Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR

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The key to creating great employees

It’s hard to forget your first job learning office protocol, building a rapport with the team, impressing your boss and meeting the ever-intimidating CEO. You may have felt eager to be noticed or eager to just blend in — either way, there were likely moments of discomfort that you do not want to revisit anytime soon.

Similarly, you may recall the moment you first engaged with your mentor. The way that person took you under his or her wing, made you feel confident and inspired you to become the  leader you are today.

As leaders, we all want to be like our mentors but are cognizant of the intimidation factor that often comes with being a CEO.  It’s no secret that the best teams are made up of happy people who feel respected, appreciated and challenged in the workplace. I have experienced first hand how connecting with people makes them feel at ease in the workplace and much happier and therefore more productive.

Paul Damico, president of Atlanta-based Moe’s Southwest Grill recently told SmartBusiness his strategy for developing his workforce is creating relationships.  Below are some of the ways
this CEO builds relationships with his employees and stays plugged into his organization.

The best meetings are one on one

One way I connect with a team is by having one-on-one meetings with associates at all levels of the organization. As a rule, no one says no to a one-on-one. As the name implies, it is a face-to-face meeting with just me.  It provides a dedicated time to discuss ideas, feedback, goals, personal development or anything the associate wishes to discuss.  When someone within the organization, whether it’s me, a member of the executive team or an associate, requests a one-on-one, all parties know that no one is ‘in trouble,’ as is often assumed when you’re called into the boss’s office.

Not only are these meetings helpful for the team but also for me to keep my finger on the pulse, offer recognition, provide coaching and/or hear great suggestions.

Live the open-door policy

On my office door I have a sign that reads ‘This wood panel may look closed, but it’s open — no, really, come in.’ I want to be sure everyone knows, quite literally, that I have an open-door policy. I want the team to feel free to pop their heads in and ask a question or pull me into an impromptu meeting at any time.

I have found that the team can run faster and leaner with this policy in place. We can make decisions and go through the proper approval channels in a speedy manner when we eliminate the need to have a meeting to discuss setting up a meeting for another meeting. We’ve all been there.

Get personal

Another way I connect with my team members is by making the effort to get to know every one of them personally. I make it a goal to ask them about their personal lives, interests, families and goals. In fact, when we do our annual goal-planning sessions, we ask that associates include personal goals on their list. We find that if you’re fulfilled outside of work, you’ll be happier
on the job. A happy associate is, more often than not, a more productive one.

Mi casa es su casa

I think one of the most effective ways to instantly break down the barriers between myself and the members of my team is to open up my home. When we have company parties, I like to host them at my house with my family. When possible, we have the team invite their spouses, and we keep the vibe very laid back.

One of the guiding values at Moe’s Southwest Grill is to be yourself. We go out of our way to ensure everyone feels comfortable to do just that.

Next time you see the newest member of your team quietly lingering outside your office door, tell them to come in, just like your mentor may have done to you many years ago, and get to know them. And if all else fails, you can always just hang a sign on the door.


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How to Spot an Eagle

Aardvarks are really good at one thing: eating bugs — sometimes 50,000 in one night! No other creature on the planet can match their appetites. Star performers in their own corner of the
jungle, when they tuck a napkin under their aardvark chins, they produce impressive results, just like your hardworking employees can in their jobs.

Too often, however, in an attempt to do the aardvark and the organization a favor, a decision maker will insist the aardvark fly like an eagle. There are no flying aardvarks. You can certainly
throw an aardvark out of an airplane midair, but you won’t end up with a flying aardvark. Being destroyed doesn’t motivate your employees, not the one who just failed or those who witnessed the crash.

So how do you know the difference between an aardvark and an eagle? How can you recognize those who can and will engage in the critical but difficult work of creating strategy? Whether making a hiring or promotion decision, based on the individual’s proven record of success, ask yourself the following:

  • Does this person understand how to separate strategy from tactics, the “what” from the “how”?
  • Can this person keep a global perspective? Or does she or he become mired in the details and tactics?
  • Do obstacles stop this person?
  • Can he or she create order during chaos?
  • Does this person have the ability to see patterns, make logical connections, resolve contradictions and anticipate consequences?
  • What success has this person had with multitasking?
  • Can this person think on his or her feet?
  • Can this person prioritize seemingly conflicting goals — to zero in on the critical few and put aside the trivial many when allocating time and resources?
  • When facing a complicated or unfamiliar problem, can this individual get to the core of the issue and immediately begin to formulate possible solutions?
  • Is this person future-oriented and able to paint credible pictures of possibilities and likelihoods?
  • How do unexpected and unpleasant changes affect this person’s performance?
  • When in a position of leadership, does this person serve as a source of advice and wisdom?

The core competencies that drive a particular organization may differ, but the ability to think analytically and dispassionately remains constant. The overarching question is this: “When
acting in a strategic role, has this person typically performed as needed?” If the answer is “yes,” the person probably has the innate talent to be a strategic thinker and will just need to improve requisite skills to support the talent. If the answer is “no,” don’t gamble by putting this person in a more demanding position. As valuable as the aardvarks of the organization can be, virtually all organizations need more eagles, strong critical thinkers who can learn from mistakes and make bold decisions.

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Trust in Leadership declines

The shaky economic and employment climate in the U.S. continues to make headlines.  In a recent poll of 1,857 U.S.-based employees identified another issue for employers to worry about: a lack of employee trust in management.

Among the findings:

Only 14 percent of respondents said they believe that their company’s leaders are ethical and honest.

Just 12 percent believe their employer genuinely listens to and cares about its employees.

A small 10 percent of employees said they trust management to make the right decision in times of uncertainty.

And just 7 percent said that senior management’s actions are consistent with their words.

Poor communication, lack of perceived caring, inconsistent behavior and perceptions of favoritism were cited by respondents as the largest contributors to their lack of trust in senior leaders.

It seems that a strong indicator of management mistrust is lack of shared values.  If a company truly wants to engage its workforce, drive trust and gain loyalty, it must implement a culture that recognizes individual behaviors that contribute to the company’s values and goals, and sadly, this isn’t common practice. … Only 8 percent of employees say they are frequently recognized for demonstrating behavior consistent with their company’s stated values.  And I hate to add that simple Thank You’s and other types of simple acknowledgement of employee efforts is sorely lacking in todays workforce.  Are we all so busy we forgot the fundamentals?



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Does your executive team act like a team?

Over the years I have worked with dozens of executive teams in several industries. One interesting thing I discovered is often those “teams” aren’t teams at all.

They are a group of individual senior leaders who meet on a regular basis to battle each other for limited resources: funds, people, time, praise, etc. They leave their meeting and evaluate how they did in the game: did I “win” today? Did I secure the resources I wanted and beat out my senior leader colleagues today? Each individual senior leader tracks his/her score and the game begins anew the next meeting or more accurately, the next day.

But I have seen the success when the executive team is truly committed to each other and the organizations success.  I have been lucky enough to be part of teams that were willing to put all their differences aside (even if temporarily) for a common goal.  I am a big believer in respect and values that are demonstrated by action at every level. When organizations don’t create value systems and then live and breathe them daily, values create themselves and not the good ones.  If the executive team or senior leadership does not act with “one voice, one heart,
and one mind,”
the culture effort is doomed from the start.

To unlock the potential of your organization’s executive team, consider these four best practices:

    1. Clear Purpose:
      The executive team must define its reason for being – beyond their relationship as direct reports of the president/CEO. The purpose statement clarifies why the team exists, who their primary customers are, and what they’re trying to accomplish as a team (provider of choice, employer of choice, etc.).
    2. Team Goals:
      What strategic goals is the executive team trying to accomplish? Clarifying executive team goals helps define what a good job looks like at the end of their fiscal year. Performance goals might include employee work passion targets, customer service excellence, financial success, etc.
    3. Values & Norms:
      Values defined in behavioral terms describe HOW team members should behave as they pursue their team goals. All effective teams create agreements around what a good citizen of the team looks/acts/sounds like. Values are typically too vague and lofty to guide day-to-day actions, so behavioral definitions solve that issue. Team norms emerge from the valued behaviors – norms are practical guidelines that ensure values are lived in team member interactions.
    4. Values & Norms:
      With the team’s purpose, goals, and values formalized, the most important practice comes into play: holding team members accountable for these agreements. Accountability is not the sole responsibility of the executive team’s leader (typically the president/CEO) – it is every team member’s responsibility. Accountability conversations are not drawn out conflicts – they are conversations that inquire about a valued behavior or norm, asking for insights about demonstrated behavior that seems to be outside those agreements. They are sincere efforts to understand behavior and guide members to embracing their agreements

When these four agreements are in place, decision-making is easy. Executive team members easily understand their role in furthering the team’s purpose by cooperating, communicating, and focusing on the greater good.  Change your executive “group” to an aligned executive team and you’ll reap the benefits: less drama, less conflict,  more aligned action, better  productivity, and more fun!

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How do you value your customers

Paying customers are the lifeblood of any company. Yet I find that some business owners and company leaders think that a customer’s worth is only based on how much they buy from their company. This is a common shortsighted mistake. In reality, the entire “life time value of a customer” (LTV) is based on seven measurements which every company needs to utilize:

1. Revenue minus cost

For many companies, 20 percent of their customers produce 80 percent of their revenue. What small business owners often forget is the cost to service these top customers.

What is the gross profit margin on a customer?

There are always customers that take up more than their share of resources for the revenue they produce. In this case, the customer might need to be fired. It is important to understand how much revenue a customer produces, but also what it actually costs to service that customer. The business may actually be more profitable without them!

2. Revenue timing

If the company is a seasonal based business with a maximum capacity, a retail customer that buys in February may be more valuable to a business than one that buys in December. At
the holidays, the customer may not even be able to get the service that maximizes their LTV.

3. Referrals and “buzz”

A customer that provides ‘buzz” for your company multiplies the effect of their purchases. For example, if a customer refers two other customers—which the business didn’t pay
for to acquire—then they can be worth three times their original sale boosting their LTV.

This is why “The Ultimate Question” from Fred Reinhold is so important. How likely is it that you would recommend this company to a friend or colleague? If customers are
likely to recommend a friend or colleague, then that business has a high chance of succeeding long-term.

4. Retention – by far this is so important.

Getting new customers in a challenging economic environment is difficult. It is always cheaper to retain customers than to constantly find new ones—many business experts put this cost at 5-7 times higher. Having these types of customer revenue annuities is one of the best ways to build a stable and profitable business.

5. Add-on products or services

It is a lot easier to sell new products or services to existing customers than to new ones. These customers already know and trust the company. This strategy has made Amazon and
Zappos very successful as their great customer service and order process efficiency gets extended to any product they sell. For example, Amazon gains business when consumers find a product to buy, and then they see if Amazon sells it.

6. The customer’s brand

References are the most powerful selling tool that any company has. Even more important, if a company did business with a major brand, or someone well respected in the market place, town, city, etc., they can use that reference to get more business. Prospects think that if the company did a good job for …., then they can do business with me!

7. Feedback

Does the customer tell the business what they are doing well and what is going wrong? This is incredibly valuable feedback that can be applied across the entire business. Making these types of improvements can multiply the customer’s long term effect.

So think about your business.  How do you value your customer?

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Is your organizational culture what you think it is?

In my role I have the opportunity to work with leaders at all levels of all kinds of organizations. About half of my work involves leadership skill building and team process effectiveness; culture for the most part makes up the other half.

It is impossible for me to go into an organization without subconsciously (maybe consciously) assessing the culture of their work environment. I observe and listen for how people are expected to behave, to perform, to treat each other and their customers.

I often hear about practices and philosophies from the leadership that clearly is not in practice within the organization.  And I can say that you need to use a lot of diplomacy to tell the CEO, “I know what you’re saying happens, but it doesn’t happen that way”.  It’s hard to hear that you have tried to build something a specific way and that way is not happening.

Whether an organization has intentionally created their culture or that culture evolved by default, it does have a culture that is tangible and observable. If your culture was created by default, it is likely that unintentional values or norms exist. If you consistently see conflicts,
blame, poor performance, and frustration, your culture is eroding employee morale with every passing minute! Let’s look at two very powerful systems which may reinforce undesirable valued behaviors in your organization.

Rewards and Incentives

Whether you have formalized values and valued behaviors or not, rewards and incentive systems can cause distinct behaviors, some good, some not good. For example, if you desire a team culture but your organization offers only individual compensation, you will likely see “I win, you lose” behaviors by team members.

A few years back a client described the following inappropriate, incentive-driven behaviors by a salesperson. The company paid a very low base; over 70% of sales staff compensation was in the form of commissions. One salesperson negotiated with a few of his big clients to sell
them product at the end of each quarter. The sales person enjoyed commissions on these sales. Then, one month into the new quarter, he would process returns of that product and refund the client’s money. He was generating commissions on “ghost” sales. This went on every quarter. Everyone – the salesperson, the client, the finance team of his company – knew what he was doing and tolerated this behavior. Eventually the company changed the rules about commissions on product returns, but the damage had been done.

 Recognition and Messaging

Every time you publicly celebrate someone for a behavior or action, you are reinforcing that behavior or action. If you recognize a player for goal accomplishment but everyone knows that they’ve taken inappropriate short cuts (for example) to reach that goal, you are reinforcing undesirable actions.

Even praising the RIGHT behavior can have unintended (and undesirable) consequences. One client celebrated a staff member who learned the wrong materials had been shipped to a client. That person packed the right material and drove to the airport just in time for overnight shipment by UPS. Recovery was expensive but the materials arrived on time. The client celebrated this terrific proactive solution and such recoveries became more frequent. The client realized they needed to celebrate solving the “why do we ship the wrong materials?” problem more than celebrating the recovery!

You don’t have to be a CEO to create values clarity in your own workteam. If you experience unintentional values in your workplace, start setting values expectations now.

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Who Influenced Your Career?

It’s one of those questions that’s easy to ask but hard to answer: Who influenced you and your career?  What did you learn from them? Why is it so hard to answer? Try doing it and see. If you give it serious thought, it doesn’t turn out the way you’d expect. At least for me, it wasn’t easy. I have been lucky enough to have many great people influence my career, push me to be better, and very important, celebrate my successes. Even when things weren’t going exactly as I planned or envisioned, someone stepped in and helped guide me.  Life has lots of twists and turns with loads of fascinating people along the way. For me it wasn’t one person, it was many.

Think about it, who really inspired you or said something that changed your career trajectory.  I know it sounds like a frivolous exercise, but it’s really not. It’s actually an important question for a number of reasons:

  • First, thinking back to the people, events, and ideals that inspired and changed you has an uncanny way of reinforcing what you learned. I found it to be introspective, rejuvenating, and surprisingly motivating.
  • Second, every successful business person who shares these unique experiences provides insight for thousands of young up-and-comers. It teaches them to listen to and engage a diverse group of potential mentors.
  • Third, it encourages parents, teachers, friends, managers, and anyone with important life lessons to share, to play a role in the personal growth and success of tomorrow’s leaders.

Maybe it will inspire you to either seek out new mentors or become one.