The Business of Art and Crafts: Sustainability Without Selling Out Workshops

The Business of Art and Crafts: Sustainability Without Selling Out

A cost effective and practical way to get marketing ideas and support!

Our goal for The Business of Art: Sustainability Without Selling Out Workshops is to see you succeed in your business—to continue being able to do the work you chose, the work you have a passion for. And, as you know, in order to succeed as a business, you must be proficient at the business side of your work. Learning how to sell your art—your painting, sculpture, jewelry, photography, fabric, glass, making soap, or clay piece — is as essential as doing good work.

Get inspired! Learn marketing and promotion tips. You can join other artists in these four sessions to help you to focus on your marketing and sales goals. Being in a group gently holds you accountable to take the next step— as well as offering you support and encouragement

Stay on track, learn and share experiences from each other and have fun along the way.

When: Mondays – April 24, May 8 and June 5 and 19

Time: 10 AM to 12 PM

Where: Innovation Hub, 110 Canal Street, 3rd Floor Lowell, MA 01854

Cost: $90 for all four meetings (8 hours of instruction and interaction) as well as any additional materials, including instructive PDFs. Please email Szifra Birke at szifra@birkeconsulting.com.  If you’d like to register, you can make an online payment by visiting this link: https://www.paypal.me/MarketingForArtists. (Click next to the $; it will “flash” and you can put $90 in and hit next to go to PayPal.  Limited to the just 20- so sign up right away.

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Important Questions to Ask Your Financial Advisor

All above-reproach financial advisors want you to know how they operate. They welcome detailed questions about the ins and outs of the investments they suggest and the expenses you will incur. Despite the awkward feelings, you aren’t being disrespectful by asking.

What are the tricks to get started? The way you ask the question can make a big difference. No need to be confrontational, just be transparent. Ask straightforward, curious questions. Work to create safety for the other person.

  • “I’d like to be clear about how you’re compensated for the work you do for me.

How much of your compensation comes from my direct payments to you, how much from fees on my investment, and how much is paid to you by the investment product?”

Again, your goal is to create a conversation that allows them to just tell you about their arrangements—no accusations from you, no defensiveness from them. Another neutral question might be:

  • “I’ve heard that it would be helpful for me to know if my advisor is a fiduciary or not? Can you explain the difference, and are you?” (Fiduciary means your advisor agrees to put your interests ahead of their own.)

They may make it hard for you, “Don’t worry about it. The fee isn’t coming out of your pocket.” This is the wrong answer. You may not write a check or hand over your credit card, but you are indeed paying. A Wall Street Broker laid it out this way. “An investor who paid 2% in fees each year would give up more than $178,000 over 30 years, almost as much money as the $180,000 deposited in the account during that time.”  That amount of money is probably worth being a bit uncomfortable over!

If their answer is vague, they change the subject or don’t give you exact amounts, you’ll need to be even more straightforward. Again, keep in mind that a straightforward approach is the one that highest quality professionals prefer you always use, and they will also use it back. Try these questions:

  • “I always want to know how my finances work, so please explain in detail the way you get compensated.”
  • “I’m uncomfortable with not knowing the details. Please make them clear for me.”
  • “How much money will you personally make in cash commission now, if I select this product? And how much will you make later, in any sort of ongoing or trailing commission?”
  • “Are you earning more from selling me this product than you might if you put me in a similar product from a different company?”
  • “Is there a bonus you are eligible for that comes as a result of this sale? Is your bonus less likely if you don’t make this sale?”

It may be uncomfortable to ask questions but it’s your right to know. For some people a light tone might be more comfortable, “Where are you going to go if you win the incentive for selling this product?”

Try asking your questions in writing.

Writing your question may be more comfortable. As a bonus, a written answer creates accountability for the advisor and lets them know you’re on top of things. If you don’t get a straightforward answer the first time, ask again until you do. Keep politely asking until you clearly understand.

If you feel uncomfortable and stuck, think about any question you might use to open up the conversation:

  • How often do you monitor my investments?
  • Why does this product benefit me?
  • I don’t understand this portfolio. Please explain it to me.
  • Please explain why you have me in this alternative allocation?

 Still stuck? You can ask your other advisors for help. Request that your attorney and other advisers talk with one another. They should all be willing to keep each other in the loop. If someone isn’t, you can ask the others to help correct that situation immediately. (Many of the best advisors suggest having your team work together all the time—so efforts are coordinated in your behalf.)

It’s easy to let things slide and stay with a professional who may not be working in your best interests.

If you’re working too hard, it may be a clue that your advisor is not the best fit for you. If after a couple of tries you can’t get the information you need, it may make sense to interview another advisor to find someone who is easier to talk to.

**

Money conversations can be uncomfortable—so we tend to avoid them, approach them with trepidation, or use language that’s pushier than necessary. We can help you help you get more comfortable talking about money and craft conversations that work in your best interest.

We coach key personnel, train teams and work with people of wealth on dealing effectively with the emotions raised by money-related issues. You can get more comfortable so formerly awkward conversations no longer feel awkward.

For more information on fiduciary responsibility:

  1. Watch an interview I did with a fee only advisor, Gavin Morrisey.

  1. You can also check out John Oliver’s Fiduciary and The Retirement Challenge on You Tube. Language is crude at moments so don’t watch with young kids. I wonder if John Oliver can have clear, open conversations with his financial advisors?!

Is Your Financial Advisor Working in Your Best Interest?

Not all financial advisors are created equal. Nor are their fees. The issue that you may need to discuss with your advisor is how they receive their fees and how that may affect whether they lean toward serving your best needs or theirs.

Are you aware that many advisors are not required to make the choice that is most financially beneficial to you? Want to know if yours is? Ask whether they are following the fiduciary standard or the suitability standard. Find that tough to ask? There’s that sticky stuff we feel around money.

Let’s start from the beginning.

  1. Many advisors at brokerage firms are paid commissions to sell you products that the firm makes money from.
  2. Some of these advisors are good. Unfortunately, many are just good sales people whose advice is influenced the commissions they get paid.
  3. What makes an advisor money may not be the best choice for you. It may cost you more to buy a product that is no better for you than one that would leave more money in your account (for college, retirement or whatever you are saving for).

You need to ask your advisor which standard they are operating under—fiduciary or suitability. The question might feel to them or you like an accusation because money seems to do that to questions. This is a very important question to get comfortable asking.

  1. The fiduciary standard for Registered Investment Advisors (RIA), or an ERISA appointed Fiduciary, requires that the advisor put your needs ahead of theirs. The fiduciary standard requires that you hear about lower-fee options, if the lower-fee product is of equal quality. Advisors who are fiduciaries must:
  • Put the client’s best interest first.
  • Act with prudence; that is, with the skill, diligence and good judgment of a professional.
  • Not mislead clients; provide full and fair disclosure of all important facts.
  • Avoid conflicts of interest. And if conflicts are unavoidable, they must fully disclose and fairly manage in the client’s favor.
  1. Broker dealers, insurance salespersons or any other financial company advisors are required to apply a suitability standard.
  • They must know you and your financial situation.
  • They must recommend products that are suitable for your situation.
  • They can sell you products that result in them receiving a higher commission than for a comparable product.

If you’re not comfortable asking about fees and professional standards, you could lose a lot of money. The higher fees you pay may be invisible today, but result in dramatically less compounding over the time you own the stock, bonds, or other investment vehicles. Your discomfort may cause your portfolio to be worth thousands, or tens or hundreds of thousands less than it could be.

The other question you need to be able to ask is whether your advisors is fee only or fee based.

Fee-only advisors (look for RIA or ERISA) don’t sell products, don’t accept commissions and operate as fiduciaries.*

Fee-based advisors can sell you investment products for commission.

Again, discomfort in asking questions can cost you way too much!

More information:

  1. Watch an interview at the end of this article that I did with Gavin Morrisey about fees you may be paying your advisor that benefit him/her more than you—and what you can do.

Gavin is former Senior Vice President, Wealth Management at Commonwealth Financial Network and now managing partner at Financial Strategy Associates, a financial services firm in Needham, MA. He and his firm are independent, fee only advisors who will answer any and all your questions.

  1. Check out John Oliver Fiduciary and The Retirement Challenge on You Tube!
  2. Search the Web: There’s a lot of information how financial advisors get paid. In fact, that search led me to many interesting videos and articles.

Don’t avoid money or fee related conversations. If you want to talk with your advisor but feel uncomfortable, we can help you craft a conversation or email that is respectful and helps protect you.

Whether you’re an attorney, or other service professional thinking about raising fees, a dental office aware of the benefits for patients and your business if your team could talk more comfortably about costs, a parent who wishes he/she could talk with adult children about inheritance plans or family business, an adult child who fears approaching the conversation with parents for fear of seeming greedy, we can help you craft conversations that matter. Let us help you get more comfortable talking about money.

Kind of a P.S.

I know this article was long—and yet here’s more. More reasons to be wary. For those of you who have the bandwidth to keep going:

When I was doing research for this article, I came across these powerful and disturbing information-articles that highlighted kickbacks, contests, incentives for advisors. Here is just one of them. The bold is my emphasis.

From CNBC confessions from financial advisors    Friday, 20 Jun 2014

Most investors know their financial advisors take a percentage for managing their portfolios, but they probably didn’t know the mutual fund industry is also giving these advisors commission for pushing specific equity mutual funds, unbeknownst to investors.

I’m not talking about front-end load fees. I’m referring to commissions and bonuses that financial planners get after they put their clients into these funds.

The industry and SEC call these payments “commission” but in reality, they are a “kickback” or “incentive” for financial planners to push specific equity funds, even if they are not in their client’s best interest. This payment structure raises ethical and legality concerns on whose interest is being served: the financial planner or the client.

Even more disconcerting, most investors don’t know this is happening.

I’ve seen how this works following two decades of working on Wall Street for well-known brokerage firms. This payment structure to financial planners is hidden behind a smokescreen that is covered by layers of payments through different sources. First to the brokerage houses, then to the brokers.

This hidden-fee structure was addressed in the Dodd-Frank reforms, which went into effect on January 1, 2014. Under Dodd-Frank, disclosures for “commission” or “kick-back fees” are now required for pension and 401k retirement accounts, but accounts that aren’t regulated by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act were excluded from the new law.

 

Questions Can Help You Listen Better

There are solid strategic reasons to ask questions.
A few examples:

  • Questions help you shift conversational gears.  They confirm that you, and whomever you’re speaking with, share enough information or understanding to move on.
  • Questions encourage the speaker to stop wandering and focus on what’s important.
  • Questions can help you get reengaged in a conversation that feels boring. They can help you resist an impulse to start lecturing or acting on an untested assumption.

When you’re ready to shift gears it’s important to be sure all parties feel they’re understood.

One of the reasons so many conversations loop back to feelings or data already covered—a prime reason for boredom and frustration—is a feeling that the other person doesn’t really understand your position. Ask questions to keep the conversation moving forward:

  • Is there something you’re saying that you’d like to be sure I understand? I’ll tell you what I heard and you can let me know if I’ve got what you’re saying.
  • Would it be helpful for me to summarize the points I think are important? I don’t want to keep going if we don’t understand each other.
  • Any part of what I said that you’d like to ask a question about? Or conversely: Can I ask you a couple of specific questions to be certain I understand what you think is important?

Questions can focus the conversation on what’s important.

Conversations have a tendency to wander unless at least one person keeps bringing attention to (talking or asking about) focusing on the important aspects. Questions are a way to help the other person focus:

  • Is there a specific part of what you said that you’d like to underline for me?
  • I have a couple of specific questions, is this a good time to ask them?
  • Is this a good time to summarize what I’ve heard to be sure I’ve got it?

Questions can help you refocus when you’re bored or even when you’re tired of taking the high road and are tempted to just join the other person in pushing your opinion without listening.

Formulating a question encourages you to strategize about how to influence the conversation to get focused, get shorter, or to lean in a direction that is more interesting to you. Questions engage your thinking brain and can help quiet your emotional brain—boredom is an emotional state and impulsive interruptions reflect low emotional regulation.

  • I’d be interested in how what you’re saying might affect how we relate to current clients?
  • Is there a way we can make practical use of this data?
  • What do you think would be the potential timing, if we were to introduce this idea to our teams? I find I’m worried about diminishing our focus on …

The impact of all these questions is based you being truly curious. Questions that are disguised statements—I.e., I think… don’t you agree?—are typically nowhere near as effective in influencing a conversation. Looking for an aspect of the conversation that truly sparks your curiosity may take effort, but can pay big rewards in increased loyalty and creativity of team members, clients who stick with you, and a wider network of people who trust you are someone who listens well.

Questions also let you discover small, important tweaks that can improve you services, products, and client satisfaction. More on this in a future article.

Asking questions can be efficient and respectful. You can move conversations along, while helping your conversation partner feel good about you. Being conversationally efficient, while being respectful isn’t easy, but it is something you can learn. Having difficult conversations can be easier when you know how to ask good questions.

If you’d like to learn how to craft questions and how to ask curious questions more often, why not call or email us? Increasing your positive connection with your team may be just a few question marks away.

How and Why to Bite Your Tongue

Don’t interrupt. It’s obvious; we know. Still it’s very difficult.  I speak from personal experience—after decades of paying attention to how important it is to wait until the other person is finished, I often cut them off anyway. I find it especially difficult to remember around friends and family.

According to Deborah Tannen, the linguist and author, some of us—me included—have a “high involvement” communication style. We “overlap” the other person’s speech. This can work—if the person you’re talking with has a similar style. And if what they’re talking about is more informational than deeply emotional.

Others have a “high considerateness” style. These people generally seek more clear pauses and want more order to the conversation.

Talking when you should be listening. Teaching when learning would serve you better.

In most cases it would be more respectful and helpful if I listened, instead of talked and learned, instead of tried to teach.

Why do we interrupt?

It can be helpful to identify what causes your interruptions:

•Are you trying to be supportive? To show you understand what the speaker is saying?
•Are you feeling crunched for time? Trying to move the conversation along?
•Are you more interested in sharing what you know rather than learning?
•Are you trying to show your expertise? Prove something?
•Are you worried that you’ll forget what you were going to say, if you wait until the other person is finished speaking?

Some things to try:

1. Notice when you interrupt

When you cut someone off, stop (even mid-sentence) and say something like: “sorry; I really want to hear what you have to say.” (This new habit will take time to develop and some courage.)

2. Enlist family or friends to help

Ask people you trust to respectfully remind you when you’ve cut them off. Ask for a do-over.

3. Create a cue to remind yourself

Sometimes sticky notes can help-in your car, on your bathroom mirror, at your desk at work. Find a word or phrase that you’ll be comfortable with others seeing—maybe “listen” or “pause.”

4. Track your progress

Initially just notice and count the number of times each day that you interrupt someone.
After a week or so, set a realistic goal and acknowledge your progress.
Some people find that self-acknowledgment works even better coupled with a reward.

When we click off or tune out before we’re sure we’ve heard and understand the speaker’s entire message, we cut ourselves off from some potentially useful information or insights. And, interrupting is not only disrespectful to the person being interrupted, but hurts you as the leader or manager. Sure, some of your team may be thick-skinned and more Teflon like. Others, though, will be put off and therefore less productive, loyal, or creative. Call or email us if you want to increase your positive connection with your team or just plain want to improve your listening skills.

Listening Strategy Number 2- Reflective Listening

Continuing on our recent theme of listening: here’s another strategy that is easy to implement and can make a big difference. You have probably heard the term “Active Listening”—repeating key pieces of a talker’s message to confirm you are listening and understand. Reflective Listening is similar but adds a dose of curiosity and mindfulness. This higher-quality listening can save time, prevent future misunderstandings or mistakes, and create stronger team loyalty.

So what is reflective listening?

When you’re reflectively listening, you’re seeking to understand a speaker’s thought or idea, then offering their idea back in your own words to confirm you’ve understood correctly. You also try to imagine and reflect back what’s beneath their words—to reflect what the speaker is feeling as well as thinking.

How to reflectively listen:

• After listening, use your own words to repeat key points you think the person was attempting to make.
• Check with them to be certain you’ve heard them correctly.
• If they explain that you don’t quite have it, repeat back your corrected understanding.
• Share your impressions of what seems to feel emotionally important to them.

Examples:

• “I hear that you are concerned about my suggestion that we shut our doors to reduce distractions. It’s clear this is very important to you.”
• “It sounds to me like you are frustrated about my response this past week.”
• “Let me reflect what I heard. You think we could generate revenue by adding a service to our estimate process. You have an idea how this could be simple and not take much time. You haven’t nailed down the details yet, but you’d like my initial thoughts to help guide your next steps.”

 “I also hear that you are worried your idea will be rejected because you don’t have the details spelled out.”

Caveat: Too busy?

The time you spend listening and reflecting will avoid wasting time sorting out misunderstandings and missteps after the fact.

It’s this easy:
• Take a breath and pay attention to quickly confirm any main points or ideas.
• Deliberately scan and confirm each key concept.
• Keep your review and reflections short and efficient. Avoid long monologues, open-ended questions, and new topics.

Recall Practice
Initially, you can try recall sessions to practice reflecting. (adapted from a book-in-progress that Jay and I are working on)

If you can’t find time to practice in real-time during your work day, sitting at your desk, or on your drive home, take time to think through a conversation you had during the day. Then reflect out loud what you didn’t feel like you had time to say on the spot.

With a bit of practice, you will be able to reflectively listen without appreciably slowing down conversations—you’ll save misstep-time with a minimal investment in reflecting-time.

• “Let me be sure I understand. You are planning to call the client and set up a meeting to talk about the problem, but you are worried that we don’t really have a good path to correct the issue.”
• “Am I hearing concern that you will be blamed?”

If no examples come to mind, you might ask yourself one of these questions to stimulate reflections:

• What did I slide over that might be worth thinking about or revisiting?
• What did she say that I might not be positive I heard fully?
• What was the emotional tone of the conversation?
• Did I really understand what was important to them?

Your awareness will be enhanced by just considering questions—eventually you will tend to notice those things you have asked yourself questions about.

When you are trying to strengthen a relationship, reflecting deeper messages or emotions can communicate that you respect the speaker and value their ideas. Email or call 978-446-9600 if you want to save time avoiding missteps, create a stronger connection with your team, build a more fun and interesting place to work, learn how to enhance your relationships at work (and as a natural byproduct with family and friends).

Why You Should Listen More Than You Talk

Of the relationship-enhancing skills our clients practice getting better at, listening is often the one that makes the biggest difference—whether you’re trying to acquire or keep a client, solve a problem, or build a culture of productivity and autonomy.

Listening strategy number one—Listen more than you talk.

Why:

• If you understand what motivates people, you will understand how to more effectively influence them. You get that information by listening.

• People are more likely to listen carefully to you, if they know you have listened carefully to them.

• Everyone likes to be listened to. So listen and people will feel more positive, and that makes them more productive and open to new ideas.

• People virtually never get bored when they’re talking about themselves. In a conversation where you are listening to them, they will tend to remember you as interesting. And interesting makes you memorable.

But aren’t people paying to get my expertise; my answers to professional questions? Don’t they care if I’m well informed and knowledgeable? Yes, and:

• Yes, they are. And they can hear you best after they’re sure you understand them and what they’re concerned about. After they are convinced you respect and even care about them as individuals.

• Rebalancing your talking to listening ratio opens the door to people being able to hear your professional guidance.

But what if I’m getting bored?

• First remind yourself that this is about them not you. Then:

• Try asking a question. A truly curious question is a great demonstration that you’re listening. So ask and then listen some more.

What if they have misunderstood something and I need to correct it?

• Wait for them to stop talking—be certain it is a stop not just a pause.

• Then give them a quick update and ask if they want to know more about it. If they don’t, listen some more.

What if they ask a question?

• Give a brief answer.

Know that the odds are your brief answer is too long for them. Try making one quick point and ask if that answers their question.

The odds are also great that they didn’t make their real question clear or you misunderstood it to start with.
Primarily you need to remind yourself that a question shouldn’t change the ratio of listening to talking.

A heads up:

• Most people badly misjudge how much of the time they talk versus listen. Most men have a tendency to both talk more and judge their ratio of talk to listening more poorly than most women.

Practice:

• Consciously try to listen twice as much as you talk. If in doubt, you’re probably talking too much.

• Put a reminder in front of you.

“Listen more!” is one possibility.
“What subtle information did you miss?” Might tweak your awareness to listen more.
“Ask curious questions.” Is another possibility.
“Listened lately?” is a bit more in your face.

• Use your phone’s stopwatch function to track when you’re talking—start this with a trusted colleague or in team meetings and tell everyone what you’re doing. Your activity will remind everyone to only say what’s important, and to listen! Tracking any behavior tends to keep it more front and center in your mind.

Bottom Line:

You can virtually never get into trouble listening.

Want to be better than just not getting in trouble? Listen even some more. Our clients have told us that the active practice they get in meetings with us, as well as being accountable, has helped vastly increased their listening skills—resulting in more clients, more satisfaction among their team, and more pleasure for them going to work each day.

Call or email us if you think it would be useful to move your communication skills forward.

Successful Transitions

The transition from an old to a new process or system, from a previous manager or key employee to a new hire, or any other change is tough. Understanding more about how to manage the process will make it all go a bit easier. With the right information you can make a difference between a successful transition and one that just doesn’t work well. This post highlights some aspects of change based on “The Transition Model,” by change expert William Bridges, whom I had the pleasure and opportunity to study with. Besides reviewing this article, you might also find it helpful to watch Change expert Naomi Karten and me discuss change and transition. Coping with Chaos: Change and Transition

Even a positive change like a new piece of equipment can make people feel uncomfortable. The most common reaction to change is to second-guess it, or even resist or oppose it. By understanding why your team is dragging their feet or expressing reluctance, you will be in a better position to help them accept and ultimately support the change that is coming.

William Bridges distinguishes between changes—something that happens to us by our own choice or is thrust on us—and transitions—the process that happens in our minds and feelings as we go through a change.

Change can occur quickly, in a moment in time—the day we got a promotion; signing the closing papers on a home; buying the business; hiring a new office manager. But the internal transition is usually slower. It simply takes time to get used to a change.

There is a tendency to go through three stages as we move through a transition:

1. The Ending—things as we know them have changed.
2. The Neutral Zone—an often messy time sort of muddling about before moving on.
3.  A New Beginning—a new status quo develops as the change is consolidated.

People move through transitions at different paces. Entrepreneurs may jump from an old to new business adjustment much more quickly than their employees or team members. Some people will need to linger in the Neutral Zone while trying to understand or accept a difficult feeling change.

Here are some ideas about how to help make a transition more efficient and comfortable so your team can execute as quickly as possible:

Endings

•Slow down the process in order to speed up the process. Invest the time now to eliminate future problems.
•Be open and transparent about what’s going to happen.
•Emphasize what will stay the same—values, schedules or whatever.
•Accept that there will be resistance. Listen to peoples’ feelings. Listen to concerns. Listen to fears. There will be denial, anger, sadness, disorientation, loss of identity, frustration, and uncertainty. Listen well.
•Be clear about how you will help them adjust. Offer training and resources they may need, which you’ll discover because you were listening!

The Neutral Zone

•The way you help your team prepare for the coming change will determine how long people may muddle about before getting on with the new change.
•Expect some people to feel overloaded and uncertain or confused. Others will feel impatient. It takes time to adjust to a new management system or style.
•The leader who pays attention can often find ways to offer support that will keep the process moving.

The New Beginning
You know you’ve arrived at a stage of acceptance and renewed energy when people begin to embrace the change. They start to see their efforts pay off and to feel more comfortable. Don’t let down now. You need to help your team sustain their energy and enthusiasm.

•Help people see how their personal goals connect to your long-term vision and objectives.
•Be certain everyone hears how team members implement the change successfully.
•Acknowledge peoples’ grit and persistence.

This is the quick executive summary but implementing any piece will likely help make the transition go more smoothly.

If you are about to implement some change, anything from hiring a new key team member to changing some part of your system, let us help you strategize how to more effectively implement the change. We can even come in to help your team see their way through it. If you’ve currently stalled, call 978-446-9600 or email us and we’ll show you how to get moving again.

Easy Strategies for Effective Performance Reviews

Delivering bad news or pointing out maladaptive habits isn’t easy, even if you think the employee may have an idea of what’s coming. Assuming you’re both on the same side of the table sharing a common goal can make difficult conversations easier.

Your job is to ask good questions, to find ways to help your key employees identify what’s working well, where they want to go in their careers, which skills they might like to pursue, etc. Your questions are designed to facilitate buy in, give them an opportunity to critique their own performance and to offer information first. Your questions also give you better information to develop a strategic approach to the next phase of the conversation.

The questions below are worded for an annual review: (You can, of course, tweak the time line if it’s different). We recommend reviews much more often to keep tabs on how your team members are feeling and what they’re thinking.

Usually, you’d give these questions in advance so there’s time for them to think about them and write out answers.

1) What professional accomplishments of yours do we need to remember from last year?  Please include items that might not have been noticed.

2) Were there professional skills you were able to improve on last year?  Did you receive training or help from any member of the team?  Again, please be as specific as possible.  What skills do you want to work on this year?

3) Were there projects or tasks that you had the freedom and responsibility to do in the way you thought best?  Please think of both ongoing and one-time projects you did and describe how much independence, if any, that you had.

4) What do you do well professionally, enjoy doing, do easily, get compliments on, etc.?  I’d be particularly interested in things you do well that I don’t know about.

5) Are there things about your work that give you real pleasure or make you feel you’re making a difference?

6) What could I be asking that seems important for your success here?

The answers are important, but building a process of open, corrective conversations with your employees is just as important. And slowing down to listen to their struggles and goals is the only way to create effective plans for future growth.

Influence, the Wave of the Future

It seems clear to us that the next area of innovation is a return to one of the oldest of human endeavors—influencing valuable people to join you in pursuit of a common goal.

Yes, there are impressive technological advances still in the pipeline, let alone in the imagination of developers and entrepreneurs. Our relationship to healthcare and the wider world community will continue to change—although forward or backward can be debated. Cars will soon drive us, houses will stay one step ahead of our commands, and clothes will do more than warm and adorn us. Additional services that we hadn’t even imagined were necessary will become the norm.

But none of these potential advances, or other undreamed of ones, will proceed along their most effective paths unless you—the current and future leaders—are able to attract and nurture individuals and the teams they form. The brightest, most creative, most dedicated producers of value will only join your enterprise if you are genuinely able to step away from a self-centered approach to leadership and become a catalyst who assists them reach their goals and dreams. They will carry your dreams on their shoulders as they strive to achieve their own ambitions.

We see too many business leaders impatiently push instead of quietly influencing, value loyalty over creativity, or act like their vision is the only one that counts. Even leaders who are sensitive to the feelings of their employees seem to forget at times that their enterprises will only flourish if individuals are encouraged to thrive in their careers, lives, and dreams.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for most leaders is an inflated sense of their own ability to master work relationships and influence important people. How are you doing? If you see no weaknesses in your approach to team members, a caution flag should go up. If you recognize an area that could use upgrading and you haven’t set aside time to work on improving it, then you are giving an advantage to your competitors every time you attempt to attract or keep a major contributor.

A first step is to ask yourself questions, and take time to consider the answers:

•How am I doing?
•What are other people doing better?
•What am I avoiding?
•What habit should I be mastering?
•What are my priorities?
•Who do I wish I could entice to work for me?

The next step is to make a plan for addressing your weakness. It’s difficult to recognize your own failings, because they will tend to sit in your blind spot. Even if you think you can see them, they may be resistive to change because of other habits or attitudes you have—which can hide behind more obvious  shortcomings.

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Professional athletes depend on feedback from their coaches to see their lapses and improve their game. The best presenters and salespeople seek new ideas and analysis from specialty coaches. Musicians, actors, writers and so many others regularly request input from an experienced masters. Are you getting the feedback you need to improve your game? Arrange a strategy session today to explore how coaching can improve your ability to attract and retain high performing employees.