Time for YOUR Kick Finish

November 7th, 2013

We all know the concept of a kick start. An extra effort to get the machine going. Then again, there is the kick finish too. Although we don’t put it in those terms like we do a machine we do talk about a “kick” at the end of a running race. That extra effort to dig just a bit deeper and drive toward the finish line. NOW is a good time for YOUR kick finish.

While I’m not sure what fiscal year you follow, I do know that 12/31 is coming soon. If this is the end of your fiscal year then it makes even more sense to find your kick, now, so the results are in before 2013 ends. Even if the results of your efforts are delayed, you get out of the blocks faster in 2014.

The first thing about this effort is you want to use it to rally the team. Post a scoreboard and make the results visible to all. There are so many things you can measure depending on what part of the organization you are working in. Sales can track calls or closes. Ops can track production. Accounting can track accounts receivable. Leaders can track how many employees they meet with to share the vision. You get the idea.

This time of year is usually the time that companies send food to clients. I did that once, just once. I remember going to a client office and seeing stacks of food, nuts, candy, sweets, etc in the break room. Yes, mine was there amongst the bunch but I’m pretty sure the exec had no idea I sent it as his assistant simply took the package, opened it and put it in the break room. Far better to write a personal note, by hand, and send it as thank you for the business. In this case I wouldn’t send it as a Christmas Card, there are way too many of them, start now and send a Thanksgiving Card saying you appreciate the business OR a New Years card saying you are looking forward to a new year of business. In this day and age a sincere thank-you that is written by hand goes a long way. Forget the card and go visit clients with nothing on the agenda except to see how they are doing and to say thanks. I did that a few weeks ago. Always a positive experience when you see a customer but you don’t have your hand out for more money. If you do want to do a gift make sure it matters to the person you are sending it too. A classic vintage of wine for a oenophile would be ideal

Get 2014 started now. Annually I buy a “bottomless cup” card at Brueggers Bagels. For $180 I get a free soda or coffee every day. Considering I go a few times a week for breakfast I easily end up with a 100% ROI. But they make the deal even better. If I purchase the card now, as I just did, it kicks in right away so I get a few extra months of free soda. For the analytical readers you might be thinking that isn’t a big deal since I already have the card and get the year free anyway. The renewal is redundant at that point. True, if I always went alone but I often have a child with me so until Jan 1 I get two free drinks.

I like this idea so I offered it to clients in my last newsletter and say it again here for those that don’t get/read the newsletter. Book now for 2014!. Do you need to use money from 2013 before you use it. No problem, like Brueggers, you can pay me now and I will give you the soda, and do the work, in 2014. I am doing a similar offer with my new interactive, virtual training system, www.firestartervt.com for supervisors – like the commercial says, “who doesn’t like getting free money?” The VT system is new and I invite you to check it out, you can do free demo without even talking to me. How easy is that?

Let’s take a moment to check out the cost side of the business too. Maybe sales aren’t where they were supposed to be. What changes have you been meaning to make? And if you are hesitant to let someone go now that the holidays are here maybe you can put the plan in place now so you are ready to execute on Jan 2 rather than starting to plan on 2014 and waiting until February to make the changes. I just reviewed my recurring credit card transactions and found a couple of hundred bucks a month, A MONTH, that were redundant or simply no longer required. Do I really need the online backup for a PC that I stopped using 6 years ago and have had two new ones since then? Like the saying in Washington DC goes, a few billion here, a few billion there and pretty soon you are talking a lot of money. A few hundred a month adds up too.

I can procrastinate with the best of them. We all do it. This kick finish is a great way to get over some of your procrastination and delay tendencies. It is an even better way to make a positive and measurable impact on your organization while using precious little cash to make it happen.

13 Keys For Selecting Your Online Training Platform

August 10th, 2013

Online training has come a long way in just a few years. It doesn’t have to be the clunky, ineffective, and painful process many of us have experienced. Technology, bandwidth, user familiarity/readiness, and lower costs have all converged to make today’s online training an integral part of any credible employee development program. The savvy contractor is aggressively integrating online learning into their training curriculum. This goes far beyond the now-expected online compliance programs in safety and other mandatory subjects. Previously hard-to-teach subjects, such as supervisory skills, are finding a new home online. The payoff is having a better-trained employee while maintaining production because you don’t shut the job site down for a few hours to bring the leaders in for training. While online training doesn’t replace face-to-face, it can reduce it and augment it.

I knew that the landscape was changing, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know about the landscape. In the past few months I embarked on a research effort to understand what is out there from a technology perspective and what is actually being used by contractors. I did user demonstrations on nine different online delivery platforms. I interviewed over twenty contractors across disciplines. My research with contractors and my experiences with the demos led me to the following conclusions. Let them be a
guide for you as you consider bringing online training into your company:

 

It is Not About the Technology. I admit, that sounds contradictory to the intent of this  article. However, technology is rarely about the technology; it is about what it enables us to do. It is about the return on your investment. The technology you select to meet your needs should actually train people and improve performance. Just as you make any
purchase decision based on the value you receive, so too, you should make this decision. In other words, this is not an IT or Ops decision, nor an HR or Finance decision. It is a corporate decision based on the needs of the organization.

Full-Motion Video – Is the instructor talking to you directly? Most online learning I have been subjected to is mind-numbing voice-over-powerpoint or a bad recording of a live presentation someone delivered. That is so 2010! Best of Class today features the speaker delivering content directly to the user who is consuming the program from their laptop or tablet.

Interactive Questions– What would it be like if the presenter asked you a question during the training that required an answer for you to continue? It would certainly be interactive and engaging. Just like in a live classroom where the instructor asks questions, in the best virtual classrooms the instructor asks questions, too. The way you answer the question would then determine the response you get from the instructor. For example, the instructor might be talking about planning and then ask, “Are you a Senior Manager or a field leader?” If you select Senior Manager, the instructor then tells you about the planning tools,
such as strategic planning, used at that level. If you select Field Leader, the instructor then talks about the daily huddle, for example.

Progress Quizzes – One of the best features of online learning is the ability to quiz the student in real time and assess progress. If they don’t fully grasp a concept, a good system will immediately take them back to the content they’re not strong
in, so they can see it again and learn it. Imagine giving a quiz after every learning module in a live training session. Handing out papers, having people progress at different rates, and grading papers make this rather impractical. Not so in the best online systems. In fact, quizzes are just part of the assessment process. A good system will allow role-plays and other progress
checks as well.

Content Structured for the Adult Learner in the Online World – We now know that the way we consume data and information in the virtual world is quite different than the real world. Yet, trainers continue to ignore these truths and structure their programs just like they have always done. The resulting courses are long and boring, which results in poor user satisfaction, a high abandonment rate, and no actual learning. The platforms that simply take the old and try to “make it new” simply by putting it online without conforming to the demands of the internet are a waste of money.

LMS for Users to Track, Measure and Monitor Progress – Most systems allow the user to track their own progress in the learning management system (LMS). This is helpful when a student needs to take a series of courses as part of a larger
curriculum or certification. Seeing all your grades in one place is convenient, also.

Other Language Subtitles – In our increasingly diverse society, it is important to make training available to students who are not fluent in English. Subtitles in their native language is the logical answer but one most programs do not support. If they do offer subtitles, it may come at a premium price. The best programs feature a simple “CC” button on the screen to allow a user to toggle on training in their native language.

LMS for Managers to Track, Measure and Monitor – We talked about the importance of the LMS for the user, but what about for the manager? Just as a manager wants to know how their employee is doing in the real world, they want to know about
their success or struggles in the virtual world, too. Not all systems feature an LMS that allows managers to track, measure and monitor progress. But with this capability, the manager can insure that the employee is in a Review, Repeat, Rehearse, Retain, Remind and Reinforce mode—rather than the more traditional Watch and Forget mode.

You Run Your System, if you want to – The ideal platform lets you choose how you want to interact with it administratively. You may want the provider to enter names of your employees, run reports, etc. Or, you may want to retain that for yourself as it allows you to be more flexible and responsive, rather than waiting for it to get done. With that said, should you decide to take on the administrative tasks of entering employees into the system and running reports, it has to be user friendly. A forty-five minute tutorial with accompanying fifty-five page workbook should be a warning sign that you are using a program that is not user friendly.

Cobrand platform – Employees like knowing they are using something that was created for them. Using the generic off-the-shelf version that everyone else uses sends the subtle message that neither the training nor the employees are very important.
Does your online platform feature a welcome screen custom-designed for your company? Is your logo there, along with a greeting from the trainer that welcomes your employees? It is possible, and it sends the message that this program is going to be different.

Optimal Streaming – Okay, I know little about this but I do know when it takes forever for me to watch a video that keeps buffering. Then there are the ones that never buffer and lock up after a few seconds. I don’t know how Optimal Streaming works, but I know that it works and you want to ask about it!

API Integration – Does the system allow you to interface with the data? Perhaps you have your own LMS already, and you want the training system to share data with it. This way you won’t need to deal with two LMS’s. Not all systems allow you inside. Maybe the best you can do is an exported report which you then need to format to import into your database or, even worse, you might need to enter the data by hand. Doesn’t sound like much right now but it can create big headaches if you don’t get this
feature.

Demo Without Calling a Human – In doing my research, I found that every time I wanted to do a demo of a platform, I needed fill out an online form and then wait to be contacted by a human. I was then walked thru a 45-60 minute webinar, at some time that was convenient to them, which was actually a sales presentation. I prefer kiosks and self-service. I don’t like sales presentations when I am not ready for them or don’t want to buy. A good system will let you take a test drive. It may not give you access to the entire online library of learning, but it will give you temporary access (a day or so) to get in, “kick the tires,” and
experience the platform.

Are you wondering if your competitors are delivering training online? Of the contractors I interviewed, forty-percent are doing some compliance training, like safety. Two of twenty, only ten-percent, were doing anything beyond compliance training. And these were just beginning to create programs. This is a huge opportunity for you. While all expressed knowing they needed to do something in this arena, most hadn’t done much. Those that did were on the bleeding edge of cost and often reinventing
the wheel. You don’t need to do that. I do think you need to make the move soon. First of all, the employee of the 21st century is ready for it. New employees will view you as a progressive firm that invests in people. Second, the cost advantage gained from effective implementation of a blended employee development curriculum is compelling. You train more people for less money. You maintain production while getting them trained. You make yourself more attractive to the next generation while educating all of your leaders. We are finally at a time where new technology is creating real value in employee learning.

Your key to recognizing maximum value is to get the right system. The tips outlined herein will point you in the right direction. Ask your training provider, or the potential technology provider, if they have these features. You may decide that some of them are not important for you. Any buyer would do that. The savvy buyer recognizes the payoff delivered from these features and reaps the benefits.

 

Ongoing Development or has your train left the station?

August 1st, 2013

I am just back from the annual convention for the National Speakers Assn. This is the trade association for experts who speak professionally. We have four key competencies – Ethics, Expertise, Enterprise, and Eloquence. On any day there are multiple sessions to choose from on each of these. To start the morning and at lunch we have general sessions with some of the most thought provoking people of the day in business and the arts. In short, it is a BIG booster shot for me and for the business.

I attended several sessions about online learning as I am making a big move there. As much as I love to come to your company and speak face to face with your leaders, I know that model is increasingly challenged because of tight margins and production demands. It is tough to take people off line for a day at a time and I understand that. So, not to replace face to face but to supplement it and make it more effective I am soon putting content online in an interactive virtual training system. More information on this in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

The meeting was also an opportunity to reconnect with my friends in the business who live in other parts of the country. Great to share ideas and help each other get better at what we do. We cant do it alone.

It was a big investment to attend the convention and it was totally worth it. We must invest in ourselves or we will fall behind. Things are changing so much, so fast these days….You need not attend a convention but what books, or online courses.

If you don’t invest in you, who will? Don’t be left behind.

You are born, you live, you die…

June 27th, 2013

Someone once said that your life is the hyphen. The hyphen being the small dash on your headstone that connects the date of birth to date of death. I just received two emails from clients. One heralding the birth of a son. The other communicating the untimely passing of a manager with three children under the age of 11.

I have always strived to live life with no regrets. In fact, that is the reason I applied to flight school. I had one chance in my life to make that application and I am glad I did. The impacts of that decision on my life are many. From going to Japan and meeting my wife, to surviving a helicopter crash, to learning how to do something so few people get to do, to teaching young aviators who later flew into battle in Iraq and came home to thank me for what I taught them. and the list goes on. There are other decisions I have made that have similar importance on my life.

Today I am faced with some decisions to make. Mostly mundane, certainly, and seemingly not of importance in the grand scheme of things. And it is that thought that presents the biggest risk and challenge for all of us. When faced with the mundane day-to-day things that comprise life we reduce them to unimportant and in that unimportant moment comes complacency and in complacency we miss opportunities to be grateful, to be of service, to be a good person. We miss opportunities to engage with others. We miss opportunities to be alive.

We are told that familiarity breeds contempt. I don’t think so. I think it breeds complacency. It is complacency that breeds contempt. As we take relationships for granted we don’t tend to them as we should and as they wither and wane the contempt creeps in. Just as weeds creep into an unkept garden so too does contempt creep into those places we allow complacency to reign.  As we take our job and our current status for granted we get complacent and we lose gratitude. Our performance declines. We view ourselves as having arrived and worth of status rather than working to keep our edge. People look at us and wonder what happened to the fire in our belly?

Conversely, we cannot live every moment as if it were a peak experience nor can we live in overdrive but we must be alive to the wonder that life offers us. There are opportunities for wonder and engagement presented to you every day. For my leaders reading this consider it a challenge to work on those relationships that don’t get the attention they deserve. On those visits to the job site do you invest the extra few minutes to talk to the crew or do you simply wave (if that) as you get back in the car? What about that young accountant who spends her days poring over invoices and spreadsheets? Have you thanked her for her efforts or are you leaving that to her supervisor who has less people skills than you do?

Remember that those two emails to me were from clients. How rewarding and special for me that clients consider me part of the family. But that place at the table didn’t come without work. It came with sincere effort and a dedication to service and value that defines me. I aspire to be a better businessman, a better citizen, a better parent, a better father. etc etc.

When I no longer strive is when I know complacency has set in. Should you see that in me please kick me out of it. When I no longer strive the hyphen becomes merely a notch in marble.

Today I am faced with some decisions to make…How about you?

Work is wasted on the young.

June 12th, 2013

The Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania’s annual survey on the state of professionalism among entry-level employees, 2012 Professionalism in the Workplace Study, suggests some startling trends. Chief among them: 1) Managers indicate that younger employees most lack professionalism. 2) Levels of professionalism have declined over the past five years, according to HR respondents (33.1 percent) and managers (21.2 percent). 3) The worst problems noted by managers: a lack of urgency in getting a job done (32.6 percent), a sense of entitlement (27.2 percent), poor performance coupled with a mediocre work ethic (23 percent) and poor attendance (22.2 percent). Perhaps tellingly, less than half of the respondents indicated that they had programs in place to orient new employees to what is considered to be professional behaviors

Rather than lament the loss of work ethic etc in our society which this survey does quite well let’s talk about the under 50% of firms that are actually doing anything to remedy the problem. Wring your hands, complain, long for the good old days…but Lead? I guess not. What we are saying here is that this generation needs leadership. Yes, being a role model and setting an example is a fundamental leader behavior but it is not enough. People don’t always learn by osmosis and observation. Some do learn that way but we all can benefit from a mentor, from training and from an engaged leader. Blame who you will for youth being the way they are but only blame yourself in they work in your firm and you have not had the conversation about the way we do things here.

Are YOU That Person??

May 25th, 2013
Just in time for Father’s Day

I am a contributing author to the book, Am I That Man. The idea for this book grew from an article by Ron Scheidt for the book If I Knew Then: Warrior Reflections. The article was meant to honor the people in …his life who had been powerful role models and mentors. As he reflected on how they had impacted his life he asked himself the question: Am I That Man? Am I the man they wanted me to be, groomed me to be, hoped me to be and modeled for me to be? That article sparked interest in the importance of having positive role models, mentors and heroes in our life. It also brought the realization that many men today are lacking positive role models, mentors and heroes.

Ron and his co-author Brian Willis searched for diverse contributors and asked me to be part of the project. My piece is about my father and the father I am trying to be.

The chapters are thought provoking, sometimes tear jerking, and always inspiring. This would be a great Fathers Day gift either as a thanks for being that man to a mentor or as inspiration for someone starting their journey.

You can buy it direct at www.amithatman.com (or you can get it at Amazon but they don’t make as much money that way!!)

Partners…

May 15th, 2013

Henry Kravis and George Roberts are the built KKR – a top tier investment house. They have know each other since they were two! Now, almost 70, we can learn a lot from their collaboration.

A few strong quotes, “we’re not judgmental, that we can trust each other 100%, and that when we screw up we’re there to support the other person.”

In 2010, before their firm went public they held a leadership meeting to discuss those ever important company culture and values. “George and I gave two examples of where we’ve made mistakes,” says Kravis. “You could hear a pin drop. People were thinking, “IF they can (examine their errors), maybe that is a good place for us to start,” The article in Fortune magazine, March 18, 2010 is a fine lesson on the importance of trust, culture, and values.

After encouraging executive to get coaches, each got one too! Two very successful executives getting coaching as they approach age 70! A good lesson there too…

Oldtimers Day (week, month and year)

May 4th, 2013

OK, I know that is a quaint term but I want to talk about those elder statesmen (and women).

The NY Yankees, as chronicled in Driving Mr Yogi, invite past Yankee legends to spring training to help and reinforce culture.

The Cleveland Indians are paying former long ball hitter Jason Giambi, who once made $20mm a year, $750,000 this year. What can a past his prime 42 year old do for that salary? Plenty. He is a part-time player and a full-time mentor. He contributes to the culture and atmosphere of learning and excellence. He brings experience and a winning attitude. He brings that “it” factor that not every player has but every player responds to.

In an era where stats and figures seem to rule every decision this argues for those intangibles. So hard to measure but so important to have. Geno Smith watched his stock go down in the recent NFL draft. Behind the scenes reports suggest his stock was falling before draft day as he failed to dive in and fully engage when he visited teams. Rather than show he was a roll your sleeves up leader he showed he was above the rest, which he isn’t and he paid the price. I hope he learns the importance of real leadership and that it is about more than touchdowns and and X’s and O’s.

Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay Rays Manager, has a lifetime in baseball and he says “the way you feel when you walk in the door is as important to our success as anything we can possibly do coaching anybody on this field.”

Employees retire and you lose critical skills and expertise. I contend there is a better way. Why must the old model of retirement still hold when most all other models from the last century are outdated. The other day we toured Gettysburg Battlefield and our guide (who drove our car, talked for three hours, and was outstanding) was 85 years young. His grandfather fought in the battle! We learned so much from him. Whart

I challenge you to find a way to keep learning and to transfer knowledge from those oldtimers in ways you have never done before. I know firms who are doing it and they are reaping rewards.

 

What got you here will keep you here!

April 15th, 2013

If you are looking for a good book on excellence and improvement you should take a look at What Got You Here Wont Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith. But if you are looking for real world examples of what it takes to stay on top you need not look any further than the Manning brothers. You may know them as Peyton and Eli. You may know them as Super Bowl Champions. You may not know they were coached by now Duke University head football coach David Cutcliffe while they were in college and that he continues to be a mentor to them.

Last week both Manning boys wanted to review some fundamentals. They put together their own minicamp at Duke and each brought a few receivers from their team. This isn’t their first trip to Duke to see Cutcliffe. Eli was back two years ago and Peyton spent a good deal of time as he recovered from his neck surgery. In this case, Peyton said, “Eli and I wanted to be coached like we were college freshman again.” Cutcliffe picked up on that comment, “Peyton clearly understands, like most great athletes, if you are not careful, the smallest things are what go after you’ve played a great length of time. The fundamentals need to be retooled.” I would add that this doesn’t apply just to athletes. It applies to winners in all pursuits. Leadership and sales fundamentals need to be retooled too. Those little things that helped you get ahead way back when STILL matter and when you stop doing them you will fall from the top spot.

Cutcliffe quipped that he has known Eli since he was going to see the Lion King at the movies when Peyton was at Tennessee. Eli replied. “He is always a great source to have…someone to talk to who is going to tell you the truth and not what you want to hear, but what you need to hear to keep improving.” Who do you have as a source for you to talk to, to tell you the truth, and tell you what you need to hear. Most of us don’t have that person. Cutcliffe can see the work ethic by the fact they showed up. He can also see the fundamentals in their execution. It may be a bit harder for you and me to find that mentor but that doesn’t make it any less important. Perhaps that makes it more important. I was blessed with a mentor to me for several years in my business. Sadly, he passed away and I still miss his coaching, cajoling and challenging.

Last weekend I attended an elite retreat with 60 speakers. There were some minimum standards to qualify to attend and the small group made it easy to interact and exchange with others who are successful in the industry. Some of the attendees make millions a year. (I would settle for a million!) While it may not be a private minicamp with a valued mentor it was an important opportunity and now I need to review my notes and get to implementing.

What is your plan to mentor and be mentored? Who is your truth teller? You may elevate your game without this person but it will be easier and faster with them.

 

 

 

 

Decisions..Decisions

March 25th, 2013

In Chapter D of Construction Leadership from A to Z I address decisiveness as a key leadership trait. Clearly you cannot lead anything of you are unable to make a quality decision.

Chip and Dan Heath, the authors of Made To Stick ( a good read) have penned another book. This one is called Decisive: How To Make Better Decisions in Life and Work. They offer several ideas on making better decisions

Consider the issue as if you were someone else. What would someone else do in this case? In the military we might call this a red team review where another team looks at your solution and offers comments and insights from their different perspective. When you look at it from a different perspective you are better able to remove your emotions and biases.

Another tip. Ask yourself what you would tell your best friend to do if a personal scenario. At work, ask yourself, what would your successor do if you were replaced tomorrow?

Be careful about over optimism too. Confirmation bias and selective processing are ways our brain convinces us to do something we fundamentally know is wrong. Roughly two thirds of executives only consider ONE course of action when making a decision. Adding options increased the likelihood of success. With only one option you will explain away the negatives. With multiple options you can make a proper choice.

Another consideration is the integration of scenario based training into your own leadership practices. Create scenarios and have people think them through. The resulting conversation accelerates their move up the learning curve and makes your life easier.

Finally, there is a school of thought that says there are no bad decisions..only ones that would have been better had more information been available or if the person was able to process the information available in a better way.

 

 

 

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"...thanks for speaking to our group. I got a tremendous and favorable response to what you shared. Your enthusiasm, related to our business, resonated extremely well with all levels of management in the room. "

Eric DeFrancisco
Director of Operations
RTM Arbys.