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Are You Ready To Save Your Company?

Posted on Mon, Feb 22, 2010

How To Have A Smart Approach In The Event of Crisis

Even the best-run companies in America know that they have to be prepared for a crisis. The time and effort your organization puts into this preparation can mean the difference between recovering and closing your doors. Savvy executives know that if you fail to plan crisis communication procedures, it will quickly spiral out of control, and your chances of recovering greatly diminish.

A textbook case of how it can go all wrong is the way the Boston Archdiocese’s handled the revelations about pedophilia among priests. While the Church made many mistakes, it was their shocking evidence of the archdiocese’s cover-up that ultimately destroyed credibility. While the crimes were horrific, the church’s complicity with the criminal acts and hiding the evidence were what really outraged the public. When thousands of documents detailing Cardinal Bernard Law’s knowledge of the priest pedophilia plaguing parishes were finally uncovered, the crisis that had began almost a year earlier erupted with new force, resulting in the long-awaited resignation of Cardinal Law.

Because the situation was so disturbing, the focus of the Catholic Church story has largely been on the horror of the events, but the importance of examining this case in terms of crisis management is undeniable. What we witnessed was a devastating lack of the fundamental rules of crisis management. By evaluating a situation of this magnitude from a crisis management perspective, we can learn how to prevent any business crisis from spinning out of control.

A helpful way to view the crisis is to think of it like an illness. “Like a cold, if we take correct preventative action, we can avoid a crisis,” says renowned crisis communications author Stephen Fink. And just like a cold, when the germs are too strong to fight, you may still get sick.

But if the situation is handled correctly, the crisis can be nursed with care until the situation is remedied, so it is shorter and less debilitating.

Here are some crisis management tips every corporation should practice:

1.Take immediate action if a problem arises, either internally or externally.

This is why companies have and fully utilize crisis management plans and experienced PR teams: press releases and conferences communicate what to avoid the appearance of a coverup.

What should have been managed properly and promptly by the archdiocesan personnel was swept into file cabinets and ignored. No matter how much power it yields, an organization cannot subscribe to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy. Remember, the longer something is covered up, the deeper the grave the company has dug for itself in the end.

2. Keep employees in the loop.

GEICO Auto Insurance learned this lesson the hard way in its early years, when the management communicated only with the media during a bankruptcy crisis, and left their employees reading about the company’s status in the morning papers. Soon, their own employees doubted them more than the media did. While communicating with the press is definitely key to coming out of a crisis on top, management must also remember to keep their employees informed to maintain a culture of trust, understanding and support. Utilize internal memos, meetings, and the company intranet to keep employees updated.

3. Admit your mistake.

If your company has made a mistake, admit it. If you’ve been wrongly accused, state your innocence and be able to back it up. Always tell the truth, because if you weave a web of lies, it will come back to you tenfold. Complexity of the situation cannot be an excuse; Enron’s complex web of deceit was still ultimately uncovered and understood. Even if your company has done something to seriously injure its credibility, companies that offer a public, heartfelt apology are more likely to earn back respect and credibility than companies who continue to shift the blame elsewhere. Consider the Exxon Valdez oil spill: the CEO and other members of the top management refused to take the blame that was obviously theirs and ended up with a disgruntled and angry public.

4. Resignations are an option.

The importance of Cardinal Law’s resignation from the Boston Archdiocese should be a model for other organizations undergoing a similar destruction of reputation. A resignation—forced or voluntary—should not be seen as a cop-out, but rather as a necessary step in a recovery back to credibility. Think of it as damage control. How could a company move on with the same management that caused the loss of credibility in the first place?

Let’s say for a moment you have a dead tree in your yard. Even if the tree is well-rooted in the soil, and has had a history of flourish and plentitude, when it becomes dead wood, it becomes a hazard to your property. To reduce that hazard, you have the tree uprooted. The weakened soil is cultivated until it becomes fertile enough to plant again. Resignations are very much like a removal of a dead tree—you directly uproot the problem from the company, tend to its damaged culture, and start fresh with a new leader.

5. Write a communications plan.

Be sure that every key person in your organization knows who to call, who to bring into the situation and what the plans are in the event of a crisis. Give those who will be dealing with the media, employees, investors and other key constituents full access to decisions as they are happening and be sure everyone is in the loop on your goal for appropriate full disclosure.

Lawyers, outside consultants, key decision makers and others have to be on the same team before any crisis so there is no question about who is in charge or what your highest values are if it ever happens.

6. Train your spokespersons.

Whether your executives or your public relations director are handling the brunt of communications, nothing is more important to rebuilding credibility than handling the media and the public in a crisis. You can make all the right decisions, but if you don’t communicate effectively you may still lose the battle for hearts and minds. Make sure the people who are handling the calls, dealing the public and talking to the press are well-trained.

A crisis can be an opportunity to build credibility if you handle it correctly.

Remember, like a cold, you can prevent a crisis: if you keep a watchful eye out for its signs, you can have control of its destructive forces. And if you find yourself tumbling in the depths of an unavoidable crisis, recall the tips above. With care, you could just save your company from those scathing newspaper headlines.

Tags: Strategy to Execution, Developing Leaders, Executive Communication

How To Get Credit For Your Ideas

Posted on Wed, Oct 21, 2009

By Paula Lyons

You’re doing great things at work. But no one seems to know about them, except those few on your own team. Somehow, you just haven’t found the right way to “tell your story” and get credit for your accomplishments, without feeling like an obnoxious braggart.

We grow up hearing “bragging isn’t nice,” but watch others earn a place in the spotlight.
What we often don’t learn, until much too late, is that being in the spotlight is a smart business strategy.

You gain nothing by being quiet when you have a good idea. You must learn to articulate what you’re doing and why. Look around! Those who are “top of mind” when it comes to choice assignments, promotions and raises are almost always those who have “cracked the code” and learned how to promote and market themselves, by talking about what they and their teams are doing, and by coming to the table with something important to say.

The higher you go in any organization the more important these skills become. The most
common complaint we hear from bosses is they want promising new executives “to be bigger.” They need to speak up and to “tell the story” of what they do and how they do it. They need to be contributors of big ideas. When they do this, they become stars. This isn’t bragging; it’s contributing.

Tooting your own horn is a fine and delicate art. Toot too loudly and you run the risk of alienating rather than impressing others. Toot too softly and you may never be heard. With preparation and a little common sense, you can become known for your successes and be perceived as that “can-do” problem-solver everyone wants on their team.

• First, create an intention; decide to master the tactful art of self-promotion.

• Then begin to record your successes in writing. Create a computer file or write them in a notebook. Why write them down? So you remember them, so that you can refer to them when you’re preparing for a performance review, interviewing for another job, or just looking for something to say when people ask you how work is going. In this hectic world we all live in, it is easy to forget, from month to month, all the things we do that have a positive impact on our department, on our company’s reputation or on its bottom line. Writing also boosts your confidence – on dark days, it empowers you by helping you remember what has worked in the past.

• Once you’re recorded what you’ve done, it is also important to write and re-write your
accomplishments until you find the most powerful way to speak to others about them.
Be specific. Add numbers, details, facts or percentages where appropriate. Use powerful
words. Keep your sentences short but packed with information.

• Then be sure to deliver your spoken messages with warmth, enthusiasm, and a natural conversational style. Your audience should feel you’re just chatting with them, whether you have an audience of 5 or 500.

• When you have great news, say so! “Great news, I’ve just landed my first $100,000 client!” or “Great news, I’ve just had an article published in the Boston Business Journal.”

• If you or your team receives written kudos or compliments, share them with your boss and others in your network. Forward complimentary e-mails or personal notes, selectively, with a short message of your own, such as: “I’d just like to share this with you” or “I thought you’d like this good news”. Better yet, when you know an internal or external client or customer is happy, ask them to write to your boss directly. Many are happy to do so.

• Take credit subtly by sharing your knowledge. At meetings, when it is relevant, let others know how you solved a particular problem or overcame an obstacle. And don’t forget to be liberal in your praise of others who contributed also. It’s gracious and shows you’re willing to develop and support all the members of your team.

Tags: Strategy to Execution, Developing Leaders

Creating Meaningful Moments

Posted on Tue, Sep 15, 2009

It’s that time of the year again – stacks of invitations are coming in for holiday parties and events. You look at the pile on your desk, and wonder how you’ll find the time.

After all, you also need to schedule a few hours to stand in absurdly long lines at the mall and to spend “quality time” with family and friends. Your first reaction may be to say “No,” to invitations. Can it possibly be worth it to rally at the end of a long day to attend a holiday business party?

Well I know most friends and many magazine articles advise you to simplify your life, say no, and reduce stress. I hate stress too. And you can only do so many things in one month. Yet, if you think about it; set aside your frenzied feelings for just a minute, you’ll recall that each year at this time you’ve probably gone to an event where you have truly connected with people and had fun.

During the holidays people are feeling upbeat, the atmosphere is festive. The business year is coming to a close, and people are looking forward to having time to relax. If your schedule is typical of most people’s today, you’re so busy that you’ve put people off for lunch or coffee for months. Keep it up and you don’t see some people for years at a time.

So, while it’s tempting to check no on those RSVPs, it is possible to be strategic, pick a few events and make the most of them. While you’re filling up your cup of eggnog at a holiday gathering, take a look around the room. Who’s there that you don’t normally see? Walk over and start up a conversation – you could in that moment start a lasting relationship that leads to opportunities you never imagined.

If you’re attending a party where you don’t know many people, consider it an advantage. Since the mood is festive, people are more receptive if you walk up and say hello. They are more likely to bring you into their circle of friends or introduce you to others. Conversation tends to be about fun stuff, and the things we really care about. That makes it more memorable.

A lot of people hate small talk. You don’t have to make it small. Ask a few questions until you hit on common ground and make it interesting. Take that conversation for a ride. Why is it important to do this? Because – small talk leads to big talk. Those conversations about nothing can lead to something wonderful.

Here are some tips on how to get the conversation going. (Excerpts from The Executive Guide to Networking and Building Relationships – due out in early 2006):

• Initiate the conversation. Make it easy by jumping in with the first question or
comment – people appreciate it. There is nothing more awkward than the first few
moments of a conversation. Someone who can take charge and move it forward
is regarded as a great conversationalist.

• Perfect the art of asking questions. Eventually you will hit on some common
ground – travel, restaurants, weekend activities, sporting events, schools attended,
children and family, schools, elderly parents. All of these are topics that lead
naturally to business conversation – the age of children leads to conversation
about private school, college, and grandchildren. Travel leads to free time, work
schedule, retirement, and goals for retirement, vacation homes and future plans.

• Watch people and really listen, with your eyes as well as your ears. Read
between the lines to truly “hear” what a person is saying. Imagine you are the
only two people in the room while they are talking and make it a mission to really
“get” who they are.

• Be genuinely curious. When you are genuinely interested, you can learn all kinds
of interesting things about clients and prospects that will help you make stronger
connections. Don’t be afraid to ask if they are retired or just thinking about it – what
they would do if they did retire, and how they have arrived at this point in their lives.

Everyone has a story to tell, and if you seem interested, it takes little prompting
to get him or her to talk.

• Make conversation two-way. Don’t make it an inquisition. Bring your own relevant
life experiences in, or – if it’s a stretch – the experiences of other people you know
who have something in common.

• If the conversation stops: Return to them, and ask them another question.
You never know where you’re going to find new opportunities. In fact, a colleague recently told a story about a family party she attended. She arrived thinking it would be like any other family party – updating aunts and uncles on the kids’ achievements, catching up with cousins she only saw once a year.

She ended up chatting with the new spouse of a cousin she hadn’t seen in a few years – turns out he had recently moved to a management position at a large company. When she told him what her business was – he said his colleague in another department had been thinking about calling someone to do exactly that kind of work. He passed along her name, and a month later, they signed a contract.

Just because the year is coming to an end doesn’t mean you have to wait until January to make new business relationships. As the song goes – it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Finding new prospective clients and making promising business relationships is a surefire way to make the end of the year even more wonderful!

Tags: Strategy to Execution, Developing Leaders

Speak Your Way to The Top: Busting Seven Speaking Myths

Posted on Tue, Sep 8, 2009

At some point in your career, speaking well could be the single factor that determines your success. You may have all the potential in the world but if your career feels stalled, the reason may be the way you are communicating with your important audiences. You may have enormous value to add to your business or organization.

But at a certain point, you won’t be able to bust through to the big jobs unless you can articulate your ideas fluidly and confidently.

What does this mean? It means mastering both the formal and informal presentation. It also means leading good meetings, conversation skills and writing, too. If you’re terrified at the prospect of speaking in high stakes situation, you may have bought into common myths about speaking. See if you recognize any of these false beliefs and then look at the realities of speaking your way to the top.

Myth #1: Only a few people are really good at speaking.

The truth is, even the greatest orators were not born with innate speaking skills. Everyone must learn to speak well. And despite what you might think, extroverts have no advantage over introverts. Each personality type brings some natural skills to speaking. Extroverts may love to get up in front of people, but they tend to under-prepare and therefore deliver weak, rambling messages. Introverts, on the other hand, spend all their time preparing, but they hate having an audience’s attention focused on them.

 

Like learning how to tie your shoes or to solve algebra problems, speaking requires a skill set you must learn.

 

Myth #2: If I just work really hard, someone is bound to notice.

Unless your boss is Ebeneezer Scrooge, chaining yourself to your desk and keeping your head down is not a good strategy for advancing your career. When you do that, you’re simply not visible: to your boss, to others you report to, to your colleagues, or to the people who report to you. So no one perceives you as effective. Of course you want and need to be productive, but you also want others to view you as a contributor, and that means speaking, formally and informally. Your regular, well-prepared communication with everyone you work with will make you highly visible, and before long everyone will see you as a real asset and potential star within the organization.

 

Myth #3: My silence is respectful.

In business, people perceive polite silence as being too quiet, as if you have nothing to say. If no one on the team knows anything about you or your ideas, or what value you bring to the team, even if you’re very smart and talented, you won’t be promoted. Start thinking through your strategic view and write it down. Then practice it so that you’re prepared to present and discuss your views in meetings with your boss and other colleagues.

 

When two people of equal value are in competition for a promotion, the one who can articulate the strategy and value will always get it.

 

Myth #4: There are no opportunities for me to speak.

You might feel as if you would put a lot of thought and work into a big presentation if one came your way, but you need to seek out those opportunities, big and small, and even create them if necessary. Remember that those senior to you judge you every day, assessing whether you have the right stuff to be a leader in the organization. When you begin speaking, you are, as James Hume says, “auditioning for leadership,” and with experience you’ll get better every time. So start with low-key, friendly audiences, like Toastmasters clubs, or offer to make a small brown bag presentation within your company or to your department. Volunteer to lead meetings. Whatever you decide to try, get started!

 

Myth #5: I don’t have time to prepare; I’ll just wing it.

Speaking with confidence and in a way that adds value is essential to your career success. Your presentation must have both content and style, so your delivery must be relaxed and confident. The only way to achieve that is to spend a lot of time preparing for any formal or informal presentation. As that wise person Anonymous said, “The best way to look like you know what you’re talking about is to know what you’re talking about.” So clear your calendar as much as you can and put in the time to prepare.

 

Myth #6: If my PowerPoint is great, my presentation will amaze them.

Preperation means more than untold hours putting together a killer slide show. Forget about the slides; if you outline some great, powerful ideas to speak about, place yourself in a room alone, and practice out loud, on your feet, you’re going to do well. Practicing like this is the single most important thing you can do to become a better speaker. No one cares about your slides anyway, and they definitely don’t want to listen to you reading aloud from the slides.

 

Myth #7: My utter terror is a sign I shouldn’t be speaking.

Don't mistake anxiety about speaking for an inability to speak. Although your apprehension may feel overwhelming, it is directly related to under-preparation. Like 98% of people, your nerves are your body’s way of telling you that you’re not ready to speak yet; you haven’t put in enough time writing, preparing, or practicing. Rather than letting it debilitate you, use your anxiety to mobilize you to take action, to drive you to get on your feet and practice. If you do, when you are in front of the audience, the hard work will be over, and you’ll experience how much fun you can have delivering the speech.

 

You’re As Good As You Decide To Be!

Though certainly prevalent, none of these common myths about speaking are true. Anyone, including you, can become a great speaker if you’re motivated to advance your career and willing to put in the time.

 

When you make a presentation, you will see immediate results. You may not receive a huge promotion after you speak just once, but speaking never fails to have a significant impact on careers. Every time you speak, you will create “buzz” about you, as people discuss what a great contributor you are and how much value you add to the organization. Senior management will recognize you for your confidence, initiative, and good ideas, and they will find ways to reward those qualities appropriately.

 

 

Tags: Strategy to Execution, Developing Leaders

All The Wrong Signals

Posted on Thu, Aug 20, 2009

How to Handle Personal Business without Hurting Your Image

By Suzanne Bates

Just today, I was setting up a time to meet with friends for dinner. What seemed efficient was to email my friend/colleague and my husband at the same time. The note came back from my friend, “5:30 sounds good, but it’s pretty scary that you’re emailing your husband!”

While her jab was lighthearted and fun, it reminded me how easy it is to send the wrong signal.

The reality of business life today is that with 24/7 communication and people working longer hours, business bleeds into our personal time. So it is virtually impossible not to allow personal business to bleed into the workplace.

We are working longer hours and yet all of us want to be sure we are there for our family and friends, and that we have a rich, fulfilling personal life.

The trouble is that the blurring of the boundaries can damage our professional image. If we send inappropriately personal emails, have personal phone conversations others can hear, fax a personal document and leave it in the bin by mistake, we are letting people into our personal lives and setting ourselves up for scrutiny.

While we may think we’re keeping things humming along, we may unintentionally send signals like:

• My job doesn’t come first

• I can’t manage my time

• I am clueless about appropriate business/personal boundaries

Some bosses and co-workers might even think you’re being disrespectful to your company by conducting personal business at work. It’s easy to think “I’m here 10 hours a day; I have the right to spend some of that time doing personal things.” But remember, many people have the tendency to focus on the negative rather than the positive. That is, others may not notice how long you’re in the office. They’ll only notice the unconstructive things you’re doing while you’re there.

 

 

Especially with the advent of the Internet, it’s become easier and easier to conduct personal business at work. Paying bills, checking your kids’ soccer schedules, looking up a recipe for dinner, etc... You may think you’re “just doing this quickly,” but be mindful of how long it actually takes, and who is watching.

Here are some tips to make sure you’re not damaging your professional image by conducting personal business in the workplace:

• Close the door on a personal call, or take it outside on your cell phone. Don’t subject others to personal conversations.

• If you do take a personal call, keep it short, and avoid any topic that would make others who hear you uncomfortable. No one in your office needs to hear your heated argument with your spouse or about your less-than-appealing health problem.

• Some companies have policies on personal email. Some are prohibiting it. Play by the rules and play it safe. Don’t send it if you wouldn’t want your boss to read it or if you wouldn’t want it posted on the bulletin board.

• Be extremely judicious about faxing personal documents from your office.It’s too easy to forget the original.

• Imagine you’re the boss, and you’re the one walking by someone’s desk while they’re filling out a mortgage application or creating a party invitation. How would you feel? Whenever you’re tempted to do something like that at the office, give it the “boss” test, put yourself in their shoes, and then decide if it’s really worth it.

Tags: Strategy to Execution, Developing Leaders

It's Time To Jazz Up Your Speeches

Posted on Sat, Jul 18, 2009

CEOs give speeches. It doesn’t mean they like it. Many experienced speakers don’t enjoy it. However, giving a good speech can make it a lot more fun.

Stories: A great beginning (and middle and end)

You must begin well. One of the best ways to start a speech is a story. The story should introduce a pivotal theme of your speech. It isn’t enough to tell just any funny or interesting story – it should be relevant to the main theme. The story can have suspense, conflict and/or humor, and it should introduce your topic. The story should be something that your audience will understand.

You also may want to put yourself into the story, although you should not be the focus of the story.

By putting yourself in the story, as an observer or player, people learn something about you. When they learn something about you, they become more interested in you. Whatever your topic, audiences want to know about you; vignettes help them understand where you’re coming from and why you are there. There is only one caution: avoid making yourself the central character of the first story. That can come across as arrogant or self-centered. Speaker, author and storyteller Marcia Reynolds taught me, “In the beginning of your speech, you have not yet earned the right to focus on yourself.”

Original stories always work best with an audience. Repeating other speaker’s stories is risky. Your audience may already have heard them. Audiences want to know your point of view, what you have seen, or how you see the world. Original stories don’t have to be about you, but they can be about people, places and events you have witnessed or heard about. Your stories are authentic and more interesting. It’s worth taking time to come up with original stories.

Finding your own stories isn’t as hard as it sounds. Look at your everyday life—events, challenges, conflicts, surprises, and learning experiences. As you do so, start to keep a journal, either a notebook or a computer file. When something interesting happens, even if it’s just the kernel of an idea, jot it down. It may take a few weeks or even months to fully develop the story.

But by keeping a journal, you kick your brain into gear.

In my view, a good story has two elements: conflict, and a few well-placed details. Conflict carries people along, keeps them in suspense and makes them wonder what’s going to happen.

Detail makes it real; the audience is able to see how it looked or hear how it sounded.

Descriptions of people or places, dates, times, visuals, sounds, nicknames—a few of these go a long way. Don’t go overboard with detail; provide just enough to make it real.

Once you have a good story, keep it. The same story can make a lot of different points. You’ll want to start a journal to keep track of your best stories.

Larry Lucchino, CEO of the Boston Red Sox, has a personal journal, The Brockett Book, put together by his mentor Bill Brockett, a colleague from Yale Law School. When Brockett died, Lucchino kept the journal and added his own stories, famous quotes, funny lines, anecdotes and words of wisdom. The Brockett book— which rivals the New York Yellow Pages in length—is an amazing resource, and it keeps
growing. Lucchino explains, “If I see a newspaper article, I put it in. It’s alphabetized so you can find everything from funny lines on economics and law to serious quotes from Emerson and Oscar Wilde.”

Tags: Strategy to Execution, Developing Leaders

What Your Sign-Off Is Really Saying

Posted on Tue, Jul 14, 2009

by Kristin Edelhauser

You've just finished composing an e-mail to a potential client you've talked with a few times before.

Now for the tricky part: your sign-off. Should you use "Sincerely," "Kind regards" or "Cheers"? How do you sound friendly without coming across as unprofessional? And then there are the e-mails to your employees, business contacts and friendly acquaintances.

Unfortunately, there's no "e-mail bible" to guide you. That's why we contacted two business communication experts to discuss what's appropriate. Suzanne Bates, president and CEO of Bates Communications, Inc. and author of Speak Like a CEO: Secrets For Commanding Attention and Getting Results, and Cherie Kerr, founder of ExecuProv and author of The Bliss or "Diss" Connection? Email Etiquette For The Business Professional, pair up to give expert insight into the world of e-mail correspondence.

Read on to find out what message your favorite e-mail goodbye is actually sending.

The salutation: "Thanks"

Bates: It's OK if you're actually thanking people. But keep in mind it is casual; you should know them if you're using this sign-off.

Kerr: This is one of the safest and most courteous of the salutations. It keeps it pleasant, but professional.

The salutation: "Ciao"

Bates: This isn't for business, except for fashion, art or real Italians.

Kerr: "Ciao" should only be used for close buddies or work pals. It's not appropriate for business purposes.

The salutation: "Sincerely"

Bates: Tried and true for a formal business close, and you'll never offend anyone.

Kerr: A bit too formal for e-mail. This salutation can put people off. People really expect this in a letter, not an e-mail.

The salutation: "Kind regards"

Bates: This is a great all-purpose business salutation. It may be best for people you have corresponded with in the past.

Kerr: This is one I use quite often. I like some kind of warmth, but also keep it business-like. I tend to use "Kindest regards."

The salutation: "Regards"

Bates: It's less friendly than "Kind regards," and can be a bit perfunctory, but it generally works well.

Kerr: This salutation is a little short and a little distant, but at least it's a closing message.

The salutation: "Best"

Bates: "Best" is colloquial, but fine for someone you know. "Best wishes" or "Best regards" would be better for business.

Kerr: This is another acceptable sign-off, especially if you're using it with someone you know really well.

The salutation: "Cheers"

Bates: Only use this sign-off for friends and business colleagues you might meet for coffee.

Kerr: You can use this with someone you know well, but if you're trying to make a business impression, this is not a great way to say goodbye when you're first doing business with someone. Save it for after having established a bond.

The salutation: "TGIF"

Bates: Never use this salutation for your boss.

Kerr: Use it for a good work buddy at clock-out time on Friday.

The salutation: "Talk soon"

Bates: Very nice for a friend, but you better mean it.

Kerr: It's a nice way to sign-off. It lets the other person know there will be phone or face time soon, and that's important and appreciated in this wacky age of e-mail. People need to talk more.

The salutation: "Later"

Bates: Not appropriate for business correspondence; it sounds like you're 14 years old.

Kerr: Only use this salutation in friendly business relationships.

The salutation: "Cordially"

Bates: It's a little old-fashioned, but not offensive.

Kerr: This is safe and pleasant and gives people a "feel good" close at the end of your e-mail.

The salutation: "Yours truly"

Bates: Excellent for formal business.

Kerr: Too formal for e-mail.

The salutation: No salutation at all – just an electronic signature

Bates: There is a school of thought that an e-mail is not a letter; I don't subscribe to that. I think most people come to the end of a note and expect a closing. It could come across as abrupt without one. It may also subtly say, "I'm in a hurry," "I don't know how to sign- off," or "I'm not someone who cares about niceties."

Kerr: Always use a salutation, but don't be redundant. Change it up. That makes people think you care by taking the time to "converse" with them by e-mail.

Aside from salutations, Bates and Kerr pointed out a few other e-mail faux pas:

• Avoid writing in caps. Bates says people will be so perplexed that the e-mail is in all caps that they won't be focusing on what you have to say. Kerr agrees, pointing out that writing in bold or caps comes across in an e-mail as yelling. "Even saying 'Have a good day' in all caps might sound sarcastic," says Kerr.

• Don't use emoticons. Smiley faces and different expressions can be fun to use, but according to both experts, they're not appropriate for business correspondence. "They're not professional, however, they're quite common. My advice is, for business, leave them out," advises Bates. Kerr suggests trying to use appropriate words to convey the feelings you're trying to express.

• Think before you write. Profanity is definitely an e-mail no-no. Kerr says profanity hits harder on the computer screen than when you might say it in passing. She also recommends limiting use of the word "really" or other intensifiers. According to Bates, a good rule of thumb is, "Avoid using any word you wouldn't want to see on the front page of The New York Times with your signature next to it."

• Consider the context of the e-mail and the receiver when using trendy words. A popular sign-off entering plenty of in-boxes right now is "Cheers." Bates suggests thinking about the e-mail text and the receiver before using a word like that. Stay current with your word choice so you don't appear behind the times. Kerr's favorite trendy salutation of late: "Muchly," sent to her by a friend.

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Tags: Strategy to Execution, Developing Leaders

How To Be Yourself in Front of an Audience

Posted on Wed, Jul 8, 2009

By Suzanne Bates

Effective leaders know how to be real, and they aren’t afraid to convey their own, authentic personal style. When you think of Jack Welch, Rudy Giuliani, or Bill Gates, an instant impression comes to mind. Most of what you know about a public person is based on what you see and hear when they speak. The best ones come across as real; they are who they are.

The ability to connect with the audience and convey who you are is a skill that will take you to the top of your industry. Be authentic with an audience of one or 1,000 and you can make things happen. When people connect with you, they are more inclined to listen and more apt to believe in you.

Clearly, it’s invaluable that in developing your speaking skill to allow the “real you” to
shine through.

As Abraham Lincoln said, "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all
of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time."

What is authentic? "It's what you believe," says John Hamill, chairman and CEO of a major bank. "I think what works is when you are excited about what you are saying. It isn't just the idea, but the emotion behind the idea that makes you successful.”

Audiences know when you believe what you're saying. All the acting in the world won't convince people if you are not speaking your truth. Jack Welch’s book, Straight from the Gut, discusses how he learned early in his career to be true to himself.

As most people know, Jack Welch shook up the culture at GE and became one of the most admired CEOs in the world. A large part of his success was the fact that people regarded him as authentic. Welch grew up as the son of an Irish-American railroad conductor, and many of the values and qualities he learned in his childhood stuck with him throughout his life, especially the fact that he is brutally honest.

In his autobiography, Welch says that when he got promoted, he considered conforming to corporate norms. As a newly minted Vice Chairman, he showed up at one of his first board meetings in a perfectly pressed blue suit, a starched white shirt and crisp red tie. A long-time colleague came up after the meeting, touched the suit, and said, “Jack, this isn’t you. You looked a lot better when you were just being yourself.”

Look up authentic in Webster’s and you’ll find something like “genuine, or known to be true.”

When you authenticate something, like a painting or an antique, you determine there is evidence of origin and value. Leaders who are authentic project something genuine about themselves. They aren’t afraid to let people see who they really are.

“Even the best CEOs have a difficult time in front of an audience,” says Peter Rollins, who hosts the ultimate power lunch: the CEO Club of Boston College. The CEO Club gets top-shelf CEO speakers from Ted Turner to Peter Lynch. “It’s trite but the only way to be authentic is to be yourself; as long as you have the content. Instead of being an actor, just be you,” he suggests.

“You can’t fake it,” adds Talbots CEO Arnold Zetcher. “Audiences know when you’re being real.”

Leaders who can’t be themselves in front of an audience create an authenticity gap, and an authenticity gap is a real problem. If you don’t appear or sound genuine, people pick it up and tend not to trust you or listen to what you have to say.

The authenticity gap creates a disconnection between a leader and the audience. The audience doesn’t buy it so the leader has a hard time building real relationships. People don’t like or trust people who don’t seem genuine.

How do you close the gap? Share your beliefs. Talk about your values. Be candid. Reveal your challenges. Share yourself. Allow that to extend to style as well as substance. If you’re from Texas, you talk like a Texan. If you’re a bank CEO, you wear a conservative suit. If you’re a family person, you put photos of your kids on your desk. There is no formula; you just have to let a little of you shine through.

Authenticity is about letting people “see” you, and you have to be consistent. While you adapt your message to the audience, you should not be a chameleon or adapt your persona, but, instead, be yourself and tailor your message to each audience’s unique interests.

The best advice in absolutely any situation is to be you. If you have a hearty laugh, then laugh. If you love loafers, wear them. If you would rather play squash than golf, then play squash.

Being you always works. Being somebody else never does. To be authentic is to bring YOU into a leadership role.

Oprah Winfrey, one of the wealthiest and most successful business leaders in the world, has made a living being herself on television – allowing her personality to come through has connected her to millions of viewers. "What we're all striving for is authenticity, a spirit-to-spirit connection," says Oprah.

One of the primary ideas we try to convey to the people we work with is that leaders need to be genuine. Honor your uniqueness, and share it with others. Don't be afraid to let a little of you shine through. With authenticity, you will win trust and respect from colleagues, clients, audiences and employees.

Material from this article was adapted from:
Speak Like a CEO: Secrets for Commanding Attention and Getting Results
Suzanne Bates (McGraw Hill, 2005)

To purchase a copy of Speak Like a CEO, go to Bates’ online store or www.amazon.com.

Tags: Strategy to Execution, Developing Leaders

Ask The Pro With Robert A. Gough, Jr. Ph.D

Posted on Tue, Jun 23, 2009

What Is Strategy, Anyway?

If you are going to succeed or you want your corporation to succeed, you have to think strategically. Short of winning a lottery or lucking out with perfectly aligned market forces, good strategy is necessary to success. Even in the face of serendipity, you maintain the fortune or lose it, based on the strength of your strategy.

To explore strategy, we sat down with Robert A. Gough, Jr., Ph.D., Managing Director of Lexington Partners, a strategic investment and advisory firm.

Q: Why Strategy?

A: Because change happens! Major change events fundamentally alter the way business is conducted. Such events can create tragedy for some. They can create exciting opportunities for others. The difference lies in strategy, specifically the strategic response to the event: doing something and doing it well compared to doing it poorly or simply doing nothing at all. Each carries and leads to major differences in outcomes.

Intel Corporation is one of the more well-known and successful U.S. corporations. Other than those close to or in the industry, however, few know that Intel is a very different company than it was at inception. In the mid-1980s, Japanese memory producers caused such an overwhelming inflection point in the memory chip business that it forced Intel out of the business and into, at the time, the relatively new field of microprocessors. During the worst of Intel’s adjustment and transition, then Intel Chairman and CEO, Gordon Moore, had a choice: fight a losing battle or change. History has already recorded and validated both the choice and the outcome. The reason? Good strategy.

Q: What is a Strategic Question?

A: The most common of all strategic questions: “Oh, no…now what do we do?”

A strategic question usually stems from a triggering event: shifts in market forces such as changing consumer tastes or new competitive products, changes in regulatory laws, new management, planned or otherwise, changes in ownership through a merger, acquisition, or buyout, or simply reaching an inflection point in growth in a company’s life cycle. All triggering events act as a stimulus for change; all demand a response in one form or another; and all cause strategic questions such as:

1. “Ok, now what?” or “What do we do now?” to

2. “What do we do as a result of…?” or “How do we achieve…now?” and “What path do we take now?”

Most such questions quickly evolve into more specific versions, but all strategic questions start at this very basic level. In short, it’s not hard to come up with broad strategic questions…particularly the most common of all!

Q: What is the Difference between Strategy and Business Planning?

A: Depth of analysis, degree of participation, and quality and extent of communications. Good strategic thinking like good communications usually evolves. It’s rare that an individual or corporation goes through all the appropriate steps in envisioning, designing and implementing a good strategic plan the first time attempted.

Strategic Management involves input and commitment from all levels of management. Planning groups are typically formed with managers from all levels and key employees across various departments and work groups to develop and integrate visions, implementation programs and procedures, evaluation techniques, and control measures all aimed at achieving the company’s primary objectives. Rather than relying on “forecasts” of the future, plans emphasize probable scenarios and contingency strategies. What makes strategic thinking different from all other planning processes is the input and commitment from all levels and areas of the company.

Participation in a design leads to “buy-in” of the plan which, in turn, leads to passion in execution.

Q: What does Good Strategy do for a Business?

A: “Out performance”! Research has shown that organizations that engage in strategic management generally outperform those that do not. Surveys have repeatedly shown that the three most common and important benefits of strategic management are:

1. A clearer sense of vision throughout the firm.

2. A sharper focus for all employees as to priorities of what is strategically important.

3. An improved understanding throughout the firm of the implications of rapidly changing markets and environments.

Q: What is a Strategic Decision?

A: Strategic decisions are rare, highly consequential and far reaching in their implications.

Unlike many types of decisions, strategic decisions don’t come across our paths that often. That may be good news to some. The bad news about the infrequency of such decisions is that they rarely if ever involve cookbook recipes or textbook answers. That means they typically have no precedents to follow. What is required to make good strategic decisions are “Five C’s”: creativity of the solution, confidence that it will work, clarity of the plan, communications throughout the organization, and passionate commitment to the success of the decision. All five ingredients are necessary conditions to the success of any strategic decision.

Q: What is Effective Strategy?

A: Effective strategy is about effective people…which means leadership and communications. If life didn’t change, strategy wouldn’t be so critical an ingredient to success. But life changes – sometimes quickly – and so the need for assessment, reflection, formulation of new plans, and execution comes to center stage for the serious corporate leader. Hence, the need for strategic thinking.

Fundamentally, strategy is relatively simple. It consists of four parts: (1) inputs about the external environment and internal culture and resources of the company; (2) the design and formulation of a strategy, consisting of clarity in a company’s primary mission, objectives, strategic plan, and policies or rules for decision making; (3) the actual implementation steps of the strategy, which includes the programs and activities required to accomplish the plan as well as the budgets and tactical procedures and sequence for carrying out the overall plan; and finally, (4) evaluation and performance tools for monitoring results. In other words, strategic management consists of evaluating a company’s opportunities and threats in light of its strengths and weaknesses – and then putting in place a game plan for success in light of all realities.

Q: What is the Biggest Mistake Leaders make in Developing a Strategy?

A: …only developing a strategy!

The critical part of strategy only begins when the objective has been envisioned and the plan formulated for achieving it. The analysis, the discussions about options, and the agonizing decisions are now over. Leadership now becomes the watchword.

Whether at Fortune 500 corporations or early stage companies, effective strategic leaders exhibit 5 common characteristics. In order of importance, they are:

1. A great communicator with a compelling message.

2. A realist who paints an image of a future that is exciting and plausible.

3. A person of character.

4. Creativity is in their blood.

5. A propensity towards action.

Q: What Do You Wish Every Leader Knew about Strategy?

A: …that effective strategy is about effective leadership. In fact, strategy is the key job function of the CEO, not operations, marketing, financial management, or any other corporate function. The primary role of the CEO is to architect the grand vision, orchestrate the plan for achieving it, and communicate it all in a compelling way that is both exciting and believable.

Q: How Can Leaders Be More Effective in Communicating Strategy?

A: Be open, share of yourself and who you are, but most of all, be authentic.

Strategy is not rocket science. Intellectually, it is not that difficult. What is difficult is to assess – substantively and with no constraints – your playing field as well as your own performance on it and to be open minded as to what you see and hear. What is difficult is mustering the courage to look in the mirror and be honest about present realities and future opportunities that may be very different from historical market rules and structures that have governed your game to date. It will be those who are willing to accept the tough but realistic answers they hear who will then begin to move their companies ahead of their competitors. It will be those who are “in the moment,” willing to “let go” and able to grab on to the new and do it through exciting strategic discussions that will set themselves apart as true, top-notch leaders. Those will be the leaders who will guide their corporations to be dubbed winners in this rapidly changing business landscape.

Dr. Gough is presently Managing Director of Lexington Partners, a strategic investment and advisory firm, where his primary responsibility is (1) identifying and supporting alternative investment opportunities, and (2) designing and implementing strategic growth initiatives. He has consulted with Fortune 500 decision makers, both domestically and abroad, national and international government policy makers, and dozens of emerging growth company entrepreneurs. He is renowned for his public speaking in both this country and abroad on the effects of economic, industry, and
technology issues as well as government policies on investment opportunities and alternative growth strategies.

Dr. Gough has been Economics Editor at WBZ-TV, the Boston NBC (now CBS) affiliate. He has frequently appeared on nationally televised programs such as the Lehrer News Hour, The Today Show, Good Morning America, and the CBS Evening News and others to discuss, analyze, and comment on topical economic issues and breaking news events. He has also consulted with various international and federal agencies, has testified before various U.S. House and Senate committees on a variety of economic, investment and government policies, as well as lectured frequently at numerous leading colleges and universities in the U.S.

He can be reached at r.gough@comcast.net.

Tags: Strategy to Execution, Developing Leaders

Presentations With Credibility: The 20-Minute Plan

Posted on Mon, Jun 22, 2009

There may be nothing so depressing as looking at your calendar and discovering you have to give a presentation. The pressure is on to make it good, but time is running out. What do you do?

Too often the answer is the wrong one: put it off until the last minute. A busy marketing executive I know fell into just this monthly rut: Hating to even think about putting together a big presentation, she would procrastinate until the night before a big meeting. Then she would spend the whole night typing up her report, wasting valuable time trying to get every word just right.

Without allowing time for practice, her lifeless reading the next day made her appear unprepared and uninterested. When she saw the training videotape I had prepared from one of these performances, she was horrified and knew something had to be done.

No matter what stage you have reached in your career, presentations are essential to your credibility.

Most people, consciously or not, make a connection between speaking skill and professional competence. Most of us are perfectly comfortable making conversational, off-the-cuff presentations with friendly audiences, like staff. But we lose the confidence to be ourselves in formal settings, in front of intimidating groups – and it shows.

But there is a way to take the anxiety out of preparing and delivering most presentations. It’s a simple method that shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes to do, including time for practice.

The hardest part about getting started is knowing where to start. Think about all the mediocre or miserable presentations that you’ve seen – and I’ll bet you’ve seen a lot. Now think about the really good ones. Where you begin makes all the difference.

The very worst thing you can do as a speaker is to talk about what is important to you. The first rule of any presentation is: know your audience. People are there to hear you talk about them.

So, begin by asking: what does the audience want to know?

That sounds like a no-brainer. But you’d be surprised how many speakers forget the responsibility that goes with being center-stage.

Think first about the audience. Write down the questions you think they would ask. Organizing a presentation is the hardest part, and knowing where to begin is half the battle.

Let’s say you are giving a talk on your company’s new media plan. In two to three minutes, if you put yourself in your audience’s shoes, you should be able to write down 10 to 12 questions they are likely to bring up. The list would look something like this:

• What are we doing and how does it affect me?
• Why are we doing it?
• What’s it going to cost?
• How did we decide on this plan?
• Why do we think it will work?
• What decisions do I have to make?
• What alternatives are there?
• When is it going to happen?
• How will we measure success?
• Who gets credit for this idea?

After you have asked the questions, spend the next several minutes answering them. Talk out each bullet point. If necessary, jot down notes next to each point. To be certain you’re getting it right, record your talk on an audiocassette. Listen, revise, and then go back and practice one more time.

Don’t look now but you’ve just written your speech, and you know it will be a good one because it tells the audience what the audience wants to know. You’ll have the added benefit of avoiding surprise follow-up questions, since your presentation should have answered most of them in the first place. Most important, you’ll sound brilliant. There is nothing more compelling and memorable than a speaker who gives a speech to an audience while appearing to have a conversation – and enjoys
herself while she is there.

Tags: Strategy to Execution, Developing Leaders

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