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?





‘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.


The wrong impression can cost you an important business deal

Posted By Laurie Richards on July 5, 2015 in Customer Service · Leadership & Management · Motivation

Many of us go into business meetings misled about the important role meetings play in keeping one in the loop. Believe it or not, important things do happen at meetings – the most important of these is that people learn about each other. Judgments and impressions are made and opportunities to impress abound, according to Jodie Vesey, an etiquette expert who works with us at Laurie Richards & Associates.

One misstep, warns Vesey, and an important business deal could go down the drain.

“I’ve seen too many business relationships fall apart in meetings,” says Vesey. “People sometimes take a meeting for granted and then they wonder why they didn’t finish the deal.”

Vesey notes that there are ways to avoid missteps. Here then, are some tips from her on how to best take advantage of these opportunities.

  • Arrive at the meeting on time or even a little bit early. Arriving late impresses no one and, in fact, is an insult to those who made it on time. If the meeting starts at 10 a.m., be there no later than 10 a.m.
  • Enter the meeting room with a friendly confidence and looking your professional best. Shake hands with your colleagues and introduce yourself to those attendees that you do not know.
  • Be fully prepared. Have the agenda, pertinent papers and a pen in front of you. This will keep you from having to fish around while everyone waits for you. Avoid running back and forth to your desk to retrieve something that should have been in front of you in the first place. Not being prepared will give others the impression that you are a disorganized person.
  • Your briefcase does not go on the table or on a spare chair. It belongs on the floor. The same holds true for purses.
  • The types of business accessories you use speak volumes about your level of professionalism. Carry a leather briefcase and notebook. No plastic, canvas or something that looks like it belongs on the space shuttle. Own a quality writing instrument, preferably one that does not have the name of a hotel on the side of it. (Unless, of course, you work for a hotel!) These small details are what will set you apart from the ordinary.
  • Do not look bored, even if you are. Right about the time you tune out, something of importance will be said and you will miss out. Avoid playing – no paper clip people, rubber band instruments, or doodle masterpieces. If you keep both feet on the floor and lean forward, you will look and feel more attentive. Leaning back with your leg on you knee is altogether too casual. If you start to feel sleepy, get up and throw a piece of paper away in the garbage can. This will get the blood flowing and give you a quick boost.
  • Speak up, but keep it brief and to the point. We all know how painful it is to sit through someone’s aimless ramblings. Do not interrupt, no matter how much you disagree with what is being said. If you disagree with someone, never publicly criticize that person. You will lose respect and the person you are attacking will gain office sympathy. Think before you speak and try to use positive language as often as possible.

If you make the effort to pull all of these tips together at future business meetings, you will create a stronger professional image for yourself. You will also gather more information than ever before, and soon, you will be looking forward to meetings as an opportunity to let yourself shine!


Business Travelers Lament: On The Road … Again

Posted By Laurie Richards on June 27, 2015 in Leadership & Management

Traveling on business can sound so glamorous! Warm tropical locations, luxurious hotels, wining and dining with interesting people … However, the reality is more along the lines of exhaustion from driving or jet lag, scratchy bed sheets, and bad room service food in front of the TV.

Yet, whether you are lucky enough to travel on business to a resort in a sunny location or whether you are staying in a budget hotel in Sioux City, one thing remains the same: you are on company time. With that comes responsibility.

“When you are on the road, you literally become a one-person show, representing your entire company,” notes Jodie Vesey, an etiquette expert who works with Laurie Richards & Associates, a professional training firm based in Hackettstown, N.J. “Your actions, words and general behavior are going to be judged by all of the people that you come in contact with during your business trip. Based on others impressions of you, you will either do your company and your self a favor, or you will be leaving a trail of negativity in your wake of poor behavior.”

With that in mind, Vesey offers the following the tips for business travelers who want to greatly increase their chances of making the best impressions while on the road.

  • First and foremost, remember that you are on company time the entire time that you are out of the office. Don’t put on your business face for the two-hour meeting, only to later go out to the pool in a skimpy swim suit and wave to your client! Act as though everything that you do will get back to your boss, because it just might!
  • Dress in clothes that are both comfortable and professional looking. No sweat pants or grungy weekend wear. Remember, if you are wearing a shirt with your company logo on it, everyone will know whom you are representing and will judge your company according to your actions.
  • If you are driving, make sure your car is clean on both the inside and the outside. The front passenger seat is the “seat of honor” and it should go to the client or the highest ranking person.
  • Carry plenty of one-dollar bills with you for tipping. You will look like a rookie if you do not have tip money readily available.
  • When it comes to tipping while traveling, who gets what? If someone helps you with your luggage, you should tip $1 per bag. The doorman at a hotel should get $1 if he provides a service for you, such as hailing a cab. Hotel housekeepers should get $2 to $3 dollars a day, and the room service delivery person should get $2.
  • When two people of unequal rank travel together, the person with the least amount of seniority is to take care of details such as making dinner reservations, hailing taxis, and so on.
  • When male and female coworkers travel together, each person is responsible for carrying his or her own luggage, and paying for their own meals.
  • Never over drink. It may be tempting to go with the “the company is buying” attitude, but this is a dangerous position to take. Maintain control and limit your self. Anything less will come back to haunt you!
  • Luggage does get lost and reservations do get messed up. Ranting and raving will not magically make your luggage appear. You will not have to sleep on the street. There is always a “Plan B” available if you stay clear-headed and flexible.

Business travel can be a great change of pace from the office and a wonderful opportunity for you to shine; take advantage of the opportunities that abound! Just remember, you never know the connection that a stranger may have to your company!