Rocket Fuel For The Soul – Take Aim and Shoot for the Stars!

Rocket Fuel for the SoulA new contact of mine Annalieza Landa (Twitter: @allysimone) kindly said that my recent A to Z of Inspirational People was ‘Rocket Fuel For The Soul!’ Obviously that put a big smile on my face, because it’s always great to  get good feedback. But more than that, I love the power of this phrase and Annalieza has kindly let me use it for the title of this post – I hope I do it justice!

So, now I’ve stolen with pride, what does ‘Rocket Fuel For The Soul’ mean to you? Getting a rocket to take off, break the earth’s atmosphere and beyond our solar system to the stars takes a huge amount of planning, energy, determination and investment. So it is for us as individuals if we want to shoot for the stars in our lives!

In putting this post together, it made me think about all of the elements in my life that really give me, and my soul, a boost of energy – people and relationships that are important to me, places that I love to return to, nature in its many forms, hobbies that I enjoy and successful projects I’m working on and so on. I’ve talked about energy in several other posts and quite specifically in High Energy, High Performance where I explained that Personal Energy is made up of a number of types of energy:

Personal Energy = Physical Energy + Mental Energy + Emotional Energy + Spiritual Energy

To shoot for the stars, you need more than the basic fundamentals of life and energy to get there. If you’ve been a Think Oak! reader for a while, you know my passion for having goals. Well that applies managing your Personal Energy too. Take a look at the following list of GREAT GOALS that provide ‘Rocket Fuel for the Soul’ and will help you on your journey to the stars!

G – Goals themselves and their importance in energy management

Goal setting is a powerful tool to change the quality of your life AND bring you renewed energy. It is valuable in your academic life, personal life, business life and for your health too.  Goal setting identifies to both your conscious mind and your unconscious mind what it is you wish to achieve. Many academic studies have proved that setting clear and precise goals can have a significant impact on your life. One of the most compelling pieces of evidence of the power of goal setting is from the 1953 study of the Yale University graduate class that found only 3% of them had written goals.  A follow-up 20 years later found that this 3% had a combined wealth exceeding all the other 97% put together!

To really get the most from goal setting, there are 5 steps you should think seriously about following:

  1. Decide exactly what you want from life
  2. Write your goals down AND put a time-frame on them
  3. Break your goals down into milestones and if necessary inch-pebbles – with target dates!
  4. Prioritise your goals, milestones and inch-pebbles
  5. Start TODAY and act against at least one of your goals every day

It works. Try it. TODAY. You’ll be amazed at what you accomplish in just one month!

R – Relationships and the importance of making them stronger

As Mark Twain said…”Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that. The really great make you feel that you too can become great.”

Surrounding yourself with the right people will have a hugely positive impact on your spiritual and emotional energy. Building strong and lasting relationships with these people can take your life to a whole new level.

Negative people, or ‘Energy Vampires’ as I like to call them, can have a major impact for the worse in your life. If you’re spending large amounts of time with people who constantly bemoan their situation and blame everyone and everything for their situation can easily drag you down to their level. Try a little test that will prove my point. Whilst you’re out and about, ask friends and colleagues how they are. Watch closely for your inward reaction to their response. If someone, says ‘Great thanks. I’m having a really good day!’, how does that make you feel versus the person that gives a 10 minute diatribe on how bad their life is, how horrible their partner is, how bad work is and finally how there’s nothing at all they can do about it. I think you’ll be amazed at the results. I know, that when I first came across this phenomena, and the positive and negative impact that it had on me, I had some serious decisions to make about who I spent time with.

Surrounding yourself with positive and ‘successful’ people can really add fuel to the rocket that is your soul. I put successful in quotes because we all have a different view of what successful is. But whatever your criteria, investing in building strong relationships with people who you admire, can learn from and whose company you enjoy, will make a big difference in your life and your attitude to it.

E –  Exercise your mind as well as your body

We all know that looking after your body is important. Some of us do exercise and treat our bodies well, and some of us don’t, but we all know the consequences! I won’t dwell on this, as there are plenty of people more qualified than I to advise you.

Looking after your mind, however, and exercising that every day, can give you a huge boost in your personal and professional life. Many of us leave school, college or university thinking that that’s the end of study and we’re set for life. Not so. It’s so important to continue to invest in your skills and education throughout our life. Investing an hour or two per day in yourself can have a stratospheric impact on your career, your business, your aspirations and your thoughts and ideas.

I’m hearing shouts of ‘Where on earth am I going to find an hour or two per day? I’m already hugely busy!’ Well, many of us spend between 250 – 500 or more hours per year commuting to and from work. By using this time reading books or listening to audiobooks and podcasts you can get the equivalent of 14 weeks learning within a year! Add to that the hours of television you might watch in a day, week, month or year and you’ll immediately start to wonder how on earth you’ve missed out on this opportunity in your life. I started this process about a year ago and haven’t looked back. Give it a try!

A – Appreciate the world around you

How often do you take time to appreciate what you have in life? – Your family, your friends, the countryside, your town or city, your home, your garden…all the things we all sometimes take for granted. Taking just a few minutes a day, at the start or the end of the day work best, to be thankful for what you have, gives you that kick-start to the day or helps you to go to sleep that little bit brighter.

Spending time exploring new places or even your own village, town or city helps bring new perspectives and ideas. More than this though, spending quality time with the people we love or in places we love or ideally both,  help us re-energise us much more than a good night’s sleep (although that’s important too!).

T – Take time for you

We all live very busy lives, and many of us have people who depend on us – our customers, our boss, our colleagues, our families, our friends, our communities. I could go on. Many people seldom make time for themselves because demands on their life are so high or because they feel selfish by taking time out. Spending time by yourself can actually reduce the risk of burnout and stress and more importantly helps you to put some perspective on life. Some people find that spending 20-30 minutes per day meditating really helps them with balance in their lives, for others it might be a run or a cycle ride, for others, like myself, a walking weekend in the mountains a few times a year. Find whatever helps you truly relax and get started!

G – Give of yourself to others

Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote: “Souls are like athletes who need opponents worthy of them if they are to be tried and extended and pushed to the full use of their powers.” That’s an insightful analogy, for just as your muscles weaken without physical exercise, and skills weaken without practice and learning, so does your soul weaken without its special kinds of exercise. A great exercise for your soul is the practice of giving. As with physical exercise, the more you do it, the easier it is, and the stronger you will become.

What are the benefits of giving? Here are some of the things you can gain by making giving a greater part of your life:

  • Creating new relationships
  • A sense of empowerment, pride, and accomplishment
  • Happiness that you’ve impacted someone’s life positively
  • Maybe learned some new skills along the way

The paradox is that when you give expecting a reward, you won’t receive one. When you give with joy and selflessness, you benefit greatly. The attitude you bring to your giving will reflect the benefits you gain.

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
― Winston Churchill

Giving of yourself could be in your local community, becoming a personal mentor for someone, doing a sponsored event for charity or even writing a blog to help other people develop!

O – Organise Yourself

The Pareto Principle (The 80/20 rule) states that in many things, 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes.

Studies over the years have observed this rule in action in many different spheres of life.

Some examples:

Business: 20 percent of customers will account for 80 percent of profit.

Relationships: Twenty percent of the people you know (friends, colleagues, family) provide you with 80 percent of nurturing support and satisfaction.

Productivity: Twenty percent of your activities will account for 80 percent of your success.

How can we put the 80/20 principle to good use?
The Pareto principle is great to increase focus. Don’t try to do more. Just do more of the right things. If you have a lot of work to do, break it down to specific activities and figure out what twenty percent of the tasks listed contributes to eighty percent of the results you seek. Second, give your maximum concentration to those 20 percent tasks.

So how do you know if you’re working on the twenty percent that really matters?

It makes you feel good because you are doing what you always wanted or you know it’ll help with your goals.

You are doing the tasks that you’d like to procrastinate, but know that it is essential.

You delegate tasks to others that you aren’t good at.

You are doing something that uses your creativity
Hints that you aren’t utilising your time effectively:

You are doing things that other people want you to do.

You are doing things that you aren’t good at.

You are doing things you don’t enjoy doing (provided that it doesn’t also contribute to your goals).

You are doing things that always take you a lot of time and energy.
With a little effort, and the application of the 80-20 rule, we can save a lot of our emotional and physical energy to concentrate on stuffs that really matter and enrich our life.

A – Attitude is the engine that keeps you going, but like any engine, you need to maintain it

Think Oak Methodology outlines Four A’s for Success – Aptitude, Accountability, Anticipation and Attitude

Aptitude is our ability, talent or competency that we have honed and practised (or not) to do a particular task or role.

Accountability is us taking ownership for our actions, but more importantly our own lives.

Anticipation is our ability to think from the future and anticipate the markets we operate in or what we need to be planning for in our own lives.

Attitude is the engine that drives us to success. With a poor attitude, you’ll be very lucky to even take off, never mind get where you want to go.

In a previous post ‘Aptitude or Attitude~ What makes a Star Performer?’ I covered some of the key attitudes that will get you off the launch pad and beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, but there are two more things you’ll need to help you reach the stars!

L – Love Yourself

All of us at one time or another have self-doubt, are afraid of something or afraid to do something. Sometimes we may not like ourselves very much. But before we can truly be happy and successful loving yourself has to be a priority. Easier said than done, I know.

We’re taught by western society that our worth is found in the ‘core’ of our culture—technology, status, youth, sex, power, money, attractiveness, and romantic relationships.

If you base your self-worth on the external world, you’ll never be capable of self-love. Your inner critic will flood you with thoughts of, “I’m not enough, I don’t have enough, and I don’t do enough.”

Feelings of lack are never-ending. Every time a goal is reached or you possess the next big thing, your ego will raise the bar. It’s really important that you recognise when this is happening and put actions in place to reverse the process.

I’ve covered some of these areas in the Self-limiting Belief series (part 1, part 2), but there are other great sources available for you read that I’ve come across. One particular recommendation would be ‘The Chimp Paradox‘ by Doctor Steve Peters.

S – Stay Positive

Finally, on your journey to the stars you are bound to experience some bumps, turbulence, diversions and set-backs. Just remember that each of these is an opportunity to learn. Einstein famously said: “I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” When you’re hit by a meteorite on your journey to the stars, see what you can learn from the experience, re-plan if necessary, change course if necessary, refuel and set-off again with focus on the end destination.

“Optimism is the most important human trait, because it allows us to evolve our ideas, to improve our situation, and to hope for a better tomorrow.” ~ Seth Godin

I’m hoping that these 10 focus areas will help you in your personal and business life, and give you a little Rocket Fuel for the Soul.

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A to Z of Career Progression

A to Z Career ProgressionThe world of work has evolved and changed significantly in the last 20 years. No longer is a job for life and you need to be in the driving seat when it comes to career progression. When did you last make time to reassess what you want from your career? Maybe today is that day! I thought I’d put this A to Z together to give some tips on where you might focus, what planning you might want to carry out and what action you can take to work on your career.

A – Ambition

I guess you wouldn’t be reading this post at all if you weren’t ambitious and didn’t want to learn more about how to develop yourself, your standard of living or find your next role.

Donald Trump extols the importance of ambition with the following quote:

“Get going. Move forward. Aim High. Plan a take-off. Don’t just sit on the runway and hope someone will come along and push the airplane. It simply won’t happen. Change your attitude and gain some altitude. Believe me, you’ll love it up here.”

Unfortunately, ambition by itself will not get you where you want to go. Ambition must be paired with action and execution to be truly meaningful.

B – Brand You

What is it that you want from life? What’s your vision for your own future? What personal values do you live by? What’s important for you in your life? Where would you like to be in 10 years? How do you want to be perceived by others?

I’ve found a couple of simple ways to get to the bottom of some of these often tough questions.

  1. Imagine that you were told you had 10 years to live, starting today, and you would be completely healthy during that time. How would you spend that time?
  2. Imagine that you’re 100 years old, you’ve lived your life to the full and you know that you only have a minute or so before you leave this world. Your great-granddaughter is sitting by your side and she asks you – ‘From everything you’ve learned from your life, what advice could you give me as to how I get the most from mine?’

Doing these two exercises could have a powerful impact on you. They did with me. Your answers will help you understand your personal brand and brand values and ultimately your OMG – your One Magnificent Goal!

For more information on your personal brand please see a downloadable series of posts – Brand New, Brand You

C – Career Planning

So, you’re ambitious, you understand your personal Vision, Values and what you want from life. That’s more than most people, so you’re off to a good start!

If you’re a regular Think Oak! reader you’ll know what comes next – Goals! Setting Goals for your career path, will help you monitor your progress and give you a plan, that you should revisit at least quarterly, but I would suggest monthly.

Your career plan should have some short, medium and long-term goals. Work back from your One Magnificent Goal, your OMG (if you have one!) and fill in the milestones along the way and more detailed, inch-pebbles in the nearer term.

It’s a good idea to review this with at least one other person on a regular basis to keep you honest and on track.

Download a free Think Oak! Career and Development Template here

D – Discipline

Progressing in your career and working through your personal development plan requires commitment and discipline. One of the main reasons why people fail is that there is no discipline in their action. They give themselves excuses why they cannot consistently follow-up on their plans. You will need to sacrifice some personal time to complete your goals in your career plan and that sacrifice takes discipline. Discipline also ensures that you can be persistent, especially when faced with challenges after challenges in your journey to success.

Entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker, Jim Rohn said:

‘We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment’

Your choice!

E – Elevator Pitch

You’re in an elevator, a corridor or at a party and the CEO of the firm you’ve always wanted to work for, is standing next to you. What do you say?

Elevator pitches are developed to relay just enough information to cause the person you’re speaking to, to ask, “Tell me more.” If you’re lucky, the CEO will say, “If you have a few minutes, I want to hear more.” If you’re even luckier, your prospective boss will ask you to set up an appointment the next day to meet up. All of that from the development, memorising, and tweaking of a few simple yet incredibly powerful words.

Putting your pitch together

1. Who are you? Introduce yourself and your credentials up front. There’s no point in saying anything if the listener has no idea who you are or if you have any credibility.

2. What’s your objective? Get to the point quickly about what you are looking for or how that person can help. Being direct not only grabs attention but helps the listener to put your pitch into context.

3. What can you do for the listener? This is where you explain how recruiting you will meet their need. Your goals and dreams are all well and good but remember in the end what you are offering must benefit them. This is your chance to communicate what makes you someone who your audience should consider helping.  People typically like to help those that they feel will be successful in the process.  There are a few things you should think about when highlighting your qualifications:- industry relevance, leadership, expertise, pedigree, and impact.

4. The close – this is tricky to deliver effectively, but ideally you need an outcome to the conversation. This could be a follow-up meeting with the person you’re pitching to, a name of someone who you need to contact to follow-up, or some advice as to how to reach your goal.

Once you have your personal elevator pitch, practice it in front of the mirror. If possible, try to video or audio tape yourself, and watch it in fast forward. You’ll be amazed at your nervous habits!

F – Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway

In Susan Jeffers’ book ‘Feel the Fear And Do It Anyway’, she gives some great insight and practical tools to help you improve your self-belief and your ability to face even the things that you fear the most.

It’s almost impossible to go through life without experiencing some kind of failure. People who do so probably live so cautiously that they go nowhere. Put simply, they’re not really living at all.

The wonderful thing about failure is that it’s entirely up to us to decide how to look at it.

We can choose to see failure as “the end of the world,” or as proof of just how inadequate we are. Or, we can look at failure as the incredible learning experience that it often is. Every time we fail at something, we can choose to look for the lesson we’re meant to learn. These lessons are very important; they’re how we grow, and how we keep from making that same mistake again. Failures stop us only if we let them.

G – Glass Ceiling and How to Smash It

Despite knowing that you have much more potential, is there a limit for “people like you” in your organisation? If so, you’ve hit what’s known as the “glass ceiling.” This is the point at which you can clearly see the next level of promotion – yet, despite your best efforts, an invisible barrier seems to stop you from getting there.

Historically, the glass ceiling concept was applied to women and some minorities. It was very hard, if not impossible, for them to reach senior management positions. No matter how qualified or experienced, they simply were not given opportunities to further advance their careers. Thankfully today, there are many more women and minorities in powerful positions. However, the glass ceiling is still very real. And it’s not always limited to gender or race.

Below are 5 ways you can help to smash through the glass ceiling:

  • Align your objectives and competencies with senior management
  • Build your internal network and relationships
  • Over-perform in everything you do
  • Find a mentor within senior management
  • Move sideways under a different manager who will support your growth

If all else fails you do have a choice to move from your organisation altogether for your next career move.

H – Hard Work

I don’t know many successful people who have got to where they have without a great deal of hard work. True hard work never goes unnoticed. You will gain a recognition and prominence not only in the organisation that you are working in, but also outside the company in your profession.  This will surely work for you when you are creating your job reputation & professional profile.

I’m not saying you have to work 16 hour days every day, although that might be necessary sometimes. I’m saying that 9-5 no longer exists; a job for life no longer exists; and a ‘God-given’ right to promotion based upon your tenure in an organisation, no longer exists.

I – Intuition

Boosting your intuitive intelligence and using it to “coach” you on the job can be your career’s secret weapon. This was confirmed in a research study at New Jersey Institute of Technology, which tested hundreds of business managers for intuitive ability. Those who demonstrated superior intuitive ability also were better at effective decision-making skills. In a Harvard study, 80 percent of surveyed executives credited their success to intuition. And business luminaries from Conrad Hilton to Bill Gates to Oprah Winfrey have declared it essential for success. Donald Trump said, “I’ve built a multi-billion-dollar empire by using my intuition.”

So, how can we use this valuable skill on the job to become smarter, better employees? You can boost your intuitive intelligence by becoming aware of it, tuning in to what it’s trying to tell you, and heeding its advice. Like any skill, the more you practice it, the easier it becomes.

J – Job Satisfaction

Generally, you can have three fundamental approaches to your work:

Is it your career, your job, or your passion?

Depending on which category of work you put yourself in, the things which offer you satisfaction will vary.

If you feel you are pursuing your career, then chances of promotion and career development opportunities will measure your levels of job satisfaction. Your overall level of satisfaction will be closely associated with your power, status, or position.

If you feel you are doing a job, then it is the salary which will measure your levels of job satisfaction.

If you feel you are pursuing your passion, then work itself will determine your level of satisfaction, no matter what money you are earning or what your position in the organisation is.

In order to attain job satisfaction, first realise what kind of person you are and what gives you happiness. If you are happy, you tend to feel satisfied.

K – Key Performance Indicators

What are your personal KPI’s? Do you have any? Every individual has different goals in different spheres of their lives, whether at work or at home. How do you know when you’re on track or off-track?

By keeping a regular view of what’s important to you in order to advance your career, your relationships, your health or your finances you can begin to understand which areas of your life you need to invest time to improve.

As with any performance indicators, they should have target dates / measures and your should track your progress against them. Where you are falling short, you will need to put remedial action against them. As with your career plan, it is often useful to discuss these with someone you trust to keep you on track.

L – Learn More, Earn More

If you are looking to advance your career, get promoted or even just stay relevant in today’s job market you must be developing new skills all of the time. Many of those skills you will need to develop will be outside of your comfort zone. You need to stretch, take risks and sometimes fail!

Continuous learning is a must for anyone wanting to progress their career. The next few letters within this A to Z will give you some pointers on how to keep your knowledge and learning current and more importantly useful to progressing your career.

M – Mentor

Mentoring is a relationship between two people with the goal of professional and personal development. More professionals these days are actively pursuing mentoring to advance their careers. Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end, these types of partnerships can benefit your career.

A mentoring partnership may be between two people within the same organisation, same industry, same networking organisation or anyone whose professional opinion you value and have a good relationship with. However the partners come together, the relationship should be based on mutual trust and respect, and it typically offers personal and professional advantages for both parties.

A trusted mentor can help you do the following:

• Gain valuable advice – Mentors can offer valuable insight into what it takes to get ahead. They can be your guide and “sounding board” for ideas, helping you decide on the best course of action in difficult situations. You may learn short-cuts that help you work more effectively and avoid “reinventing the wheel.”

• Develop your knowledge and skills – They can help you identify the skills and expertise you need to succeed. They may teach you what you need to know, or advise you on where to go for the information you need.

• Improve your communication skills – Just like your mentor, you may also learn to communicate more effectively, which can further help you at work.

• Learn new perspectives – Again, you can learn new ways of thinking from your mentor, just as your mentor can learn from you.

• Build your network – Your mentor can offer an opportunity to expand your existing network of personal and professional contacts.

• Advance your career – A mentor helps you stay focused and on track in your career through advice, skills development, networking, and so on.

N – Network

Please see previous post on Networking – Business Networking – It’s not ‘what’ you know…

O – Opportunities

Opportunities are all around you, all of the time. So you need to be continually watching out for them. Get into the habit of looking for possible opportunities every day. Keep a notebook or digital recorder with you, or use a smartphone app like Evernote to note down opportunities when you think of them. Write down as many possible opportunities as you can – you can trim your list back to the most relevant opportunities later on.

You also need to make an effort to seek out “hidden” opportunities. These are opportunities like job openings that aren’t advertised, and projects that you can initiate because you have spotted an unfulfilled need within your organisation or industry.

Begin with your organisation. Keep an eye on current internal or upcoming vacancies, and on any plans for the organisation to expand or change direction. Also, think about how you could progress in the organisation from your current position – what paths are available to you?

It might be obvious which opportunity is best for you. If not, it can be useful to do a grid analysis to make a well-balanced decision. This technique works by getting you to list your options as rows on a table, and the factors that are important to you (such as fit with your strengths and interests) as columns.

You then score each option/factor combination, weight this score by the relative importance of the factor, and add these scores up to give an overall score for each option.

P – Politics without the Politics

Please see previous post – Playing Politics without the Politics

Q – Qualifications

Having the right qualifications for your chosen career will very often get you through the door for an interview. Depending on your particular field, and seniority in that field, you may require more or less vocational qualifications.

For any career, keeping your skills current and future-proofed should be an ongoing and important part of your development. In many cases, this may be ‘on the job’ learning and development, but many occupations also demand a level of qualification for you to even be considered to move to the next level. That being said, once you’re working in an organisation, it will very often be your attitude, work-rate, delivery and over-achievement that will count much more than qualifications for progression.

R – Read

According to a Harvard Business Review article last year, the leadership benefits of reading are wide-ranging. Evidence suggests reading can improve intelligence and lead to innovation and insight. Some studies have shown, for example, that reading makes you smarter through “a larger vocabulary and more world knowledge in addition to the abstract reasoning skills.” Reading — whether Wikipedia, Michael Lewis, or Aristotle — is one of the quickest ways to acquire and assimilate new information. Many business people claim that reading across fields is good for creativity. And leaders who can sample insights in other fields, such as sociology, the physical sciences, economics, or psychology, and apply them to their organizations are more likely to innovate and prosper.

Reading can also make you more effective in leading others. Reading increases verbal intelligence, making a leader a more adept and articulate communicator. Reading novels can improve empathy and understanding of social cues, allowing a leader to better work with and understand others — traits that author Anne Kreamer persuasively linked to increased organisational effectiveness, and to pay raises and promotions for the leaders who possessed these qualities. And any business person understands that heightened emotional intelligence will improve his or her leadership and management ability.

Using down-time during your day, you can increase your reading capacity enormously. There are a plethora of ways to access books on the move – Smartphones, tablet devices and audio books. I personally find that using my daily commute to listen to audio books means that I can get through 4 or 5 books per month.

S – Soft Skills

Aside from reading, attaining professional qualifications and ‘on-the-job’ training, it’s also worth investing time, effort and money in honing some of the softer skills, often untaught in schools and universities and expected in senior business positions. This sort of training falls into 2 broad categories, namely Self-Management and People Skills. I’ve listed below some of the skills within these broad headings that you may wish improve upon once you have a good understanding of your Strengths and Areas for Development under letter ‘U’ below.

Self-Management

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-confidence
  • Self-promotion
  • Time Management
  • Strategic Thinking
  • Problem Analysis & Solving
  • Working with others
  • Building Teams
  • Delegation

People Skills

  • Communication Skills
  • Presentation Skills
  • Interviewing techniques
  • Selling & Negotiation
  • People Management
  • Leadership
  • Stakeholder Management
  • Mentoring & Coaching

Getting this sort of training maybe freely available through your organisation, or via training companies or through local colleges. Be sure to get feedback on the course content and quality before you invest your valuable time, effort and money.

T – Treat Everyone with Respect

Albert Einstein said it best, I think:

“I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.”

Respect is not only about how you talk to people. Human beings crave the respect of others; it’s in our DNA. When we feel like nobody respects us, it’s difficult for us to be positive and productive. When we don’t respect ourselves, we act in ways that our counter to our interests in an attempt to make ourselves feel better.

Cultivating self-respect and earning the respect of others goes a long way toward leading a balanced, healthy, happy life as well as improving your chances of career progression.

The 10 commandments of Respect according to Think Oak! All of which could be encompassed by – ‘Treat others as you would like to be treated’

  1. Act with integrity
  2. Display good manners
  3. Be punctual
  4. Actively listen when someone is talking to you
  5. Follow through on your promises
  6. Understand the impact that you might have on others – your ‘Shadow’
  7. Be compassionate
  8. Value the opinion of others
  9. Be appreciative
  10. Admit when you’re wrong

U – Understand your Strengths & Areas for Development

On the downloadable Think Oak! Career and Development Template, you will find two sections to complete around Strengths and Areas for Development.

Before you complete these sections, I’d like you to do two separate tasks:

  1. Write down all your Strengths and Areas for Development that you can think of. Refine these down to those you will really need to work on to achieve your OMG.
  2. Get some feedback. You may think you know who your are and what you need to do to achieve your goals, but you may find that trusted people in your network can help you tweak or even re-evaluate some of these.

Now, fill in your template.

V – Volunteer

Whether internally or externally, volunteer to do new things, especially if they’re not in your job description! Get involved in initiatives that your organisation is launching or volunteer in your local community. Getting involved in new initiatives or community activity has a number of benefits:

Internal:

Many organisations give people opportunities to get involved in projects that are outside of your job description whether that be Customer Experience Champions, Employee Representatives on committees or sponsors for particular projects. Whilst you shouldn’t allow these opportunities to prevent you from completing your objectives at work, they are a great opportunity for you to build you profile with people from around the organisation, learn new skills and widen your sphere of influence – assuming you do a good job and don’t just use it as an excuse to get away from your day job!

External:

If you’re considering a new or change of career, volunteering can help you get experience in your area of interest and help you meet people in the field. Even if you’re not planning on changing careers, volunteering gives you the opportunity to practice important skills used in the workplace, such as teamwork, communication, problem solving, project planning, task management, and people skills. You might feel more comfortable stretching your wings at work once you’ve honed these skills in a volunteer position first.

Volunteering also offers you the chance to try out a new career without making a long-term commitment. It is also a great way to gain experience in a new field. In some fields, you can volunteer directly at an organisation that does the kind of work you’re interested in. For example, if you’re interested in nursing, you could volunteer at a hospital or a nursing home. Your volunteer work might also expose you to professional organisations or internships that could be of benefit to your career.

Just because volunteer work is unpaid does not mean the skills you learn are basic. Many volunteering opportunities provide extensive training. For example, you could become an experienced crisis counsellor while volunteering at the Samaritans or gain NVQ’s towards teaching qualifications as a support teacher.

Volunteering can also help you build upon skills you already have and use them to benefit the greater community. For instance, if you hold a successful sales position, you raise awareness for your favourite cause as a volunteer advocate, while further developing and improving your public speaking, communication, and marketing skills.

W – Work – Life Balance

This is a tough one for ambitious, driven and career-minded people. It’s actually very easy to get to a point when you’re consistently working 12, 13, 14 or more hour days. For most people, it is physically not sustainable to continue to produce continued quality results working at this level. Something will give – your health, your marriage and family life, your relationships outside of work, your personal time or a combination of any or all of these. It is much better to work on your personal time management skills, your delegation of tasks and understanding what’s critical to your success than to burn yourself out. Believe me, I know from personal experience!

Work smarter, not harder. Don’t get me wrong  – You will need to put in an all-nighter occasionally, you will and should invest in entertaining customers or building your network outside of the 9-5, but you should equally invest time in yourself, your friends and family and for relaxation.

X – 10000 Hours of Mastery

X with a horizontal line above it, is the Roman numeral for 10,000 and Malcolm Gladwell in his great book, Outliers, states that 10,000 hours of practice is required to truly master a field in life, citing The Beatles, Bill Gates and others as examples.

In order to be the best at anything, you do need innate talent, but you also need to practice your craft and practice a great deal!

Hard work alone is not enough, however. Talent, passion and spotting as well as taking opportunities also matter.

Y – You are in charge

Your career progression is no-one else’s responsibility other than your own. You set the pace, you decide when to leave a job that you don’t enjoy, and ultimately you decide how much effort you want to invest in your future. With the right attitude, behaviours, skills, experience and support, you can achieve your goals. Take the next step today!

Z – Zeroes and how to add them to your salary

By acting upon this A to Z, you are already positioning yourself for success in your career. It is essential that you continue to work on your career plan. Review it each month and update your 30, 60 and 90 day plans accordingly. Continually look for opportunities and take seriously any that come your way. Whilst it is often easier to stay in your comfort zone, that isn’t the way to progress your career. You will need to take some risks. Some will pay off, others won’t, but you will learn from them!

I hope you enjoyed the A to Z of Career Progression. As always, would love to hear any feedback or thoughts you may have.

A to Z of Direct Selling

Direct Sales, Direct Selling

Selling is at the heart of business, even if you’re not in ‘Sales’.

Think about the following scenarios:

  •        You’re trying to convince your manager to develop a new product, but can’t get him or her to take things further
  •        You’d like to introduce a new system into your team but can’t get people’s support
  •        You’re trying to convince a new person to join your organisation
  •        You need to get a business case written and signed-off but need help from a number of people as well as sign-off by your boss

Are all of these not selling something?

Whether you’re in a traditional sales role or not, it’s good to know some sales techniques. Knowing how to sell is a great ability to have, and it’s one that’s sure to be respected strongly within your organisation. And if you’re not in a ‘selling’ role, having some knowledge of the challenges faced in sales, may help you to build stronger relationships with people who are! Whilst this post will focus on selling in the field, many of these methods can be used to ‘sell’ internally within your organisation too.

A – Ask the Right Questions

Throughout a sales relationship with a customer and even before engaging with a prospective customer you need to ask yourself and the customer the right questions.

Too many people assume that they fully understand their prospects’ problems. You need to ask questions at the right time about the right things in order to get the information you need to make the sale, or else you might lose credibility and lose the sale forever.

B – Benefit Selling

Having spent my career in technology companies, I know from personal experience that technologists, including technology sales and marketing people, love to talk about features and the latest advancement in a particular product area. That’s great if your customer loves technology and knows what all the features can do for them, but very often you’re not selling to these kind of customers.

What tangible benefits does your product or service bring to the customer and her business? Will it make them more productive, and if so, how? Will it save them money over their current product or service, and if so, how much? Will it give them a competitive advantage over their competitors, and if so, why? Will your product or service de-risk their business in some way or help them sell more, make more, or use less? If so, why and by how much? The more specific and tailored you can be in your answers to these questions with the customer, the better chance you have of getting a sale.

C – Closing the Sale

Closing the sale is obviously one of the most important parts of selling. Without going into every technique on how to close, I would say that you should think about the following:

You do need to ask for the sale! I’m amazed at the number of sales people I’ve interviewed that haven’t asked me for the job – the sale. They didn’t get a second interview.

Always have your closing materials with you – not having the relevant ‘paperwork’ ready does two things; it tells the customer you’re not prepared and it gives them an opportunity to change her mind.

Be prepared to counter objections with reasoned and tailored responses

If you’ve ‘opened’ the sale well, spent a lot of time, energy and mental agility on learning the precise nature of the customer’s needs and their ability to pay for it, and if you’ve crafted a proposal that matched those precisely, then the close will be much easier.

D – Demonstrations

When done well, demonstrations of your product and service to customers can be extremely effective in moving them to a different stage of the sales cycle and ultimately a sale. Demonstrations act as an explanation of what your product is or does, proof that it works and is effective and relevant to your customer and can motivate them to want it after seeing it in action or using it. They can take many forms depending on what you’re actually selling.

Examples might be:

A case study or white paper on the use of your product or service

A face to face, online or video demonstration of your product in action

Try before you buy experiences – in the home, at a supermarket or a car showroom

A simulator or virtual walk-through

Two top tips:

  1. Test everything at least twice on your demonstration before you’re in front of the customer
  2. Have a back-up plan in case it doesn’t work!

E – Expert Advice

Customers want to feel that they’re buying from someone who knows what they’re talking about or at least that you can bring in the right subject matter experts if the solution you’re selling is a complex one.

F – Forecasting

A key part of a sales person’s role is the ability to forecast their sales regularly so that the business supporting them can plan in advance for:

Stock / resource availability

Gearing up production – placing demand on suppliers/production to ensure supply

Allows marketing to ramp up or down marketing activity, or shift their messaging

Gives management a view on whether budgeted growth is being met and whether further remedial action will be required to meet any under / over-performance

G – Getting Your Foot in the Door

You can’t make a sale until you at least get ‘your foot in the door’. How do you get noticed in a positive way by a potential customer so that you don’t get your metaphorical or actual foot crushed by the door closing firmly on it?

Knocking down doors is a hard business, especially in a difficult marketplace.  If your company’s marketing department isn’t driving leads for you then you have to do it yourself. Here’s some tips:

Who are your target customers and why?

Research the customers you’re targeting – Who are the decision makers? Have they been in the business news? How are they doing financially? Have they had any recent successes?

Build and use your business network to drive introductions to the right decision makers.

Have a strategy as to what will grab the interest of these customers and tailor your approach accordingly.

Don’t give up. Even if you get knock-backs, be persistent, be professional and focussed.

H – Help the Customer

Often-times the customer doesn’t actually know what the best product or service is to suit their needs. They know they have a problem that needs a solution and maybe an understanding of the direction they need to take, but not a thorough worked through list of detailed requirements, especially for a complex problem or solution. Through a process of listening, asking the right questions and collective knowledge you can point the customer in the right direction.

I – Investigate Thoroughly

Whether it’s prior to engaging a new customer or during the sales cycle, it’s important to know as much as you can about a sale, a prospective customer, an existing customer, your competitors and innovations in your marketplace. Being armed with all of this information will put you on the front in conversations both with your customers and internally when you need to fight for resource or help.

J – Juggling Balls

Sales professionals, especially successful ones, need to be extremely organised and have the ability to juggle a number of balls at any one time. They need to be managing their pipeline of sales (more on that later), writing proposals, building target lists of prospects, re-signing existing customers, and often dealing with customer queries and pricing requests. They also need to be on top of their marketplace, maintain their knowledge on new products and services as well as keeping an eye on the competition.

K – Knowledgeable

Great sales people are sponges for knowledge. Constantly looking for opportunities, they keep an eye on their market, the latest trends and build up enough knowledge about key vertical sectors and their customers so that they can converse knowledgeably on a range of topics.

L – Listening

Listening is a core competency for anyone wanting to get ahead in business, but no more so than sales. Great sales people listen intently for buying signals, doubt, time-wasting and potential barriers to a sale. By listening for the said and the unsaid, a  great sales person uses their two ears and one mouth in the right proportions.

M – Motivation

Self-motivation is a crucial skill in sales. When the going gets tough a sales person needs to dig deep and find the energy to keep motivated and keep focussed on their target. In sales you often get more knock backs than sales and it’s important that you find ways to be able to bounce back and keep going.

N – Networking

Networking is massively important for a sales person – offline and online. If you want to be really successful in sales, you have to make time, often out of normal working hours to build your network. If you want further information on see a previous post – Business Networking – It’s not ‘what’ you know…

O – Objection Handling

In sales you will always have to handle objections throughout the sales cycle. One very effective way to deal with objections is to pre-empt them as part of your discussions. If you have done your homework, you will be aware of the four or five concerns that your prospect may have so you can incorporate them into your presentations and discussions. This can be effective at promoting you and your organisation in a professional manner. Rather than operate a head in the sand approach, you tackle these reasonable concerns as part of your pitch coming from a position of strength and demonstrating that you do not run from the hard questions.

Here’s a four step approach in dealing with objections:

  1. Ensure that you make the prospect aware that you understand where they are coming from and their concern is not unreasonable
  2. Qualify the objection, so that you understand exactly what the objections is
  3. Sell the business benefits again, taking into account their objection. Be aware that your approach first time round didn’t quite work so you will at least have to expand and take different angles to re-enforce the point
  4. Ask them if they are happy and understand what you said and that you have been able to relieve their concern

P – Pipeline

Managing your pipeline effectively is hugely important, not only for you, the sales person, but for your management team and the wider business.

A sales pipeline works by placing all leads or prospects at the different stages of the sales cycle, and then measuring their progress through the pipeline, from unqualified lead to satisfied repeat customer. If you use a tool such as Salesforce.com or Goldmine, you can manipulate and analyse your pipeline quickly and easily, if you’ve kept it up-to-date, to report upwards and help you plan your activity for the days, weeks and months ahead.

Q – Qualifying

Qualifying is the art of determining what the customer needs and therefore wants, when they want it, whether they can afford to buy it and whether they’re holding the purse strings. A simple 5 step process should give you some of that key guidance – PACTS:

  1. Product Need – What need is the customer trying to fulfil and will your product or service meet that need? It pays for both sides to be honest at this stage, so neither of you are wasting your time.
  2. Authority – The decision maker is ideally who you have to qualify. If you are not talking to that person,you can capture the rest of the information and get in front of the decision maker as soon as possible.
  3. Cash – Can the prospect afford to buy your product or service? If there are no major issues they will gladly answer and back it all up, easing any worries that may be present.
  4. Timing – When does the customer require your service or product? Business situations can change quickly and your prospect may be interested to get an offer in now, but be straight with them and ask if the timing is right and ask them the likely hood of requirements changing. Looking out for the customer is important to build a good relationship, getting all of the possible time constraints out in the open will help with the final decision.
  5. Stakeholders – Who are the key stakeholders you need to influence to get the sale? It may be that there are a number of people you will need to influence before you will get a decision.

R – Relationships

Having strong relationships with customers is really important for a number of reasons, and yes one of them is to sell more. But having a good relationship also reduces a customer’s tendency to move somewhere else, allows you to learn more about their business and their marketplace, open up their network to yours through introductions and recommendation, and in one or two cases you may build up strong and lasting personal relationships which is always a great thing!

S – Solution Selling

Solution selling has been a buzz term for a couple of decades now, if not longer. It is predicated on discovering customer needs and aligning your solution to those needs. Sales people show customers how their solution better meets their needs than any competitor solution through a process of questioning and exploration. However, I think there is a shift happening in certain segments of the market, as customers become more informed via the web and their social networks. Customers are more aware of their needs and the kinds of solutions available probably more than at any other time. Selling a solution is still important, but it has to be outcome focussed, and potentially you may need to put some ‘skin in the game’ to close the sale. How confident are you in your service levels? How confident are you in the savings you’ve promised? Are you willing to put that to the test with Service Level Guarantees or revenue share on savings?

T – Trust

The number one attribute of a great sales person is trust. If you cannot be trusted within your organisation you’re not likely to last long.

What do I mean by this?  – If you continually over-promise customers things as part of your solution in order to close the deal, you’re going to disappoint or lose the customer when your internal teams can’t meet those requirements either to time, or to budget, or at all. You’re going also going to upset the customer, possibly enough for them to go elsewhere or at best not want to buy anything from you for a while, if at all.

U – Understand Who are the Influencers and Decision Makers

When you’re selling into larger organisations you really need to invest time and energy in finding out who all the key influencers and decision makers are for that prospect. You need to be aware that some of those influencers may not even work in that organisation. Who does your decision maker play golf with – do you know her? Do you know any of the senior people in the organisation through people in your business or social network? Getting the inside track on the people you need to meet and influence, could save you months in a long sales cycle.

V – Value from the Customer Perspective

I have mentioned this indirectly a couple of times within this post and it’s not by accident. Throughout the whole sales cycle from lead to close you need to be thinking about and talking about what value you’re bringing to the customer. If there are multiple influencers and decision makers in the loop, you’ll need to think about their individual ‘hot buttons’ and press them. The Finance Director will be wanting the best deal, for the lowest price with the best payment terms. The Marketing Director will be wondering how this will help her drive more leads of her own. The Managing Director will want both of those things, but also peace of mind that once the deal is done, the solution will go in smoothly, that her business won’t be affected in any way to the negative and that she has the phone number of your bosses boss, should anything go wrong.

W – Wining & Dining

Hospitality is still a big part of sales, but you need to ensure that you are mindful of the relevant bribery acts in your country and the bribery and hospitality policies of your prospective and existing clients. That said, spending quality time with customers, new and old, in an informal setting over dinner, watching the big game or race is a great way to strengthen relationships, build new relationships and have some fun.

X – X Marks the Spot – Getting the Contracts Signed

The deal is NEVER done until you have the proverbial signature next to the ‘X’ on the contract. Many times in my career have I been told that the deal was done, only to find that the contract was sitting with lawyers for 6 months, or the customer changed their mind, or they actually awarded the contract to someone else. You haven’t closed, until the contract is signed (plus any cooling off period if that applies).

Y – You are a Differentiator

As a sales person, you are representing your organisation’s brand probably more often more than anyone else. You can be THE differentiator between a win and a loss, a loyal customer and an angry customer, success or failure. Something to think about!

You need to come across as being confident in yourself and your abilities. To be truly successful in sales, it’s also really important that you have a firm belief in the products and services you’re selling as well as the brand you’re representing. A customer can see right through a sales person that doesn’t!

Z – Zone of Influence

As a sales person, the more you interact within your customers, the more time that you invest in  your business and social media networks, assuming you’re doing all the right things, the more your zone of influence will increase. I’ll leave you with a personal story that I hope will resonate with you. I remember attending a networking event, when I was new into a role, and looked out upon a sea of unfamiliar faces, except that of a competitor. That competitor knew everyone in the room by their first name. Let’s just say that since that time, I’ve made it my business to  network and build my zone of influence!

I hope you enjoyed this A-Z and as ever, would love to hear your views and feedback.

A to Z of Employability

A to Z Employability

I often get asked by teachers, lecturers and students what are the key skills and qualities that businesses are looking for in young people leaving full-time education for a career in business. In this A – Z I’d like to give some pointers on the very important topic of Employability. I would suggest that there are some people already in business, who are looking to progress their career that could also enhance their skills in some of these areas covered in this post.

A – Attitude

A positive attitude is the key foundation for employability – this can be summed up as a ‘can-do’ approach, a readiness to take part and contribute, openness to new ideas and a drive to make those ideas happen.

B – Behaviours

I’ve listed below some of the key behaviours I would expect to see in any of my employees:

Being courteous and having good manners

Being punctual for meetings

Generous listening of others

Honesty – always be up front

C – Commitment

If you commit to something, then follow through with it. If you do what you say you’ll do, and consistently, you will quickly be recognised as someone who can be trusted to get the job done.

D – Digitally Literate

The nature of knowledge is changing and, in this digital age, our definition of basic literacy urgently needs expanding. With an estimated 90% of UK jobs requiring some level of IT competency, the notion of digital literacy – those capabilities that equip an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society – is one that needs to be taken seriously by schools, colleges and universities. In fact, 16 million people in the UK aged 15 and over still don’t have basic on-line Skills.

Examples of Digital Literacy:

  • Understanding how to use web browsers, search engines, email, text, wiki, desktop publishing, and office software such as spreadsheets, word processors, presentation suites and databases.
  • The ability to evaluate on-line resources for accuracy/trustworthiness of information.
  • Understanding of social media and on-line etiquette
  • Ability to use basic hardware such as projectors, electronic whiteboards, printers and so on.

E – Enthusiastic

Whether you are just starting out in the workplace or you are looking to further your career, enthusiasm for work and the organisation you are targeting is hugely important.

Interviewers / hiring managers love enthusiastic people. They love them because they convey a sense that they will go the extra mile to excel in the role. They’ll do everything on the job description and a bit more.

F – Flexible

Flexibility of an employee is very high on my personal list of qualities I am looking for in candidates for any role. Someone who is prepared to roll their sleeves up to help someone meet a deadline or take on extra responsibility for a special project, even if it’s not their job, will get noticed for all the right reasons.  Going the extra mile for internal or external customers and being willing to adapt to change is crucial for many roles and many organisations.

G – Goal Oriented

People who know what they want are always more likely to get it. The most successful people in business are those who have clear goals to aim for. So decide right now what your goals are in terms of income, lifestyle, and so on. When your goals are clear in your own mind, you dramatically increase your chances of reaching them. In other words, you need to be organised, deadline driven, and do NOT always rely on others to give you a task.

H – Helping Others

Whether it’s showing someone how to insert a picture into a presentation or proof-reading a proposal, helping other people is a great way to build relationships, shows a willingness to succeed and increases the likelihood of you receiving help when you need it. We all need help sometimes!

I – Impact

Presenting a strong, competent, positive image to others throughout your career is important. Having the ability to converse confidently one on one and in groups is something the majority of people need to do in their careers. It’s worth investing time and effort in working on you presentation skills early!

J – Judgement

Judgement is needed for any job. The ability to make a sound decision based on the facts and implement a plan can make the difference between failure and success. Assessing the strength of your judgement skills and those of others can help you learn to improve your chances of employment and success.

K – Knowledgeable

Whilst you can learn many things on the job, any role will demand a certain base level of knowledge. The more knowledge you can build up about your chosen career path, the better. Whatever field you are looking to work in, there will be boundless information already published on-line and in periodicals. Get into the habit early of reading around your industry vertical and keep up-to-date. As an employer, you can tell very quickly who is well-read and informed and who isn’t.

L – Learner

Each of us can always learn and learn every day.  You can learn from people in your teams, your customer interactions, a mentor, your business network, podcasts as well as from reading and more formal structured training. Make learning a habit that you never break.

M – Manage Your Time

Time management is the effective use of a range of skills, tools and techniques used to organise or manage time when accomplishing specific tasks, projects and goals. Effective time management is underpinned by a range of additional skills which include planning, allocating, goal setting, delegation, monitoring and analysis of time spent, organising, scheduling and prioritising. In most roles you will be expected to juggle all of your work load and hit deadlines.

N – Numeracy Skills

Numeracy involves an understanding of numerical data, statistics and graphs, it is also part of making decisions and reasoning.  Numeracy skills are very important, irrespective of whether you consider a job to be “working with numbers”. Having competence and being confident in working with numbers is a skill that can be used to your advantage in a wide range of employment settings. For example, knowing how profitable a company is, understanding value for money for purchasing and ordering supplies, following a budget or just calculating your holiday time. Being able to understand and analyse data in different formats is considered an essential skill in many organisations.

O – Organised

Being organised is a requisite for any job that involves other people or working to time frames. Employers will want to know that you can be relied on to deliver projects and information on schedule. It’s largely about being logical and controlled.

P – Professional

It is important to remain professional at all times when engaged in a business environment, whether for an organisation or your own business. Being professional not only lets people know you are a reputable person to work with, but also conveys intelligence and poise regarding your position.

People who are professional are unfailingly polite, courteous and well-spoken, no matter what the situation. Being professional means you keep your cool and remain calm under any circumstances. No matter how upset a co-worker or customer makes you, you don’t react; you deal with the situation rationally and calmly.

Q – Quality of Work

Maintaining a high quality of work is essential in the workplace. People do not expect to have to check grammar and spelling, spreadsheet formulae, formatting of documents or monitor your work rate on an hourly basis. Assuming you have been trained on the task at hand, you are expected to perform your work with minimum intervention.

R – Resourcefulness

With the recession forcing us to make do with what we have, being resourceful is now a necessary skill for today’s generation of leaders AND employees. It is not simply a matter of doing more with less. It’s about being able to find innovative solutions to problems; it’s about thinking about things differently and about calling on creativity and imagination to get better results with limited resource. Being able to demonstrate this skill will push you further in your career faster than many other qualities listed here.

S – Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is the ability to recognise moods, emotions, and drivers of our behaviour and understand their impact on others and your job performance. People with strong self-awareness not only are able to identify their feelings but also understand why those feelings occur. They are also aware of their strengths and weaknesses and are not afraid to talk about them. That awareness also helps them avoid setting themselves for failures due to overpromising or overstretching on tasks.

T – Teamwork

All employers are keen to recruit people who are able to co-operate and work in teams. As less hierarchical organisations have emerged with project teams, self-managed work teams and management teams, so the requirements to ‘Get on well with people’, and to ‘Work with and through others’ become increasingly important.

Teamwork involves working confidently within a group, contributing your own ideas effectively, taking a share of the responsibility, being assertive – rather than passive or aggressive, accepting and learning from constructive criticism and giving positive, constructive feedback to others.

U – Understand the Business

I’m amazed when someone comes to interview and hasn’t researched the company, looked into recent successes or in some cases even clicked around the company website. This tells me that they’re not enthusiastic about joining my team.

Managers expect their team members to be interested in their business, understand the organisation’s vision and values, as well as the key goals and metrics of their department.

V – Verbal Communication

Effective spoken communication requires being able to express your ideas and views clearly, confidently and concisely in speech, tailoring your content and style to the audience.

Be clear and concise – Vary your tone, pace and volume to enhance the communication and encourage questions

Persuading and Negotiating – Arriving at an agreement that is agreeable to both sides: a Win-Win situation. Back up your points with logic. Show tact to those you disagree with.

Making a speech in front of an audience – presenting your message in an interesting way, structuring your presentation, using audio-visual aids effectively and building a rapport with your audience.

Communicating effectively in a team – Giving and receiving feedback, listening to what others are saying and often more importantly, what they’re not saying as well as motivating and supporting others are key skills you can work on.

W – Written Communication

All organisations rely on some form of written communication, so you can increase your employability by developing strong skills related to writing reports, composing concise and effective emails, and courteous, compelling correspondence with suppliers and customers. Employers want to see evidence that potential employees have mastered basic spelling, grammar and business tone in their written communication. Employers want workers who can write simple, direct and effective communications that convey specific messages in keeping with a company’s goals, vision and values. Demonstrate strong written communication skills from the outset by submitting perfectly composed CVs or resumes, cover letters and emails when approaching an organisation for a job.

X – X-Ray Spectacles

What on earth am I talking about? Employees that can see through the noise and get to the heart of an issue, opportunity, or challenge quickly are, in my experience, rare but extremely valuable people to have in any team. The ability to ask probing questions of the right people, research around topics quickly and make informed recommendations or judgements are key skills to practice .

Y – Your Personal Brand

Suffice it to say your Personal Brand is what makes you employable or not. It is a summation of every one of the characteristics, qualities and skills listed in the A-Z of Employability and a whole lot more. I have a whole series of posts on Personal Brand which can be downloaded here –  The Brand New Brand You.

Z – Zealous

You normally hear the word zealous with the word ’over’ before it and then normally a horrendous customer service or HR related story follows. Being zealous is a good thing however! Passion for what you do, for your customers and your colleagues is a great starting place in your career and a great place to finish the A-Z of Employability.

As always, I hope you enjoyed the post and would love to get your feedback.

A to Z of Business Social Media

A to Z Business Social MediaA – Alerts

You can sign up for Google Alerts quickly and easily. Using those keywords and phrases from your preliminary research online, you can elect to have any instance of those keywords and phrases as Google finds them sent straight to your inbox.

Enter the topic you wish to monitor, then click Preview to see the type of results you’ll receive.

Anytime Google indexes any mention in search results of the alerts you’re signed up for, you receive an email notification into your inbox. The notification is a direct hyperlink to the article, website, blog, product review, etc., wherein the keyword or phrase appeared.

B – Blogging

Blogs have been around for over a decade. The word stands for ’web log’ and they’re effectively online diaries. Anyone can set one up, that’s the easy part. Thinking of something interesting to say each time you blog is the tricky bit.

There a number of blogging tools available for free and you don’t need any programming skills to use them. A couple of the more popular are WordPress and Blogger.

C – Crowdsourcing

The term “crowdsourcing” was coined by Jeff Howe back in 2006, in a Wired article which described a new way of sourcing people who are willing to help or work on a project. Enough people with sufficient time can transform into a lot of available manpower. I’ve highlighted below a number of different types of Crowdsourcing

Crowdfunding: Projects are funded by a large group of people. Crowdcube is a great example of an online business in the UK which has raised millions of pounds for all kinds of projects across multiple sectors – with all the funds coming from people interested in supporting the project and not just investment institutions.

Crowdsourced design: Projects are funded for a large group of people to design something, for example, a website.  There have been many successfully crowdsourced designs, one of the most famous ones being the Rally Fighter car, which was designed by the community and built by a company called Local Motors.

Crowdwisdom: Where users ask questions in front of a large pool of people willing to answer, like Yahoo Answers. A more serious form of crowd wisdom can be found at InnoCentive, which is a community where large corporations post technical or scientific problems to people who can help to solve the questions.

D – Digg

Digg is a social news website that can help you share blog posts and web pages. If you find a page you want to share, you can “digg” it by submitting the URL and a brief description of the page through the Digg website. Other Digg users will see your submission and “digg” or “bury” it. Submissions that get a log of “diggs” are displayed on the home page of the Digg website where many people will see them and will be likely to click on them.

In short, if your blog post makes it to the home page of Digg, you can expect a huge bump in traffic. Since most bloggers want more traffic, hitting it big with a post that gets featured on the home page of Digg is like winning the lottery. Unfortunately, making it to the home page of Digg is very difficult.

E – Ecommerce

Social media may not be huge source of traffic to retailers yet, but there are signs that sites such as Facebook are, nonetheless, influencing shoppers. According to research conducted by Sociable Labs last year, nearly two-thirds of consumers say they read product reviews from friends on the social network, with three-quarters of that figure saying that they click through to retailers’ websites afterwards. Once there, 53% claim that they made a purchase, making social recommendations as important a shopping tool as Google search. The statistics are a positive for brands and retailers, highlighting the role social media could play influencing consumers’ online purchasing activities.

F – Facebook

Facebook pages are incredibly useful to businesses as a means to engage consumers. They can be used to grow revenues, support customers, extend marketing campaigns, generate extra web traffic and boost brand awareness. Creating the perfect Facebook page for your business takes time, planning and resources. But judging by some of the success stories, it is worth it.

You can set up a Facebook page for free, but if you want to do things properly it is going to require a budget. It takes time and effort, and potentially people power, if you want to get the best out of Facebook.

G – Google+

With a growing list of new functions, tools and features, Google+ is slowly becoming a front-runner in the social space for businesses looking to increase their market appeal to an online audience. The number of active users on Google+ grew 27 per cent in the last quarter of 2012 to 343 million users.

The first step in creating a Google+ presence should be setting up a business brand page. Ensure relevant information is added to the ‘About’ section, and visually appealing cover image and avatar are used to catch the attention of Google+ users. A number of appropriate links should also be added to the ‘About’ section as these can have a positive effect on the business’s search engine ranking. As with all social media platforms, it’s important to keep your content fresh and engaging.

Google+ Local is a useful tool that allows users to discover and locate businesses that have opted into the service. When a business signs up, it can add information including address, contact information, opening times, photographs and reviews. While Google+ Local is more applicable to SMEs that have a physical location rather than being based solely online, Google+ users have the option to add their own reviews to a Local page, helping to influence the choice of future users.

H – Hootsuite

HootSuite is a social media management tool that allows users to update and post any pages or profiles for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, WordPress and others from one place – the HootSuite dashboard. When you sign up, you are essentially given a dashboard with tabs organizing all the social profiles you connect to HootSuite.

Users can implement and analyse marketing campaigns across all social profiles without needing to sign in to each social network individually. For premium accounts, users get advanced features for social analytics, audience engagement, team collaboration and security.

I – IFTTT

IFTTT, which stands for If This Then That, lets you create connections between different web apps and services through what it calls “recipes.” To create a recipe all you have to do is tell IFTTT what the “This” and the “That” in your equation are.

The service integrates with a number of different applications, such as Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Google and bit.ly and offers a sizable amount of integration options for each to get you going.

IFTTT is simple to use, and there are thousands of pre-made “recipes” to choose from or even to help you think of what you could use IFTTT for. It helps to keep you organised, save you time, and reduce the time spent wading through the masses of information you see in a day.

J – Joining or Not to Join

Few areas of business and society have been untouched by the emerging social-media revolution – one that is not even a decade old. Many organisations have been responding to that new reality, realising the power and the potential of this technology for corporate life: Wikis, SharePoint and Lync enable more efficient virtual collaboration in cross-functional projects; internal blogs, discussion boards, and YouTube channels encourage global conversations and knowledge sharing; sophisticated viral media campaigns engage customers and create brand loyalty; next-generation products are co-developed in open-innovation processes; and corporate leaders work on shaping their future strategy.

However, many companies still hesitate when venturing into public social media networks, harbouring fears of possible customer criticism such as negative comments on the company’s website. While care does need to be taken when planning social media activity, there are undoubtedly significant benefits of integrating social media into small business operations:

• Social media is a low-cost, low-barrier communication channel that allows businesses to interact with internal and external contacts on a regular basis.

• Social media enables businesses to engage with millions of potential customers and investors available at the click of a button.

• Social media and analytic tools used within a company’s private network can allow employers to track employee sentiments and discover possible areas of contention faster than through traditional means.

My view…Join!

 K – Klout

Klout measures influence based on the ability to drive action across the social web. Any person can connect their social network accounts and Klout will generate a score on a scale of 1-100 that represents their ability to engage other people and inspire social actions. Klout enables everyone to gain insights that help them better understand how they influence others. Klout also provides people with opportunities to shape and be recognized for their influence.

L – LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a must for all professionals and businesses alike. It is not merely a social network aimed for business users. Rather, it should be viewed as an online network of influential people all over the world. Whilst there are many uses of LinkedIn for your business, I’ve highlighted three of the top ones below:

Find new suppliers, business partners and clients – Simple searches in your field will reveal thousands of experts, service providers and potential clients. If you do not personally know an individual, you may request to be introduced through a mutual contact or can send an introductory email. Upgrading your membership gives you improved searches and direct access to more people.

Recruitment – LinkedIn can provide easy access to potential candidates. There are both free and paid options Businesses can search for candidates that fit their required level of expertise and approach them directly, provided they are at least ‘2nd degree’ contacts. In order to search further afield, a monthly subscription is needed. However, even the basic or ‘business’ package allows users to contact any individual with a LinkedIn profile. Businesses also have the option of posting a job ad for a monthly fee dependant on location.

Groups – Groups represent a fantastic opportunity for businesses to network and grow. If you are looking to drive traffic to your blog or company website, think seriously about setting up a LinkedIn Group. The key challenge in some industries is to make your group stand out. The key is to find a niche/area of your business that is under-represented and aim to be the authority on the subject. Nevertheless, based on perception alone, the owner is naturally viewed as the thought leader for that niche unless proven otherwise. The more quality content you produce to back this up and the more effectively you run your group, your community will support you and look to you as a leader in that niche.

M – Mobility & Social Media

According to Ofcom in the UK, 55% of adult smartphone users have used their phone for social networking, with one in four (40%) doing so regularly. This rises to 74% in teenagers with 62% doing so regularly. Ensuring that your websites and content are easily viewable via smartphones is becoming more and more crucial.

N – Newsreaders

If you happen to read articles from the same websites every day, then Google Reader might be just for you. Reader consolidates your favourite websites and blogs into one, easy to manage interface. Think of Google Reader as your personalized online magazine. It’s easy to set up and easy to use.

O – Online vs Offline

Social media is still only part of your marketing mix and strategy albeit an increasingly important one. Depending on your industry or sector you will need to consider which will be the important communication channels and how much time, resource and money you invest into which. Ignore Social Media at your peril however!

P – Pinterest

Pinterest is a relatively new, but rapidly growing social network that allows users to visually share, curate, and discover new interests by posting, also known as ‘pinning,’ images or videos to their own or others’ pinboards (i.e. a collection of ‘pins,’ usually with a common theme). Users can either upload images from their computer or pin things they find on the web using the Pinterest bookmarklet, Pin It button, or just a URL .

As with any other social network, Pinterest offers a range of activities you can initiate to market your company to a new audience. The goal here is to gain brand recognition, drive traffic to your website and be successful at converting the new visits into leads.

Q – Quora

Quora is an excellent platform for organisations interested in showing open and transparent thought leadership. You won’t be able to post your news release as the site is moderated and people will contest and question your viewpoint, but if you really know your subject matter, it can be an amazing way to establish your authority in a given field.

Even if you’re not in a position to use the network to demonstrate thought leadership, Quora can still be a useful tool for gathering customer intelligence. You can get insights into how users feel about all kinds of subjects and even ask questions of your own. It’s not a substitute for traditional surveys, since the user base isn’t a representative sample, but it can be an easy way to start getting a glimpse into how your customers think.

R – Reddit

Reddit is a social news website driven by user-generated content in the form of a link or a self-post. Most users view Reddit as a modern-day bulletin board system enhanced for the web. Users submit content on forums, which are split into multiple “subreddits”. Subreddits focus on a specific topic, and there are hundreds of thousands of them. The most popular forums have over 1 million subscribers and more than 100,000 subreddits.

Reddit users rank the content other users submit by voting it “up” or “down. Submissions voted “up” by large numbers of users get listed on the front page of Reddit and usually receive large amounts of engagement from the Reddit community.

Reddit has 2.5 billion page views per month and 34.9 million unique views each month.

Businesses can use Reddit for link building and traffic generation as well as for market research and getting your message out to target audiences with tailored messages. A note of caution though – anything that seems overly promotional or advertising-focused will be very negatively regarded by the community.

S – Stumbleupon

StumbleUpon is a social media bookmarking site that allows users to “like” websites and add them to their profile. These websites are then shared with their friends through their profile and by using the “stumble” button, which is added to a user’s browser toolbar when they sign up. The stumble button basically sends a user to a random website, usually one previously liked by a friend. StumbleUpon boasts more than 30 million users. Each user fills out a survey of their interests, so there is definitely the potential for your business website to reach a broad and targeted audience.

StumbleUpon asks their users to define the categories that interest them, everything from archeology to zoology. If your business fits into one of these interest categories well, your site can get a lot of new visitors that are more likely to be interested in your business. Additionally, you’re going to get a steady stream of visitors if you use it properly and regularly.

T – Twitter

It took Twitter three years, two months and one day to reach their first billion Tweets. Today, there are over a billion Tweets sent every three days. These Tweets represent conversations related to almost any topic imaginable.

For businesses and brands, these conversations provide a rich canvas and a powerful context in which to connect your messages and your brand to what people are talking about right now. It’s a canvas for telling engaging stories, for participating in cultural events, for broadcasting content, for connecting directly with consumers, and for driving transactions. Businesses can influence and participate in real-time conversations on Twitter to drive consumer action with integrated paid, earned and owned campaigns, delivering results throughout the marketing funnel.

U – User Generated Content

In recent years we have developed into a society which likes to share …digitally. User (or Customer) Generated Content is content that we upload to a website or social media platform, examples of such content include audio files, photographs, videos, presentations, documents and reviews.

Research carried out has shown that more than 8 in 10 say user generated content from people they don’t know influences what they buy and indicates brand quality, while 51% say it is actually more important than the opinions of their friends and family, and far more trustworthy than website content. [Source Talking to Strangers Millennials Trust people over Brands Jan 2012]

V – Voice of the Customer

With incidents like United Breaks Guitars now commonplace, it’s painfully clear that social word-of-mouth has tremendous consequences when brands give a poor customer experience. Of course, there’s upside too. Social media is a veritable goldmine of insights that can help a company innovate and improve its competitive position.

Participating in social media—via online communities, blogging and networking sites—is now thought of much like the internet a decade ago. A company is conspicuous in its absence of a social media plan, especially if it sells to consumers.

W – WordPress

Think Oak is written using WordPress. It’s a very versatile blogging tool that is easy to use, has a range of free and chargeable templates, great analytics and has built-in search engine optimisation for Google and Bing. It’s open-source and can be hosted (WordPress.com) or un-hosted (WordPress.org). Even some of the world’s biggest brands use WordPress – Ebay, Ford, Sony and CNN all use it for their blogs!

X – Xbox 720, Playstation 4 & Next Generation TVs

With announcements of the next generation games consoles imminent, it will be interesting to see whether any increased elements of social media are woven into the new Xbox and PS4 operating systems. With 55% of homes having games consoles that can link to the internet plus advances in Smart TVs that already connect with social media channels, I would expect significant growth and opportunity in this space.

Y – YouTube

Though Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter were the leading social networks that swept through the business world in recent times, YouTube continues to be the most valuable video marketing and advertising tool for businesses of all sizes. By far the web’s largest and most popular online video archive, YouTube offers fantastic opportunities for a business to show off its expertise, share knowledge, market products and connect with customers, colleagues and prospects.

Z – Zero to Hero

With some investment of time, energy, enthusiasm, creativity and a little bit of know-how you can rapidly build up the social media presence of your organisation. This is Social Commerce: Turning Social Media into Sales by Guy Clapperton is a new book that I would recommend to get you started,  together with his previous book – This is social media.

Ultimately, you need to choose the social media services that are right for your business. You can’t be engaged with users everywhere and on every medium. If you try, you’ll quickly be focusing only on social media and not on your business. Stick with a handful of services where you can build a following and engage customers on a regular basis.

Hope you enjoyed this A to Z. As always, I look forward to hearing from you.

A to Z of Building a Winning Team

a-z team

Being part of a winning team is a great feeling! Building a winning team is hard work, but can be great fun with some amazing results! Below I’ve detailed Think Oak’s A-Z of Building a Winning Team:

A – Audit Abilities

The very first thing to do when you take on a team or you’re building a new one is to look at the skills you need to win, starting with yourself. What are you good at and where are you lacking? What does your management team need to look like? What types of roles do you need in your team? What skills are needed? It’s really important that you think about these things up-front, before you look at the people you have, are available to you or the gaps you need to fill. Once you’ve answered these questions at the right level of detail, you’ll be in the right position to look at your options.

B – Breakdown Personality Barriers

At any point in a team’s lifecycle there can be conflict. A difference in management or leadership style, a difference of opinion, personal enmity for one reason or another or simply a clash of personality. It’s really important that these are dealt with quickly and you find ways to resolve them without disrupting the team’s momentum. In my career, I’ve found it really useful to take people out of the work environment for a day or two to do some straight talking from the heart about your aspirations, motivations, concerns and ambition as well as taking time to relax and have some fun together.

C – Choose to Win

We all have choices in our lives, but it’s critical for the whole team to be behind your vision from the outset. Everyone needs to make a choice to be part of a winning team and all that it entails to get there. People that don’t want to get on the bus or want to stay along for the ride shouldn’t be given a ticket!

D – Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

It is extremely easy to spend inordinate amounts of time on things that don’t contribute to becoming a Winning Team or your end goal. Keep an eye out for them within the team and on yourself. If you find them, stop them immediately. If people are working on things that aren’t central to the plan, you need and they need to be asking ‘Why?’

E – Energy Management

Ensuring that there is high energy in your team at all times is not an easy task, but an important one for building a winning team. Effective energy leadership is the ability to read the energy of the group and then alter one’s own energy level to get the group to where it needs to go. You can see this at play in sports, or equally so in the classroom or in board meetings. If people are starting to get discouraged or disheartened, you need to step up, raise the energy level and bring more enthusiasm into the room. Quickly, the team starts to feel more optimistic, the energy of the group shifts up and success, and whilst not guaranteed, is much more likely.

F – Focus on Focus

By aligning everyone’s personal objectives to yours and that of the wider organisation you can ensure that people are focussed on the right tasks. Review performance against these objectives on a regular basis and ensure the objectives are SMART.

S – specific, significant, stretching

M – measurable, meaningful, motivational

A – attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented

R – realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented

T – time-based, timely, tangible, trackable

Make individuals accountable for key deliverables and reward them for delivery.

G – Get Out of the Engine Room

Your people will not develop, unite or learn from their mistakes if you deal with every problem that comes up or, if you tell them what to do in minutiae of detail. As a leader you shouldn’t be in the engine room, except for the odd inspection. You need to be on the bridge watching for icebergs and pirates!

H – Help Each Other

The best performing teams in business watch each other’s backs. If they see someone struggling with a task, they’ll help. If one department is really struggling for resource they’ll offer another pair of hands. Passionately investing in other people’s success will ultimately raise their performance and that of their teams and ultimately the organisation. As a leader, a good proportion of your time should be spent coaching, supporting, developing and promoting the rising stars within your team. It strengthens your team, protects it for the future and motivates individuals.

I – Ignite Passion

Find out what motivates your people. We are all motivated by different things and a good manager and leader gets to know what motivates their people and tailors their communication style, delivery and behaviour to get the best out of everyone. Praise and recognition for success and cheering the progress goes a long way too!

J – Just Do It!

You can have the best business strategy and business plans, but they are little use if they are not executed effectively. Decisions deferred, reversed or not made at all will not drive your team forward.

K – Knowledge Share

Winning teams share information, and I’m not just talking Key Performance Indicators. They share best practice when they come across it, they share customer and competitor news, they share any lessons they’ve learnt from a project or product launch. By pooling collective knowledge within and across departments, the organisation can reap dramatic results.

L – Learn From Your Collective Mistakes

Things go wrong. Learn from them, fix them where you can, and move on. We can often spend ridiculous amounts of time brow-beating ourselves and others on things that went wrong. Spend that time working on ensuring that those mistakes don’t happen again by changing process, putting controls in place or ensuring that we watch out for those banana skins we slipped on last time. Should the same mistakes keep happening, you need to look more deeply into the problem and find a way quickly to resolve it – Change the process or system, develop the people or change the people.

M – Measure, Monitor and Manage

The key to long-term success for any winning team is measuring the right things, setting appropriate targets, monitoring your performance against them and altering course or taking action when required.

N – Never Give Up

Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up – Thomas Edison

In a previous post ‘6 of the best…failures’ I talked about some famous names from all walks of life who persevered with their objectives to reach their goals. Building this ethos into your team’s behaviours will go a long way to driving success.

O – Organise Yourselves around Your Objectives

Many established businesses organise themselves in traditional hierarchies and functions – sales, marketing, finance etc. Sometimes, especially when changing course with your strategy, it is worth challenging team structures to ensure that they are still optimal to meet the strategy. Some businesses build multi-functional teams that are focussed on one particular project or programme at any time, allowing complete focus on delivery and then breaking the team up again on completion. This approach can have significant benefits over traditional team structures by focussing the right people on the right project with the right skills and motivation.

P – Performance Manage All of the Time

Don’t wait for a quarterly or half-yearly review to give feedback – good or bad. Many people need to know how they are doing every day – ask them what will help them most. Most people need feedback at least once a week. A few can get by with feedback once a month, but even for seriously capable high-level strategic people this is not enough.

R – Robust Dialogue

Being able to challenge team members positively is a key part of building a winning team. In winning teams, people trust each other to challenge ideas, ways of working and strategic plans. By being challenging of each other, for the good of the team and your customer experience, the team gets better. Challenging each other to gain personal advantage or to score points over one another are the signs of a losing team!

S – Set Out Your Expectations Clearly

A huge proportion of performance problems can be traced back simply to a failure to explain and agree expectations and/or a failure to understand and provide the help that the person needs. Don’t assume everything is understood and perfectly within people’s capabilities. Instead, take time to explain, check and ask until everyone concerned is happy and sure of what needs doing, how, and most importantly why.

T – Treat Everyone with Respect

I love this quote from Winston Churchill – “I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”

Whatever your level in the organisation, treat people as equals and with respect.

U – Understand Your Business

This may seem obvious, but I am frequently disappointed by people’s lack of knowledge of their business. Whether you’re on the front line in Marketing, Sales and Service or supporting these functions in IT, Finance or HR, you need to at least understand your company’s vision and strategic objectives. In winning teams, everyone knows these things as a minimum plus they know how their team is performing against Key Performance Indicators as well as what they’re doing to improve against them.

V – Values & Vision

In my view, these are the fundamental building blocks of a winning team. A shared vision together with values that are lived every day ensure that your team is heading in the same direction.

W – Win / Win

This is a personal philosophy, which I’m sure that many in senior positions will disagree on. I believe in openness, especially when it comes to recognition and reward. If the team does well, then the managers and leaders should be rewarded. Obviously levels of reward will differ according to responsibility and personal performance, but if the leaders are remunerated differently on different targets you will not get synergy in the organisation, and certainly not on a sustainable basis.

X – X Marks the Spot

X = the end result on your map – treasure! Whatever your winning team does, there will be an end goal – a successful product launch, a sales target, an improvement in Customer Satisfaction, improved production and so on. Your treasure map is your plan and your team’s focus is reaching the ‘X’ as soon as possible, and before anyone else! Your team need to have a copy of the ‘map’, understand how to read it in case they get lost, and know the importance of beating the competition. They should understand the potential pitfalls along the way, but you need to give them enough tools to make their journey possible and ideally enjoyable!

Y – Yell Success from the Rooftops

Celebrating and publicising success breeds more success, both within your team and organisation as well as externally. People like to associate with winners. You only need to see the number of Olympic medallists on TV at the moment to see that. Success, especially in today’s gloomy climate, is newsworthy, and will put your team and your business in the spotlight, for all the right reasons….and will hopefully bring you more business, and more success.

Z – Zigzag around Barriers

There is rarely a single solution to a problem in business. Winning teams find ways around problems that would leave other teams scratching their heads or giving up. Find out who your ‘Can Do’ people are and keep them close!

Hope you enjoyed this A-Z. As always I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Stop the Rot – Managing Poor Performance ~ Part 2

Managing Poor Performance, Think OakIn part 1 of this two-part post I covered the potential impacts of poor performance, the causes and your responsibilities as a manager. In part 2, I’ll be guiding you through a seven-step process to help you deal with a poor performer.

Tackling Poor Performance

Many businesses do have policies and procedures around performance management and I’m not suggesting you don’t follow them. However, I’ve found a more informal, coaching approach to improve performance works in the vast majority of cases. Only once this approach is exhausted would I move down a more formal approach and this is normally the exception rather than the rule.

1. Prepare

Before you engage in a meeting with your poor performer, ensure that you have a detailed understanding and examples of poor performance as well as the impact that this under performance has had on the team, your customers, the business, yourself and the individual. Also, think about examples of good performance and behaviour that the person has shown in the past.

By spending some time preparing for the meeting,  you will have had a chance to gather your thoughts, examine the evidence, think about the evolution of the relationship and mentally frame the meeting in broad and flexible terms.

2. Set up a meeting with context

You should set up a meeting with at least a couple of days notice. You should be very clear in explaining exactly why you are arranging the meeting, that you will be discussing their recent performance and that you would like to have a discussion around how you can work on an improvement plan going forward.

To help your employee prepare for the meeting, you could suggest s/he gives some thought to a few questions, for example:

• How successfully do the two of us work together?

• How good are our communications and overall relationship?

• Which aspects of your job do you find easiest?

• Which are you most comfortable with?

• And which do you find most difficult?

• To what extent do I help you perform?

• Are there things I do that make life more difficult for you?

• Overall what can we do to improve your performance, my performance, our joint performance and our relationship?

The Performance Meeting

3. Agreement with your employee on the symptoms of the problem

It’s really important that you and your employee agree that there is a performance problem and agree the specific examples of when performance has been poor, the impacts that this has had and the importance of getting back on track. Try not to get into the why’s and wherefores at this stage. We’ll come to that. Just get agreement that behaviours or deliverables were not at the desired standard required for your team and business.

4. Understanding the causes of underperformance

Together, you and your colleague need to arrive at a common understanding of what might be causing the weak performance. This step assumes the person will be willing to participate in a genuine discussion of his/her strengths and weaknesses. Very few people will see themselves as perfect and in no need of any improvement. However, some people do overestimate the quality of their work performance and are unaware of their weaknesses. A major reason for this is likely to be that their previous managers have been reluctant to confront the employee’s shortcomings. In the absence of past negative feedback an employee could be genuinely shocked by your feedback and tempted to reject it as biased and personal.

It might be useful at this stage to review the answers to the preparation questions you gave them in step 2 to tease out some possible explanations. Ensure that you also point areas of performance or behaviours that are good, or have been in the past and spend some time on these also.

This stage of the process can be emotive. Keep calm and spend time working through the detail if necessary. Don’t forget that you already have agreement that there was poor performance. If you can’t agree on the why at this stage, you may need to move on to offering some suggestions on a way forward.

5. Creating and agreeing an Improvement Plan

Find out what motivates the individual: People are motivated by very different things.  Find out what’s important to the individual and shape and ‘sell’ the development plan accordingly.

Fit development action plans to learning style: Different people learn in different ways and this should be considered when planning development.  Understand which is the best learning strategy for that individual and shape the plan accordingly.

Focus on development priorities: Don’t overload people with too many things to focus on.

Use a range of development techniques: Development doesn’t solely result from attending training courses.  The success of development efforts will depend upon picking the right blend of development activity for the individual.  Good development plans draw on a combination of learning, practice and reinforcement.

Ensure that the plan has SMART Goals and by SMART, I mean:

S – specific, significant, stretching

M – measurable, meaningful, motivational

A – attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented

R – realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented

T – time-based, timely, tangible, trackable

Ensure that the individual owns their plan: Getting them to come up with ideas and to actually write the development plan themselves will ensure that they buy-in to the plan and feel that it is their own.

Make sure the plan is documented – either fully during the meeting or an agreed skeleton is produced during the meeting and an agreement that plan will be delivered back the following day.

6. Create Confidence and Commitment

A good manager wants their people to succeed. This stage is all about building confidence in the person and inspiring them to improve, to develop themselves and to take the initiative.  People with high levels of self-belief set themselves more demanding goals, show greater effort and persistence in trying to achieve, and cope better with stress and difficulties.

Put a lot of energy into encouraging the individual to develop themselves and improve. Spend some time making the individual believe they can turn their performance around. Offer structured support as part of the improvement plan, but tell them it’s their responsibility to deliver against it.

7. Follow up

You must follow up on the agreements made. You and individual will have agreed to make certain changes, perform certain actions and/or reach certain performance targets by a given date. The onus is on both of you to ensure maximum high quality communication occurs during the period of the agreement. Don’t wait until the end of the process to discuss progress. Ideally the agreed objectives will be specific enough and the communication process during the contract period effective enough that both parties will agree on the assessment of the outcomes.

By implementing timely follow-ups and encouragement throughout the process, you should start to see demonstrable improvement.

Should performance not improve during the process then you must then set the expectation of the consequences which would be a more formal process. Although this process was not part of your company’s formal process, the documentation produced and meeting notes would be able to used as evidence as part of most formal procedures.

You won’t always succeed in turning around poor performance, but by following these steps you will have given your poor performer every opportunity to turn performance around.

I hope you found this post useful. As always, I’ love to hear your thoughts and feedback.

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Think Oak! – Mighty Oaks From Little Acorns Grow

OakAfter nearly 2 years of blogging under the ‘Gung Ho!’ title, I’ve decided to have a little re-brand. I wanted to share my rationale with you rather than just change the name with no explanation.

Many of you that have been followers of Gung Ho! for a while, will know that I’m a Raving Fan of Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles’ book ‘Gung Ho! ‘ and wanted to use their teachings and insight into people and nature as a personal inspiration to put down my thoughts with a hope that people might find what I had to say of interest.

If I’m being really honest, I didn’t think that Gung Ho! would have been as popular as it has become nor did I believe that I would still be writing it! I’m now in a position that I want to start to build a more personal brand around my beliefs and values (plus I don’t want to get into bother with anyone’s legal team!)

So, in that vein I’ve decided to rename my blog to ‘Think Oak!’

Ok, that may need some explanation!

1. I love nature and for me the Oak tree epitomises the spirit of life. (Thus my other blog and passion Life Spirit)

2. Oak trees take a long time to grow and have small beginnings with the acorn, but have amazing strength, resilience and beauty much like how many of us aspire to be.

3. Oak in its natural form provides for its surroundings – shelter for plants, animals and humans alike; food for birds and animals; inspiration for painters, photographers, walkers and thinkers.

4. Oak trees have deep roots and provide stability to the environment around them

5. Oak in its altered form provides fuel, furniture, buildings, sculptures and most importantly barrels for making my favourite tipples of wine, whisky and bourbon!

6. The oak is a common symbol of strength and endurance and has been chosen as the national tree of many countries around the world, including England, the United States, Estonia, France, Germany, Moldova, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Wales, Bulgaria, and Serbia.

7. My father was Irish and I have deep roots, like the Oak. The Celtic meaning of the oak tree includes attributes such as:

  • Life
  • Strength
  • Wisdom
  • Nobility
  • Family
  • Loyalty
  • Power
  • Longevity
  • Heritage
  • Honour

I’m pretty sure that these are values that most of us aspire to.

8. Finally, having witnessed it a few times in my career, if people have the belief in themselves, a great idea, are prepared to take a risk and can deliver, even if they stumble along the way, they can become mighty Oaks from little acorns.

So, with that explanation, I hope you can buy-in to the new name. Not a whim, but a firm belief, that with a good roots (the right environment and encouragement), a strong trunk (belief system and support network), broad and strong branches (the right skills and behaviours), we are in a position to have longevity, deliver great benefits for ourselves, our colleagues and for friends and families and produce acorns for future generations to benefit from.

So, from now on, Think Oak!

Why Not or Why Not? – Removing Personal Barriers to Success

Self-limiting BeliefsFollowing on from my recent posts on Self-Limiting Beliefs (Part1, Part2), I’ve paid much more attention to the language people use around me to watch for self-limiting beliefs or self-restricting words that serve to embed these hindering thoughts as ‘facts’ in our subconscious.

How often have you thought about a new goal for yourself, only for your subconscious, your inner dialogue, to give you 10 reasons why you can’t or shouldn’t do it and if you did do it why you would fail in achieving that goal? The first of the Why Nots!

I recently was talking with a highly competent individual who felt completely stuck in their current role. When asked what they were doing about finding another job, I was immediately faced with a whole host of reasons why not:

1. I’ve worked there too long and wouldn’t be able to find the right job

2. Other employers wouldn’t be as flexible with my working hours

3. Other employers wouldn’t pay me as much as I get at the moment

4. Nobody is recruiting for roles with my skills

You get the picture. When asked whether they had looked into the job market locally or spoken to any prospective employers the answer was no. By having the reasons ‘Why Not’ already in their mind, the possibility of finding another role couldn’t even be there. That very evening, following our conversation, that person found a job that crossed off the ‘Why Not’ reasons! Opening up the possibility led to action and potentially a different outcome. Whether the person gets an interview or not, is not that relevant to the point I’m trying to make. It opened that door and others to future possibilities by taking away the reasons not to do something.

So, how do you change your mind-set from finding reasons not to do something into reasons and belief in yourself to take positive action – The second, but more positive ‘Why Not?’ – 5 easy steps – STOP, LOOK, LISTEN, PLAN, ACT

1. Stop

Recognise when your inner dialogue is starting to list reasons why you can’t do something, and STOP yourself in your tracks. This is not as easy as it sounds, but gets easier with practice.

2. Look

Look into the reasons why you are putting barriers in front of what you are trying to achieve. Have you got any evidence as to why you can’t do you what you want to achieve or are the usual sel-limiting beliefs that you know you have rearing their head?

3. Listen

Try and clear your head of all the clutter and noise and focus on possibilities. Don’t shut anything out at this stage. If there were no reasons ‘Why Not’ to do something, what could the possibilities be? Try and think of all ways to achieve your goal, some might feel outlandish, but don’t discount them at this stage. Write them down – try to get at least 20 possibilities!

4. Plan

Now you’ve got your long list of possibilities. Now is the time to narrow them down to a short list of SMART goals that contribute to your ultimate goal.By SMART, I mean:

S – specific, significant, stretching

M – measurable, meaningful, motivational

A – attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented

R – realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented

T – time-based, timely, tangible, trackable

I find it best to prioritise these types of goals from the easiest to the hardest, which goes against some management wisdom. Why? Well our subconscious doesn’t seem to be able to qualify small success from huge success particularly well. So by getting some quick, small wins against our ultimate goal, we immediately start feeling better about our ability to achieve it. The more belief we get in ourselves, the more likely our success!

5. Act and Act Now!

Stick to your action plan, act and act now. This is often the hardest part for people suffering from ‘Why Not’ Syndrome. By acting quickly and getting one of your first goals completed quickly, you’re setting yourself up to succeed and preventing yourself from coming up with more reasons why not!

Let me know how you get on with: STOP, LOOK, LISTEN, PLAN and ACT

Self-limiting Beliefs ~ Part 2

Whether you think you can, or think you can't, you're right!In part 1, we established what Self-limiting Beliefs are, what causes them and how to identify your own, because we all have them. In this post, I will be focussing the most common self-limiting beliefs and how to start tackling them in your life.

It is extremely easy to let our self-limiting beliefs take over our lives or at least keep us from fulfilling our potential, especially when we’re going through a challenging period at work or in our relationships or if we’re feeling a little run-down, or all three!

Some people, who let their self-limiting beliefs take over their thinking for prolonged periods of time, can be significantly impacted by them and in some cases may even lead to mental health issues. Many people aren’t even aware that these beliefs exist, never mind that they can do anything about them; they believe that it’s just the way they are and therefore can’t find a way out. I’ve listed some of the most common self-limiting beliefs below. Do any of these sound familiar to you?

Not being good enough ~ at something to everything

Most of us at some time or another have felt that we weren’t good enough. You need to believe that perfection simply doesn’t exist. There will always be someone who is faster, stronger, bigger, richer, younger, older than you. Stop comparing yourself to others. You never compare how much better you are, you look at how well THEY are doing. Focus on being the best you can be. Put all that energy you spend focussing on others on improving YOU.

By releasing yourself from the stress of perfection, you will be able to perform at the top of your skills.

Not being loved

Many people go through life trying to be who they think other people want them to be in order to win love and acceptance.

The most important person, however, is ourselves. It is far more important to totally love and accept ourselves exactly as we are. Once we can do that, we attract to us people who also love and accept themselves and they can then love and accept us exactly as we are. We don’t have to pretend to be something we are not to love ourselves and to be loved by others.

Fear of rejection

I love this quote by Bo Bennett and he articulates rejection much better than me – ‘It is not rejection itself that people fear, it is the possible consequences of rejection. Preparing to accept those consequences and viewing rejection as a learning experience that will bring you closer to success, will not only help you to conquer the fear of rejection, but help you to appreciate rejection itself. ‘

Fear of failure

Failure is often seen as unacceptable. We are encouraged to innovate but avoid “wasting” time or money. When we fail, we may be threatened or even punished by employers, spouses and parents. This negative experience can lead to a fear of failure, especially if this has been built up over many years. A low-level of fear can be inspiring, but a higher level of fear can become a full-blown phobia, limiting your potential. If you missed Six of the Best …. Failures take a look at some really big failures!

Feelings of being unattractive

These issues plague even the most admired, sought-after people in our society. Just because you feel ugly doesn’t mean you are or that others perceive you that way. They are just another self-limiting belief that plagues thousands of people every day.

The list above is in no way exhaustive. They all do relate to self-esteem in one way or another however. So how do we start to address self-limiting beliefs.

Tackling your Self-Limiting Beliefs

If you have read part 1 and tried out the steps of understanding what your self-limiting beliefs are, hopefully you will have begun to understand some areas for you to work on. If you haven’t, don’t worry, it may take some time to get to the root cause of some of your unhelpful beliefs. Some of the following steps will still help you along the way.

So, 3 easy ABC steps, well, easy to remember, a little bit harder to practice:

1 . AWARENESS –  Catch yourself when your inner dialogue is being unhelpful, hindering or downright horrible to you. Which of your self-limiting beliefs is your inner dialogue addressing?

2. BELIEF – You are good enough, you’re not a loser, you can lose weight if you want to, you can be a good public speaker, you can find a way around the problem. You just need to believe that you can. I’ll try to illustrate this with a well publicised example:

On May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister was the first man in history to run a sub four-minute mile, 3:59.6 to be precise. At the time it was said that the human heart/lung capacity combined with our muscular skeletal system made it an impossibility. Some said he might even die trying. Roger Bannister believed the four-minute barrier could be broken. He believed he could do it, even though he had never run a mile in under four minutes. The fact that he proved it could be done, started to have a major impact on the self-limiting beliefs of others. Six weeks later, an Australian runner broke Bannister’s record. Within a year more than 20 people had run sub four-minute miles. Today it is not uncommon for high school athletes and people in their 40’s to run the mile in under four minutes with the record over 15 seconds quicker than in 1954!  Belief has a BIG impact on the art of the possible.

So you need to have that belief that you can change your subconscious, your inner dialogue, before you move to the next step.

3. CHALLENGE – Really challenge your self-doubt. Find an example when you have been a success, felt attractive, did feel loved. With self-limiting beliefs we have a habit of filtering these moments out of our memories and therefore lives. If you can’t find an example, don’t worry. Challenge your inner dialogue by changing the internal words to something different. So for example:

From: Well you really messed that up! – To: What have I learnt from that and how can I do better next time?

From: You’ll never get that promotion! – To: What’s the next way that I can really prove that I’m up for a challenge?

From: I can’t speak in front of these people! – To: I really know and am passionate about my topic, I’m going to rehearse it every day before it happens, and I’m going to be confident!

If you challenge your negative inner dialogue quickly, and replace it with something more positive, you will start to feel better about yourself or the situation. Persevere! It does take practice, but it does help. Within a matter of weeks you will begin to notice a difference. Don’t forget that many of your limiting beliefs have been with you for years and you won’t fix them over night!

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite poems, given to me by my late father on my 21st birthday. I just wish that I’d understood it fully at the time!

If you think you are beaten, you are,

If you think you dare not, you don’t.

If you like to win, but you think you can’t,

It is almost certain you won’t.

If you think you’ll lose, you’re lost,

For out in the world we find,

Success begins with a fellow’s will.

It’s all in the state of mind.

If you think you are outclassed, you are,

You’ve got to think high to rise,

You’ve got to be sure of yourself before

You can ever win a prize.

Life’s battles don’t always go

To the stronger or faster man.

But soon or late the man who wins,

Is the man who thinks he can.

~ C. W. Longenecker ~

If you enjoyed the post or have any feedback, I’d love to hear from you! Until next time…

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