Americans spend more than $12 billion a year on the nation’s most pervasive addiction. Like other compulsions, we can’t get enough to satisfy our longing. It’s self-help and the seemingly insatiable desire to be more successful.
Every couple of weeks, there’s a new self-help book, video or seminar. Malcolm Gladwell’s latest addition to his shelf of self-help books is totally enticing — “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.” How can anyone resist the appeal of getting to the next rung on the job ladder, of making the numbers every quarter and of going from the bottom to the top?
If self-help were so effective, then tens of millions more of us should be the most engaged and highly motivated people in the world, smashing every performance record where we work.
That’s not the case, to say the least.
The problem isn’t how we think or feel, but what we do. It’s the doing that makes the difference. Here are business ideas that get the right results:
1. Stop talking to ourselves. As individuals, it’s so easy for us to think we’re right. And it’s the same with companies, too. A recent cars.com TV commercial makes the point. When the “team” hears the new plan, everyone cheers — all except one guy, who says, “It’s a stupid plan.” In the next shot, he’s standing at the curb holding a box with his personal stuff.
Many companies, like individuals, become so enamored with their own ideas (read brilliance) that they shut out other views. Amid the cheering, no one dares say, “That’s stupid.”
Ideas, plans, initiatives, campaigns and just about everything else benefit from diverse input.
2. Never stop improving. While this Lowe’s tagline has a clear double meaning for that home improvement company, the words apply to all businesses and employees. Many get to a certain point — a plateau — and stop, as if they’ve gone far enough, while a few keep on improving.
“From the time she was very young she aspired and achieved, and often did it by breaking down barriers,” said her son David of his mother, Myril Axelrod Bennett, a Young & Rubicam VP and a pioneer in advertising research. “Everything she did, she did to perfection, and she demanded that of herself,” as the Boston Globe report. And she was doing a weekly blog until just before her death at 93.
A never stop improving attitude puts the focus on what matters: performance.
3. Avoid corporate narcissism. Facebook’s phenomenal success is no surprise, as a recent Boston University study, “Why do people use Facebook?” points out. It meets two basic human needs: the need to belong and the need for self-preservation.
Businesses aren’t much different, always seeking opportunities to showcase themselves. The pull is irresistible, as compelling as that of Facebook. For example, a regional daily newspaper sent subscribers a letter with a $50 or $100 voucher charities can use to “purchase” advertising.
Ironically, the first half of the letter was devoted to talking about the newspaper. In fact, the headline started off this way: “We are proud to launch….” The final sentence thanked subscribers “for helping us support our community.” From start to finish, the focus was on the publication. More than a community service, the program came across like an “ad” for the newspaper.
It takes enormous willpower, discipline and skill for companies to keep the spotlight on their customers.
4. Get good at connecting the dots. In spite of a major recession, high unemployment, and pervasive wage stagnation, we might think that few, if anyone, could be heard to say, “Hey, what do you expect? I’m doing what I was hired to do,” as if that were a remarkable accomplishment worthy of special recognition.
Most people can describe what they do at work, but far too few can recognize opportunities, identify problems and come up with solutions that have a positive impact on the company. It’s the ability to connect the dots that separates average employees from those displaying superior performance.
5. Seek ownership opportunities. Workers come in two varieties, those who see themselves as employees and those who act as owners. There are many of the former and too few of the latter.
If there’s anything managers need and want from employees, it’s having them “take ownership,” taking charge of one’s job by controlling outcomes, meeting deadlines, overcoming hurdles and reaching goals.
With the current “teamness” throughout the business world, we might expect that the ownership spirit would be thriving. Since that’s not the case, is it possible that “teamness” is either wishful thinking or window dressing — or both. Unless being a “team” member is wedded to ownership, it’s nothing more than another example of jargon.
6. Beware of “passive customer loyalty.” Those customers who never complain, keep coming back, pay promptly, appear satisfied may also be off our radar screen. We take them for granted. Some have been around so long they’re invisible. We can call their behavior “passive customer loyalty.”
It’s worth thinking about because it’s dangerous. These are the customers who quietly disappear. No one misses them until they’re gone, and then we say, “I wonder what happened?”
“Active customer loyalty” is quite different. It results from constant cultivation, reinforcing how much we appreciate them, always looking for new ways to “refresh” their interest, feedback and loyalty. It’s worth the effort because losing customers is costly.
7. Don’t get suckered into doing something dumb. Of all the lessons from the Obamacare website debacle, one towers above all others: never launch anything before it’s ready.
A CNET eBulletin evaluated entrants in the blossoming smartwatch category. Whether selling for $49.95 or $950, one word described them: clunky. It wasn’t the first time. Microsoft’s SPOT smartwatch was said to be “a bulky and poor design,” when it appeared in 2004. Needless to say, it went missing rather quickly.
It happens every time someone says, “We’ve got to get this out now or else.” Or else what? Or else we’ll look stupid, wrong, or embarrassed? Whether it’s a product, a plan, a project or anything else, getting it right is the only test that counts.
In business as in life, it takes the right ideas to drive the right results.
John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales consultant and business writer. He publishes a free monthly eBulletin, “No Nonsense Marketing & Sales.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 617-774-9759 or johnrgraham.com.