HBR: How to Lose Your Best Employees

“When we are learning, we experience higher levels of brain activity and many feel-good brain chemicals are produced. Managers would do well to remember that.” What are you doing to keep your employees challenged at work? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Whitney Johnson:

How to Lose Your Best Employees

You want to be a great boss. You want your company to be a great place to work. But right now, at this very moment, one of your key employees might be about to walk out the door.

She has consistently brought her best game to work and has grown into a huge asset. But her learning has peaked, her growth has stalled, and she needs a new challenge to reinvigorate her.

As her boss, you don’t want anything to change. After all, she’s super-productive, her work is flawless, and she always delivers on time. You want to keep her right where she is.

That’s a great way to lose her forever.

This was my situation more than a decade ago. After eight years as an award-winning stock analyst at Merrill Lynch, I needed a new challenge. I’ve always liked mentoring and coaching people, so I approached a senior executive about moving to a management track. Rather than offering his support, he dismissed and discouraged me. His attitude was, We like you right where you are. I left within the year.

This kind of scenario plays out in companies every day. And the cost is enormous in terms of both time and money. But if I had stayed and disengaged, the cost may have been even higher. When people can no longer grow in their jobs, they mail it in — leading to huge gaps in productivity. According to Gallup, a lack of employee engagement “implies a stunning amount of wasted potential, given that business units in the top quartile of Gallup’s global employee engagement database are 17% more productive and 21% more profitable than those in the bottom quartile.”

And yet engagement is only symptomatic. When your employees (and maybe even you, as their manager) aren’t allowed to grow, they begin to feel that they don’t matter. They feel like a cog in a wheel, easily swapped out. If you aren’t invested in them, they won’t be invested in you, and even if they don’t walk out the door, they will mentally check out.

How do you overcome this conundrum? It starts with recognizing that every person in your company, including you, is on a learning curve. That learning curve means that every role has a shelf life. You start a new position at the low end of the learning curve, with challenges to overcome in the early days. Moving up the steep slope of growth, you acquire competence and confidence, continuing into a place of high contribution and eventually mastery at the top of the curve.

But what comes next as the potential for growth peters out? The learning curve flattens, a plateau is reached; a precipice of disengagement and declining performance is on the near horizon. I’d estimate that four years is about the maximum learning curve for most people in most positions; if, after that, you’re still doing the exact same thing, you’re probably starting to feel a little flat.

Take my own career: I moved to New York City with a freshly minted university degree in music. I was a pianist who especially loved jazz. But I was quickly dazzled by Wall Street which, in the late 1980s, was the place to work. I secured a position as a secretary in a financial firm and started night school to learn about investing.

A few years later, my boss helped me make the leap from support staff to investment banker. It was an unlikely, thrilling new opportunity that required his sponsorship and support. After a few years, I jumped again to become a stock analyst, and I scaled that curve to achieve an Institutional Investor ranking for several successive years.

When I began, I was excited to be a secretary on Wall Street. I was also excited to become an investment banker. And I loved being a stock analyst. Though I started in each of these positions at the low end of their respective learning curves, I was able to progress and achieve mastery in all of them.

Eventually, I became a little bored with each job and started looking around for a new challenge to jump to. Most of us follow similar patterns — our brains want to be learning, and they give us feel-good feedback when we are. When we aren’t, we don’t feel so good. The human brain is designed to learn, not just during our childhood school years but throughout our life spans. When we are learning, we experience higher levels of brain activity and many feel-good brain chemicals are produced. Managers would do well to remember that.

Because every organization is a collection of people on different learning curves. You build an A team by optimizing these individual curves with a mix of people: 15% of them at the low end of the curve, just starting to learn new skills; 70% in the sweet spot of engagement; and 15% at the high end of mastery. As you manage employees all along the learning curve, requiring them to jump to a new curve when they reach the top, you will have a company full of people who are engaged.

You and every person on your team is a learning machine. You want the challenge of not knowing how to do something, learning how to do it, mastering it, and then learning something new. Instead of letting the engines of your employees sit idle, crank them: Learn, leap, and repeat.

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HBS: To Motivate Employees, Give an Unexpected Bonus (or Penalty)

What best motivates employees to do their best work? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business School Working Knowledge by Michael Blanding:

To Motivate Employees, Give an Unexpected Bonus (or Penalty)

Susanna Gallani finds that employees can be more motivated by the anticipation of a reward or punishment than the actual payoff.

In the 1992 film Glengarry Glen Ross, an executive played by Alec Baldwin presents a unique motivational scheme to a trio of down-on-their-luck real estate salesmen. There will be a new contest, he tells them, to see who can bring in the most sales. “First prize is a Cadillac Eldorado,” he says. “Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired.”

This might seem an extreme way to motivate employees (and, of course, fails spectacularly in the movie). But companies hold so-called tournaments based on relative performance all the time to incentivize workers, says Susanna Gallani, an assistant professor in the Accounting and Management Unit at Harvard Business School.

How much those systems spur employees, however, may depend on how fair employees perceive them to be.

“We have a tendency to attribute favorable outcomes to our own abilities, but when things go wrong, we try and find other reasons to explain it,” Gallani says.

Which rewards motivate workers?

In a new working paper written with doctoral student Wei Cai, Subjectivity in Tournaments: Implicit Rewards and Penalties in Subsequent Performance, she finds that those perceptions can have a lot more to do with how employees are motivated than the actual consequences they receive.

Motivation is important in business for one reason: In the contract between employers and employees, it’s simply not possible to spell out how employees’ roles will need to expand to meet every contingency.

“Maybe there is an epidemic of the flu and everyone needs to work overtime, or there is an exogenous increase in demand,” Gallani says. “There is so much left unwritten.”

Because of that, employers rely on employee motivation to go above and beyond the contract and do what’s in the best interest of the organization.

“If you feel like you are being given a gift more than you thought you would earn, then you tend to go above and beyond to restore this balance”

Incentive mechanisms to motivate employees can take many forms, whether it’s tangible rewards or punishment, comparing one employee’s reputation versus another’s, or peer pressure to work on behalf of the larger group. All of those forms of incentive influence individual decisions, which are driven by expectations of future outcomes.

“We make choices in anticipation of what the consequences of those choices will be,” Gallani says. “If I work hard, I will get a bonus or greater respect from my peers or simply the confirmation that I am a good employee—so I will make choices to exhibit high levels of effort.”

In some cases, tournament incentives are structured in such a way that when some employees triumph, others fail. General Electric’s “vitality curve,” for example, made employees in the top 20 percent of performance eligible for raises and promotions, while those in the bottom 10 percent risked being demoted or fired. Industries such as investment banking, consulting, and academia routinely include “up and out” systems in which employees are either promoted or fired. While these systems are intended to spur hard work and high levels of performance, they also introduce potential risks.

The determination of winners and losers in a tournament-based reward system is rarely based on purely objective measures, such as how many sales employees make or how many units they produce. “The objective performance measures don’t take into consideration whether the machine broke down or whether someone is still learning the job,” Gallani explains.

To compensate, managers often inject an element of subjectivity into the competition to even out the scores, by taking into consideration factors that might be outside of the control of the employees or contingencies not foreseeable at the time the employee signed the contract. While subjectivity can improve the precision of the performance evaluation, it might also be open to bias. “Maybe you don’t like that worker, so you are biased consciously or unconsciously against him,” says Gallani.

Whether or not that bias exists, humans’ natural tendency to look for someone else to blame often makes employees believe that bias exists. Gallani and Cai decided to test the effects of those perceptions in a real-world scenario involving an anonymous Chinese company that operates in printing processes.

The company, which Cai found while she was home in China on winter break, runs a tournament-style reward scheme for departments, with each ranked on a 100-point system. Each month, the best performing department receives a bonus, while the worst performing department receives a pay cut. Determining whether departments were awarded the bonus or pay cut depends on objective rankings in the point system, but also on the subjective evaluation by top managers.

“It’s not just about who gets the reward or the penalty, but who was expecting to”

What makes the company perfect for research is that it publishes the objective monthly scores for each department alongside the actual winners and losers. Thus, departments can see any discrepancy between objective and subjective results, which happens about 50 percent of the time. In cases where employees thought they would be rewarded but weren’t, Gallani and Cai called that an “implicit punishment,” while in the opposite case, in which employees thought they would be punished but weren’t, they called it an “implicit reward.”

They found that when employees received rewards—whether they were actual or implicit—they tended to be more productive afterward. In the case of the implicit rewards, Gallani speculates that the extra effort is due to a principle of reciprocity. “If you feel like you are being given a gift more than you thought you would earn, then you tend to go above and beyond to restore this balance,” she says.

On the other hand, those employees who were punished, or who didn’t receive the reward they anticipated, tended to be less productive.

Perceptions are worth more than money

Surprisingly, Gallani and Cai found that the productivity boost or lag in response to an actual reward or punishment was short-lived in comparison to those from implicit consequences. (While they couldn’t say exactly how much longer the effects lasted, they liken it to the difference between a short-term and medium-term effect.)

In other words, the feeling of getting an unanticipated bonus or penalty was more motivating to employees than actually getting a bonus or penalty they earned—perhaps because they interpreted it as a result of bias either for or against them by their bosses.

“It’s not just about who gets the reward or the penalty,” says Gallani, “but who was expecting to.”

Ultimately, such tournament-style motivation schemes may be a zero-sum game, Gallani and Cai found, with the increased productivity of the winners and decreased productivity of the losers canceling each other out to create a statistically negligible overall effect.

The study’s findings are relevant for practice in that they point to side effects of tournament performance evaluation schemes that might undermine effectiveness of incentive systems. In particular, this study shows that the effects of rewards and punishments have wide-ranging consequences that impact not only the receivers of rewards and penalties, but also their colleagues, Gallani says.

Additionally, this study shows that workers are motivated not only by the prospect of receiving a reward or a punishment, but also by the methodology by which rewards and punishments are assigned.

Related Reading:

How to Demotivate Your Best Employees
The Power of Ordinary Practices
Sharpening Your Skills: Motivation

 

GT: How to Add Value to Your Business

What value are you adding to your business? Which of the following are you doing, not doing, or need to improve? Below is a blog from Growthink:

How to Add Value to Your Business

If you’re like me and passionately roll up your sleeves and get to work on something great for several years or more (your business), you owe it to yourself to have a final result for your efforts that is truly a masterpiece.

I’m talking about your business, once it’s complete…Done…Ready to sell for as much as you can reasonably expect, often for several times its yearly earnings.

If and when it does come time to sell, you want to be selling from a position of strength-to sell it when it is at its most valuable point and not when you’re burned out, in ill health, or in some other situation where you are rushed or won’t make nearly as much from the sale.

Like any great work, you have to start with the end in mind, and to that end I’ll be writing this to clarify just what a “sellable” business looks like.  This will give you an ideal to work towards and guide your plans and work.

Below are several things to be aware of in increasing the value of your business to yourself and potential acquirers.

Positioned in its clearly-defined niche

Your business must be the best it can be at what it does, without trying to be everything to everyone. A business that knows its customer segments, their needs and language, and how to solicit a response from them is a lot more valuable than one that is a mixture of everything, or an unknown in its market.

Coach your team to run the business without you

Could other people ever run your business without you? They’ll have to, if you’re selling! So why not make this your goal from Day One?

Make an organizational chart of how your business will look when it’s time to sell it. List all the various workers in marketing, operations, and those they report to.  It’s okay if it’s just you or a handful of people currently filling all those roles. Doing this will help you organize who is going to do what in your business before you hire a new person.

Then, over time, you can find other people to fill those positions one by one until you’re out of the picture.

Build relationships with customers

Goodwill, such as your reputation and brand in the minds of your current and prospective customers, is considered an asset on your company’s balance sheet. You build this over time by treating people right and maintaining good relationships.

If you intend to sell your business someday, or if you just want to have the option, this is something you have to make a priority throughout the business’s life. You can’t just start doing it well suddenly in the final year. Relationships and recognition take time.

Make sure you’re stable

Make sure you’re not overly dependent on any one customer, vendor, employee, or anything else. Diversify your strengths. If you have any “whale” customers that make up a large portion of your business, try to get at least 80% of your business from other people.

The new owner does not want to take the reins and have revenues drop in half in the event your biggest customer leaves.

Maximize your revenues

This one’s self-evident, but deserves to be repeated. In my last essay, I shared 4 proven ways to increase your revenues-getting more customers, increasing your average order size, get customers to buy more frequently, and finding new ways to monetize your customers and visitors.

A company with higher revenues and which shows growing revenues will be more valuable and attractive to buyers.

Hold expenses accountable

You boost your net profit (and therefore the value) by reducing your expenses. However, no one ever shrank themselves into wealth. You’re not going to grow your business by keeping expenses lower-but the numbers will increase as it grows.

Your goal is to keep the percentages the same, such as keeping advertising at 20% of your revenues whether earnings are $100,000 or $1,000,000 per year.

Basically, you’ll want to make sure that budgets are made and followed, to keep spending within projected limits and to avoid costs creeping up that don’t generate more revenue in return.

Keep great records for the next owner

Keep excellent records of everything for the new owner-your files, databases, customer communications, marketing materials, financial records, employee agreements-everything

Committing to do this now will make your life so much easier between now and the time you sell. Keep good records for your own efficiency, protection, and to make your business look a lot more attractive to buyers than one where all the records are filed away in the old owner’s head.

Develop a plan for when it’s “done” and ready to sell

I don’t want you to have plans on top of plans, but each of these will take certain actions to make them happen.  So here’s what to do:  Add these end results into your existing business plan, and use your best judgment when choosing how to make each of them happen in your company.

When it’s all said and done, the next few years are going to go by whether you maximize your business’s value or not. At the end of, say, 5 years, would you rather have a stable, attractive, polished business ready to sell for top dollar, or be left taking what you can get for what you have?

If it seems like a lot, remember you have until the time you sell to take care of these things. You don’t have to do it all now! Just add these elements I described to your vision of what you want your company to be, and keep your eye on it until the big day finally comes.

HBR: Dealing with Sexual Harassment When Your Company Is Too Small to Have HR

Most building supplier retailers do not have a formal HR department.  If you turn a blind eye to sexual misconduct at work, you create a toxic setting for all of your employees. What is your company doing about sexual misconduct? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Karen Firestone:

Dealing with Sexual Harassment When Your Company Is Too Small to Have HR

The subject of sexual misconduct at work is dominating mainstream conversation and board room agendas. This doesn’t just mean men and women who run large global enterprises, Fortune 500 behemoths, film studios, and media platforms. The conversation is happening in small businesses as well.

In the U.S. 43% of employees work in organizations with 50 or fewer people. It would be a mistake to think that a smaller workforce means a decreased chance of sexual harassment. In fact, a few characteristics make small firms more susceptible.

For example, at a smaller firm, people may engage with each other more frequently and that proximity can make the impact of any harassment feel disproportionately large. It can be extremely disruptive if two out of twenty employees suddenly can’t work together and need to be separated. And the legal and punitive costs of sexual harassment cases can feel steeper to a firm with less money and fewer resources.

Importantly, many small firms, especially those with fewer than 30 people, do not have a formal HR department. There is often not enough work to justify a full-time HR employee. The absence of HR means that CEOs must take more responsibility when it comes to keeping current with changing laws, and designing, communicating, and monitoring rules regarding workplace behavior. Another challenge is that without an HR department, more incidents might go unreported, since it may be easier for staff to talk to HR than the boss.

Managing all this is no easy feat for leaders who must also focus on running the business. At our firm of thirteen, the president and I, as CEO, handle all the hiring, compensation, performance, promotion reviews, and any personal matters that our staff brings to us. (Our business manager handles the rest of our “HR” functions like administering payroll, health insurance, and 401K enrollment issues.) Over the past thirteen years, I have brokered the reconciliation of some damaged relationships among colleagues, occasionally helping them through difficult medical and financial situations, and remained watchful for any unhappiness or anxiety. We have never had a sexual harassment complaint, but I’m on high alert for any signs, and I’m thinking more now about how to preempt them.

My CEO peers feel similarly. I surveyed 57 small business CEOs on how they were thinking about sexual harassment. Twenty-nine of these firms had fewer than 50 employees and 21 had no full time HR staff. Among the group, 30 had a written sexual harassment policy, 14 had held a company-wide meeting, and 10 had conducted a training session on the subject.

Two-thirds of the CEOs were male and the group ranged in age from 27 to 81. The majority (70%) said they are more worried now about sexual harassment affecting their business than they were a year ago. They attributed this heightened anxiety to the news focus on high profile cases and reverberations, rather than to any specific incident within their company.

They worried that allegations of inappropriate behavior would damage their office culture, but they were also concerned that hiring a consultant for a day-long training session might be costly, redundant, ineffective, and cause tension about the reasoning behind such action. They were also nervous that the absence of a clearly written harassment policy could hurt both recruiting and the firm’s reputation.

Despite the lack of organized meetings or programs, they seem to be trying to create a constructive workplace culture: 20 of them acknowledged that they are more aware of their own behavior today than in the past, and 16 said that they encouraged their colleagues to come to them directly with any issues or complaints.

Small businesses do not need HR to root out and prevent sexual harassment. But leaders need to 1) be conscious of the factors that lead to a toxic work culture, such as having a predominantly male executive staff, layers of hierarchy in power within the organization, and indifferent responses to previous allegations; 2) establish clear policies outlining what constitutes sexual harassment, which behaviors will not be tolerated, and what employees should do if they see or experience misconduct; and 3) enforce these rules by designating clear roles for people within the organization. At my company I have told everyone they should come to me or my second in command immediately with any complaint. Should this ever happen, I would try to understand the incident by interviewing everyone involved, and I would likely ask the alleged harasser to take a leave until we understood the entire situation. Then I’d try to resolve the problem internally. If that was impossible, we would seek outside counsel.

So far, it’s not a dilemma I’ve had to face. Over a decade ago, we wrote up a sexual harassment policy that strongly denounced any form of sexual harassment. These included physical, verbal, or implied requests for sexual favors; inappropriate jokes and gestures; and intimidating behavior. It also offered directions about reporting that misconduct. Each year we revise this, recirculate it, and have every employee sign it. We continue to discuss this policy at company-wide meetings, including one recently, following all the recent news stories on the subject. At that session, I asked everyone if we should do anything else, such as hold a sexual harassment training session; no one believed that necessary.

Since we have no HR department, we tell employees that should they experience sexual harassment, they need to come forward, at some point, to one of the top managers. We know that this won’t happen if they don’t trust us and feel that we care about their well being. To foster this kind of trust, I talk to my colleagues every day when I see them, make sure people are included in any discussions around their work, and ask them questions about their assignments and contributions. This may sound trite, but these actions will generate more trust than merely telling people to come forward with a harassment charge.

Every CEO of a small company has concurrent goals of growing into a highly profitable business and creating a vibrant and desirable office environment. If you turn a blind eye to sexual misconduct at work, you create a toxic setting for all of your employees, and face high financial, reputational, and energy-sapping costs of dealing with a sexual harassment lawsuit. The main way small businesses can prevent sexual harassment is to establish the right internal culture, which means paying more attention to the example you set. The well-being of your company could be at stake.

HBR: How Adobe Structures Feedback Conversations

Are you providing yours directs’ feedback on their performance and opportunities to develop their growth?  Are you having a conversation about expectations? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by David Burkus:

How Adobe Structures Feedback Conversations

Providing employees feedback on their performance and opportunities to develop is one of a manager’s most important tasks. As important as it is, however, it can often get pushed down pretty far on the to-do list. Many leaders face a swarm of pressing deadlines; moreover, feedback conversations can be awkward. Even the preparation for such conversations can make managers feel stressed. It’s easy to fall back on the annual performance review to make sure at least one conversation happens. It’s no wonder many employees report getting no other feedback throughout the year.

But giving regular feedback on performance doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, there are a few relatively simple formats or templates to help guide the conversation and ensure the discussion is meaningful (and hopefully more frequent than once a year).

One of the best examples I’ve noticed is at Adobe, a company that became notable recently for ditching their performance appraisals and replacing them with informal “check-in” conversations. But, as we’ll see, their framework for a check-in conversation works well for any situation where relevant and valuable feedback is the goal.

For Adobe, a good check-in centers around three elements of discussion: expectations, feedback, and growth and development. When each of these areas have been discussed, then managers and subordinates know they’ve had a meaningful conversation.

  1. Expectations refer to the setting, tracking, and reviewing of clear objectives. In addition, expectations also mean that both parties agree on roles and responsibilities for the objective, and also are aligned in how success will be defined. For Adobe, employees were expected to begin the year with a simple, one-page document outlining the year’s objectives in writing. Regular check-ins became opportunities to monitor progress toward those goals and well as review how relevant they might still be in light of recent events. Regardless of what your own team may start the year understanding, taking the time to regularly review what the goals are, how close individuals are to achieving them, and whether or not those goals need to be changed is a vital step in making sure you arrive at the end of the year (or whatever cycle goals are measured by) with everyone in agreement about how successful a period it has been.
  1. Feedback refers to ongoing, reciprocal coaching on a regular basis. Feedback is the logical next step from a discussion about expectations. Once the goals are clear, and how close to meeting them is established, feedback is how employees learn to improve performance and more quickly achieve their goals. For Adobe, it was important to emphasis the reciprocal nature of feedback. Managers were providing performance feedback but also needed to be open to receiving feedback themselves. Specifically, feedback conversations provided answers to two questions: 1) “What does this person do well that makes them effective?” and 2) “What is one thing, looking forward, they could change or do more of that would make them more effective?”
  1. Growth and Development, the final element, refers to the growth in knowledge, skills, and abilities that would help employees perform better in their current role, but also to making sure that managers understood each of their employees’ long-term goals or career growth and worked to align those goals with current objectives and opportunities. Instead of a simple “year in review” approach, inclusion of growth and development as one element of a “Check-In” ensures that the conversation is centered on future development of employees … not just arriving at a score for the previous period. A vital part of making check-ins successful was not just the forward-looking nature, but also the frequency. If you’re checking-in regularly than it’s much easier for both managers and employees so see progress.

And that final piece might be the key to why check-ins work so well. Researchers Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School and Steve Kramer conducted a multi-year tracking study in which hundreds of knowledge workers were asked to keep a daily diary of activities, emotions, and motivation levels. When they analyzed the results, the pair found that progress was the most important motivator across the board. “On days when workers have the sense they’re making headway in their jobs, or when they receive support that helps them overcome obstacles, their emotions are most positive and their drive to succeed is at its peak,” they wrote of their findings. “On days when they feel they are spinning their wheels or encountering roadblocks to meaningful accomplishment, their moods and motivation are lowest.” Surprisingly, however, in a separate study of 600 managers, Amabile and Kramer found that managers tended to assume progress was the least potent motivator — citing things like recognition and incentives as stronger motivators.

Looking at the three-elements of a meaningful check-in, it’s easy to see why the system would be more motivating and performance enhancing than the norm. While most performance appraisal systems are backward looking, assigning what is essentially a grade to past performance and spending only minimal time focused on the future, this format centers around highlighting the progress made and the skills and abilities needed to make further progress. Both are mechanisms to provide feedback, but one appears far more motivating.

 

Perhaps most importantly, the beauty of a check-in conversation is that it doesn’t automatically mean abandoning all of the other mechanisms required by your organization. Well-intentioned managers can start holding check-ins with or without an overhaul to the performance management system being used. At its core, it’s a helpful tool for having a more meaningful conversation… and using it regularly might even make the annual performance review discussion more meaningful as well. If you’re looking for a way to provide more meaningful feedback and better develop the people on your team, talking about these three things (expectations, feedback, growth and development) is a great start.

BoF: The Business of Love and Passion 

Are you in the people business? Below is a blog from the Brains on Fire:

The Business of Love and Passion 

At Brains on Fire we believe with all our hearts and souls, it is possible to fall madly and passionately in love with the people you serve. And we believe that it’s possible for those folks to fall in love with you, too; and, yes, for you to become famous and grow your organization because of that love.

That’s exactly what we’ve done to grow our own business over the years. Not only have we fallen in love with our customers, we received the permission and indeed the honor to get to know and care for our customers’ customers. It’s our role as marketing matchmakers to help connect our customers with their employees and customers through shared passions.

Every business owner should be wildly romantic and passionate about your advocates; the employees and customers who help fuel your success.

What does it take to fall in love with your advocates, the customers and employees who are ready, willing and happy to fall in love with you? Start by following these Passion Principles.

  1. Love people. Never leverage people.
    We hate it when we hear companies talk about leveraging fans to tell their story. Think about it: Do you really use people you care about? Absolutely not. You listen to them. You get close to them. You see them frequently. You want to be a meaningful part of their life. You inspire them and in return, they inspire you.

If you want people to be in love with you and talk about you, you must fall in love with them first. Your clients, customers, donors, tribe, employees, advocates—what you call them doesn’t really matter—can and should become beloved heroes in your organizations.

  1. Love takes patience.
    For real and lasting relationships to take hold, you have to be in it for the long haul and not for a one-night stand (perhaps the marketing equivalent of a one-time purchase).

Loving your customers is not something you do for a limited amount of time. It’s something you do every single day. And the value of that effort grows exponentially stronger and deeper with time.

  1. Get people to talk about themselves.
    The passion conversation isn’t about getting people to talk about YOU, the brand. It’s about getting people to talk about themselves. Encourage others talk about themselves, their lives, their hopes and their dreams. Create platforms, online and offline, for the people you serve to share their own stories. Give them opportunities to talk and be willing to listen.

At Brains on Fire, we no longer consider ourselves to be in the marketing business. Instead, we’re in the people business. This makes sense for us because marketing nowadays is more about reframing the work you do in the world to inspire your employees and customers. The most successful word-of-mouth–driven businesses in the world have always been in the business of inspiring people.

Good stuff happens when you’re in the people business. We promise.

 

How To Be A Good Boss

In the book, Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott, she explains how to be a highly successful manager. I highly recommend this book to anyone who manages people. Below is an excerpt from the book that you might find useful:

How To Be A Good BossRadical Candor.jpg

Given my line of work, I get asked by almost everyone I meet how to be a better boss/manager/leader. I get questions from the people who worked for me, the CEOs I coached, the people who attended a class I taught or a talk I gave. I get questions from people who are using the management software system that Russ Laraway and I cofounded a company, Candor, Inc., to build. Others have submitted their management dilemmas to our Web site (radicalcandor.com). But questions also come from the harried parent sitting next to me at the school play who doesn’t know how to tell the babysitter not to feed the kids so much sugar; the contractor who is frustrated when his crew doesn’t show up on time; the nurse who’s just been promoted to supervisor and is telling me how bewildering it is-as she takes my blood pressure, I feel I should be taking hers; the business executive who’s speaking with exaggerated patience into his cell phone as we board a plane, snaps it shut, and asks nobody in particular, “Why did I hire that goddamn moron?”; the friend still haunted by the expression on the face of an employee whom she laid off years ago. Regardless of who asks the questions, they tend to reveal an underlying anxiety: many people feel they aren’t as good at management as they are at the “real” part of the job. Often, they fear they are failing the people who report to them.

While I hate to see this kind of stress, I find these conversations productive because I know I can help. By the end of these talks, people feel much more confident that they can be a great boss.

There’s often a funny preamble to the questions I get, because most people don’t like the words for their role: “boss” evokes injustice, “manager” sounds bureaucratic, “leader” sounds self-aggrandizing. I prefer the word “boss” because the distinctions between leadership and management tend to define leaders as BSers who don’t actually do anything and managers as petty executors. Also, there’s a problematic hierarchical difference implied in the two words, as if leaders no longer have to manage when they achieve a certain level of success, and brand-new managers don’t have to lead. Richard Tedlow’s biography of Andy Grove, Intel’s lengendary CEO, asserts that management and leadership are like forehand and backhand. You have to be good at both to win. I hope by the end of this book you’ll have a more positive association with all three words: boss, manager, leader. Having dispensed with semantics, the next question is often very basic: what do bosses/managers/leaders do? Go to meetings? Send emails? Tell people what to do? Dream up strategies and expect other people to execute them? It’s tempting to suspect them of doing a whole lot of nothing.

Ultimately, though, bosses are responsible for results. They achieve these results not by doing all the work themselves but by guiding the people on their teams. Bosses guide a team to achieve results.

The questions I get asked next are clustered around each of these three areas of responsibility that managers do have: guidance, team-building, and results.

First, guidance.

Guidance is often called “feedback.” People dread feedback-both the praise, which can feel patronizing, and especially the criticism. What if the person gets defensive? Starts to yell? Threatens to sue? Bursts into tears? What if the person refuses to understand the criticism, or can’t figure out what to do to fix the problem? What if there isn’t any simple way to fix the problem? What should a boss say then? But it’s no better when the problem is really simple and obvious. Why doesn’t the person already know it’s a problem? Do I actually have to say it? Am I too nice? Am I too mean? All these questions loom so large that people often forget they need to solicit guidance from others, and encourage it between them.

Second, team-building.

Building a cohesive team means figuring out the right people for the right roles: hiring, firing, promoting. But once you’ve got the right people in the right jobs, how do you keep them motivated? Particularly in Silicon Valley, the questions sound like this: why does everyone always want the next job when they haven’t even mastered the job they have yet? Why do millennials expect their career to come with instructions like a Lego set? Why do people leave the team as soon as they get up to speed? Why do the wheels keep coming off the bus? Why won’t everyone just do their job and let me do mine?

Third, results.

Many managers are perpetually frustrated that it seems harder than it should be to get things done. We just doubled the size of the team, but the results are not twice as good. In fact, they are worse. What happened? Some-times things move too slowly: the people who work for me would debate forever ifI let them. Why can’t they make a decision? But other times things move too fast: we missed our deadline because the team was totally unwilling to do a little planning-they insisted on just firing willy-nilly, no ready, no aim! Why can’t they think before they act? Or they seem to be on automatic pilot: they are doing exactly the same thing this quarter that they did last quarter, and they failed last quarter. Why do they expect the results to be different?

Guidance, team, and results: these are the responsibilities of any boss. This is equally true for anyone who manages people-CEOs, middle managers, and first-time leaders. CEOs may have broader problems to deal with, but they still have to work with other human beings, with all the quirks and skills and weaknesses just as apparent and relevant to their success in the C Suite as when they got their very first management role. It’s natural that managers who wonder whether they are doing right by the people who report to them want to ask me about these three topics. I’ll address each fully over the course of this book.