Print This Post Print This Post

Making important information, memorable

Are your messages Sufficiently Sticky?

Why is it that most people can remember stories, anecdotes, fables and gossip – often from many years ago, but seem to quickly forget a crucial mission statement, or a detailed sermon about customer service from the owner of a business? As Dan and Chip Heath point out – it’s all to do with the message’s level of ‘stickiness’

In their book ‘Made to Stick’, the brothers Heath highlight and address one of the biggest frustrations I hear from business owners – “My team just don’t listen or remember what I tell them!” What the book confirms is when information is forgotten, it has more to do with how the message is delivered.

Repeatedly when we want our team to remember something significant (e.g. why customer service is important) we set about telling them in great passionate and logical detail, backed up by compelling statistics, the reasons why we should look after customers – However, unfortunately what your team may be hearing is something akin to the Peanuts cartoon series muffled trumpet sounds used by Charles Schulz to portray the voices of adults.

The authors of ‘Made to Stick’ highlight a formula that makes messages far stickier. They’ve fashioned it into a simple (albeit a bit cheesy) acronym – S.U.C.C.E.S. Simple. Unexpected. Concrete. Credible. Emotional. Story. Essentially they rightfully suggest that to make messages stick – you should use a Simple Unexpected Concrete Credentialed Emotional Story instead of a longwinded, data-heavy, logical rant!

An example for the ‘why customer service is important’ conundrum might be to gather your team together and offer this succinct proposal – ‘The reason we all get out of bed and come to work is because of  our customers. They are the only reason we exist’ Then ask them for their viewpoints on that. It’s likely to be a very memorable discussion.

Yours in profitable and enjoyable Business

Jeff Austin
Actual to Ideal
Bunbury Business Development

Jeff Austin - Business Coach Bunbury
Print This Post Print This Post

A better way to fix business problems

5 better ways to close Gaps

A Gap is simply the difference between what you’re Actually getting and what you Ideally want. And although some gaps might be big and seem insurmountable – virtually all of them can be closed.

Unfortunately, just about all of them can be made bigger, if your gap closing approach isn’t quite right. Here are 5 common mistakes and 5 better approaches.

Common approach and Common result

  1. Spend large parts of your day putting out spot fires. Usually fixes symptoms, not causes
  2. Send underperforming team members off on a training course or a ‘Gee-em up’ session. If the problem is systemic, training can make the problem bigger
  3. Talk about problems in meetings – Talk about problems in meetings – Talk about… (you get the picture) No one takes action so you just do it yourself
  4. Use a carrot and/or stick approach to motivate people to lift their game. Rewards & punishment achieve the same result – short term compliance
  5. When standards are not being reached, ignore it because it seems too hard. You give people permission to continue

A Better approach for a Better result

  1. Use a process (e.g. ‘5 whys’) that unearths the root cause and apply the right fix. Close the gap permanently
  2. Look for gaps in your systems and your communications before trying to ‘fix’ people. You close the gap for current and future team members
  3. Ask better questions – “What didn’t go well last week?” “What needs to be done better?” Get team members to implement their solutions
  4. Be a referent leader who demonstrates integrity, consistency, fairness, openness. Develop lasting motivation that comes from within people (intrinsic)
  5. Document and discuss (audit) company standards often. Close gaps regularly by being hard on problems – not on people

This short space doesn’t allow the opportunity to provide great detail on ‘how’ to go about the above approaches. However rest assured that it is all achievable. I spent the first 8 1/2 years of my business life completely in that left column. And if I can make the change, there’s hope for everyone!

Yours in profitable and enjoyable Business

Jeff Austin

Actual to Ideal
Bunbury Business Development

Jeff Austin - Business Coach Bunbury
Print This Post Print This Post

Which Truth is The Truth – Conflict in the Workplace

WhoDunnit? The Cause of Much Conflict

To get any benefit whatsoever from this month’s article, please watch the following video clip first – otherwise this artcile will make no sense (or less sense than normal)

So before reading any further, please watch this 2 minute video – Go on. Stop reading… You’re still reading!

OK. So how many changes did you see on the first viewing? Did you come anywhere close to seeing the 21 things that changed? Initially I (like many others) saw nil!

Why is that? What does the video demonstrate? There are several key messages here that tie into some of the gaps you may be experiencing with team members / customers / suppliers

  • It’s easy to miss something you are not looking for
  • Just because you don’t see it happening , doesn’t mean it isn’t happening
  • The way you see something isn’t an exclusive viewpoint – it’s just your view point.

An example would be an argument about the colour of the detective’s coat. If you said it was grey and I said it was tan, who’d be right? Yes, both of us, but both would likely be very passionate and steadfast about our truth.

And as we’ve discussed in the past, there is frequently more than one truth. Our individual truths are based on the lens we look through. The conditioning we’ve had. Past experiences and the assimilation that creates. These points may help

  • Consider that a person’s different truth might actually be right
  • Lead with questions. Ask for other’s viewpoints
  • Understanding someone’s truth doesn’t obligate you to agree with their truth
  • Any if you find that people just don’t listen to you, could it be because you’re not listening to them!

The video reinforces the case for open-mindedness. And given that ‘differing truths’ is the catalyst for most conflict, it appears to be a case worth considering

Yours in prosperity and fun

Jeff Austin
Actual to Ideal

Jeff Austin - Business Coach Bunbury
Print This Post Print This Post

Uncomfortable discussions about staff pay

Talk about pay and avoid the broken backs

Here are a couple of options for things you could do right now. Please choose your preference.

  1. Confront someone about something that you are quite certain will turn into an uncomfortable discussion
  2. Anything else

For those that chose option 1, you can stop reading. The rest of you please stay with me. It’s no secret that the majority of us would rather do almost anything that initiate conflict. And one of the sure fire ways to get emotions running hot is to confront someone about money…right?

So is it fair to assume that it is generally confronting for your team members to talk to you about their pay rates – that is until they are almost at breaking point. They might bail you up and blurt out something like “I can’t cope with this rate of pay. My friends earn much more than me. If I can’t get a rise I have to look for another job because I work hard and I heard that Julie in accounts earns more ….”

So what’s the simplest way to avoid confrontational conversations?

Have them frequently so they are not topics of conflict. Talk about pay rates (formally) at least every 6 months. Make it a safe and regular discussion. Try asking team members this simple question – “Do you feel you are being paid what you are worth?” (The key word there is ‘worth’) There are no dangerous answers to that question.

To remove virtually all conflict out of pay discussions you simply to need to install ‘proof’. That is, provide your team members with processes that give them the proof that they are, or equally are not, worth more. And if they have proof they’re worth more, pay them with a smile on your face because you will have won 5 fold. If the proof shows they’re not, help them put a plan into place to prove otherwise.

Yours in prosperity and fun

Jeff Austin

Actual to Ideal
Business Coach

Jeff Austin - Business Coach Bunbury
Print This Post Print This Post

Customer First Impressions Worth Re

Impressionable Impressions and Memorable Memories

After 2 ½ weeks holidaying in our North West I come back with memories that will likely last as long as I do. These recent memories will travel down my hippocampus and will be stored in my prefrontal cortex (yes, I looked it up!) and will be recalled upon whenever the appropriate trigger is fired.

Similarly, we all have entrenched memories of our experiences dealing with business. I’m confident that you can easily recall a particularly bad or unpleasant experience as a consumer. Equally, or perhaps with a little more effort, you can remember an exceptionally good or enjoyable one.  These good and bad experiences often start from the first point of contact and spiral upwards or downwards from there.

The key is that ‘normal’ is rarely memorable. Giving customers an OK, average, and satisfactory experience is a safe way of avoiding being filed in the bad experience brain folder, but equally you will not wind up in the folder of great experiences customers will tell others about.

And because there is so much ‘normal’ going on out there, you don’t have to go to extremes to be different and memorable. From a different greeting – e.g. “Hi, thanks for coming in. How can I help you today?” Through to sending a note and small gift a week after a purchase thanking the customer for their business. It costs very little to be different and memorable and I have proof that the payback is worth it.

And yes, I know customers can make things difficult at times. Just yesterday I received the greeting I love to hate of, “Are you right?” and being the professional smartarse I am, I responded with “No, but my doctor told me that the pills would help”. And the experience went downhill from there.


Jeff Austin

Actual to Ideal
Close the Gap

Jeff Austin - Business Coach Bunbury
Print This Post Print This Post

Accountability for Success & Failure

Business is great! Whose fault is that?

In late 2006 I was asked to coach a large an outbound sales team who were experiencing a four month slump in sales revenue.

To get to the potential causes, I asked them ‘What are the reasons when you do hit your sales targets?’ On the whiteboard I noted the answers they enthusiastically called out… ‘We follow up leads’. ‘We ask good questions’. ‘We serve our existing clients well’. ‘We use our sales time well’…

I then asked the reasons behind when they missed their sales targets over this 4 month period, and these were their responses. ‘The market is flat’. ‘The promotions department are not running any good specials’. ‘The election has got people spooked’ ‘There’s been supply issues’…

Looking at the two lists, I clarified, ‘So, when things are going really well, that’s your fault right?’ The word ‘fault’ threw them a bit, but they agreed that yes it was. I then asked, ‘And when things are going pear shaped that’s not your fault…right?’

An uncomfortable silence engulfed the team as they looked at the conflicting lists. To their credit, they soon understood when I broke the silence by saying ‘Guys, you can’t have it both ways. Responsibility isn’t a part time job!’

If you or your team are patting yourselves on the back when things are going great (as you ought to), but there is collective finger pointing when things go sour, please consider this. A business that instils a culture of ‘accepting responsibility’ when things are good and bad means they have the power to replicate the good and the power to fix the bad – because both are their fault. A business whose people do not accept responsibility (or do it part time), render themselves Powerless!

Yours in prosperity and fun

Jeff Austin
Actual to Ideal
Bunbury Business Coach

Jeff Austin - Business Coach Bunbury
Print This Post Print This Post

Got something to say? Try listening!

The most underused communication

You don’t need to read a business improvement article to know that the quality of your relationships (business or otherwise) will depend on the quality of your communication. (But please keep reading anyway!)

So we know that communication is important – and I’m confident that you had some formal training in communication – right?

Reading? – You bet. Writing? – For sure. Speaking – Very likely. Listening – –what? Perhaps not?

Of all the communication processes that build trust and in-turn quality relationships, isn’t ‘listening’ the most influential one? Can you recall the last time someone did not listen to you? How did you feel? Did it frustrate you that they just wouldn’t take time to understand?

And there is the crucial difference between listening (or hearing) and active listening – or ‘Listening to understand’. The truth is, when we are in conversation with someone we are generally listening to respond – that is, thinking about what we are going to say next (my ex-wives will attest that I was great at that!)

Like all communications, listening is a skill and like all skills, it can be dramatically improved upon – if you want to improve it! And active listening does not have a down side. Depending on the discussion, you will likely;

  • gain a deeper understanding of needs
  • allow the other person to unload and thereby relax somewhat
  • appreciate why someone feels the way they do
  • get a new/broader insight into something
  • learn something
  • build rapport and trust (we all crave to be understood)

And if you need more reason to improve your active listening – ‘understanding’ someone does not compel you to agree with them – but you will understand and therefore give yourself the greatest opportunity to respond effectively and accurately.

So next time someone is annoyed with you, go ahead and give them a damn good listening to!

Yours in prosperity and fun

Jeff Austin
Actual to Ideal
Bunbury Business Coach
Jeff Austin - Business Coach Bunbury
Print This Post Print This Post

Measurements, Goals & KPIs – something to aim for

Article 50! Is that worth recognising?

A while back I was meeting with the team of about 20 from an industrial company and I asked them how they knew when they were doing a good job? They replied, “When the boss is not kicking us in the arse!” Thankfully that ‘boss’ has grown and the team now has some more measureable performance benchmarks in place.

This month’s article is the 50th since the Bunbury Chamber first asked me to contribute a little over 4 years ago. Although unlikely to make it onto the list of gazetted national holidays, I felt it was worth acknowledging.

We often overlook these small milestones due to a lack of measurement. For example, had I not numbered each article in my records, this mini milestone would have come and gone with no recognition at all.

‘If you can measure it, you can improve it’. Further to that, ‘if you do measure it, you’ll know when you have achieved it’ And there are a multitude of ways that you can set simple measurements (Key Performance Indicators) for any area of business. Here are a few examples

  • Sales departments –Revenue and GP % targets
  • Customer Service People – Customer Satisfaction benchmarks (results gleaned from a concise survey)
  • Manufacturers  – Lost time to injury (LTI) or rework benchmarks
  • Specialists who bill by the hour – Billable hours (productivity) and efficiency benchmarks
  • Manual labourers –  Punctuality or peer satisfaction benchmarks

And when you are setting KPIs/benchmarks be sure they meet these 3 criterion

  1. They are relatively easy to measure
  2. Those aiming for the goal have a strong influence on reaching it (i.e. it’s not out of their control)
  3. The attainment of the goal benefits business, team and ideally, the customer

Why do they have ‘goals’ in sport? Without them, you’d have nothing to aim for.

Yours in prosperity and fun

Jeff Austin

Actual to Ideal –

Close the Gap

Bunbury Business Coach

Jeff Austin - Business Coach Bunbury
Print This Post Print This Post

7 essentials for getting the right people on the bus

Now here’s a big topic shoehorned into one column – Hiring and developing the right people. The single most important management function…Period!

Yes, even above customer service delivery– because if you have a team of people working with you, who’s behind most of the service delivery?

Being a zealot when it comes to recruiting takes time and effort, however compared to the pain caused by doing it haphazardly; it’s a no-brainer.

Here is a summary of 7 essentials when recruiting. Drop us a note for more in-depth information.

  1. Place a large, ‘sexy’ (aka different) empowering & challenging ad. Invest what is needed to stand out. Have applicants telephone to initially apply.
  2. Conduct brief initial interviews over the phone to save time (yours and theirs). Be confident that applicants meet your ‘must have’ criteria, so you can determine who the actual candidates are.
  3. Ask for CVs only from candidates (not applicants) and ensure they provide a detailed work history including 3 or more referees
  4. Contact at least 2 listed referees and one who is not listed, but is part of the work history (ask candidate for permission). Ask the referees great discovery questions. Their answers will help you build valuable interview questions
  5. Conduct a thorough first interview to unearth candidate attributes. The candidate can learn about you if they proceed to a second interview. For important sales or service roles, also consider psychometric profiling.
  6. Invite only the top 2 candidates back for a second discussion; this time for them to interview you and key staff
  7. Provide the top candidate with a highly detailed pre employment information pack before you allow them to accept any job offer you make

If you don’t have a detailed (and documented) recruiting process that’s followed every time you hire, can I encourage you to put it high on your 2011 commitment list.

Whether in Bunbury, WA or across the nation, hiring the right people may at times seem like a fairytale; but it is absolutely achievable and of course, immensely rewarding.

Yours in prosperity and fun in 2011

Jeff Austin

Actual to Ideal

Bunbury Business Coach

Jeff Austin - Business Coach Bunbury
Print This Post Print This Post

Can’t Pay Your Employees What You’d Like? Praise Them Instead

Good to see you here in 2011 with yet another business year ahead – and with the mining boom mark 2 looming, that means potential revenue bonanzas and staff retention dilemmas! This article was written by leading business consultant, Kevin Gray this time last year. It possibly resonates even more into 2011 – Enjoy

Hoping for a raise in 2010? How about a nice pat on the back?

The economy may be showing signs of life, but that doesn’t mean managers and employers are starting to shower their people with cash. Far from it. Instead, they’re turning to an old-timey, feel-good technique to motivate their overburdened workers: praise.

“It’s probably the most powerful driver of performance known to mankind,” says Bob Nelson, a workplace consultant who has advised Fortune 100 companies on the use of praise. “Whether it’s an employee or a spouse, you get more of what you want when you praise someone.”

As a motivational tool, of course, praise has been around forever, long before the self-styled experts began teaching us how to practice it. But the praise-making industry only came into vogue as the coddled offspring of Baby Boomers — the kids who got soccer trophies whether they won or lost — entered the workforce en masse and required constant complimenting.

Then the economy blew up, leaving empty cubicles, cut wages, forced furloughs, and a whole lot of insecure workers. Today, it’s not just Gen Y that needs emotional reinforcement. It’s everyone. All employees and their managers are more stressed than ever, working faster and with fewer resources. And lots of managers mistakenly think they are too busy to give praise.

“The only time you hear from the boss is when you made a mistake,” says Nelson, “And bosses think they don’t have to do this because you’re lucky to have a job now. People need it more but tend to get it less.”

Make your praise tangible

Giving out praise isn’t as easy as you might think, and the approaches vary. One strategy, says Nelson, is to make praise visible. Visit the offices of BankBoston, for instance, and you’ll spot gold embroidered stars all over the place, little decorative rewards from managers to good workers. “You walk around and people have these stars on their cubicles maybe attached to their name tags,” says Nelson.

Elsewhere, companies are trying to add a little levity — perhaps as a way to lessen the risk that forced praise in bad times can seem insincere, even hokey. Nelsen recommends gag trophies. At TRW in San Diego, managers buy a piece of junk at the flea market each year, say a lamp or a pitcher, that they pass around each month to recognize a job well done, says Nelson. The winner decorates the trophy to give it personal flair.

Other companies are tossing in some prizes — a little something to sprinkle on the thank you in these dire times. At the Universal Orlando theme park, which last year shed jobs due to the slump, managers give each other S.A.Y. IT! cards, which stand for Someone Appreciates You, and are redeemable for movie tickets, dinners, and other gifts. Says Rhonda Rhodes, vice president of human resources at Universal: “You take care of your people and they will take care of your customers.”

Even Bank of America, with 200,000-plus employees, is in on the praise action. Part of its motivation program rewards workers with recognition points that they can redeem for gifts. The idea, says BofA’s spokeswoman Kelly Sapp, is to “keep associates engaged and ultimately drive business results.”

Change the way you talk

Perhaps the most effective praise doesn’t come with a coupon, but rather from human interaction. And this often the most difficult, especially for managers for whom praise doesn’t come naturally. Jerry Pounds, who has consulted for Wal-Mart and Ford and writes a blog called Positive Influence, advises managers to praise intellect and problem-solving skills, working the flattery into everyday discussions. “If the boss comes out of the office and shakes your hand then goes back in that’s no good,” Pounds says. “There’s no need for gimmicks.”

Nelson, who wrote the book “Keeping Up In a Down Economy,” advises managers to create a new mindset. When the thought crosses your mind that someone has done a good job, act on it. Pick up the phone, jot a note, or send an email. Better yet, says Nelson, go find the person no matter what they’re doing.

“Have you ever interrupted someone in a meeting to give them good news?” says Nelson. “It’s exceptional. You say, ‘Hey, I know you’re in middle of something, but I had to let you know. We blew past last quarter’s numbers. No way that could happen without you and your team.’ That little 10 seconds is going to be conversation at dinner that evening.”

The words you choose are critical, so tread carefully. Mark Holmes, an employee-retention consultant and author of “The People Keeper: How Managers Can Attract, Motivate and Retain Better Employees,” advises his corporate clients to find specific attributes that show that you, the boss, really are paying attention.

“You can simply say, ‘I want to say thank you for being somebody not afraid to tell me what you need to say,’” says Holmes. “Or you say, ‘The thing I appreciate about you Joe is you’re consistent.’ Or ‘Suzie, you are great as a mentor with our younger employees.’ Or ‘I love your contribution. I love the way you speak up in meetings.’ It all means the world to an employee.”

Oddly, the best workers are often the ones who get overlooked by the praise givers — like the good kids in a family, who are seen as capable and directed. Yet those are often the people bosses need to go out of the way to praise in bad times so they stick around in good. “It’s not uncommon for a high-performing employee to leave companies because of a lack of feedback,” says Holmes.

Turn praise into dollars

Anyone who doubts that proper praise can boost a company’s bottom line along with its morale should listen to what happened at Houston-based Tetra Technologies, a service company in the oil and gas industry. Steve Hardwick, the global vice president of business development, brought Holmes in 2008 after a dozen big Tetra accounts had shrunk. Holmes worked with the sales and marketing teams on building teamwork and recapturing that business. A big part of what Holmes did was to make sure specific achievements were recognized.

“He made a big deal of saying, as we rolled out a new product and sought accounts, “’Look what Joe did over here,” says Hardwick. “Or he’d say, ‘Bob’s got it, look at what he told customers.’”

Tetra ended up bringing all of those lapsed accounts back into the fold. It also recently extended its contract with Shell — one of its largest accounts — for an additional three years. Two of his top guys had led the effort. “I took time to take both of these guys to dinner one-on-one and tell them how much I appreciate them,” says Hardwick. And while Hardwick says the company does its best to compensate high performers, he says praise is often equal to money.

“Money is inert,” he says. “A few thousand here or there isn’t going to be the reason you leave a job. What’s important is how you feel about how you’re fitting in, producing, contributing as part of the team, all non-monetary issues.”

True enough. Even so, most of us wouldn’t mind a few extra thousand along with the praise!

Kevin Gray January 2010


Jeff Austin

Actual to Ideal

Bunbury Business Coach

Jeff Austin - Business Coach Bunbury