Category Archives: Debra Koenig

What’s a Happy Employee Worth?

One of the items that comes up regularly in our employee surveys is a wish for improvements in our physical work environment, so we’ve made some investments recently in fresh coats of paint, removing clutter and keeping items in their proper place, and other efforts to polish and shine things up a bit.  We haven’t addressed every concern, but we are getting a positive response to the efforts we’ve made.

In the last Better Managers’ blog by Debra Koenig, she spoke about the “satisfaction mirror” in which happy employees result in happy customers.  We’re hoping that addressing the issue of physical environment improves the happiness quotient at our office and brings us closer to the many companies   whose happy employees have brought happy customers resulting in happy shareholders.

Google invested in providing a great dining experience for employees at its campus which also includes pool tables and swimming pools.  They were on track to hit an all-time high share price last month and currently rank #1 on the Forbes magazine Best Company to Work For list. The Parnassus Workplace Fund was created in 1984 – a mutual fund that includes companies that consistently land on that list – and it shows strong long-term growth, outpacing the S&P 500 Index for more than a decade. Dr. Noelle Nelson in her book “Make More Money by Making Your Employees Happy cites the example of Alcoa that determined that safety (not profit or any other typical measure of company success) would be its focus in the late 80s and into the 90s.  Significant improvements in safety resulted in happier employees and also annual income growth near 500%!

In the Harvard Business Review, Michael Schrage said that while the connection between happy employees, happy customers and company profitability can be valid, happy employees don’t always translate into profits. He cites Yahoo as an example of a company that isn’t currently performing well despite offering some of the perks that often indicate happy employees.  This is an appropriate caution that throwing perks and benefits at employees doesn’t automatically generate happy customers and broader organizational success.

Employees that are truly happy at work and not just showered with perks are the ones who are engaged, keep their skills current and are often part of innovation or process improvement teams.  To help identify which of your employees really like their jobs, the website suggests you look for the following:

  • Promptness: anyone who is consistently late probably isn’t the most engaged or happy
  • Productive: gets work done on time and produces at rates higher than their peers
  • Trainable: interested in career development or skill training, volunteers for extra duties or projects
  • Communication: participates in the regular exchange of information about their work and the company’s success
  • Commitment: works overtime to get the job done, pulls together during difficult times
  • Service: for both internal and external customers, they work to keep all of them happy

Congratulations to those of you who already have a core of employees who fit the above description.  If you’d like to increase the number of happy engaged employees, use these Simple Guidelines to Drive Your Company’s Success:

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate – provide information and regular feedback; it shows that you respect, trust and value your employees
  • Keep promises – don’t offer what you can’t deliver, but deliver what you promise; if you don’t, you’ll undermine any of the respect and trust you may have generated by communicating
  • Pay attention to regular recognition – not all recognition has to be monetary, so don’t ignore the small ways you can thank and reward good performance
  • Support employee development – nothing says you value someone like an investment in their future (and yours); if your budget is limited, find projects or other ways to expand an employee’s experience
  • Work on motivating or inspiring workers – this is where your leadership comes in; chart the course, set the example, be a cheerleader and make your employees believe in your company

If you’re successful in increasing the number of happy and engaged employees, it can result in an increase in the value those employees may bring to the company.  In her blog from last March called “When Employees aren’t Happy then the Company Isn’t Happy”, Elizabeth Lupfer uses the following to calculate that value:

  •  Fully engaged employees RETURN 120% of their salary in VALUE
  •  Disengaged employees RETURN 60% of their salary in VALUE

It may take more than a little paint, but if the above is true, it’s more than worth the investment to see what you can do to keep your employees happy.

By, Nancy Lane, Human Resource Manager at Red Book Solutions and B2A, LLC – 30 years of experience in education, medical imaging, oil & gas and business services.

The Delicious Side of Customer Satisfaction

This is a story about M&M’s and customer satisfaction (eventually).

On a dare, someone asked me to name three prominent books on Customer Satisfaction off the top of my head.

Here is my list:

  1. Positively Outrageous Service: How to Delight and Astound Your Customers and Win Them for Life
  2. Becoming a Category of One: How Extraordinary Companies Transcend Commodity and Defy Comparison
  3. Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless: How to Make Them Love You, Keep You Coming Back, and Tell Everyone They Know

Yes, I know.  I didn’t list “The Ultimate Question 2.0: How Net Promoter Companies Thrive in a Customer-Driven World”. I think you would agree mentioning that book is just too predictable. And who wants to be predictable? After all, everyone knows that the most important question for your company’s future is, “Would you recommend us to a friend?” By simply asking your customers this powerful question you identify detractors who tarnish your reputation, and promoters who strengthen your company with positive word of mouth. This is especially valuable in the day and age of social media and millennials who can both single-handedly fuel or dry up your business.

But knowing who your promoters and detractors are is only half the battle. The other half requires a closed-loop feedback process where you contact your customers to determine their loyalty ratings, determine the next best actions to raise satisfaction and then develop appropriate responses. The result would be energized employees and delighted customers every time.

For me, it is less about the “question” than the focus on your employees being excited to serve the customer. Is it likely? I don’t know. Is it possible? You bet. Let’s find out more.

In “The Service Profit Chain,” authors Heskett, Sasser and Schlesinger spent five years researching the question – why do some firms do what they do well – year in and year out. They discovered links between company profit and growth and key relationships. One of those relationships is employee satisfaction/customer satisfaction. And they discovered that the relationship is mutually reinforcing: satisfied customers contribute to employee satisfaction, and vice-versa. But we are ahead of ourselves.

After reviewing hundreds of companies, the authors concluded that companies must manage the customer-employee “satisfaction mirror” and the customer value equation to achieve a “customer’s eye view’ of goods and services. In its simplest terms, satisfaction is mirrored in the faces of customers and the people who serve them, whether the encounter takes place face-to-face or not. This magical interaction occurs with a great deal of preparation and thought. To achieve this “satisfaction mirror” a company must produce the “employee job description, management policies, supporting technologies and rewards and recognition of the customer.”

For an organization to have satisfied employees, the authors recommend The Cycle of Capability:

  • Careful Employee Selection (and self-selection)
  • High-Quality Training
  • Well-Designed Support Systems (Information & Facilities)
  • Greater Latitude to Meet Customer Needs
  • Clear Limit on , and Expectations of, Employees
  • Appropriate Rewards and Frequent Recognition
  • Satisfied Employees
  • Employee Referrals of Potential Candidates

Outrageous stories about good service leading to customer satisfaction and fanatic loyalty abound.  A favorite of mine is Nordstrom’s, # 88 in Fortunes’ Best Companies to Work For in 2013.  Yes, I am a customer who, with a Tory Burch skirt in hand, needed the rest of the ensemble.  And with a simple question of “what department would you suggest I go to to find a top” I was accompanied for the next 30 minutes by an employee who walked me through every department, picked several tops and waited to weigh in on my choices as I tried them on. Wow! And Nordstrom is doing well financially.

Mars was #95 in favorite places to work this year. Let’s talk M&M’s. 192 million M&M’s in 25 colors are made every 8 hours.  2% are rejected for quality. Mars revenues have doubled in recent years – the customers are clearly happy. And the 1,230 Martians (yes that is what they are called) “adore coming to work”. That’s because the company believes in the “Five Principles of Mars” – quality, responsibility, mutuality, efficiency and freedom. Fortune reported that some unnamed employees are known to eat 1 ½ pounds of free M&M’s a day.

Now that is a cool “satisfaction mirror”!

By, Debra Koenig, President of B2A Consulting | 30 years of experience as a  business executive with leadership and consulting skills in Fortune 500 and private equity portfolio companies.

Street Smarts Approach to Customer Acquisition

Do you believe in the perfect sales person? I don’t. But I work with someone who comes pretty darn close. Her nickname is “the queen”. Not because she’s elite – quite the opposite. She takes her job seriously, but not herself. And she exquisitely works with clients and associates – making them all feel glad, yes glad, for the interaction with her. She loves what she does, so she solves versus sells.

Finding that next client or customer is an adventure, or at least it can be if we’re willing to put up with the detours. Sure, there is the theory and then there is the “street smart” practice.

The theory is that managers who create a framework to grow sales use it as a stepping stone to make their business successful. In the Power of 3, Red Book Solutions aptly notes that revenue growth requires three things – customer acquisition, loyalty and profitability.

About getting that next new client, Morton, Higgins and Evans in their book “Building a Successful Selling Organization” suggests the following:

  • Set a clear, actionable sales agenda – Have individual ownership and accountability toward new client development.
  • Make selling a definable, repeatable, results-oriented process – Understand your “best practices” approach to attracting new customers and standardize the process.
  • Be customer-focused – Speak from the client perspective. Neuro Marketing teaches us that ultimately everyone is listening with a filter that “it is all about me”. This is never truer than with a potential client.
  • Align with the voice of the customer – Develop relationships and opportunities, not just transactions. Ask, listen, and most importantly, learn.
  • Have a conversation about perceived value, not selling – Have a compelling value proposition that aligns with the customer’s expectations.  The customer will appreciate your solutions-based orientation versus the hard-sell.

But as important as it is to have a sales framework, some of the most important lessons aren’t taught.  Here are some other “street smart” approaches you should consider in order to attract new customers.

Your attitude is important. Stay upbeat no matter what happens. People respond to your positive energy and outlook.

Everyone smiles in the same language.  One of the most powerful things you can do to have influence over others is to smile at them.
Take rejection head on. Rejection is a part of the business of selling. Accept it and don’t take it personally. You’ve heard it before – to get the yeses, you must hear the nos.

You don’t always win.  Handling disappointment and adversity is a mark of performance.  Achievers focus on the next part of the adventure, not the detours.

I am reminded of a story from Richard Branson, Founder and Chairman of Virgin Group who said, “My mother always taught me never to look back in regret but to move on to the next thing. The amount of time people waste dwelling on failures rather than putting that energy into another project, always amazes me… A setback is never a bad experience, just a learning curve.”

I believe “the queen” would concur, smiling all the way!

By, Debra Koenig, President of B2A Consulting | 30 years of experience as a  business executive with leadership and consulting skills in Fortune 500 and private equity portfolio companies.

Holidays Zap the Spirit of Celebration

 Who’s really celebrating this year?

It’s not those folks who are too busy stressing over gift giving obligations, get-togethers, and the general hustle and bustle demands—all centered around their unrealistic expectations on creating the perfect holiday.

The holiday season poses a psychological conundrum. The season is all about the sentiment of “Comfort and Joy”, yet the effort to be happy makes many of us miserable. My recommendation is to follow this simple golden rule: adjust your attitude and every day will be like a room full of confetti!

Many of us are inundated by articles on “prescriptions for successfully coping with the holidays”– there seems to be no refuge from this popular topic. What I found refreshing  was discovering an alternative on contemporary psychology—the message was “just carry on.” It is a counter-intuitive approach, but think of it as the negative thinking to handling the holidays.

Psychotherapist Albert Ellis was a pioneer of the negative path. His key insight was this—that sometimes the best way to address uncertainty is to focus not on the best-case scenario, but the worst.

He is famous for telling clients, who were distressed at the idea of being embarrassed, to ride the New York Subway and speak the names of the stations out loud as they passed. A client’s overblown fears  of embarrassment were diminished.

As an example, imagine the absolute worst that could happen if you run out of patience with your employees during the season, after you have spent an entire year creating the ideal work environment. The ancient Greek philosophers called this the “premeditation of evils.” Do this and you significantly reduce the anxiety-producing energy that looming over you. This may be just the release you need to allow flexibility with your employees, while bettering your workplace to be more inclusive and positive.

Psychologist Julie Norem estimates that one-third of Americans intuitively use this strategy, which she terms “defensive pessimism.” As pointed out recently in the Wall Street Journal, positive thinking, by contrast, is the effort to convince yourself that things will turn out just fine, which can reinforce the belief that it would be absolutely terrible if they didn’t.

How does this approach jive with the well used axiom “If you can dream it, you can do it?”

There is plenty of research supporting the belief that having an idea or dream shapes your plans and defines your goals more clearly. You’ve undoubtedly read the story of actor Jim Carrey who wrote a check to himself for $10 million in 1987.  He dated it Thanksgiving 1995 and, you guessed it, received $10 million that year for his role in the movie “Dumb and Dumber.”

Yes, we agree dreaming of your perfect Norman Rockwell Holiday is a powerful way of moving closer to getting it. So do it. Meanwhile, also consider this—the ultimate value of the “negative path” is less about driving upbeat emotions and more about facilitating realism. The future is uncertain, after all things really do go wrong sometimes. There is much to be said for confronting these possibilities rather than denying them. Then you’re left with all that positive energy to enjoy your Joyous, (not perfect), Holiday.

By, Debra Koenig, President of B2A Consulting | 30 years of experience as a  business executive with leadership and consulting skills in Fortune 500 and private equity portfolio companies.

Negotiation Skills that Make Good Managers Better

Negotiating and the “Art of the Deal” are not new. We do this every day in multiple ways, from arranging services for our homes to renegotiating a business lease.

Recently, this subject has increased in popular attention. One example is the new television
show “Market Warriors” where four experts are given money to purchase items at antique markets, presumably for a steal, and then try to resell them for a profit. Another is that there are an increasing number of experts lending their voices to this hot topic.

Last week I attended the International Franchise Association’s Executive Leadership Conference and had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Victoria Medvec, a Professor at the Kellogg School and a prominent lecturer. She has developed a 10 step process that covers familiar ground but with added new tactics I found especially interesting.

Negotiation is a two-phase process beginning with Preparation and proceeding to Execution. Dr .Medvec repeatedly emphasized the importance of work done in advance of the actual face-to-face exchange.  It’s vital to have clear ideas about both your position and that of the person you are negotiating with. You may be familiar with the process of making detailed lists of the desires you have and concessions you are willing to make, and then weighting them by what’s most and least important to both parties.  Do your homework.

In all cases, there are several issues that should be considered for both parties.  It’s helpful to develop scenarios and then rank them. This involves understanding the extremes – most wanted and least acceptable. Find the BATNA for each side. BATNA refers to the “best alternative to a negotiated agreement.” The other end of the continuum, Reservation Point, is at what point in the discussion you are willing to “walk away”– meaning it’s not worthwhile to continue as there are no longer any benefits to you. At the end of this phase you should have at least four benchmarks, BATNAs and Reservation Points for both parties.

Now it is on to execution. There are several strategies to help you attain a favorable deal.

The first tip is to include several items in a package to improve the possibility for trade-offs and a more complete, acceptable deal.  Having more options in the mix enhances the chance for a deal because you have more potential for contingencies and space to negotiate.

A second tip is called the Anchoring Move.  There are mixed opinions about this strategy but I tend to agree with Dr. Medvec.  This involves which side goes first to make their initial offer or proposal.  Some argue that this is a weak play because it divulges your position too early and you might be forced to make further concessions. To the contrary, you should present a position built upon a thoroughly explained and detailed rationale.  This method creates a centering “anchor” for the entire discussion, rather than a starting point and a downward spiral. Indeed, “he or she who makes the first offer wins.”

A third tactic is called Concession Room.  It builds on the previous two points. When you develop a package proposal, it is advantageous to include items that vary in importance. Some will be essential to the discussion, while others could be “throw-ins.” As a result, your “package” presents you with more opportunities to be flexible and enhance your outcome. For example, in negotiations it is common to request more than you really expect to get—your BATNA. Some situations lend themselves to making outrageous demands with your Concession Room, or BATNA, as your fall back. Concessions are regarded favorably and encourage others to feel as though they are winning.

So what’s really the “art of the deal?” The answer, quite simply, is that it is a process that has two important phases. To avoid haggling or a stalemate, do your homework and follow the tips on execution. You’ll find yourself more often than not in the winner’s circle to the key issues that matter to you.

By, Debra Koenig, President of B2A Consulting | 30 years of experience as a  business executive with leadership and consulting skills in Fortune 500 and private equity portfolio companies.

The Superhero Manager in All of Us

In a recent blog we posed the question – What makes top performers tick? The quick answer was good skills, talent and hard work. But more important is tapping in to the energy of a positive attitude and the belief that your thoughts and words have the power to create your reality. This is not fluff; for the most successful leaders, this is a hard won practice. Who knew self-development was a debatable subject with some suggesting, “Spend some time in the real world”?

With the gauntlet thrown, we accept the challenge to spend time in the real world – the real world of superheroes that is! Ask someone who their favorite superhero is and you’ll get the answer and an earful on the special talents they admire and, truth be told, they secretly desire.

A friend favors Storm from the X-Men where creating monsoon rains, blizzard squalls, tornadoes, tsunamis and cosmic tempests to disrupt the electromagnetism of the world are just a few of her powers. Call me old school, but I’m still partial to Wonder Woman, though her arsenal of tools like the Lasso of Truth, indestructible bracelets, and tiara that serves as a projectile seems to pale by comparison to Storm’s ability to call on cosmic disruption. What does all this have to do with being a better manager, you ask?

What Storm and Wonder Woman have in common is self-identity with no limiting beliefs, no boundaries. Superpowers are one thing, but their ability to unlock the potential within through sheer strength of will and attitude is what makes them truly powerful. Superheroes own the differences that make them unique, and they wield them in a way that actually creates their self-brand.

I was drawn to the recent book by Gotham and Deepak Chopra, “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes” when thinking about attitude, energy and our limitless possibilities. The authors correctly point out that superheroes have “broken free from their comic book pages and become a dynamic aspect of the culture at large. Superheroes explore the boundaries of energy and awareness and allow us to better understand ourselves and our potential.”

In the pages of great comic-book stories, the superheroes are aware that they have within them real power and energy to choose and create any outcome.

•    Superman stands for achieving the impossible
•    The Green Lantern is the man with no fear
•    Batman makes the right choices to deal with tragedies

Becoming a superhero is achievable in all of us:

  • Know that for every challenge, their solution is to go inward
  • Scan the whole range of possibilities– big and small
  • Are independent of the good and bad opinions of others
  • Never give in to self-importance
  • Are always aligned with the greater good
  • Focus on the process, not the outcome
  • Are an exquisite combination of dynamic action and stillness of mind
  • Are the best listeners in the world

Superheroes rise to the level of the solution in the face of daily challenges, transforming obstacles in to opportunities; and so can we.

Believe in yourself and your abilities. You have the power to create your own reality.

Attitude, energy, limitless possibilities!

Debra Koenig, President of B2A Consulting | 30 years of experience as a  business executive with leadership and consulting skills in Fortune 500 and private equity portfolio companies.

Limitless Possibilities for Top Performers – What makes them tick?

Yes, it is true that adversity may drive performance. That frequently heard saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” comes to mind. More often, however, it is the individual who raises their level of performance to meet their own expectations. Good skills and techniques are a given. What is more important is the blend of talent, attitude and hard work the individual brings.

A positive attitude is a start. Those who are renowned achievers are further influenced by the belief that their thoughts and words have the power to create the reality they envision. There are an abundance of specific techniques one can use to tap into the power of one’s thoughts. From ancient Eastern philosophies, to the 20th century Norman Vincent Peale’s every-man appeal about being positive, to Tony Robbins the inspiration guru of the day.

Dr. Wayne Dyer, an expert on self-development, writes about limitless possibilities in his book “The Power of Intention: Learning to Co Create Your World Your Way”. His belief is that everyone has the opportunity to tap into an energy source. Those who have “made themselves available for success,” and those who connect, have the attitude that “I intend to create this and I know it will work.”

His 7 concepts to tap in to positive energy:

1. Creativity – Be inspired in life and in business.

2. Kindness – Have good intentions toward others. Don’t just be nice or kind to those who treat you that way. Reach out, take the initiative.

3. Love – Don’t spend time judging others, it will only lead to anger or frustration.

4. Beauty – Take time to appreciate what is around you.

5. Expansion –Be aware of what’s possible without limits.  Reject fear and venture boldly. By envisioning good things, you actually bring good influences into play, both within yourself and in the world around you.

6. Unlimited Abundance –Practice true nobility. Instead of trying to be better than someone else, be better than you were yesterday.

7. Receptivity – Engage and relax to recognize and receive what’s possible. Don’t think, “Conditions are against me,” or “Things don’t look good.” Face reality, but understand a person is defeated not so much by the facts of a situation as by his or her own negative interpretation of the facts. In every problem there is an inherent good.

You might ask, does anyone really use techniques on a daily basis to channel their thoughts? A resounding YES is the answer.

Some practical techniques I have observed recently:

  • A colleague mentally goes to his “safe place” for twenty seconds to calm his breathing and immediately improve his focus in the moment.
  • The coach for the Chinese men’s Olympic gymnastics team was seen fingering Buddhist prayer beads during competition. They are often used so that one can focus for inspiration.
  • The manager in a small company has permission to ask someone “to be here now” if they are distracted by technology at their expense, thus improving the experience.
  • A friend wrote and sent herself a letter on her “limitless possibilities” to be delivered 6 months in the future. When she received the letter, it put her back in touch with her energy and aspirations.
  • As for me, I pause and congratulate myself or the team I am working with when we accomplish something at that moment. It feels good to appreciate the energy of achievement versus saying “where did the day go, I didn’t get anything done.”

Top performers believe “they can do it” and they tap into the positive energy to do just that!

By, Debra Koenig, President of B2A Consulting | 30 years of experience as a  business executive with leadership and consulting skills in Fortune 500 and private equity portfolio companies.

Crisis Management Hits Close to Home

I live in Colorado, and as I write this we are in the after shock of the movie theater tragedy.  A sudden crisis certainly, but by our Governor’s account the “…first responders, police and ambulances, arrived almost immediately and that undoubtedly saved lives.” These heroic teams had anticipated a crisis and prepared to act decisively. This allowed them to react, focus, communicate and ultimately save countless lives.

This event made us realize the extreme differences in the level of crises that may present themselves and we can only hope we do not find ourselves in anything remotely similar. It also caused many of us to ask, “What does our crisis management plan look like?”

An effective manager immediately engages in crisis management when a situation arises. The process of preparing for and responding to an unpredictable negative event and to prevent it from escalating is a skill we all aspire to have.  The key is not to put yourself in a crisis mindset, because then your ability to act rationally is lost.  Work hard to keep your feet firmly planted as you objectively determine the best way to manage the crisis at hand.

According to The Institute for Crisis Management (ICM), a business crisis is “Any problem or disruption that triggers negative stakeholder reactions that could impact the organization’s financial strength and ability to do what it does.” Or simply put, it is a substantial, unforeseen circumstance that can potentially jeopardize an organization’s employees, customers, products, services, fiscal situation or reputation.

ICM research finds that most crises are caused by Management Decisions or Indecision. This occurs if the problem is not serious, it goes undetected, or is not handled until it becomes a crisis.  The rest generally fall under Acts of God, mechanical problems and human error.

Crises can be categorized in two areas:

Sudden Crisis

A disruption in business which occurs without warning. An example would be a business-related disaster that hinders operations and endangers employees; such as a snow storm causing a breakdown in the heating system.

Smoldering Crisis

Any serious business problem not generally known within or out of a business’s four-walls that when it is discovered or goes “public,” it  could result in fines, penalties, legal damage awards, out of budget expenses and business disruption.  Examples would be an OSHA violation or a customer allegation of overcharging.

To put this in context of the stories in the press last year, 61% of crises were considered smoldering, while 38% were sudden. In either case, as managers it is part of our job to prepare as best we can, giving ourselves and our employees’ tools and guidelines we can use as aides to help us through what may or may not come. Even knowing the tools are there and having the training  to use them is an instrumental piece to getting everyone into a calmer state so they can manage a crisis more effectively.

The critical elements of a Crisis Management plan for all managers are:

Anticipate potential crisis situations and prepare for them

  1. Give accurate information during a crisis
  2. React as quickly as possible to the situation
  3. Communicate a response that comes from the top
  4. Create long-term solutions

Let’s address #1 – Anticipating a potential crisis and preparing for it.

The book, Successful Executives Handbook by Personnel Decisions International suggests:

  • If you are “fighting fires” all the time,  look at the broader context to find proactive measures to prevent this behavior
  • Keep a list of unforeseen problems that now require your attention. Is there a theme?
  • Ask your direct reports to identify trends, compare the lists and look for               connections.
  • Challenge others to anticipate issues and provide clear feedback about their proactive and reactive plans.

Every manager should work toward anticipating potential crisis situations that your business may encounter and formulate and document contingency action plans for them. This is a basic requirement for any crisis management program. And when anything goes wrong, deal with it then, don’t ignore the situation.  The initial “pain” of managing proactively will almost always be far less severe than the ultimate, possibly irretrievable damage caused by denial escalating  the problem.

By, Debra Koenig, President of B2A Consulting | 30 years of experience as a  business executive with leadership and consulting skills in Fortune 500 and private equity portfolio companies.

Beat the Happiness Lottery

“Have a great day, Love Ya!” Sound familiar?  I bet this is the most common ending to many a telephone call with family. I use it so often I sometimes forget I am talking to a colleague instead of a family member and add “Love Ya” to the end of my telephone call. Oops!

But doesn’t everyone start their day expecting it to be great? Apparently not!
According to The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt we know that:

•    We are born with a biological predisposition, or brain set-point, for happiness
•    Life has a lot of happiness potholes
•    Happiness doesn’t just come from within

The obvious question – in the cortical lottery, what if your set-point dictates below average happiness? Good News! You are not doomed to be unhappy. You can take action to make yourself happier.

Diagnose Yourself
‘Authentic Happiness’ is the homepage of Dr. Martin Seligman’s website, Director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Go to to develop insights into yourself and the world around you through scientifically tested questionnaires.  Were you born to be an optimist or are you going to have to work at it?

Improve Your Mental Hygiene
Are you one of those folks who obsess over things? You don’t seem to have a quiet mind? Not us managers! Did you score low on the various happiness and optimism measures?  Cognitive therapy, exercise and meditation will all help to change your thoughts to the positive – or at least stop you from ruminating.

 Improve Your Relatedness
Jonathan Haidt’s research showed that we need others to be happy. “We were made for love, friendships and family, and when we spend a lot of time alone, or free ourselves from the “constraints” of relationships; it is generally bad for us.” This also applies to our relationships with our employees.

He suggests:
•    Ask yourself the “deathbed” question: On your deathbed, will you wish you had spent more time at the office, or with your friends and family?
•    Work on your most valued relationships. Just emailing them doesn’t count!
•    Create a group of friends who does things together.
•    If you don’t have a dog, and you are not getting your recommended daily allowance of relatedness, get one.

Improve Your Work
Most of us don’t have the luxury of choosing “the” perfect job. But we can all take steps to make it more satisfying and ourselves more appreciative and happy while doing it. Is your work just a job, a career, or a calling?

•    If it is just a paycheck, re-frame it in your own mind
•    Take your top 5 strengths and use at least one every day on the job for personal gratification and self-improvement

Improve Your Connection to Something Beyond Yourself
Our lives are made fuller as a contributing member of a larger community
•    Consider joining an organization that allows your participation to have purpose.
•    Volunteer with work that takes you out of yourself and makes you feel vital.

I love the statement “Wherever You Go, There You Are” coined by Jon Kabat-Zinn. He says we have to stop constantly wishing we were somewhere else. Do you ever think that if you were on vacation, in a different job or had different circumstances, that somehow you would be happier?  I do sometimes.

Not true. We have to focus on being in the present – trying new things, meeting new people, being more peaceful with what we have right now to truly be happier.

You know that happiness and meaning come from getting the relationship right between yourself and others, yourself and your work, and yourself and something larger than yourself.  Work at it and the benefits will be smiles and a contented nature all the time. Imagine what that would feel like!

By Debra Koenig, President of B2A Consulting | 30 years of experience as a business executive with leadership and consulting skills in Fortune 500 and private equity portfolio companies.

Three Degrees of Separation: Building a Powerful Professional Network

When you think of networking, are you turned off?

Do you have visions of asking someone you barely know if you can add them to your network because you want something from them?  Experts would call this approach transactional, unauthentic and not very effective. There is value to you but nothing in it for them. Building your network shouldn’t be like that. Let’s agree – connections are important and a truly helpful, professional network can be leveraged to get you your dream career.

In their book “The Start-Up of You”,Reid Hoffman (the founder of LinkedIn) and Ben Casnocha say the real way to create a network requires the ability to:

  1. be authentic to build a genuine relationship with another person
  2. work with the people you know
  3. create three degrees of separation for the people who can help you the most professionally
  4. prioritize the high-quality relationships across a large number of connections

To be authentic, start with a friendly gesture that immediately adds value to them by being associated with you. An example would be, “I have a management tool I think you’d love. I’ll send it to you.” The authors say it is essential to put yourself in the other person’s shoes to develop an honest connection. Then think in terms of how you can collaborate with and help the other person. That’s the authentic part that you just can’t fake your way through.

The best way to engage with new people is by working with people you already know but focus on deepening the connection. Most people maintain 5 to 10 active alliances.  An ally is someone you consult regularly for advice and proactively share and collaborate on opportunities together. An ally is someone you will cooperate with, sacrifice for and are few in number.

I cherish my alliances. Recently, a dear friend engaged in possibly acquiring a manufacturing firm to compliment her business. It was her first acquisition attempt. Though she had all of the right resources to perform due diligence and make the decision, we still spent endless hours walking, talking about the process and her feelings throughout. She, in turn, has been a resource for me several times during our relationship.

Looser connections are what sociologists call “weak ties”. These are folks whom you’ve spent limited time with but are still friendly. Why are they important? Because weak ties sit outside your inner circle and are more inclined to bring new information and new opportunities.
Friends of friends of friends are your third-degree connections. Why is three degrees the magic number? Because when you are introduced to a second- or third-degree connection, at least one person personally knows the origin.  And that’s how trust is preserved and credibility is established.At three degrees of separation, your extended network can lead you to 50,000+ connections via a personal introduction from somebody you know.
How does it work – you leverage your network through an introduction from someone you know, who knows the person you want to reach. For your network to be successful, you need to be effective at requesting and making introductions.

“Relationships are living, breathing things. Feed, nurture, and care about them; they grow. Neglect them; they die,” according Hoffman and Casnocha.
They suggest that in the next week you:
  • Introduce two people who don’t know each other but ought to
  • Think about a challenge you face and ask for an introduction to a connection in your network who could help
  • Identify a weaker tie with whom you’d like to build an alliance. Help him/her by giving  a small gift such as an article or job posting

And their paramount tip on networking to build a great career – be authentic!

Debra Koenig, President, B2A