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 Amazon.com, "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."

Freeing Yourself From the PowerPoint Security Blanket

When you think meetings, do you think PowerPoint slides? I sure do. Every meeting I'm in these days (offline and online) is a lovely compendium of slides and the thing that gets really monotonous is that the person who speaks forgets how good of a speaker he or she usually is and just starts reading off the PowerPoint slides. Yawn.

Here's a few tips to get out from under your PowerPoint crutch:

1. Tell good stories. Any human storyteller with an ounce of talent is a 100 percent improvement over rehashed slides or statistics. A story gets them every time. If you want to use slides, get one with a picture that represents the story you want to tell. When talking about how to sell ice cream, use ice cream as the visual. Totally more interesting. And then you'll get a run on the fro-yo machine in the break room.

2. Try to consider whether or not you'll even need slides for your speech. A nicely designed slide show can really show you off (lots of slides needed for all your accreditations and accomplishments, sure), but a slide for every single thing you say can quickly overpower your presence in the room and become the focal point of your presentation. Can you just skip it during your next speech? Wouldn't it be nice not to have to compete with a machine for your audience's attention?

3. A slide of vapid statistics really has no meaning. If you want to report those statistics, why not put them into context. "This year we'll see a 67% growth in our international division." That's an easy thing for attendees to jot down. Showing a screen full of numbers requires someone to use a calculator to get to that same 67% statistic and makes people crazy and thus need way too much caffeine.

4. Create yourself a PowerPoint presentation on paper, but then use it only to guide you as you speak. For the really important points when you must have a slide, insert a highlighted stage direction to yourself-"Put up slide #5 now"-and then you'll only be punctuating your speech with those wonderful tidbits that attendees can use as takeaways, which they will. At other times, when there should not be a slide, make sure you use the function key to darken the screen, keeping the audience attention right where it should be-on you.

5. Remember Seth Godin's rule of thumb: no more than six words on a slide. If you think Seth's advice is crazy, check out Seth's astute guide to PowerPoint here. If you're still not convinced, think back to the best presentation you ever sat through and try to copy your next presentation to match. I bet it was succinct and sparse. Right?

Follow even one of these rules and you'll be giving better presentations than most corporations in America. Don't your employees and clients deserve that from you?

Maintain Trust with Consumers While Still Getting Feedback

When registration for the National Do Not Call list was opened on July 27, 2003, the Federal Trade Commission was praised for trying to limit the amount of telemarketing and fundraising calls that consumers received.   The FTC's decision to allow consumers a way to control what comes through their phone lines has been a welcome change, since it's a service that's paid for, and why should a phone company get to sell your information out to some marketing company that wants to ask you if you've been reading magazines? They shouldn't.

Much the same is said for the ongoing battle concerning the "do not track" list. Ultimately, it works the same as the Do Not Call registry.  Instead of preventing unwanted calls, it prevents marketing and advertising firms from tracking your cookies while you browse the internet. The reason marketers do this is to streamline advertising to a more personalized client base. If someone were to spend a lot of time looking at surfboards or reading about surfing, a marketing company could assign popup ads to that specific IP address or set of cookies, to ensure that the user receives ‘special offers' from companies that provide surfing equipment and facilities. Advertisers see it as an online version of Nielsen ratings, just tracking what people are looking at the same way they follow what people are watching on TV.  Consumers see it as an invasion of privacy and that ‘big brother' is watching. The difference to consumers is that families are chosen to be Nielsen families but when cookies are tracked, there's really no way to keep someone from looking.

This puts marketing and advertising firms in a tough spot. How do they keep a trusting relationship with their consumers  without invading their privacy, while still  determining where business is being generated? Most advertising and marketing firms will run multiple types of campaigns at once -  direct mail pieces, emails, various publishing ads, and website updates. What can be done to track responses without invading customer privacy and keeping those consumers loyal?

One  solution that is growing in popularity is  assigning custom toll-free numbers to each marketing campaign. The cost of maintaining each number per month is very low and it's a great way to know which campaigns are generating the most excitement. If a firm has a magazine and an email campaign going on at the same time, then using distinguishing  toll-free numbers  is a great way to track the response from the consumers. This way the firm isn't really invading anyone's privacy or making their consumers uncomfortable, but  they are still able to track the information they need.

Not only is this a low cost option, these calls can also be recorded.  What better way to know what campaign is generating the most business AND what consumers ask about most?  By using a toll-free service that offers recording, companies can go back and revisit calls that might have had good suggestions or numerous questions to make sure that campaigns are not causing confusion. If a consumer would like to provide a testimonial for you to host on your website, they can use the toll-free recording service. The file is then provided on a customer website and available for the firm to download and move to a website.

There's always a fine line when it comes to keeping consumers and clients happy while being able to conduct your business and get feedback. Consumers don't want to feel like their privacy is invaded, but advertisers and marketing firms want to be able to gather information so they can tailor campaigns to groups of targeted consumers. Using a custom toll-free number is the perfect way to track interest while helping your consumers to feel safe and secure.

How to Strengthen Your Business’s Social Media Platform

So how does a small business deal with their social media platform? You ventured online and tried out a few. You stuck with two: Facebook and Twitter. What do you do now?

It's truly the "Wild West of social media," and while many businesses have blogs, use Twitter to post newsy articles or to announce a play by play of their teleseminars, and have profiles and pages on Facebook (with discussion related to a recent companywide conference call), unfortunately, they're making a lot of mistakes.

Before you shrug off social media as something your business doesn't need to keep up with, think about how your business is perceived in the Web 2.0 world and how it will affect your reputation and your ability to connect with customers, associates, and potential customers. Will potential clients be impressed by a business owner who barely blogs, rarely posts to Twitter, or refuses to really use Facebook? Do you know how much you can do with Facebook for your business? Read on. It does depends on who you are attempting to reach, but if you are going to utilize social media and really make it work, your business needs to translate to the Internet very well. More than likely, your business does look better online.  All nice and shiny. How do you keep it that way?

Here's a few tips to enlarge your presence in the social media frenzy online (more particularly, Facebook and Twitter).

1. Bare bones won't fly. If you are on Facebook with little more than your name, business name, and location, people just won't care. Social media is a way to interact with others online. Add a picture of you, your team, or your company's logo, add web site urls, link your Facebook page to your blog, or start a group for your employees or clients and initiate conversations in that group. You can create a business network (a la Acme Consulting) and within your network, you can update everyone on a company conference call, or for some silly fun, you can challenge your employees to a game of PackRat (seriously, the hottest Facebook game out there).

2. Don't bore your Twitter feed to tears. Post interesting urls on news, gossip, or articles that will help your employees or clients (do they want to read about oil consumption or new cell phone gadgets?) Make sure your content fits. Announce new products or services on Twitter, or publicize a teleseminar. Don't just say how the weather looks outside, use your status to get people interested in your business.

3. Don't be afraid to start the conversation. Accept and invite friends from all over and update often, either using the status updater or by imbedding a note into your profile. Ask questions to stimulate discussion, for instance, "What was the worst experience you've ever had on a conference call?" The new comment feature on everything in the Facebook profile allows conversations that were once confined to specific sections.

4. Twitter is even easier to use to start chatting. Try following leaders and innovators in your industry and in other industries. Respond to their tweets with your own comments (@JSmith Did you see this article? and then link to the article). That will get more people coming to your Twitter feed to find out information you have that might be useful to them.

5. Above all, give new content and often. The number one mistake businesses make with social media is thinking that a static web page or Facebook profile or Twitter feed will do the trick. If you last posted six months (even three months) ago, it's time to fire up your social media engine. Go to it!

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.

Don't Forget the "Green Room"

The conference call goes live and suddenly you are faced with a crowd of people listening in their phones, all waiting for the words coming through your receiver. If you have prepared yourself and know what you're talking about you'll be fine. Admittedly, facing an audience is easier through a phone than on a stage with them right in front of you, but you still have to be ready and you must have your team and speakers ready as well.

This is where your pre-conference, or "Green Room" comes in. It's a good idea to have the organizers and speakers dial in to a conference ten to fifteen minutes early. Since you have given them speaker codes, you and they will be separate from the participants who are muted and listening to hold music. It is in this virtual green room that you can go over the timing and content of your conference call. Then at meeting start time, you can exit pre-conference by pressing *3 which ends the hold music, keeps the participants muted, but allows everyone to hear the speakers.

The green room isn't just for the beginning of conference calls, you can switch back and forth as necessary. A good time to go back to the green room is during each break. This puts the participants back with the hold music and you and your speakers can discuss how the previous section went and prepare or make changes for the next section. The hold music also becomes a great indicator for the participants as when it disappears, they know that the conference has begun again.

Keeping the same page is vital for a great conference. Using the green room is a way to stay on top of things as well as be flexible for any changes along the way, all while displaying professionalism and putting on a great show.

Five Conference Call Guidelines Your Probably Don't Think About

1. Talking clearly, near to the phone - especially in a large conference room with many people around you and many more on the phone line. If you're nowhere near the phone, get closer. If you're near the phone, face it. If you're speaking, remember someone is listening from very far away and the clearer you can make your presentation, the better it will come across.

2. Skip inside jokes; they don't translate well. It's all fun and games until someone can't understand you. I sit on conference calls that are mostly inside jokes and laughter for about half the call. This is great fun for those in the conference room at the other end of my phone line, but I miss most of it. If you have an inside joke, wait for later, or let everyone hear it. This also cuts down on extraneous jokes that really aren't appropriate.

3. Conference rooms should have closed windows. This is a significant problem with conference calls during the summer when construction is everywhere and it's hot in the building. The sirens, the traffic noises, and construction noises really come across louder on a phone line if the windows are open in the conference room. If you have to open the window, crack it and if that gets so loud outside that even you can hear it, remember the people on the phone can hear it more. Close the window until at least the main part of the presentation or meeting is complete and then get some air. Air conditioning is also a novel idea for conference rooms. Hint, hint.

4. Introduce yourselves and let people on the phone introduce themselves. Then use your name each time you talk for a few rounds. "This is Mark, can I ask a question?" This helps the people on the phone and in the room realize that you are speaking to them too. This also helps to cut down on confusion as to who's talking as well.

5. Ask the people on the phone if they need any clarification. Every ten minutes or so, just stop and make sure everyone both in the room and on the phone are tracking the meeting. This is helpful, because many people on a phone line aren't sure when to break in to ask you to speak up and if they don't ask, no one in your conference room will have a clue that anything is amiss. Check in with everyone often and that should clear up any lingering issues with regard to hearing and comprehension.

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!

Communication 101

We all communicate when we are around another human being, even if no one is saying anything. Body language can speak volumes. Even the fact that a person is at a place at a particular time can say it all. What isn't intrinsically clear to a lot of people is that we don't always communicate when we speak, or at least don't communicate well. Often and most especially in arguments, people are thinking they are speaking clearly, but the other person just won't get it… or won't shut up. Obviously there is no communication happening, but there are things you can do to make it happen.

Sarah Fenson in Inc.com wrote about several tips you can do to improve your communication. One is to keep your emotions out of the conversation. Often you simply cannot hear what the other person is saying simply for your frustration with the situation, or the indignity that you feel. Another tip is to acknowledge we have personal filters that sometimes make us hear what we want to hear. Asking for clarification, or repeating back the high points are good ways to bypass the filter. Two other great tips are to look for common ground with the other person and maintain a positive outlook. Both of which will help you go far to overcome miscommunications.

Some specific tips for good communication through speaking come from Bert Webb's blog, Open Loops. There are two that especially stand out. The first, making eye contact will not only let the other person know you are paying attention, but it will also pin their attention to what you are saying. The second tip is to make sure your facial expressions, body language, and words all deliver the same message. If you are smiling while delivering bad news, the mixed message will ensure mixed-up communications.