Category Archives: Debra Koenig

What’s a Happy Employee Worth?

One of the items that comes up regularly in our employee surveys is a wish for improvements in our physical work environment, so we’ve made some investments recently in fresh coats of paint, removing clutter and keeping items in their proper place, and other efforts to polish and shine things up a bit.  We haven’t addressed every concern, but we are getting a positive response to the efforts we’ve made.

In the last Better Managers’ blog by Debra Koenig, she spoke about the “satisfaction mirror” in which happy employees result in happy customers.  We’re hoping that addressing the issue of physical environment improves the happiness quotient at our office and brings us closer to the many companies   whose happy employees have brought happy customers resulting in happy shareholders.

Google invested in providing a great dining experience for employees at its campus which also includes pool tables and swimming pools.  They were on track to hit an all-time high share price last month and currently rank #1 on the Forbes magazine Best Company to Work For list. The Parnassus Workplace Fund was created in 1984 – a mutual fund that includes companies that consistently land on that list – and it shows strong long-term growth, outpacing the S&P 500 Index for more than a decade. Dr. Noelle Nelson in her book “Make More Money by Making Your Employees Happy cites the example of Alcoa that determined that safety (not profit or any other typical measure of company success) would be its focus in the late 80s and into the 90s.  Significant improvements in safety resulted in happier employees and also annual income growth near 500%!

In the Harvard Business Review, Michael Schrage said that while the connection between happy employees, happy customers and company profitability can be valid, happy employees don’t always translate into profits. He cites Yahoo as an example of a company that isn’t currently performing well despite offering some of the perks that often indicate happy employees.  This is an appropriate caution that throwing perks and benefits at employees doesn’t automatically generate happy customers and broader organizational success.

Employees that are truly happy at work and not just showered with perks are the ones who are engaged, keep their skills current and are often part of innovation or process improvement teams.  To help identify which of your employees really like their jobs, the website www.happyemployees.org suggests you look for the following:

  • Promptness: anyone who is consistently late probably isn’t the most engaged or happy
  • Productive: gets work done on time and produces at rates higher than their peers
  • Trainable: interested in career development or skill training, volunteers for extra duties or projects
  • Communication: participates in the regular exchange of information about their work and the company’s success
  • Commitment: works overtime to get the job done, pulls together during difficult times
  • Service: for both internal and external customers, they work to keep all of them happy

Congratulations to those of you who already have a core of employees who fit the above description.  If you’d like to increase the number of happy engaged employees, use these Simple Guidelines to Drive Your Company’s Success:

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate – provide information and regular feedback; it shows that you respect, trust and value your employees
  • Keep promises – don’t offer what you can’t deliver, but deliver what you promise; if you don’t, you’ll undermine any of the respect and trust you may have generated by communicating
  • Pay attention to regular recognition – not all recognition has to be monetary, so don’t ignore the small ways you can thank and reward good performance
  • Support employee development – nothing says you value someone like an investment in their future (and yours); if your budget is limited, find projects or other ways to expand an employee’s experience
  • Work on motivating or inspiring workers – this is where your leadership comes in; chart the course, set the example, be a cheerleader and make your employees believe in your company

If you’re successful in increasing the number of happy and engaged employees, it can result in an increase in the value those employees may bring to the company.  In her blog from last March called “When Employees aren’t Happy then the Company Isn’t Happy”, Elizabeth Lupfer uses the following to calculate that value:

  •  Fully engaged employees RETURN 120% of their salary in VALUE
  •  Disengaged employees RETURN 60% of their salary in VALUE

It may take more than a little paint, but if the above is true, it’s more than worth the investment to see what you can do to keep your employees happy.

By, Nancy Lane, Human Resource Manager at Red Book Solutions and B2A, LLC – 30 years of experience in education, medical imaging, oil & gas and business services.

The Delicious Side of Customer Satisfaction

This is a story about M&M’s and customer satisfaction (eventually).

On a dare, someone asked me to name three prominent books on Customer Satisfaction off the top of my head.

Here is my list:

  1. Positively Outrageous Service: How to Delight and Astound Your Customers and Win Them for Life
  2. Becoming a Category of One: How Extraordinary Companies Transcend Commodity and Defy Comparison
  3. Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless: How to Make Them Love You, Keep You Coming Back, and Tell Everyone They Know

Yes, I know.  I didn’t list “The Ultimate Question 2.0: How Net Promoter Companies Thrive in a Customer-Driven World”. I think you would agree mentioning that book is just too predictable. And who wants to be predictable? After all, everyone knows that the most important question for your company’s future is, “Would you recommend us to a friend?” By simply asking your customers this powerful question you identify detractors who tarnish your reputation, and promoters who strengthen your company with positive word of mouth. This is especially valuable in the day and age of social media and millennials who can both single-handedly fuel or dry up your business.

But knowing who your promoters and detractors are is only half the battle. The other half requires a closed-loop feedback process where you contact your customers to determine their loyalty ratings, determine the next best actions to raise satisfaction and then develop appropriate responses. The result would be energized employees and delighted customers every time.

For me, it is less about the “question” than the focus on your employees being excited to serve the customer. Is it likely? I don’t know. Is it possible? You bet. Let’s find out more.

In “The Service Profit Chain,” authors Heskett, Sasser and Schlesinger spent five years researching the question – why do some firms do what they do well – year in and year out. They discovered links between company profit and growth and key relationships. One of those relationships is employee satisfaction/customer satisfaction. And they discovered that the relationship is mutually reinforcing: satisfied customers contribute to employee satisfaction, and vice-versa. But we are ahead of ourselves.

After reviewing hundreds of companies, the authors concluded that companies must manage the customer-employee “satisfaction mirror” and the customer value equation to achieve a “customer’s eye view’ of goods and services. In its simplest terms, satisfaction is mirrored in the faces of customers and the people who serve them, whether the encounter takes place face-to-face or not. This magical interaction occurs with a great deal of preparation and thought. To achieve this “satisfaction mirror” a company must produce the “employee job description, management policies, supporting technologies and rewards and recognition of the customer.”

For an organization to have satisfied employees, the authors recommend The Cycle of Capability:

  • Careful Employee Selection (and self-selection)
  • High-Quality Training
  • Well-Designed Support Systems (Information & Facilities)
  • Greater Latitude to Meet Customer Needs
  • Clear Limit on , and Expectations of, Employees
  • Appropriate Rewards and Frequent Recognition
  • Satisfied Employees
  • Employee Referrals of Potential Candidates

Outrageous stories about good service leading to customer satisfaction and fanatic loyalty abound.  A favorite of mine is Nordstrom’s, # 88 in Fortunes’ Best Companies to Work For in 2013.  Yes, I am a customer who, with a Tory Burch skirt in hand, needed the rest of the ensemble.  And with a simple question of “what department would you suggest I go to to find a top” I was accompanied for the next 30 minutes by an employee who walked me through every department, picked several tops and waited to weigh in on my choices as I tried them on. Wow! And Nordstrom is doing well financially.

Mars was #95 in favorite places to work this year. Let’s talk M&M’s. 192 million M&M’s in 25 colors are made every 8 hours.  2% are rejected for quality. Mars revenues have doubled in recent years – the customers are clearly happy. And the 1,230 Martians (yes that is what they are called) “adore coming to work”. That’s because the company believes in the “Five Principles of Mars” – quality, responsibility, mutuality, efficiency and freedom. Fortune reported that some unnamed employees are known to eat 1 ½ pounds of free M&M’s a day.

Now that is a cool “satisfaction mirror”!

By, Debra Koenig, President of B2A Consulting | 30 years of experience as a  business executive with leadership and consulting skills in Fortune 500 and private equity portfolio companies.

Street Smarts Approach to Customer Acquisition

Do you believe in the perfect sales person? I don’t. But I work with someone who comes pretty darn close. Her nickname is “the queen”. Not because she’s elite – quite the opposite. She takes her job seriously, but not herself. And she exquisitely works with clients and associates – making them all feel glad, yes glad, for the interaction with her. She loves what she does, so she solves versus sells.

Finding that next client or customer is an adventure, or at least it can be if we’re willing to put up with the detours. Sure, there is the theory and then there is the “street smart” practice.

The theory is that managers who create a framework to grow sales use it as a stepping stone to make their business successful. In the Power of 3, Red Book Solutions aptly notes that revenue growth requires three things – customer acquisition, loyalty and profitability.

About getting that next new client, Morton, Higgins and Evans in their book “Building a Successful Selling Organization” suggests the following:

  • Set a clear, actionable sales agenda – Have individual ownership and accountability toward new client development.
  • Make selling a definable, repeatable, results-oriented process – Understand your “best practices” approach to attracting new customers and standardize the process.
  • Be customer-focused – Speak from the client perspective. Neuro Marketing teaches us that ultimately everyone is listening with a filter that “it is all about me”. This is never truer than with a potential client.
  • Align with the voice of the customer – Develop relationships and opportunities, not just transactions. Ask, listen, and most importantly, learn.
  • Have a conversation about perceived value, not selling – Have a compelling value proposition that aligns with the customer’s expectations.  The customer will appreciate your solutions-based orientation versus the hard-sell.

But as important as it is to have a sales framework, some of the most important lessons aren’t taught.  Here are some other “street smart” approaches you should consider in order to attract new customers.

Your attitude is important. Stay upbeat no matter what happens. People respond to your positive energy and outlook.

Everyone smiles in the same language.  One of the most powerful things you can do to have influence over others is to smile at them.
Take rejection head on. Rejection is a part of the business of selling. Accept it and don’t take it personally. You’ve heard it before – to get the yeses, you must hear the nos.

You don’t always win.  Handling disappointment and adversity is a mark of performance.  Achievers focus on the next part of the adventure, not the detours.

I am reminded of a story from Richard Branson, Founder and Chairman of Virgin Group who said, “My mother always taught me never to look back in regret but to move on to the next thing. The amount of time people waste dwelling on failures rather than putting that energy into another project, always amazes me… A setback is never a bad experience, just a learning curve.”

I believe “the queen” would concur, smiling all the way!

By, Debra Koenig, President of B2A Consulting | 30 years of experience as a  business executive with leadership and consulting skills in Fortune 500 and private equity portfolio companies.

Holidays Zap the Spirit of Celebration

 Who’s really celebrating this year?

It’s not those folks who are too busy stressing over gift giving obligations, get-togethers, and the general hustle and bustle demands—all centered around their unrealistic expectations on creating the perfect holiday.

The holiday season poses a psychological conundrum. The season is all about the sentiment of “Comfort and Joy”, yet the effort to be happy makes many of us miserable. My recommendation is to follow this simple golden rule: adjust your attitude and every day will be like a room full of confetti!

Many of us are inundated by articles on “prescriptions for successfully coping with the holidays”– there seems to be no refuge from this popular topic. What I found refreshing  was discovering an alternative on contemporary psychology—the message was “just carry on.” It is a counter-intuitive approach, but think of it as the negative thinking to handling the holidays.

Psychotherapist Albert Ellis was a pioneer of the negative path. His key insight was this—that sometimes the best way to address uncertainty is to focus not on the best-case scenario, but the worst.

He is famous for telling clients, who were distressed at the idea of being embarrassed, to ride the New York Subway and speak the names of the stations out loud as they passed. A client’s overblown fears  of embarrassment were diminished.

As an example, imagine the absolute worst that could happen if you run out of patience with your employees during the season, after you have spent an entire year creating the ideal work environment. The ancient Greek philosophers called this the “premeditation of evils.” Do this and you significantly reduce the anxiety-producing energy that looming over you. This may be just the release you need to allow flexibility with your employees, while bettering your workplace to be more inclusive and positive.

Psychologist Julie Norem estimates that one-third of Americans intuitively use this strategy, which she terms “defensive pessimism.” As pointed out recently in the Wall Street Journal, positive thinking, by contrast, is the effort to convince yourself that things will turn out just fine, which can reinforce the belief that it would be absolutely terrible if they didn’t.

How does this approach jive with the well used axiom “If you can dream it, you can do it?”

There is plenty of research supporting the belief that having an idea or dream shapes your plans and defines your goals more clearly. You’ve undoubtedly read the story of actor Jim Carrey who wrote a check to himself for $10 million in 1987.  He dated it Thanksgiving 1995 and, you guessed it, received $10 million that year for his role in the movie “Dumb and Dumber.”

Yes, we agree dreaming of your perfect Norman Rockwell Holiday is a powerful way of moving closer to getting it. So do it. Meanwhile, also consider this—the ultimate value of the “negative path” is less about driving upbeat emotions and more about facilitating realism. The future is uncertain, after all things really do go wrong sometimes. There is much to be said for confronting these possibilities rather than denying them. Then you’re left with all that positive energy to enjoy your Joyous, (not perfect), Holiday.

By, Debra Koenig, President of B2A Consulting | 30 years of experience as a  business executive with leadership and consulting skills in Fortune 500 and private equity portfolio companies.

Negotiation Skills that Make Good Managers Better

Negotiating and the “Art of the Deal” are not new. We do this every day in multiple ways, from arranging services for our homes to renegotiating a business lease.

Recently, this subject has increased in popular attention. One example is the new television
show “Market Warriors” where four experts are given money to purchase items at antique markets, presumably for a steal, and then try to resell them for a profit. Another is that there are an increasing number of experts lending their voices to this hot topic.

Last week I attended the International Franchise Association’s Executive Leadership Conference and had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Victoria Medvec, a Professor at the Kellogg School and a prominent lecturer. She has developed a 10 step process that covers familiar ground but with added new tactics I found especially interesting.

Negotiation is a two-phase process beginning with Preparation and proceeding to Execution. Dr .Medvec repeatedly emphasized the importance of work done in advance of the actual face-to-face exchange.  It’s vital to have clear ideas about both your position and that of the person you are negotiating with. You may be familiar with the process of making detailed lists of the desires you have and concessions you are willing to make, and then weighting them by what’s most and least important to both parties.  Do your homework.

In all cases, there are several issues that should be considered for both parties.  It’s helpful to develop scenarios and then rank them. This involves understanding the extremes – most wanted and least acceptable. Find the BATNA for each side. BATNA refers to the “best alternative to a negotiated agreement.” The other end of the continuum, Reservation Point, is at what point in the discussion you are willing to “walk away”– meaning it’s not worthwhile to continue as there are no longer any benefits to you. At the end of this phase you should have at least four benchmarks, BATNAs and Reservation Points for both parties.

Now it is on to execution. There are several strategies to help you attain a favorable deal.

The first tip is to include several items in a package to improve the possibility for trade-offs and a more complete, acceptable deal.  Having more options in the mix enhances the chance for a deal because you have more potential for contingencies and space to negotiate.

A second tip is called the Anchoring Move.  There are mixed opinions about this strategy but I tend to agree with Dr. Medvec.  This involves which side goes first to make their initial offer or proposal.  Some argue that this is a weak play because it divulges your position too early and you might be forced to make further concessions. To the contrary, you should present a position built upon a thoroughly explained and detailed rationale.  This method creates a centering “anchor” for the entire discussion, rather than a starting point and a downward spiral. Indeed, “he or she who makes the first offer wins.”

A third tactic is called Concession Room.  It builds on the previous two points. When you develop a package proposal, it is advantageous to include items that vary in importance. Some will be essential to the discussion, while others could be “throw-ins.” As a result, your “package” presents you with more opportunities to be flexible and enhance your outcome. For example, in negotiations it is common to request more than you really expect to get—your BATNA. Some situations lend themselves to making outrageous demands with your Concession Room, or BATNA, as your fall back. Concessions are regarded favorably and encourage others to feel as though they are winning.

So what’s really the “art of the deal?” The answer, quite simply, is that it is a process that has two important phases. To avoid haggling or a stalemate, do your homework and follow the tips on execution. You’ll find yourself more often than not in the winner’s circle to the key issues that matter to you.

By, Debra Koenig, President of B2A Consulting | 30 years of experience as a  business executive with leadership and consulting skills in Fortune 500 and private equity portfolio companies.

The Superhero Manager in All of Us

In a recent blog we posed the question – What makes top performers tick? The quick answer was good skills, talent and hard work. But more important is tapping in to the energy of a positive attitude and the belief that your thoughts and words have the power to create your reality. This is not fluff; for the most successful leaders, this is a hard won practice. Who knew self-development was a debatable subject with some suggesting, “Spend some time in the real world”?

With the gauntlet thrown, we accept the challenge to spend time in the real world – the real world of superheroes that is! Ask someone who their favorite superhero is and you’ll get the answer and an earful on the special talents they admire and, truth be told, they secretly desire.

A friend favors Storm from the X-Men where creating monsoon rains, blizzard squalls, tornadoes, tsunamis and cosmic tempests to disrupt the electromagnetism of the world are just a few of her powers. Call me old school, but I’m still partial to Wonder Woman, though her arsenal of tools like the Lasso of Truth, indestructible bracelets, and tiara that serves as a projectile seems to pale by comparison to Storm’s ability to call on cosmic disruption. What does all this have to do with being a better manager, you ask?

What Storm and Wonder Woman have in common is self-identity with no limiting beliefs, no boundaries. Superpowers are one thing, but their ability to unlock the potential within through sheer strength of will and attitude is what makes them truly powerful. Superheroes own the differences that make them unique, and they wield them in a way that actually creates their self-brand.

I was drawn to the recent book by Gotham and Deepak Chopra, “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes” when thinking about attitude, energy and our limitless possibilities. The authors correctly point out that superheroes have “broken free from their comic book pages and become a dynamic aspect of the culture at large. Superheroes explore the boundaries of energy and awareness and allow us to better understand ourselves and our potential.”

In the pages of great comic-book stories, the superheroes are aware that they have within them real power and energy to choose and create any outcome.

•    Superman stands for achieving the impossible
•    The Green Lantern is the man with no fear
•    Batman makes the right choices to deal with tragedies

Becoming a superhero is achievable in all of us:

  • Know that for every challenge, their solution is to go inward
  • Scan the whole range of possibilities– big and small
  • Are independent of the good and bad opinions of others
  • Never give in to self-importance
  • Are always aligned with the greater good
  • Focus on the process, not the outcome
  • Are an exquisite combination of dynamic action and stillness of mind
  • Are the best listeners in the world

Superheroes rise to the level of the solution in the face of daily challenges, transforming obstacles in to opportunities; and so can we.

Believe in yourself and your abilities. You have the power to create your own reality.

Attitude, energy, limitless possibilities!

Debra Koenig, President of B2A Consulting | 30 years of experience as a  business executive with leadership and consulting skills in Fortune 500 and private equity portfolio companies.

Limitless Possibilities for Top Performers – What makes them tick?

Yes, it is true that adversity may drive performance. That frequently heard saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” comes to mind. More often, however, it is the individual who raises their level of performance to meet their own expectations. Good skills and techniques are a given. What is more important is the blend of talent, attitude and hard work the individual brings.

A positive attitude is a start. Those who are renowned achievers are further influenced by the belief that their thoughts and words have the power to create the reality they envision. There are an abundance of specific techniques one can use to tap into the power of one’s thoughts. From ancient Eastern philosophies, to the 20th century Norman Vincent Peale’s every-man appeal about being positive, to Tony Robbins the inspiration guru of the day.

Dr. Wayne Dyer, an expert on self-development, writes about limitless possibilities in his book “The Power of Intention: Learning to Co Create Your World Your Way”. His belief is that everyone has the opportunity to tap into an energy source. Those who have “made themselves available for success,” and those who connect, have the attitude that “I intend to create this and I know it will work.”

His 7 concepts to tap in to positive energy:

1. Creativity – Be inspired in life and in business.

2. Kindness – Have good intentions toward others. Don’t just be nice or kind to those who treat you that way. Reach out, take the initiative.

3. Love – Don’t spend time judging others, it will only lead to anger or frustration.

4. Beauty – Take time to appreciate what is around you.

5. Expansion –Be aware of what’s possible without limits.  Reject fear and venture boldly. By envisioning good things, you actually bring good influences into play, both within yourself and in the world around you.

6. Unlimited Abundance –Practice true nobility. Instead of trying to be better than someone else, be better than you were yesterday.

7. Receptivity – Engage and relax to recognize and receive what’s possible. Don’t think, “Conditions are against me,” or “Things don’t look good.” Face reality, but understand a person is defeated not so much by the facts of a situation as by his or her own negative interpretation of the facts. In every problem there is an inherent good.

You might ask, does anyone really use techniques on a daily basis to channel their thoughts? A resounding YES is the answer.

Some practical techniques I have observed recently:

  • A colleague mentally goes to his “safe place” for twenty seconds to calm his breathing and immediately improve his focus in the moment.
  • The coach for the Chinese men’s Olympic gymnastics team was seen fingering Buddhist prayer beads during competition. They are often used so that one can focus for inspiration.
  • The manager in a small company has permission to ask someone “to be here now” if they are distracted by technology at their expense, thus improving the experience.
  • A friend wrote and sent herself a letter on her “limitless possibilities” to be delivered 6 months in the future. When she received the letter, it put her back in touch with her energy and aspirations.
  • As for me, I pause and congratulate myself or the team I am working with when we accomplish something at that moment. It feels good to appreciate the energy of achievement versus saying “where did the day go, I didn’t get anything done.”

Top performers believe “they can do it” and they tap into the positive energy to do just that!

By, Debra Koenig, President of B2A Consulting | 30 years of experience as a  business executive with leadership and consulting skills in Fortune 500 and private equity portfolio companies.