Archive for the ‘ Communication ’ Category

Where do good ideas come from? How to get strategic ideas from line workers.

Ideas are everywhere, but many companies, and leaders struggle to get their teams to speak up and share ideas.  Why?  Some employees may feel it isn’t worth it, that their ideas are not good enough or valuable.  Or that surely, someone “smarter” than them would have already done it or suggested it. Perhaps, they don’t feel comfortable making suggestions or challenging the process.

As a leader there are several things you can do to solicit ideas.  Here are a few:

  1. Ask.  Sound simple?  It is.  Try it.  But when you get a good idea, find a way to celebrate it – publicly.  When you get a bad idea, or one that could never be implemented, don’t shut it down.  Ask more questions.  Understand the idea or spirit behind it.  Let the presenter be heard.  And Celebrate it – publicly!
  2. Suggestion Box (really just another from of asking) – I have seen companies set up digital and analog versions of this. Some work, others don’t.  Just setting up the box isn’t good enough, and the downfall of the process when it doesn’t work.  You need to design a vetting process – maybe as simple as a select group of people to filter each idea, ask the presenter more questions and formalize the process of getting a sponsor somewhere in the organization.  Creating a vetting process helps everyone involved feel engaged and a part of the future.
  3. Focus group meetings – Schedule a meeting with a handful of staff to meet with at least one member of management. Encourage feedback on processes and procedures. Maybe something isn’t working quite as well as you hoped, this might be a good time to figure out why. We met with the owner of one of the top ski resorts here it Utah. Once a month, he schedules a group of his line staff to come in and meet with management. At least one member of management is required to be there. If he is traveling, he makes sure to send someone else, etc. He told us that some of the best ideas have come from those meetings

When an employee is hired, they bring their whole body and mind with them.  It is up to us as leaders to get that out of them, and to have them use all the tools they bring with them.  If ideas aren’t floating around and being harnessed, encouraged, vetted and implemented it is time to look at culture.  What is missing?

Written by Zack Clark, MBA

Zack is a Senior Consultant and one of the founding partners at Five Degrees Consulting. Connect with on LinkedIn and Twitter, or leave a comment below.

This is a blog we share  between several of the Consultants at Five Degrees, guest authors and colleagues.  We work with companies large and small on People and Organization strategies.  Our work specializes in organizational development, leadership effectiveness and executive development. With a focus on working with leaders at all levels to create an intentional corporate culture, we help organizations increase employee engagement, energize working teams, develop critical leadership competencies and enhance strategic communications for more information about our services, please connect with us.

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What is Culture, and how do I get one?

Culture can be defined as the shared attitudes, values, beliefs, goals and practices of an organization.  Simply, it is the sum of how we think, behave and operate as a group.  Every organization has a culture; some are just better than others.

Some corporate cultures are a sum of the manner that participants have thought, behaved and operated for years, and can be really toxic.  Unwritten rules of engagement that inhibit innovation, free flow of information and ultimately create an environment where people are constantly defending their actions, and spend more time playing political games than working in the best interest of the customer, team or organization.

Other corporate cultures are defined intentionally, and create environments where learning, growing and achieving are common.   Where the value of each player contributes to the overall success of the organization.

Most organizations are likely somewhere in the middle, which likely yields some departments, or teams, which are highly functioning, and others who are not.  In these types of organizations, upper-middle management is likely stuck, and any thought of “Culture Change” is scary.  What’s wrong with the culture we have?!

Creating an intentional culture begins with defining the purpose and values of the organization.  Why does the organization exist?  What do we want to stand for?  How can we get the best of our people to achieve that purpose?

Leadership and corporate culture in the 21st century will look much different than it’s hierarchical 20th century parent.  Motivating employees to unite behind the organization’s purpose will be key.  Aligning reward systems, and measurement around allowing each person to contribute her best, which just happens to also be the best for the customer, environment, stakeholder and shareholder will be key to sustainability, viability and corporate success in the 21st Century. This type of culture will require managers and leaders to engage, connect with and share information.  Micromanaging will not work.  Top-down goal setting will not achieve buy-in required to create long-term results.

All organizations have a culture; some are just better than others.  When you think about your organization, do you have the culture you want, or the culture that is just the sum of the behaviors, thinking and operating rules built by years of practice?

What companies are you aware of that have a clearly defined and visible culture? Google and Apple are a couple that I always think of. Perhaps, you have an experience with a company that doesn’t have an apparent culture. This might be apparent due to having completely different customer service experiences with different employees. One person gives a promise while the other person says, “Oh, I am sorry, they shouldn’t have told you that.” Let us hear your thoughts!

Written by Zack Clark, MBA

Zack is a Senior Consultant and one of the founding partners at Five Degrees Consulting. Connect with on LinkedIn and Twitter, or leave a comment below.

This is a blog we share  between several of the Consultants at Five Degrees, guest authors and colleagues.  We work with companies large and small on People and Organization strategies.  Our work specializes in organizational development, leadership effectiveness and executive development. With a focus on working with leaders at all levels to create an intentional corporate culture, we help organizations increase employee engagement, energize working teams, develop critical leadership competencies and enhance strategic communications for more information about our services, please connect with us.

My Inbox is Out of Control!

My Inbox is Out of Control!

If you are like many executives in today’s fast-paced, digitally interconnected world, you receive some overwhelming number of email each day.  In 2004 it was estimated that the average worker sent 34 and received 99.  In 2009 researches estimated that the average size of a persons inbox was nearly 3000 messages!

A few tips on managing that out of control beast:

Prioritize / Filter

–       Color-code contacts – Outlook and other programs allow you to add colors or categories to your contact lists.  When email comes in from those contacts, the subject line is the color of their “category”.  I keep family one color, customers another, and vendors another.  This allows me to quickly prioritize in what order to respond and allows me to visually sort through the messages.

–       Use multiple accounts – Use a separate account for those things that might be optional, or lower priority like subscriptions to news sites, social media, blog feeds or even online purchases.  Visit those when you have time for lower-priority tasks and reserve your primary address for those important messages

Touch them once

If you can, respond to the message, forward to someone else (delegate the task) and don’t come back to the message.  Once you have responded, get it out of the Inbox.  If you need to keep it, set up folders in the system to allow you to archive and find it later.  If you don’t need to archive, use the delete button.  Never look back at the message again.   Keeping your inbox small will allow you to see everything in front of you that you still need to deal with and will feel much less overwhelming than the 3,000 items which are lurking there now.

Schedule Email time

Schedule time in your day to “DO EMAIL”.  Having your email program running in the background means that every time a message comes in, you are prone to be distracted from whatever else you are working on.  Find a routine that fits: Once an hour, Three times a day, whatever works for your email volume and your daily schedule.

I would love to hear any additional tips you might have for managing your inbox!

Written by Zack Clark, MBA

Zack is a Senior Consultant and one of the founding partners at Five Degrees Consulting. Connect with on LinkedIn and Twitter, or leave a comment below.

This is a blog we share  between several of the Consultants at Five Degrees, guest authors and colleagues.  We work with companies large and small on People and Organization strategies.  Our work specializes in organizational development, leadership effectiveness and executive development. With a focus on working with leaders at all levels to create an intentional corporate culture, we help organizations increase employee engagement, energize working teams, develop critical leadership competencies and enhance strategic communications for more information about our services, please connect with us.

Put down the keyboard and pick up the phone-why email sucks!

It just took me 12 back-and-forth messages to set up a very simple meeting.  I now cannot help but consider how much faster it could have been done if the other person and I could have had a 2 minute phone discussion.  Certainly we would have arrived at the same conclusion, but in a much faster time frame.

Which leads me to my point – as convenient as it might be, email is not the best form of communication for complicated information, for personal correspondence or for any message which might have an emotional component.

Clarity of Message – Even the best of writers may struggle making some points in a written, email acceptable format.

Importance – Email can be ignored, delayed, lost in transmission.  When the message has urgency or importance behind it, nothing helps the receiver understand the importance like hearing it directly from you.

Emotion – The reader cannot see our smiles, cannot hear the intonation of the comments and may be lost with the spirit of the writing.  A sentence that may deliver necessary levity or seriousness when spoken lacks the intended punch when written.

People like to connect to other people.  Email can be so impersonal.  Next time pick up the phone, you might be surprised at the result.

Written by Zack Clark, MBA

Zack is a Senior Consultant and one of the founding partners at Five Degrees Consulting. Connect with on LinkedIn and Twitter, or leave a comment below.

This is a blog we share  between several of the Consultants at Five Degrees, guest authors and colleagues.  We work with companies large and small on People and Organization strategies.  Our work specializes in organizational development, leadership effectiveness and executive development. With a focus on working with leaders at all levels to create an intentional corporate culture, we help organizations increase employee engagement, energize working teams, develop critical leadership competencies and enhance strategic communications for more information about our services, please connect with us.

But, I don’t have a network!!

Well, you should be ashamed of yourself then.  Certainly there are people who know and like you, and people you know and  like.  That’s a network.  The question is, if they needed something could they call on you?  Would they know why they should?  If you needed something would the people in your “network” take your call and be willing to help?

4.5 keys to having a successful network (# 4 is really long):

  1. Be Authentic – I think I might say this in every blog topic I write.  Be the real you.  Don’t try to play a role you are unfit to play.  Learn the value you have to others, learn how to authentically communicate what you do, who you are and the value in knowing you.
  2. Cultivate relationships before you need them – A professional or peer network is only as good as the relationships.  Waiting to build the relationship until you need to ask someone for guidance, advice, a job or anything when they havent heard from you for years, or don’t even know who you are could prove challenging.  Set a goal to ‘ping’ valuable network contacts every so-often to keep the relationship alive.  My best advice – keep it about them, not about you. Always use a pay-it-forward approach and offer help / assistance.  They will then ‘owe you’ when you most need it.
  3. Know your value – what are you good at, what do you know? Who do you know?  How can you help.  Get clear about that.  A fun exercise is to keep track for a month what types of things people ask you for.  What are you best known for?  Keep a list.  If it is different that what you want to be known for, think about your personal brand.
  4. Use technology – LinkedIn, FaceBook, Twitter – whatever.  Use technology to keep in touch.

I personally use LinkedIn for business, Facebook for friends.  That line is blurring slightly, as I really like some of the people I do business with, and would consider them friends and welcome them to see under the hood of my personal life.  Define your own boundaries there.

Make sure your online profile that you use for professional networking matches the brand you want the world to see, then use the technology to congratulate people on new jobs or other updates you read online.

Build your own online network by searching for people you worked with in the past and present – think as high up the chain as possible, and to people who reported to your direct reports, vendors, partners, clients.  Stay in touch.  The world of business is small – you never know who you might cross paths with again in the future.

When you are inviting someone to connect, I suggest writing a personal message.  LinkedIn has their standard “I’d like to add you to my professional network” text.  I like to use something a little more personal.  “it was great meeting you at _____.  I enjoyed your talk on______.  I would love to keep in touch via LinkedIn..”  or something similar.

After accepting someone’s invitation to connect, respond with a “thanks for reaching out” message.  Start building your online rapport and relationship the moment you hit ‘accept’

Having an established professional network can be incredibly valuable.  It is not about the # of connections or friends you have, but the quality of the relationships.

Written by Zack Clark, MBA

Zack is a Senior Consultant and one of the founding partners at Five Degrees Consulting. Connect with on LinkedIn and Twitter, or leave a comment below.

This is a blog we share  between several of the Consultants at Five Degrees, guest authors and colleagues.  We work with companies large and small on People and Organization strategies.  Our work specializes in organizational development, leadership effectiveness and executive development. With a focus on working with leaders at all levels to create an intentional corporate culture, we help organizations increase employee engagement, energize working teams, develop critical leadership competencies and enhance strategic communications for more information about our services, please connect with us.

Delivering Dynamic Presentations

Perhaps the most important piece of communication that every leader needs to perfect on their rise to the top is the ability to deliver an effective presentation.

Too often today presentations tend to be boring, meetings drone on seemingly not to have a point, and many presenters read their PowerPoint slides to us (I could have read it on my own…).  And while we are talking about PowerPoint – these presentations tend to have too many slides, with too many distracting images, movement or too many words.

This afternoon I am flying out to deliver one of my favorite workshops that we teach – “Delivering Dynamic Presentations”.  In this two-day workshop we teach both experienced and inexperienced presenters a variety of skills. Among them:

What’s Your Point:  Perhaps the most commonly missed preparation point that presenters make.  Essentially it boils down to answering the questions:  What should the audience be thinking, feeling or doing as a result of this presentation.  (two side notes:  a. Who is the audience, and why are they there, and b. what if every meeting organizer thought about their “point” before they sent the Outlook invite…)

Managing and Harnessing pre-presentation jitters:  Every time you present you are playing a role.  We work with presenters on calming their nerves and using that energy to show up as their ‘branded’ self.  Playing the ‘real you’ and targeting energy, movement and language to the audience.

Presentation Outline:  Our overall outline and structure we teach is simple, and one that matches several other models.  Start by getting the audience’s attention in a relevant, respectful and reasonable manner, Make your points and sub-points with clarity, summarize, ask for questions and wrap up in control.  Leaving the presentation in control helps the presenter ensure their points were heard.  –another mistake presenters made is to conclude, ask for questions and leave the stage.  If the last question unraveled the presenter’s main point they just lost.

Visual Aids:  Technology can and does fail.  Many presentations rely too much on slides.  Presentations should be about the speaker, and the message the speaker has; slides should provide visual illustrations and help make the point.

Giving a great presentation can earn credibility and position the speaker for both additional speaking engagements and open them to further career growth.  Giving a bad presentation can be an anchor, and can (and probably does) slowly drive the audience away from listening to you.   Start giving great presentations by a. defining your point, practicing in advance, using slides as a visual, not a crutch.

Written by Zack Clark, MBA

Zack is a Senior Consultant and one of the founding partners at Five Degrees Consulting. Connect with on LinkedIn and Twitter, or leave a comment below.

This is a blog we share  between several of the Consultants at Five Degrees, guest authors and colleagues.  We work with companies large and small on People and Organization strategies.  Our work specializes in organizational development, leadership effectiveness and executive development. With a focus on working with leaders at all levels to create an intentional corporate culture, we help organizations increase employee engagement, energize working teams, develop critical leadership competencies and enhance strategic communications for more information about our services, please connect with us.

Elevator Pitches

A skill every businessperson, and perhaps every person should have is the perfect answer to the question ”what do you do” – especially if you are a business owner or work in sales.  Speaking about your business, it’s value, or your value as an individual is a skill we should all take more time to perfect.  While you may not always (or ever) have this discussion in an elevator, the premise is that you can succinctly make your point, in about the time it would take to ride an elevator.

What’s your point:  As you develop your original pitch, make sure you are clear on your point.  Just as when preparing any presentation, define what you want the audience to be thinking, feeling or doing after hearing from you.  Maybe you want them to want to invest in your company, maybe you want them to buy something, maybe you just want them to want to talk to you again – it’s like dating in a way.

Relevance:  Your elevator pitch should be fluid, flexible and a living thing.  As you speak you should provide detail, content and stories that are relevant to the audience will help keep their interest.

Be Authentic:  Always be you.  Never try to play a role that you are not suited to play. As I work with MBA students, I frequently see people try to assume a character, speak using un-natural sounding big words.  Frequently, trying to sound different, smarter or more than you are will backfire.

Keep it fresh:  An Elevator pitch is not a script, it is a clearly articulated set of points that is relevant to your audience, and helps establish credibility and ultimately achieves your objective – More time with them, the sale, the investment, the date – whatever.  Don’t be afraid to try new things and give a different “Pitch” each time.  Just make sure you are following the other rules as outlined above.

So who am I?  I am an entrepreneur at heart, which by default means I juggle a multi-role professional life and am involved in multiple businesses, but in this instance I am a management consultant who helps organizations and individuals develop and execute strategies through their people.  I am passionate about leadership and helping others find their authentic leadership style.

Written by Zack Clark, MBA

Zack is a Senior Consultant and one of the founding partners at Five Degrees Consulting. Connect with on LinkedIn and Twitter, or leave a comment below.

This is a blog we share  between several of the Consultants at Five Degrees, guest authors and colleagues.  We work with companies large and small on People and Organization strategies.  Our work specializes in organizational development, leadership effectiveness and executive development. With a focus on working with leaders at all levels to create an intentional corporate culture, we help organizations increase employee engagement, energize working teams, develop critical leadership competencies and enhance strategic communications for more information about our services, please connect with us.

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