Executive Briefings: Intersection of Leadership and Social Media

By Thomas White for Huffington Post

In my work, I meet business leaders from all over the world who have advice, stories and personal tips to provide. I sit down with these leaders to give them the opportunity to provide current business advice and give a glimpse to their personal stories as a business leader.

I recently sat down with Rob Harles, Head of Social Business & Collaboration at Accenture Interactive. Rob joined Accenture from Bloomberg LP in New York where he was Global Head of Social Media responsible for developing and managing Bloomberg’s social media strategy and initiatives worldwide.

As a leader in social media for a long time, both at Bloomberg and now Accenture, what changes do you see in what expectations customers have of companies?

Customers have higher expectations than they’ve ever had. Social has acted as a catalyst for people to express their views, support, lack of support for brands, and what they expect brands to do, to live up to their promise. Only ten to fifteen years ago you wouldn’t have been able to do that. Brands were lucky enough to be able to tell you what they stood for and hope you believed it. Now you have to prove it, and social is acting as that catalyst.

We call it the ultra-transparency situation, and it affects how companies engage with customers. How would you describe this phenomena?

The phenomenon with social is really about people wanting to feel that they matter, and they want to be able to express that. It’s been around since the dawn of time, when we were just a nation of shopkeepers. As we grew and had to come to terms with the challenges of scaling businesses, we got more and more distant from our customers. The result was that we had to do standalone market research at a set point in time just to see where people’s needs or demands were going or how they felt about us. Now that’s changed. It’s 24/7. They’re telling you exactly what they need. They’re telling you exactly how they feel. Sometimes they’re telling you the extremes of that because there is less of a filter.

What do you see in the next five years? How is social media going to change as a medium, and how is it going to change the way we do business?

The advantage of real-time information is that we are addressing people’s issues faster. We are being more responsive. Organizations and brands are using the insights that come out of social to improve themselves, and that’s a good thing. But with that always comes challenges. This is where organizations go off the rails. At Accenture Digital, what we’re seeing is that companies are almost too ready to take data and do something with it and not really think about the implications. Also, it comes with the challenge of where do you draw the demarcation line in terms of privacy? How do you think about protecting the rights of your employees or the rights of your customers? There isn’t a day that goes by when there isn’t a headline about something like this. It’s creating great opportunities on the one hand, but it’s also creating a lot of challenges in terms of sensitivity and the law. Eventually we find our path. Eventually we figure out the right way to do something and sometimes we only do that by making mistakes. Sometimes the consequences of those mistakes are actually quite precious, but it still makes us better.

Let’s shift gears. As a leader, what are the traits that you most admire in other leaders?

Everybody is different. That’s the thing that I’ve recognized, and good leaders recognize that. We’re a little bit more open than we’ve ever been and don’t self-edit as much. Great leaders are ones who have a vision and are willing to be tenacious enough to drive that forward. An example would be if you say you want to have an innovative culture. It’s another thing to actually create an innovate culture. Great leaders are ones who are a little more flexible than they’ve ever been, but have great vision and can really motivate people to bring more than what they’re just asked to do. It’s like a puppy dog scenario. I love it when people come to me and they have an idea, it might not be a perfect idea, but it’s a start. They’re thinking. The worst situation is where you stifle that.

Along your way to becoming the leader that you are today, who has inspired you, and what about them inspired you?

I have to pay homage to some of the great thinkers and entrepreneurs that we’ve had in just the last few decades. Whether it’s Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs, or Steve Wozniak and many more. In so many ways they represent the unique American spirit of trying to do something that no one has done before. It’s high risk. I admire the people who are the unsung heroes who have tried something and it hasn’t worked. Most entrepreneurs, if they’re really honest, will tell you, “So much of our success is built not just on hard work or creativity.” But their little secret is luck and being able to see it and take advantage of it and run with it. Not everyone has that luck, but they have all the other things. Sometimes those unsung heroes drive us forward through the missed opportunities and the failures just as much as those who we venerate. I like to see people, generally, who try things and are okay with failing and picking themselves up, learning from it, and moving to the next thing.

Difficult Doesn’t Have to Be So Difficult: How to Turn Challenging Conversations into Trusting Relationships at Work

By Judith E. Glaser

No one could believe it – Radio Shack let thousands of people go and they did it through email!  Most people dislike delivering bad news in person, and will find any way to avoid it.

Making eye contact with another person who you care about, and with whom you need to deliver a difficult message – probably creates disappoint, upset or hurt – and is one of the most difficult things for human beings to do. So, rather than confronting these challenges, we often take too many alternatives which at the time seem to be less challenging or hurtful but later turn out to cause more pain.

Discussing/Delivering/Moving Through Bad News

Clouding the Issue

Two years ago I was asked to coach a CEO who was one of 6 reporting to a chairman. The difficult message the chairman wanted to give the leaders was that if she didn’t raise the performance of her team she would be asked to leave. Rather than giving that message, the chairman wrote a 6 page report that provided feedback and 98% was about how good the leader was. Embedded in the document were 2-3 lines, which briefly stated that the chairman expected a higher level of performance from the leader. When I asked the leader what this document communicated to her and what she would do as a result, she said she was doing everything right and therefore was on the right track for her bonus.

Failing to be candid with others is one of the largest reasons why people ultimately leave companies. When we think we are doing the right things, we keep doing them. When key messages are embedded into larger messages, they get lost, are “sandwiched in” which means we can easily discount them or deal with them as less important.

Candor is Golden 

People do care about outcomes, but they care more about the processes that produce those outcomes. People want to know where they stand and why. If there is a difficult message they need to hear, employees would prefer to know the truth rather than a watered down or clouded version of it.

Candor supersedes fluff in situations where truth is the medicine needed. Fear of telling a person they have failed, or are about to be fired, or they didn’t make the cut are realities in life. We all know this. Yet we do more harm to an individual by trying to soft pedal our way through a difficult conversation.  When people are candid with us – and do it in a caring way – we are open to building trust with them – it’s as simple as that.

Turning Difficult Conversations into Trusting Relationships at Work

How should a leader address customers; shareholders; the press; employees? Are there different components of the message that should be shared with one group and not another? Who needs what type of information? Most of all, how can you set the context for difficult not to be so difficult. The best strategy is to be specific and clear about what is happening, rather than clouding the message with hyperbole.

  • Unmet Expectations: Most difficult messages come from a very common origin. Unmet expectations. I failed to deliver the results you expected. You failed to deliver the results I expected. It is difficult because it contains embarrassment and disappointment – two things human beings dislike the most. It is a social embarrassment and when this is the core of the context, then people want to deflect the message, minimize it, blame others, avoid it – or any other tactic they can think of.Every difficult message has some dynamics that are unique to the situation. And each group of people may have different messages that are required to share, however there are a few things in common with all. These are all people – and in each case they are important relationships that you want to preserve and sustain even thought the message you need to discuss or deliver is different.
  • If you don’t care about the relationship then you can say anything you want. In this case you can “data dump” or get the situation off your chest and act mindlessly about how you say it. Sometimes this can be venting or letting it all out if the issue is about your relationships with them.
  • Caring: However in most other cases, if your goal is to share something that is considered “difficult” and you want to sustain the relationship, you need to set the context for a sustained relationship up front so the person knows that this may be difficult for both of you… and that you care about them regardless of how difficult the message will be.
  • Candor: In addition you want to be explicit and honest about what you are sharing. Candor communicates respect, and that is what people want most. Not candor that looks like blame, or anger, but candor that looks like the real truth…

Example:  Failure to Deliver Results on Your End
For example, your company failed to make its numbers this quarter and it’s because of a delay in the launch of a product. There will be an impact on stock price, or deliveries, on employee bonuses – so the impact is across the board with employees, shareholders, press and even customers. Identify where the impacts lie, take responsibility for the event, ask people to accept your apology, explain your new strategy for making it better, and asking for their on going support or help in any way that is needed.

Understand How to Address Fears, Concerns, and Worries:

  • Triggering:    ‘Feared Implications’

Very often just the thought of having a difficult conversation causes anxiety and fear. Our minds quickly create a movie of what might happen, and our minds are quick to imagine the worst. I call this ‘feared implications.’ Feared implications are the worst-case scenarios, and when our minds imagine the worst, the neurochemistry of fear takes over. The clinical name for this is Amygdala Hijack, named after the part of the brain, which is the seat of fear.

  • Priming:
    Do have the conversation in person
    whenever you can. When you talk with someone face-to-face, it primes the way for an honest and caring exchange and it does make a difference. People experience a great level of trust and openness when they see someone face-to-face and see the look in their eyes of caring and concern for their well being.
  • Refocusing & Redirecting:
    Do focus on outcomes
    and especially those that may be good or better for the person down the road. A person receiving bad news will be focusing on the loss and you want them to focus on how to use this situation to grow and to gain something better than what they had before. Redirect and refocus them on how to use this situation as an opportunity for change and growth.
  • Reframing:
    Do focus on development and growth not punishment and blame.
    Most people feel shame and embarrassment when something goes wrong. When you reframe a discussion from ‘criticism’ to ‘development’ it shifts the person from thinking, “I was bad” to “here are new ways to be successful.” This creates a new energetic shift in their brain from the fear state to being open to learn something new. The Heart-Prefrontal Cortex will start working together and become in sync to create a healthy state of mind – open to learn.
  • Co-creating:
    Fear closes down conversations. When the boss is afraid to talk, it amplifies the fear and feared implications. Instead, be open to discussing the impact and implications of the news. People will always say after the fact, that when a leader was open to discussion, it makes them feel that the difficult news was palatable. They feel if the process of exchange is fair and open, with candor, respect and caring, then they can accept the news. Also, if there is dialogue they may come up with other ways of handling the situation that had not been revealed before.

Judith E. Glaser is CEO of Benchmark Communications, Chairman of the Creating WE Institute, Organizational Anthropologist, and consultant to Fortune 500 Companies and author of four best- selling business books, including Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results (Bibliomotion). Visit www.conversationalintelligence.com; www.creatingwe.com; email jeglaser@creatingwe.com or call 212-307-4386.

Are you ready for the 21st Century Enterprise?

By Matt Preschern, CMO – HCL Technologies

Think of a national bank. Can you name its main competitors? If you simply listed rival banks, think harder. It has to fend off threats from Paypal, Square, SoFi and several lean start-ups that could jeopardize its business model with a cool, user-friendly app. And that’s not all. Threat looms from Apple, Amazon and Google, who are changing customer expectations dramatically with their digital and mobile payment services. Similar seismic shifts are playing out in virtually every business, from car manufacturers to airlines to healthcare companies. New digital rivals, epitomized by Uber and Airbnb, are derailing revenue and cost structures across industries. Not every industry is equally impacted by this disruption, but everyone is seriously concerned. Talk to any business leader across the world, and you will see these disruptive digital lean start-ups are a hot button issue. And they sparked some of the most invigorating discussions, while I was at the C-Suite Network Conference in Boston earlier this week. 

Millennials in the driving seat

Let’s step back a little and try to understand the forces shaping this massive wave of disruption. Millennials, the first generation of digital and social natives, are at the forefront of the action. Probably influenced by their always-on, multi-tasking, multi-device lifestyles, the digital-savvy cohort wants instant and personalized experiences. And they don’t shy away from sharing their brand preferences via digital and social channels. This generation is expected to spend $200 billion annually by next year and a whopping $10 trillion in their lifetime. That could motivate several companies to completely change how they interact, engage and address queries from customers.

Disrupt or get disrupted

This is a huge shift. How should you respond, if you are facing this volatility? Here is the mantra: Disrupt yourself and transform into a 21st Century Enterprise (21 CE) or get disrupted. Embracing digital, mobile, cloud and analytics is part of the picture, but there is more. To remodel into a 21 CE, your company needs to transition to a customer-centric and outcome-based model and adopt an agile and lean structure to continually adapt to a dynamic market. These multi-pronged transformations are not easy for large well-established companies with thousands of employees and assets worth billions of dollars. They need to completely overhaul their customer experience, operational processes and business models. Take outcome-based model, for instance. Companies that sell products will instead offer subscription-based services around their products. Their revenue won’t depend on the number of units shipped but on delivering solutions that directly produce quantifiable results. In the new business landscape, the transaction doesn’t end at the checkout or after a social media review of their experience.

Uber-proof your company

In an era where the relationship with your customers, employees and ecosystem is continually evolving, it’s important to lay focus on ‘how’ to make yourself uber-proof. Let’s take some time to look at few important changes one needs to embrace in adopting the 21 CE company culture and model:

 1.       Balance new power structures: Digitalization and other tech initiatives need a lean and agile structure that could break down silos and short-circuit lengthy corporate processes. This could rejig several departments and power structures.  

2.       Focus on experience: It’s not enough to give customers the product they want and when they want. Brands need a strong emotional connect that sets them apart in customer’s minds and hearts.

3.       Be consistent across touch points: A 21 CE organization needs to go beyond digital and provide their customers the same, consistent experience across channels, from web to social media to physical stores.

 4.       Personalize Interactions: It’s crucial to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time. This requires advanced digital marketing tools and predictive analytics models that collect information, extract meaningful insights and then convert them into real-time and tangible business actions and outcomes in line with shifting market trends.

 5.       Reorient and Reskill: To survive and thrive in this environment, everyone in the team must ‘up their game”. This new age environment demands us to reskill for all key characteristics of 21 Century Enterprise across aspects of  economics, human experience, design, unified ecosystem and the 21st century buyer journey.

So, it’s a tough re-alignment. But make no mistake. It’s not optional. Since 2000, 52% of the Fortune 500 companies have merged, been acquired, gone bankrupt, or fallen off the list as competition intensified and business models got disrupted, according to Constellation Research.  So, don’t be afraid to break things in order to make them better. There’s no other way to keep pace with today’s fast-changing world.

The Humor Advantage: Five Keys to Effectively Using Humor That Can Help You Laugh All the Way to the Bank.

Can more funny equal more money? Without question. There truly is a bottom-line advantage to leveraging your humor resources and branding your business with humor. Here are five guiding principles to help you and your business laugh all the way to the bank.

1. First, Do No Wrong

Great advice for doctors or would-be corporate jesters. Make sure the humor you use in your branding laughs with people, not at people. Laugh at yourself, not in a, “I’m a loser” kind of way, but in a way that lets people know you don’t take yourself overly seriously. Stay clear of political, ethnic, gender or sex-based humor. Remember that having permission to use more humor at work is not permission to act like a jerk. It doesn’t give you license to offend or humiliate people, or disparage their character. It’s about being more human, having a bigger heart, and demonstrating greater humility.

The number one fear corporate clients express about using humor at work is that it will invite all manner of obnoxious behaviors eventually leading to lawsuits. Yet, companies such as the Las Vegas based online shoe retailer Zappos, that embrace an enormous amount of fun and humor in their workplace, rarely – if ever – experience anyone crossing the proverbial humor line. Why? Because the style of humor employees use reflects their culture. If you create a respectful workplace culture, as Zappos has done, then the humor will remain respectful.

2. Be Authentic

Humor can break down barriers and build trust, provided the humor used creates and reflects authenticity. As Jerry Seinfeld once said, “The whole object of comedy is to be yourself. The closer to that you get, the funnier you will be.” This applies at a corporate level as well. Customers are savvier than ever and more cynical than ever. They’ll see through half-hearted attempts at humor that seem to be nothing more than manipulative and insincere window dressing. The need for authenticity applies to leaders and employees as well.

The Canadian airline WestJet, modelled after Southwest Airlines, understands the importance of authentic humor. As with Southwest Airlines, flight attendants and pilots at WestJet Airlines are encouraged to bring their personalities to work and to use humor when delivering announcements, but with one large caveat: Be your authentic self. The last thing WestJet wants (or their passengers, for that matter) is a flight attendant pretending to be funny or feeling forced to sing a rap song when they aren’t comfortable doing so. But allowing employees to be their authentic selves and use their own style of humor while delivering great service is what has helped WestJet and Southwest Airlines soar to success.

3. Be Congruent With Your Brand

The humor you use at a corporate level must fit your style. It needs to be congruent with your brand. if you have a classy brand, then your humor, for the most part, should be classy. If you want to be known as an edgy company, then use edgy humor.

Kentucky’s Big Ass Fans, for example, uses a fair amount of edgy humor on its website, which seems appropriate given their name (even though the ass they speak of is a donkey). Their name generates controversy, which Big Ass Fans uses to their advantage by including some of the hate mail they receive on the kudos section of their website. They even have a hilarious video that pokes fun at the entire controversy. It’s edgy humor befitting a company that has embraced an edgy name, but the humor they get away with wouldn’t be appropriate for a more family-friendly or conservative business. Make sure the humor you use contributes to and reflects the brand image you want to project.

4. Be Relevant

The more the humor you use at your workplace is relevant to your business, the more memorable and effective it will be. Humor for the sake of humor can be a fabulous tool, but relevant humor that ties into your unique challenges, issues, products, local attractions, branding, and industry is far more effective.

The Dirty Laundry winery is one of my favorite wineries in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. The name comes from an historic Summerland laundry that reportedly housed a brothel, earning the business the nickname “The Dirty Laundry”. It’s a playful, fun name that invites a lot of humor – and the key to their branding success is that they keep the humor relevant to their name and theme. So the winery’s logo features a red-hot iron with images of women in the steam; their tagline reads: “The Okanagan’s Dirty Little Secret”. Their newsletter is called Laundry Lines, and their welcome sign resembles a giant sheet hanging on a clothesline. The entrance gate posts are giant clothes pegs. The tasting room/gift shop is reminiscent of an old-fashioned bordello (not that I’d know what one looks like) complete with lingerie strewn about the display cases. They sell products such as pink stiletto wine bottle holders. And of course their wine names include such gems as, “A Secret Affair,” “Naughty Chardonnay,” and “A Girl in Every Port.” Even the descriptions of the wine are playfully suggestive.

The more relevant the humor, the more likely it is to reinforce and strengthen your brand, your image, and your products.

5. Embrace a Spirit of Fun

Beryl Health is a call center company that has built a wildly successful business with an employee turnover rate that’s the envy of their competitors. The key to their success has been to focus relentlessly on nurturing a positive and fun culture. Who, after all, wouldn’t want to work in a company where the human resources manager has the alternative job title The Queen of Fun and Laughter? Beryl embraces a fun culture that starts at the very top, with CEO Paul Spiegelman. And yet, Spiegelman admits to being an introvert, and not a particularly funny person. “I’ve come to learn that it’s not about being funny, but about encouraging and creating a culture that embraces a spirit of fun.”

Ultimately, using humor effectively to brand your business is about embracing a spirit of fun rather than trying to be funny. Embracing a spirit of fun suggests a lightness, a willingness to play, and a spirit of inclusiveness.

Michael Kerr is an international business speaker who travels the world researching, writing, and speaking about inspiring workplace cultures and the use of humor in business to drive success. His latest book is called, The Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses Are Laughing All the Way to the Bank

How Great Executives Avoid Common Rookie Missteps

Nobody’s shocked when someone who’s an obvious idiot flames out in a job they were never cut out for.  But more than 50% of executives still fail within the first 18 months of their appointment to a higher altitude – and many of them are the good ones.  What accounts for so many promising young executives reaching broader assignments and stumbling once there?

Ten years of research, more than 2700 interviews and surveys have revealed consistent patterns of tripwires that cause even the best to fall.   Here are four common traps well-intended executives unwittingly step into. 

The mandate bait  Many executives arrive with a perceived mandate to repeat past success –“you’ve turned around situations like this before and that’s what we need.”  Instead of looking realistically at the current situation, executives reach back to their bag of tricks that “worked before” and begin slapping those formulas on the new  environment without contextualization.  Organ rejection sets in as the leader’s diagnosis turns into an indictment of the culture’s inadequacies. The organization more firmly resists, resenting the executive’s ignorance of what will and won’t work.  Avoiding this trap requires deep knowledge of context – reading it and adapting to it.  Hit the ground learning, not running.

Stakeholder blindness  Deep relationships with new peers, sometimes former bosses, new direct reports, sometimes previous peers, and new bosses, are most critical at the highest levels of organizations.   But given that most rising executives distinguish themselves through individualism, they painfully underestimate how much they need others when they get to the top.  Forming mutual partnerships with those who most hold the keys to your success, and whose success you can influence, is critical.  Connections formed with deep trust, investment, and openness are the best guardian against this trap.  To transform an organization, you have to let it transform you.

Altitude distortions  How your messages are received, and how messages arrive to you, change dramatically when you near the organization’s top.   Assume you now have a megaphone strapped to you 24/7.  Everything you say and do is amplified and open to interpretations far from your intentions.   Similarly, information you get is now sifted.  People sanitize data and tell you what they think you want to hear.  Unable to adapt to these distortions, many executives regain their footing by reverting to the more tangible, less ambiguous work from their old job.  Executive breadth is the requirement for avoiding this trap – having the broadest possible knowledge of your organization, how its pieces fit together, especially of how to bridge the organization’s seams where conflicts are intensified.  Broader perspectives that add value lower level leaders can’t, helps new executives confidently orient to realities of higher altitudes.  Rise above the fray, and stay there.

Power failure  Most executives struggle with the larger sphere of positional, informational and relational power afforded them by bigger jobs.  While tabloids are filled with leaders who abuse that power with indulgent self-interest, the more common power failure is abdication.  Executives are so fearful of wielding power that they avoid using it, especially when the risks seem high.  Indecisiveness, accommodating mediocre performance, co-dependent relationships with others to hide behind, and irresponsible uses of confidential information are just some of the symptoms of a leader who has abdicated their power.  Self-protection, not self-service, is often the driver behind such fearful leaders.  What they fail to grasp is the importance of the larger good their power is intended to serve.  At the top of the organization, your ability to right injustices, allocate resources fairly, provide access to opportunity, focus people on limited priorities, and invest in promising talent are all the privileges that accompany power, and failure to exercise it is as much an abuse of the  privilege as exploiting it for personal gain.  Embracing the importance of executive choice is the custodian against power failure.   Constructing choices with data, appropriate inclusion of others, clear values, and full appreciation of painful trade-offs is an executive’s privileged prerogative.   Executive power is intended to serve others, not hide behind.

Landmines in the field of executive leadership are plentiful, but no need to go tap-dancing in those fields unprepared.  Translate your noble intentions into success by thoughtfully preparing yourself for the realities of executive leadership and beat the odds against failure. 

Commercial Cards Modernize the Payments Process and Enhance Supplier Relationships

Our competitive and global business climate requires C-level executives to maintain visibility into spending and constantly look for ways to make every dollar count. A payment strategy that relies on electronic payments is an important first step. As part of that strategy, you can take advantage of commercial card program benefits to drive down costs, forecast cash flow, optimize liquidity opportunities, and enhance valuable supplier relationships.

Consider that 50% of payables are still paper-based1 and each check costs, on average, $30 per item to process and handle.2   Commercial cards can be used not only for purchasing and expenses, but inventory and capital expenditures as well. 

“Progressive leaders looking to improve process efficiencies, cash visibility, and forecasting, recognize that making the relatively simple move toward using commercial cards is the logical solution for payments.”

–Ranjana Clark, Head of Transaction Banking, MUFG Union Bank, N.A.

Download White Paper:

Learn more about transformative ePayables strategies: download the MUFG Commercial Cards white paper here.

About MUFG:
MUFG Union Bank, N.A. is a member of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG), one of the world’s leading financial institutions. Learn more about our
Commercial Card program at mufgamericas.com/commercial-cards

Contact a MUFG ePayables specialist at 214-468-7829 or visit mufgamericas.com/commercialcards for more information.

1Electronic Payments Survey, Association of Financial Professionals, 2013.

2 Ibid.

The foregoing article is intended to provide general information about commercial card and is not considered advice from MUFG and MUFG Union Bank, N.A.

© 2016 Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved

The MUFG logo and name is a service mark of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Inc.

 

Want To Be A More Effective Leader? Listen

By John T. Hewitt, CEO and Founder of Liberty Tax Service

When it comes to communication, no one gets it right. It’s an essential part of every relationship, whether it’s a marriage, a partnership, a business, or an employer and employee. I don’t care if you have a Ph.D. in communications; I’ve never met a person who consistently listens or gets their message across. Even if you’re close and you try, things are taken out of context or misheard or misstated. Communication is something that no company and probably no couple have ever mastered.

Here’s the problem: human beings are communication stoppers. Every person I know wants to receive communication – they want to know everything – but they don’t give communication back. Information is power and people will hoard it. Whether or not it’s going to the trouble to say something or simply remembering to communicate at all, our desire to get information is greater than our desire to give it. There is no solution to our constant communication dilemma, but we can work at improving every day.

As an entrepreneur, you can never make assumptions. If you are not in direct contact with your customers on a daily basis, you have to communicate with the person who is. Successful business owners must listen to their employees. Those in authority need to pay attention to the troops on the ground.

Our Chief Marketing Officer, Martha O’Gorman, and I once flew to Kansas City to interview a person for the CFO position. Martha asked, “What is your management philosophy?” He replied, “Ours is not to reason why, but to do or die.” In his world, all orders come from above and you are not supposed to question them. Just do it, like a good soldier. That is how many companies run. Many CEOs issue edicts and say, “this is what we’re going to do,” instead of listening to the people who deal with the customer because they think they know best. It’s partly because they feel if they admit that they don’t know best, then they look inferior or won’t be perceived as a good CEO, so they just don’t listen.

I’m secure enough in my leadership to listen to employees. They are the boots on the ground and they know what the customer really wants. Whether it’s a higher level of service, kid-friendly offices, or refreshments, I listen. For example, we print out a letter that we give to every customer with their tax return. Why would I think I could do that better than the person who gives it out thousands of times? They give out two million letters with tax returns. Why would a CEO think he could create a better letter than the people who are closest to the customer? They should design the letter; we should just implement it. There are hundreds of issues like this.

In my company, I know the big picture better than anyone, but my franchisees and employees know the tools they need to exceed customer expectations. A good CEO will trust employees to make the right decisions – empowering them instead of just issuing automatic edits that they must follow. To succeed, employees must feel free to make suggestions and give advice to their managers without concern for retribution. Remember, humans are communication stoppers. The managers who listen the most – and listen well – to their employees will win.

While I still believe that no one really masters communication, we work to improve every day and set the standard. I regularly teach the importance of improving every day in the way we communicate to our customers, to our employees, and to our owners. Customers come first – always. Words aren’t the only communication that a client notices. An employee’s attitude, tone of voice, facial expressions and gestures are all part of the message, leading to either positive or negative results. At Liberty, an important part of our system is to call each client within 24-48 hours of completing a return. We ask for feedback on our service and they can offer any suggestions to help us improve. Most importantly, we listen.

Excerpted from:

iCompete: How My Extraordinary Strategy for Winning Can Be Yours, by John T. Hewitt, CEO and founder of Liberty Tax Service, available on Amazon March 29, 2016