testing to hire the right sales and marketing people who are willing to fight for market share.

1. Compare Their Resume Against Your Job Description

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Surprising how easy it is to blow right past this step in the hiring process. Past experience alone is not what you are looking for when you review the resume. You are looking at how well they performed, what were their successes, and how adaptable they might be to the job that needs to be done for your organization. Experience is nice, but it is results that really count.

2. Assess Their Problem-Solving Resources

Is this person a problem solver? If so, what kind of problem solver? Each of us has unique problem-solving resources on which we rely. You will want to determine what the person’s strengths are when it comes to problem solving. What are the usual approaches this person will use to resolve these problems?

3. Determine Their Patterns For Coping With Stress

Stress is a force that tends to distort the body, a factor that induces bodily or mental tension, or an automatic physical reaction to a danger or demand in the environment. As one physician stated, “Stress is any demand, either internal, external or both, that causes us to mentally and physically readjust in order to maintain a sense of balance within our life.”

Without a doubt, stress is a fact of life in today’s work world. So determining a candidate’s or employee’s ability to cope with stress is critical for a manager.

4. Examine Their Interpersonal Interaction Styles

Breakdowns in communication are never good for an organization. So take a good look at the individual’s style for relating and communicating with others. How do they usually react in dealing with others? What is their comfort level in interacting and personal connection with others? Personality assessments can tell you the person’s major sources of gratification and satisfaction when building relationships with each other.

This is the time to identify potential red flags. A personality assessment can discover issues that are sometimes overlooked during the traditional interviewing process and can quantifybizman opening door a hunch or feeling the interviewer may have about a particular candidate. Knowing interpersonal interaction styles can also help understand how to manage individuals for greater work performance. A comparison of the interpersonal dynamics of teams, departments, employees and candidates is well worth the effort.

5. Analyze Career Activity Interests

Certain personality tests help you gain information which may either support the person’s present career choices or assist them to explore, consider and plan for another career direction. This is not to say you will be recommending another career choice to someone you are considering hiring or currently managing. Rather, you are using this information to determine fit. All organizations want to ensure that they have the right people in the right positions and effectively distribute these human assets and talents.

6. Assess How They Respond To Tests

You should also use tests with scales for what is known as “impression management.” This is necessary in order to understand the accuracy of results and whether someone is trying to “fake good” or misrepresent themselves. A critical element in predicting a potential candidate’s success is measuring real personality and style in an interview. An in-depth work style and personality assessment presents a fairly accurate picture of a candidate’s personality, work style and fit within a company’s culture.

If a profile does not have an impression management scale, then it is difficult to tell how accurate the data is. A profile needs to have at least 165 questions in order to gather enough data for this scale.

7. Chronicle Strengths & Weakness Ledger

Benjamin Franklin reportedly had a decision-making process when he was faced with important challenges. Franklin divided a sheet of paper into two columns, and on the left side listed the reasons for doing something and on the right side the reasons against. Much like a bank ledger with credits and debits, this simple tool greatly aided the analysis of information. Often a quick scan of the two lists gave him the information he needed to make the right choice.

We recommend you do the same for the personality of a job candidate or an employee under your supervision. Like a bank ledger, every credit should have a corresponding debit. That is because for every strength a person possesses there is a corresponding weakness. Being assertive is a strength; however, that personality can be too assertive and off putting for some people they deal with.

8. Create Personality Probing Interview Questions

So, what have you learned about the job candidate so far through personality assessments? What remains to learn? To find out, developinterview questions that probe facets of the personality you need more details on

pen on bookForget those old standby questions like, ‘Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses’. Instead, let’s say you wanted to determine how they cope with stress. You might ask the candidate to give an example of when they made a terrible mistake and how they handled it. Ask them how they think others perceive them when they are under stress. For making a mistake, did they blame others or take responsibility for the outcome? Listen for their process. Do they ask for help? Watch body language and tone of voice to see how much insecurity the candidate expresses at the idea of making a mistake or having stress..

As consultants trained in psychology, this is something we help our clients create for new candidates. To help you create questions, here are some preliminary interview questions for a candidate. Naturally, these are not meant to be questions to ask all candidates, but are indicative of the types of questions you might ask:

What process do you think helps you to learn? Give an example of how you learn a very complex system or skill and what your process was?

How would you handle a situation that brought up many different changes? How do you like to see change take place? Give an example when change was implemented and it just didn’t work out.

Have you ever worked with individuals who are abstract thinkers? How did you deal with that kind of thought process?

Give an example of when you have had to make an exception to the guidelines or rules. How have you handled that?

What was the most challenging sales situation you have ever faced and won? Give an example of when you lost a sale and what you could have done differently.

Whew, seems like a lot to worry about. As with any business decision, having and organizing the right information is critical. Work style and personality assessment testing can key in door lockprovide insight into potential hires, as well as the current workforce. The trick is to gather the information and then look at it in an organized fashion.

 

Permission is needed from Lighthouse Consulting Services to reproduce any portion provided in this article. © 2021

If you would like additional information on this topic or others, please contact your Human Resources department or Lighthouse Consulting Services LLC, Santa Monica, CA 90403, (310) 453-6556, dana@lighthouseconsulting.com & our website: www.lighthouseconsulting.com

Dana Borowka, MA, CEO of Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC and his organization constantly remain focused on their mission statement – “To bring effective insight to your business”. They do this through the use of in-depth work style & personality assessments to raise the hiring bar so companies select the right people to reduce hiring and management errors. LCS can test in 19 different languages, provide domestic and international interpersonal coaching and offer a variety of workshops – team building, interpersonal communication, stress & time management, sales & customer service training and negotiation skills as well as our full-service Business Consulting Division. Dana has over 30 years of business consulting experience and is a nationally renowned speaker, radio and TV personality on many topics. He is the co-author of the books, “Cracking the Personality Code”, “Cracking the Business Code” and “Cracking the High-Performance Team Code”. To order the books, please visit www.lighthouseconsulting.com.

Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC provides a variety of services, including in-depth work style & personality assessments for new hires & staff development. LCS can test in 19 different languages, provide domestic and international interpersonal coaching and offer a variety of workshops – team building, interpersonal communication, stress & time management, sales & customer service training and negotiation skills as well as our full-service Business Consulting Division.

Are You Being Commoditized?

By Patrick McClure

[dropcaps type=”circle” color=”” background=””]T[/dropcaps]he number one issue I hear about from associates, clients, and partners is a very real and growing fear of becoming commoditized.

Here is an all-too-familiar scenario:

After numerous meetings with your client, detailed fact finding, many internal team planning sessions, and a heck of a lot of hard work writing and submitting your proposal, you have been given the distressing news that the business was awarded to another vendor. You thought you had the best solution and a good price, excellent relationships and a good team in place. So why did you lose?

pull ropeDuring your follow up investigation, you find out your prospect went out on the internet, researched all your competitors and “shopped” your proposal seeking a lower price. At the last minute, another company who knew nothing about your customer and their business needs submitted a lowball bid and snatched the deal away. In short, you were lumped into the mix and got commoditized.

Is there anything you could have done to change the outcome? What steps could you take to avoid being treated as “just another vendor”? Is there any way to separate your company from the pack? Read on…

The Commoditization Conundrum

In his recently published book “Entering the Shift Age”, futurist David Houle writes about the epic transformations that are changing our lives as we proceed into the 21st century, shifting from the Information Age into the “Shift Age.” In this age (circa 2010-2050), change is the norm, the individual has the power, and traditional methods of decision making and authority are disappearing just like dinosaurs.

digital worldOne of the biggest changes (no surprise here!!) is universal access to massive amounts of information instantly available on any device, located anywhere and at any time globally. Even ancient “Baby Boomers” such as myself have learned how to quickly navigate the internet to find information about practically anything. Quick access to business data via Google, LinkedIn, Facebook and hundreds of other information portals guarantee that we never go into a business meeting unprepared. It is staggering how much information exists and is being created in this “Big Data” environment. And the future generations – the Millennials and the Digital Natives – demonstrate amazing familiarity and expertise as they effortlessly cruise through Cyberspace.

Since anyone can access this vast amount of free data, it’s a snap to check out competitors and shop for information and bids online. There are dozens of apps available to help with reverse auctions, finding discounts or deals, and evaluating the best bargains. In short, the Internet has trained all of us to shop online and to research online to find the best deals. Why would we expect our prospects to be any different?

The problem, it seems, is how to differentiate yourself and your company from “everyone else.” Since everyone is online, and everyone is offering very similar products/services at basically the same price (or cheaper), what can we do to stand out? How can we avoid being made a commodity? Furthermore, if your entire sales effort can be negated with someone else’s cheaper price, why bother to hire and train a sales team? Why not just sell everything as cheaply as possible on the internet? Why not eliminate sales entirely and do everything over the web?

The Difference is You

Despite all of the self-serving attempts being made to commoditize everything, I maintain that business is personal. People still buy from people they trust and respect, and I hope and pray that will never change. There are millions of real estate agents, bankers, insurance agents, financial planners, dentists and doctors. So why do we stay with the same company year after year? It’s because someone inside that company at some point made a personal impact on our lives, and we made an emotional decision that we could trust that person, and therefore we could trust that company.

workers-cityIn the B2B world, most businesses pretend to make acquisitions based just on the facts. They put together complicated RFP’s, assemble selection teams to evaluate and score each and every buying criteria, and they pride themselves on making decisions completely devoid of “personalities.” Yet in almost every major decision, we find that it comes down to one person (CEO, President, key board member) deciding that they like and can trust another person. At the end of the day, we need to trust that that company will honor their commitment and will deliver what they promised.

One of my former clients was an international oil company. On the day before Christmas, there was a significant incident at one of their refineries, and my company received the emergency call. Our service department (personally assigned, on a first name basis, on-call 24×7) responded immediately, called in top level software engineers over the holiday, and fixed the problem within a few short hours. That prompt action saved our client almost $1 MM in what would have been lost revenue. What do you think happened when that service contract came up for renewal? Do you think our client would seriously entertain a lower cost bid?

The major difference between your company and the competition is YOU! Part of the unique value proposition (UVP) that you bring to the market is yourself. The biggest challenge we all face as sales professionals is how to differentiate ourselves and show our unique value. If we understand that we are a key part of the business solution, then we need to figure out how to tell our story better. If business is personal, what are we doing to make it MORE personal? How are we improving our relationships with our existing and future clients? What steps are we taking to connect with our clients in a meaningful way? How are we adding value to the relationship?

Your major defense against losing business, and your chief weapon at winning new clients, is your ability to establish trust and rapport. As we enter the Shift Age, and more and more prospects are learning about you online, it’s important to use online tools to help create this positive image and visibility. If you’re getting introduced “online”, then make the effort to present a professional image which builds trust and rapport. This will lay the proper groundwork for future personal interactions.

Remember, the initial impressions your prospect receives are critical, so make sure that your online impression is positive.

There are dozens of ways to improve how you connect with your prospects and customers, limited only to your imagination. Business people make decisions emotionally, and then justify them with the facts. Make sure you’re establishing trust and rapport — online and personally – and you’ll win a greater share of those deals!

Final Thoughts

According to Dana Borowka, CEO of Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC (www.lighthouseconsulting.com) and author of Cracking the Personality Code, hiring the right people is keystariway to clouds to future growth. If you would like additional information on raising the hiring bar, please click here to see an article on this subject.

Permission is needed from Lighthouse Consulting Services to reproduce any portion provided in this article. © 2014

Patrick McClure is a Senior Sales & Customer Service Training Consultant of Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC, and is a speaker, trainer, consultant, and author who enjoys working with individuals and corporations to help them achieve maximum performance. He has dedicated his practice to helping others become more successful. To learn more, email patrick@lighthouseconsulting.com.

If you would like additional information on this topic or others, please contact your Human Resources department or Lighthouse Consulting Services LLC, 3130 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 550, Santa Monica, CA  90403, (310) 453-6556, dana@lighthouseconsulting.com & our website: www.lighthouseconsulting.com

Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC provides a variety of services, including in-depth work style assessments for new hires & staff development, team building, interpersonal & communication training, career guidance & transition, conflict management, workshops, and executive & employee coaching.  To order the books, “Cracking the Personality Code” and “Cracking the Business Code”, please go to www.lighthouseconsulting.com.

Prepare Now To Lead The Way Into 2014

By Paul David Walker

[dropcaps type=”circle” color=”” background=””]S[/dropcaps]pring time is upon us and it is time for house cleaning and planning. Many of you are familiar with the economists, Alan and Brian Beaulieu and how their economic forecasting helped in preparing for the last recession as well as for the financial impact that it had on most companies and individuals. They have presented another opportunity for us to be aware of in the coming future. They are projecting that sometime between the later part of 2013, we will be heading into another connect dotsmuch milder recession that will continue through 2014.

Leadership – Take Market Share Now

During economic changes, relationship is more important than ever, because it is relationships that will hold you, your customers and vendors together.

Together, you can increase market share. If you, your customers, and vendors survive and / or thrive during weak demand, you will rise together as demand increases, which it always does. Here is how you do this.

Recession Value Proposition

Adjust your value proposition to fit the new economic circumstances, and train all people who interact with customers to implant this in the minds of customers. For those of you who are in the B to B space, at some point in time your customer will be in a meeting with corporate leaders asking, “What vendors can you eliminate? How can we reduce our costs and be more appealing to our customers?” At that time you want the voice in the back of your customer’s head to be saying that your company is a keeper for the reasons you have implanted. Likewise, if you sell to the consumer, you want the consumer thinking that your products will help them live better in this economy. The consumer advertising, packaging and PR should be positioning your brand as the answer. Your new value proposition should to targeted and ever present.

One of my B to B customers mission is to provide “Engineered Solutions” that improve the efficiency of their client’s factories. They explain, “We will work with flexibility and expertise.” They are making sure all their customers have this on the top of their minds. Another client, who sells to consumers, vision statement is: “Better Products … Better Life.” They are sure their advertising drives home how their products provide twice the value at lower prices. They are working on getting this message into the scripts of their customer service teams around the world. The most successful businesses during a recession implant their new value proposition at every contact with customers. This makes the relationship strong, and creates hesitation before a customer changes brands. That relationship will benefit all as the tide rises.

Extend Your Team

supportMake it clear to your vendors and customers, that we are all in the same boat floating on a low tide of demand, and that we must work together for mutual success. Continuously reach out to customers to understand their changing needs and wants and make temporary deals with the customers and vendors that will carry all through changing economic dynamics. If your customer needs a price break, ask your vendors to reduce their prices. If they need to reduce their inventories, get your vendors to help you create just-in-time inventory programs. Find out what your customers and vendors need to help their business prosper, and have the flexibility to change your products or services to fit. Do not get stuck in business as usual. Business as usual will be a death sentence. Build a community of strong relationships with your customers and vendors.

Talk about your mutual missions and synchronize them so all can succeed during economic change. Make it clear to all that you and your company are committed to mutual success. Let them see and feel your commitment to mutual success.

Attack Weak Competitors

As your competitors fail to adapt to the changes in the wants and needs of the market place, their customers will be moving. Be sure they move to you. Conduct research to determine your competitor’s weaknesses and focus on acquiring their customers, who will be frustrated with those weaknesses. If your value proposition is right, and being communicated in the market place at every point of contact, they will come to you. The most venerable competitors have the following weaknesses:

  1. Overextended credit
  2. Old technology
  3. Cash flow problems
  4. Poor customer service
  5. Inability to adjust prices
  6. Lack of flexibility

Once you understand the nature of the weaknesses of your competitors, select the three weakest and develop a strategy to acquire their customers.

Position yourself as the life raft for the customers tied to a sinking ship. People in corporations tend to change at a slower rate than people in the market. Be ahead of the wave of change and find competitors who are not.

Business has always been driven by relationship and trust. During high demand it may not be as important because of the lack of supply for surging demand.

During economic and social change when demand is falling, relationship and trust are even more important.

If you have ridden the wave of demand, maximized your profits and weakened your relationships, it is past time to change, but never too late. Do not hesitate, find and communicate the correct value proposition for your business, extend your team to include customers and vendors, and rescue customers from the sinking ships of your competitors.

Final Thoughts

According to Dana Borowka, CEO of Lighthouse Consulting Services LLC  and author of Cracking the Personality Code (www.lighthouseconsulting.com), hiring the right people is key to future growth. If you would like additional information on raising the hiring bar, please click here to see an article on this subject.

In our blog, we are sharing more specific ideas in these various areas. If you have any specific questions, please feel free to contact any of our consultants. Also, if you have additional topics that you’d like us to address either in our Keeping On Track publications or Open Line monthly web conferences, please let us know. We look forward to hearing from you.

Permission is needed from Lighthouse Consulting Services to reproduce any portion provided in this article. © 2014

Paul David Walker is a Senior LCS Consultant and one of the few CEO coaches who has worked with numerous Fortune 500 CEOs and their key staff members for over 25 years along with many mid-cap organizations. Some of the organizations that Paul has worked with include StarKist Foods, Von’s Grocery Stores, New York Life, Anne Klein, Rockwell International countless manufacturing, global utilities, service and consulting organizations. Paul is the founder of Genius Stone Partners, and works with domestic and international companies to improve their bottom line today and planning for the future. Paul is the author of the best selling book, Unleashing Genius and his new book, Invent Your Future – 7 Imperatives for a 21st Century. You can reach Paul at Paul@lighthouseconsulting.com.

If you would like additional information on this topic or others, please contact your Human Resources department or Lighthouse Consulting Services LLC, 3130 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 550, Santa Monica, CA 90403, (310) 453-6556, dana@lighthouseconsulting.com and our website: www.lighthouseconsulting.com

Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC provides a variety of services, including in-depth work style assessments for new hires & staff development, team building, interpersonal & communication training, career guidance & transition, conflict management, workshops and executive and employee coaching. To order our books, “Cracking the Personality Code” and “Cracking the Business Code”, please go to www.lighthouseconsulting.com.

 

Planning For The Upcoming Recession!

By Larry Cassidy, Ted Margison, Paul David Walker

[dropcaps type=”circle” color=”” background=””]S[/dropcaps]pring time is upon us and it is time for house cleaning and planning. Many of you are familiar with the economists, Alan and Brian Beaulieu and how their economic forecasting helped in preparing for the last recession as well as for the financial impact that it had on most companies and individuals. They have presented another opportunity for us to be aware of in the coming future. They are projecting that sometime between the later part of 2013, we will be heading into another much milder recession that will continue through 2014.

We thought that we’d share some ideas from our Lighthouse Consulting team, so that you and your organization can begin to prepare and take advantage of the opportunities that could be just around the corner. We’re going to focus in on management, leadership and operations:

Management – Larry Cassidy

I would start with the following caution: whenever times get even a little better, it is an invitation for overhead creep. Put another way, a little bit of success invites a lot of overhead.man looking at maps Given that truth, and the fact that many businesses have experienced at least somewhat better times, it is likely time to grab the pruning shears.

  1. First, I suggest this process: go through every expense on your P&L, and ask the following questions: “Does this expense truly touch our customer and/or make his/her experience better? If not, is it at least critical to our future success?” Prune any expense which does not meet one or both tests.
  2. Second, take a stethoscope to your balance sheet. Get rid of bad inventory (it is rarely a “too much” thing, usually a “wrong stuff” thing). Your first loss is your best loss. Move it! Then get on and stay on your receivables. Both need to come down and cash needs to go up.
  3. Third, be sure you have top people in key positions. You will ask more out of the team in tougher times, so be sure you have quality and you trust the players. Then have the team cross-train all hands. Every employee should be able to do at least one back-up job adequately. This creates flexibility and can reduce headcount.
  4. Finally, make sure your critical systems are operating smoothly. The last thing you will want to do is have to plug “holes” with bodies.

Leadership – Paul David Walker

Take Market Share Now

hands holding up bizpeopleDuring a recession relationship is more important than ever, because it is relationships that will hold you, your customers and vendors together.

Together, during a recession, you can increase market share easier than increasing profits. If you, your customers, and vendors survive and / or thrive during weak demand, you will rise together as demand increases, which it always does. Here is how you do this.

Recession Value Proposition

Adjust your value proposition to fit the new economic circumstances, and train all people who interact with customers to implant this in the minds of customers. For those of you who are in the B to B space, at some point in time your customer will be in a meeting with corporate leaders asking, “What vendors can you eliminate? How can we reduce our costs and be more appealing to our customers?” At that time you want the voice in the back of your customer’s head to be saying that your company is a keeper for the reasons you have implanted. Likewise, if you sell to the consumer, you want the consumer thinking that your products will help them live better in this economy. The consumer advertising, packaging and PR should be positioning your brand as the answer. Your new value proposition should to targeted and ever present.

One of my B to B customers mission is to provide “Engineered Solutions” that improve the efficiency of their client’s factories. They explain, “We will work with flexibility and expertise.” They are making sure all their customers have this on the top of their minds. Another client, who sells to consumers, vision statement is: “Better Products … Better Life.” They are sure their advertising drives home how their products provide twice the value at lower prices. They are working on getting this message into the scripts of their customer service teams around the world. The most successful businesses during a recession implant their new value proposition at every contact with customers. This makes the relationship strong, and creates hesitation before a customer changes brands. That relationship will benefit all as the tide rises.

Extend Your Team

Make it clear to your vendors and customers, that we are all in the same boat floating on a low tide of demand, and that we must work together for mutual success. Continuously reach out to customers to understand their changing needs and wants and make temporary deals with the customers and vendors that will carry all through changing economic dynamics. If your customer needs a price break, ask your vendors to reduce their prices. If they need to reduce their inventories, get your vendors to help you create just-in-time inventory programs. Find out what your customers and vendors need to help their business prosper, and have the flexibility to change your products or services to fit. Do not get stuck in business as usual. Business as usual will be a death sentence. Build a community of strong relationships with your customers and vendors.

Talk about your mutual missions and synchronize them so all can succeed during economic change. Make it clear to all that you and your company are committed to mutual success. Let them see and feel your commitment to mutual success.

Attack Weak Competitors

As your competitors fail to adapt to the changes in the wants and needs of the market place, their customers will be moving. Be sure they move to you. Conduct research to determine your competitor’s weaknesses and focus on acquiring their customers, who will be frustrated with those weaknesses. If your value proposition is right, and being communicated in the market place at every point of contact, they will come to you. The most venerable competitors have the following weaknesses:

  1. Overextended credit
  2. Old technology
  3. Cash flow problems
  4. Poor customer service
  5. Inability to adjust prices
  6. Lack of flexibility

Once you understand the nature of the weaknesses of your competitors, select the three weakest and develop a strategy to acquire their customers.

Position yourself as the life raft for the customers tied to a sinking ship. People in corporations tend to change at a slower rate than people in the market. Be ahead of the wave of change and find competitors who are not. Business has always been driven by relationship and trust. During high demand it may not be as important because of the lack of supply for surging demand.

During economic and social change when demand is falling, relationship and trust are even more important.

If you have ridden the wave of demand, maximized your profits and weakened your relationships, it is past time to change, but never too late. Do not hesitate, find and communicate the correct value proposition for your business, extend your team to include customers and vendors, and rescue customers from the sinking ships of your competitors.

Operations – Ted Margison

Interestingly, the key things a company should do in preparing for a downturn are often the same things they should do in preparing for an upturn.

  1. Streamline and standardize processes; you will need to be able to do more with less. Automate as much as possible in order to respond more quickly to changing bizpeople buildingdemands.
  2. Design processes for flexibility and adaptability. As customers change to accommodate changes in their marketplace the transaction size will often vary dramatically from what you have been used to. As well, new types of demand can arise as companies look for different ways to provide value to their customers, which might result in new types of demands for your business. You should be doing the same by looking for new types of opportunities.
  3. Understand the decision-making processes that drive demand for your product or services. Better visibility on what drives customer demand means better predictability for you. Do this with each of your key customers in particular. Then work with them to make sure you can respond to their changing needs in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Final Thoughts

According to Dana Borowka, CEO of Lighthouse Consulting Services LLC www.lighthouseconsulting.com and author of Cracking the Personality Code, hiring the right people is key to future growth. If you would like additional information on raising the hiring bar, please click here to see an article on this subject: Cracking The Personality Code: Hire Right The First Time.

In our blog, we are sharing more specific ideas in these various areas. If you have any specific questions, please feel free to contact any of our consultants. Also, if you have additional topics that you’d like us to address either in our Keeping On Track publications or Open Line monthly web conferences, please let us know. We look forward to hearing from you.

Permission is needed from Lighthouse Consulting Services to reproduce any portion provided in this article. © 2014

If you would like additional information on this topic or others, please contact your Human Resources department or Lighthouse Consulting Services LLC, 3130 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 550, Santa Monica, CA 90403, (310) 453-6556, dana@lighthouseconsulting.com & our website: www.lighthouseconsulting.com.

Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC provides a variety of services, including in-depth work style assessments for new hires & staff development, team building, interpersonal & communication training, career guidance & transition, conflict management, workshops, and executive & employee coaching. To order the books, Cracking the Personality Code and Cracking the Business Code, please go to www.lighthouseconsulting.com.