Wednesday, February 27, 2013

WHAT MAKES A GREAT LEADER? This week Bob acknowledges two great presidents with February birthdays and discusses the role of a leader.

Each February we celebrate Presidents' Day as a national holiday that honors two of our country's greatest presidents: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Both men were great presidents because, despite their vast difference, they shared similar leadership traits that are just as important today -- in the private and the public sector -- as they were centuries ago.

The style of great leaders may vary but they share the most admirable leadership traits. Whether leader of a country or leader of a company, the following traits are consistent among all successful leaders.

1. Honesty. Leaders who share the good and the bad news with integrity are respected and worth listening to. Trust and honesty go hand-in-hand, and once employees trust their leaders, they will admire them for their honesty and remain loyal to their cause.

2. Compassion. Too many leaders these days manage by the balance sheet, often at the expense of their employees and long-term customer relationships. Talented people want to work for leaders that truly care about their employees and the communities in which they operate.

3. Shared vision and actions. Good leaders provide employees with a consistent message and always live by the corporate values of the vision statement which is shared with everyone. In the end, this produces real business gains because employees understand how their individual performance in the company impacts the corporate outcome.

4. Engagement. Great business leaders have the ability to get all members of their teams engaged. They do this by offering them challenges, seeking their ideas and contributions and providing them with recognition for their contributions.

5. Celebration. In today's work environment, we are working very long hours and we need to take some time to celebrate our successes in order to recharge our batteries.

There are two additional traits that make great leaders. (I also seek these traits in the people hired at Shamrock.) One, a great leader is positive and displays a can-do attitude. A positive attitude is contagious. Two, a great leader needs to know when to back away and when to offer help. Great leaders guide, yet they allow their people to make decisions so that they can learn and grow from the results of their decisions. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

CHOCOLATES ON THE DESK. Did you know that last week was Random Acts of Kindness Week? Bob asks, "What about the other 51 weeks?"

It's nice to know there's a week set aside to practice random acts of kindness. It falls on the week of Valentine's Day, which is a nice extension of the meaning of Valentine's Day, and was first introduced in 2000. This year even the Super Bowl got into the act.

But way before there was an "official" Random Acts of Kindness Week, at Shamrock we were practicing our own random acts of kindness, including employee-managed recognition programs with rewards and incentives. Like random acts of kindness, the payoff of a consistent recognition program is far greater for the giver than the gift itself. Above all, recognition in the workplace encourages employee engagement. Essentially, employee engagement makes for happier employees in a happier workplace.

Employee engagement is a measure of how connected an employee feels with co-workers, and how connected they feel with their company's mission and values. Engaged employees are motivated to succeed, challenged to do better by their peers and take that next step to go beyond average to exceptional performance.

A good recognition program will provide employees with short-term rewards; a great recognition program will engage employees by building a positive culture of fellowship within the organization using awards that are tied to your company values.

Shamrock's company values are based on an entrepreneurial spirit, family values, and teamwork. These values are tied to our Rockin' Rewards program, which was introduced in 2012. Employees receive nominations from other employees for exceeding expectations in a variety of business capacities. Points are awarded in various categories and earned points may be used immediately to purchase items from a catalog, or saved for something as significant as a fully-paid cruise. From its beginning Rockin' Rewards has been popular. It keeps people incentivized to perform, it's fun, easy to manage, and it continually reinforces our corporate values.

Another popular employee recognition program honors employees who have been with Shamrock for one year, and we continue to recognize their value in additional five-year increments.

It would be nice if we all could keep the spirit of Random Acts of Kindness Week alive every day of the year. Actually, it would be very easy to do so, by acknowledging a job well done by placing a small, anonymous gift, like a chocolate, on someone's desk, or just uttering two words -- "thank you."

Thursday, February 14, 2013

IS LOVE ALL YOU NEED? In honor of Valentine's Day, Bob offers some thoughts on how to maintain good relationships with customers and employees.

In any relationship actions often speak louder than words. Sometimes it's easier to say "I care" than to show you care.

For example, losing a customer is always difficult. Sometimes the loss happens through change: a business acquisition, a change in direction, or a change in personnel. That's why, at Shamrock we follow the rule that when we work for valued customers we can never know too many people in their company, from the office assistant to the CEO, because these uniting relationships often reinforce an association with the company, and help the relationship last through the inevitable changes. This relationship-building shows we care enough about our customer to forge bonds with the entire company, not just our direct contact. We have to be invested in our client's bottom line.

Of course, there's one big difference between a personal relationship and a business relationship. In business, we're always looking for new partners, new people to do business with, because business partnerships are generally more tenuous than personal relationships, due to the nature of business today. Growth is not an option; therefore we must always be cultivating new relationships.

Seeking new business partners proved to work well for us in 2012, when Shamrock showed a growth rate of more than 5 percent over the previous year. We continued to grow in 2012 because we reached out to develop new business alliances, so that if we have attrition we will remain a strong and viable company that continues to provide a sound workplace for our employees.

Losing an employee is also a part of doing business and it often comes with mixed feelings. My employees are family to me and although it hurts to lose good employees, the reality is that they often have to reach for their goals in life. My hope is that, as part of our family, they learned something valuable that will help them achieve their goals. Great employees and great clients are hard to come by. Our Raving Fans philosophy is the foundation of these relationships.

Whether you are a great customer or a great employee, if you aspire to do something bigger and better, I believe you should go out and do it. After all, that's what I did 30 years ago when I left my former employer for a new venture at what is today the Shamrock Companies. Leaving a safe work environment for new beginnings can be scary, but the rewards may be worth the risk.

Friday, February 8, 2013

TRUST ME... ONCE AGAIN This week Bob looks at how to warm up a customer relationship.

Groundhog Day has passed and groundhogs across the northeast did not see their shadows which, at least in groundhog circles, means an early spring. We may have an early thaw.

Speaking of thaws, what can be done to rekindle a customer relationship that, for whatever reason, begins to chill?

Like any entrepreneur, I don't like losing a customer. I always tell my sales people we can afford to lose an order, but let's work hard to never lose a customer. In the long run, our customers trust that we will meet their needs with the products and services we provide and, more importantly, they trust the people who work on their behalf. Of course, we all make mistakes. What happens when we make a mistake that puts a customer relationship in jeopardy? Many companies, some with previously stellar reputations, have lost the trust of customers in the blink of an eye.

The good news is that recovering isn't impossible. Here are five steps to help you regain trust after a mistake.

Apologize. Immediately. When you find an error, let your customer know right away. Experience tells us that an error will be discovered, so it's better to be the one to explain and apologize rather than wait until the error is discovered by others. If, until now, you've been mindful of your customer's needs, one mistake is fixable. But do it fast and do it responsibly.

Explain. Apologies are wonderful, but alone they can hardly make up for a breach of trust. Every good apology includes an explanation. Detail what happened as you see it and why it happened. Do this honestly and it can go a long way towards rebuilding trust that has been lost.

Fix It. Fast. Do what needs to be done to make the situation right. Here's a true example: We hired a dynamic salesman from my former employer in Chicago who did business with a very large telecommunications services company. He got his first big job from them, which was for us to develop an app for their annual W-2 forms. We proofed the job, re-proofed it, printed all 65,000 W-2s, and sent one to every employee. Soon after, we saw an error in the forms we just sent out. We called the customer, told them the problem and promised to fix it within 24 hours. We got on the phone with our supplier, re-printed 65,000 W-2s and sent the correct forms along with a cover letter to every employee at the company. We headed off a catastrophe by calling the customer as soon as we noticed the problem. Because we were honest, admitted our error and fixed it as fast as promised, we not only held on to a very desirable customer but we gained there respect and admiration for doing business the right way.

Hold the Drama. We're human and we make mistakes. After apologizing, explaining and fixing the situation, you've done all that you can do, so move on and keep your eye on the prize (winning back your customer's respect). Prolonging the negative attention won't win you any points, and it may just prolong the agony.

Be Fully Attentive. Trust is something that takes time to earn. If the trust is solid, one mistake won't break the relationship. But I can say from experience that your customer will be somewhat cautious at first, so it's up to you to show how well you are invested in your customer's best interest. Focus on providing quality service, treat your customer well and, whatever you do, don't make the same mistake twice.

ONE FINAL THOUGHT...It is possible to thaw a chilled customer relationship. The challenge, of course, is having the determination to keep the faith that while painful, even the big mistakes don't have to be fatal.