Teamwork is Still the Sign of a Great Leader

Business books, for business leaders (specifically CEOs) who are looking to solidify their team's effectiveness using insightfulness and teamwork, are available by the dozens. CEOs complain about the large number of business books they must slog through just to keep up. It's not just business leaders who read these books, however. A few years ago, NFL coaches and players began to wise up to the wisdom of business leadership books. There were things they could learn from these books too.

In 2005, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni, a consultant who writes books that teach valuable leadership lessons, became the "must read" book in the NFL, passed around to coach after coach, helping them to assess their team's effectiveness. The story, according to Publishers Weekly, is "the fable of a woman who, as CEO of a struggling Silicon Valley firm, took control of a dysfunctional executive committee and helped its members succeed as a team. Story time over, Lencioni offers explicit instructions for overcoming the human behavioral tendencies that he says corrupt teams (absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results). Succinct yet sympathetic, this guide will be a boon for those struggling with the inherent difficulties of leading a group."

Also in 2005, reported that "Lencioni says he is stunned his book is becoming a must-read for NFL head coaches. But its enthusiasts include:

  • San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Nolan, whose wife, Kathy, read it first and gave it to him.
  • Oakland Raiders coach Norv Turner, who thinks his copy came by way of his brother-in-law, but he's not sure.
  • San Diego Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer, who was given the book by Rolf Benirschke, the third-most-accurate kicker in NFL history. Benirschke, now retired, has passed out about 60 copies around the league.
  • Miami Dolphins rookie coach Nick Saban, who read the book in preparation for his transition from the college game at Louisiana State.
  • Cleveland Browns coach Romeo Crennel, who has used it to coordinate his talent scouts, loners who must come together as a team to somehow narrow the 300 best college players down to a handful of draftees.
  • Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who has distributed 20-plus copies to assistant coaches and players and keeps a four-color printout of the book's pyramid on his desk to remind him of the five dysfunctions that can cripple a team."
Since Lencioni's book, coaches and players have made it a habit to read other books on leadership and management success, including Sun Tzu's The Art of War, Jim Collins' Good to Great, Spencer Johnson's Who Moved My Cheese?, and many others.
Are there any leadership books you can think of that would translate well in the sports environment?


Post-Bailout Business Survival Tips

As the past few weeks have brought news of bank after bank failing, stock market yo-yo, and political gridlock, a lot of businesses are feeling the pinch. This election will be over soon, and hopefully, life will return to normalcy. Until then, however, a few ideas to keep your company moving forward, regardless of news headlines.

1. Keep marketing. No matter what happens, your marketing is your focus. It has to be. Marketing is your business and even though it seems foolish to spend precious funds on it, you should be spending some money on it. You can cut some things (think scalpel, not hatchet) from your marketing budget, but continue to make it a priority.

2. Communicate your long-term strategies—and your short-term strategies—to your employees. Keep everyone in the loop. Anxiety is high enough as it is. Don't hold ultra-secret meetings closed to lesser employees. Bring everyone in and talk about the tough economy, the uneasiness over the Wall Street bailout, and how it will shake out for your company (and each of those employees) and don't be afraid to use your real words. Be reassuring, be hopeful, be cautious, be open.

3. Don't drop your customer service focus. Your customers are feeling the pinch just like you and they need reassurance that the business world is doing all right. So, lay out the red carpet. Offer an impromptu sale when someone orders more than you expected. Listen to their concerns and make sure you act on them. In days like this, a little customer service goes a long way, believe me.

4. Cut costs where you can. Offer employees the chance to work from home if they are able, institute a spending freeze on extraneous expenses, such as business travel (think teleconference), fancy office machines and tools (put the purchase off for next year, unless you absolutely need the write-off), restructure for a week or two to get a difficult project out the door rather than hire on more freelance help, and so on.

5. Plan for better days. Nothing helps current gloom and doom by thinking ahead to better times. There will be better times. Have a brainstorming meeting. Create fancy flyers that you can hang around the office ("Plan Our Next Decade: 2010 and Beyond") and dream big. It will be fun, take the stress off for a while, and may result in some great ideas you can implement right now.

Just a few ideas for today as we wait to see how everything shakes out. We've been through worse and I'm hopeful things will be better. So plan for it!

Say Good Bye to Sticky Notes

Reminders are everywhere. It began with a ribbon around the finger and has evolved to mounds of sticky notes attached to every foreseeable corner of your desk. It's cluttered, messy, and not at all in line with your company's recent pledge to be more streamlined and efficient. Companies want written records and one of the most important things is about follow up. With conference calls, they can be so jam packed with information that sometimes it might feel like you are writing non stop throughout the whole thing just to take good notes on what you need to discuss more later on. Hopefully, you are recording every conference call.

The new call notes system can help you keep track of the information for particular conference calls. A single click of the mouse can tell you everything you need to know about a particular call. With the conference call note capability, now it's possible to go into the conference and add a tag (up to 100 characters) beside the conference name in the history.

The call notes column has been added to your conference account history.

If you're not sure where to start or why you would want to take advantage here are some perfect examples of why this feature is such a great addition.

  • Purpose: A lot of companies use their conference codes again and again, but still need to keep track of what was discussed on a specific conference call.
  • Editing Recordings: Many offices have a staff of people who handle the editing of call recordings. Usually they have to wait for the director or manager to let them know when and where the conference should be edited. With the conference notes system you can tag the call with the editing instructions for the person to know what you want on each call.
  • Initiation: Update the notes section to include the person who either initiated the conference or was moderating the call.  If you invited a speaker or even a VIP to the call, you can list their name in this section as well.
  • Task Manager: Use the call notes as a task manager. Instead of flooding yourself with handwritten notes about things that need to be done, use our online notes to keep track of which calls you need to have transcribed, which calls need to be uploaded for review, hosted on your website, or sent to individuals. Are you now planning to make some of these calls available for dial-in playback? Put a note into the call to remind yourself to go back and set the conference to allow for that. Are you ready to change your codes on a particular call? Make a note that says "need code change" to either remind yourself to do it or to let a secretary or assistant know that needs to be done.

Use the call notes system to indicate specific information about your call.


With an 800 forwarding account this feature is available as well

  • As an engineer or someone over seeing a large project, you can make call notes in your log regarding who was calling you and what they were calling about. If the contractor calls to let you know there's a delay you can make a simple note: "Contractor – delay in permits" that way you know what is going on without having to go into each recording.
  • Faxes: When you receive a fax through your forwarding number, the PDF is stored on your account log and by using the call notes system you can keep track of what the fax is regarding without needing to keep a printed copy of the fax.
  • Use the call notes system to track for business purposes. When a call is received the log can be updated to reflect the persons name, phone number, or content of the call.

By doing this, the need to keep written notes is further eliminated, allowing even more access to the things that are important, like business information, and taking one more step towards eliminating the sticky note pad all together.

Improved Data Safety for Businesses

You hear in the news practically on a weekly basis these days about thousands of user or employee records being lost due to theft of a secure laptop or file. While most businesses don't have the responsibility of anything nearly that large, the personal information of your employees and your own proprietary information needs to stay secure. What steps have you taken to protect your employee's information and your own business data?

1. Are your employee records under lock and key? If they are accessed electronically, is the password changed often? Is it accessed often or do limited persons have it for their use? How do you know who is viewing your employee's information?

2. When hiring people to handle your HR or accounting work, do you run a background check? The idea of running background checks might not seem palatable to most business that don't handle large amounts of confidential data, but isn't the information you hold important?

3. Can your IT person point out to you ways a hacker can get inside your network or onto your internal website? A good internet technology person can set up hack-proof systems that keep company data safe.

4. If there is a breach, do you have a way to notify your clients, customers, and the media? What would be a necessary plan of action if such a breach occurred?

Small businesses that think they're not susceptible to data breaches are often those that fare the worst in such situations. Just a simple emergency plan in case a breach occurs may be a wise idea. If you don't usually lock a file cabinet or office, start locking it. If you're not sure who of your employees has access to secure files, find out. If you want to make sure that only you and a select group of employees has access to data, take steps to ensure that happens. Make sure your IT person is aware of who needs access and if necessary, take steps to ensure that you can remove access with a simple key stroke. All these measures may seem extreme to companies busy with clients and the day-to-day workload, but taking a moment to ensure your own peace of mind will go a long way. It's just one less thing to keep in the back of your brain, trust me!

Does Your Web Site Attract or Turn Off Visitor

Too many businesses hire a web designer to create a masterpiece of wonder. The functionality is just okay, but the graphics are beautiful. Sure, that's great, but if you're interested in a web site that works hard for your business, here is a nice checklist of things to be aware of from usability specialist Steve Krug.

1. "Don't make me think." Krug says that "Most people are quite willing and able to think when it's necessary, but making them do it when there's nothing in it for them (other than compensating for your failure to sort things out properly) tends to be annoying."

2. "Keep me in mind at all times. Always make it easy for me to figure out where I am in your scheme of things. One of the best ways to do this is to give each page a name that tells me what's there, and display it prominently, near the top of the page."

3. "Keep the navigation in the same place on every page, so I don't have to go looking for it."

4. "Try not to overwhelm me with options. If you have a lot of content, organize the options into logical groups to make it seem like there are fewer of them."

5. "Organize the site according to what your users are going to be looking for, not according to your corporate org chart, or even according to your business priorities—unless they happen to coincide with your users' interests."

Krug's book Don't Make Me Think focuses on web usability and is a helpful print guide for anyone who updates web sites on a regular basis, whether for profit (if you're reading this for your business) and for information purposes only.

From "The title of the book is its chief personal design premise. All of the tips, techniques, and examples presented revolve around users being able to surf merrily through a well-designed site with minimal cognitive strain. Readers will quickly come to agree with many of the book's assumptions, such as ‘We don't read pages--we scan them' and ‘We don't figure out how things work--we muddle through.' Coming to grips with such hard facts sets the stage for Web design that then produces topnotch sites.

"Using an attractive mix of full-color screen shots, cute cartoons and diagrams, and informative sidebars, the book keeps your attention and drives home some crucial points. Much of the content is devoted to proper use of conventions and content layout, and the ‘before and after' examples are superb. Topics such as the wise use of rollovers and usability testing are covered using a consistently practical approach.

"This is the type of book you can blow through in a couple of evenings. But despite its conciseness, it will give you an expert's ability to judge Web design. You'll never form a first impression of a site in the same way again."

Where The Customers Are

What are your customers looking at online? How do you track their behavior? A couple of books on the subject explain where customers roam and their insights may help your business compete online.

Click: What Millions of People Do Online and Why It Matters by Bill Tancer monitors the online behavior of over 10 million customers and has come up with some interesting tidbits for companies who rely on Internet statistics for their marketing.

From "What time of year do teenage girls search for prom dresses online? How does the quick adoption of technology affect business success (and how is that related to corn farmers in Iowa)? How do time and money affect the gender of visitors to online dating sites? And how is the Internet itself affecting the way we experience the world? . . . As online directories replace the yellow pages, search engines replace traditional research, and news sites replace newsprint, we are in an age in which we've come to rely tremendously on the Internet—leaving behind a trail of information about ourselves as a culture and the direction in which we are headed. With surprising and practical insight, Tancer demonstrates how the Internet is changing the way we absorb information and how understanding that change can be used to our advantage in business and in life. Click analyzes the new generation of consumerism in a way no other book has before, showing how we use the Internet, and how those trends provide a wealth of market research nearly as vast as the Internet itself. Understanding how we change is integral to our success. After all, we are what we click."

Web 2.0: A Strategy Guide: Business Thinking and Strategies Behind Successful Web 2.0 Implementations by Amy Shuen "explains how to transform your business by looking at specific practices for integrating Web 2.0 with what you do." writes, "Web 2.0 makes headlines, but how does it make money? This concise guide explains what's different about Web 2.0 and how those differences can improve your company's bottom line. Whether you're an executive plotting the next move, a small business owner looking to expand, or an entrepreneur planning a startup, Web 2.0: A Strategy Guide illustrates through real-life examples how businesses, large and small, are creating new opportunities on today's Web. This book is about strategy. Rather than focus on the technology, the examples concentrate on its effect. You will learn that creating a Web 2.0 business, or integrating Web 2.0 strategies with your existing business, means creating places online where people like to come together to share what they think, see, and do. When people come together over the Web, the result can be much more than the sum of the parts. The customers themselves help build the site, as old-fashioned ‘word of mouth’ becomes hypergrowth."

Becoming Green Overnight

It may be one of the most overused buzzwords of the year, but "green" still has some serious purchasing power. Even in this unstable economic year, consumers want green first. They are serious about the drive to reduce waste and many say they are willing to pay more to reduce the footprint they leave behind.

Wonder how you can change your business to be more green? Wonder if that could be something you could brand? Read on.

1. If you offer a service or product that was developed to or will help to sustain the planet, that could be a key offering and promotional benefit. You could develop a marketing campaign around green to promote your upgraded product or service. Remember to talk up the green aspect as you sell this service or product at all points of customer contact. Word will spread and fast.

2. Can you offer services that cater to the new "green" businesses? If you are a finance broker, can you offer specialized services matching emerging eco-entrepreneurs with corporations? Can you find venture capitalists or angel investors who are particularly interested in emerging "green" businesses? If you are in the consulting business, these same emerging businesses need business plans, access to renewable energy, and strategic consulting on how environmental issues affect the company. See what I mean?

3. Can you become more green and launch a new brand or image by using solely green products? A beauty salon could use only nontoxic substitutes and become a "green" spa. A landscaping firm could strive to offer low-water services and take lawn clippings and other lawn refuse to add to a compost pile and then offer that compost to your clients. A garden center can cater to clients who want to plant drought-resistant yards, called xeriscaping, which needs 25% less water than other plants.

For more information on green businesses, check out Glenn Orston’s book 75 Green Businesses You Can Start to Make Money and Make a Difference, published last month by Entrepreneur Press.

Any way you look at it, businesses can utilize the "green" movement to become innovative and to produce products and services that consumers want and yearn to purchase. When a company is able to capitalize on such trends, they may also enjoy the ability to ride out the economic down times.

Back To School for Managers

It's fall. School's in session and everyone's hauling home books to do their homework. Are you doing your homework as a manager?

Try these "textbooks" for an easy autumn management curriculum.

First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman is yet another "best practices" book to business, but specifically about management style.

From, "Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman expose the fallacies of standard management thinking. . . . In seven chapters, the two consultants for the Gallup Organization debunk some dearly held notions about management, such as 'treat people as you like to be treated'; 'people are capable of almost anything'; and 'a manager's role is diminishing in today's economy.' 'Great managers are revolutionaries,' the authors write. 'This book will take you inside the minds of these managers to explain why they have toppled conventional wisdom and reveal the new truths they have forged in its place.'

The authors have culled their observations from more than 80,000 interviews conducted by Gallup during the past 25 years. Quoting leaders such as basketball coach Phil Jackson, Buckingham and Coffman outline ‘four keys' to becoming an excellent manager: Finding the right fit for employees, focusing on strengths of employees, defining the right results, and selecting staff for talent--not just knowledge and skills."

The New Pioneers: The Men and Women Who Are Transforming the Workplace and Marketplace by Thomas Petzinger Jr

From Publisher's Weekly, "Wall Street Journal columnist Petzinger (Hard Landing) does an excellent job of spotlighting the faces behind the businesses that are leading the way into what he calls the ‘new economy.' The new economy is entrepreneurial, not corporate; it stresses adaptation rather than bureaucratic planning, ‘teamwork' and ‘empowerment' rather than rigid command-and-control structures. While the stories of the people behind innovative companies are often intriguing, readers will be left wondering what to do with this information. Some readers will even find Petzinger's premise puzzling. For instance, his introductory example is an innovative Philadelphia pharmacy that managed to succeed in a poverty-stricken area of the city. Petzinger is full of justified admiration for the way the owner wedded his pharmacy to the community, offered employees profit sharing and made a mint. Ultimately, however, the owner was so successful that he sold his three stores to Rite-Aid. This inspiring and informative book would have been even better had Petzinger delved more deeply into the paradox that the successes and innovations of the new pioneers he celebrates coincide with an era of increasing corporate consolidation. Readers are left wanting more guidance from someone who clearly knows the territory."

Marketing and Leadership Tomes Worth Reading

Robert Cialdini is known for his scientific research on persuasion and a recent book covers just how persuasion works in influencing consumer behavior. Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive offers impressive research on the ability of marketers to persuade consumers to pay attention.

Publishers Weekly writes, "Goldstein, Martin and Cialdini meld social psychology, pop culture and field research to demonstrate how the subtle addition, subtraction or substitution of a word, phrase, symbol or gesture can significantly influence consumer behavior. Interspersing references to Britney Spears, the Smurfs and Sex and the City with more academic concepts such as loss aversion and the scarcity principle, the authors illustrate the simple and surprising approaches that can hone a company's marketing strategies. Witty chapters detail the allure of the yellow Post-it, the tip-garnering capabilities of an after-dinner mint, how highlighting a product's weaknesses can increase its appeal, the powerful role of third-party testimonials, how doctors can convince patients to adopt healthier choices by prominently displaying academic credentials in their offices, and how mirroring another person's gestures can elicit a more generous response by strengthening a perceived bond. While written primarily for a marketing audience, this amusing book has equal value and appeal for executives, salespeople—even parents trying to persuade their kids to do homework."

Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton, researchers at the Gallup Organization, present analysis on interviews conducted of over a million people about the best way to motivate people to accomplish their best. Their book, Discover Your Strengths, promises to offer "a unique perspective on successful management strategy and developing employees' strengths."

Library Journal writes, "The premise of this new management study, a follow-up to Buckingham's First, Break All the Rules (S. & S., 1999), is that the most effective method for motivating people is to build on their strengths rather than correcting their weaknesses. The authors, researchers at the Gallup Organization, have analyzed results of interviews conducted by Gallup of over 1.7 million employees from 101 companies and representing 63 countries. When asked, only 20 percent of these employees stated that they were using their strengths everyday. So that they can take a test revealing their strengths, readers are given access to the StrengthsFinder web site and a special ID number; once they learn their profile, they can read the analysis in the book. A description of each type is included, together with case studies, and managers are shown how to handle various types."

More great books for business owners to come in future posts.

The Green Train Continues For Businesses

As we move into September and October, tips for companies to "go green" continue to be the top items of interest both in business magazines and online. Here's a roundup of the top tips for businesses interested in going green

1. Add recycling bins to your office with easy to read and understand signs—Paper, Plastic, Glass. Encourage employees to recycle whenever possible.

2. Set up a "green committee" to discuss green issues in the office. Many minds gathered together to seek solutions are often more successful than just one. The committee can discuss possible ways to reduce the amount of printer ink and paper used in the office, can research new suppliers that may use greener production, and can report on ways to inspire other employees to participate.

3. Think small at first. Change out light bulbs, turn off lights in unused conference rooms, and cap supply orders on certain items: paper clips, pens, etc. You can cap bigger items, such as paper or ink, but you'll need to do some research on usage before you actually know how much to cut back.

4. Speaking of paper, set printers and copiers to print on both sides rather than just one side. This important change may require a re-jigging of office procedures, but it saves a lot of unnecessary paper waste.

5. Go digital. In a previous post on taming the paper tiger [insert link to this Accuconference blog post from week of August 11, 2008], we talked about scanning receipts and business papers for storage digitally. This also can be a way to avoid printing in the first place. If you have electronic invoices, why print them to file? Why not just move them to an appropriate folder on your computer? That way, no paper copies are necessary. What a great way to tame paper and to go green!

Remember, going green is a huge goal in itself, so setting a big goal to reduce paper usage or energy usage in a year's time is fine, but don’t get so caught up in the big goal that you forget the little actions. Little actions can add up to that bigger goal really fast and if every company did several little action steps to "go green," can you imagine how that will add up? It’s a great way to streamline a business—thinking in terms of curbing excess. And you're not doing it alone; we're all doing it these days. We just dropped our oil demands for the first time in 20 years in this country by banding together to reduce wasted trips in order to use less gas. It worked! Just think what we could do to save paper and ink expenses, even energy expenses, if we set our minds to it.

Go green!