Marketing Your Small Business

One of the ideas I like to share with my audiences is for each of them to form an Advisory Council. Here is how it works: Once a quarter, take your best customers out to dinner to a fancy restaurant or country club. It especially helps if these customers are what best-selling author Seth Godin calls “sneezers,” people who are most influential in your community.

After dinner, ask your Advisory Council some questions like, “I’d like to give you a sneak peek at some new products and services we are thinking about rolling out. What do you think?” or “This is our new business plan for next year. What advice would you give us?”

And you know, it really doesn’t matter what they say. The important thing is that you made these people, who seem to know everybody in the community, feel important.

Not only will they be happy to meet other like-minded, influential members of the community at the quarterly meeting, they are likely to become lifetime customers themselves. (After all, who among your competitors are treating them so royally?)  Best of all, they likely will be unable to contain their enthusiasm around others about how you make them feel special.

After their quarterly meeting with you, if they overhear someone shopping for products or services that you offer, they are likely to chime in to the conversation, beginning with words like, “You know, if that is what you are considering, you really need to see my friends. They’ll take really good care of you!”

And we all understand the power of personal recommendation and that word of mouth is the most influential and effective form of marketing you can get.

And you too can get it, for the price of dinner and some drinks, simply by making your best customers feel important.

Seth Godin

 

 

 

Booming Paralegal Field

Lawyers are not the only legal experts out there. In fact, it is common that lawyers depend on their paralegals and legal assistants to help them be more efficient and effective. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of paralegals is expected to grow by 15% over the next eight years! You’ll find paralegals in law firms, government offices and legal departments in corporate companies. They are qualified legal experts who draft legal documents, research laws and regulations, and assist attorneys and lawyers with cases and help prepare for trials.

Paralegals may help with some administrative tasks, yet most of their workload is engaging with clients and working on cases. Charged with keeping track of and analyzing case documentation and information, paralegals need to be well versed in the online world of databases and computer software to be successful in their positions.

According to Paralegal EDU, there is a lot of variability in the opinion of what certification/credentials a paralegal needs for the industry to recognize them as qualified. There is no standard paralegal preparation course, certificate or degree. Because of the variability, you will find a variety of certificate programs and undergraduate degrees that aim to teach paralegals the skills they need to be successful.

Paralegal EDU just released the results of a months-long assessment of more than 250 accredited schools offering pre-degree certificate programs in paralegal studies. They chose which programs to recognize based upon a number of factors. Some of these factors include; the flexibility of the course work to fit into learner’s daily lives, opportunities to gain experience by practicing their new skills as well as how well the program aligns with current job demands. Check out the full list of criteria.

Paralegal EDU has recognized Alber Enterprise Center’s Paralegal Certification course as one of the best programs in Ohio for Paralegals to earn their certificate. This program includes the flexible online course, a Microsoft Office Suite course to develop your computer software skills, and an externship that allows you to practice the new skills you have learned in the course.

Full Plate Time Management

When you finished work yesterday, did you accomplish all you wished?  Or, like many, was it a day filled with busyness, but little progress on your priorities? Our professional lives are complex due to a combination of lean workforce, demands on our time, and way too much to do for less. How can you get control of your time and your life when your plate is so full?  Here’s an overview and detailed suggestions in one area:

Full Plate Time (and Life) Management requires:

  1. Task Management – choosing the tasks you should do and in what order.
  2. Energy Management – having an abundance of energy to give each day your best.
  3. Attention Management – hold focus on what matters most.
  4. Workflow Management – having systems in place to serve my specific needs.

Today we’ll focus on Attention Management.

The Problem.  Many things vie for our attention and unless we take responsibility for where our mind wanders, we’ll be pulled in a zillion different ways and never get to what matters most. For many this includes crises, texts, emails, chatty Cathy, boss demands, customer needs, etc.  After setting your priorities well (task management), here are four ways to keep your attention on what you need to do.

1) Trust others.  We allow ourselves to be derailed from our priority tasks because we believe that we must be the one to address the various issues that arise.  Learn to deputize and delegate others with guidelines to handle issues for you.  This is one possible draw on your attention, but one you can solve by letting go and trusting others.  They can do it.  Let them.

2) Utilize Q2 to prevent crises (from the 4 quadrants of productivity, as referenced in Franklin Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”®. Q2 is the quadrant for less urgent but important items requiring focus).  For every crisis, discuss what can be done to prevent it from happening again.  Operating in Q2 will reduce the number and severity of the crises you face and save valuable time.

3) Eliminate distractions.  Studies have shown that checking for new emails and looking at your phone again and again are addictive behaviors that take an enormous toll on your ability to focus and attend to what is most important.  A momentary look at our phone to check an alert will take, on average, 90 seconds to get your focus back on task.  Add up each alert and it means hours of time each day distracted by your phone.   Put that thing in airplane mode when you need to write that report or during a meeting.  Ban phones from meetings to encourage full participation and interaction.  It also fosters better participation and interaction with others.

Politely tell chatty Cathy (or Charles) that you can’t talk right now, and schedule a time later if it is important.  If you are chatty Charles, stop assuming their time is yours. This is different than building relationships by genuinely being interested in others, giving feedback, and following up.  Know the difference and choose wisely.

There are many other distractions not mentioned here.  What is drawing your attention?  What will you do about it?

4) Schedule time for Q2 and Priority tasks.  Look at your calendar.  Is it filled only with meetings set by you and others?  Who is in control of your attention?  When you schedule time for your focused attention, you carve out the time you need to get priorities done.  Schedule the Q2 time for planning, task prioritization, and relationship building to make everything else work better.

So what will you do to maintain your attention to focus on what matters most?  Gaining this control gives you the focus that will make all the difference.

 

The Park

Recently as I was driving to work (often times, I do my best thinking when I’m driving to work), I passed a city park. I quickly glanced over and saw steam rising and thought to myself, “I didn’t know that there was a small lake at the park.” My second thought was, “I have been driving by this park for over two years. Why have I never turned into here and explored?” The parks in my community are very nice and appear to be well kept. Yes, we pay taxes in the county where I live for the upkeep so one should really take the opportunity to enjoy them. This sent me down another road in my thinking process and that was, “This is like some of the organizations that the Alber Enterprise Center works with. When we sit down to have the initial conversation, our strategy is to listen. We listen to what the employer’s needs are. We ask questions to learn about what keeps them up at night. And there are many times what we hear is, “This is the way we have always done it.”

Many organizations have not ventured away from the typical “one and done training”. You know, the kind of training where you go offsite, spend anywhere from 4 – 8 hours in the training and when you get back to your office, the well-put together notebook of training materials goes up on a bookshelf, right along with the other trainings that you have attended. Does this sound familiar? I am smiling because I, too, had a bookshelf full of well-put together, carefully thought out workshops. Then, once I got back to the office, it was “business as usual” and anything that I had hoped to implement went right up there on the shelf with the other notebooks. And then…all was forgotten.

What does this have to do with my drive in this morning and seeing the park? Well, I would challenge organizations to veer off the path, think differently, look at the overall picture and wonder, “What could we do differently that would make a greater impact?”

A good place to start and one that I strongly recommend is asking your staff what training or professional development they would find exciting, energizing, and meaningful? You would be surprised how much thought they have given to that very question and will, most likely, provide you with a lot of good information, such as developing their skills as an emerging leader or maybe it is one-on-one coaching. Another possibility might be to identify their strengths and areas where they will excel or it could be a process to become “lean” and the ability to put a process in place to improve efficiencies.

Take off the blinders and look at your organization’s professional development with fresh eyes. Be willing to veer off that well-traveled path and explore. You never know what you might see or discover along the way.

P.S. – On my way home today, I veered off the main road and drove through the park I mentioned at the beginning of this blog. I learned a couple of things. First, there is NO small lake – it was an open field with early morning fog. (Lesson here – don’t assume). Second, the road took me back to a beautiful bird sanctuary and a scenic area for rest and reflection. My next adventure will be to go explore those. Robert Frost certainly said it best:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by; And that has made all the difference.

 What difference might it make for you and your organization?

Where Are You Going?

Strategies for Organization Success.

It’s no secret that there are many factors directly linked to the performance of your organization. Possibly the most important of these factors, and most devastating when things go wrong, is your organization’s culture. At Alber Enterprise Center, we recognize culture as the collection of behaviors, beliefs, values, interactions, and attitudes that impact how things get done in your organization. These are reflected in your organizational processes, systems, communications, products/services, and most importantly your public image.

So what happens when your organizational culture doesn’t align with your organizational goals?

Well…you’ll find yourself fighting an uphill battle if you ever desire or NEED to create change to stay competitive. A culture that is aligned with strategic goals drives better performance, greater financial returns, clearer vision, and employees who are more motived, happy, and engaged.

Doesn’t that sound great? You’re probably wondering…how do we know if our culture is aligned with our goals? Or, if you have the inclination to believe that your culture is not aligned, you may be wondering…where do we begin to gain alignment?

You may have heard the saying “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Well, that can indeed be the case when your strategy doesn’t take into account your culture’s influence. What about positioning your culture to enable strategy? What about taking a positive perspective and focusing on your strengths to better enable your strategy? Research supports that leaders who invest the same energy in their cultures as they do other key performance measures experience greater organizational success.

Noted authors on organizational change and culture, such as Kotter and Cameron & Quinn, claim that today’s organizations must be able to successfully undergo change if they are to succeed in an increasingly complex and constantly shifting society. Change is imperative, yet organizations rarely meet their intended objectives. Leaders may set out to change the “shiny object” such as technical alterations in processes to try to improve performance; however, in reality it is typically a culture change that is needed for their organization to meet their objectives.

Can you imagine a culture that utilizes what your organization is doing well to help you do even better? Taking a strengths approach will allow you to create positive momentum and experience positive returns sooner than later. Here are four steps we at Alber believe are the ways to getting a strengths-based culture.

  • Gather information through structured assessments to fully understand your current situation
  • Assess the gaps between where the data reveals you are vs. your ideal situation for optimal performance and success in your organization
  • Determine how to move from where you are to where you want to be
  • Implement an intentional plan that engages your new strengths-based culture and mindset.

These strategies will move the needle to greater organizational success.

BRIDGE: How a Signature Program Got its Roots

Not all problems are created equal.  Using one’s intuition or past practices might work for solving very simple problems.  Yet our past and our view of the future may limit our solutions.  When we are facing an issue or challenge that requires a fresh solution and has many interrelated components — perhaps several different constituents are involved or can be effected by the solution — a more robust process will bring you a clearer, more novel solution.  Based on Snowden’s (2007) research, there are four levels of problems – simple, complicated, complex and chaotic. As director of the Alber Enterprise Center, I helped to develop an issue management model specifically designed to resolve our clients’ complex problems.

In my own research comparing The BRIDGE Issue Management Process with other, more basic problem-solving models, I determined that there are three features that differentiate our model.  The BRIDGE:

  1. Identifies a system of interrelated solutions that resolve the issue;
  2. Provides templates for clients to document the desired outcomes, action steps, measurements, and resources into formal documents; and
  3. Gains buy-in from their respective organizations to implement and sustain the solution.

Deciding how to solve problems and issues can create a challenge in itself.  Giroux (2009) conducted a study of the decision-making habits of small business owners and entrepreneurs in Canada.  Using one’s intuition seems to be a common practice, as was learning from past incorrect decisions.  Also, emotions may unduly influence the decision if the problem is critical to the success of the business.  Without a formal process that helps them view the problem objectively, small business owners sometimes lacked the ability to make sound decisions (Giroux, 2009).  They are limited by their past experience and their view of the horizon.

There is history in the phrase “issue management process.” It was coined by the late Howard Chase in 1976 to describe a process he crafted for corporations to manage their public relations image and to influence public policy. Although Chase restricted his model to the corporate and public policy environment, issue management eventually progressed into a discipline used by other types of entities to develop strategies for a wide range of issues in their respective environments.

Extension’s new “signature program,” The BRIDGE: Issue Management Process, is not actually a program as educators know it.  It is a tool that anyone experienced with facilitating groups can utilize to solve complex issues with their constituents.  The BRIDGE creatively incorporates adaptations of several organization analysis tools designed by business scholars arranged in a logical flow.  First, the facilitator carefully chooses stakeholders familiar with the issue and invites them to a workshop to guide them through the process.  The facilitator then coaches the participants to storyboard what they can control or influence about the issue; to reflect on where they are currently and what they want as an end result in measurable terms; and to identify forces driving the issue as well as barriers that must be overcome.  The group then designs a comprehensive, multifaceted solution that specifies the action steps and addresses the human resistance to change that may hold back implementation.  Creating an evaluation plan for monitoring the outcomes is the final phase of the process.

We use The BRIDGE when 1) there are many components to an issue that are interrelated, and minor changes to one component could cause major consequences to others; 2) we want a creative solution that has not been done before; and 3) we have a short time period to resolve the issue.

I hope that this post helps to broaden your perspective on problem-solving vs. issue management, and that the next time you’re faced with a complex issue, you’ll reach for The BRIDGE tool kit.

Embrace the Changes: Quality & Environmental Management Systems

by Larry W. Sheppard, ISO 14001-2015 EMS & ISO 9001-2015 QMS Consultant

Companies currently certified to ISO 14001-2004 and ISO 9001-2008 must be re-certified to the revised standards by September 15th 2018 or risk the possibility of losing their certification.  The new standards did not add any new requirements; however, some of the existing requirements in the 2015 versions have significant changes. Transition for ISO 14001-2004 and ISO 9001-2008 certified companies should be easy to implement since they have an EMS/QMS base that meets most of the requirements of the 2015 version.

This is where the Alber Enterprise Center of The Ohio State University can assist your company during the transition to the new standards. We would be glad to meet with your management staff and present the new requirements in detail.

 Main changes in ISO 14001:2015 EMS

The new requirement is to understand the organization’s context has been incorporated to identify opportunities for the benefit of both the organization and the environment. Particular focus is on issues or changing circumstances related to the needs and expectations of interested parties (including regulatory requirements) and local, regional or global environmental conditions that can affect, or be affected by, the organization. Once identified as a priority, actions to mitigate adverse risk or exploit beneficial opportunities are integrated in the operational planning of the EMS.

 To ensure the success of the system, a new clause has been added that assigns specific responsibilities for those in leadership roles to promote environmental management within the organization.

The expectation on organizations has been expanded to commit to proactive initiatives to protect the environment from harm and degradation, consistent with the context of the organization. The revised text does not define ‘protect the environment’ but it notes that it can include prevention of pollution, sustainable resource use, climate change mitigation and adaptation, protection of biodiversity and ecosystems, etc. i.e. environmental performance.

There is a shift in emphasis with regard to continual improvement, from improving the management system to improving environmental performance to be consistent with the organization’s policy commitments.  In addition to the current requirement to manage environmental aspects associated with procured goods and service, organizations will need to extend its control and influence to the environmental impacts associated with product design and development to address each stage of the life cycle, i.e. acquisition of raw materials, design, production, transportation/delivery, use, end-of-life treatment and final disposal.

Main Changes in ISO 9001-2015 QMS

Major Differences in Terminology between ISO 9001- 2008 & ISO 9001-2015

 

ISO 9001-2008 ISO 9001-2015
Products Products and service
Exclusions Not used

(See Clause A.5 for clarification of applicability)

Management Representative Not used (Similar responsibilities and authorities are assigned but no requirement for a single management represented)
Documentation, quality manual, documented records Documented information
Work environment Environment for the operation of processes
Monitoring and measuring equipment Monitoring and measuring resources
Purchased product Externally provided product and services
Supplier External provider

 Documented Information has replaced the ISO 9001-2008 version need for the quality manuals and some procedures to define the documented QMS. Documented Information includes instructions, records of process performances, external provider’s performance, internal audits and management reviews etc.

As part of the continual improvement process risk base thinking was added to the revised standard. The concept of risk has always been implicit in ISO 9001 as preventive action. The 2015 revision makes it more explicit and builds it into the total QMS.

Teams That Get Results

Great leaders get things done through others and many times through teams.  This post lays out four practices that will get your teams headed in the right direction and achieving results.

Vision

First, why does this team exist?  What are you hoping to achieve?  Knowing the end before you begin brings clarity to all team members.  Don’t obsess over this.  Simply discuss what a successful outcome looks like.  Example: a team convened to create a new marketing plan.  Their vision was to successfully drive demand for a new product.  This had clear measurable results  (10% increase in revenue for the coming quarter).  It also drives their implementation.  If instead they wanted results over the next year that would change their goals.  A clear destination drives the goals to get there.

Focus on Goals

The team with a vision of creating a 10% sales increase naturally leads to the appropriate goals.  It might consist of target audience research, so much marketing to print media, so much to social media, etc.  Important – goals must be assigned to team members and held accountable; i.e. who will do what, by when?  Each person understands their role in the process and how they must perform so that the team succeeds.  This focus on goals requires monitoring and feedback along the process in order to stay on track.  Before we get to that joint accountability, let’s look at the choice of team members.

Choose Team Members by Strengths

Choose team members with complementary strengths and watch the synergy blossom.  We’ve found it helpful to use Gallup’s CliftonStrengths® approach, where each person discovers his or her top five strengths under four domains (Executor, Influencer, Relator, Strategic).  It’s important to make sure the team has at least one of each domain so that things get done, the right people buy in, contributions are valued, and the long-term view is considered fully.

Joint & Self Accountability

For status sessions, use the following format with four symbols: + What went well?; ! What did I learn?; ∆ What will I change?; —> Next steps.  Have team members come ready to share.  It is then easy to help each other get back on track if needed.  Best, they will regulate themselves.  Healthy teams hold each other accountable to stay on track.  This requires a high level of courage and vulnerability.  Foster these through personal example and development programs (Our “Building Healthy Teams”, for example).

If you’d like to partner with us to learn more about our program Building Healthy Teams and using Gallup’s CliftonStrengths for teams, please contact us below and let us help your teams make 2018 your best year yet!

 

 

 

New Year, New Opportunities

Happy New Year to all of our clients, followers, readers, and colleagues!  We sincerely hope that 2018 brings you joy, prosperity, and renewed energy.  As we turn the page on this new calendar year, the Alber Enterprise Center is turning the page with resolve. We are resolved to:

  • Demonstrate our belief that employees are the heart and soul of an organization;
  • Be the catalyst for change, innovation, and progress; positively impacting individuals, organizations, and communities;
  • Demonstrate that integrity, honesty, and excellence are at the heart of our work;
  • Hold ourselves personally accountable to one another and to our clients;
  • Develop and maintain long-term relationships that allow us to build solid partnerships leading to enhanced productivity, empowered leadership, and creative problem-solving.

What sort of challenges are you facing in 2018, and how might you and your organization resolve to overcome those challenges?  We would love to support you in your resolutions, as together we can make an impact on whatever barriers exist.  Let’s jump into the New Year with purpose!

“Approach the New Year with resolve to find the opportunities hidden in each new day.” – Michael Josephson

Building Customer Loyalty: 3 Ways to Move From Good to Excellent Customer Service

Have you ever thought about the difference between good customer service and excellent customer service?  Most of us would agree that there is a difference, but does it really matter? According to a recent survey cited on customerthink.com, 86% of buyers said they will pay more for a better customer service experience. And 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated.

Providing good service will allow an organization to survive. But a commitment to excellent customer service goes beyond surviving – to building customer loyalty to create a healthy, thriving future.

True excellence is marked by an excellent customer experience (CX). The focus on providing excellent customer service encapsulates a simple, three-prong model.

Be Prepared. Being ready to serve the customer is the very foundation for excellence. If buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated, then it behooves organizations to spend some time getting to know their customers…what they value and what influences them, and ultimately, being proactive in anticipating their needs and problems.

In his book, Five Most Important Questions, Peter Drucker reminds us that our customers are never static. They are constantly changing, as well as their needs, wants, and expectations. Do the research and use customer analytics that make sense, not just satisfaction scores which only show customer satisfaction from the past.

Be Passionate. Being passionate encompasses taking the expertise (knowledge, skills, and abilities) of individuals in the organization and using it to create a shared-learning organization.  It is an organization in which customer service representatives (CSR’s) become experts, knowing their products and services, and how to do the ordinary, extraordinarily well.

In one study focusing on customer service loyalty, Harvard Business Review (HBR) found that 24% of repeat customer complaints stemmed from an emotional disconnect between the customer and the CSR. Specifically, this means the customer did not trust the answer given to them and/or they thought that the CSR was hiding something.

In order to meet customers’ constantly changing expectations and to provide an excellent CX, our representatives must be armed with interpersonal skills, training and a comprehensive knowledge which will allow them to respond more accurately and articulately, and to quickly find better solutions. Competence increases the customer’s confidence in the CSR and in the organization.

Be the Hero. Being the hero stems from the philosophy that every customer desires and deserves to be treated with respect and care.  Unfortunately, many organization miss the mark with this one! As representatives of an organization, we have the opportunity to make life better, easier, more convenient, and/or to create value in our customers’ lives through the products, services, and exchanges we offer.

According to the HBR article, the number one most important factor in customer loyalty is reducing customer effort. Long wait times, cumbersome paperwork, having to make repeated calls to solve a problem, or having to use multiple channels to get information are all frustrating to a customer. Organizations need to remove obstacles and get rid of things that make it hard for customers.

Being the hero not only involves removing obstacles but also taking every opportunity to add good stuff to the CX. Customers want quick, convenient transactions and products that are true to what is claimed. They want trustworthy representatives who can engage competently and respectfully whenever needed. The success of the CX is tied to the emotions of the experience. Help customers to feel important and valued, and let them know you care and appreciate their business. In doing so, they will walk away wanting to come back for more.

References

Dixon, Matthew, Karen Freeman, and Nicolas Toman.  Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers, Harvard Business Review

Drucker, Peter. Five Most Important Questions: Enduring Wisdom for Today’s Leaders, Wiley.

Jaiswal, Vivek. 8 Customer Experience Myths Busted, customerthink.com.