Keeping Employees Engaged During the Dreaded Month of January

Returning to work after the fun and exciting Christmas season can feel like an uphill battle. If you really want to keep your employees happy, healthy, and engaged during the dreaded month of January, there are a number of essential things to keep in mind.

Encourage Your Employees to Spend Time Outside

Part of the reason why January is so terrible for so many people comes down to SAD, or “Seasonal Affective Disorder.” It’s a very specific type of depression that relates to changes in the seasons and is often brought about by how cold and dreary January has a tendency to be.

The key to combating this is, thankfully, a simple one – encourage your employees to get outdoors as much as possible. Take them out for lunch at that great new restaurant down the block and insist that you all walk there. Get as much natural light into your workplace as possible. Even getting just fifteen minutes of quality sunlight exposure every day can have a big impact on their mood and their productivity.

Along these same lines, consider starting an exercise program at your office in the new year. Not only will this play an important long-term role in keeping your workforce as healthy as possible, but this type of physical activity will also go a long way towards combating SAD head-on.

Encourage Frequent Breaks

It’s important to take an active role in the work/life balance of your employees during the Christmas season, particularly when their attention is being pulled in so many different directions at once. Guess what? This idea doesn’t stop being any more important just because the calendar now says “January 1.”

Look for any opportunity that you can find to give people a bit of a break from the important tasks at hand. People always need to recharge, but this will become especially important during January and the rest of the cold winter months of the year. Make sure that people are getting out of the office and home at a decent hour, too. Once again, you may think that pulling long hours will help productivity in the long run, but all you’re doing is compromising the quality of the work that people can provide you.

While it’s true that nobody (yourself likely included) likes to return to work after the fun of the Christmas and New Year season, it isn’t as bad as you probably think it is. Indeed, so much of keeping employees engaged during January comes down to a matter of perspective – one that you can fully control just by remembering tips and tricks like those outlined above.

Read More

Motivation Matters

Motivation matters. Why? Because without it we fail to thrive. Lack of motivation is linked to lethargy, depression, and higher employee turnover. In contrast, studies show goal setting (even goals WITHOUT attached financial incentives) improved worker performance by 12 to 15%. How well you can motivate yourself or others can have a substantial effect on the pleasure and profit you experience.

Drive and Thrive: Kicking Motivation into High Gear

How do you increase motivation, especially for tasks that aren’t always fun? Dan Pink, the author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, says recognizing what types of motivation work in varying situations can be helpful. For example, while simple extrinsic motivators (bonuses, team incentives, public recognition) are often helpful for linear, task-oriented projects, these “carrot and stick,” conditions are not always best: 

“The trouble is . . . that for work that is non-routine, for work that isn’t algorithmic but is more conceptual, that requires big-picture thinking, that requires a greater degree of creativity, that requires solving more complicated, complex challenges, the if-then motivators don’t work very well at all. And that’s not even a close call in the science. The behavioral science is very, very clear that– give people those kinds of motivators for creative, conceptual, complex tasks, and they will often underperform.”

Pink says it is an intrinsic motivation that prompts people to do a creative activity, working not for incentives but because something is interesting and worthwhile. In the long run, intrinsic inspiration produces greater positivity and more imaginative, enduring results. Researchers identify three keys for building intrinsic motivation:

  1. Autonomy. Autonomy is a sense of authority over our projects or time management. It may involve options like working remotely, flex scheduling, or creative workspaces. While autonomy allows greater independence, it can be guided in an accountable manner. For example, people are more successful in self-managing when they have goals that are S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, achievable, relative, and time-bound).
     
  2. Mastery. We all desire to improve, and mastery equips people for continual development. Whether it’s on-going education, professional networking, or increased responsibility, we are typically happier when we are growing. How can we equip our team with fresh training or more challenging responsibilities? Is increased mastery giving way to bigger projects or the chance to teach others?
     
  3. Purpose. Often productivity stems from personal satisfaction; we work from the heart when we’re connected to a sense of community, impact, or big picture vision. While not all mundane tasks can infuse passion, typically we underestimate the power of celebrating small wins each day. Teresa Amabile, Harvard Business School professor and author of The Progress Principle, found that the biggest motivator at work was the sense of measurable progress.3 When we believe we’re making a considerable contribution, it’s almost impossible NOT to be motivated. 

What can you do to grow a sense of autonomy or mastery in your workplace? How can your public recognition or team incentives create a greater sense of passion at work? We have many creative ideas and visible tracking options to help you recognize, celebrate, and help your team stay on a path toward motivating fruitful progress. Give us a call to talk more!

Read More

Family Support is Key for Succession in a Family Business

Running a successful family business inevitably comes to a critical decision – how to continue the business when the current business owner decides it is time to retire and step away? Some decide to shut the business down. Others sell it to an outsider. Still, others decide to groom a family member to take over, but this can be fraught with risk if the young person turns out to not be interested, prepared, or the right fit.

Ready for a Change

Virenda Gupta found himself in a critical decision place when he was ready to enjoy the rewards of his own hard work building his property tax consultancy. Founded in 1986, RETC was a well-run operation that had taken years and years of dedication, especially in the highly technical accounting world of tax advising. But it was time for Virenda to travel, see family, go back to his historical home in India for visits, and reap some rewards for a change. However, RETC needed to still be managed and directed.

Positioning for Success

Virenda’s son, Amish, had initially brought up the hard topic, but both men were engaged and ready to really address the matter on all the key topics of compensation, authority, and ownership. Because they were willing to take it seriously, Virenda and Amish were able to craft a functional and working succession plan, ensuring RETC was positioned to continue for decades to come. And this was a key shift that is essential for family transition; if the current owner cannot envision handing over the reins, the succession discussion with a family member almost always ends in frustration.

Virenda’s willingness to work towards succession is not common. In fact, only one out of three family businesses make it to a second owner generation, and only a little more than one out of ten make it to a third family generation. Beyond that, the figure gets down to a single percentage digit below 5 percent. However, some of the greatest resistance is manageable; owners have to get past their role of making all the decisions leading to success and let someone else step forward. And that includes making mistakes. Planning is a key aspect, and smart owners start well ahead of a succession date, grooming potential family replacements years before. There is no 24-hour decision-making in this approach.

Proof Beyond Just Being Family

Virenda is lucky; his son wants the leadership role and is qualified. In almost one out of two cases a non-family member is more qualified to take the leadership role instead. Virenda made a key step to ensure his family was prepared. He chose his son as a potential successor after Amish had proven himself capable doing the work. He then let Amish work elsewhere and earn his stripes versus being protected internally due to just being family. Virenda then had to convince Amish to come back and take the role versus staying on the lucrative path he was already on with big corporations. That meant providing a real path and share for Amish instead of just a figurehead position.

How to Do it Right

Experts are in agreement on the key points of family success:

  • Don’t pressure kids to take on a role they are not prepared for.
  • Take on the tough conversation of succession and embrace it honestly with every detail.
  • Get children involved early, foster their interest and love for the business, and then make sure they have all the training needed.
  • Work as a team with everyone having a vested interested in the business’ success. Ownership is personal and drives people to commit.

Virenda is now enjoying travel and time to relax in his retirement, and Amish is fully-engaged in his role as RETC’s leader. Their story is both a case study of what’s done right in a family business succession as well what it takes to prepare for that moment.

Read More

Understanding Intent versus Impact in the World of Marketing

It is essential to understand as much about your audience as possible, especially the differences between “intent” and “impact” in the world of marketing. Intent is something that you have total control over – it’s what every font selection, every color choice, every turn of phrase and every piece of collateral is ultimately building towards. Impact, on the other hand, is something else entirely. Making an effort to understand the difference between these two concepts is the key to maximum success moving forward.

It All Comes Down to Perspective

The major difference between intent and impact ultimately comes down to a matter of perspective, or an acknowledgment that sometimes a statement (or in this case, a marketing message) isn’t necessarily as “black and white” as you may have thought it was. In addition to knowing who the people you’re marketing to actually are, it’s important to understand as much as you can about the way they think.

Before you send any marketing message out into the world, there are a few key questions you need to ask yourself:

  • How will this message play in different regions of the country? Are there certain terms that are used one way on the coasts and another way in middle America? What difference does that make, if any, in terms of how that message would be received?
     
  • How do pain points differ based on audience? Is a very specific problem that one portion of your audience has not an issue at all to others? How does something like economic status play into how a particular message might be received?
     
  • How will the culture change the way the impact of a message varies when compared to the original intent? Even if you’re not a global company, think about things from that perspective. You would probably have to make some adjustments to your messaging when marketing to customers in Europe versus those in the United States as you’re talking about two totally different cultures with different norms and taboos. Are there any cultural implications that might adjust the impact of your message in a way you’re unprepared for?

This approach will help give you as much insight as possible into the various perspectives of the people you’re trying to reach, which can not only make campaigns resonate more but it can also help avoid sticky issues like this one at the same time.

At the end of the day, the difference between intent and impact in the world of marketing can be summarized like this. “Intent” is the thing that you were trying to do – the message you were trying to convey or the goal you were trying to accomplish. “Impact” is what you actually did, which itself is influenced by a wide array of different factors. Sometimes a message that you had complete confidence in is received in a way that you could never have predicted and these are the types of moments you need to be ready for.

Read More

A Royal Road to the Heart

A Royal Road to the Heart

“The royal road to a man’s heart is to talk to him about the thing he treasures most.”

Relationships are the backbone of everything we do, especially in business. Whether you intentionally network or avoid small talk like the plague, relationships are something you can’t afford to ignore. A Harvard University study showed that only 15% of the reason a person gets, keeps, or advances in a job is related to technical expertise, but a crushing 85% has to do with our interpersonal skills!

Networking is a Lifestyle

Here’s the good news: the best networking is what naturally occurs in authentic, real-life relationships. Networking isn’t just something you do at professional mixers or conventions, rather, connections that leverage results are the ones we build every day. Networking is not an event, it’s a lifestyle! However, daily networking means you may need to stretch yourself socially, which can be a challenge for Americans. The APA defines Social Phobia as an (irrational) fear of looking stupid, and social phobia is especially common in the United States. Social phobia can be healthy, acting as a “social glue” in relationships and protecting our reputation. But is there a down side? Does social phobia keep us from advancing? Maybe more than we think!

Conversations: The Critical Link to Success

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

Conversations are a critical link in the chain of relationships that lead to success, so if you want to grow professionally you need to get over your nerves and genuinely enjoy people. Sweaty palms? That’s ok! The best way to conquer fear is to go out and get busy! Here is a wonderful visual memory “stack” to move conversations forward and empower you for more proactive, inspiring conversations.

The Conversational Stack

Visual #1: A huge brass nameplate.
Introductions start with names, and people love talking about themselves! Use names early and often.

Visual #2: Atop the nameplate sits a large white house.
Ask where someone lives or where they grew up. When people talk about their hometown they loosen up and you find many common connections.

Visual #3: Inside the house is a family playing board games by the fire.
Ask about family and important relationships!

Visual #4: On the fireplace is a large work glove and a clock.
Work and daily tasks are a huge part of identity. Chat about work, school, or how they spend their TIME.

Visual #5: The work glove holds the tail of an airplane.
Many people adore traveling and talk for hours about their adventures.

Visual #6: The propeller of the airplane is a tennis racket.
Ask people about leisure, hobbies, and what brings them joy.

Visual #7: The airplane propeller is attached by a lightbulb.
People love to discuss books they’ve read or concepts of interest. People think cool thoughts; encourage them to SHARE!

Visual #8: On the lightbulb stands a Private First-Class soldier.
If you want to genuinely connect, never forget to ask about Problems, Frustrations, and Concerns.

Visual #9: The soldier holds a football goal post and a trophy.
If you want to inspire, be sure to ask about goals, dreams, and accomplishments. Affirm and encourage people too!

A Guaranteed Return on Investment

Why make conversation? Because success stems from relationships, and great conversations always bring a 100% return. So, go enjoy people, and stop in to see us soon. We look forward to more wonderful conversations with you this year!

Read More

Using Continuity to Strengthen Your Branding Efforts

Your brand is a lot more than just a name or a logo. It’s the feeling that someone gets when they come into contact, any contact, with your organization. In fact, the thing that really increases engagement and drives loyalty isn’t your products or services (though, to be fair, they do help quite a bit) – it’s this idea of the larger brand itself.

Because someone could potentially have that experience with your brand, the idea of brand continuity could not be more important. Regardless of how someone interacts with your brand, it should all feel like it’s naturally coming from the same place at all times. To truly master the idea of using continuity to strengthen your branding efforts, there are a few key things you’ll need to keep in mind.

One Brand, One Voice – No Exceptions

Continuity means all of your marketing efforts need to feel as consistent as possible regardless of what those efforts happen to be. In the world of print marketing, this can be as simple as making sure that all of the fonts in your advertisements match (or at least reflect) the fonts on your actual products themselves. This can also encompass larger ideas, like if you revamp or redesign your company logo in one place you immediately roll it out everywhere at the same time to avoid confusion.

In a single word, your goal is “synchronicity.” Every marketing-related decision you make must serve two masters. First, it must be purpose-driven with a strategic move made with a specific payoff in mind. Secondly, you need to make sure that it is NOT a move that is ultimately at odds with the way you talk to customers, the relationship that you have with them, or the idea that they have of your brand to begin with. 

A Great Persona Makes All the Difference

Brand personas are incredibly helpful in this regard because they allow you to laser-focus your messaging on a few of your “ideal” customers in a way that makes it much easier to maintain one voice. If you segment your target audience into groups that are each represented by a singular fictional persona, it makes it much easier to make consistent decisions across all of your efforts. You can both make sure that continuity is preserved for all materials targeted at those people, but you can also easily get a “bigger picture” look about how each individual effort plays off of and compliments the rest. 

The impact of negative brand continuity isn’t limited to a customer getting their wire’s crossed. Eventually, this problem will create a challenge that is much harder to overcome – a total loss of brand value in general. Not only will this see fewer sales for your actual products and services, but the same will be true of any retailers that may sell your products as well. This, in turn, will create fractured relationships, which goes a long way towards putting you farther away from your goals, not closer to them.

Read More

You Don’t Demand Employee Trust. You Earn It.

Corporate culture is pretty much the key to everything in the world of business. According to a series of studies reported on by Forbes, nearly 90% of people who responded said that company culture was incredibly important for their firms. In fact, 92% said that they firmly believed that improving corporate culture would enhance the value of their business, while more than half of respondents said that corporate culture influences everything from productivity to creativity to profitability, value, growth and beyond.

At the same time, only 15% said that their company’s culture was where it needed to be.

It Begins at the Top

At first glance, these numbers may appear to be somewhat at odds with one another – but they really aren’t. Corporate culture begins at the top and, if anything, that 15% statistic can be attributed to one essential little word: trust. Leaders set the tone that affects the entire organization, and if employees don’t trust their leaders, they ultimately don’t trust the direction of the business that they’re devoting so much of their lives to.

Make no mistake: trust is not something that you can demand from your employees. It’s something that you have to earn – all day, every day. It’s also something that requires you to keep a few key things in mind.

Trust is a Privilege, Not a Right

Yes, you worked incredibly hard to become the leader that you are today. You put in long hours. You worked weekends. You devoted the majority of your life to your career and a constant push to achieve bigger and better things for yourself. Now you’re in charge of the proverbial ship, and everyone should just trust that you know what you’re doing by default, right? 

There’s an old rule of storytelling that says that whenever possible, “show, don’t tell.” That essentially means that instead of having a character talk about some important development in the plot, SHOW the development instead by having them do something active. It’s why in “Star Wars,” instead of just having people stand around and talk about how bad the Death Star is, we see it blow up a planet to convey the same information in a much more active way.

This is the same mentality you need to adopt if you want to start earning the trust of your employees. If you make a mistake, don’t shift the blame – accept responsibility. Don’t ask any employee to do anything that you would be unwilling to do yourself. If you want people to come in on the weekend, you should also come in on the weekend. If you need your team to work long hours, guess what – you need to work them, too.

Show You Care

Every day, look for new opportunities to show your employees that you not only value what they do but that you’re all in this together. Remember that their productivity, hard work, and excellent performance needs to benefit more than just you and your career – it needs to positively impact them, too. They’re not going to follow you into battle because you tell them to. They have to want to do so.

The only way you can get to that point is if they trust you, and the only way you can get to THAT point is if you’re someone worth trusting. This simple distinction is often what separates a good leader from a great one.

Read More

Why You Should Try to Incorporate the Holidays Into Your Marketing Efforts

If it seems like more and more marketers are incorporating holiday-themed elements into their campaigns, you’re absolutely right. Though some may think this is a symptom of the commercialization of events like Thanksgiving or Christmas, it really isn’t – at least, not if you approach it from the right angle. In truth, incorporating the holidays into your larger marketing efforts is and will always be a good idea for a number of compelling reasons. 

It’s All About Timeliness

Most marketing campaigns live and die by their timeliness. After all, what is a piece of marketing collateral if not a sure-fire way to get the right message in front of the right people at the right time? But this idea can take on a far greater meaning, particularly as far as the holidays are concerned.

Consider the fact that according to one recent study, about one-third of all shoppers reported that one or more holiday weekend purchases (think: Black Friday) were driven specifically by promotions. Likewise, another study revealed that in 2017 alone the average per person holiday spending will reach a new high of $805.65.

The ability to say “I’m having a one day sale for the holidays and here are all the details you need to know” is a great way to light a fire and motivate someone to make a purchase. But the reason why you should always try to incorporate the holidays into your marketing efforts runs far deeper than that.

In many ways, it plays directly into another one of the strengths of thoughtfully designed marketing collateral: emotion. You’re not just trying to establish a connection with someone – you’re trying to do so in the most emotional way possible. Connections based on emotions are the ones that instill a great sense of customer and brand loyalty. 

What, then, could possibly be more emotional than the holiday season?

Capitalizing on Emotion

Think about it from the perspective of your average consumer. The holidays are something that they spend a huge portion of the year thinking about. They’re devoting a large amount of their day at this point to getting ready for Christmas. They’re looking forward to reconnecting with friends and family members that they may have lost touch with throughout the course of their busy year. 

Emotions are already running incredibly high. So why on Earth would you NOT want to take advantage of that?

Making an effort to incorporate the holidays into your marketing efforts – even in some small way – taps directly into what people are already feeling all across this season. Even if you’re not running a holiday promotion, making an effort to use holiday-themed visuals – or even just wishing your audience a heartfelt “Happy Holidays” – goes a long way towards connecting YOUR brand with what THEY are experiencing in the moment. 

It’s also something that you can never begin too early – particularly considering that 49% of marketers now say that they begin their holiday campaigns BEFORE Halloween. Make no mistake about it: if you’re able to successfully connect with your audience via a holiday-themed campaign at the end of the year, you’ll be building the type of emotional bridge directly to your audience that will serve you both well. 

Read More

What Your Customers are Worth (and Why it Matters)

 

What is the value of a customer? What profit can they bring this week? This year? Over a lifetime? It may seem like a simple concept, but many small businesses have no idea what a regular customer is worth to their business. This creates two problems:

  • Uncertainty about effective marketing. What is the number of new customers you’d like to attract and what is an appropriate budget to do that? Defining a customer value will guide your marketing strategies!
  • Ambivalence regarding customer retention. With a metric for measuring customer values, you can navigate appropriate parameters for retaining them or expanding their business. Research shows that increasing customer retention rates by merely 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%!

Customer Lifetime Value

While there are many complex formulas for calculating a Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), a basic approach is to break calculations into five digestible portions, like this:

  1. Average Order Value (AOV). On the most basic level, AOV is calculated by how much money is spent per customer in a year, divided by how many orders are placed by that customer in that timeframe. 
  2. Purchase Frequency (f). Take the number of orders/visits/transactions from the past year and divide it by the number of unique customers you had. The total equals frequency, or how often an average customer purchased from you. 
  3. Customer Value (cv). The base value of a customer can be calculated by multiplying the AOV by the purchase frequency (cv = AOV * f). In this instance, the customer value is being calculated for one year. 
  4. Average Lifespan/Time (t). A customer’s lifespan is how long they actively connect with your business before they move on or go dormant. This can be a complex calculation, but to keep things simple you can either give a broad estimate (an educated guess) or you can calculate an average based on a select number of known customers (adding the length of each of their commitments and dividing by the number of customers). For example: Total Length of Commitment/Number of Individual Customers = Average Customer Lifespan (t).
  5. Customer Lifetime Value (CLV). Now that you’ve got a general idea of a customer’s value for a year and the average customer lifespan, you can use these variables for a lifetime value: Customer value (cv) * Average Lifespan (t) = Customer Lifetime Value (CLV)

While this is a very simplified equation, even a ballpark CLV can give you a more accurate idea of how valuable each client is to your business. What should you look to spend in order to gain a customer? How much should you spend to extend their loyalty? A benchmark CLV will give you a helpful base for marketing, loyalty programs, and sales goals for the upcoming year. Take a look at a more complex approach Starbucks has taken to determine their CLV as a whopping $14,099!1 

Your Customers Are Your Future

A customer represents the future of your success and your livelihood, and it will be difficult to thrive if you aren’t willing to risk or invest to attract new business. What are your obstacles to expanding your reach or enlarging your advertising? Has the uncertainty of direct mail marketing kept your business from growing? Why not rely on our expertise? We offer sophisticated, simple ways to reach a mass audience for an amount that works within your budget. Need a creative concept or help to carry it to completion? We offer prompt, knowledgeable service for every custom design mailing. Give us a call today!

Read More

The Lessons Taught by The Movie “Office Space”

The Lessons Taught by The Movie “Office Space”

Close your eyes and picture this: On your early morning commute, you get stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Your senses are bombarded with horns honking, the sound of breaks squeaking, and the pungent smell of exhaust. Your reward for making it through this mess isn’t much better. Your individual cubicle awaits, lit only by artificial lights which have a way of making you look sick and feel hopeless. Once you arrive in your allotted space, you are faced with mountains of redundant, seemingly meaningless tasks you must complete, while answering to eight different bosses who don’t communicate amongst themselves. 

If the movie “Office Space” came to mind during this exercise, you are getting the right idea. While the movie’s comedic portrayal of an office environment is exaggerated, as business owners, it’s wise to learn the lessons you can glean from it.

Delegate

Bill Lumbergh is the boss in the movie “Office Space.” He is often seen hanging around Peter’s (main character’s) cubicle, overreaching his boundaries and seemingly controlling every aspect of Peter’s day. Peter also has eight bosses other than Bill, or maybe including him. This means everything has to be repeated over and over to the point of insanity. This drives Peter crazy, and it is not productive either.

Lesson #1: Give your employees what they need to do the job: training, materials, etc. Then, let them work. Get out of their way. Studies have even proven that micromanaging can cause employees to perform at a lower level, not higher. Just imagine trying to do even a simple task with someone standing right over your shoulder, and it’s easy to understand why micromanaging is so detrimental. 

Provide Well Functioning Equipment/Updated Software

In the movie, the copy machine almost takes on the role of character thanks to the fact that it is so detested by Michael and the other main characters. It seems this copier/printer will never work properly, which causes endless difficulties. Peter, Samir, and Michael (main characters) end up destroying the machine in a rural field outside town after their frustrations reach a boiling over point.

Lesson #2: You should provide your employees with what they need to get their job done as mentioned above. Sure, things break. That’s understandable. However, expecting your employees to continue to use subpar equipment, computer, software, etc. yet still pushing them to meet deadlines and maintain the same level of production simply isn’t fair.

Create a High-Quality Working Environment

It is no wonder the characters of “Office Space” so detest their jobs. They work in 6′ x 6′ cubicles with no windows. In addition, Peter is situated right across from another employee who patches calls through, so in essence, she spends all day saying “just a moment” in an irritatingly spunky voice.

Lesson #3: Cubicles are sometimes unavoidable in today’s office buildings. However, give your employees the freedom to move around to break up their day. Make sure you have seating available for your employees outside where they can walk around and enjoy being outdoors. If outdoor space isn’t an option, at least make sure you provide a lounge with couches or comfortable chairs where employees can go to take a break from their own cubicle walls.

Most employees understand that doing business in today’s technology-saturated society often means they are required to sit at a desk and work on a computer most of the day. This doesn’t have to look like the movie “Office Space,” though. Thankfully, with a little thought and purposeful planning, you can ensure your employees never feel like Peter or the other characters from the movie. Simply adhere to these lessons from “Office Space,” and you will be heading in the right direction. 

Read More