Thursday, 24 May 2012

I have been working lately with several organizations on their vision statements, and have been reminded of the importance of having something out there, whether for organizations or individuals, that is drawing us toward it.  In the change material I teach, there is a skill that successful changers practice when change is thrust upon them, and that is to create a vision so powerful of the organization, department or even yourself once the change has been successfully implemented that it pulls you toward it, making it desirable to get there as fast as you can.  Many organizations create vision statements that are well crafted and look good on the wall, but that’s where it ends—with a wall plaque.  Those organizations who really think hard about their vision and make it something worthy of striving toward, and who then talk about that vision with everyone all the time are the ones for whom the vision is part of their success.  Peter Walsh said “You have to ask yourself, ‘Does this item or thought or response move me closer to my vision for my best organization or self?’  If it does great.  If it doesn’t, what is it even doing there in your organization or life?”  Vision is not an exercise in word-smithing.  It is an activity during which you define your best, most successful organization and then use it as a framework against which you make all significant decisions.

Posted on 05/24/2012 11:27 AM by Mary Fink
Monday, 21 May 2012

We constantly hear about the lack of jobs for young people and yet openings for some positions never get filled. Although the situation is worse for those without a college degree the issue is broad based. So I challenge parents about the kind of career guidance you are providing to your offspring.

It may make you feel good as a parent to say “follow your dreams” but youngsters seldom have any clue about what they want to do and often drift from one idea to another.  As parents we have an obligation to try to guide our children to careers that are best for them in the long term.  It is our job to teach our kids about where the jobs will exist in the future.

Where is the growth? Where are the opportunities? Healthcare, engineering, computer sciences, business, accounting, etc. – you can probably come up with a better list than I can.  Help your children move into careers that have solid futures and good prospects of continued long term earnings.  When we give them solid guidance they are less likely to move back in with us!

Posted on 05/21/2012 11:29 AM by Joe Scarlett
Monday, 14 May 2012

Many leaders talk about the importance of communication in their organizations, and for some of them, they think communication is primarily about transmitting a message, and they discount or ignore altogether the importance of listening.  We’ve all heard “we have one mouth and two ears and we should use them proportionately” or “listen twice as much as you talk” and that is all good advice, but there is another reason –we rarely get ourselves into trouble when we are listening.  It is when we respond that we put our foot (or both feet) in our mouths. 

So let’s review—listening is a good thing—it allows us to know what’s going on in the organization as well as in the lives of our colleagues, it allows us to learn, it is a powerful relationship-building tool, it is a must in conflict resolution and management, and it is critical in managing difficult conversations and negotiation.  It’s one of those things that isn’t difficult, we just have to be intentional about it.  So get listening!

Posted on 05/14/2012 1:03 PM by Mary Fink
Monday, 07 May 2012

We’ve all heard the saying… “There is no ‘I’ in Team”.  True.  However, the philosophy that the  you, I, me, my’s are non-existent in a team environment can be a misnomer.  You do exist, and it is your skills and talents that contribute after all.  

For many individuals they become part of a team and then paralyze themselves waiting to move as a team. Waiting to come up with ideas magically at the same time, and waiting for everyone to skip along at the same rhythm as though now they’re sewn together.

Don’t get me wrong I absolutely believe in teamwork.  It is essential to all strong and healthy organizations.  But here’s the secret: it’s not instant.  It builds.

Teams solidify in the blend and respect of everyone’s individual contributions, talents and strengths. Connecting those attributes with the goal and purpose of the team encourages not only accomplishment, but also stretch, creativity and new discovery. 

Assigning participants to a team does not a team make.   It takes, and here’s the word again, each “I” to be part of the team environment.  The leaders role is to establish respect for each “I” that strengthens and provides the unified group we all hope for. 

Only through each individual can an idea be presented and then adopted by the team.  

Moral of the story – the I in Team does exist – it is however, respectfully plural.

Posted on 05/07/2012 2:43 PM by Janet Rives
Thursday, 26 April 2012

One of the principal downfalls of leaders is uncontrolled ego.  Once you begin to think that you are someone really special others will begin to tell what you want to hear and you become slowly and progressively disconnected from those you lead.  Eventually you become isolated from reality and will sooner or later fail.

Stay humble; stay grounded.  Listen carefully, encourage honest communication and never argue with the messenger. If you “shoot the messenger” the messages will cease to arrive.  Listen to those around you to gather enough information about your business unit so you can give the best possible direction and make the soundest decisions.

Humility is a virtue.  Humility is essential  to leadership success.

Posted on 04/26/2012 1:42 PM by Joe Scarlett
Monday, 23 April 2012

There is absolutely no upside in being unhappy.  And who controls your happiness? You do.  Would you like to work for or with someone who is unhappy? Of course not.  You control your destiny so take charge!

Start your day off right every day.  Jump start your morning with a cheerful greeting to everyone around you – it is contagious.  If you are the leader you set the tone and if you set a happy tone others will follow you.

Bad news will likely come your way sometime during the day and it is up to you to handle it.  Take it on in a positive way and you set the tone for all around you.  Positive happy people live longer and enjoy life more.  Your move.

Posted on 04/23/2012 1:38 PM by Joe Scarlett
Thursday, 19 April 2012

The experts say that most people retain about ten percent of what they hear a week later so if you want a message to get through you need to say it many times.   This practice of repetitive messaging is equally valid in business as it is in family communication.

If you expect your kids to possess certain values it is important to talk about those values time and again. If want your employees to follow a certain path and believe in your vision for your business it is essential to be repetitive about the message.

Repetition on important topics is essential for leadership success

Posted on 04/19/2012 3:42 PM by Joe Scarlett
Monday, 16 April 2012

An elevator speech is a quick talk that you can deliver between floors on an elevator before the next time the door opens.   You will often be thrust into opportune situations with limited time to talk about a product, service or organization.  Be prepared.

Think about the topics you would most likely want to talk about and practice your short speech. Stand in front of the mirror and make your two minute pitch for your product.  Repeat it until you feel comfortable.  Now do one for you organization.

Be ready for you never know when that unanticipated opportunity will come your way.

Posted on 04/16/2012 3:41 PM by Joe Scarlett
Friday, 13 April 2012

Jim Colllins’ Good to Great begins with the notion that the good is the enemy of the great.  How many times do we see that played out in the organizations we do business with?  For example, service staff in any industry—hospitality, restaurant, banking, health care—can make or break the experience we have with that organization.  We don’t really care what the CEO or other senior leaders think or say, but how we are treated.  That having been said, however, I think that most of the time you could probably know the attitude of the CEO or senior leaders by the way those front line staffers behave.  It’s an old model, but still very relevant, that says that the order of taking care of business is take care of employees first, customers second, and stockholders third.  For many companies who have turned themselves inside out to please the stockholders only to realize that they are not loyal to the company, only to the returns.  At the first sign of trouble many stockholders will flee the ship.

Companies with a true vision for the long term will take care of the people who take care of the customers.  And if both of those categories are in good shape, the stockholders take care of themselves.  It’s a funny thing about caring enough to do things really well—it rarely costs more (certainly not considering the waste and rework of re-doing something we didn’t do well the first time), and the rewards are enormous.

Take care!

Posted on 04/13/2012 10:33 AM by Mary Fink
Tuesday, 10 April 2012

My observation is that big picture thinkers are generally the ones who move up in the organization. Those who can see the long term and articulate a vision and direction are most likely to wind up on top.

My advice is to stay out of the minutia and do everything possible to avoid falling into the “daily checklist routine.”  Visit your smartphone early, at lunch and at the end of the day and the rest of the time lock it up and shut it off.  It is very difficult to be a big picture leader if you are a slave to every email that comes your way.

Discipline yourself to differentiate trivial activity from real accomplishment.

Posted on 04/10/2012 10:30 AM by Joe Scarlett
Thursday, 05 April 2012
Maya Angelou once said that “People may not remember what you did but they will never forget how you made them feel.”  Seems to me that this is the secret to customer service.  What really matters is that customers’ experiences exceed their expectations and they will feel good about your business every time.  This statement is backed up by research that says that people remember the peak of the experience (good or bad) and the end of the experience.  The peak is where our feelings develop around this as a good or bad experience, and it can occur any time during the experience.  For example, a hospital in which a customer (patient) finds the registration process for entering the institution long, detailed, repetitive and confusing might develop a negative mindset about that experience that sets up the whole visit in a negative way.  The patient with that experience is going to be looking for things to go wrong, and we all know when we look for something we almost always find it.  If, however, that registration process is efficient, well thought through, and done by caring individuals, it sets the tone for a positive experience. 

The same is true of the discharge process—it can reinforce a good or bad experience or possibly turn our assessment of the whole experience around.

So what is the message here?  Make sure every part of the experience is positive, that the peak experience is a good one, and that the end of the encounter is one that customers will want to share because of the way it made them feel.  Good customer service costs nothing.  Bad customer service costs the business everything.  Leaders must insist that the whole organization focuses on the customer experience, but must also remember that the tone is set at the top, and the first person who must understand and practice this philosophy is the leader himself or herself.

Posted on 04/05/2012 10:39 AM by Mary Fink
Tuesday, 03 April 2012

This topic certainly sounds old fashioned but there is simply no downside to being a gentleman and there is potentially a lot of upside. You will likely earn the respect of others, particularly the women you associate with.  You could reduce some tensions in the workplace and you might even become a role model for some of your friends.

A gentleman holds the door, lets the lady go first in all situations, seats his guest and orders lunch second. A gentleman makes eye contact, has a firm (not crushing) handshake and always walks on the traffic side.  A gentleman always uses please and thank you. 

      You all know about this so go practice it.
Posted on 04/03/2012 10:37 AM by Joe Scarlett
Thursday, 29 March 2012

It can be tempting to dive into your retirement savings for emergencies – find a way to avoid the temptation.  Retirement savings left alone can grow into a meaningful nest egg and when you hit “that age” you need to be able to take care of yourself.

As an example I want to share my story.  In the late 1970’s I began my IRA (Individual Retirement Account) with $1500 annual contributions and raised them a few years later to $2000.  Over a twenty year period I contributed a total of $36,500. I invested wisely for the times, first in CDs, then in money market funds while interest rates were very high  and then into an aggressive mutual fund.  By 2006, 30 years after staring, my IRA was worth over $400,000

That is the power of disciplined saving and common sense investing.  How are you doing?

Posted on 03/29/2012 1:25 PM by Joe Scarlett
Monday, 26 March 2012

We all see the world through our own customized lens—we see it as we are, not as it is.  As a result we make assumptions about things based on our perspective. Those assumptions drive us to conclusions that we then act on.  To us, every step makes sense and is perfectly logical.  But what happens when someone has a different perspective or different assumptions and comes to their own natural conclusion?  Usually this situation results in conflict of some kind.  In dealing with difficult conversations, we are told to be very aware of the fact that we may see things very differently than another party, and yet both of us are convinced we are right.  Allen Alda writes to “begin challenging your own assumptions.  Your assumptions are your windows on the world.  Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”  So what does this look like?

Doug Stone, one of the authors of the book Difficult Conversations says that we must first identify that there is a gap in the way we see things, and that we must then explore why the gap is there.  Is it because we come from different backgrounds, whether cultural, ethnic, or educational?  Have we had different experiences that have brought each of us to the place where we are?  A number of factors may be in play, but the solution is the same:  explore those differences, and look for the ways both parties are alike as well, and begin to look for ways that we can close that gap.  Sounds simple, but it is a practice that is difficult to master.

Posted on 03/26/2012 1:24 PM by Mary Fink
Thursday, 22 March 2012

The most important success component in most growth organizations is people.  One of the key questions at Tractor Supply evaluation time is always about personnel development. How are you doing? Who are you developing?  Who will take your place if we promote you tomorrow?

When evaluating regional and district managers we always look to see who is developing the talent that will fuel our future growth.  If you are doing so well that you are exporting talent to elsewhere in the company you get special attention, and in my book, you move to “star status.”

One of the key measures of executive performance is leadership development. Senior management always looks favorably on those that are helping to stoke the engines of growth by recruiting and developing future leaders.

How are you doing?

Posted on 03/22/2012 11:57 AM by Joe Scarlett
Monday, 19 March 2012

A quote that struck me recently is “We have to learn to be our own best friends because we fall to easily into the trap of being our own worst enemies.”  Roderick Thorp, the author of a number of crime novels, wrote that and I am sure that as a writer he struggled with the challenges of being his own worst enemy, or his own worst critic.  Leaders are no different—plagued with questioning their decisions and actions, second- guessing themselves in many instances.   I believe that if there were one thing we could snap our fingers and have instantly it would be confidence—that ability to believe that we are capable to do what we do and that what we do is the right thing, done well.  For many leaders that confidence is slow in coming.  For others it seems to come naturally.  I would offer that  most people have developed the skills that have given that “natural confidence.”  I believe that the best way to acquire confidence is to practice those skills that result in confidence until we do them well. 

If I were asked to summarize the results that participants in our Signature Executive Program see, it would be confidence.  It might be in public speaking, managing difficult conversations or negotiations, but part of the reason for the program to last fourteen months is that everyone has the opportunity to practice what they learn, and to get feedback about that every time the group is together.

Confidence is one of those intangibles that we can’t hold in our hand, but that is easily observed in those who have it.

Posted on 03/19/2012 11:54 AM by Mary Fink
Thursday, 15 March 2012

This wonderful personal advice I heard from mother more times than I can remember.  Mom was talking about every day personal conduct. 

When it comes to eating, Mom was talking about a varied diet (lots of vegetables) and never stuffing yourself with goodies like potato chips or ice cream.  The same good advice pertains to drinking – drink too much and you make a fool of yourself or worse.

When it comes to conduct in a social or business situation mom’s advice is still good.  Don’t be too loud or too shy.  Don’t be a braggadocio.  A middle of the road approach works best.

In your conduct no matter where you are Mom’s “all things in moderation” words  is great advice.  You should only get outside the moderation mode when you are really confident in your actions.

Posted on 03/15/2012 10:33 AM by Joe Scarlett
Monday, 12 March 2012

You all know the words to the old Kenny Roger’s song “know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.” Those words for a poker game pertain equally in the business environment, yet so often we see leaders who don’t know “when to fold ‘em.”

The good business leaders face the hard facts and know when to walk away. Sometimes the issue is an old worn out business model and often it is new initiative that is simply not what was envisioned.  The decisions are most difficult when the person responsible to make the final “fold ‘em” decision is also the idea person behind the initiative.  Ego can prolong the decision so obvious to others.

When the facts tell you it is time and in your heart you know it is, go ahead and “fold ‘em.”  Don’t procrastinate when you know things will not improve.

Posted on 03/12/2012 1:16 PM by Joe Scarlett
Thursday, 08 March 2012

Norman Vincent Peale once said “The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”  We love it when others let us know how smart, skilled or right on target we are.  The truth of the matter, however, is that what we really need to value are those around us who will tell us exactly how it is, whether we want to hear it or not.  How critical it is for leaders to have staff who will tell them what they need to hear, and let them know how things really are.  We have a quote in our classroom that says “If you have a ‘Yes Person’ on your team, one of you is unnecessary.”  If everyone you listen to is telling you what you want to hear, you need to find some other people to talk to.  This becomes more prevalent the higher you rise in the organization—it becomes critical (and sometimes difficult) to find those people who will let you know when things aren’t going well, or when you need to do something differently.  So if you have some of those people on your team, let them know how valuable they are to you.

Posted on 03/08/2012 1:14 PM by Mary Fink
Monday, 05 March 2012

Frugality does not mean being cheap, it just means using good judgment.  A good rule of thumb in business, regardless of your position, is to treat the company’s assets as if they were your own.  Do what is in the best interests of the owners, and when you do, you will earn the respect of the owners.

Whether you are purchasing or making high level decisions or simply using your expense account - always apply sound judgment.  If you are in a leadership role you want to set the right example for your team and, if you are not, you want to demonstrate to your boss that you make good business decisions.

Being frugal in all matters is a winning formula.

Posted on 03/05/2012 1:11 PM by Joe Scarlett
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