Another year rolls in, yet another opportunity to come up with new resolutions. But, let’s get serious – how many of us actually stick to our resolutions, right?
The start of a new year seems to be the perfect time to take stock of where we are in our lives and the things we’d like to improve upon. Often, though, our best intentions are no match for daily life and we slide back into old patterns. Resolutions are not confined to our personal lives. You can also create impactful resolutions for your business. A resolution, after all, is a decision to do something differently to bring about positive change.
So, if you are ready to make some powerful changes, here are some tips to help you reset your small business in 2017:
Time to Take Stock
Spend some time to look back and take stock of the previous year. As a CEO, you may want to look at the roles you took on within the company, and determine if you can delegate anything to your employees. This will help you keep your eye on the big picture – opportunities for further growth. At the same time, it will empower your employees, give them a sense of personal responsibility and therefore more commitment to achieving team goals.
Stop and Smell the Roses
Running a business takes all of your time and then some, but if you don’t build time in your day for yourself, to take a breather from the hectic pace, it’s easy to burn out and lose your passion. Even if it’s only for 5-10 minutes, be sure to carve out some time this year.
Rest Not on Your Laurels
Keeping your skills current is essential. Whether you’re a restaurant owner, retailer, or marketing manager, it’s important to try new things to enhance your own professional growth. Try a new menu selection, reposition the items on the shop floor, or offer a new service to keep your business up to date. Talk to your customers about what they want from your business and think seriously about how you can implement some of their suggestions to great success.
Face to Face
It’s time to stop relying on emails, social media and mobile apps as an exclusive way to communicate with customers. Deep and long-lasting business relationships are built in real time. Schedule time to pay a courtesy visit to your customers, even if it’s just to have coffee or lunch – let them know how much you value and care about them.
Clean Up Your Workspace
It’s hard to stay organized and on top of your most important tasks and priorities when your desk or office is a mess. Take an hour or two every week to organize the paperwork that is no doubt taking over every inch of surface area. File away the things you don’t need and take action on the things that require it. While a cluttered desk may not be the sign of a cluttered mind, it certainly won’t help you get and stay organized for success.
Tie Up Loose Ends
Set aside at least 20 minutes at the end of your business day to tie up loose ends. Go through your remaining work and make assignments to employees, forward information to co-workers as necessary, respond to email and voicemail messages, file away the things that you need to keep, and toss the rest. Finally, quickly review your appointments for the following day.
Have a Positive Outlook
Running a business can be stressful. It’s not easy, and cash flow is usually an issue. In 2017, try not to get bogged down with the negative – focus on the positives: Where you’ve come, where you’re going this year, and where you’ll be next year. It will help you focus on the big picture – your business goals. Once you’ve focused on what you want to accomplish, your business objectives for 2017 will become clear.
Here’s wishing you a happy, healthy and profitable New Year!
Posted by Irene Gomez, CIO, Corporate Media
Chances are you think you’re a good listener. People’s appraisal of their listening ability is much like their assessment of their driving skills, in that the great bulk of adults think they’re above average.
In our experience, most people think good listening comes down to doing three things:
- Not talking when others are speaking
- Letting others know you’re listening through facial expressions and verbal sounds (“Mmm-hmm”)
- Being able to repeat what others have said, practically word-for-word
In fact, much management advice on listening suggests doing these very things – encouraging listeners to remain quiet, nod and “mm-hmm” encouragingly, and then repeat back to the talker something like, “So, let me make sure I understand. What you’re saying is…” However, recent research that we conducted suggests that these behaviors fall far short of describing good listening skills.
We analyzed data describing the behavior of 3,492 participants in a development program designed to help managers become better coaches. As part of this program, their coaching skills were assessed by others in 360-degree assessments. We identified those who were perceived as being the most effective listeners (the top 5%). We then compared the best listeners to the average of all other people in the data set and identified the 20 items showing the largest significant difference. With those results in hand we identified the differences between great and average listeners and analyzed the data to determine what characteristics their colleagues identified as the behaviors that made them outstanding listeners.
We found some surprising conclusions, along with some qualities we expected to hear. We grouped them into four main findings:
- Good listening is much more than being silent while the other person talks. To the contrary, people perceive the best listeners to be those who periodically ask questions that promote discovery and insight. These questions gently challenge old assumptions, but do so in a constructive way. Sitting there silently nodding does not provide sure evidence that a person is listening, but asking a good question tells the speaker the listener has not only heard what was said, but that they comprehended it well enough to want additional information. Good listening was consistently seen as a two-way dialog, rather than a one-way “speaker versus hearer” interaction. The best conversations were active.
- Good listening included interactions that build a person’s self-esteem. The best listeners made the conversation a positive experience for the other party, which doesn’t happen when the listener is passive (or, for that matter, critical!). Good listeners made the other person feel supported and conveyed confidence in them. Good listening was characterized by the creation of a safe environment in which issues and differences could be discussed openly.
- Good listening was seen as a cooperative conversation. In these interactions, feedback flowed smoothly in both directions with neither party becoming defensive about comments the other made. By contrast, poor listeners were seen as competitive — as listening only to identify errors in reasoning or logic, using their silence as a chance to prepare their next response. That might make you an excellent debater, but it doesn’t make you a good listener. Good listeners may challenge assumptions and disagree, but the person being listened to feels the listener is trying to help, not wanting to win an argument.
- Good listeners tended to make suggestions. Good listening invariably included some feedback provided in a way others would accept and that opened up alternative paths to consider. This finding somewhat surprised us, since it’s not uncommon to hear complaints that “So-and-so didn’t listen, he just jumped in and tried to solve the problem.” Perhaps what the data is telling us is that making suggestions is not itself the problem; it may be the skill with which those suggestions are made. Another possibility is that we’re more likely to accept suggestions from people we already think are good listeners. (Someone who is silent for the whole conversation and then jumps in with a suggestion may not be seen as credible. Someone who seems combative or critical and then tries to give advice may not be seen as trustworthy.)
While many of us have thought of being a good listener being like a sponge that accurately absorbs what the other person is saying, instead, what these findings show is that good listeners are like trampolines. They are someone you can bounce ideas off of — and rather than absorbing your ideas and energy, they amplify, energize, and clarify your thinking. They make you feel better not merely passively absorbing, but by actively supporting. This lets you gain energy and height, just like someone jumping on a trampoline.
Of course, there are different levels of listening. Not every conversation requires the highest levels of listening, but many conversations would benefit from greater focus and listening skill. Consider which level of listening you’d like to aim for:
Level 1: The listener creates a safe environment in which difficult, complex, or emotional issues can be discussed.
Level 2: The listener clears away distractions like phones and laptops, focusing attention on the other person and making appropriate eye-contact. (This behavior not only affects how you are perceived as the listener; it immediately influences the listener’s own attitudes and inner feelings. Acting the part changes how you feel inside. This in turn makes you a better listener.)
Level 3: The listener seeks to understand the substance of what the other person is saying. They capture ideas, ask questions, and restate issues to confirm that their understanding is correct.
Level 4: The listener observes non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions, perspiration, respiration rates, gestures, posture, and numerous other subtle body language signals. It is estimated that 80% of what we communicate comes from these signals. It sounds strange to some, but you listen with your eyes as well as your ears.
Level 5: The listener increasingly understands the other person’s emotions and feelings about the topic at hand, and identifies and acknowledges them. The listener empathizes with and validates those feelings in a supportive, nonjudgmental way.
Level 6: The listener asks questions that clarify assumptions the other person holds and helps the other person to see the issue in a new light. This could include the listener injecting some thoughts and ideas about the topic that could be useful to the other person. However, good listeners never highjack the conversation so that they or their issues become the subject of the discussion.
Each of the levels builds on the others; thus, if you’ve been criticized (for example) for offering solutions rather than listening, it may mean you need to attend to some of the other levels (such as clearing away distractions or empathizing) before your proffered suggestions can be appreciated.
We suspect that in being a good listener, most of us are more likely to stop short rather than go too far. Our hope is that this research will help by providing a new perspective on listening. We hope those who labor under an illusion of superiority about their listening skills will see where they really stand. We also hope the common perception that good listening is mainly about acting like an absorbent sponge will wane. Finally, we hope all will see that the highest and best form of listening comes in playing the same role for the other person that a trampoline plays for a child. It gives energy, acceleration, height and amplification. These are the hallmarks of great listening.
This post by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman first appeared online in Harvard Business Review.
2016: Time to Unwrap Your Potential
Another year has come and gone! Is it me or did 2015 just slipped us by? Again!
Now that 2016 has arrived, many of us are tentatively jotting down resolutions for the new year. Along with personal goals like doing more physical activity and watching less Reality TV (none hopefully in the near future!), I’m sure you’ve spent the final weeks of 2015 refining your business strategy, so much so that you’ve probably not had the chance to reflect.
Fret not, here are some resolutions any PR specialist (PRs) will need to make 2016 their year:
Dump the creativity
Thinking outside the box is so passé. While those so-called creative experts may try to convince us otherwise, we all know that the best ideas come when we’re alone, seconds to the deadline, wired with lots of caffeine. But, in an era where the process is everything, any PRs worth their salt needs to at least play along with the notion of collaboration. 2016 is the year to embrace the brainstorm for what it is – group therapy with a flipchart – and save your real critical thinking for your alone time.
Connect with your audience
PRs should live and breathe the organizations they represent. You may have tried a bit of client immersion in the past, but 2016 is the year to get your “Freak On” as the song goes. Starting on a new hip alcohol brand? Unleash your inner youth – listen to “Five Seconds to Summer” until you know all the words to their songs, watch the MTV Video awards again and again, go drinking in the millennial club. It probably won’t make your work any better nor your head, but it’ll definitely get you a step closer to “connecting with your audience.”
Talk the talk
Touch base, flag up, check-in, sell-in, reach out….. You’ve tried long enough to avoid using PR-speake, but my friend, you know deep down you’re fighting a lost battle. Sure, these phrases don’t really mean anything, but hamming up the industry lingo is guaranteed to boost your clients’ trust in you and make your senior management team take notice. Use it enough, and you may start to believe in yourself too.
Don’t shy away
If there’s one thing we can guarantee in 2016, it’s that another viral craze will come along demanding we stick ourselves to one digital platform or another – probably in the name of some charity. As a professional bandwagon jumper, it’s important for you to be one of the first to get involved – just make sure you’re not the last.
In the same way a pencil makes no noise as it drops unless you’re there to hear it, your hard work means nothing without a steady stream of online updates. The trick to curating a strong professional feed is a lot easier than you think. You don’t need to read articles before you share them, just make sure your post is snappy and includes a personal comment, e.g. “Interesting read … ” or “Great piece from HBR blog… ” Looking like you enjoy your job is also key – jokes and group photos will help build your online brand.
Update your LinkedIn
With top companies trawling the site for talent and ideas, it’s time to embrace the cringe. Add pictures, join groups, and list skills – both abstract (creativity, team work) and specific (blogs) – then watch as the business roll in.
Rise above the norm
2016 is the year of big picture. Avoid getting bogged down in too much of the nitty-gritty by becoming an expert in delegation. The key here is in packaging it up as empowerment. Empower your juniors to take more ownership of administrative details. Empower your seniors to use their specialist knowledge. In no time at all, you’ll have empowered your way to a clear plate and have more time to focus on improving your own skillset.
Happy New Year! May the Force Awaken in Each and Every One of Us!
Posted by Irene Gomez, CIO, CorpMedia
Some interviews are just disasters waiting to happen. There were times when I channel-surfed to a news program only to catch a CEO interview and cringe. Really I have to wonder, “what was he thinking?’ or should I say out loud, “what was he thinking!!!!!” Pardon the punctuation, but you get my point…
Brand specialists and public relations experts are always creating list after list of things that could go wrong. And this is all well and good except for the fact that the focus is usually on the mistakes their clients make. Bad cover-ups, poorly handled crises and failed publicity stunts all have their place on the lists.
There’s no worse feeling than watching your client freeze in response to a question on live TV or say something he really shouldn’t. Some mistakes your clients make in media interviews have the potential to damage, rather than enhance, their profile in the media. It’s the role of PR professionals to fully train their clients to reduce the chance of insulting journalists or getting negative coverage in the media.
When you really think about it, the person in most control in an interview setting is the interviewee and not the interviewer. That’s because the person being interviewed holds the information that the interviewer needs. Many organizations find that media interview skills training can ensure their spokespersons can fully capitalize on interview opportunities and avoid missteps.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when preparing your clients for interviews:
Do your research
Make sure the media outlet is one that is in line with your client’s goals – one that will offer the best possible coverage. Provide the interviewer with relevant background material – information about the company, biographies, facts and figures, success stories, etc. In some instances, you can also suggest questions to ask your client, if appropriate, or if it comes up during your discussion with the journalist.
Aim to fit (the angle)
Nothing good will come, if you’ve prepped your client on a specific set of questions, and all the interviewer wants to cover is another angle. It’s always best to get a list of interview questions ahead of time so that you can determine where the story is heading and prepare accordingly.
Rehearse the talk
Preparing talking points for your client is the best course of action. This is critical, especially if there is something your client needs to answer in a specific way and avoid leaving out any details. Rehearsing these talking points with your client will help you and the client to anticipate questions and respond with confidence.
Keep it short
There is always a tendency for the client to go on and on and most times, this is not a good thing. For one, it may come across as rambling or even worse you risk taking the interviewer to places you don’t want him to go! This is an important thing to remember especially when dealing with a crisis. Best for your client to stick to the talking points agenda.
Visual impact matters
For on-air interviews, visual impact matters! Do make sure your client is dressed in his “interview best.” Avoid clothing that is white, black or any extremely busy patterns that tend to distort and create fuzzy patterns on the camera. For women, keep your accessories simple and men should wear solid plain ties as these capture better on film and in photos.
A little courtesy goes a long way. Always be polite and thank the interviewer/media for the opportunity and get a clip for your client.
Review and learn
Whether it’s a TV or print interview, do make it a point review the feature. If it turns out well, strive to do better, if it doesn’t, then there is always time to learn and re-adjust for the next one.
Do you have any tips for media interviews, or any success or disaster stories to share? We would love to hear from you!
The benefits of incorporating market research into communications strategies have been well documented, but market research deployed without well-defined goals produces little result. Fewer areas of communications have more clearly defined targets than PR: we are looking specifically for the number of press hits, positive mentions, and people influenced. With the evolving market conditions as of late, throw in customer engagement into the mix as well!
No matter the case or time in space, PR and market research are a perfect fit. Properly conducted market research can provide invaluable insights into the behaviour, knowledge, and perception of consumers, stakeholders, and external elements that influence our target markets. The results of market research, if used smartly, can be instrumental in defining new communication approaches, writing messaging and strengthening a business’ public relations.
Gathering your Crowd
Choose your target market intelligently and don’t make the mistake of merely taking a stab in the dark and aiming for quantity over quality. By conducting well thought out research into consumer lifestyles, preferences, habits and behaviours (this list is not exhaustive and can be even more detailed or meticulous – the more refined, the better) to ascertain the right target market for your service or product, a good portion of your battle is won.
Once this first step is accomplished, it would then be easier to suss out customer sensitivities as well. With the business arena being the global place that it is today, more thought and attention has to be given to cultural and societal preferences. This has to be taken note of even within the same country, and even more so if the country is a boiling pot of cultures which is pretty much the most nations in the world these days! To be mindful of your customers, both as individuals and as a community at large, would be to assure the effectiveness and stronghold of your PR campaign.
Manipulating your Market
Just as important is to study what the market you intend to dabble in is missing. Identify businesses similar to your own and investigate the strategies they have implemented. This would not be an easy step because, needless to say, competitors would not readily dish out their secrets! So a lot of independent analysis, observation and in depth studies would be involved. Even so, information you have gathered may not be the most accurate! However, this step should still not be taken for granted. Based on the market needs and what you have learnt from this form of research, you can now consider how you can fill the missing links – providing a formative step on determining the basis of your own PR campaign.
Thereafter, you can finally lay out your market research plan. Based on the information you found in the previous endeavours, plan organized activities that are designed to get more specific information that you would require to make your PR campaign as effective and engaging as possible. Read up on existing published information, interview current customers or analyze consumer behaviour in relation to the market you are going to pursue. For instance, if you have discovered that customers are missing a sense of personal relationships and finesse in your industry, you might organize a focus group or survey, or perhaps even both in tandem for a more thorough analysis, to learn more.
It is important to remember that research is cyclical and required not just before launching a PR campaign. It is just as crucial to follow up. Given the power shift from the media being transferred onto the customers, privy is now placed on customer engagement. Research has to be done to gauge and determine audience reception, through means of evaluating responses via surveys or interviews or market returns, and the inherent effectiveness of the PR campaign’s intended outcome. This form of research could be one of the hardest as effectiveness has many variables and seeking response from your audience could prove difficult as well. However, it is worth putting in effort at this stage just when it seems all your hard work is done because from there, the necessary steps can be taken to ensure that the PR campaign is working as intended. And if not, amendments or improvements can be made to achieve the desired outcome and reach greater heights.
By Yasmin Md Basir, PR Associate @ Corporate Media Services
It seems obvious that you shouldn’t put your audience to sleep, doesn’t it? It should also be obvious to people who deliver dull presentations or talk in circles at dinner parties — but consider how many boring speakers you’ve had to endure. The most engaging communicators avoid trite expressions, whether in conversation or in writing. They use strong, simple words. Think of Winston Churchill’s famous phrase blood, toil, tears, and sweat. And remember what George Washington said when questioned about the fallen cherry tree: not “It was accomplished by utilizing a small, sharp-edged implement,” but “I used my little hatchet.”
When you write e-mails, reports, letters, and other documents, here’s how to keep your readers alert and responsive:
Use personal pronouns skillfully.
Don’t overuse I (try not to begin paragraphs or successive sentences with it), but do lean heavily on we, our, you, and your. Those are friendly words that pull readers into a document.
Many writers have a morbid fear of contractions, having been taught in school to avoid them. But you won’t be breaking any real rules if you use them — and they counteract stuffiness, a major cause of poor writing. Relax. If you’d say something as a contraction, then write it that way.
Avoid passive voice.
Don’t write “The closing documents were prepared by Sue”; instead, write “Sue prepared the closing documents.” This guideline is hardly absolute — sometimes passive voice is the most natural way to say what you’re saying. But if you develop a strong habit of using active voice, you’ll largely prevent convoluted, backward-sounding sentences in your writing.
How do you identify passive voice? It’s invariably a be-verb or get, plus a past-tense verb. Some examples:
- is + delivered
- are + finished
- was + awarded
- were + praised
- be + served
- got + promoted
Vary the length and structure of your sentences.
Monotony, as Cicero once said, is in all things the mother of boredom. It’s true of syntax no less than it’s true of eating or anything else. Sameness cloys. So you want short sentences and long; main clauses and subordinate ones. You want variety.
Avoid alphabet soup.
Readers find acronyms tiresome, especially ones they’re not familiar with. Use them judiciously. It may be convenient to refer to COGS instead of spelling out “cost of goods sold.” But if you also throw in acronyms such as ABC (“activity-based costing”), EBITDA (“earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization”), and VBM (“value-based management”), only the accountants in your audience will follow you — you’ll lose everyone else. Small wonder, too. People don’t want to master your arcane vocabulary to get what you’re saying.
Surely you’ve had this experience as a reader: you encounter an acronym (a long one if you’re particularly unlucky) and can’t connect it with anything you’ve read in the document so far. You find yourself scanning backward through the text, hoping to find the first appearance of that acronym or else words that might fit it. By the time you find it (or give up trying), you’ve lost the writer’s train of thought. Never put your own readers through that.
Stick to words when you can. Acronyms make writing easier but reading harder. Your shortcut is the reader’s hindrance.
Courtesy of Harvard Business Review (Bryan A. Garner)
The year is winding down, Christmas is around the corner, and everyone’s slowing down to catch their breath as the year comes to a close. With festivities buzzing, we tend to get lost in the excitement of the season. But as always, we ought to take time out to reflect on the year, acknowledge and appreciate the good things, little or big that have touched our lives.
Think of how great the entire year could have been if had we practised the appreciation spirit throughout while applying it to the working atmosphere instead of just accumulating everything in just one space in time. I am talking about a concept that is not new, though it definitely should be more widely practised – corporate social responsibility or CSR as it is commonly known as.
So exactly what it CSR and why is it an important component of our work life?
“The business of business should not be about money, it should be about responsibility. It should be about public good, not private greed.”
The definition of CSR is ironically never definite. This time though, the lack of definition could actually mean a good thing. The fact that it even falls under the guise of different names – ranging from corporate volunteerism to corporate philanthropy to corporate citizenship – goes to show just how broad a scope it encompasses. But ultimately, they all stand for the same thing and the common linking factor that ties them together is the intention.
The aim of most CSR programs is quite simply to collectively do good as a business unit. It is an initiative undertaken by a company to encourage a positive impact on external factors outside of the business, like the environment or community. Different companies have their own initiatives set in place which could have been formulated inhouse by a committee or by employing external consultants to draw up appropriate plans for them. Others may just nominate a cause or charity during the year without any long term plan.
If the noble cause hasn’t won you over yet, here are more reasons why CSR should be a mandatory part of any company. Not only would the benefactors of your CSR program gain, it would do wonders internally for your company too!
The honeymoon may be over..
A recent survey conducted by Gallup showed over 70% of employees do not feel engaged in their current positions. According to the Economist, 84% of senior leaders reported that disengaged employees were one of the biggest threats to their business.
By doing meaningful work outside of the context of work, company pride would be developed and nurtured. Having employees who feel actively engaged would also, in turn, assure employee retention – which is invaluable in the long run. With an increased number of people realizing the importance and value of being socially responsible, implementing a CSR program makes more business sense that dollar signs.
.. but we have a new generation to tap
The millenial generation, otherwise regarded as the overly tolerate 20-35 year olds, tech-savvy, pop culture obsessed generation. They play by different rules – usually wanting to create their own. To many, they may be a frustrating bunch, especially in the workforce, but they are an untapped market with big potential. They are by far an extremely socially conscious generation and wil play an even bigger role in how companies handle CSR by being good corporate citizens.
So how can we engage them in our corporate giving efforts? Here are three simple tips:
Connecting: Millennials get most of their information about a charity or cause through a nonprofit’s website or social media channels. Whether you have an advanced software system that tracks employee giving and volunteerism or you have a smaller company that may email a volunteer or giving opportunity, make sure that appropriate links about the nonprofits are provided. This allows millenials to do their own research and feel connected with the cause the company is supporting.
Involving: Often, companies focus too much on putting their senior executives on boards and don’t engage other employees to represent the company in the community. Millennials usually want to get involved and feel utilized. To maximize their time, work with your charity partners to determine what type of individuals they are looking for to serve on their boards or committees. Are they looking for individuals with leadership traits or volunteers who can help with events?
Giving: When millennials give, it’s important for them to know that their contribution is making a difference and they can see tangible results. When deciding to get your employees involved in a giving campaign, be selective in the project you are funding. Make sure you are able to tie back the giving to tangible results that resonate with the millennials and share those results with them.
Millennials can be great ambassadors if your company’s giving includes and caters to them. Focus on these three areas and you’ll have a millennial workforce who is engaged in your company’s philanthropic efforts.
To all you folks out there, let this be the season for a little more giving back. Here’s wishing one and all every success in the brand new year!
By Yasmin Md Basir, PR Associate @ Corporate Media Services