Wednesday, October 30, 2019

7 Secrets to Leading Others and Enjoying Your Legacy

Steve_Jobs_leader1By default, every one of you who owns a business or manages a team has the title of leader, but in my consulting experience, I find that just having the title doesn’t make most of us a leader. I also find that leaders are made, not born, meaning that we all can grow into leadership, if we learn from experience. I find also that if you fail as a leader, your team will likely fail with you.

Of course, everyone thinks they know what it takes to make a great leader, and many books have been written about the subject. Yet I haven’t found many that offer practical recommendations and examples. In this context, I was impressed with the new book, “The Intelligent Leader,” by John Mattone, widely regarded as the world’s number one executive coach and authority.

John distills the work he’s done with thousands of clients over the years into what it takes to lead, empower, and inspire others. I like his seven actionable principles of leadership for the rest of us, that we can use to evolve ourselves as business leaders as well as owners, including the following:

  1. Consistently strive to think different and think big. Most of the people on your team have to worry about the current crisis, and getting their job done today. A leader has to keep the big picture in mind, and keep people focused on the long-term vision and mission. Hone in on alternative ideas that are actionable, no matter how revolutionary.

    Steve Jobs had many faults, but he was perhaps best known for his marketing slogan “Think Different” and his commitment to a vision of new and better products, inspiring consumers to demand products and services they never even knew they needed.

  2. Create a culture of vulnerability, and be the role model. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable and transparent to others makes it possible for them to trust you. Without vulnerability and humility, real change and growth isn’t possible. You need to be willing to open yourself up to others’ feedback, and acknowledge flaws in order to correct them.

    Jack Welch, one of the most successful executives in American history, set up a “reverse mentoring” process by pairing younger, more internet-adept employees with he and older members of senior management so that the former could teach the latter about new technology. This made his leadership team stronger, and built huge bonds with his team.

  3. Replace a mindset of entitlement with a mindset of duty. The duty mindset is a perspective in which you see yourself as a key cog in a much larger wheel. Having this bigger picture empowers you to better identify the areas where you need improvement, and set yourself on the right course to positively impact those around you.

  4. Prioritize leveraging your gifts over closing your gaps. First, don’t hesitate to solicit input to get the most accurate possible picture of yourself. Then don’t take your strengths for granted, or overreact to gaps. Develop an action plan to lead from your strengths, and seek outside support or complementary partners to shore up leadership weaknesses.

    In the early days of Microsoft, Bill Gates recognized his technical leadership skills, but relied on partner Steve Ballmer, trained at Procter & Gamble, to lead the marketing and business development efforts. Both learned from the other, and became even stronger.

  5. Cultivate the courage to execute with passion and precision. Some never make the shift from perspective to action, even if it takes you outside your comfort zone. Only then can you identify the opportunities for change, and make the mistakes leading to growth and learning. Fearlessly executing with pride and passion inspires others to follow you.

  6. Take the time to stay present, listen, and be vigilant. Leaders often make the mistake of thinking that their time is more valuable than anyone else’s, but this breeds resentment and takes you out of touch with reality. In this age of distraction, you need to slow down and absorb each situation, decision, or moment, to provide the most effective leadership.

  7. Make course correction both a mindset and an action. As an action, course change leadership is what you do in the moment, when you need to pivot. As a mindset, it’s a way of life. You need to be aware that the world around you is in a state of constant evolution, and your leadership must stay balanced in the face of inevitable change.

Ironically, despite all these positive action items, intelligent leadership in business isn’t really even about you – it’s about the culture and the teams that you create, who really are the leadership interface that your customers see and depend on. Your challenge is to be the steward and model for the leadership that inspires the success and legacy that we all want for our business.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 10/16/2019 ***



Monday, October 28, 2019

How Starting A Business Fits Into Every Career Today

start-business-career1With the cost of starting an online business today at an all-time low, I can’t imagine why everyone doesn’t have a web site and an LLC to mitigate liability and minimize taxes. You need to have these as backup, in case the gig economy catches up to you, or you need a side hustle for extra income, or being in control of your dream role as an entrepreneur finally becomes a passion.

I also suggested this a while back to my neighbor who was between jobs, through no fault of his own, and frustrated by the slow pace of the job search, and wondering what else he could do to improve his position. First of all, you should never wait for a crisis to prepare for the future, but even initiating a startup for consulting in your favorite role is good for the following reasons:

  1. Companies prefer candidates with no gaps in their resume. Having your own online business going eliminates that embarrassing period where it appears you have been idle and desperately seeking work. Instead, having your own business going shows initiative, leadership, wider experience, and makes you more competitive for any role available.

  2. A single job is not adequate for today’s lifestyle. To keep ahead of the game, the smartest people I know always have several things going concurrently – and more in the queue. With the rapid pace of change in the world, everyone should be working on multiple projects, including a conventional paying job as well as an entrepreneurial one.

  3. Learn more about business by doing versus studying. Of course, you can always take more business classes at school, or on the side, but that’s not as cost and time effective these days as doing it, with a little help from the internet and a friendly advisor like me. Make it a fun experience by making something you love be more than a hobby.

  4. Give yourself a lifestyle choice – employee or owner. Too many people I know would love to change careers over time, but don’t really have any experience or confidence with alternatives. Now is the time, with minimal risk and cost, to give yourself some insights on what you like, what you know best, and how to leave a legacy you can be proud of.

  5. Keep up with modern business tools and online processes. You will be a better employee, or a better owner, if you know how to use social media tools for business, how to go online for web hosting, a domain name, a company name, and incorporating a business. New tools make it easy create your own web site, and manage accounting.

  6. Start networking for potential partners or people who can help. Whether your future is a career or a startup, you need business relationships. Smart people find that business is no place for a loner, and we all need someone to test our ideas, hone business skills, and focus on complementary activities. Seek out relevant business groups and events.

  7. Find maximum meaning and purpose, as well as money. Every study shows that happiness does not scale up with income. Doubling your income in a job might increase happiness by ten percent. Doing good, like helping society and planet sustainability, is a key to maximizing satisfaction, as well as profit. Start a business while you still can.

  8. Challenge yourself to find out what you are capable of. Don’t let me mislead you. Starting a business is still hard, even though the cost of entry is low. The challenge will make you grow as a person, and can give you the confidence to succeed in whatever you decide to do. You will find that startup efforts help you in every future role you tackle.

In these days of the gig economy, world-wide outsourcing, and working remotely, you need to think of yourself as a business, even if you haven’t created one formally. The days of long-term employment and employer loyalty are gone, so quantifying your value, and marketing yourself are key skills in any environment.

Take advantage of internet, free tools, and peers out there today to get ahead of the curve. You won’t regret it when seeking future career opportunities.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 10/14/2019 ***



Friday, October 25, 2019

5 Strategies To Thrive In Customer-Driven Disruption

Amazon_Prime_Air1In my experience as a business consultant, I find than most people still believe that technology drives business disruption. I’m more convinced that technology merely enables disruption, and changing customer interests and needs really causes it. Many companies try to recover with more advertising and rebranding, and discover that these strategies don’t work well in today’s market.

Other companies keep the focus on their customers, and seem to thrive on disruption, much less survive. They make it their top business priority to understand, anticipate, and gratify customers’ needs. I first saw this approach outlined well in the new book, “Customer-Driven Disruption,” by Suman Sarkar, former A.T. Kearney consultant and now leader of his own consulting practice.

As disruption examples, the rise of ride sharing, e-commerce, and social media were clearly driven by changing customer trends, more than technology. Even smartphones, though based in technology, are more of a customer phenomena than a technology play. I like the five strategies that this author recommends for capitalizing on future rapidly emerging customer needs:

  1. Win with current customers before chasing new ones. New customers are more expensive to acquire, and typically produce less revenue than would current, satisfied customers. Yet, when faced with declining revenues, most companies focus on finding new customers. I recommend creating new services and products for existing customers.

    When Amazon wanted to increase its revenue, it identified existing best customers and offered a new membership service – Prime “free” shipping. Shipping costs increased, but membership fees from 100 million new Prime members more than made up for it.

  2. Offer affordable personalization without a premium. Mass-produced products aren’t on anyone’s wish list anymore. Today, customers want personalized products and services at reasonable prices. To make personalization affordable, leaders must use available technologies but not market them, create flexible operations, and reduce waste.

    Memorable personalization doesn’t always have to include fancy technology or high cost. In many cases, a thoughtful gesture is more than enough. Nordstrom “remembers” the sizes of customers, and Chanel follows up sales with handwritten notes from associates.

  3. Speed up both the new design and the supply chain. Customers don’t wait today. Most companies take too long designing new products and services. By the time the product launches, more nimble competitors have captured the market, or customer needs have changed again. Often that means finding new channels or a better supply chain.

    Zara, a fast fashion company, gets new catwalk trends to stores more quickly by a faster supply chain. They keep their manufacturing facilities close to the market instead of locating them in distant Asian countries, so new designs reach stores within a week.

  4. Develop higher quality than just good enough. Now that consumers judge products based on reviews and peer recommendations, rather than advertising, quality if more critical than ever before. It’s time for designing and thinking outside the box, to offer a level of quality and performance customers can’t resist and the competition can’t beat.

    Chick-fil-A changed their quality focus to the kind of quality that today’s customers care about. Their birds are raised in barns, not cages, on U.S. farms. They avoid fillers, added hormones, and steroids. Revenue per location now averages double that of McDonalds.

  5. Continuously revisit and evolve, or re-invent yourself. In today’s fast changing customer environment, what works today may be “old news” tomorrow. Smart companies make and measure change as part of their normal strategy process, rather than only focusing on it when a crisis occurs. Use autonomous teams, rather than functional silos.

    Disney, for example, has managed to maintain its broad entertainment appeal by evolving from Mickey Mouse cartoons, to Old Yeller type movies, Pixar animation movies, to Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Theme parks and attractions are revised regularly.

Disruption wrought by customer change can be a death sentence to a business, and technology alone is not the solution, or cause. Every business should start capitalizing today on the strategies outlined here to retool their products, services, culture, incentives, and operations to thrive on disruption, rather than fight and fear it, in the days ahead. There is no going back.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 10/10/2019 ***



Monday, October 21, 2019

How The Right Employees Have An Innovation Advantage

post-it-notesConventional business wisdom tells us that entrepreneurs are today’s main source of innovation. We see the stories of young founders leaving college with a big idea, going to work in their garage, and building something that changes the world. We hear about corporate employees, strangled by slow-moving bureaucracy, that are blocked from making transformative discoveries.

In fact, a Wharton Business School study in this decade of the “Top 30 Innovations of the Last 30 Years,” concluded that only eight were first conceived by entrepreneurs, and twenty-two were conceived by employees. Even more importantly, only two of the thirty innovations were scaled by the original creators. These included the PC, mobile phone, the internet, and MRI imaging.

As a business consultant, I admit to being misled by the hype, and was impressed by the insights offered in a new book, “Driving Innovation From Within,” by fellow consultant and founder of the strategy firm Outthinker, Dr. Kaihan Krippendorff. He outlines the attributes of the “entrepreneurs” or intrapreneurs in your organization, and how to lead them to make your company an innovator:

  1. Love to explore novel approaches and solutions. In every company, there are a few people who don’t like to follow the accepted way of doing things. Rather than punish them, it may pay you to nurture and manage their outside-the-box thinking, and capitalize on their innovations that help your customers and keep you ahead of the competition.

    For example, Google was already a big company when Paul Buchheit was unhappy with the capabilities of external email for internal communications at Google. He created a simple Gmail for internal use, and later it became one of the biggest Google offerings.

  2. Exhibit market awareness and a drive to win. Sometime employees on your front lines have a better handle on what customers need next than external entrepreneurs. They know your competitors, understand your industry, and have the same desire to win in the name of the customer. Give them an incentive in time and money to drive their solution.

    Not many people know this, but the original Sony Playstation was, in essence, a prototype based on employee Ken Kutaragi’s Nintendo in an attempt to make it more powerful and deliver a better gaming experience for his daughter and other customers.

  3. Propensity to “lean in” before being told how to act. It’s hard to act autonomously in a big company, but it’s not hard to recognize the natural any organization, no matter what the size. These are people who can and will drive change and innovation, if given half the chance. All you have to do is nurture this activity, rather than kill it.

    Dr. Spencer Silver, a scientist at 3M, was leading an effort to create a strong adhesive for aerospace. Instead of discarding an apparent failure, a light adhesive that didn’t leave a residue, he persevered and fostered it to become the Post-It Note that we all use today.

  4. Excel at calculating risk and making thoughtful bets. Indeed, internal innovators usually don’t have the risk tolerance of entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, who invested nearly everything into SpaceX. Yet there is sometimes greater value in being very deliberate at calculating risk and making more thought-out proposals for change.

    An employee of Sun Microsystems, James Gosling, created a new object-oriented programming language called Oak in 1995. He de-risked it initially by using it to set up client Time Warner cable boxes. Later renamed Java, it now runs a world of devices.

  5. Understand and able to negotiate internal politics. While entrepreneurs may shop their idea to, on average, forty investors before getting funding, internal innovators really have only one option – their employer. So, winning support internally depends less on the quality of the pitch than on the political work performed before the pitch to align interests.

    I was lucky enough to be part of a key intrapreneurial effort at IBM, the IBM PC development, which I believe was only allowed to happen due to the internal political acumen of our leader, Don Estridge. He knew well IBM executive sensitivity to open architecture, third-party suppliers, and micro technology, and used it to leverage funding.

  6. Demonstrates a sense of purpose without risking all. Internal innovators often express frustration that they could be making more money if they were building their own businesses and driving their innovation independently. Yet some will make the tradeoff of achieving an innovation dream without risking their family life or an existing career path.

I’m not minimizing at all the role of entrepreneurs in new innovations, but I now realize that entrepreneurs are everywhere, both inside and outside of existing businesses. At least the first half of the attributes described above apply to both, but employees in business with other key attributes have a real innovation opportunity as well. We all need the best efforts of both worlds.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 10/07/2019 ***



Friday, October 18, 2019

6 New Organizational Lessons From Amazon and Alibaba

Jeff-Bezos-organizationIn my current role as a business consultant, I still find that most companies, large and small, organize themselves wholly based on what goes on inside the company, rather than looking outside – at their networks, their partners, and the niche they wish to dominate. The result is a hierarchy and a static group of silos that doesn’t adapt to market changes and competitors.

In fact, it is so tough to reinvent a legacy organization, that new businesses, such as Amazon, Apple, and Alibaba, are rapidly replacing former powerhouses, including Blockbuster, Sears, and Nokia. According to experts, as many as 50 percent of the existing S&P 500 companies will be pushed aside in the next 10 years, and the lifespan of traditional organizations is getting shorter.

Thus I was impressed with the dynamic new organizational approach outlined in a new book, “Reinventing the Organization,” by Arthur Yeung and Dave Ulrich. These authors are widely recognized, both in the U.S. and China, as thought leaders in this area, so their framework for reinventing your business organization, with some of my own insights, is definitely worth a look:

  1. Environment: Fund a group to track market changes. Not many businesses today spend any real resources, or organizational focus, on understanding and anticipating the changing forces facing every industry and business. We all need a well-defined and systematic approach for keeping up with today’s fast changing market environment.

    For example, not many of the big retail store chains, including Sears and Macys, had any tracking of how quickly online shopping was changing the environment, until Amazon and Alibaba became bigger than most brick and mortar retailers in their best years combined.

  2. Strategy: Define an execution pathway for growth. All businesses I know will tell you they have a strategy for growth, but I often have a hard time finding any group or silo really incented and measured on growth targets. The challenge is a growth rate greater than the market and new competitors, and a process to implement growth at that rate.

    While Amazon was growing at an average rate of twenty-five percent per year in each of the last five years, most of the big retailers found their business shrinking every year, and despite their best efforts, had no organizational ability or process to turn it around.

  3. Capability: Focus on customer innovation and agility. A market-oriented organization doesn’t focus on internal budget allocations and power struggles between functions, but remains customer obsessed, external data driven, and measured on their rate of innovation and agility. They focus on anticipating customer needs before the crisis.

    Individual unit leaders in this ecosystem are incented to meet regularly to share experiments, initiatives, insights, and lessons learned on the never-ending journey of capability enhancement. They share and celebrate successes, and analyze failures.

  4. Morphology: Organize around teams and partners. It’s time to take a new look at your organizational structure. Deep hierarchies and large functional silos don’t highlight agility and constant innovation. Evidence today points to the effectiveness of short-term teams, strategic partners, and a flat organization supported by a common resource platform.

    Amazon is organized into autonomous teams, each running a particular product or business and not a function like marketing, product or engineering. Amazon leaders are strong general managers, relying on external partners, rather than functional experts.

  5. Culture: Shape priorities and behaviors to your values. Your culture is what you want to be known for by your key customers, and it must be imbedded throughout the organization. It shapes and sustains employee well-being and productivity, business results, customer reputation, and investor confidence.

  6. Accountability: Inspire and tie focus to business results. In traditional large organizations, people lose sight of the big picture, and want to be accountable only for the internal results of their silo. Your challenge is to keep them connected and positively accountable to external results through all communications, standards, and incentives.

In all cases, organizations today have to learn to mine unstructured data for what could be, instead of structured data on what has been, and how to pivot the organization fluidly to transform the company as fast as the market changes. Reinventing your existing organization may be hard, but it’s not as painful as the long downhill journey to obscurity now being experienced by many.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 10/04/2019 ***



Monday, October 14, 2019

5 Strategies For Building Winning People Connections

Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl SandbergIn the entrepreneur world, it’s still a popular misconception that the “idea” is everything. Even though investors, like myself, have long made it clear that we invest in people, not ideas, new venture owners insist on talking about their latest “million dollar idea,” rather than their “million dollar team.” The power is in the people, their business relationships, and their connections.

For example, I grew up in IBM when Bill Gates was helping us deliver the first IBM PC. We slowly realized that Microsoft’s value went far beyond his technical contributions, due to his connections with key software developers and relationships with hardware manufacturers who could make the PC revolution universal. In a very real sense, we funded him, and he superseded even IBM.

After years of consulting, I find that the same lessons apply to businesses of every size and stage. Yet many business owners and leaders don’t seem to understand the basic principles of building business relationships and connections, or don’t know where to start. For the benefit of all, I offer the following key steps:

  1. Keep a focus on people relationships as a top priority. Some executives consistently tell me they are “too busy” to find and nurture the relationships they need to move their business to the next level. Others let their ego convince them that they have all the answers, and no one can help. I believe collaboration is the lifeblood of every business.

    For example, most people think Mark Zuckerberg built Facebook all by himself. In fact, he had four development co-founders, built a relationship with Peter Thiel, a top VC who invested early, and enticed Sheryl Sandberg to fill the COO role he sorely needed.

  2. Use and reward curiosity as a basis for relationships. Nurture relationships and connections with people in your realm who exhibit curiosity and a passion for learning. These are win-win arrangements leading to continuous innovation, early access to new markets, and a higher return. Connections across business domains are even better.

    Bill Gates, for example, shared a common curiosity and mentoring relationship with Warren Buffet, although their business domains were quite different. Oprah Winfrey was clearly helped in her career by her relationship with the famous Barbara Walters.

  3. Build connections with key customers and competitors. With the pervasive internet, and global social networks, it’s easy to be visible and connect to your customers, and they expect it. Smart business leaders look forward to talking with their competitors, not to steal ideas, but to learn more about the industry and potential win-win opportunities.

    Even though Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were bitter rivals, they knew each other very well, and both realized the value of their software running across multiple platforms, and benefited from joint efforts to standardize on key protocols and interface elements.

  4. Contribute time and skills to a non-business higher purpose. Identify a “higher purpose” that embodies your passion, such as a social or environmental issue, that could benefit from your strengths. In that context, you will likely build relationships with other leaders who could be instrumental in adding long-term value to your business.

    Again, back to the case of Bill Gates, IBM CEO John Opel already had built a connection to his mother while they were both serving on the board of United Way, and this relationship facilitated the contract that propelled the Microsoft business into success.

  5. Expedite growth with strategic partnership connections. Very few businesses can grow organically fast enough to stay ahead of competition. Business leaders with wide relationships are able to more quickly find and close on alliances to fill gaps in their product line, increase distribution, and reduce costs through common components.

    Some leader has to initiate every alliance or partnership connection, and nurse it to fruition. Executives who are too busy or comfortable with inside company activities are likely to miss the potential of a Nike and Amazon relationship, or similar win-win deal.

Overall, my experience tells me that a good idea is necessary, but not sufficient, to foster a sustainable and long-term successful business. Only the right people, with the right focus on business relationships and connections can do that. The ability to build these relationships is not a birthright – it can be learned and honed with effort. Where is this effort on your priority list?

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 09/27/2019 ***



Friday, October 11, 2019

10 Signals That You Can Be A Trusted Business Leader

Bill_Gates_MSC_2017Every entrepreneur and business leader believes that he or she has the full trust of their team and their customers, and in fact most do in the beginning. In my experience, most business professionals still believe in the old proverb, “trust but verify.” In this context, that means you trust your leaders initially, but you look for signals that your trust in them is deserved and reciprocated.

Unfortunately, many aspiring leaders I mentor are not aware of the signals people are looking for, or are not attuned to the subtleties of their own actions. I saw a good summary of the required principles for long-term trust in a new book, “The 10 Laws of Trust,” by Joel Peterson, Chairman of JetBlue, professor at Stanford University, and thought leader in this area:

  1. Practice personal integrity in all that you do. Integrity is the practice of being honest and showing a consistent adherence to strong moral and ethical values. Your actions better always match your words, and your public and private behavior must be consistent. Without integrity, you lose trust quickly, and will likely not regain it.

  2. Demonstrate respect for every constituent. Trust grows out of respect for individuals manifested in simple, daily interactions, often reflective of listening without agenda. Respecting every individual is also the foundation for learning and changing to meet new challenges in the marketplace.

  3. Empower others to do their best. Mistrustful leaders and organizations are preoccupied with keeping people from doing their worst. Empowerment means granting trust to people in increments and expanding it with results. Granting trust is a strong signal that motivates returning the favor.

  4. Define metrics to measure what you want to achieve. Only when people know what’s expected can they put the right programs in place, rather than working on the wrong objective, and losing trust in you at the same time. For example, measuring marketing team members on sales leads may not get you the revenue growth or trust you expected.

  5. Create a clear and meaningful common vision. Trust grows as a shared dream brings all members of the team together in the pursuit of something beyond profits. I find that visions that includes a higher purpose, such as improving the environment, are particularly powerful in increasing trust with employees and customers alike.

  6. Communicate clearly and often on business issues. Leaders who share key aspects of the business openly, bad news as well as good news, to everyone, garner more trust. In my experience, too many owners try to hide key issues, in order to protect employees, and this often backfires into a loss of trust as employees find out from other sources.

  7. Do not suppress constructive conflict. Respectful conflict surfaces and refines new ideas. Always keep the problem separate from the person when in conflict (do not make them the problem). Making sure the best idea wins, not the most powerful person, promotes a sense of teamwork and leadership trust from deep within an organization.

  8. Show humility while acting as a mentor and coach. High-trust leaders see themselves as stewards, rather than owners, guiding people, assets, and decision making. Humility makes it possible for a leader to be seen as a real person, worthy of trust and respect.

  9. Strive for win-win negotiation outcomes. Most conversations have an element of built-in, if subtle, negotiation. A trusted leader knows that all negotiations with an individual are cumulative, not independent and soon forgotten events. Everyone needs to win sometimes, and will not trust a leader who pushes for a win-lose in every case.

  10. Recognize and address trust breaches immediately. Trust is a leader’s most valuable currency, but always at risk from misunderstandings. These must be fixed immediately, lest they harden into a permanent wariness. If the breach is willful or rooted in an ethical violation, the best approach is to terminate the relationship, to retain the trust of others.

Based on my years of mentoring, too many leaders remain blissfully ignorant of their team’s low levels of trust, and too many professionals see mistrust as the natural response to repeated betrayals. Thus it is incumbent on new entrepreneurs and leaders to start early practicing the principles outlined here, to build a trusting culture and a powerful competitive advantage.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 09/25/2019 ***



Monday, October 7, 2019

How To Check Your Ethics Before A Business Decision

good-vs-bad-business-decisionMost business leaders I know clearly understand the difference between legal and illegal activities, but often are not so clear on the line between ethical and unethical. Unfortunately, there is no universal code of business ethics, written down and enforced by some external governing body. We all have to rely on our own interpretation of what will maintain a working level of trust between all constituents.

For example, most would agree that a lending manager must look for the same qualifications from a friend that he or she applies to other applicants. But what do you do when making the right ethical choice will almost certainly hurt that friend badly? The problem is that so many choices fall into a gray area, and you may not even see the ethical creep that is happening in your actions.

Many professionals I know in business have the sense that an adherence to ethics is spiraling downward in business, and most don’t believe they know how to make a difference. They don’t realize that if they don’t make the effort to be part of the solution, out of indifference or fear of jeopardizing their own careers, then they really become part of the problem.

In my view, most people agree on the fundamental principles of ethics – integrity, objectivity, competence, confidentiality, and professional behavior. They just need to follow a set of practical steps, including the following, to get beyond the emotion and the theoretical, to arrive at pragmatic yet ethical solutions to tough problems that we all encounter in business:

  1. Isolate the legal and moral issues that frame the issue. Ethical issues are usually driven by an attempt to accomplish a desired objective, without overtly violating some existing legal or moral code. You can’t be a change agent to improve business ethics without understanding the constraints, and the gray areas that surround them.

    For example, most would agree that bribery to win a contract is unethical, but how far can you go in nurturing a relationship with a key vendor? Defining legal and moral constraints is only the first step. Then you face cultural and historical norms, and your own integrity.

  2. Identify any hidden objectives driving a possible outcome. Often it helps to analyze a list of likely results, and reason backward to find who benefits and who loses. The best solution for a tough ethical challenge is one that could be surfaced on the front page of the newspaper the next day without being mis-interpreted by an unbiased customer.

    In the previous example, if a given vendor has a family connection to you, legal and moral constraints are not enough. If the information surfaces that you may have the intent of favoring family or friends, your analysis of qualifications must be beyond reproach.

  3. Re-examine facts that may be challenged or inaccurate. If everyone agrees that the key facts are clearly true, or non-debatable, then the first two steps will likely lead you to an ethical solution. Otherwise you need to examine how your decision might change if key facts are proved irrelevant or wrong. New alternatives may need to be evaluated.

  4. Put yourself in the position of other affected parties. When you think ethically, you are in sympathy and empathy with others. It helps to meet face-to-face with the ones that differ from you most. Your ethical eye gets sharper when you bring all relevant objects or people closer. In that context, you must treat others as you would have them treat you.

    Consider, from a personnel standpoint, how much harder it is to fire someone face-to-face. That's because your empathy is engaged by their presence, and it makes you examine more closely all the ethics, facts, and emotions that are part of your decision.

  5. Balance total benefits versus harm to select an action. In this final step, you first assess how each party is impacted, then what counts, as a benefit or harm in considering the possible actions. Good ethics are ultimately about maximizing the positives of the entire situation. This attracts loyalty and trust from customers and employees alike.

If you follow these steps, and iterate as required, I assure you that your own ethical eye will be sharpened, communicating these steps to others around you will improve their view, and will ultimately change the perception of your business in a positive way. The number of perceived ethical dilemmas will also be reduced. You definitely can make a difference if you start now.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 09/23/2019 ***



Wednesday, October 2, 2019

How To Manage Online Reviews and Business Reputation

Online-reviews-and-reputationSince most small business owners are justifiably proud of the service they deliver, they don’t even anticipate a negative online review or threat to their reputation, until it happens. Unfortunately, trying to recover after the fact is tough. The best way to protect your reputation online is to solicit good reviews proactively, so an occasional negative one will be discounted as an exception.

Even worse, many entrepreneurs don’t even take the time to monitor what people are saying about them to others. Even more importantly, owners have no idea how to respond appropriately, or get the offending comments removed. If you find yourself and your business in one of these categories, it’s time to heed the steps I recommend to every business client today:

  1. Ask for a good review from every satisfied customer. Not only is this a good way to test your own perception, but it’s the best way to get a positive base built, before that one angry or unfair customer puts your entire business at risk. Customers these days expect to get asked, and often need that little extra push to put a testimonial on your website.

    For example, if your business is landscaping, it’s well worth your time as the owner to make one last call on every customer a week after completion, to check their satisfaction, clear up any oversights, ask for a testimonial, and probably get some follow-on work.

  2. Regularly review every customer comment, and reply. Of course, you can’t monitor the entire Internet yourself, but fortunately there are many tools and platforms out there to do it for you, such as Google Alerts and Hootsuite Insights. If you don’t have the time yourself, this process should be high on the priority list of your marketing team.

    If you never respond to comments, customers will quickly assume you don’t really care. Just thank them for their feedback, and try not to be defensive. If necessary, simply apologize for the problem, and provide specifics to assure it won’t happen again.

  3. Commit to turning a negative experience into a positive. Often a perceived negative can be turned into a positive, by offering a free return visit, or a free replacement. Don’t let the negative message get amplified by others, due to a lack of response, or declaring that the issue was not a problem. When fixed, don’t be afraid to ask for a positive review.

    On the Internet, you can find good examples of how to handle bad customer reviews, and examples of ones handled poorly. Don’t repeat the “United Breaks Guitars” experience on what not to do, which reportedly United cost over a billion dollars in lost business.

  4. Let negative reviews get lost among glowing comments. We all know that you can’t satisfy everyone, but make sure the numbers speak for themselves, in making negative reports be the exception, rather than the norm. This is why you must start early soliciting positive reviews, so that your first negative one won’t be the only thing found by others.

  5. Actively work to remove inappropriate and inaccurate data. It’s not entirely true that once something is on the Internet, it can never be removed. You can easily remove any inappropriate comments from your own sites, and you can cancel or delete your account on most social media sites. Some industry sites will remove comments at your request.

    For other sites, experts, such as ReputationDefender, have proprietary techniques to correct or completely remove offensive content. In addition, every business has the obligation to defend their reputation, as well as intellectual property, through legal action.

  6. Communicate often about your values and quality initiatives. Don’t be afraid to blow your own horn about all the things you are doing to make your customers’ experience a better one, and how important that image is to you. If possible, extend your message to what you are doing to improve the environment, social issues, or other higher purpose.

    Customers these days assign a higher reputation by default to companies that highlight their higher purpose, such as Zappos and Patagonia, who have benefited greatly from their support of social and environmental charities.

In summary, it’s important to remember that online reviews can make or break your business today, so you can’t afford to be too busy to monitor and manage this activity. Don’t count on the government, or Internet providers, to protect your online reputation – that is your responsibility. In the end, giving Google something positive to remember is always easier than asking it to forget.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 09/18/2019 ***