The Beginners’ Guide to Evernote

The Beginners’ Guide to Evernote

Evernote is a great application which you can “dump your brain” into so you don’t have to keep important information in your mind.

Think of Evernote as your personal database. You can access it in any web browser as well as an application.

Here are some terms you will need to know about Evernote:

  • Notebooks: These are collections of individual notes. You could just have one notebook and dump everything into it. However, most people establish different notebooks for different areas of focus or they can share notebooks with others. Examples of notebooks I currently use are LBMDF, LDAC, Lobby Day, and Personal.
  • Stacks: These are collections of notebooks. For example, you could have a stack called “Work” that has separate notebooks for each customer, project, or area of responsibility.
  • Tags: These are attributes that you can apply to any individual note. You can then view all notes with a specific tag, regardless of which notebook it resides in. This provides the ultimate in filing flexibility though it can be confusing at times. I set up tags in the following ways: the source of information, author, or a quick description of the note. Some of my tags are education, personal development, managing people, and Excel.

 

The top six reasons I love Evernote:

  • Customer Relations Management/ Project Management

It can be used is to clip maps to job sites. Archive text messages from customers.  And you can enter field notes and pictures.

  • Checklists

Store checklists that you can use over and over as needed, such as a travel packing list, window & door checklist, and task/to-do list.

  • Notes/Journals

I’m an avid note taker.  All my notes are in Evernote, so it’s easy to search and quickly locate my notes. I also like to collect solutions to problems.

  • Bookmarks/ Collections

Evernote has a web clipper, you can bookmark or clip a page or save content to read later.

  • Agenda

This can be used to track meeting notes with action items or improvements. Also, I add notes and reminders for the next meeting.

  • Blog Post & Column Ideas

I’m a big RSS (Rich Site Summary) feed reader. I use an RSS to keep up with the latest news and alerts. Any blogs or news, I want to keep I clip to Evernote.

There are other applications which are similar to Evernote: Google Keep, Microsoft OneNote, SimplyNote. I highly recommend Evernote if you want to simplify your life.

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Inbox to Zero

Inbox to Zero

An email is a form of communication meant to pass information efficiently. However, it often becomes a productivity killer, if not properly managed. Below are ways to manage and reduce your inbox:

Turn Off Notifications / Work Offline

Email notices are often a major big focus drain. Turn off desktop pop-ups or chimes on your phone and computer.  Try Scheduling three fifteen or one thirty minute slot per day to check email.

When processing your email, you have three decisions to make: do it, delegate, or defer it.

Do it: If you can do the action in less than two minutes then do it. For example, reading an information only email, emails that can just be deleted, or those that require only a quick response.

Delegate: If appropriate delegate the task to an employee and move the email to a folder called @waiting_for. This folder can be used to store emails with a task that requires a follow-up.

Defer it: If this action or email requires more than two minutes then move this email to a folder called @action. The task required should be noted separately in order to avoid using this folder as a task list.

 

Unsubscribing to newsletters

If you are not reading an email newsletter, it’s best to unsubscribe since deleting these emails take valuable time. Almost all newsletters have an unsubscribe link. The links are at the bottom of most newsletters. Industry related newsletters that are important for you to read can be put into a folder labeled “Newsletter” or reading. These can be read while waiting for Dr.’s appointment, etc.

CC’s

If you’re the person in the CC’s part of the email, there shouldn’t be an action or response required on your part. The CC’s means for your information only.

To help with ““CC’ing, setup a rule in your email application to color code or move all the email that you’re CC’d on. This way you can reduce or manage your inbox.

Thanks

Unless the recipient requests you acknowledge the receipt, you don’t have to say “thanks” every time. Make that clear to your recipients, so there are proper expectations and no hurt feelings.

 

Email if used efficiently, is probably one of the greatest productivity contributors of the past twenty years. However, it’s important to recognize when emails shouldn’t substitute for a live conversation. Digital communication has accelerated the speed at which people form and broaden relationships, but is also decreasing the rate at which people are willing to resolve issues either professionally or directly in-person. The next time you receive an email from someone trying to resolve an issue ask yourself; is this something that would be better served by conversation? Then have the courage pick up the phone or have a face to face meeting.

 

 

JoA: Raising Rainmakers

Below is a great article from Journal of Accountancy about how to network, mentor and develop your personal marketing plan. Click on the title below to read the full article.

Raising Rainmakers

Firms should start early to nurture business development skills in young CPAs.

By Lynne Waymon, André Alphonso and Pamela Bradleyrainmaker

There are three types of networking identities. About 20% of people are Naturals at developing business relationships, while 10% are Naysayers, who resist business development responsibilities. The rest are Neutrals, who are willing to adopt the skills when they are told to do so.

CPAs should start early in developing their networking identity for three reasons: (1) to take advantage of mentors before they retire; (2) to build on relationships with peers from college; and (3) to have enough time to learn networking skills and to make business development a natural part of their repertoire.

Firms can teach CPAs five strategies to develop the skills needed to foster professional relationships and bring in new business.

Firms should establish an atmosphere that encourages networking. Even better, networking should become ingrained in their culture.

 

McK: The Three Cs of Customer Satisfaction: Consistency, consistency, consistency

Below is an article from McKinsey & Company Insights & Publications  March 2014 issue. This article about talks how important it is to provide consistency across the customer’s journey to ensure satisfaction. I have another blog post which talks about how to map a customer’s journey: Using Customer Journey Maps to Improve Customer Experience.

The Three Cs of customer satisfaction: Consistency, consistency, consistency

It may not seem sexy, but consistency is the secret ingredient to making customers happy. However, it’s difficult to get right and requires top-leadership attention.

March 2014 | by Alfonso Pulido, Dorian Stone, and John Strevel

“Sustaining an audience is hard,” Bruce Springsteen once said. “It demands a consistency of thought, of purpose, and of action over a long period of time.” He was talking about his route to music stardom, yet his words are just as applicable to the world of customer experience. Consistency may be one of the least inspirational topics for most managers. But it’s exceptionally powerful, especially at a time when retail channels are proliferating and consumer choice and empowerment are increasing.

Getting consistency right also requires the attention of top leadership. That’s because by using a variety of channels and triggering more and more interactions with companies as they seek to meet discrete needs, customers create clusters of interactions that make their individual interactions less important than their cumulative experience. This customer journey can span all elements of a company and include everything from buying a product to actually using it, having issues with a product that require resolution, or simply making the decision to use a service or product for the first time.

It’s not enough to make customers happy with each individual interaction. Our most recent customer-experience survey of some 27,000 American consumers across 14 different industries found that effective customer journeys are more important: measuring satisfaction on customer journeys is 30 percent more predictive of overall customer satisfaction than measuring happiness for each individual interaction. In addition, maximizing satisfaction with customer journeys has the potential not only to increase customer satisfaction by 20 percent but also to lift revenue by up to 15 percent while lowering the cost of serving customers by as much as 20 percent. Our research identified three keys to consistency:

1. Customer-journey consistency

It’s well understood that companies must continually work to provide customers with superior service, with each area of the business having clear policies, rules, and supporting mechanisms to ensure consistency during each interaction. However, few companies can deliver consistently across customer journeys, even in meeting basic needs.

Simple math illustrates why this is so important in a world of increasingly multichannel, multitouch customer journeys. Assume a customer interacts six times with a pay-TV company, starting when he or she undertakes online research into providers and ending when the first bill is received 30 days after service is installed. Assuming a 95 percent satisfaction rate for each individual interaction—whether measuring responsiveness, the accuracy of information, or other factors—even this level of performance means that up to one in four customers will have a poor experience during the on-boarding journey.

The fact is that consistency on the most common customer journeys is an important predictor of overall customer experience and loyalty. Banks, for example, saw an exceptionally strong correlation between consistency on key customer journeys and overall performance in customer experience. And when we sent an undercover-shopping team to visit 50 bank branches and contact 50 bank call centers, the analysis was confirmed: for lower-performing banks, the variability in experience was much higher among a typical bank’s branches than it was among different banks themselves. Large banks typically faced the greatest challenge.

2. Emotional consistency

One of the most illuminating results of our survey was that positive customer-experience emotions—encompassed in a feeling of trust—were the biggest drivers of satisfaction and loyalty in a majority of industries surveyed. We also found that consistency is particularly important to forge a relationship of trust with customers: for example, customers trusted banks that were in the top quartile of delivering consistent customer journeys 30 percent more than banks in the bottom quartile.

What is also striking is how valuable the consistency-driven emotional connection is for customer loyalty. For bank customers, “a brand I feel close to” and “a brand that I can trust” were the top drivers for bank differentiation on customer experience. In a world where research suggests that fewer than 30 percent of customers trust most major financial brands, ensuring consistency on customer journeys to build trust is important for long-term growth.

3. Communication consistency

A company’s brand is driven by more than the combination of promises made and promises kept. What’s also critical is ensuring customers recognize the delivery of those promises, which requires proactively shaping communications and key messages that consistently highlight delivery as well as themes. Southwest Airlines, for example, has built customer trust over a long period by consistently delivering on its promise as a no-frills, low-cost airline. Similarly, Progressive Insurance created an impression among customers that it offered lower rates than its competitors in the period from 1995 to 2005 and made sure to highlight when it delivered on that promise. Progressive also shaped how customers interpreted cost-reduction actions such as on-site resolution of auto claims by positioning and reinforcing these actions as part of a consistent brand promise that it was a responsive, technology-savvy company. In both cases, customer perceptions of the brands reinforced operational realities. Such brands generate a reservoir of goodwill and remain resilient on the basis of their consistency over time in fulfilling promises and their strong, ongoing marketing communications to reinforce those experiences.

Becoming a company that delivers customer-journey excellence requires many things to be done well. But we’ve found that there are three priorities. First, take a journey-based approach. For companies wanting to improve the customer experience as a means of increasing revenue and reducing costs, executing on customer journeys leads to the best outcomes. We found that a company’s performance on journeys is 35 percent more predictive of customer satisfaction and 32 percent more predictive of customer churn than performance on individual touchpoints. Since a customer journey often touches different parts of the organization, companies need to rewire themselves to create teams that are responsible for the end-to-end customer journey across functions. While we know there are an infinite number of journeys, there are generally three to five that matter most to the customer and the business—start your improvements there. To track progress, effectiveness, and predict opportunities, you may need to retool both metrics and analytics to report on journeys, not just touchpoint insights.

Second, fix areas where negative experiences are common. Because a single negative experience has four to five times greater relative impact than a positive one, companies should focus on reducing poor customer experiences, especially in those areas in which customers come into contact with the organization most often. For instance, training frontline service representatives to identify and address specific customer issues through role playing and script guidelines will go a long way toward engendering deeper customer trust.

Finally, do it now. Our research indicates that since 2009, customers are valuing an “average” experience less and have even less patience for variability in delivery. In addition, companies that experience inconsistency challenges often expend unnecessary resources without actually improving the customer journey. Making additional investments to improve the customer experience without tightening the consistency of experience is just throwing good money after bad.

For more details about customer satisfaction across industries, see “Customer satisfaction survey: Who’s up and who’s down,” on the McKinsey on Marketing & Sales website.

About the authors

Alfonso Pulido is an associate principal in McKinsey’s San Francisco office, where Dorian Stone is a principal; John Strevel is an associate principal in the Toronto office.

How to Start and Run a Mentoring Program

Below is a great article on how to start a mentorship in your company. I think mentoring is very important for succession and developing future leaders.

How to start and run a mentoring program.

 The right people, processes, and reporting structure are key to meeting goals.

By Jeff Drew

March 2014

Paul Martin had a lot more questions than answers when he started as a staff accountant at Apple Growth Partners. At the top of the list: Where did he want to go with his career in public accounting?

“I didn’t know what path to take,” he said.

Martin found direction in the mentoring program at Apple Growth, a 90-employee firm based in Akron, Ohio. Following the firm’s guidelines, he worked with his mentor to create an individual development plan that would help him chart and progress down a career path.

“My mentor really helped me stick to a plan of action goals,” Martin said. “It really helped me start on the path I want to go, which is ultimately to partner level.”

Four years after starting at Apple Growth, Martin is making progress on his career aspirations. He just finished taking the last part of the CPA exam and hopes to have his license soon. He has been promoted to senior staff accountant and even has begun mentoring three staff accountants at the firm.

Mentoring programs have long been desired by young, and sometimes not-so-young, CPAs. Firms are increasingly finding real value in these programs because they help prepare the future leaders of accounting firms and, therefore, play a pivotal role in succession plans. The AICPA Private Companies Practice Section (PCPS)/Texas Society of CPAs 2012 Management of an Accounting Practice (MAP) survey found a significant jump in the percentage of firms that include mentoring and training as part of their partner compensation formula, from 3% in 2010 to 15% in 2012.

There is room for improvement, however. The AICPA’s PCPS 2011 Top Talent Survey found that while 80% of the brightest young CPA talent participated in some form of mentoring, fewer than half had access to a formal program. Of those who did, 84% reported that they benefited from the mentoring program (see “The Lowdown on High Potentials,” JofA, Dec. 2011, page 36).

For the better part of 20 years, Gatto, Pope & Walwick LLP (GPW) was one of those firms that provided mentoring but did not have a formal program. The San Diego-based practice enjoyed success with its mentoring efforts, but it decided about a year ago to formalize and document the program. The goal was to solidify the parts of the mentoring system that worked well and to shore up its reporting and accountability mechanisms.

GPW’s system is similar to the mentoring program used at Apple Growth and follows many of the guidelines laid out by consultant Rita Keller, an expert in mentoring programs. This article draws from all of those mentoring plans to outline a framework for designing and deploying a formal mentoring program.

PLANNING FOR SUCCESS

Firms considering a mentoring program should form a committee to study the issue, Keller said. The committee should include stakeholders from different levels within the firm, which should select one of the committee members to spearhead, or own, the project. The committee should research mentoring programs through CPA firm associations, state societies, and the AICPA, among other sources. The firm should then draft a mentoring document that fits the firm’s goals and culture.

At many firms, not all partners will be on board with a mentoring program. Some will question the advisability of devoting nonbillable hours to the project. Supporters can counter such resistance by listing the benefits of a mentoring program (see Exhibit 1). In addition, an analysis of time worked likely will show that there are hours available to devote to a mentoring program without affecting the number of billable hours (see Exhibit 2).

Mentoring Exhibit 1

Mentoring Exhibit 2

Keller cautions firms not to confuse training programs with mentoring. “Firms need good, strong training programs to set the stage for the mentoring,” she said. “Mentoring should not be how to fill out a tax form.”

Instead, a mentoring program is established to develop future firm leaders and to foster healthy work relationships, said Katie Lee, Apple Growth’s human resources manager. Apple Growth set up its mentoring program almost a decade ago because it needed to have a better understanding of its staff’s succession potential. “We had no answers where our employees were going in the future,” she said. “It was a shot in the dark who wanted to be a manager or a partner.”

The mentoring program helped Apple Growth learn about its personnel’s career desires. Mentoring arrangements also establish connections that can help guide CPAs down their career path.

“It’s finding someone who really cares about you and your career,” Keller said. It’s the type of relationship that has facilitated young CPA learning for decades, she added. But while informal arrangements work, having a written mentoring program helps to establish accountability and reporting standards while making sure everyone gets a chance to participate, said Thomas J. McFadden, CPA, a GPW partner who heads the firm’s mentoring program. A formal program also helps to make sure the mentoring process and expectations are the same across the firm, Lee said.

That’s a lot to work into one program, but Keller warns firms not to overcomplicate it. “You want to come up with something that’s not too difficult,” she said. “You want something that’s natural, that’s easy. Having a little bit of a framework is important.”

Once that framework is written and the firm is ready to unveil it to the staff, leadership should hold an event or do something else that lets everyone in the firm know that the program is a big deal, Keller said.

GETTING STARTED

Firms should emphasize the importance of the mentoring program to new hires from day one and should actively engage them in mentoring relationships soon after their start date. GPW requires new hires to be paired with a mentor after their first 30 days. Apple Growth connects mentors and mentees around the 90-day mark.

Opinion is divided on whether new employees should select their own mentor or whether the firm should do the matchmaking. Apple Growth’s human resources department assigns mentors to new hires. “It’s hard to choose when you don’t know people really well,” Lee said.

GPW lets new hires choose their own mentors. Most new hires at the 30-day mark have reached a comfort level with a potential mentor, who is a partner or manager but not their direct supervisor, McFadden said. If a new hire is not comfortable selecting a mentor, McFadden or another partner goes through the choices with the employee and assists with the selection.

Keller prefers seeing new hires pick their own mentors, but she places greater emphasis on firms making sure they pick the right people to serve as mentors—a view McFadden and Lee share. Not everybody is suited to be a mentor. Accounting firms usually make promotions based on a CPA’s technical prowess, but many CPAs at the manager level or above lack the soft skills—the ability to motivate, coach, listen, etc.—required in an effective mentor.

“What we’ve found is that not everybody is a mentor,” Lee said. “It’s just not built into them. Some are strictly practitioners, and that’s OK.”

At Apple Growth, 25 of the firm’s 90 employees are mentors, from the senior associate staff level up to partner. All of the firm’s employees are mentees, including the chairman, who is mentored by a member of the board of directors.

“We have found that everyone in the firm needs a mentor,” Lee said. “Mentoring is not necessarily to advance one in their career, but to have an advocate or someone who believes in you. We encourage our team members to always set goals and continue developing new skills. … A mentor is an important figure in your career and is important at every level.”

At GPW, partners and managers serve as mentors. The firm implemented a training program for mentors and guarantees them at least two hours of training per year. Apple Growth introduced a rating system that allows mentees to rate their mentors.

THE MEETINGS

Mentoring programs usually consist of two types of meetings: formal and informal. Formal meetings take place two to four times a year and usually consist of the mentor helping the mentee set goals and make progress in achieving those goals.

“We set up goals once a year,” said John Valle, CPA, a tax manager and mentor at Apple Growth. “Once we establish goals, we document them at the initial meeting and check in on the progress toward achieving these goals in follow-up meetings.”

Lee said that Apple Growth emphasizes setting S.M.A.R.T. goals—i.e., goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and apply for a defined period of time. GPW’s individual development plans track the following for each goal or objective:

  • Action steps required.
  • Resources needed.
  • Milestones/target dates.
  • Rewards.

Formal meetings generally last an hour to an hour and a half and often are held over lunch. Formal meetings usually involve the mentor checking the mentee’s progress on goals and determining what steps the mentee needs to take and what assistance the firm can provide. Goals and action steps often are written down during the meeting, and business items can be documented in a report filed with program or firm leadership (see Exhibit 3).

Mentoring Exhibit 3

Conversations between mentors and mentees sometimes broach sensitive topics. To protect privacy, GPW requires mentors and mentees to sign a confidentiality agreement. The firm wants mentees to feel safe discussing sensitive in-office and even personal issues with their mentors. No personal information is shared outside of those meetings without the mentee’s permission.

“You feel a little more comfortable sharing confidential information because you know it was going to be kept quiet,” said Brent Gastineau, CPA, a tax manager at GPW who has been both a mentee and a mentor with the firm. “You could talk about someone you were not getting along with.” While open, honest dialogue is desired, mentors must be careful not to allow the meetings to devolve into complaint sessions.

Formal meetings can operate outside of, or as part of, the firm’s official employee evaluation and performance review. At Apple Growth, the official performance review takes place during the meeting held just after the close of busy season, Valle said. Other firms believe that performance reviews should always be kept separate from the mentoring process.

INFORMAL BUT IMPORTANT

Informal meetings between mentors and mentees can be just as valuable as formal meetings, said Martin, the Apple Growth senior staff accountant.

“I would ask my mentor, ‘Hey, can we go out to lunch?’ ” said Martin, who would ask for further explanation of technical issues or general advice. “We would go over it for a half-hour or an hour, and then I’d really understand the issue.”

Informal meetings can take place at any time. Sometimes, mentees walk into their mentor’s office to ask questions or discuss concerns. Other times, mentors will take mentees to networking events or to client meetings. Those expeditions provide opportunities for mentees to learn to connect with potential clients and work with current clients.

“We try to get them involved with networking,” Valle said. “I’ll let them shadow me in a client meeting, but we won’t charge the client for their time.”

REPORTS AND CONFLICT MANAGEMENT

Reporting mechanisms are key to the mentoring process. As head of the mentoring program at GPW, McFadden is responsible for making sure all mentees have a mentor and for keeping a list of those relationships. He also oversees the orientation and training of mentors and handles the termination or alteration of any problematic mentor-mentee relationships.

In addition, McFadden makes sure meeting reporting forms are turned in. Through those, he monitors the progress of each mentee, ensuring that meetings are occurring, advice is being followed, and goals are being set, pursued, and achieved. Finally, he makes twice yearly reports to the partners on the progress of the mentoring program and its participants.

Mentors occasionally step into roles beyond those of meeting with mentees and submitting reports. One of the most difficult situations is resolving a conflict between a mentee and the mentee’s manager. The discord can result from a personality conflict or a disconnect between a mentee’s goals and the supervisor’s goals for the mentee. When goals don’t match, the mentor can be called upon to work with both parties to align the goals. When there is conflict between the mentee and the supervisor, the mentor may choose several courses of action: speaking with the supervisor without the mentee; speaking with the supervisor with the mentee; having the mentee discuss the issue with the supervisor; or convincing the mentee that he or she is in the wrong.

“This is probably the toughest situation a mentor in our firm will face,” McFadden said. “Luckily, it doesn’t come up that often.”

GROUP EFFORT

One-on-one pairings are not the only way to facilitate a mentoring program. Firms can employ a group mentoring approach.

Keller encourages group mentoring because it allows mentors to serve more people. For example, an “engaged” mentor might have three mentees. If the mentor spends 90 minutes in formal meetings with each mentee on a quarterly basis, then the mentor has devoted four and a half hours to mentoring meetings in the quarter. The same mentor could accommodate six mentees, meeting with them in two groups of three each quarter. Even if those meetings are two hours, the mentor has committed less time (four hours vs. four and a half hours) and served twice as many employees.

In a group system, mentees can still request informal one-on-one time with a mentor as needed. And mentors can still take mentees to networking events and client meetings.

THE VALUE PROPOSITION

In the end, mentors and mentees agree that mentoring programs are beneficial. Mentees receive valuable career guidance and develop lasting business and personal relationships. Gastineau, the GPW tax manager, said that the biggest thing he has gained from his mentoring relationships is confidence and support.

“I’ve had somebody on my side who can tell me from their perspective where I’m at in my career and what I need to do to reach my goal,” Gastineau said. “My goal is to be a partner, and I’m going to get there. I’m right on the cusp.”

Mentors often gain from their mentoring activities as well. Martin, who has served as a mentor for a year, credits the process with helping him learn more about the profession.

“When you teach something, it helps you have a better understanding of what you are trying to teach,” he said.

Firms also benefit. McFadden said GPW’s mentoring program is the main reason for the firm’s low turnover—which has contributed to the firm’s top-heavy structure, with 15 managers and partners out of a total of 35 employees. Staff stability also bodes well for Apple Growth, said one of the firm’s tax managers.

“People aren’t leaving,” Valle said. “It says something about our organization that we are developing a strong group of young leaders for the succession of our firm.”


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Mentoring programs help to develop the future leaders of firms and, in the process, solidify succession.

Firms considering a mentoring program should form a committee to study the issue. A member of the committee should step up to “own” the project, and the committee should spearhead the drafting of a document outlining how the mentoring program will work.

Formalized and documented mentoring programs often have reporting and accountability mechanisms that help make sure everyone gets a chance to take part and the expectations are consistent across the organization.

Firms should engage new hires in mentoring relationships in the first few months after the on-boarding process. New hires can select a mentor with whom they feel comfortable, or the firm can pair mentors and mentees. It is important that mentees feel comfortable talking with their mentors and that they are offered confidentiality for personal and sensitive issues.

Mentors must be able to motivate, coach, and listen to mentees. Not all CPAs are cut out to be mentors. Group mentoring is an option when a firm doesn’t have enough mentors for one-on-one pairings.

There are two types of mentoring meetings: formal and informal. Formal meetings take place two to four times a year, for 60 to 90 minutes each, and usually consist of the mentor helping the mentee set and meet career development goals. The meetings usually result in a report with objectives and action items.

Informal meetings can be just as valuable as formal meetings. The types of informal meetings include impromptu discussions between mentor and mentee as well as mentors taking mentees to networking events or on client visits.

Jeff Drew is a JofA senior editor. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact him at jdrew@aicpa.org or 919-402-4056.

Stephen R. Covey Taught Me Not to Be Like Him

What has Stephen Covey taught you? Below is a blog post from the Harvard Business Review  by Greg McKeown

Stephen R. Covey Taught Me Not to Be Like Him

Book Cover
Book Cover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Stephen R. Covey, the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, died yesterday (July 18, 2012). In a testament to his impact, his passing was news on CNNThe Washington Post and in many other publications around the world.

The comments on these obituaries include two very divergent types. One group says he was a “snake oil salesman” who “started a wave of BS in the corporate world — all about clichés and posters and one liners.” The other says “he cleared out a lot of BS by making some important ideas simpler to grasp.” Which is it?

I have read every word Stephen R. Covey has published. And by read I mean read, reread, taught, thought deeply about and tried to apply. Certainly, I have done my fair share of thinking on the principles and ideas he espoused, which have been shared in almost every corner of the world. At more than 20 million books sold, he has clearly been one of the most widely read management thinkers of the last thirty years. The 7 Habits alone has been published in 38 languages. At the height of his fame he was named one of Time magazine’s 25 Most Influential Americans.

On a more personal level, Stephen took time to support my own efforts to teach and write. Whether in his home, on the phone or in encouraging notes along the way, I benefited from his personal mentoring. In one of our first conversations, when I was 21 years old and hungry to write my first book, he said “Oh Greg, you are so naïve, you have no idea about life. You don’t even know what you don’t know!” And I wondered whether this was really the principle-centered leader I had heard so much about! But then he continued, “But so were many of the thinkers and leaders before you. They had a mission. So do you. That is enough.” Then, he sent a follow-up note, saying “Some day, you’ll send me your magnum opus full of spirit, vision, love and insight. God bless you to fulfill your dream in blessing His children. Love, Stephen.”

Yet, I have also seen the ideas Stephen taught being used like scenes from The Office: like the tyrannical boss who printed large posters with the word, “Synergize!” and posted them around the office cubicles (a true story). Like something from a Dilbert piece, these moments are cringe-worthy. Indeed, the hypocrisy people feel when they hear such mantras and see such behavior is truly painful.

I do not seek in this piece to summarize Stephen’s thinking nor necessarily to advocate it. I am confident I can go toe-to-toe on any aspect of his thinking and writing with critics or zealots. What I learned from Stephen was not to be like him. The principle that captures my own sense is: “Follow not in the footsteps of the masters, but rather seek what they sought.”

Stephen Covey sought to shake corrupted assumptions embedded in organizations everywhere. He believed in creating organizations that are different than the ones we have inherited. There is irony that some of his ideas are now clichés within the very systems he sought to dismantle, but it doesn’t change the importance of his intent. His vision was to create schools, hospitals, governments and institutions that throw out industrial age thinking and innovate to create something better. We are still barely scratching the surface on this, but the work has begun.

He believed in teaching children to be leaders. In an awkward interaction here, Stephen was asked, “What do you want to be known for?” and he answered, “Every child is a leader.” It doesn’t seem like an answer to the question — unless it is. Teaching children to be leaders may well be a mechanism for changing the world. For example, I recently interviewed a couple, James and Shaylyn Garrett, who are in Jordan training teachers and students critical thinking skills and other leadership principles. Their work is a quiet revolution — one that is desperately needed. Thomas Friedman recently cited the amazing work they are doing in a column for The New York Times called, “First, Tahrir Square, Then The Classroom.” It’s the kind of work that truly does change the world, and leaves a lasting legacy.

Stephen aimed to be a light, not a critic. According to Cynthia Haller, Stephen’s oldest daughter, when Bill Clinton was running for President of the United States in 1992, Stephen was at a gathering where many people were badmouthing Clinton, but he refused to participate. Someone asked him what he thought and he said, “I don’t want to criticize him, because I never know if I’ll have a chance to influence him. I don’t want to be a hypocrite if he ever needs my help.” A couple of months later he received an unexpected call from President Clinton: “I just read 7 Habits twice,” Clinton said. “I want to integrate this into my presidency.” A few days later, Stephen flew to Camp David to share his insights with both President Clinton and Hillary Clinton. And they asked him to stay an extra day. (Read more of this account here). Stephen told me that when he was teaching at a conference, he would arrange meetings with national leaders wherever he was. He taught 50 Heads of State around the world. That is a vision worthy of emulation.

In his speech “Citizenship in a Republic,” Theodore Roosevelt famously said: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

There are many who want to be like Stephen Covey. There are many who didn’t like the way his ideas were expressed or applied. But Stephen was a man who was in the arena trying to teach and make a difference. In this pursuit, I do aspire to be like him.

Wise Up, Lumberyards: Smartphones Aren’t Going Away

Below is an article from FastCo. Design. What are you doing about smartphones in your Lumberyard? Are you embracing the new customer?

Wise Up, Retailers: Smartphones Aren’t Going Away

Walt Disney
Walt Disney

Rather than fearing in-aisle smartphone usage, retailers should embrace and support it. Only then will they eventually win back control of their stores.

I recently asked an audience of technology buffs how many of them used their smartphones to help them shop in physical retail stores. Over half of the hands shot up. Now for the surprise. “Those with your hands up, please keep them up if a salesperson has ever asked to help you to shop with your smartphone in any way.” All of the hands went down.

Their response mirrors a discrepancy that prevails more generally across the U.S.today (even among non-techies): Customers increasingly use smartphones in stores to help them shop, but the brick-and-mortar retailers are ignoring them.

We can’t go on like this much longer. For one thing, the retailers have no choice: In-aisle smartphone usage is here to stay. One in four Americans taps into the mobile Internet (or about 75 million, according to Forrester’s Melissa Parrish). That number is roughly equivalent to the population of the U.S. eastern seaboard. Most of them own smartphones, and the vast majority of them (84%, according to our own recent survey) use those devices to help them accomplish at least one kind of activity related to shopping, such as searching for product information, taking photos as memory aids, checking prices, or “checking-in” to a location-based service. Barcode scanning and QR, or Quick Response, code scanning is not only popular but sticky: 85% of people we surveyed use their phones to scan products today at least as often as when they first tried it out.

So if there is no chance at all that this is all going to blow over, how come more brick-and-mortar retailers aren’t exploiting this new medium — say, to drive sales? In most cases because they are doing their best to clamber out of the recession: managing prices, inventory and costs, as consumers trade down and buy cheaper. In this context, mobile technology plays into their worst fears: “scan and scram,” as the practice is rather dismally known. Or as a smartphone shopper in our observational field research described his personal experience, “You feel like you’re kind of cheating the store by doing one of these [holds up phone as if to scan a barcode]. Because it’s as if you’re going to hold [the product], and look at it, but not buy it here.”

So consumers and retailers are at odds on the whole subject of in-aisle smartphone shopping: with consumers loving it, wanting it, needing it, and retailers, by and large, hesitating to support it.

Even the most innovative retailers like Best Buy, which stakes brand equity on the success of its in-aisle mobile experience, still provide almost no physical support for it. Its QR code hangtag system, for instance, is progressive. Scan a product code with your phone, and you get instant product reviews and other detailed information. But as a whole, from a customer experience perspective, it’s far too tentative. There are no on-shelf instructions (e.g., how to use a QR code, how to distinguish a UPC code from an internal company barcode); no in-store signage about the Best Buy mobile app; and little, if any, staff advocacy.

Most crucially, an attitude of explicit support for mobile shopping does not shape store culture among any brick-and-mortar retailers, including Best Buy. In its absence, a large swath of consumers is able to imagine that the relationship with retailers is not just ethically ambiguous but positively adversarial. Over a third of in-aisle smartphone users we polled said they felt at least somewhat “self-conscious” about scanning a barcode or QR code with a salesperson nearby.

Fortunately, we know pretty much how this is all going to turn out. Think back to where social media was only in 2006, when photos circulated on the Internet of a Dell laptop ablaze after exploding at a conference in Osaka, Japan. Dell recalled the Sony-made batteries but was initially slow to respond to angry bloggers. Then it formed a social media team, which found that if they singled out influential blogs and commented on negative posts with helpful links to the recall site, the grateful blog owners took on the rest of the damage control for them, evangelizing Dell’s good deeds to their own flock of readers on Dell’s behalf.

Then, as now, you’ve got to go with the flow. Dell responded effectively only because it understood that the days of its monolithic control over its messaging was over. Similarly, for retailers, the only way out, is through. They will eventually win back their aisles, but only when they can accept that they no longer fully control them. At that point, the current “moral discomfort” of both retailers and smartphone-equipped customers will fade into the past: growing pains of a new practice for which norms have not been agreed upon.

This is a future that innovative retailers should want to embrace now, rather than later. Because with change, comes opportunity. Those who get in the game today can differentiate themselves, powerfully, by positive association with the new technology. Simply asking, “Did you know you can use your smartphone to help you shop here today?” will go a long way to set the relationship back on the right path. One of the great brand-building moments of the next decade is available, right now, to the first company who can design a place that shouts “smartphones welcome here.” The chance will not come again.