Strategic Planning: What is the “Why?”

Posted By Laurie Richards on January 24, 2017 in Leadership & Management

Imagine you’re planning a vacation.  What questions do you need to answer before going?  Where are we going? What should we pack? What resources will we need? What resources do we already have? Need to purchase? What will it cost? What’s our allocated budget? (Do the two match?!)  Who’s going? How long will it take to get there? How long are we staying?

Before you can answer any of these, you need to know the “Why?”  Why are you going? Are you looking for an adventure? An opportunity to disconnect from your electronics? Wanting to get away from work? Family? Just need to sleep in and wake up without an alarm clock?  Wanting to reignite your relationship? Escaping the winter blues?

Your “Why?” will drive your vacation satisfaction. If you need a break from the winter blues, an Aspen ski trip is probably not your best choice. Need to relax? A trip up and down Mount Fuji won’t fit the bill (trust me!)

Identifying the core “Why?” will ensure that you choose the right spot, the right people, and  the right resources. It will ensure you and your fellow travelers will be able to make decisions to keep you on track to a harmonious vacation (if that’s what you’re looking for!)

And, perhaps most importantly, will ensure you return satisfied, refreshed, energized, and ready to tackle the challenges of your life and business.

The same is true for your business or organization. Do you know where you or your organization is going? When you’ll get there? What you can expect when you get there? Do you know the “Why?”  Why do you do what you do? Why did you start? Why do you continue?

This weekend, I facilitated a strategic planning session with a national organization — a common event during the last and first quarters of each year.  Some sessions are highly formal complete with a review of the Mission and Vision, a celebration of the goals reached, an updated of the goals in progress, and a sometimes multi-day cram session of goal setting and planning.

This group was different. A series of  interviews with leadership and a board-wide survey in the weeks prior to the session revealed the group is comfortable with the Mission, and the goals are aligned with the on-target Mission.  They’re meeting their goals. They have some specific new goals they’d like to meet. Yes, there Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

But, this group spent the greatest effort on the “Why?”

Why did they join years ago?

Why did they stay?

Why is the organization important?

Why is it important to ensure the continuation of the organization?

Why would a young prospect want to join? Participate? Lead?

Why would that prospect’s manager/company pay for the membership?

Why would a sponsor want to participate?

Why would a prospect choose this organization over another?

Here are five things the group learned:

1. What got them in the door isn’t what kept them. Individuals change. Members’/Customers’ needs change over time.  Are you taking care of younger members, mid-career professionals, and experienced members?

2. A member’s manager’s “Why?” is likely different from the member’s “Why?” Is the person who signs the check getting value, too?  If your member goes back to the office and talks about how great the food was at the meeting, a manager might re-think renewing next year’s membership. If, however, the member demonstrates what was learned and how it can be used, the manager will likely support the investment.

3. What satisfied members/customers 20 years ago may not satisfy them today. Today’s member/customer wants mobile access, an online presence, in person experiences, and options. Are you providing these?

4. What motivates you to join may not be what someone else is looking for. You want a large yard. I don’t want the nuisance of maintenance.  You want good schools. I don’t have children. It’s important to learn what the prospect wants and highlight that benefit (even if it’s not what you want).

5. When the “Why?” is clear, the work is worth it, and the reward is great.

Now is a great time to ask yourselves these same questions. Whether you’re recruiting members for your organization or offering a product/service to customers.  What’s your “Why?” What’s theirs?





Post-election response

Posted By Laurie Richards on November 9, 2016 in Behavior · Blog · Election · Mom · Responding · Values

Our behavior after the recent election will say more about ourselves than anything else.

I recently moved into a community of mean girls. Some of you will relate, so I won’t bore you with the details. Through it all, I continue to ask myself how I should respond. Do I behave as they do? Rude…hurtful…insulting…dismissive…offensive…mean. Or do I behave in the way I believe is morally right?

I opt for the latter. I smile, wave, share a cheery “good morning,” and offer to help when the opportunity presents itself.

Wouldn’t it be hypocritical to do otherwise? I believe it’s important to be nice, welcoming, kind, polite, and respectful. Someone else’s behavior doesn’t give me license to push those values aside.

Is it easy to be polite and respectful to people who don’t reciprocate? No. Some days I want to retaliate, call names, highlight their shortcomings.

Wouldn’t it feel good to ‘show them’? Maybe for a moment, but I would inevitably feel worse later.

Instead, I do what I do because of who I am – not because of who they are.

As a youngster, one day I came home from school upset that another little girl didn’t say “good morning” to me.

Mom: “Did you say ‘good morning’ to her?”
Me: “Yes. But she didn’t say ‘good morning’ back.”
Mom: “Why did you say ‘good morning’?”
Me: “To be nice.”
Mom: “Doesn’t sound to me like you said it to be nice. It sounds to me like you said ‘good morning’ to her so that she would say it to you.” Long pause. “And that’s not really very nice, is it?”

Advantage Mom.

Regardless of your politics, your behavior says who you are. And will it change minds?

Choose your words and actions wisely.


‘Techies’ need to communicate, too

Posted By Laurie Richards on July 9, 2015 in Customer Service · Leadership & Management

“Techies” often have the reputation of not being very friendly or acting as if they are better/smarter than you.

“Two reputations that are not deserved,” insists Jodie Vesey, who works with us at Laurie Richards & Associates. “You could say that ‘techies’ are the most misunderstood people in business. If anything, this is miscommunication at its worst.”

According to Vesey, many times the miscommunication is initiated when the techie tries to explain a project or program in his or her “language.” Individuals may be intimidated by the knowledge of the techie if they are in a less technical field.

“Remember that your area of expertise can be quite technical, and not everyone has your extensive knowledge,” she says. “Be mindful not to talk over the heads of other people. You will lose their interest quickly.”

One way for a techie to start to change their style is to step out of their comfort zone at a business social function – or even by the water cooler or lunch room. “If it’s a larger function with a lot of new people, make it your goal to introduce yourself to two people you normally do not talk to or know,” suggests Vesey. “Be prepared for small talk and have a couple of generic questions that you can ask people when you get caught during an awkward pause.”

Vesey continues, “A great way to get people talking is to ask them questions about themselves.” Some good topics include asking the person where they grew up, what type of television programs that they like to watch, or if they have read any good books lately. If the person has children or grandchildren, they can talk for hours about them!

“Initiate the conversation and then be prepared to answer these same questions about yourself,” says Vesey.

When you are having face-to-face conversations, remember the high importance of eye contact, says Vesey. If this is difficult for you, then you will need to consciously practice until you are comfortable with giving people eye contact. “This may sound ridiculous, but practice looking yourself in the eyes in the mirror,” she says.

Another simple thing to do is smile. “People do business with people they like and who they perceive as friendly,” notes Vesey. “Smiling also puts other people at ease, and makes you much more approachable.”

Techies should also be aware that telephone skills are important, as well.

“When you are on the phone, do not do other activities at the same time,” emphasizes Vesey. “Do not go through emails, eat or drink. You will not be giving the caller your full attention, and they will know it. This will be a poor reflection on your part.”

Vesey points out that when you leave voice messages, be sure to say your name, your company name and give your call back number slowly and clearly. It is very irritating when someone must play back your message a number of times to retrieve the information. Do not assume that people know who you are or remember your number.

Another irritant occurs during a business meeting when a cell phone goes off. “Your cell phone should never be heard during a business meeting, meal or presentation,” declares Vesey. “Put it on vibrate or turn it off.”

Just because you are a techie doesn’t mean you cannot communicate. Like anything else, though, to improve upon something you need to work at it.


Making Sure Your Emails See the Light of Day

Posted By Laurie Richards on July 8, 2015 in Customer Service

While there are many tips on e-mail writing, what is often overlooked in the larger scheme of things is the fact that thousands of e-mails everyday are not even read. Barely glanced at. Indeed, not even opened. So how do you make sure that your e-mails are seeing the light of day?

Before the advent of e-mail, many workers – and even managers – were able to get away with putting only the most important things in writing. Today, people at all levels of an organization communicate through writing, especially on the Internet. Some more effectively than others.

This much writing causes two problems:

First, most of us are better at saying it in person and on the phone than in writing. We talk all day. We have more practice at it. And, yes, practice makes perfect (or at least better).

Second, we’re all inundated with more than we could ever possibly read. That means your reader may not read your stuff!

What to do? Here are five reader friendly tips to make sure that your writing gets read.

  1. Make your subject line interesting. “Health Insurance” e-mails go in the “later” pile. “Friday deadline for health insurance” gets read. Take a second look at your subject line. Would you read an e-mail with that subject line? Will your reader read it?
  2. Think “Executive Summary.” Give your reader the bottom-line before getting into your rationale and what leads you to your decision. If they want more information, they’ll ask for it. If necessary, include a resource, websites, and other resource information that your reader can consider for more details.
  3. Make responding easy – and if a response is required, make that clear. Using phrasing such as “Unless I hear differently from you by Friday, I’ll move forward with Option B,” make it less likely that you’ll miss deadlines. Ask the reader to respond by writing “I vote yes” or another appropriate phrase in the subject line. It makes it easy for the reader- and for you!
  4. Make it visual. The average reader spends less than four seconds on your one-page document. Using bold subheads including Recommendation: and Summary: and Next Steps: ensures the reader will get the most critical information.
  5. Use short paragraphs and bullet points. It’s faster and easier for your reader when type is surrounded by white space. Paragraphs should be no longer than five lines. Double-space between paragraphs and bullet points.

With more and more companies relying on e-mail messaging, it is imperative that your message is clear and concise – and is read!