Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Right Development

Key to keeping the right people in your organization engaged is to ensure they are given the proper training and development to perform their function. Unfortunately, in many organizations, training and development are seen as cost items. In truth, training and development should be considered an investment. The return on investment realized for effective development of personnel can often outstrip that of any other single investment an organization can make.

Like any other investment, because it involves use of assets of the organization, investment in development of staff needs to be carefully planned, evaluated and made at the appropriate time. To do otherwise is to set in place a self fulfilling prophecy that training is money that does not generate a financial return. The development of staff should be viewed as a process. Like any process it should be structured in such a way as to create an environment and culture for success.

While it may seem appropriate to address perceived needs, this very fact is more often than not the cause statements such as: “training is just a waste of time and money”. Why, because scarce resources were used to train before truly identifying the root cause of the problem.

Professional training and facilitation consultants can be invaluable in understanding the difference between perceived and actual needs.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Right Performance Management

All too often the performance management system is viewed by management as a tool to catch employees doing something wrong. On the other hand, a system of catching people doing things right has proven to be the best model for a successful performance management system.

Target tracking links objectives, activities and resources required with due dates to manage employee efforts toward accomplishment of short term, mid term and long term objectives. It is recommended that the maximum number of objectives per employee be no more than five.

Of course the rewards and recognition program of any organization must be represent the rewards wanted and desired by employees. As a general rule employees will owrk harder towards what they are rewarded for and then only if the reward come soon after the activity and is consistent with what the employees observe others receiving for similar efforts.

I get into this entire concept of making sure you have the right performance management system in place in much greater detail in Chapter 6 of my recent book There Has To Be A Better Way.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Right People Processes

In the life of any given organization, regardless of its size or level of business success, there is a natural ebb and flow of personnel. This process requires firms to acquire new people. Just a few of the needs are to:
• support business growth or expansion;
• replace employees who have left for a variety of reasons both of their
choice and at the request of the organization itself;
• acquire new skills to support a restructuring or reorganization.

Identifying the right people for the organization is significant start to a positive relationship for both parties. However, having the right people processes in place for after the hiring process is critical to both the retaining and leading of any team. Employee relationships like any other aspects of a successful organization follow a process. Consider it a three phase process.
• Phase one is the documentation of a new employee.
• Phase two is a program to orient him/her to the job / organization.
• Phase three deals with ensuring he/she is properly managed and coached
during employment.

One way to develop a consistent and defendable documentation process is to use a template.

In life there is no option of making a second first impression. Likewise, making sure that the new employee is properly oriented should not be left to chance. Every organization should have in place a structured consistent orientation process.

Ensuring that employees are properly managed and coached is the third component in the people management process.

I get into this concept ever further in Chapter 5 of There Has To Be A Better Way. Request your copy as a comment or send me an email to betterway@newmanlearning.com.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Right People

With growth a business needs to seek out the right people to support that growth. This adds a complexity to the management role which only increases with the prosperity of the organization.

It becomes a bit of “good news – bad news” scenario. The good news is that business has increased enough to require an expansion in staff. The bad news is that if the wrong people are selected they can slow or even halt progress.

Many firms still hire or promote by position title. The identified need is for a manager; supervisor; coordinator; etc. Accordingly, that is the position advertised both internally or externally. Unfortunately specific job requirements for these positions can vary significantly from firm to firm. As a result, applicants may not be the individuals really needed in the position. In selecting the right people it is critical that there first be a clear understanding of what that person is specifically going to be asked to do.

There is also the need to ask the question “how will the employee be behaving in that position, as part of the organization?” Not an easy question to be sure, but definitely worth answering.

One solution to the dilemma is to describe clearly and in specific observable terms exactly what the person hired or promoted needs to do. With that description in hand the position title and job level be clearly determined. You may find it is totally diffent than you had originally thought.

I get into this concept ever further in Chapter 4 of There Has To Be A Better Way. Request your copy as a comment or send me an email to betterway@newmanlearning.com.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Right Culture

The culture of a business is often overlooked by leaders. Or if considered at all is thought to be of little consequence. After all, as long as the clients are happy and buying, business is great, right? However, the very question of how successful we will be and for how long lay in our business culture.

According to The Conference Board of Canada – Learning and Development Outlook 2005 report, “Only about a quarter of organizations (28%) believe that risk taking is actively encouraged and supported. Likewise, only 30% feel that failures are constructively discussed.”

This response reflects the lack of an innovative and learning culture in the majority of Canadian organizations. Unless employees are comfortable adapting a different approach to their tasks, they will always do just what they have always done. Unfortunately, with the rapid advance of both technology and competition, “what they have always done” is not good enough. The sales rep who continues to rely on mail for contact with customers will soon be outpaced by the rep using on-line social networks and the internet for connections.

To help determine whether an organization encourages reasoned risk taking, look to the answers to two questions:

• When was the last time an employee presented an improvement to what they do or how they do it?
• Are employees aware of how to document, measure and improve their work processes?

Based on the answer to these two questions, it is possible to identify whether or not the organization has a continuous improvement culture. With a no to either question, the need to change has been identified.

I get into this concept ever further in Chapter 3 of There Has To Be A Better Way. Request your copy as a comment or send me an email to betterway@newmanlearning.com.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Doing the Right Things

How often have you heard someone say, “I seem to be busier these days but don’t seem to get as much done.” Perhaps this is because the person has identified their measure of success as activities. Many of us do exactly that. We look at what we did today, I.e. made 20 phone calls; answered 35 e-mails; wrote 5 letters; and on and on. It was a busy day. Lots of activities. The question, however, is what were the results achieved?

It is critical to determine up front what measure will be used to determine success. The adage “if you can measure it you can manage it” has never been truer than in today’s fast paced business environment. Measurement is the only way to know whether we’re winning or losing in any given situation. The other option is to have no idea about how we are doing. Which would you prefer?

All too often employees, even ourselves, are asked to perform tasks for the sake of activity. For example, how often is a weekly, monthly activity report that merely gets filed when received, been asked for?
People have, for one reason or another, fallen into the trap of always doing what has always been done. To quote Einstein, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

I get into this concept ever further in Chapter 2 of There Has To Be A Better Way. Request your copy as a comment or send me an email.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Book Review

Scott D. Anderson, Principal of SDA Consulting has provided the following comments on my book.

"All of us, at one time or another, have uttered (perhaps muttered) the title of Gordon J. H. Newman’s book There Has to Be a Better Way. Usually this comes as we are contemplating another project with a difficult client or getting a new team member to understand and correctly use a particularly tricky development tool or technique. Frequently, the words come to mind as our choices narrow and options become limited as to how we can envision a successful outcome to the problem at hand. It was to the latter situation which Mr. Newman and his book attempts to prepare the reader.

The book is divided into ten short, easily absorbed chapters expanding on each of the requirements of a successful system. The closing section of the book contains samples of all the Tools and Templates introduced and discussed in the text.

There Has to Be a Better Way – the Right Systems for Success provides a good reference for new project managers to turn to for basic tools and process documentation to back up otherwise solid processes. It also provides examples and discussion which will help a new PM make a positive impact. As Mr. Newman says in his introduction; his ideas are not theoretical but practical in nature and based on his 40-years of experience. As a collection of ways to do things better than personal experience and a source for learning from another, this can be a useful tool that deserves to be ready to hand and looking like it has been well used."

Friday, October 2, 2009

Awaiting The Review

Throughout our lives we have all at one time or another had to wait out the results of a review of our work. Perhaps the most memorable for you was waiting for the report card from grade school. For others it might have been waiting to get your final transcript from college or university.

Still others hold in their memory something much more recent, the job review by your boss. If you are in business for yourself it may have been the review or feedback requested from a client.

Suffice it to say we can all say "Been there, done that. Didn't get the T-shirt." when it comes to awaiting a review.

My latest and definitely most memorable, even after almost 40 years in the corporate world and 5 as an independent consultant, came just today.

It started about two months ago when one of the editors for Performance Improvement, a publication of the International Society for Performance Improvement asked me if I would like to have my book, There Has To Be A Better Way, reviewed. Hesitantly I said, "sure, why not?". Sent two copies off, so it could be review by two people independently and waited. Well, as time went by it moved further and further toward the back of my mind.

Then this evening it all came rushing forward like a run away freight train. I received an email attaching the review. I was asked to read it over and let them know if there would be any problems publishing it in the February 2010 issue.

Now I know what the playwright must feel like when they await the reviews following opening night. You have the paper in your hand but are almost afraid to read the words of the reviewer.

Steeling myself,I opened the document to find it contained not one page of comments but rather four and 1/4 pages of feedback. Each chapter had been commented upon in a summary.

Curbing my desire to go right to the last page I read each page. Thankfully when I got to the last paragraph on the last page, it was a good review.

The closing comment: "As a collection of ways to do things better than personal experience and a source for learning from another, this can be a useful tool that deserves to be ready to hand and looking like it has been well used."


Getting The Referral

While cleaning up the office the other day came across a slip of information gathered in my early business days. The slip provided information/tips on getting referrals. In fact I had headed it as "Ask for the referral scripts." Thought it might be useful to share so here goes.

Remember, you are not making an Oscar acceptance speech here. When you ask for a referral, be sincere and direct, Say something such as:

"I'm really glad that you're pleased with my work. I'd really appreciate it if you would pass my name along to anyone else you know who would be interested in..............(what you do). May I leave these extra business cards with you?"

Leaving extra business cards with a person makes it easier for them to pass your name and contact information to someone else.

Another variation on the script is even more direct and asks for names when you are asking for referrals. For instance, you might say:

"I'm really glad that you are pleased with my work. I'm always looking for referrals and wonder if you know anyone else who might be interested in........(what you do)."

Pause here and see what they say. Some people will offer some names. Some will say "Yes, maybe," and not offer any further information. Some will say, "No" but at least you tried.

If they do offer names, take them down and ask the person if they mind If you contact the person directly or if they would prefer to pass your information along to them yourself. If they don't offer names, just as in the previous script, ask if you can leave some additional cards with them that they can pass along.

Bottom line is you never get if you never ask. So get out there and start asking. This is not the time nor economy to be hiding your light under a barrell.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

If there is one thing that is common to every business sector, it is the interest in automation. Many entrepreneurs believe that the secret to becoming successful is to automate. A common theory is that through automation, of a process or system, more can be done with less.

More often than not, it is true that automation generates cost savings because of increased efficiency. However, it can not be assumed that automation will automatically result in savings. All too often businesses merely automate their manual systems. In so doing they only increase the speed with which the inefficient process can be completed. What is needed is the ability to analyze and eliminate redundant steps before the automation. For this we need the human elemant.

The process of automation is definitely important to growth and success of a business enterprise. However, the systems often overlooked are the human resource assets rather than the computers and technology systems.

So what are the Right Systems for Success? I consider them to be:

Having the Right People in the Right Place at the Right Time doing the Right Thing in the Right Way for the Right Reason at the Right Cost. In fact, I consider it to be of such importance that I wrote a book about it, There Has To Be A Better Way.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Rainy Days

Today has been another of those rainy fall days. One minute you look out and see bright sunshine and the next the rain is pelting against the window pane of your office. Of course, as Canadians we all know that this is normal so we go about our daily routine anyway.

However, this particular phenomenon caused me to think of how running a small business is like fall days. It occurred to me that the bright sunshine was akin to those days when we had plenty of business. Our income stream was, if not full, still running nicely. People we try to connect with whether by telephone, email, fax, or in person are able to be connected with. Our sales programs are generating interest if not specific sales.

Then we find the rainy days. On those days it seems that no matter what we do we are unable to make that business connection. We place phone calls and receive voice mail. We send faxes and emails and get no responses. We visit the offices of clients and potential clients and they are not available. The flow of income has dwindled to a trickle or perhaps even come to a full stop.

Then there are days just like today when we have a combination of both effects. One minute we are high on success and the next minute we are low on rejection. The challenge is to somehow get through that with our sanity intact.

One possible way of handling those days, and yes we will all have them, is to pick something we know will be successful. Perhaps it is updating our files. Perhaps it is cleaning up the top of our desk. Perhaps it is as simple balancing our bank statement. Whatever it is we can take comfort in having completed one thing successfully. If we manage to do that first thing in the day the effect is that the rest of the day goes well regardless of the weather.

So, pick that thing you need done that you know is a sure fire success. Do it first thing tomorrow morning and see how the rest of your day goes. If you feel like sharing the results, that would be fantastic. If not, savour them yourself.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Well folks this item is coming to you from the kitchen table. Right, the kitchen table. Set up my laptop and am now preparing these comments.

"Why the kitchen and why the laptop?" you might well ask. Well it is because of the cookies.

Ok, before your mind wanders off and starts to envision me in an apron and flour over my face and hands, we are not talking about that kind of cookie. In fact, I truly wish that was all there was to worry about. Those I can handle. Sure, the odd batch gets a little darker than it should but that just adds a flavour challenge to the cookie eater.

The cookies referred to are those which appear to allow access to various sites on the internet. Up until two days ago, they were in fine shape and access to this blog via my desktop computer was no problem. Now it seems they may be like those ones left in the oven too long. They are still cookies but do not have the same effect on the cookie user.

That is to say, each time I try to log in the message tells me that my cookies and java are blocked. With this message is a request to change settings according to some nice screen shots that Blogger provides. Unfortuntely when one clicks on Tools in the toolbar and onto the Security tab and then Custom, the screen does not look like the one Blogger is using.

Many attempts have been made to; reload java (although I am off coffee right now, pardon the pun); to change settings in security to even below medium. All to no avail. Thus we are here now sitting in a kitchen typing out the note on a laptop. For some reason the laptop does not seem to have a problem with cookies. Maybe it's the kitchen. Nah, that would be crazy right?

Several notes have been sent to "Support" over the past few days just begging for support. However, they must be having their cookies and milk break because nobody has responded yet.

All in all, quite a learning experience and something we all might do well to keep in mind. Regardless of what we do, the computer will experience its own agenda from time to time. Then it will, like an animal be unable to tell you in a language humans understand, where the problem is.

Until later, take care and I think I will just have a cup of tea and perhaps a cookie or two.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Customer Service

Had an opportunity yesterday, while visiting my mother, to witness two separate examples of service provided by personal service providers. Let me say first that my mother, a very independent woman still lives in her own home. However, she does require assistance to maintain the property as she would like it to be.

The first service provider was none other than the gentleman who has contracted to cut her lawns. These lawns have been a source of pride for my parents since they first purchased their home in the mid 60's. They were cut and trimmed with great care. Each time the lawn was cut it was cut in a different direction going with and against the grain to even out the stress on the growth. As a result the lawns have been the envy of many a neighbour over the past 40 plus years.

As it was yesterday in her area, and I believe in many other places, the morning found the lawns with a heavy coat of due making them quite damp. However, the lawn cutters were there at 9:30 in the morning to cut the lawn. It is also important to note that the cuttings are not bagged as there is no yard waste disposal available where my mother lives.

Watching the gentleman at work it appeared that he was running a race. In very short order the front, back and side lawns were cut and they were off to another house down the street. What was left behind was a curious pattern of lawn cuttings which will no doubt dry out in a day or so leaving clear evidence of what the cutting pattern was.

Later that same day a crew arrived to trim the wonderful but large red maple in the back yard. This of course had been pre-arranged by calling several firms and obtaining quotes. The firm selected had taken the time to consider all aspects of the task and recommended a support bar be inserted to prevent a V section from splitting off in high winds. We are talking here of a tree that is over 40 feet high and looks fantastic.

The four men, the owner and his three sons, took great care to ensure that the tree was not damaged in any way during the trimming and elevating process. The result was a tree that looked even better than when they started. To their credit they took the time to rake clean the entire area and then to sweep clean the end of the driveway where their chipper has been placed.

Considering these two services it was clear to see that the first individual, the lawn cutter, was in it to make money and move on. The second the tree trimmer was in it to preserve a piece of nature and to build a relationship with the home owner.

Clearly the second gentleman will have a business to turn over to his boys when he retires. I am not sure that can be send of the gentleman who is cutting lawns.

My point? In our business dealings each of us needs to consider the difference between these two experiences and ask if our clients feel like we are the tree trimmer or the lawn cutter.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Address Labels

Perhaps like me, you receive many requests for donations from a variety of charitable causes. Each is a worthy cause and well deserving of receiving a donation. Unfortunately the requests often outnumber the amount of disposable dollars available for donating. So, one has to simply decide where to place those few dollars.

Then comes the difficult part. Often the agency, cause, organization, sends along a little something as a thank you for donating. No doubt this is to encourage that truly Canadian guilt trip and cause you to send a donation. Sometimes it is a small prayer card, a hand printed Christmas card, a personalized note pad.

What I have noticed of late is the increase in the number of mailing labels received with the donation requests. They may be from just about any organization. Often they have either a nice graphic or the logo of the organization in the top left corner. Truly useful items if you need them.

The questionbecomes what to do with all those labels. First, just how many mailing labels does one need? Most communication today seems to be via electronic means. Few write letters regularly. Then there is the ethics question. As Canadians we seem to believe that if we use the labels we must send a donation. Back to that guilt thing again.

In our case, the solution is twofold:
a contact with the agency asking for the donation requesting we be removed from their solicitation list (this rarely works);
shredding of the labels because we are concerned that simply putting them in the garbage allows another point of information for those unprincipled folks who are looking to steal an identify.

Think of it, someone pulls a batch of labels from your garbage and starts sending notes identifying themselves as you. With all the requests received to sign up for this and that credit card what could be easier. They need only put a label on the application and the envelope and mail it back. Then quickly send a change of address to the company saying sorry, we moved. The card goes to the "moved" address and your credit goes down the tube.

Have you ever tried shredding those labels? Sure they can get chopped up in strips or small pieces depending upon the model of shredder you have. Unfortunately, the adhesive part also manages to stick to the cutter blades. Now you have the task of pulling, where possible, the adhesive items off the blades. This is not a fun task, believe me I speak from experience here.

The solution? Well, I propose that the agencies sending labels not send them but rather send a note that say with your donation you will receive customized mailing labels. This is a win-win solution for all concerned:
  • The agency does not incur the cost of printing labels that end up being destroyed one way or another with out a donation.
  • The donor can get just the number of labels they require and from the organization they wish to show support for.

Of course, there is another option, send the entire package back to the agency postage due with a large note in permanent marker on the front "STOP SENDING ME LABELS". Oh year, add "Please" because after all we are polite Canadians.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Telephone Etiquette

A recent discussion with a business associate reminded me of what could be considered one of my pet peeves. That is how people deal with voice mail.

It is recognized that many of us are busy and often not right next to the telephone in our office. For that reason we put on a voice mail. The message usually goes something like this:

"You have reached Viv Smith at Somecompany on Thursday, September 3rd. I am not able to take your call right now but leave your name; number; and a brief message and I will return your call by the end of the business day."

When the caller gets your message they feel good, first you have confirmed you are in today and second you have promised to return their call by the end of the business day.

The issue is not with putting the message on the phone and often not even with the wording of the message. The issue arises when you fail to follow up on that commitment made in your voice mail. For whatever reason you either:
a) do not check your voice mail regularly
b) decide that other matters are more urgent than returning the call
c) decide that you really do not want to talk to that person

The message you are then sending, probably without meaning to, is more like this:

"Thanks for calling Viv Smith at Somecompany on Thursday, September 3rd. I am not able to take your call right now but leave your name; number; and a brief message and I will return your call by the end of the business day if I consider it important or if I truly feel like it. Otherwise, you should keep calling to see if I answer it live at some point."

OK, this may be a bit of a sarcastic way of looking at the message you say. However, when you sit back and think about it, this is really the message your are sending. In fact, it may even be interpreted by the caller that you screen them out because of some bias. This they will tell their associates and soon nobody will expect a call from you. So, if they do not expect a call back, why bother to leave a message.

How many clients are you losing by not following the basic etiquette and returning calls when you say you will?

Friday, August 28, 2009

What Is Your Story

Received a call late yesterday asking if I would mind being the guest speaker at our networking group meeting next Thursday. Well, as one not above a bit of shameless self promotion of course I said yes.

Then came the tricky part. What to present about. Clearly as a learning consultant and performance technologist there is no shortage of subject material. The question is not so much finding something to present but narrowing down the field to a specific topic. Will not divulge the topic chosen here because some of you who are going to hear me on Thursday may be reading this and don't want to spoil the surprise.

However, this led me down a path of thought regarding presentations at groups where everyone is comfortable. Generally in a networking group that meets regularly, you get to know what each person does within a couple of months. Perhaps six months if the meetings are not weekly or every two weeks. This often results in each person delivering the same presentation meeting after meeting.

The repetition of a presentation has both good and bad points. First the good. The more anyone hears a consistent message the easier it is to remember. Thus when a potential for referral comes up your message may be front of mind.

However, it is also true that the more you hear the same message the less you listen to the message. Each of us has a hundred different things going on in our lives and if we can tune out a presentation while attending to some other "urgent" thought, we will do so. As a result your message falls on deaf or semi-deaf ears losing that repetition value.

The key is to keep your message clear, concise, understandable and exciting. Keep them on the edge of their chair each time you present. Think about it, were the presentations at your last networking meeting better when a guest was present. Of course they were. There was someone new to listen to the pitch.

The moral being that you have to have a story to tell for sure but the more ways you can tell that story the better the chance of it being heard.

So, before you present your ideas to another group of potential clients or people who you want to refer you to clients ask the simple question. What is my story? And, who cares?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

That "Senior" Thing

As mentioned in my last post, we went to the CNE last Saturday. The fellow at the parking lot entrance asked if we wanted to purchase our tickets there while paying for parking. Of course we said "yes". He then asked how many children, adults, seniors. Not being sure I asked what a senior was. His response, someone over 60.

As it is both my wife and I fit that category so we took two seniors admittance tickets. However, it raised the issue of exactly what a senior is. For some purposes a senior is anyone over 65 years of age. For others, I.e. the CNE, it is 60 years of age or older. In yet other places, take Denny's for example, it is anyone 55 years of age or older. It really can get quite confusing.

Add to this the latest wrinkle in my business life. CSTD (Canadian Society for Training & Development) has offered a new way of being certified as a CTDP (Certified Training & Development Professional). This being through completion of an application as a Senior Practitioner. Here, depending on how old you were when you entered the field, you could be as young as say, 35 - 40. This is because you will have the minimum of 15 years of experience.

Not complaining about the benefits for sure, just wondering if perhaps there is a need somewhere to standardize the identification of a senior. Perhaps it is as simple as using a variety of labels, E.g. mature, experienced, elderly, or just plain old.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Through A Child's Eyes

I must admit it has been a few years since I visited that event often identified as the grand old lady by the lake. AKA the CNE. Not sure exactly why that is as it seems to be the thing to do for those who live in the GTA.

Perhaps it is because I am older and the thought of going on a lot of rides does not stimulate me to action. Perhaps it is because I have become somewhat jaded in my opinion of the odds of winning at any of the carnival games. Perhaps it is because the vendors at the Direct Energy Centre seem to be selling things I either don't want, don't need or can't afford.

Anyway, this year was different for me. My son and 3 1/2 year old grandson were down from Barrie. So, we decided it would be nice to take him to the CNE.

Well, what an experience. To see all the CNE has to offer through a fresh set of eyes. Everything was exciting to him, from the animals in the farm area to the games of chance to the interactive areas and rides in the children's area.

Truly this gave me a new view of something that had become quite bland. Another, same old same old, kind of event.

This got me to thinking about how many of us have taken that same approach with many other areas and events in our life. When was the last time that something was new and exciting to you? Perhaps it is because you know exactly what to expect and as long as that is there you are happy. Perhaps that is because you are looking for certain aspects of an event and as a result overlook other aspects. I would be the first to acknowledge that kind of bias in many areas of my life.

So what do we do about it. Well,perhaps the best thing we could all do is to start to look at our life events and activities as a child would. What would they see if they were experiencing this.

Who knows, out of that observation we may find the secret to greater happiness.

Who knows, out of that observation we may find the key to that problem that has been so hard to solve.

Who knows, out of that observation we may suddenly realize that we have a pretty darn exciting and good life all things considered.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Replace Society

What is the most common reactions we have today when something fails to work properly. I believe it is to simply throw it out and get a new one. After all, the cost of repair more often than not is greater than the cost of a new unit.

As a population we have over the last 40 - 50 years gotten rather used to the fact that products have a life. Sometimes that life is a couple years, sometimes many many more. But never-the-less we consider it has reached the end of it's life and we throw it out. After all we are in a disposable society or at least that is this old fellow's opinion.

Well, my Falcon Mark V barbecue has been with me since some time in 1978. A nice reliable unit made of cast iron, not the tin of today. Over the years it has had it's share of servicing. A couple of new burners because the old ones gave up. A couple of paint jobs to make it look spiffy (is that even a word).

About 8 years ago I even went to the full extent of totally rebuilding the wooden stand and platform around the unit. It looked just like new and operated that way as well.

However, last week the barbecue just did not meet the challenge presented in cooking a couple of nice steaks. So, off to the barbecue store I go looking for a new burner and thought it would be a good idea to replace the lava rock rack at the same time.

No so fast my friend the store owner says. Your barbecue is old and parts are no longer available. Most folks have switched to generic units now. Try finding the parts on-line.

Just as I was about to give up and consider replacing old faithful, he had another suggestion. Why not drill out the holes in the existing burner. Often they just get plugged over the years and it will not hurt the burner. Also you can use just about any type of rack for holding the lava rocks so try something else that will fit.

Well I am pleased to say folks that his advice seems to have been pretty solid. Did drill out the burner (OK, so I broke a couple bits doing it) and it seems the flames are better than ever now. So, on to another set of steaks. Maybe this time tube steaks.

This got me to thinking about all the other things that have been thrown out over the past few years. Was there a simple solution like this one available for them as well.

Perhaps with the economy in a bit of a slump we should all look to fixing rather than replacing. Who knows, we might save some money and definitely will gain a sense of personal satisfaction having fixed something.

Something to think about.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Passwords - An Answer

Below is an answer provided to my recent blog on passwords. Thought a few other folks might be interested in the wisdom shared by my friend David. Thanks David.


If you are looking to keep your computer related passwords organized you can try out some of the password management software available. Programs like KeePass (http://keepass.info/) allow you to store various passwords in an organized fashion for all your accounts. KeePass is provided as open-source software so you may use it at no charge. The advantage is you just need to remember one password (the one that gains you access to the password management software).

Using a program like this will allow you to keep an unlimited amout of highly secure passwords (the program will choose a highly secure password for you if you'd prefer and will rate the passwords you enter for their security) and not have to worry about remembering them all... However don't forget the 'master password' or you really are in big trouble.

You could even keep your other PIN numbers etcetera in the program, however then you'd have to carry around your computer at all times.

Hope this helps you out,

David Mielke
FileBank IT Solutions

Monday, August 10, 2009


Just how many passwords do we need in today's world to get things done securely. Let's look at a typical day for someone who has an email account, is on LinkedIn; is on Facebook; does PC Banking; does banking at a machine; handles finances for a non-profit group.

First, you need a password to get into your email. Once in, you find that you have an invitation from someone to accept them as a friend on Facebook. You click on the link and guess what, a password is required to go further. Having passed that portal you move back to your email.

Oops, now an invitation has come in to join someone on LinkedIn by clicking on a link in the email. Sure enough another password is required to get into that site and approve the linkage.

The mail arrives and you find your telephone bill in the box. Why go out, just pay it on the PC. But wait, a password is required to ensure you are the only one who can get into that account. Good stuff but still another password to remember and enter.

You then remember that you will have to pay cash for golf today as the club does not take credit cards. So, on the way to the course you drop by a branch of your bank and visit the ATM. You are ahead of me, right, a password or PIN is required to protect you from others getting at your money.

While there you decide to deposit those cheques the members gave you for their association dues at last night's meeting. Another bank card of course and yes, another PIN (password).

Sure you could have all the on-line passwords the same but there is a problem there. If you use the same password to get into your banking as your email is it truly safe? One other slight complication, the programmer for one site requires that you have a mixture of numbers and letters in your password. This is different than the other site that asks for a six digit alpha password only.

Recognizing the need for protection the question of course is should there not be some way that we could be protected and yet not have to strain our memories? I believe there are other ways, finger print scan; retina scan; voice recognition. All have great benefits over remembering a lot of numbers but are all available readily to the general public. Probably not.

So, we will continue to try to remember a multiple number of passwords and hope we can keep them all straight and avoid total frustration by forgetting just one. You know like the one I needed to sign in to even post this blog. Fun Wow!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Weather Conversation

One thing that seems to be the most common among Canadians is that we love to talk about the weather. Perhaps this is because of our less than aggressive nature. When you are standing at a bus stop and a stranger comes by you have two choices. Either ignore the person and make no conversation or make a comment about the weather.

"Sure is wet today with all this rain.". The thing is you will probably get an answer to this rather obvious statement. Weird I know.

Recently had breakfast with a group of fellow Rotarians and the topic of the weather, surprise of all surprises, came up. It was then that I noticed something unique. Or at least to me it was a bit of a revelation.

Taking into consideration how the individual talks about the summer we have had this year, can tell you a lot about the personality of the person. If they are totally down and say we have had a lousy summer. Is it really the weather that is a downer for them? Perhaps business is slow or other personal issues are bothering the person.

If they relate to the great days we have had, are they a true optimist. Or perhaps are they someone who is willing to make the best of what is presented to them. Alternatively, maybe business has been great and all cares swept away in the past few weeks or months.

It is a lot like the question of whether the glass is half full or half empty. The half full person remembers the great days and is optimistic about their being better days ahead. The half empty person will moan about the few good days and the limited number of days left in the "calendar summer".

Now this may be my own interpretation of things but suggest it bears consideration.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


One of the things we all do from time to time is to update former associates on how we are doing. This could be anyone from the high school friend you have not seen for years or the former co-worker who you have not seen for months.

Had that very opportunity today. Met a former co-worker (OK she was my former boss) for lunch. Although it has been only about 6 months there seemed to be so much to talk about for both of us.

First, there is the family updates. How are the children / grand-children doing? How is everyone else, your life partner, parents, etc. Then of course the stop in the conversation to decide what to have for lunch. Simple thing but you want to have something that will allow you to carry on a conversation while you eat. No spaghetti here.

For anyone who has done interviewing the golden rule is to have the candidate talk 60% of the time and you listen. But what is the rule for updating a friend?

This got me to thinking about how many times we meet business associates just for a coffee or light lunch etc. Our purpose is to keep up contacts and to build relationships. However, if we do all the talking, do they want to meet with us regularly? Probably not.

On the other hand if we sit quiet and do not get involved in a true dialogue then our associates will see little value in getting together. Updating friends, or business associates is a win-win operation if done properly.

We all need to ask is what is important to tell them about us? How are we going to respond to that sigificant piece of information, someone is critically ill, they have or are in danger of losing a job?

No real answers here but believe that just giving it some thought will make us all much better at updating associates and being updated by associates.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

How Much to Charge

Recently attended a function where an associate mentioned he had been asked to do some consulting. Clearly this was something he could do quite easily having been a partner in a successful business for a number of years before going into semi-retirement. However, the question was one of how much to charge for this service.

This is something everyone who does consulting is challenged with. I suggested a rate of $150./hour which for an 8 hour day would work out to a day rate of $1,200. Extrapolated to a normal working year of 252 working days that equals an annual salary rate of $302,400. Not bad earning at all.

However, we all recognize that consultants do not have the opportunity to work 8 hours a day every one of the 252 working days of the year. So let's say you work only one day in three. That brings your annual earnings down to $100,800. which is still good money.

The challenge of course is to justify the rate. Here there are a few different scenarios generally followed.

Scenario One: Charge what the market will bear. If everyone else is charging a rate of $200./hour then charge that rate. The theory here is that you are only asking for what everyone else is getting paid. The problem with this approach is that not everyone brings the same skills / experience to the table. Should the first time consultant be paid as much as the one who has been in the field for 20 years? Something to think about.

Scenario Two: Determine what you would like to have an annual earnings (before taxes). Then estimate the number of hours/days you will be able to bill. Using those two numbers simply do a mathematical calculation to get your hourly rate. I.e. Desired earnings = $100,000/pa and your estimated number of 8 hour days billable = 84 or 7 days a month. Your hourly rate would have to be $100K/672 = $148.81 or $150. for ease of billing. This scenario also has its problem as you might have trouble rationalizing your rate to a client. Also if six months into the year your working days do not average 7/month, do you increase your rate to generate the revenue desired?

Scenario Three: In this scenario you base your rate on the "value add" factor for the client. For example, estimate that as a result of your consulting for a period of say 1 week or 40 hours will provide an increase of say $10,000. to the earnings of the company. The value add is then $10,000. If you charge $150/hour your bill will be $6,000. The company benefit would be $4,000. for $6,000. invested or an ROI of 66.7%. For every six dollars invested in your services the company will earn an additional ten dollars. This scenario often plays better at the board table. When you talk about a return that high, even if the estimated benefit drops to say $9,000. they are still making three dollars for every two dollars invested.

So what scenario is the best to work with as both a supplier of consulting services and a purchaser of consulting services? Clearly there is no right answer other than to say that the scenario which best meets the needs of both parties is the one to use.

Should you have the exact same charge formula for all clients? Again, the answer will depend on a lot of factors, not the least of which is your desire for referral business.

Friday, July 31, 2009

What Are They Hearing

Strange how one event triggers thoughts and sends you off on a different yet somehow connected tangent. But, that is exactly what happened to me this morning.

At our regular Friday morning Rotary meeting we had the spokesperson from Listen Up Canada. Christine De Luca is an educated and knowledgeable person when it comes to the field of hearing and hearing support devices. These items are commonly known as hearing aids but I believe the naming conventions should be changed. They are support devices. OK, enough with the battle of semantics.

Christine's talk led me to thinking about those of us in business who communicate regularly with existing or potential clients. Clearly from our perspective our message is clear and easily understood. But then let's take another look at that concept.

First, the words we choose may have a totally different meaning for someone else. Just look above to see my ramblings on whether it is a hearing aid or a hearing support device. Now, think of all those fancy adjectives and phrases used in promotion material:
newest; outstanding; life time guarantee; powerful; exciting; thrilling; renewing;
Each of these can mean something different to the receiver.

Each of us has had a number of experiences throughout our lives. Some of us, like the writer have had a lot more years to have these experiences in. Regardless of the number of years of experiences, those experiences have created filters for hearing messages sent to us.

Perhaps, we were told something had a lifetime guarantee and yet when it broke down we found out the guarantee was only for the lifetime of the company and they were out of business now. Perhaps we were told our used car was in excellent condition and after only a few short months we had to invest significant dollars in repairs.

The message here, again I may be making the same mistakes in assuming it is clear to you, is that we need to consider the hearing filters of our audiences. Then we need to work to ensure the message is able to come through the filters clearly and accurately.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Some time back, perhaps about 8 years ago, a very knowledgeable person told me that a reward is only a reward when it is both wanted and valued by the recipient. At the time this made an impact. Truly, we need to value the reward for it to be important to us. However the part about it being wanted well that was another matter. After all, don't we all want rewards?

Having now passed the anniversary of my fifth year as an independent business owner, that concept means a lot more to me. To be clear, there are no employees here, just little old me. So the reward is both given and received by that one employee. Guess that makes me the employee of the month over 60 times. Anyway, back to the point.

My efforts for the past two weeks have been multi-faceted. In other words it has required a bit of a grasshopper mind. First work on promotion of one workshop. Then move on to service an existing client contract. From there it was time to start a total new promotion concept for a new avenue of business. This is not a complaint as that kind of environment is stimulating.

The issue is that it also means that rewards, i.e. cash in the bank, may be quite a way off. Therefore there was a need for some other type of reward. Not later but now.

Mine today was basic, took a little time to visit my daughter and pet her dog. He loves that so it was a treat for both of us. Then it was really basic, a chocolate dipped ice cream cone from Dairy Queen. No big deal in most people's eyes.

However, after that little break and treat I was ready to tackle another challenge and start yet a third project. Guess my boss is a pretty nice guy after all.

Each of us has a need to be treated once in a while. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs and small business owners hold the opinion that the rewards will come later. Sometimes later never arrives.

Think about it. When was the last time you rewarded yourself with a simple treat. Perhaps a walk in the park. Perhaps a ride on a bicycle around the neighbourhood. Or, like me today, buying an ice cream cone.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Technical Frustration

Have you ever experienced that unknown technical problem with anything? It could have been your digital television set up that just did not seem to work as it should. It might have been that you could not get voice mail set up as it should. Perhaps it is email you are not getting.

If you are one of those serious bloggers who has a great technical background you might want to stop reading right about here.

Over the past couple of weeks all of the three technical difficulties have been experienced by me. Take the digital television set up. Based on the commercials it seems really easy right? All you have to do is plug it in. Right. There is no question that is all that is needed to be done and the system should set itself up (if you follow the instructions in the booklet provided). However, our experience is that if the remote does not point directly at the box and the television at the same time, only one of them will go off. Then every time you press the power button you turn one off and one on. This means resetting the system again. Total frustration.

How about voice mail and call forwarding. For some telephones, such as the one we have in our dining room, all you have to do is dial *98 and you get voice mail. However, on other telephones, such as the one in my office upstairs, *98 connects you to the traffic reporter for CHFI radio. If you have a digital phone it is one number to call, if you have an analog phone a separate number is required. Again, remembering the right combination or not can lead to frustration.

Now to the email item. You set up your email to be forwarded from your web mail to your Outlook. All works just fine until one fine day someone asks why you did not respond to their email. What email? you say. Then you go searching through your web mail (remember you set up the auto-forward so you would not have to do that). Sure enough it is right there, just did not get sent to you.

You must have changed something, right? Wrong. All the settings are just as they should be. So, like any good consumer you contact your web host. In the middle of your on-line support chat you get a note, "server disconnected". Which server? Your web host? Your ISP? Your computer itself? Who knows, the message does not clarify but only adds to confusion and confusion leads to frustration.

So you try again. This time the rep tells you that is was an unexpected cancellation at their end. However, if you have every technical spec for the missing emails they can look into it for you. Of course, not being a techie all you know is who sent the note and when. To your surprise, an email to their support tells you that their server was down for maintenance and items got dropped. Sure would have been nice to know. However, the assumption by those working on the server is that you will know that through some inspired vision or technical knowledge.

Talk about adding to your frustration, you contact the support centre for your event promotion only to find out it is on the west coast and they will not be in until about 3 hours after you start your day. An email to them gets a stock response that your inquiry has been received and a response will be sent within 24, 48 or 72 hours (depending on which one you use). Not much use if you want to know how to do something now.

The bottom line to this rambling is that not everyone has the same level of knowledge about something that you might take for granted. The individual may simply be a client/user that expects things to work as promised. It is understood that often something can "go bump in the night". People accept that. Just let us know in layman's language and the world will go a lot smoother for everyone concerned.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Enjoy Today

It seems no matter what age we are we as human beings tend to think that certain actions can be put off until tomorrow. After all, there will be more time tomorrow, right?

A fellow Rotarian recently sent me a PowerPoint presentation with some beautiful pictures of orchids. With each picture there was a bit of sage advice. Most of the advice was something that was said by someone else in my life at least a dozen times or more. So, like most people, I watched the presentation, thought about it for a minute or two and then forwarded to a few very close friends. That action being done I moved on to other things.

Then came a couple of emails from other Rotarian friends advising of the passing of people I knew and did not know personally. People who have left this earth far too early or quickly. This caused a pause. What if it was me? What would I have left undone that needed to be done?

Now I am not talking about things in the business but rather my personal relationships. When was the last time I saw our two children? When did I last hug one of our three grandchildren? When did I last tell my wife or the other members of my family that they were loved?

Separate these two occurrences might not have had an impact. However, taken together they were a real jolt of reality.

Perhaps as my friend Glenn would have you do, it is time to stop and listen to good music and look at some beautiful flowers. I know I will be doing a lot more of today stuff as a result.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Take Advantage of the Advantages

One of the best things about being self employed and working from home is the lack of need to dress up for work every day. Meeting people on a professional basis, such as a networking group or one-on-one meeting it is best to dress accordingly, of course. However, the rest of the time we have an advantage over those in the "corporate world".

Another advantage is the opportunity to work to your own schedule. You do not have to clock in or clock out. You do not have to be there to cover for others at lunch or wait until someone else comes back in before you can go to lunch or coffee.

Just this morning I had the opportunity to take advantage of those advantages. The sun was out and it was a warm but not yet hot day. So, I took my work to the back patio. With wireless connections on a laptop, a Blackberry and call forwarding from the office line, it was just like being in the office.

The advantages:

a) I was not locked inside breathing recycled or air-conditioned air

b) I was able to get that vital dose of vitamin D we all need, direct from the sun not from a pill

c) I was able to do my work in a pair of shorts and comfortable t-shirt (OK, the t-shirt did have the word STAFF in big letters on the back but that is another story entirely)

d) At noon I was able to turn on the barbecue and grill up some nice pork chops.

As there were a few potatoes baking in the oven, it made for a great lunch-time meal. Those in an office environment had to go out and pay a minimum of $10 - $15 for a meal like that. For me, it was a little diversion from work and a total cost of just over $5. for a meal for two. Another advantage, the cost of meals can be brought way down without sacrificing the quality of meal.

Bottom line, I say to all you independent business people out there who happen to work out of their home, take advantage of the advantages. As long as you are moving forward with business initiatives, does it matter whether you are inside or outside?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Retired - Now What

You are retired, perhaps a bit earlier than you expected. This you see as a blessing and a curse. First, it is great not to have to get up every day and go to that "job", right? However, this is not when you planned on retiring. As a result you now find yourself with extra time but not always extra money.

For the first couple of weeks or even months it is fantastic. All those jobs you were going to do around the house but never had time on weekends are able to be finished. You have been able to get to the golf course mid-week when it is slow. You are able to work on your yard on a Tuesday when it is sunny rather than wait for the weekend or rush to cut the lawn after a full day at work.

Now reality is setting in. You have a whole lot of years ahead of you and no specific plans for them. Perhaps your life partner is still working so you are home alone. Again, nice for a while but soon you miss the simple pleasure of adult conversation during the day.

Now is the time to think outside the box. Take an inventory of what it is that you really liked about what you did when you were working? Were you also good at that particular task? Great! Now you have the opportunity to share with someone else.

Recently heard a presentation by the Dean of Workforce Development at Sheridan College. The demographics of the GTA are changing rapidly. A great number of local residents are immigrants. Many are talented folks who need help either in learning English, getting their credentials recognized, upgrading their skills, or learning how business works in Canada.

If you were in business and had a passion for what you did why not turn that passion into a hobby/job? Determine what you are good at. Ask yourself that question posed by my friend "Who cares". Then set up your own business providing that skill to the market.

The values are numerous:
  1. you get self satisfaction from helping someone
  2. you have an opportunity to earn some extra income
  3. you get to do what you most love to do
  4. you still have the opportunity to take time off when you want to
  5. you keep yourself active and evidence shows that active people live longer happier lives

The pluses are there. The question is how are you going to make it work for you. As the commercial for Everest schools says, What are you waiting for?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Customer Service

Had an opportunity today to experience customer service close up and personal from two different yet similar organizations. That is to say that they both provide quite different services yet both are large corporate entities with countless layers of control and management.

In the first instance it was to have been a simple transaction. Having taken over as treasurer for a service organization it was necessary to go in to the bank and change the signing authorities. In preparation of this a letter, on letterhead had already been obtained bearing the signatures of the two individuals presently signing, stating who the new signatories should be.

However, the branch officer informed me that those two individuals who signed the letter could not sign on the account according to her computer file records. This in spite of the fact that they have been writing cheques for the past two years. Upon insistence that they were the signing authorities, the manager was called. Again, the same line was given. However, I did manage to prevail upon them to check the paper documents files. To their surprise, the paper files were up to date and the computer files were out of date by two years. Not exactly a glowing report for the "control" of that financial institution is it?

Upon getting back to the office the mail produced my monthly Bell phone bill. Mid June I had talked to an individual and arranged to change the service to reduce the monthly charge. However, to my surprise the bill was not reduced but was rather over $60. higher than before.

This resulted in a call to Bell and a fun experience with voice activated service. After telling them I wanted to be serviced in English a billing officer answered the phone in fluent French.

When he was switched to English the situation was explained and the comment made, "that should not have happened". Understandably that is a valid statement. However, not what you want to hear as a customer.

To be fair, the individual did check into the situation and determine there was an error and provide an instant credit on the account. The question this begs is; what would have happened if it had not been spotted? What if that bill went directly to an accounting department solely charged with tracking expenses and writing cheques?

Overall, these two experiences lead to a serious question:
"What has happened to quality control in large organizations and to customer service?"

For readers of this item, it raises another question. What is your quality control like and what is your customer service like? Errors happen, we all understand that but how they are handled is critical to maintaining a satisfied client base.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Customer Service or Customer Response

Recently downloaded two different applications to my Blackberry. This was the first time I had downloaded anything as up to now the standard applications always seemed to be enough. However, my son was showing me some of his applications and they looked great.

After downloading it was clear that the two applications did not do what was wanted and would end up costing quite a bit. This in spite of the fact that they were free downloads.

One download for GPS mentions, after you download mind you, that unlimited airtime is required of significant costs could be incurred. The other application for audio email was one that spoke your emails to you not one you could voice record emails. Thus it was of little use to me.

Contacted the support / service area of both organizations and asked for instructions on closing out my account and removing from the Blackberry.

In one case the response was a rather lengthy email extolling the virtues of the software. It went on and on for two pages about what the program could do and why it should be kept. At no time did they mention anything about how to cancel the account or delete from the Blackberry.

The second firm sent a very nice email advising they would cancel the account and gave me a specific link to very clear instructions on how to remove the application. Turns out all Blackberry applications can be deleted that same way. This was new to me so a great help.

The difference was that the first firm practiced "customer response". They did not answer the request made nor provide valuable information to make their client satisfied. That email was clearly a sales pitch in hopes you would get so bogged down in the rhetoric you would keep the application on your Blackberry.

The second firm responded with a precise answer to my request. In fact, sent them a email telling them how much their service response was appreciated. You see they were practicing "Customer Service".

Each of us in business could do well to learn from this experience and make sure that when we are contacted by a client that we are providing service not just a response.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mental and Physical

On Saturday morning the alarm went off well before it should have. OK, it went off when I set it for but at that moment it seemed far too early. I had an extremely busy week, one of those when everything seems to occur in rapid succession. As a result it was a total of five days early rising and late getting to bed.

This is not to say that the week was not of my choosing. Nor is it to say that the week was not one that I felt like something was accomplished.

However, this Saturday morning I had agreed to get up and help out all day at a charity barbecue. Oh, yes, one other thing. The weather forecast for the day was thunder storms with heavy rain. Just the sort of day you want to be in an open plaza cooking and selling hot dogs.

The temptation was to turn off the alarm and go back to sleep. Perhaps call someone and say I was not feeling well. For those who care, I did not call in but rather went to the event. Yes the rains did come. Then the sun came out. All in all we had a great time and raised funds for a worthy cause.

This whole episode made me think of people who face a similar situation every Monday through Friday. The job they have is either mentally or physically exhausting. They do obtain a certain sense of satisfaction when the job is done but it is not a true passion of theirs. These are the folks who work to live rather than the ones that live to work.

In these cases, it is a matter of the mental being able to win out over the physical. The body is saying "call the boss and say you are not feeling well". The mental is saying "get going now you have important work to do that people care about".

Unfortunately, the mental needs reinforcement just like the physical does. People exercise and train to keep their bodies in condition to do the physical tasks required of them. No doubt you have received an offer from a health club in the past 2-3 months. We all do, and some of us actually sign up. Again, the mental aspect comes into play again. We sign up then do not go.

Thinking of it from a business perspective, business owners should focus on making the mental message the stronger of the two. That means showing employees that their work is valued. Showing employees that their coming to work every day counts for something. The recognition need not cost a lot in terms of dollars. However it needs to mean something to the recipient.

Just something for all of us, both employees and employers to think about.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Direction Makes A Difference

Recently had to take several trips on a major highway. In one case was heading East on the 401 across the top of Toronto early in the morning. Traffic was steady but flowing not too badly. We managed to keep at least at the limit of 100 Km. Looking to my left it was clear to see that those folks heading West were not doing as well. The cars were barely moving and in some places they were totally stopped on the road.

That same day was now driving west on Highway 401 and saw the same phenomenon only in reverse. The westbound was moving well but eastbound was stop and go. Must admit that this made me feel great. Perhaps a little sorry for the plight of the drivers on the other side of the highway but really glad it was not me over there.

This got me to thinking how business is often like a highway. Depending on the direction we are taking it can be stop and go or moving steadily forward. This led to wondering what was the difference, can a business truly decide the direction it wants to take?

Clearly the answer to this rather rhetorical question posed to myself is, YES. As a business owner one can decide which direction to travel and therefore influence significantly how well the trip goes.

For example, let's say you want to do exactly what everyone else in your industry is doing. That would be the equivalent of my going westbound on Highway 401 in the early morning. Clearly, everyone is coming into Toronto to work and do business. True it did depend upon where I started my trip but that is always the case, is it not.

Now, what if you were to decide to go a different route with your product or service. To focus on one or two aspects of your organization's offerings that are unique. This would be like going out of Toronto in the early morning to conduct business. Now the trip is much more enjoyable and less stressful. You are not battling the other businesses (cars) for space on the road.

Looking at the direction of our company may mean challenging the norms. It may mean stepping out of our comfort zone. That said, it may mean a true breakthrough in business and in turn mean we start to enjoy the trip more.

Which direction are you driving in?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Cutting the Grass

Took advantage of a break in the rain yesterday morning and got around to finally cutting my lawns. Looking around the neighbourhood it was easy to see that I was the first on the block so to speak. Soon the sound of lawnmowers could be heard up and down the street as neighbours worked on their own lawns.

This phenomenon made me think of how it often is in business. As soon as someone does something to improve others are quick to follow. One clear example is the number of corporate presidents / CEO's / owners who do their own pitch on television. At one time you could count them on one hand now it seems to be all the rage. Some, unfortunately are not as good as others and could possibly be better off by not following the trend.

While my mind was spinning out of control so to speak, another thought occurred to me. It. appears home ownership has both an upside and a downside. The upside being that we have something to call our own and do with pretty much as we please. The downside is that we are responsible for keeping everything looking like it should.

Again, the similarity to owning and operating a business came to mind. One of the main reasons people give for opening their own business is to be their own boss. This being a very laudable purpose it often does not work out as expected. You merely change one boss for another. The new "boss" is you and/or your client base.

We find we are doing more and enjoying it less. Perhaps this is because our passion now has become a job. Perhaps it is because we are technicians who are good at doing one thing but the other aspects of business are just not our forte (to make a poor pun on a recent car commercial).

The challenge is to be able to put enough of ourselves into the business to make it a success while at the same time taking enough from the business to allow us to enjoy our success while we can. Every now and then we need to stop and ask ourselves a key question:

"Am I running my business or is my business running me?" The answer we get if it is an honest one can either stimulate us to keep doing what we are doing or stop doing what we are doing or perhaps start doing something different. Rather like coming to an interesection and deciding what to do depending on the colour of the traffic light.

What colour is your traffic light?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Who Cares?

One statement that can really set you back on your heels is "Who cares?". That statement can be made by someone who quite honestly could care less about your product / service / comment / etc. In that case you may well be startled or perhaps become upset at the comment. However, it can also have a very positive effect.

Consider this scenario. You are meeting with a friend and seeking input on how to promote something. It could be a service you provide, a program you are passionate about, a charity function. In my case it was quite simply a labour of love so to speak, my recently published book.

To explore how to go about publicizing this work I met with a good friend. After some social chat he bluntly asked me the question "Who cares?" At first the question took me by surprise. Then the great wisdom behind those two words started to materialize.

Clearly the majority of entrepreneurs have a passion for what they do. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but for them it is everything. It is that passion that drives them forward. It is that passion that keeps them labouring at their craft in spite of setbacks and failure. They are out there selling something they truly believe in, but to whom are they selling. Are they truly marketing to the people they should be marketing their product or service to?

If we simply stop, take a deep breath and bluntly and honestly answer that question we would be so much further ahead. Our efforts would be reaching those who do care about what we are promoting. The result would be far more acceptance. This would in turn result in the building of our confidence and resilience for the fewer rejections that will inevitably still occur.

So, the next time you are preparing a presentation, a sales pitch, a promotion flyer, before you send it out to the world, ask the question "Who Cares?" Then contact those folks. For this and some great music I thank my new sounding board. Thanks Howard.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Sunglasses and Rain

Like most of you reading this posting, I have had to put up with mother nature's joke of wet weather for the past week or so. In fact, one day had to make quite a lengthy trip in a rather heavy rain. It was during that trip that I was given a great tip and made an amazing discovery.

The sun would be out for a short while then it would get cloudy and start to rain a bit. Next we would be driving in heavy rain, then back into moderate sun. As usual, my sunglasses were on when it was sunny, then off for the rain, back on when it got sunny again. Quite an exercise given the short periods between the different weather conditions.

My wife, on the other hand kept her sunglasses on during the entire time. When asked about it, she commented that it was easier to see the road and other vehicles in the daytime rain with sunglasses on. OK, I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer but do know when to take advice. So, on came the sunglasses and incredibly the view was sharper and more defined than it had been without the sunglasses.

The point, my wife knows best. Of course that goes without saying, right guys, but also the learning from this experience is twofold:

1. Experiment, you may find you can get great benefit using a product for different purposes

2. Learning is a continual effort throughout our lives. Listen to others and learn many new things.

What could you learn today?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Never Stop Learning

One of the biggest fallacies in life is that we learn all we need to know between Junior Kindergarten and University. Nothing could be further from the truth. Each day the world changes whether we like it or not. The challenge is to stay ahead or at best even with the changes. This effort to keep up requires an ongoing learning outlook.

Think back only say one month. What do you know now that you did not know this time one month ago? Whatever it is, it is part of your new knowledge base. Perhaps it is a shortcut to get to work. Perhaps it is a new way to make something or do something you enjoy. Regardless it is knowledge and it was learned.The key is to make as many moments of each and every day a "learning moment".

Of course, this is greatly assisted by participating in learning programs. Notice I did not say 'training programs'. The difference while subtle is significant.You are trained to do something by rote and repetition. Perhaps it is how to improve your golf swing. Your muscles and mind are trained to work in a specific way by repetition. It has been said that a new swing can only be created by practicing a minimum of 21 times for 21 days. Not sure if that is true because I never lasted the 21 days.

Learning on the other hand is the experiencing of something and creating from that experience your own understanding. In other words it is to internalize the data, synthesize the data and then be able to analyze and come to some conclusion. Of course, the presenter would greatly appreciate if you could take the experience and come to his / her conclusion but that is not always the case. Nor should it be. Each of us is a unique combination of the training we have had and the learning we have undertaken. Therefore, the result of the internalizing; synthesizing and analysis will often lead each of us to a different conclusion, all be it, many will be almost indistinguishable from the other.

The intent of this item is to make the very reading of it a learning moment.What was your most significant learning moment? Why would you say that?

Try Reconnecting

While looking through a social networking site recently found a name I recognized. This individual and I had worked in the same organization some 8 - 10 years ago. Since then both of us had gone our separate ways. However, I remembered her as a knowledgeable and understanding HR specialist.

Taking the initiative, a request to join my network was sent. The result, was acceptance. Not only that but this individual is now in a position to secure work for a number of trainers. As it happens I know a few trainers who could use steady or contract work. The result, was the putting together of a couple of parties who may have a mutual need.

For me, the result was a feeling of satisfaction. Having done something to help someone else was like paying it forward. I believe it will return to me ten fold in some form or another. Have you tried this with social networking. If not, what are you waiting for, start reconnecting with your past. The value is there to be found, mine that field for gold.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Embracing Change

In this economic environment there are countless individuals who find themself looking for a new job after not having to do so for a great number of years. For many this is a truly tramatic situation filled with what seems to be nothing but negativity.

For others the situation is one of great promise. Perhaps they have always wanted to do something different but never wanted to take the chance. Now the chance, opportunity, challenge, whatever word you want to use has been forced upon them.

Having gone through that situation myself back in 1992 I can relate to their feelings. You are excited yet scared stiff at the same time. However, it can also be exhilarating. For me it was the chance to go back to school, add some credentials and step into my life's real career.

Whatever an individual decides is best for them that is what is best for them as long as they are committed to that course. Where I believe we often fall short is when the goal is not clear and we give up when it starts to get a bit more fuzzy.

The best advice I would give anyone in today's environment is to:

"Set your course and stay your course. The other shore, success is not that far away!"

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Devil's in the Detail

Have you ever heard the saying "the devil's in the detail"? Perhaps you are of my generation and that was a common phrase in your formative years. Perhaps you are of Generation X, Generation Y or whatever the most recent buzz words are. In that case you may have never heard the phrase.

Got to thinking about it today because someone asked me how many books I had sold from my inventory. Good question, must go count. Oh and by the way, who bought them?

Well the anal part of my mind kicked in and you guessed what. I have another Excel spreadsheet that tracks inventory, sales, gifting of copies, cost and profit. The devil may be in the detail but the detail tells me how the devil I am doing. So, is it good or bad? The answer is in the mind of the individual. It works for me but maybe not for you.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Getting to Know Each Other

Went to one of my usual networking breakfasts this morning expecting the normal crowd of 11 - 13 folks. What a surprise to find that 5 minutes after the scheduled start we were still a group of 3. However, one has to eat breakfast anyway, right. Seems a good friend asks that question to folks about Friday's. But anyway.

We ordered and spent about an hour just talking to each other. This made me think about how little we often know of other people in groups we belong to. Perhaps it is time to do as a leader in another group I visit with recommended. Take time to set up one on one meetings over coffee, brunch, lunch, a beer, whatever, and get to know your business associates a bit better.

It is amazing the information you can learn about them and from them. Give it a try and let me know how it works for you, or not if that is your preference. The important thing is to expand your environment.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Time to Listen

Reviewing feedback again today from the workshop held this past Monday. Reading the comments individually and the ratings was uplifting. Truly the folks received value for their time and money. This gives me a feeling of self worth, I helped one person feel more confident or learn one new idea/concept.

Then I put together all the written thoughts. Wow! There it was right in front of me, the clients were asking for more. More time to practice; more knowledge on the subject; more feedback from a peer group. This made me think. It is time to listen. The client is saying what they want so why not take a few days off the treadmill and put together a follow up seminar.

Thinking about it, wouldn't it be nice if we could put the comments of everyone we meet in a week onto a page and then see what the common treads were. No doubt it would be revealing and heaven forbid we might start providing the clients what they need, not what we sell.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Learning Moments

Never Stop Learning
One of the biggest fallacies in life is that we learn all we need to know between Junior Kindegarten and University. Nothing could be futher from the truth. Each day the world changes whether we like it or not. The challenge is to stay ahead or at best even with the changes.

This effort to keep up requires an ongoing learning outlook. Think back only say one month. What do you know now that you did not know this time one month ago? Whatever it is, it is part of your new knowledge base. Perhaps it is a shortcut to get to work. Perhaps it is a new way to make something or do something you enjoy. Regardless it is knowledge and it was learned.The key is to make as many moments of each and every day a "learning moment". Of course, this is greatly assisted by participating in learning programs.

Notice I did not say 'training programs'. The difference while subtle is significant.You are trained to do something by rote and repetition. Perhaps it is how to improve your golf swing. Your muscles and mind are trained to work in a specific way by repetition. It has been said that a new swing can only be created by practicing a minimum of 21 times for 21 days. Not sure if that is true because I never lasted the 21 days.

Learning on the other hand is the experiencing of something and creating from that experience your own understanding. In other words it is to internalize the data, synthesize the data and then be able to analyze and come to some conclusion.

Of course, the presenter would greatly appreciate if you could take the experience and come to his / her conclusion but that is not always the case. Nor should it be. Each of us is a unique combination of the training we have had and the learning we have undertaken. Therefore, the result of the internalizing; synthesizing and analysis will often lead each of us to a different conclusion, all be it, many will be almost indistinguishable from the other.

The intent of this item is to make the very reading of it a learning moment.What was your most significant learning moment? Why would you say that?

The Book

Mentioned in my last comment about finishing my book. Well, then does it not make sense for me to tell you where to get it or at least find a preview. Below is that link:

What's Next

A lot of us have something we are striving toward finishing. It may be building a deck on in our back yard or perhaps adding a sun porch to the cottage. It could be gaining a certificate, a diploma or a degree from an academic institution.

In my case it was to write a book that documented for others some of the learnings from over 40 years in the business world. Most of that time, almost 39 years was spent in a corporate environment. The last five, and probably the most exciting and yet frustrating have been as an entrepreneur.

Well, the book is done and in print and available for purchase. So, there should be great joy and elation, right? Yes and No. True I am happy it is in print but also have a certain feeling of emptyness. What's next? Now what do I use to occupy that creative side?

Who knows, maybe that very question is the seed for another book.

In any event, received the first payment for a copy of the book this very morning and now need to decide to deposit it or frame it.

In the meantime, started a blog today to see if that is the next outlet.