Friday, August 26, 2016

The Art of Reflection in Business

The Art of Reflection in Business

Though you might not know the name Aaron Sorkin, you're no doubt familiar with some of his work. He's the brilliant writer behind some of the most critically acclaimed, successful shows on television in the last two decades including, "The West Wing," "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," "The Newsroom," and more. One of the constant themes in all of his different works is that the last episode of the first season of all of his shows all share the same title: "What Kind of Day Has It Been." This repetitive title isn't an example of a lazy writer who just can't come up with something unique. It is Sorkin's thesis statement. "What Kind of Day Has It Been" is a phrase he uses to indicate reflection. At the end of the season, he (and his characters) always look back and examine where they've been and how far they've come to get a better idea of where they should be going next.

This type of reflection isn't just important in terms of prime-time dramas; it's also a hugely invaluable tool in terms of running a business for a host of different reasons.

The Benefits of Periodic Reflection

At its core, reflection in the world of business is an attempt to take some of the critical experiences that you've had in the not-too-distant past and force you to think about them in a meaningful way. It's an attempt to take both successes and missed opportunities and dive deeper than you may be used to. It gives you the chance to articulate the key lessons that your experiences have taught you, either consciously or subconsciously, and use those insights as the basis for every decision you make moving forward.

One of the main advantages that reflection like this brings to the table is one of increased confidence. Even if you weren't able to achieve a particular goal, going through the process of breaking it down into the sum of its parts can still provide a valuable context as to why events played out the way they did. This, in turn, will help you harness the real learning experience that even less-than-stellar days can sometimes bring and create something positive as a result. Reflecting on the lessons you've learned throughout your career in this way can also make you more productive for the same reasons.

Remember that when you begin any journey in the world of business, be it to finish one particular project, increase revenue by a certain date, or release a new product or service to market, the road that you're about to travel is one that is clouded by expectations. When you're at the end of that journey, however, those hopes are gone. Taking a cold, hard look at everything that led you to this point can not only give you a chance to celebrate your successes, but it can also provide you with valuable insight into issues that you may have encountered or lessons that you may have learned. Reflection is the mother of course correction and that brief pause at such a critical time could very well be the moment of clarity you need to start your next journey with some much-needed perspective.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Courage of Success

Setting goals to drive revenues and profits is part of doing business. We all strive to be successful in business and in life. When we are young, we look for careers that will make us successful to get the things we want such as a beautiful house, cars, and money. Most people define success as the ultimate goal.

However, there are other ways to look at success.

"Success is not final; failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts." ~ Winston Churchill

Churchill defined success and failure as a journey instead of the end goal. How do you define success? If you look at success and failure as part of a journey instead of an end goal, life looks very different. Instead of always striving to seek the end, you are marking points along the pathway as measures of success and failure. None of these points is the ultimate goal, but rather, destinations that you can reach and surpass.

When you define success in this manner, it takes much of the stress away as you pursue your goals. While still working to create success, whether that is a monetary target or achieving other goals such as graduating from school, gaining particular skills, or training an employee successfully, you know that each point is not an end. In fact, each time you achieve success, it is a beginning of the next segment of your journey.

On the flip side, defining success as part of the path means that failure is also part of the path, and not a crushing blow. While no one likes to fail, you can take your failure as a learning opportunity to improve the next time you journey in the same direction. Breaking down the road to success into smaller, doable achievements can help you gain strength to pursue your goals and succeed multiple times.

Churchill said, "It is the courage to continue that counts." Sometimes, we wake up in the morning and want to be anywhere except at work. However, a successful business person is the one who continues to work day after day whether they want to or not. It takes courage to persevere during the good times and bad, especially when you are not sure if you will be successful that day. When the economy is tough, and business is hard to find, it takes courage to keep looking for new customers.

It also takes courage to change with the times. No matter how long you have been in business, change is inevitable. These days it seems to come faster than ever. However, success means the courage to make the changes that will help you continue to grow in business. In fact, your successful business influences the world around you. As your business continues to flourish, you add to the economy and help bolster the lives of everyone that you touch.

Your courage to continue along a successful pathway creates a ripple effect. By setting an example for your employees, your customers, your vendors, and your family and friends, you show everyone the true meaning of success. You have the courage to continue moving forward.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Protect Your Business While On the Move

Even if you're not working for an organization that requires you to travel on a regular basis, there is still a high likelihood that you will work from home at some point during your week. Giving people the ability to work remotely not only increases worker productivity but also drives efficiency, lowers stress, reduces employee turnover, and more. However, all of these benefits come at a pretty significant cost: giving employees the ability to work while on the move also increases the chances of a cyber attack pretty profoundly.

Organizations that want to leverage the power of modern technology with as few of the downsides as possible would do well to learn three specific letters as quickly as possible: V, P, and N.

What is a VPN?

Short for "virtual private network," a VPN is exactly that - a private network that extends across either a public network or a larger, global network like the internet. Think of it as a lane on a highway that only you and your employees are allowed to use while on your way to work. Sure, there are other cars out on the road trying to get to various destinations, but YOU are the only one who gets to enjoy that one, special lane.

This may be a bit of an oversimplification, but this is largely the idea at the heart of a VPN. It allows users like yourself to both send and receive information over public networks like the internet with all of the privacy and security they would expect if they were connected to a smaller private network in their office.

Many businesses use VPNs to help increase security as more employees work remotely. Using a VPN, remote users can connect back with the head office, or regional offices can connect with one another, without worrying about anyone with malicious intentions intercepting their traffic.

Why is a VPN So Important?

For business professionals on the go, VPNs are important, thanks to one simple, little word: security. While connections to the internet are a dime-a-dozen, SECURE connections are much harder to come by. If you hop onto the Wi-Fi network at your local Starbucks to send some important files to a client, anyone on that some network could potentially "snipe" that file out of the air and gain access to it if they know what they're doing. This is because Starbucks' network was designed to be public so everyone could use it, which unfortunately means any and all traffic going over that network is essentially up for grabs.

However, if you used that same Starbucks Wi-Fi connection first to connect to your VPN, the kid with the laptop three tables over trying as hard as possible to read your emails can "hack" all he'd like, but he won't be learning your trade secrets anytime soon. VPNs allow businesses to extend the security of their local intranet while located out of the office, allowing remote employees to be as productive as they need to be without worrying about something like a data breach.

These are just a few of the key reasons why VPNs are so important for today's modern business world. When dealing with something as inherently volatile as the internet, the security and privacy benefits alone are more than worth the investment, even - and before you begin to think about the added level of protection this gives to employees working out of the office. In an era where data breaches are all too common, and concern with data privacy is at an all-time high, virtual private networks are one of the single, best ways to remain protected and productive at the same time.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Managing Change Effectively

There is no question that people do not like change (https://hbr.org/2012/09/ten-reasons-people-resist-chang). Although some people can adjust more readily than others, it is inherent in our nature that managing change on any level is difficult.

When it comes to business, change is inevitable. As the world changes, so do our businesses in order to stay up-to-date and competitive. However, with each change, it becomes necessary to follow a transition process to acclimate both employees and customers. A transition can be the cause for issues to crop up in any area of your business. At a minimum, it can cause whining, grumbling and potential mistakes from your staff.

Changing Attitudes

When managing change in your business, keep this quote in mind.

"Without change, there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable." ~ William Pollard

The Need for Innovation

Innovation and creativity are two of the most important factors that make your business a premier vendor for your customers. How you and your staff interact with customers and how you provide the best products and services to them will nurture loyal customers and make their lives better. While your techniques and results may change, your values do not, and that is what your customers will come to expect from you.

Creativity is Evergreen

Your ability to create, or to help your customers create, is a valuable talent. Managing change offers you an opportunity to find new ways to develop and display your "wares." Since change requires learning and developing new skills, people that go through any transition can stimulate their creative centers at the same time they are learning.

How to Manage Change Effectively

To help your employees, customers, and yourself manage change in a positive manner, look for ways to reward people who make the transition effectively.

1. Use change to retrain staff on necessary skills and review their knowledge.
2. Offer incentives for staff to display their new knowledge and expertise to customers.
3. Offer discounts to customers who try your newest innovation.
4. Take the change in stages that make sense for the involved participants.
5. Explain why you are making the change and how it will improve your product, your operations, or grow your business.
6. Give staff and customers a forum to voice their opinions and complaints.
7. Thank people for trusting you and making the effort to try something new.
8. Express your understanding of resistance to change.

As you ask your people to take the steps to change, remind them of how far your business and industry has come and where you would be if you never made any changes.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Travel Tips for the Tech-Savvy Professional

For many professionals, finding themselves on the road (or on an airplane) has quickly become a way of life. With more and more jobs requiring extensive travel regardless of industry, staying productive while away from the office has become of paramount importance. Luckily, technology has stepped up to answer this particular call, and things like the cloud have made it easier than ever to get all of the work you need to get done regardless of location - even if you're halfway around the world away from your office. As with most things, however, this does require you to keep a few key things in mind.

There's File Sharing, and Then There's Secure File Sharing

In the last few years, file-sharing solutions have become a lifesaver for anyone who needs to remain as productive as possible even if they can't physically make it to the office to do so. More and more traveling professionals are turning to cloud-based providers to do everything from collaborating on documents to sending files to clients for approval and more, all while on the go. The most important thing to consider in this regard, however, is security. This is particularly true because as a traveling professional, you'll likely be spending a great deal of time on public Wi-Fi networks.

While a cloud-based file-sharing provider itself may be secure, your connection is most certainly not. All it would take is someone connected to the same public network that you are with a little knowledge to pluck every kilobyte of data you're sending and receiving out of the air, exposing you and your enterprise to harm. If you're serious about file sharing, invest in an FTP (file transfer protocol) solution for your business.

You still get all of the file-sharing benefits you've grown accustomed to, but you get the added benefit of both at-rest and in-transit encryption. Even if someone were to intercept an important, confidential file you're working on or transmitting, the data inside would be impossible to access without the encryption keys that only the sender or the recipient have.

Infrastructure as a Service

Infrastructure as a Service, or IaaS, is something that tech-savvy traveling professionals should look into if they're serious about doing as much work as possible on the go. IaaS takes the same concept as file sharing only it extends these benefits to EVERY last part of your digital life - from the software that you use to the hardware you use it on and more. All of your mission-critical services are delivered in an on-demand capacity over the internet, meaning that the program you use to get work done in the office is the same one you use to get work done while on vacation.

Because everything is hosted online, you don't ever have to worry about creating a file in one version of a program that turns out to be incompatible with the one you use when you get back home. This also removes the reliance on a single operating system from the equation, turning EVERY computer or mobile device into essentially a carbon copy of your work computer at any given moment.

These are just a few of the tips that the tech-savvy traveling professional can use to remain as productive and as proactive as possible while on the go. Technology is a great thing, but it is NOT a magic bullet - you still have to be careful so that you don't find yourself on the receiving end of a data breach due to lax security protocols (or worse - user error). As long as you understand that "productivity" and "security" are two terms that will always be closely related, you'll find that geography is no longer your biggest inhibitor of productivity any longer.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Customer service is sometimes the part of the job that we dread due to the range of customer complaints that ensue. However, if we look at customer service as an opportunity, we can create a lot of positive energy from it. While not all stories are as entertaining as this one, the fact that the customer service response became a boon for the company is evident.

Giraffe Bread

Lily Robinson, 3 and 1/2 years old, wanted to know why the Tiger Bread from Sainsbury's (a British convenience store) wasn't called Giraffe Bread. After all, it looked like giraffe skin. She wrote a letter to Sainsbury's and her mother mailed it to their customer service department. (https://www.helpscout.net/10-customer-service-stories/)

In an incredible customer service response, Chris King, 27 and 1/3 years old, responded to Lily with another letter and a gift card. That response in itself would have been an incredible customer service moment, but the story continues.

Sainsbury's decided to change the name of the bread to Giraffe Bread and created signage explaining the story. Lily's mom was so impressed that she wrote about the story on her blog. (https://jamandgiraffes.com/2011/06/15/our-careline/) The story then got picked up by BBC News (http://www.bbc.com/news/business-16812545) and became a marketing tale that has returned goodwill to Sainsbury's many times more than what the first gesture from Chris King cost them. While this return doesn't happen every time you offer excellent customer service, your actions and response to customer complaints are opportunities to cement relationships with customers. Often, it is the customer service assistance that creates the most indelible mark in a customer's memory.

Customer Service as an Opportunity

There are many similar instances that companies never find out about that affect their bottom line. Not every customer calls or writes to a company because of a good or bad customer service experience. However, they may tell all of their friends about it. Positive or negative, word of mouth goes far and can create a bundle of good or bad press for a company.

Because most of us are dealing with automated phone systems and customer service reps that speak other languages and barely know English, a lot us have become numb to the massive amount of poor customer service. When we do come across good customer service, sometimes it is a shock to our system. We crave good customer service, and most people will return and refer others to any company that treats them well.

Examples of good customer service opportunities abound:

*The mechanic that takes the time to explain what is wrong and why it needs to be fixed, but won't fix anything that is unnecessary.
*The patio furniture sales person who brings out a ladder to get the last display model from the ceiling-high display shelf.
*The jeweler who walks the customer through the options of repair for their cherished, but cheap, pearl necklace.

These types of customer service experiences are appreciated by the customer and remembered.

By treating every customer service issue as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with a customer, you can build the loyalty that every business needs. Loyal customers are your bread and butter, the customers who pay your monthly bills month in and month out.
Being a small business can give you more of these opportunities because you know your customers personally, so use these moments as a chance to shine.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Art of the Learning Opportunity: How to Recover From a Public Relations Nightmare

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when operating a business in today's digital age is that EVERY interaction you have with a customer, regardless of how private you think it may be, is a public relations disaster waiting to happen. The internet has brought us together as a society like never before, and this brings with it both its positives and its negatives for organizations everywhere. If someone has a great interaction with your business on the internet, they can easily tell all their friends and family members about it with a quick tweet or Facebook post. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true - even a negative interaction with your customer service department on the telephone can quickly balloon into a PR nightmare in a matter of hours if you're not careful.

Because of this, it's best just to assume that EVERY conversation you have with a customer is under public scrutiny at all times (because it probably is). Even responding to what you believe to be an invalid negative review of your business has the potential to turn quickly into a lightning rod of controversy depending on where it falls in the news cycle.

The Lessons Learned

For the sake of argument, let's say you've found yourself in the middle of a PR nightmare due to a conversation with a client that quickly went south. Maybe one of your customer service reps let emotions get the best of them and what started as a routine call quickly turned hostile, Now, the whole world seems to know about it. You can't take back what has already happened, but you CAN use the lessons that you're about to learn as the foundation of every decision you make moving forward.

For starters, examine the situation to find out what you did right and, most importantly, what you did wrong. The fact that you're in the midst of a public relations crisis itself is not something you did "wrong" since popular opinion isn't necessarily something you can control. However, look at the steps you had to take as a group to get there. What problem did the customer call about in the first place? Why did the conversation with your rep turn so negative so quickly? Why does this single interaction seem to be capturing the attention of so many people at this particular moment?

Once you have the answers to these questions, you can then get started making it right. Note that this does not mean "fix the problem" as in "make it go away." It means to do what you can to course correct and get back on the path you want to be. Take the steps to educate your reps on how to avoid these situations in the future. Take a look at the original problem that the customer had with your product or service and, if valid, do something to fix it. If the client took the conversation public on Facebook or Twitter, respond the same way. Remember - all eyes are on you and customers who see a business that is willing to own up to its "mistakes" and make them right are more likely to show sympathy and compassion than if you try to take care of everything behind closed doors.

For many businesses, a public relations nightmare is not a question of "if" but "when." The key thing to take away from this situation is that you have a unique opportunity that you can use to improve your operations across the board. Even if you think you're in the right, there are likely things that you could have done better, or you wouldn't be in this situation in the first place. If you DON'T take this as a chance to learn some very valuable lessons, you're wasting an opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade from a business perspective.