Ground Hog Day

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We’re about 45 days in and most companies have a truckload of 2017 goals they may still be discussing. Improve performance, raise morale, accelerate sales, digital focus, and let’s not forget the holy grail, the customer relationship. But how to get there? Training. More training.

We’ll make it better than last year. Develop expanded curriculum and lay out clear objectives. We’ll get buy-in from our employees. Every session will be jam-packed with enthusiasm, motivational speakers, new strategies, buzz words, social media, and an overabundance of tactics. That’ll do it.

There’s plenty of time, money and resources assigned to these endeavors and although the words may change a little, the 2017 objectives look a lot like 2016, 2015… Is this Ground Hog Day – The Empire Strikes Back?

Two immediate problems:

#1. Employees may verbalize their enthusiasm for the exercise, but they are jaded. They’ve seen this movie before and of course, they will fill the seats again. But when it’s more of the same, that “passion” will likely be polluted with a jumbo-sized serving of cynicism and distraction. (Enter the mobile device.)

#2. As soon as those attendees leave the room they’ll go right back to doing what they did yesterday. And most of what they heard, learned, experienced will quickly be forgotten.

“Everyone is always bragging about the power of the human brain. So if it is so darned powerful, why does it fail so often? Why do we forget 90 percent of what we learn within one week? From the perspective of a neuroscientist, this question speaks to a fundamental misunderstanding about the brain and about forgetting. Whereas most people think of forgetting as a failure of memory, “I forgot because my memory failed,” in professional neuroscience, forgetting is not thought of as a failure at all. Instead forgetting is thought of as a natural, adaptive, and even desirable activity.”

https://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/1379/brain-science-the-forgetting-curvethe-dirty-secret-of-corporate-training

Training is a process, not an event. For training to be effective, the employee has to apply what is learned on the job—otherwise, all of the time, money, and effort spent on the training is wasted. That means training doesn’t end when trainees leave the session. Unfortunately, too many trainers and managers forget an essential step—following up to ensure transfer of training.

http://www.blr.com/trainingtips/training-program-reinforcement

There’s a lot more written on this subject and the solution isn’t buried in a hole. To create effective training, you need to make it “sticky.” And stickiness is driven with reinforcement. Designed, concise, repetitive reinforcement.

I am confident that live training and the ubiquitous webinars will have their place in many ’17 calendars; they just can’t be the only methodology. Or you’ll wake up to last year’s agenda all over again.

 

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All I Want For Christmas

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This time of year most people celebrate some holiday. My memories are wrapped around Christmas. In an Italian family, Christmas dinner is a social/culinary event that lasts for hours; and if you’ve never experienced the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve, you really are missing something wonderful!

When I was much younger, there were usually a few things I wanted. Age generally dictated the “ask” but sometimes not… I made my list and got much of what I asked for. I was a very lucky kid.

The older I get, the less I really want or need. The most valuable things have no price: health, happiness, family, friends, and peace can’t be bought in any store. Even Amazon doesn’t stock them. But this year is different. I actually would like two very special gifts. Yes, I recognize I am asking for a lot but I want them.

#1. Texting and driving has to stop.

This is not an age related problem. What the heck is so important an individual feels the uncompromising urge to read or respond to whatever is on that device at that very moment? Ignoring the fact that they are piloting a large weapon, often filled with gasoline and going 60 mph or faster…along side other people doing the very same thing in similar – potentially destructive – machines. I’m not certain which emotion bothers me the most. Fear, anger or frustration.

#2. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are No Fly Zones for Phones.

When I’m spending time with family and friends, I’d like everyone who comes in to put their phone in one big box; we can stuff it under the tree. What!? No texting at the dinner table? That can’t be right. How will my friends on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Smitter, Flitter know what kind of food is on my plate! They’ll worry. They might try to call to see if I’m OK. It’s too much… The truth is, a whole bunch of holidays came and went for many generations and we all lived to talk about it. It’s sounds Precambrian but it wasn’t that long ago.

Although I don’t think Santa will be bringing these gifts to me or anyone else (for that matter) I’m going to keep asking.

Either one would be treasured by us all.

 

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Strong Women – M.I.A.?

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What happened to the strong, independent women in this country?  The ones who would offer a generous drop kick to a man’s “danger zone” if he decided to touch, grab or go where he was not first invited?

This is not political, although I have a very strong opinion there as well. My issue is with the media and how they (now) make women out to be these defenseless little fawns. Lost in the wilderness. Helpless.“Oh that big naughty man said dirty things about me…he made me an object.”

I raised my daughter to be strong, independent and loaded with self worth. Nobody. Celebrity, athlete, or pretty frat boy is gonna make her an object in any way. Thankfully, at almost 22 years old, she doesn’t need her Daddy, friends, the internet, Facebook, politicians (God forbid), or the ubiquitous TV Bubbleheads (who pollute the fragmented broadcast outlets) to tell her otherwise.

Maybe, just maybe, if the media didn’t pound their agendas and simultaneously canonize actors, sports personalities or anyone else who’s face gets plastered everywhere for their 10 seconds of fame…we might have a little less of this mindless noise and a bit more common sense.

It’s SELF-IMAGE 101. Women really can take care of themselves and demand respect, often without saying a word. (Even if they’re not a professional boxer.)

Round One begins with the parents.

Ring the bell.

 

 

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Kiss Goodbye

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Working with insurance and financial services companies for over 25 years I have come to understand one thing. The bigger the organization, the slower they react and/or make decisions. In the past, that may have been OK. They were/are big enough to withstand market pressure and have comfortable revenue streams. The same can be said for the agencies in their distribution channels.

Today, I don’t think that strategy will be successful or sustainable. There are new players emerging, fueled by technology, venture capital and a good idea. Venture capital people are not dumb…they’ll invest where the see (big) opportunities, and insurance/financial services is certainly a very attractive opportunity.

One of the most compelling new kids on the block is Lemonade >> lemonade.com. Yes, they’re just in NY State right now but they’re already making bold statements. I got this email today with a nice company photo. “If you are excited as much as we are about changing insurance forever, and haven’t already done so, we invite you to join our massive social wave that will go live in 24 hrs! ”  Team@lemonade.com

Property Casualty companies have experienced pressure on margins because they are essentially commodities. (Like many others.) But I believe the thing that exacerbates the problem here is that most traditional P&C agencies have not built value with their customer base. They’re spoiled. They collect premiums from long-standing clients and hope that claims are minimal.

Well, when the marketplace starts drinking the Kool-Aid – or should I say Lemonade – margins, business, people… are gonna pack their bags. Life insurance companies, do you see similarities?

There’s still hope. But it will demand a bold, new course of action from the established insurance machines. They must find creative ways to help their distribution channel (and the agents who are in the field) deepen relationships with existing customers.

Give them a “kiss” once in a while. Before your customers kiss you goodbye.

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The Monster’s in the Car, Not the Closet

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Technology has given us many incredible things. Great innovation. In just the past 10 years the advances are impressive and the rate of change continues to accelerate. But what’s the expression, “Every miracle has its price”? This tech avalanche has also delivered some casualties:

  • Nobody can make change when you buy something.
  • There’s hundreds of TV channels but little worth watching.
  • Credit card accounts and passwords are always for sale.
  • Music and movies are free.
  • Mobile phones have turned people into zombies.
  • People are connected to big networks of pretend friends on social media but have few real friends.
  • On the roads it’s Death Race 2100.

Today if you’re out driving anywhere I GUARANTEE you will see more than one person texting and/or reading on their phone. Irresponsible. Scary. Deadly.

But another frightening development is that technology has infected automobiles; and I’m not talking about cars equipped with the optional “technology package.” There’s plenty of visual distractions in standard models. I have trouble changing the channel or figuring out what’s playing? Is it AM, FM, Pandora, XM, Apple, my phone?

This “innovation” leads to distracted driving. It’s not just about texting anymore. Manufacturers want to compete. They are stuffing their cars with features, too many features. These vehicles are so sophisticated, that damn screen in the middle of the dashboard is Godzilla and he’s come to burn attention spans everywhere. Why keep your eyes on the road?

Next time you start the car and see the launch sequence for NASA’s space shuttle loading, keep this in mind. At 25 mph (and we all know this is painfully slow) your car will travel over 36 feet in one second.

It’s a recipe for disaster and here’s my least favorite dish. Add one inexperienced driver, a new car, sprinkle in a touch screen, icons, music options, a passenger or two, and one mobile phone. Stir and start the engine.

Drinking and driving. Yes a potentially deadly – and expensive – mistake. It has ruined many lives. But technology and driving… Is that any better?

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Stop the Insanity

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Is corporate America choking on meetings?

I used to be employed in a (not so big) publicly traded company many years ago and I was frequently perplexed by the amount of meetings I had to attend, and the number of meetings I saw during the day. Meetings must be important; you always need to reserve the room. More often than not, people would schedule a meeting to discuss an upcoming meeting. Generally nothing gets accomplished in those sessions.

What became increasingly apparent was, the more meetings I attended – or was asked to attend – the less productive I became. I ultimately ran screaming from the building and leaped back into the familiar arms of my ex-lover. Entrepreneurship. Yes, it has many challenges, but one thing I like to do is make decisions quickly and act on them with the same alacrity. If they’re wrong decisions, I change them. Maybe someone else changes them. That’s fine too.

Business in 2016 continues to accelerate. Sitting around for hours in a conference room or on a conference call – worse yet – is complete torture and generally will accomplish little. Even if a decision is made, implementation could take weeks, or even months. By then, you’ll probably need to coordinate another meeting. And on and on and on…

A nimble corporation is an oxymoron. I’ll wager there’s a direct correlation between the size/age of a company and the frequency of meetings in any given week. Someone must have done productivity assessments. That would be an interesting study.

One consequence of this mindless routine is opportunity. Not for the lumbering corporation however, there’s gold in them there hills for disrupters. Why? Fertile ground. What’s the quote? “Disrupt or be disrupted.”

Maybe in some small way, companies will take proactive measures and use this as a best practice. http://www.businessinsider.com/steve-jobs-meeting-techniques-2015-8

P.S. The next time a co-worker one office away sends you an email, please get up, walk 10 feet and promptly unplug their computer. And while you’re at it, smack their iPhone, or Samsung, (or whatever mobile device they’re flirting with) out of their hands.

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Ding Ding Ding

Rocky

Another black eye. The Department of Labor came out with their ruling back on April 6, 2016. http://www.naifa.org/advocacy/federal-issues-positions/fiduciary-%28retirement-accounts%29

Everyone in the industry is – or should be – getting a pep talk from the trainer in their corner.

This is going to affect a lot of professionals who get up every morning, work hard and do a lot of good things for a lot of people. Yes, there are a few bad apples. But isn’t that true of every industry and human beings in general? Cable networks are flooded with “murder porn”…Wives With Knives, Nightmare Next Door, I Almost Got Away With It, Dateline, etc, and let’s not forget American Greed. And these people are the ones who got caught.

The point is, the industry already has a trust issue. People don’t like this business and have long been suspicious of the professionals in it. Truth be told, I was one of them. Years ago I was extremely reluctant to speak with any insurance or financial advisor. Why? I was certain they wanted to sell me something I didn’t need.

Times change. People change. And I have come to fully understand the benefit of these services and products. But, one reason the stereotype persists is that many advisors (continue to) lead with product. I know why they do it. Habits are hard to break and these folks are trained to death on “product” by product manufacturers and distributors. They are not trained on human behavior. The result? They will quickly, repeatedly offer the “solution” before that prospect or client has fully recognized there’s a problem to be fixed and who will be affected if they don’t. Human Nature 101: People only fix big problems.

Now, we’ve got the Department of Labor piling on and that’s going to amplify every suspicion. There’s a storm cloud gathering as well. Timothy Hauser, a deputy assistant secretary at the Labor Department said, the Department would closely monitor its implementation and welcomed feedback from the industry as the DoL has plans to publish further guidance on the rule’s nuances. That guidance may come on a rolling basis…

How many times can the industry get “tagged” and get back up off the mat? Not sure. What I am sure of is that the traditional solutions won’t work. This industry – insurance and financial services –  has to find a way to effectively counter punch. Clarify their message, improve their training and revise messaging to the field and public. Only firms with a nimble and embraced communication pipeline (that includes a robust audit trail for reporting) will stay ahead of the shifting sands of regulation.

There are tens of thousands of people, families, businesses that have benefited because some professional was articulate, honest and persistent enough to clarify the conversation, help their client understand and motivate them to take action. Nothing dishonest in that.

 

 

 

 

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Um, Ya Know and Like

Healthywealthy

The three stooges of the American vocabulary and three of my least favorite words. Yes, “um” is a word. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/um

Every day – sometimes several times an hour – people repeat these words. It’s kids, adults and everyone in between although I don’t remember my Dad or Mom using them. There are individuals who gravitate to one word or another, but if they’ve got the addiction it can be incessant. Now I find myself hyper-sensitized to it. When I’m in a business meeting, on a conference call or listening to a presenter I’ll actually start counting. (Heck, I do it at home.) I know that’s not constructive but it becomes extremely distracting and even if the person has valuable input, it’s somehow diminished.

I’ve used these words myself but I am trying to make a concerted effort to permanently remove all of them. I read it’s much better to pause and say nothing; that way you make yourself think before you speak. (I’m not trying to promote any stereotype here but the word “like” is incredibly prolific with my daughter and her friends. They’ll say it two or three times in one sentence. So, I try to “help” her as much as I can. At least she’s aware.)

People who don’t include um, ya know or like in their conversations appear to be more intelligent. At least I think so. Their thoughts are organized, well thought out and communicated deliberately. That is an excellent character trait and a skill I am working to master. Speaking with clients, prospects or friends I’d like them to always hear what I’m saying minus any empty, repetitive, verbal noise. Can someone tell me if the same three words exist in other languages and if the problem is as prevalent? I’m curious.

Yes, I have watched Three Stooges’ episodes a 1,000 times (over many years) and will likely watch again, often laughing out loud. Their antics were designed to be entertaining. Um, ya know and like are not.

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Belly to Belly

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A very successful (insurance) advisor who works with business owners once told me, “I do my best work belly to belly.” He went on to explain that the case design he does can be complicated. There are frequently many individuals involved, a lot of moving parts, and to do it right it has to be explored, discussed and corrected in person. They identify problems and objectives together. People speak. People listen. It’s an efficient way to get things done. He’s 68 by the way.

Does this professional use email, Facebook, or text messaging in his business? I asked. Email, yes and text messaging with his children (even adult kids?) Yes. Who doesn’t do that? Often there’s a quick text to the wife from the airport too. But Facebook, getting “likes”, sharing vacation images, food, opinions, etc is not where clients have found him in the past and not where new clients are likely to find him in the future. If he goes on vacation and any clients are also his friends…he tells them. There is no Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or Pinterest in his particular business model. Does he carry a smart phone? Indeed, an iPhone 6. It’s not that he doesn’t embrace technology, he just keeps it in its place.

There’s something else he articulated without saying a word. Humans interact most effectively face to face. Reading body language, expressions or inflections in a person’s voice are things you cannot do electronically and it’s a talent I think too many people don’t appreciate or master. Why? They don’t spend any time doing it.

I’m not only referring to younger generation(s). This non-personal (incessant) communication addiction has infected adults and corporations as much as teenagers. How many times have you called someone and gotten a voice message. But, if you email that same person you get a quick response. Where are they? Is their phone broken? Are they sick?

We all know there are individuals in companies who sit down the hall from each other yet they’ll trade a thousand email messages but never pick up the phone or take a walk to an office or desk.

This all started gradually not that many years ago but the momentum has accelerated. There’s so many casualties of this technology/internet avalanche: people have forgotten how to spell, they use their phone while dining with others, in meetings, driving, walking…and they’ll likely take it to bed too.

That smart phone – with all its power – is useless when it comes to old fashion conversation.

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Who’s Going to the Ball

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This blog is personal. Been there. Done that. And proudly describe myself as a serial entrepreneur.

We’ve all seen or read about the twenty something who is instantly transformed into a billionaire. Maybe his or her company has an idea but no actual revenue model or profits (yet)…and sometimes that still doesn’t stop investors. It’s a Cinderella Story for sure. Yes, there are legitimate companies that have enjoyed a meteoric rise – and valuation – and do generate profits but that’s the exception not the rule.

The same scenario can be seen in sports, music, and Hollywood; although in some cases these individuals do sweat it out for years and against all odds, make it. Then we see them on TV, the internet and in movies. What we almost never see are the failures and there’s a lot more of them. But that doesn’t make for good headlines and nobody wants to hear about broken dreams.

No matter what the pursuit, all this aspiring talent has different companions along the way: a parent, coach, mentor, teammate, guitar player, agent, friend, etc. Some help. Some do not. It varies. But every entrepreneur gets special attention from the same two people. Loneliness and Doubt. These are the evil step sisters of the business owner. They know where you live, move in immediately and can be extremely attentive. So it’s a good idea to get comfortable with both of them right away.

There are other more supportive “members” of your virtual family. However, this basic lesson in sibling rivalry should be taught in every school in America. Not to discourage future employers, but a little dose of reality will help them (better) prepare and perhaps, endure. Small business is indeed the engine that drives the US economy but there are many casualties along the way and few accolades for those who fail.

So while you chase the dream, build your empire and do your best to ignore the two sisters… look for great employees, strategic partners, experienced advisors, and maybe even a fairy godmother, prince or princess. Their help could be key.

There’s some luck involved in building a successful enterprise. But integrity, ingenuity, hard work, perseverance, and careful planning can deliver the magic of achievement that may last long after midnight.

 

 

 

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