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Living Your Personal Brand

April 22nd, 2015

Sometimes, setting an example for yourself sets one for others.

I recently accepted an invitation to speak at a business school forum. I typically don’t charge a fee for speaking at student events, but since I would be booking a flight, I asked if travel costs were covered. I was assured that they were, and I purchased a ticket. Then, a week before the event, an administrator apologetically informed me that that there would be no travel reimbursement. Somehow, despite several conversations and email summaries of the arrangements, the students had misunderstood the budget.

On the plus side, this was the first and hopefully only time I have ever encountered this situation. I have to admit that my first reaction was disbelief. Did this business school really expect me to fly 1,500 miles on my own dime to speak for free?

As I moved from indignation to introspection, two questions kept crossing my mind:

  • How can I turn my response into a positive learning moment for everyone involved, including myself?
  • How could I use this situation as an opportunity to live my personal brand?

I’d gotten a good deal on the flight. With a little effort, I could arrange business meetings before and after the event. I could catch up with a longtime friend over dinner that evening. I could also choose to be insulted, turn down the invitation and end my interactions on a polite but unpleasant note. What kind of message would I be sending about my personal brand if I did that?

The next day, I sent a brief email message to the students and the administrator:

The mixed messages were unfortunate and I appreciate your apology. I honor my commitments, and I will honor this one. I look forward to seeing you next week.

During the forum, the administrator apologized again and reimbursed my flight. I had a conversation with another speaker that led to new business for me. Most important, my decision to speak despite the miscommunications allowed me to make a quiet and potentially powerful statement about my personal brand, and perhaps set an example for the future business leaders who attended the forum.

This situation reminded me that, regardless of external circumstances, we always have choices. We can allow our choices to be determined by the decisions and behaviors of others. Or we can make our own, intentional choices, based on what we stand for and what we intrinsically know is the right thing to do. The learning moment for me? It’s easy to find a substitute speaker. But there is no substitute for the integrity of living your personal brand.

Here’s to the Role Models

March 16th, 2015

I recently participated in a networking event for students at Johnson County Community College. This event allowed students to practice introducing themselves to business professionals, engage in conversation for a few minutes, and transition politely to another conversation.

In the course of these conversations, I met a student I’ll call Jana, who was studying fashion merchandising. I asked Jana how she became interested in merchandising, and she told me, “It started with a mistake I made at work.”

She works part-time selling women’s apparel in an upscale department store. One day, she sold the outfit on a mannequin. Rather than leave an undressed mannequin on the sales floor, Jana created a new outfit for the mannequin.

The following week, the regional merchandiser summoned Jana for a meeting. “I thought I was in trouble, that I was going to lose my job,” Jana told me. The merchandiser told Jana that the clothing promoted on mannequins was a corporate decision, but that wasn’t the primary reason for meeting. The items worn by Jana’s mannequin had sold well in the previous week, and the merchandiser thought Jana had talent. The merchandiser told Jana about the fashion merchandising program at the college, and encouraged her to apply. She has continued to mentor and encourage Jana, and wants to hire Jana when she completes her degree.

Jana’s story was the most memorable introduction I heard that day – but what impressed me even more than Jana was the forward-thinking merchandiser. This woman not only recognized Jana’s budding abilities, but also had the courage and confidence in her own abilities to take the intentional step to be a role model and mentor. She set a proactive, professional example for Jana, who hopefully will see herself as a role model for other young women as she progresses in her own career.

Whether we think we are or not, we are each a potential role model and mentor for someone in our business, industry or job function. Here’s to the role models, like the merchandiser, who are paying it forward by mentoring others.  

Growing Your Business? January is Get Real Month

January 21st, 2015

It’s claimed as Hot Tea month, Hobby month, and even Divorce month. I think of January as Get Real month. It’s time for reviewing your business behaviors. What’s moving you forward? What’s holding you back? Here are three behaviors that top the list:

I’m Not Wired to Sit at a Desk: Some business owners will do anything to evade think time. They’re great at networking and generating ideas. When it comes to thinking through the implementation, they are equally adept at evasion tactics.

I Put Out Fires: I once worked for a boss who felt most productive when putting out fires. When his company was operating smoothly, he would create a crisis that he could step in and resolve. Constantly dealing with crises prevents you from thinking about your business.

I Have to Do It Myself: These business owners are overwhelmed with daily decisions and tasks that others should be doing. Every business owner must eventually face the operational consequences of growth: you can’t continue to make decisions or execute on every detail of your business.

If you recognize these behaviors in yourself, maybe it’s time to get real.

First, make and keep a recurring weekly appointment with yourself to think about what’s happening in your business and prioritize your activities. Figure out which day and time of day you feel most focused and open to stepping away from the daily details and claim that time as your own. Consider choosing a non-office location for your appointment if interruptions or distractions are an issue. Make certain that you’re not substituting office interruptions for distractions in another location.

During your appointment, keep your business goals, opportunities and issues visible. Reviewing a standard list of questions at each meeting can help you to focus.

Business Changes

What needs to change in my business?

Who or what resources do I have to make this change/who are my best change agents?

Whom do I know who can help with this?

Which of m y current activities need to change?

Opportunities and Issues

What can be done right now to help to resolve this issue/leverage this opportunity?

Who can take this action?

What is the most productive use of my time?

What were the top three things I did last week?

How do these things contribute to my business goals and opportunities?

Priorities and Productivity

What percentage of my time did I spend on those things?

What were the least important things I did in the last week?

How could I have deferred or delegated those things?

Then ask yourself the same questions for the coming week.

The most important appointment you can keep is the one you make with yourself. Get Real in January, and you’ll see results in 2015.

Got Goals? Five Ways to Stay on Track in 2015

January 5th, 2015

Several years ago, I visited a friend in London. On New Year’s Eve, we had dinner at a local bistro, and then did something I had never done: we sipped champagne and set goals for the coming year. Not resolutions, but career and business goals. It’s a tradition I continue to observe.

Setting goals is challenging enough – but the real work is keeping your goals from unravelling as the year unfolds. Here are a few tips for keeping your 2015 goals on track.

  1. Document your Goals

The often-cited “Harvard Goals Study” suggests that people with clear written goals achieve more and earn more than those who don’t. Putting your goals into a form that you can review and revise is key to staying on track. Not a writer? Consider developing a visual infographic or mood board to capture the intent of your goals. You can also use goal-setting software tools, such as the ones listed here.

  1. Set Interim Outcomes

Let’s say your business revenue was $5 million in 2014 and your goal is to increase revenue by 30% in 2015. What might that look like on a monthly or quarterly basis? For example, you might set a monthly revenue goal for the first quarter of 2015 that is less than a 30% increase. Chances are you’ll need the first quarter to put processes in place and manage your learning curve as you work towards your goals.

  1. Review Your Goals Weekly

Whether you’ve written your goals down, developed an infographic or loaded them into software, set a weekly appointment review them, assess the past week’s activities and define actions you can take during the coming week.  

  1. Take Daily Action

What can I do – right here, right now – that supports the goals I’ve set? Asking yourself this simple question on a daily basis is a powerful way to keep yourself on track. For example, re-engaging with a lapsed prospect instead of having lunch with a friend you see regularly might be a better use of your goal-focused time.

  1. Benchmark Opportunities to Your Goals

It’s called Bright Shiny Object Syndrome. You’ve set your goals, and then you get distracted by a new idea, or a shot-in-the-dark possibility. When an idea or opportunity surfaces, test it against your goals with the following questions:

  • Does this idea or opportunity bring me closer to achieving my goals?
  • How do I know this?
  • Is pursuing this idea/opportunity the best use of my time, compared to what I could be doing?
  • How will pursing this idea/opportunity affect current projects or initiatives that support my goals?

An update on New Year’s Eve in London: my friend wanted to launch a business in a warm climate near the ocean, and her goal that year was to relocate to a beachfront community. She now runs a successful real estate company in Florida.

Would You Hire This Person?

October 2nd, 2014

I recently led a whiteboard session at Summit Technology Academy. This forward-thinking high school accelerator is a national model for providing pre-professional, college-level coursework for students interested in science and technology-related careers.

The session was like many productive whiteboard sessions – a sometimes messy, muddy, process. Getting to clear outcomes requires asking crystal-clear questions – and answering those questions with honesty.

During a break in the session, I took a walk through the hallways to incubate my questions. As I turned around a corner, I came face to face with myself.

A full-length mirror was mounted on the wall. Above it was the question: Would you hire this person?

Well, there’s a crystal-clear question. Most of us have thought about that question when it pertains to someone else. The students that call the Academy home pass by that mirror on a daily basis, and are challenged to answer it for themselves. How would you look at yourself from an external point of view and answer that question from an internal point of view?

It’s about more than just what you’re wearing. It’s the intangibles that the mirror challenges you to confront. Do you project the confidence and determination to do what it takes? Does that show in your expression? Your demeanor?  Can you look yourself in the eye and honestly answer, “Yes, I would hire myself?”  If you honestly answer no, what could you change? How could you develop those intangibles? 

Beyond the job interview, every business interaction is an opportunity to be hired. Lunch with a colleague, a sales presentation, informal networking over coffee or a department meeting – all of these interactions give everyone you meet a full view of what you bring to the table. If you take an honest, full- view look at yourself and challenge yourself to answer “yes,” you just might bring more to the table and get better results.

Take a look in your mirror today and ask yourself: “Would you hire this person?

 

Easy on the “I’s”

July 21st, 2014

How to create a relevant sales conversation

Recently I attended a corporate sales meeting. On the surface, the salespeople seemed to be having good conversations, punctuated with jokes and loud laughter. But their subtexts revealed more. They often interrupted each other in mid-sentence. Some people seemed not to be listening at all, scanning the room for other people. Others impatiently watched for a pause in the conversation to take back the floor. Most of what everyone had to say started with the word “I”. 

That meeting made me think about my first business trip to Japan.

I was in Tokyo to negotiate the terms of a strategic alliance, travelling with a Japanese-American liaison and translator. For our first night in Tokyo we stayed in the home of his cousin. A single woman in her forties, Takayo was a realtor in Tokyo who spoke some English and had studied French. My Japanese was limited to polite phrases that were useful for small talk but not so useful for a true conversation: comments about the weather; yes I liked Japanese food. Takayo and I managed to a mix of deconstructed English with some French thrown in and a little Japanese here and there, spiced with unintentional humor. 

After dinner I thought about our conversation and realized that she rarely used the word “I” in speaking to me. It was as if she had held up a mirror to our conversation. Instead of admiring herself in the mirror, she reflected back everything she said in terms of its relevance to me and what I had said. 

We were using the same words but we weren’t really speaking the same language. I was speaking “I to You” and she was speaking “You to You.” 

“You to You” communication is part of Japanese culture and it taught me an important lesson early in my sales career: relevance is a business relationship essential, regardless of the culture.

In business dialogues – whether they are with partners, prospective customers or social media audiences that influence perceptions of our brands – responding is much more than making your point. It’s listening first and then expressing your views in a way that reflects and incorporates the viewpoints of those on the receiving end. That’s “You to You.” And that’s as relevant a business skill in Texas or the digital world as it is in Tokyo.

 

Going Portfolio

July 1st, 2014

Reinvent your work and career before someone else does

In his book “Great Work, Great Career,” Stephen Covey describes Charles Handy, the Irish oil executive-turned-academic-turned-social and organizational philosopher and author, waking  up one morning and deciding to Go Portfolio. That pivotal morning marked the moment when Handy’s full-time professional attention was no longer devoted to one prescribed job using one defined set of skills in one organization. That day, Handy himself became the professional he describes in his books and lectures: the portfolio careerist.

Consultants are arguably the ultimate portfolio professionals. The best adapt broad experience and deep skills to a wide range of companies, business situations and buyer communities. They are not alone. From consultants and entrepreneurs to corporate managers and functional specialists, all professionals are part of an increasingly portfolio-based business environment. Going Portfolio is not a luxury or an option. It’s a requirement for thriving in any business, whether it’s a business of one or a global corporation of one million.

Deciding to Go Portfolio is only the first step. The greatest gains come from managing your portfolio once you’ve gone there. When a business unit identifies a previously undefined niche market, it’s on the path to Going Portfolio. The sales team who understands that they need to reinvent their business development strategy and their sales skills is beginning to manage its portfolio. When you take a chance to develop new skills or apply your skills in new situations, you are Going Portfolio. When you learn to adapt your skills and experience in response to your business environment, you are actively managing your portfolio for both business results and personal satisfaction.

Intentionally or not, we are all going portfolio because our world demands it. The companies, customers and communities we serve with them are constantly fluctuating, and so it the value they seek from each of us. You have to be willing to continually adapt the skills you use and the experience you rely on to add value, right here and right now.

That’s Going Portfolio.  What’s in yours?

Elizabeth Usovicz is principal of WhiteSpace Consulting®, specializing in top-line revenue and business strategies for high-growth companies, new ventures and business units within established companies; keynote speaking and strategy session facilitation. She can be reached at elizabeth@whitespacerevenue.com or (913) 638-8693.