Category Archives: management

The Hiring Conundrum: How to Correctly Employ Talent

By James D. Roumeliotis

Job Candidates

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How often do we hear employers, of all sizes, complaining that there is a dire shortage of good talent out there? What should we really make of this? Is there anyone to blame – everyone but the employers themselves? Consider the daily hiring procedures and habits of most employers to realize who is at fault for the hiring dilemma. Engaging prospective employees by utilizing mainly the human resources staff and/or relying solely on a plethora of job boards, automated hiring/”big data” or software to scan and screen-out resumes is not only irresponsible but rather a wasteful practice, totally impersonal, as well as a thoughtless and a lazy way to bring, supposed, qualified people on board.

Through third parties and automated systems, how is a hiring manager going to discover candidates who bring more than just skills to the table – ones who also bring about an ideal attitude and character? Think soft skills/emotional IQ. The job of hiring should be conducted by none other than the person to whom the potential new employee will be reporting to – or rather be assigned with tasks.

If there is a list of ideal and practical methods of properly hiring employees, which I fully subscribe to, then you ought to read the article “How To Hire: 8 stunning tips“ in Nick Corcodilos’s blog “Ask The Headhunter®.”

Here is the link: http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/10693/how-to-hire

Eavesdropper next table

Keep Your Recruiting Radar Constantly Active

Recruiting done properly and effectively is not an occasional task but an on-going process. Potential candidates can be discovered anywhere. Even if the hiring manager is not actively seeking a candidate, he or she should be doing so proactively by keeping his or her ears and eyes open at all time and literally anywhere – whether during networking, social activities, or during his or her time off. I am aware of two such cases; whereby a business owner and a recruiter, respectively, both came across their potential candidate while dining at a restaurant. In either case, they were impressed when they overheard an individual, at the table beside them, talking about his/her career goals and aspirations. The pleasant personality and discussion drew them in impressive ways that the hiring managers could not help but engage with this person. In the end, the eavesdroppers extended the individual an invitation for a job interview. Eventually, they were hired by their respective employers.

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The Top 10 Most Read Articles in this Blog for 2015

by James D. Roumeliotis

Top 10 Articles for 2015

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As in every year, I have once again rounded up the ten most read/popular articles — this time for  2015. The following ten captured the most attention by numbers and from 154 countries in all. See them all below in descending order.  Your views are always encouraged including subject matter you think I should be covering more of.

THANK YOU for your readership and I look forward to feeding your mind with much more business practical food for thought this year which can be applied for timely results.

1 Luxury vs. Premium vs. Fashion: Clarifying the Disparity

2 Perceived Quality: Why Brands Are Intangible

3 The Art of Selling Luxury Products: Brand Story Telling & Persuasion

4 Mass Customization & Personalization: The Pinnacle of Differentiation and Brand Loyalty

5 Exceeding the Hotel Guest Experience: Anticipating and Executing Desires Flawlessly

6 Brand Awareness: the influence in consumers’ purchasing decisions

7 The Ultra Luxury Purveyors: Lessons from brands catering to the richest 1 percent

8 Identifying and Catering to the Discerning Consumer: Quality and Service Above All

9 Start-up Essentials: A Universal Roadmap for Starting a Business — Infographic

10 Product Features vs Benefits: The Brand Differentiation

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Effective Leadership: How to Optimize the Decision Making Process

by James D. Roumeliotis

Maze and Businessman

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Face it! Like it or not you are defined by the decisions you make. Think of successful organizations and the people responsible for guiding their authority and well-being. Often, high performance is the result of an executive choosing the right move at the right time. It’s not purely a lucky streak. Corporate strategy is not “Black Jack” nor 5-card stud poker.

Decision-making is a complex activity and at times a long process. Your ability to identify and excel in your decision-making tasks will greatly increase the chances that the choices you make will have a strong and positive impact on your organization. Why take any additional risks when you know instinctively that this is the case to sound growth and prosperity?

Where to begin in contemplation

Your first step is to understand the external and internal factors that affect decision-making, from aspects of the organizational environment to your personal decision-making preferences. While you aren’t always able to control these influences, recognizing and identifying these factors will enable you to take them into consideration as you strive to achieve the best decision outcome.

Reality check

Every day you make sense of what goes on around you by interpreting what you see and hear, taking into account your past experiences, values, needs, attitudes, and goals. Even your understanding of what another person says is only an estimate, as you can never completely share the viewpoint of someone else concerning the world.

Given the increasing complexity of organizational life, along with the quantity of information that must be processed, it is no wonder executives too often experience stress as they strive to balance agendas and please many of their people.

It can happen that you put a lot of time and effort into a decision study or a formal analysis, only to be disappointed in the results. When this happens, you need to re-evaluate both the information that went into the analysis including your expectations.

On the one hand, no process is any better than the information that goes into it and when you get a result that your experience suggests may be flawed or biased, this is a strong indication to probe.

On the other hand, it’s extremely tempting to tinker with the data until you receive a result that you’re happier with ─ but this is a form of deception that can lead to an adverse outcome. In this case, it helps to remind yourself to maintain a high standard of accuracy and objectivity and to seek a reality check from someone whose judgment you respect and who’s not personally involved in the decision.

The decisions you make are only as good as the process you use to make them. Asking yourself the following questions will help you to assess whether or not you are on the right track:

  1. Have I done adequate research and gathered all of the appropriate information for the subject matter at hand?
  2. Have I considered all of the stakeholders and their probable responses to various decision outcomes?
  3. Have I been honest in assessing my own decision making style and taken that into account?
  4. Have I recognized and acknowledged my personal agendas and bias?
  5. Have I considered the various options available to me in selecting the most appropriate decision making method?
  6. Have I solicited the advice and assistance that was required?
  7. Am I prepared to be accountable for the consequences of the decisions I make?

You have the responsibility for making decisions that deeply affect your employees’ performance, morale and your organization’s future. You cannot afford to rely on personal preferences or hunches alone.

Now that you are familiar with some practical, yet highly effective approaches offered here, your challenge is to develop a positive future possible through the decisions that you make today.

Business man confused with his good and bad conscience

Business man confused with his good and bad conscience

Bottom line

Your decisions are only as good as the information you use to make them. The cliché “Garbage in, garbage out” applies here. Your ability to recognize bias and evaluate the reliability and validity of the information you gather can make a tremendous difference in the effectiveness of your decisions.

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Shady and Dysfunctional Enterprises: Deceit, Greed and Short-sightedness in the Name of Profit and Market Share

By James D. Roumeliotis

Dysfunctional Company Hierarchy

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Businesses of all sizes normally develop various pain points. A seasoned entrepreneur has actually made a list of 100. In the end, pain is a motivator for action to turn things around. However, the key is in how to tackle each one and in a timely manner. Better yet, how many of them are ever anticipated — and as a consequence solutions readily available? What is not anticipated are repercussions from poor decisions made or deceit deliberately caused with or without knowledge from company authorities. As a result, denial sets in from the top with accountability being dismissed.

Needless to say, chaos reigns within organizations which for many results in bleak outcomes. Within, there is a lack of communication, trust, transparency and loyalty. Not a sincere and astute way to operate a business.

By all appearances, there are plenty of executives who are simply results driven at the expense of their customers, employees as well as with their vendor relationships. Remarkably, most of those companies are publicly traded.

Corporations lack trust from consumers

A survey conducted by JUST Capital’s of more than 40,000 U.S. participants and groups indicates that the nation’s largest corporations are “going in the wrong direction.”

Overall, only 41 percent of all Americans trust corporations “somewhat” or “a great deal,” while 50 percent of more conservative Americans trust corporations.

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Source: http://justcapital.com/research

The cause of distrust among consumers can be rationalized due to corporations misleading the public as a whole, as well as their shareholders. Deliberate misleading information by food producers in regards to nutritional benefits and nickel-and-diming by airlines, hotels and banks are causes for frustration, suspicion and loathing.

Sectors notorious for constant price gouging coupled with despicable service include, but not limited to, a select number of pharmaceutical brands, banking/financial services, cellphone service providers, cable companies and airlines. Too add salt to injury, in the U.S. and Canada, pointless aggressive lobbying efforts by various industries yield their influence by means of generous contributions to political parties. They are also infamous for spending a ludicrous amount of money producing sly ads and propaganda which go against consumer wishes. Consider the soda lobbyists who, according to a NY Times article, “made campaign contributions to local politicians and staged rallies, with help from allies like the Teamsters union and local bottling companies. To burnish its image, the industry donated $10 million to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.” Sadly for consumers and the city of Philadelphia, the tactics worked. Similar outcomes occurred in New York City and San Francisco. In the end, the soda industry’s rubbish of an astonishingly high calibre, comes as it does from the same producers of fatty chips to the pre-diabetic, semi-literate masses. Ornate language and ostentatious preening cannot mask the shameful practice of marketing for the kind pre-fabricated, chemically-calibrated food products that are making its mainstream market obese, thus unhealthy.

In certain types of large scale B2B transactions, there can be scope for unscrupulous behavior. One or both parties are tempted to forego ethics in favor of making the deal. Such relationships inevitably end badly because they are either uncovered by authorities, as well as not conceived with trust or respect.

Then there are the occasional devious companies that will do what it takes in the name of revenue and profit ─ disregarding authorities, customers and everyone who takes their trust for granted. Volkswagen’s blatant rigging of emissions tests with over 11 million of its diesel cars sold globally, 482,000 of which are VW and Audi brand cars in the U.S., is an ideal case in point. As a result of its mischievousness, the company known for its hard core corporate culture caused a great deal of damage to the environment. Their supposed clean diesel models have been spewing up to 40 times more smog-causing nitrogen oxide pollution. The recall is one example of a deliberate act gone terribly awry for a brand which wholeheartedly masterminded it with self-admission. Rather than sacking the CEO Martin Winterkorn, under whose watch this scandal occurred, and depriving him of his golden parachute, the supervisory board allowed the septuagenarian, Mr. Winterkom, to conveniently step down and take home a lucrative compensation package.

<For suggestions on how VW’s new leadership should tackle their mess, contact this author for his pragmatic and practical approach.>

Corporate governance or lack thereof

The term “Best practices” is not merely words but deeds. What is required is an efficient implementation of strategies, quality controls and delivering more than lip-service. Evidently, it is not easy, otherwise, many more businesses would be performing admirably.

To understand and penetrate the corporate governing structure and “culture”, you need look no further than the upper echelon of the hierarchical tree. It is where procedural decisions are shaped and executed. One would think and expect an entity’s leadership to head the enterprise by governing its long-term growth and sustained wealth. Conversely, there is a constant search for the “ideal” human resources. Recruited and fresh talent must resemble the leadership in tone and style. Call it the organization’s DNA. Exceptional organizations are good at these types of corporate strategies, thus strengthening performance effectively.

In the end, leadership ought to foresee and prevent any potential scandals, apply checks in balances, inspect what is expected, keep corporate structure layers to a minimum, and keep communication channels open.

Customers first, employees second — investors third

In the ivory towers of public corporations, the CEO and board of directors have been programmed to put their stakeholders best interests above all else. Their mission is to do what it reasonably takes to deliver quarterly results ─ in other words, to focus on the short term rather than sow the seeds and do what is most beneficial for the future direction of the company ─ despite any short term pains. Savvy and considerate top management know better that customers and employees are the two key drivers of corporate success.  The main principle is that if employees have a positive attitude, are passionate, well trained and competent, results will be reflected through positive customer experiences resulting in brand loyalty. Ultimately, the shareholders will reap the benefits through stock performance and generous dividend distributions.

Jack Ma, the founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, a family of highly successful Chinese Internet-based businesses, made a public statement which may have surprised the investment community. He publicly stated that, “Our customers come first, our employees second, and our shareholders third.”  The highly regarded membership-only warehouse club COSTCO performs actions consistent with one’s claims as they too follow Jack Ma’s mantra. The impressive financial results year after year speak volumes as they retain the best intentions of their employees and customers.

It took Amazon quite long to finally earn a profit since its inception. Founder Jeff Bezos and his senior executive team dug in their heels despite outcries from many of their shareholders for continuously making large capital investments with no profits in sight. For a while, plenty of cash was spent for IT related infrastructure including Cloud computing and everything related to giving the company an edge over the competition. Customer service and the customer experience have been priority no. 1. In the end, shareholders who lingered learned that patience with their investment in Amazon is a virtue in the long run.

The attitude of the individuals in the boardroom had better be that if investors are impatient and eager for quick monetary results, they can take their money and invest it elsewhere.

Advice for start-ups: ‘Steady as she goes’

A well-oiled operation should consistently head steadily on its current course regardless of any obstacles that get in its way.

Research by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that nearly six out of 10 businesses shut down within the first four years of operation.

To be a successful entrepreneur is not an effortless task. It takes plenty of sacrifice. A new generation of young entrepreneurs think the road is smooth and a fast track to easy wealth. Not everyone will become Mark Zuckerberg. Obstacles and sacrifice are part of the deal. Harnessing opportunity and overcoming challenges on a daily basis to top the competition is constant work. These conditions are true no matter what the sector of business engagement or company size.

Telltale signs of weak organizations can be traced to inept leadership. The following points highlight the deficiencies:

  • Poor customer service – slow or no customer inquiry replies – abysmal handling of sales and service complaints. Service is portrayed as a reward, not a right or benefit.
  • No Unique Selling/Value Proposition. Companies need to define and articulate their unique value proposition and deliver on it consistently. Create the platform for sustainable and competitive advantage.
  • Operational deficiencies – various ailments and no structure
  • Absence of or very little communication among staff and management. Divisions aren’t well-coordinated and do not function as a team.
  • No transparency. There is hardly any openness from management.
  • Unethical practices – short-term selfish objectives in search of market share. Top executives should promote social norms and principles as moral agents.
  • Lack of proper execution of decisions and with new products/services.
  • Productivity incentives should be implemented to boost results and employee morale. People must be given a reason to work hard and be efficient.
  • Creativity is practically non-existent. An absence of innovation and employee empowerment will hurt progress and stifle new ideas.
  • No clear vision/strategy – there needs to be a strategic vision that reflects a truly unmet need and has the commitment of a dedicated CEO. That means that there is a well-defined target audience with a distinct value position that is differentiated, meaningful, and deliverable.
  • A weak sales force along with an unattractive compensation plan.
  • Favoring nepotism and bias – promoting family members over other qualified employees often leads to resentment or, worse, prompts valuable non-family employees to leave the company.
  • Poor hiring practices – should hire for attitude and train for skills.
  • Slow/delayed decision-making process – too many layers – overwhelming bureaucratic structure.
  • High turnover, which leads to poor employee morale, reduced intellectual capital, lower service levels, higher operational costs and decreased productivity.
  • Management in a state of denial about their organization’s shortcomings – remaining with the dysfunctional status quo
  • No channel strategy. Some companies focus on building a product, but don’t think through how to get it into the hands of customers. Even if your product is great, unless you can sell directly, you may be dead in the water without strong channel partners.
  • The hidden game – corporate politics – power plays by a handful of individuals for their own benefit to the detriment of their colleagues and the company.
  • Misrepresentation of brand(s) – too much hype – empty promises – not delivering on expectations – leads to dissatisfied clients who will alienate the brand.
  • Weak financial controls – cash flow dilemmas – over leveraged/undercapitalized (high debt-to-capital ratio) – not reinvesting a certain percentage of profits for future growth.
  • Absence of sound marketing program(s) and/or brand strategy. A brand is defined by how it behaves, from the products it builds to how it treats its customers, to the suppliers with whom it works.
  • Growing too fast and not staying on course as the company grows.
  • Lack or very little employee training & development.
  • Deficient in control systems – reactive rather than pro-active.
  • Lack of continuous improvements or complacent.

In the final analysis

In large corporations, the Boards should be held more accountable by paying closer attention to the behavior and actions in the C-suite ‒ thus reacting before things go awry.

The top executive’s job is to operate a business that adds value by means of the goods and services it provides to customers.

The way to solve an organizational problem is to confront the structural issues with a moral sense of purpose and ethics. Higher morale generates higher profits – though occasionally other priorities undermine that objective, for example, self-serving behavior by certain executives or chasing short-term selfish objectives in search of rapid market share, profits and self-interests before people. Monsanto’s executive conduct would make for a marvelous case study in this regard.

According to marketing maven Seth Godin, “It’s the flameouts and the scams that get all the publicity, but it’s the long-term commitment that pays off.”

Wish list of best practices should include but not limited to:

  • avoid potential scandals;
  • apply checks in balances in place;
  • inspect what is expected;
  • trust but verify;
  • retain corporate structure layers to a minimum, and
  • keep communication channels open.

In the end, what you manage and how you manage it is what you get — methodical, sustained growth with patience and lack of greed.

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The Genuine Luxury Establishment: Perception, Ambiance & the Total Shopping Experience

Luxury Street - Cartier

by James D. Roumeliotis with a special contribution by Stephane Delille

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Consider this! You are walking on, what is considered, a prestigious street in a downtown area of a major city lined up with a slew of luxury shops. What do you particularly notice about the look of the shops as compared to mainstream stores? Would you say it’s the window displays which are striking? The entrance? The upscale and inviting interior design? The way the merchandise is displayed?

Designing a luxury shop is much more than four walls, racks and lighting. It’s a meticulous creative and holistic process taking into account that luxury stores have to transmit the identity of a luxury brand, so that the image the customer has of this brand is affirmed by each store visit. Needless to say, it’s a design concept coupled with the total customer experience in mind.

Piaget timepieces, Bond Street, London boutique

Piaget timepieces, Bond Street, London

Ambiance, personalized service and the total shopping experience 

In a world where the consumer has become savvier, luxury products more accessible through an increase in democratization of luxury brands and the rapid emergence of prestige brands, the retail environment in luxury branding is all about heightening the consumer’s brand experience and amplifying the brand aura.

A well designed luxury retail boutique should embody an extraordinary design that is timeless while maintaining a striking interior that is unique, inviting, functional, and most certainly portray a luxurious setting.

A custom designed attractive setting – yet alluring with captivating style, invites customers to truly feel the brand experience by adding character. It exudes a “You’ve arrived!” underlying message. This is accomplished by connecting the feeling of warmth and acceptance ‒ via emotions to a product or service, and infusing it with a tangible and intangible essence that remain in the customers’ minds. The vital elements are:

  • Location: The luxury brand store perception all begins with its location. A prestigious address/neighborhood makes an initial luxury statement ‒ whether on a prominent avenue such as Bond Street in London, Rue Saint Honoré in Paris or Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and at other renowned high-fashion streets worldwide. A high-end mall and airport outlets are becoming ever more popular due to their convenient spots along with an increasingly sophisticated environment.
  • Facade/Window Display: transparency/opacity of the windows, display highlights for outside windows (product type, arrangement of space, animation, colors and much more.), frequent creative displays and themes all play a vital role in showcasing merchandise with pizazz.
  • Main entryway: This should reflect an imposing appearance by creating the feeling of grand luxury access to the interior of the boutique. Elizabeth Arden’s signature red door is a distinguishable fixture at her stores and spas worldwide.
  • Decor: Attention to details including well-crafted attractive furnishings and materials (pillows or decorative accents) throughout. Choice of color palette, textures, combination of materials and accents all influence the overall store image in addition to being part of the overall design esthetics.
  • Lighting and its effects: The proper choice of illumination adds to the overall design and ambiance.Lighting can bring focus to merchandise displays, hide imperfections, add warmth, and help create a positive shopping experience for the brand’s clients. Halogen spots and LED lighting are the preferred variety for interior designers.
  • Smell and Background Music environment: These reflect the store’s personality. Smell is considered the olfactory of the fifth human sense. The scenting strategy is part of “sensory”/”sensorial” marketing and branding that’s meant to attach certain smells to brands, drive loyalty, and make people feel at home. Whereas, music/sound supports refining brand communication and in designing a better sounding environment. A discreet volume should be considered as an ideal comfort level.
  • Merchandising appeal ‒ display and layout: localization of displays (size, colors, kits, messages) while keeping in line with brand values and guidelines. The spaces where your clients see and touch your products have an effect on the visual aspect along with their shopping experience.
  • Lounge area: possibility or not to have private salons for VIPs, to utilize for private shows/demonstrations, presentations and other special gathering purposes.
  • Service amenities: Washrooms should possess panache and be spotless. Their design can achieve the look and feel of luxury with both functionality and comfort. A kitchenette can be an additional amenity for preparing and catering light food/hors d’oeuvres. A workshop for bespoke functions such as product setting on the spot, size customization, engraving etc). Perhaps a kid’s space with animation to keep a child/children busy while their mum/dad/parents are shopping. The kids can eventually be converted to the luxury label themselves.
  • Staff Caliber and Overall Customer Care: Luxury goes beyond good looks. The service offered is a major event in itself. This comprises of dress code, attitude, and politeness regardless of what the client looks/wears. As well as responsiveness, a consultative sales approach and accessibility. This requires proper hiring criteria, on-boarding and repeated training in product knowledge, presentation skills, and anticipating customer expectations to go above and beyond. Luxury firms need to implement KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to gauge their service effectiveness which do not only measure the performance of organizational processes, but also warrant a consistent quality level of in-store service.

Bijan Boutique

Bijan Boutique, Rodeo Drive

Artisans of timeless and artistic retail interior design

It takes bold strokes to prevail from the competition by showcasing a distinctive look along with creating an emotional bond with the clientele. As such, luxury brands are making their mark on the map with a radical and explosive architectural vision. It’s where design innovation coupled with creativity are paramount when delivering artistic solutions driven by each individual brand’s image.

When it comes to commissioning distinctiveness with luxury ambiance interiors in the retail, restaurant and hotel sectors respectively, Yabu & Pushelberg have become the go-to interior designers akin to what Frank Gehry is to deconstructivist architecture. In over three decades, the duo partners, based in Toronto along with a New York City design studio, have fostered a client list that ranges from Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co to Four Seasons Hotels and renowned French chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud. In their work, Yabu and Pushelberg manage to articulate luxury through contrasts, austere designs with fine materials, as well as through comfort and the casual, strong points of view, including a crafty mix of art and artisanship. For them, luxury is a state of mind, not a material.

Yabu-pushelberg-lane-crawford-sitting-area

A Yabu & Pushelberg sample interior

The final take

The ambiance created in a luxury boutique is one of the finest marketing tools. The aesthetic appeal to human senses, the feel of the brand creates the image. Along with great service, it is one of the most important reasons customers will choose to shop repeatedly. It’s where the brand lives by orchestrating immaculate detailing that engages all senses of the discerning target audience. Surround the brand and its products/services with fashion, beauty, design and attractive models – without any characteristics of tackiness.

It all begins with the choice of store location, the immediate initial impression (window display, entrance, store layout, merchandising, furnishings, lighting and much more), the sales staff presentation and the impact of each touch-point in creating a unique indulging experience. The small touches that regularly go unnoticed help to create a distinct sense of place in luxury commercial spaces.

Emporio Luxury Mall, New Delhi, India

Emporio Luxury Mall, New Delhi, India

All that said, today’s savvy luxury consumers are increasingly seeking much more than merely a cosmetically elegant looking bricks and mortar shops. They have become more discerning and seeking a more knowledgeable and professional assistance to help them in managing their lifestyle and stature. It all boils down to the total customer experience which embraces knowledgeable and helpful staff, alluring presentations, storytelling, exclusive invites and privileged previews amongst other lifestyle themed activities.

FOR THE “15 Retail Essentials – Your Opening Toolbox” PRESENTATION, KINDLY COMMUNICATE WITH JAMES AT: jdr(AT)affluencemarketing(DOT) ca

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Bold Leadership: 10 Ways to Eradicate Organizational Politics

by James D. Roumeliotis

Office Politics 1 of 2

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When the boss of the company for which, we will call Erica, worked for was trying to create rift between her and her immediate superior, by sneaking around and creating misunderstandings, the situation worsened to the point that the manager eventually felt the need to resign from the company. Many similar unethical situations occur every day at most businesses anywhere on the planet.

It is human nature that when dealing with people you’re up against various personality characters – partly innate and partly as a result of the person’s upbringing. In the study of psychology, there are five personality traits which are used to describe human personality. They include openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

That said, it’s no wonder why it can seem as a challenge when dealing with some colleagues – in particular if their character differs from yours and their selfish goals are front and center. This applies to all types of organizations/workplaces whether for profit, non-profit, private or public. With the Myers-Briggs personality assessment, one of the most widely used psychological instruments in the world, the outcome can be one of 16 distinct personality types amongst which included are “The Doers” and “The Idealists.”

One reason organizations fail to reach their potential is the overwhelming presence of internal politics.  The organization’s leadership should be held accountable for allowing this to flourish, let alone exist. Likewise, the situation can cause career crisis for those who are victims of this organizational plague.

What are internal/office politics and why do they even exist?

Essentially, politics result when several or most of the employees of an organization are behaving in an awkward way through their attitude, and actions that misalign with the best interests of the organization. As a result, productivity gets stifled, morale drops to low levels, and various close-knit groups are formed ‒ all of which compete with each other in a negative sense. To use the analogy of energy, it’s like several forces pulling in different directions.

Office politics constitute several forms amongst the staff including:

–          Backstabbing

–          Disrespect for colleagues and superiors

–          Resentment

–          Jealousy

–          Insecurity

–          Hatred

–          Selfishness

–          Power struggles

–          Favoritism/injustice

–          Nepotism

–          Gossip and rumours

–          Tight knit groups

–          Malfeasance

–          Possibly bullying as a result of aggression

According to a recent Inc. magazine article by Janine Popick, at her email company, she identifies 4 “office politicians” that will poison your culture. They are, the bully, the ass-kisser, the information withholder, and the squeaky wheel. You can read about their characteristics in detail here.

Office politics exist in various intensities and for several reasons, though it starts with people ‒ all of whom are of different origin, background, personality type, come to work with personal baggage and have their own agenda. The business lacks cohesiveness amongst its staff and leadership. The blame for this outcome goes squarely to the organization’s management which is either oblivious to the fact or negligent in eradicating it. Therefore, accountability begins at the top of the organization, department or division. Incidentally, politics don’t solely exist in large companies but in mid-size and small enterprises too ‒ though more prevalent in larger companies due to the number of employees and managers.

What initiates it in the first place and subsequently makes it thrive are:

–          Deficient direction from the top,

–          Lack of teamwork amongst the staff and management ‒ not everyone is in sync,

–          Negative vibes within the organizational culture, and

–          A lack of communication.

Office Politics 2 of 2

Eradicating it from the status quo

For reasons specified above, internal politics shouldn’t be tolerated. Some would argue it’s a fact of life at work and ought to be regarded as a necessary evil, so just play along with it. Those same people have not understood or concerned about the negative effects it causes an organization.

The solutions that can be implemented to minimize politics require initiative and conscientious effort. It’s also not a onetime effort but an ongoing monitoring process. This is where bold leadership makes an impact.

Consider the following:

  1. Hire employees with the right attitude rather than focus solely on skills;
  2. Concise job descriptions, proper on-boarding and continuous training along with shared organizational values;
  3. Putting in leadership positions, those who are respected, competent in their role and can empower their subordinates;
  4. Avoiding any means of favoritism ‒ total equality;
  5. Avoid any form of nepotism ‒ most notably in in smaller organizations;
  6. Develop and implement a sound communication strategy ‒ replace confusion with clarity and uncertainty with certainty;
  7. Seeking creative ways to boost morale and make every employee feel as if part of a cohesive family working together in a positive team spirit for a common goal;
  8. Offer incentive compensation arrangements which reward performance and teamwork, hence are aligned with the goals of the overall organization;
  9. There should be no direct reporting to anyone the employee has a personal relationship with.
  10. Make it clear, with constant reminders, that there is zero tolerance for animosity amongst the staff. Everyone should be in sync for the good of the organization.

Finally, encourage openness with an open door policy along with the ability for the staff to discreetly convey their complaints and labor disputes to a third/neutral party, as well as encourage suggestions for improvements.

Consider this typical scenario as an approach to minimizing politics at your company. If you’re in a situation when you meet with one of your staff members, perhaps a direct report, he/she might start criticizing a colleague in subtle ways so as to indirectly give his/her best appearance. This is a sign of political play. The most effective way to put an end to it is by tactfully explaining why it’s not morally correct to speak behind anyone’s back. Rather, urge this person to discuss or assist his/her colleague head-on despite requiring some courage to do so.

In conclusion ‒ confronting the disease head-on with conflict management

Internal politics are a detriment to any organization. It’s up to the leadership to identify and stamp it out through its policy of intolerance. It is, after all, management’s responsibility to monitor the culture, morale and productivity of the staff, otherwise the situation may become too misaligned overwhelmingly affecting the bottom line.

There is no such thing as “ditty” office politics. Its mere existence is adequate to cause strain to the organization and its employees – regardless of stature. It is unethical behavior. If there’s a conflict, stop it in its tracks by going to the source of it. This should be done in person, and if necessary one-on-one in a private setting. Perhaps some coaching along with talk straight may be necessary to discuss how to work well with the other individual and encourage this person to talk to each other.

At the end of the day, office politics is the direct result of a lack of focus and lack of teamwork. Someone has to take responsibility for it and not allow it to thrive, let alone exist. Encourage your staff to work in harmony and keep an eye out for the office politicians. Politics is a human dilemma. If you can’t eliminate it, at east contain it. Consider conflict management in your human resources arsenal.

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The Post-Sale Customer Service Conundrum: Lip Service or Genuine Care?

By James D. Roumeliotis

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Customer service - white gloves and tray

Delirious, confused and frustrated are merely three terms which best describe what clients typically experience when dealing with many customer support representatives. Excellent customer service is a crucial component of your business image and philosophy. Regardless of how good your products and prices are, if you can’t offer a positive experience for your customers, they will likely not return. Moreover, you can be certain they will spread negative word-of-mouth. With social media so prevalent, a brand’s reputation can eventually take a nose dive. Today, customers are more demanding than ever. They want to know their issues are genuinely acknowledged and demand timely results. Simply apologizing to them does not suffice.

Do head honchos get it?

Much is touted by companies about customer satisfaction but surprisingly only a few actually deliver on their promises. Prominent brands are not immune either. At the outset, it appears that many lack a vital customer relations policy. Inadequate staff training amongst other factors further aggravates the problem.  Picking up the telephone and calling certain companies, for example, can sometimes lead to an exasperating experience. People love to hate the phone tree experience where you have to go through a maze of menus until you eventually get to speak to a human – assuming you’re lucky. It shouldn’t have to be that way.

The executives who are is in charge of finance and operations respectively (consider the CFO and COO) are mainly focusing on costs and productivity even to the detriment of the average customer. Consequently, they will measure the calls answered per minute – regardless of the outcome. In contrast, a customer focused executive will reward those who take their time to listen, engage and solve customer issues.

Deliberate bad customer experience

Sadly, some brands have a built-in mechanism to test their systems with some clients in the hopes they will give in which in the short term will not entail refunds or product returns which can hurt bottom lines. However, this approach is quite short sighted with long term negative consequences. Those companies use their seemingly discounted prices to lure customers but their real business model seems to be in tricking customers with inaccurate payment information and then charging extra for any delayed payment amongst other inconveniences and unpleasant surprises along the way. Many gym memberships and website hosting service organizations are notorious for such trickery. Their hope is that through a lack of awareness, or constant frustration an average customer will simply cave in. This ultimately backfires with constant negative consumer publicity and an unusually excessive business turnover. Most modern consumers are too sophisticated to relinquish their rights to fair treatment. Companies may ignore this syndrome claiming it’s a ‘numbers game’, as well as a cost of doing business. Though, in the process, they also corrupt their front line staff who have to address an abnormal rate of legitimate grievances.

Marketing maven and best-selling author, Seth Godin rationalizes it this way:

Unfortunately, just about all big customer service organizations do this precisely backward. They don’t escalate to a supervisor or roll out the kindness carpet until after someone has gone to Defcon 4. They decide that it’s too expensive to be flexible, to listen or to treat people fairly, and they wait until the costs to both sides are really high, and then they give an empowered person a chance to solve the problem. There’s huge waste here, as the problem costs more to solve at this point, and the unseen challenge is that they’ve established a cycle in which umbrage is the rewarded behavior.”

The customer centric organization: solving issues before they occur

Going above and beyond customer expectations is focusing on customer centricity. It begins by developing, implementing and continuously delivering a total positive customer experience at every touch point and beyond. The costs and benefits of this practice are equally beneficial for the customers and the business. A University of Michigan study revealed that companies which received high scores in the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI) consistently outperform the S&P 500. Those companies include Walt Disney and Amazon, amongst others. Those are most certainly organizations that focus on quality over quantity and measure what truly make them remarkable.

The after sales service department should be designed with an efficient infrastructure in place so as to make the entire experience an effortless task for both the customers and employees who are assigned with the responsibility. It should be easy for the client to reach a customer service agent and/or online agent to chat with. Moreover, the client should not have to be placed on hold for more than 5 minutes. Whenever the wait is more than two minutes, there should be an option to offer a simple way to be called back. The organization’s mindset should be to constantly think of ways to release tensions and give solutions to the client promptly.

Since many of the inbound calls normally concern frequently asked questions, why not have them prominently displayed on the website and/or printed on the product insert. Having them recorded as an option on your phone line, in a clear English voice (and second or even third most popular language relevant to the region’s business demographics), can eliminate unnecessary calls and waiting times with a live person.

Staff tasked with customer service should:

  • Possess a positive attitude under duress;
  • Be initially trained and occasionally re-trained,
  • Treated with respect, and
  • Be empowered to make timely customer satisfaction decisions on their own.

There is no better example to illustrate this than online shoe retailer Zappos.

What customers get to see displayed prominently on the web site:
– 24/7 1-800 number on every page
– Free shipping
– Free return shipping
– 365-day return policy

What customers will experience:
– Fast, accurate fulfillment
– Most customers are “surprise”-upgraded to overnight shipping
– Creating a “WOW” factor
– Friendly, helpful “above and beyond” customer service
– Occasionally direct customers to competitors’ web sites

What’s done behind the scenes?
– No call times, no sales-based performance goals for representatives
– The telephone is considered for them one of the best branding devices available.
– Run warehouse 24/7. Inventory all products (no drop-shipping).
– Five weeks of culture, core values, customer service, and warehouse training for everyone in Las Vegas office.
– A Culture Book
– Interviews & performance reviews are 50% based on core values and culture fit.

Customer Experience equals customer abbreviation

Putting it all together

Within every organization, decision making drives performance. Every day, employees at work make decisions that impact performance. These decisions, at every level of the organization, including customer service policies and tactics, define the corporate culture and drive performance.

It’s important to keep in consideration that measuring customer satisfaction is a way to assess its effectiveness, and refine what’s necessary along the way. This is performed by evaluating communication at your help desk or and/or call centers, as well as conducting surveys or sending out brief questionnaires soon after a call has been consummated. How satisfied were your customers with the level of service they received and will they do business with you again in addition to recommending you to others?

Customers are not concerned about your operational problems, your costs and margins, your lead times, your staff shortages, and much more. They are only interested in themselves and the benefits they may be able to obtain from your business instead of the one down the street, or the other ones found over the internet.

Thus, a priority need for every (selfish) customer or prospective buyer is timely and personal service.

Bill Marriot said it succinctly with “Take good care of your employees and they’ll take good care of the customer—and the customer will come back.”

This management philosophy isn’t common but it is shared by both Southwest and Costco. When using either company you can experience it as employees are generally in a great mood, and in turn, happy to help.

Customer centricity should be everyone’s job in an organization. It’s to be embedded in the internal culture. It begins with the top leadership and permeates through the entire organization. Implementation of new and refined strategies and tactics equate to daily and long-term success in building profitable customer relationships. Been helpful with your customers, even if there’s no immediate profit in it, is simply a good business practice with pragmatic thinking for the long-haul.

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The Merits of an Advisory Board : Transforming your SME Forward

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The Short-sighted and Passive Business Leader: Reform or Descend

By James D. Roumeliotis

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Blindfolded Executive 

How often do we hear of CEOs who have been discharged for lack of performance? Contrast this with those whose Boards have kept them on the job despite controversy and/or inept leadership. The latter decision seems troubling. Consider Steve Ballmer of Microsoft and Mike Duke of Walmart amongst others.

It is my belief that the key issue here is organizational structure. Far too often, successful groups grow and get out of control. No organization should be too large. When it grows in size, inevitably it becomes overburdened and self-protecting. Incompetence is a guaranteed result.

The prime decision maker of the organization exercises a variety of leadership styles. Leadership is linked to personality. ‒ there is the empty, well compensated, well-tailored, neat and polite dapper boss; the absolutely lost and ineffective one; the barking, intimidating, eager for respect boss;  then you have the hypocritical and/or bipolar type ‒ one day treats you well, whereas, the next day treats you with utter disrespect. For the most part, there is the worship me and exceedingly charismatic kind in vast numbers who mostly got there because of that particular trait along with shrewd politicking each step on the way up.
What most, as described above, do have in common is incompetence. Despite all the act and ego stroking, in the end, they do what it takes to remain in their dynamic position.

Short term results at the expense of long term consequences

Shareholders and the Boards focus on quarterly earnings growth results. As a result, we often witness severely dysfunctional decision making with public corporate leadership. This includes irresponsible behavior, as well as lack of depth and vision. HP’s Board is a case in point. It has been notoriously dysfunctional in the ways it has governed itself which resulted in a spate of upheavals over the last few years.

There is tremendous pressure to perform in a short period of time. There are no silver bullets for quick results. Seeds need to be planted for the future and for the good of the organization.  Panacea creates decision making blunders which abound. At times it’s error in judgment and neglect. Every business sector is riddled with poor senior management. Here is a sample of some companies whose inept and/or negligent decision making have made headlines in unflattering ways.

–       KODAK: In 1975, engineers at the company introduced the first digital camera to its executives. Rather than embracing it, fearing it would cannibalize its lucrative film sector, the top brass asked that the digital camera be kept under wraps indefinitely.

–       WALMART: The company leadership has a long record of unethical behavior, from brutally exploiting workers to discriminating against women to bribing Mexican officials.

–       MICROSOFT: Its CEO has remained long enough in his position to wipe out shareholder value by falling asleep at the wheel rather than vigorously pursuing web and mobile based businesses which companies such as Google and Apple, amongst others, have remained ahead of the game.

–       JOHNSON & JOHNSON: Its former CEO who was employed at the company for 40 years resigned amid a series of missteps over the last few years of his tenure which damaged his and his company’s once sterling reputations. This included recalls of numerous over-the-counter well established drugs, including the largest recall of children’s non-prescription drugs, as well as medical devices. In addition, it was warned by the FDA about false claims it issued about its popular mouthwash, while another U.S. Federal agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission, charged the company with bribing doctors in several countries to prescribe its drugs and medical devices.

–       ABERCROMBIE & FITCH: CEO Michael Jeffries’s snarl and insensitive remark that the brand’s apparel are solely targeted to the hip, slim, attractive and affluent “All American” teenager, offended many. As expected, it set off a storm of controversy. For someone concerned about his company’s image, the self-inflicted incident has damaged his and his company’s reputation. Even A&F’s investors are not pleased with the discriminatory statement which has negatively affected revenues and the stock price.

Organizational leadership is bestowed with the authority and accountability for creating value for customers, employees and its owners or shareholders. In spite of this, a significant weakness in running an organization is pushing for short-term profitability at the expense of solid planning. It’s my notion that the leader of many large multinational corporations, competence is not the primary value but rather the connections, politics, and clever tactics. Such “benefits” can usually compensate for incompetence.

The best-managed companies are constant achievers in their respective industries. They exude managerial excellence and financial performance is a reflection of capable management.

Typically, small businesses with inept ownership usually fail in the first year or two, but even companies in their growth stage can stumble badly when they outgrow the capabilities of the founding team. Research by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrates that nearly 6 out of 10 businesses shut down within the first 4 years of operation.

Enterprises spanning a wide array of industries, have earned distinction as “well-” or “best-” managed” by demonstrating business excellence through a meticulous and independent process that evaluates their management abilities and practices – by focusing on innovation, continuous training, brainstorming and caring for their employees’ well-being – as well as investing in meeting the needs of their clients.

Businessman with telescope

Identifying the shortcomings of incompetents

Regrettably, there are not many business leaders who make the cut. This includes those who also possess credentials from Ivy League educational institutions and/or oodles of charisma. A President or CEO grooming school doesn’t presently exist. Contrary to what many may think, there are no natural born leaders. In the past two decades, the average tenure of a CEO has halved. This is adequate proof how demanding the job is.

Our experiences and conditions shape who we are as people and as leaders. Leadership, like management, is not a science but a practice. The difference between the two, according to the late management guru Peter Drucker, is “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

Telltale signs of poor leadership in an organization include:

  • in a state of denial about shortcomings – persisting with a dysfunctional status quo;
  • slow/delayed decision-making process;
  • lack of foresight for innovation;
  • short-term selfish driven decisions with no regard for long-term consequences;
  • no clear vision/strategy;
  • passive-aggressive;
  • unethical practices including apathy and lack of scruples;
  • irrational thinking/decision making;
  • an absence of or very little communication amongst staff and management. Chaos reigns amongst various internal departments which don’t function as a team;
  • narcissistic;
  • shielded from the lower ranking staff and the customer as he/she spends most, if not all of the time, behind the desk and perpetual committee meetings;
  • inflexible;
  • lack of transparency ‒ there is hardly any openness from management.

Anatomy of a competent boss: in search of sustainable leadership

A prime responsibility of leadership is the capability to constantly be one step ahead of their game, to envision what lies ahead, and in the process, be well prepared to lead the organization to great heights.

Effective leaders focus on long-term growth not short term decisions to increase or stabilize the company’s stock price. Furthermore, they should be open to ideas from lower level management not exclusively from their inner circle of “yes” men/women.

The following skills may appear as a list intended for a job description. However, they should be deemed a prerequisite for a leadership role regardless of the size or type of organization.

–       Bonds emotionally

–       Communicates well

–       Possesses character

–       Accountability

–       Humility, not ego

–       Foresight but with an open mind for feedback

–       Passionate

–       Can handle criticism

–       Tenacious

–       Articulate

–       Regard for people

–       Able and willing to delegate

–       Team player

–       Sales and marketing savvy

–       A disciplined and flexible individual who is not only open to change but a driver of change

Examples of highly effective business leaders who possess many of the above characteristics include Sir Richard Branson (Virgin Group), Megg Whitman (HP), Howard Schultz (Starbucks), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Brad Smith (Intuit), Indra Nooyi (Pepsi), and Carlos Ghosn (Nissan), amongst others.

Public vs Private leadership ‒ and the authentic luxury enterprise

There is no doubt that the pressures and priorities of heading a private company differ as opposed to a publicly traded company. Different industry sectors may also require certain competencies.

Kellie McSorley, founder of SILK Search, the London-based boutique headhunting firm specialising in senior executive appointments in the luxury industry, explains the differences with the type of top executives sought in various sectors this way:

“For example, our Private Equity clients look for certain qualities in a person generally around urgency and result orientation whereas a Public company may place more value on other characteristics and competencies such as process, procedure and thought leadership. With Private companies there is a level of sensitivity and emotional attachment to the brand that any new hire absolutely has to understand, respect and harness, in order to succeed.”

Authentic luxury brands, on the other hand, operate by their own distinct rules as they do what it takes to retain their aura of exclusivity and cachet by focusing on production limits, premium quality and catering to UHNW patrons ‒ the antithesis of mainstream brands and products. For instance, Hermès has no need to deal with pressures of shareholders and stock analysts that are prevalent with corporate brands such as the LVMH luxury group. Instead, Hermès’ family stakeholders choose to keep the current business ethos along with their complete independence.

As for what the luxury sector desires in its future CEO, Ms. McSorley states this succinctly as follows:

“Historically C-Suite recruitment in Luxury was much more based on who you are, but now it is definitely about what you have done. Brands are looking for people with results, across industries, people that have proven themselves as key collaborators, innovators, people that can manage change.”

She further adds:

“We are noticing luxury brands really looking into other industries for both talent and inspiration. When you talk about digital, brands are looking to Google or pure play companies. In retail they are looking to hospitality for knowledge of customer service. Luxury fashion brands are also speaking about Apple when it comes to best in class service and customer engagement.”

Woman - Business Leader

In the final analysis

In large corporations, the Boards should be held more accountable by paying closer attention to the behavior and actions in the C-suite ‒ thus reacting before things go awry.

The top executive’s job is to operate a business that adds value by means of the goods and services it provides to customers.

The way to solve an organizational problem is to confront the structural issues with a moral sense of purpose and ethics. Higher morale generates higher profits – though occasionally other priorities undermine that objective, for example, self-serving behavior by certain executives or chasing short-term selfish objectives in search of rapid market share, profits and self-interests before people. Monsanto’s executive conduct would make for a marvelous case study in this regard.

According to marketing maven Seth Godin, “It’s the flameouts and the scams that get all the publicity, but it’s the long-term commitment that pays off.”

In the end, what you manage and how you manage it is what you get.

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