Managing COVID-19 as a Leader

Written by: Brian Smith & Mary Smith
Original by: IA Business Advisors 

When tragedy strikes, we are often bombarded by both inspirational stories and those of disappointment. With COVID-19, we have witnessed this bombardment across every sector of business. We consult business leaders, managers, and employees all day and—nearly—all night about the various aspects of life being interrupted by this amazingly challenging time in history. IA Business Advisors offer this advice for managing the effects of COVID-19 as a leader.

Understanding the Effects

First, its important that leaders realize that different people have different ways of dealing with stress. In addition, people will have different stress and trigger points. For example, not everyone is concerned about finances or where they work from. Some people have family and friends that are being more negatively affected than them, creating a different kind of stress that can be misunderstood or dismissed by people who don’t find themselves influenced by such issues. Others find the entire COVID-19 crisis ridiculous or feel the world is overreacting, supported by phrases like, “What’s the big deal? The flu is worse.”

We had a few team members who thought this might be an overreaction. We read influenza statistics and compared them to the statistics for COVID-19, feeling the data supported this conclusion. However, we were wrong. We owe our families, team, and clients a more thoughtful and deeper review of the risks this crisis is bringing rapidly into our lives and are happy to have changed our position quickly enough to get just a touch in front of the ball. As a business leader, you owe it to yourself and those you influence to remain strong, objective yet stern, and positive in your influence.

Your Positive Influence

Honest and open communication is a vital part of any viable business, becoming critical during times of stress and crisis. Remaining objective yet positive will help you and your team remain in a mindset that can be the difference between your organization maintaining its viability and falling prey to negative emotional shut down. Having an honest discussion with your team about the status of your environment can alleviate stress from the unknown.

Use your influence to provide simple guidance. Don’t assume that everyone on your team is following directives such as social distancing and limited interactions. Challenge your team to remain prudent and observant about their situations, especially when dealing with people. This requires you to remain consistent in your messaging; habits are formed by consistent action and this is a perfect time to establish healthy habits.

There will be times when your positive influence is challenged by someone’s negative influence. Don’t exacerbate these issues with a negative response; now is the time to employ some empathy for the myriad of negative situations people are facing right now. We previously mentioned that people handle stress in different ways; one of those ways is being negative. Empathetically challenge them with facts.

One of our previous social media posts, regarding disaster loan assistance for COVID-19 from the U.S. Small Business Administration, has been challenged by people replying that the SBA is a government entity and do people really want to be indebted to the government. Our reply is simple: It depends on the business. Businesses faced with losing their company versus getting a disaster loan to save it may mean that being indebted to the SBA is the better choice. However, it’s a decision that each leader will need to make after reviewing the current and future status of their company.

Learn more about applying for disaster loan assistance by watching this video.

Situational Awareness

Preparing your team to be situationally aware is another habit you can train by remaining consistent in your communication. We must be prudent and teach our teams to remain aware of their surroundings. Having situational awareness requires us to slow down and pay attention; acting out of emotion or desperation may force us to take action that is poorly thought out and may become counterproductive to the threat we are facing.

Situational awareness is emotionally and physically important as we work from home, visit the grocery store, or visit with others. Maintaining a healthy body and mind is imperative, especially for those of us who will be isolated at home. Keep a regular schedule: wake up at your normal time, schedule breaks in your day, call a friend or family member, and do some yoga or go for a walk. Don’t forget to keep your mind engaged in fun activities. Start an art project, do a puzzle, play a game, read a book, or start on that personal to-do list you’ve been meaning to get to.

When you’re out of the home, keeping people at safe distances (at least six feet) is as much your responsibility as it is theirs. If you find that people around you are violating social distancing, be mindful that you maintain at least six feet of space between you and them. Remind others if they begin to encroach on your space. You can do this kindly, and from what we have seen in public, people will be perceptive and kind.

A side positive note: We have noticed that people are calm and kind in stores; don’t be afraid to be kindly assertive to protect yourself and others.

When and if you are out in public, maintain situational awareness of your surroundings as well. There will be people who will become opportunists and take advantage of the current crisis in a negative way. One of the best ways to protect yourself is to remain aware. This is also true of your home. Keep doors locked, don’t leave valuables where they can be seen from the outside, and remain safe and cautious. It’s better to be safe and take precautions.

Support Your Team

As a leader, sharing prudent and pragmatic information about COVID-19 can help to get your team through this crisis. Empathy will get you even further. Be responsive and mindful of people’s emotions, even if that means monitoring their body language or non-verbal communication. Encourage your team to open up about the challenges they face and maintain an open line of communication that can support them.

Communicating with your team openly, honestly, and frequently about the status of your organization will help them better understand the short- and long-term consequences of this crisis. Support where you can and ask for help when you need it; understand that we will all make sacrifices and try to set a positive example for those you influence. Help your team get through this challenging time and establish a solid foundation for the future. If you have any specific questions, reach out to us:

© Individual Advantages, LLC. 2020

Do You Understand the Influence of Each Position You’re Hiring For?

Written by: Brian Smith
Original by: Home Business Magazine

One of the first things I do when I meet with a new business is ask for an organization chart of the entire company. Usually, the request is met with a lot of different answers: “We don’t have one,” or, “It’s out of date, we only have an accountability chart,” and many more. Almost everyone asks, “Why do you want that?”

When an organization is looking to hire a new employee, the hiring structure and onboarding process are usually lacking certain details. Typically, companies use templates to place ads for wanted positions. This creates shortcuts in the interview and onboarding process. Additionally, companies don’t always ensure that their new employee understands all their technical responsibilities or the environment and culture they will be working in. Conveying this and finding the best employee for the position starts by doing your due diligence to understand the influence this new person is going to have on the company, and vice versa.

Hiring the correct individual so they can become successful for the long term requires a basic understanding of the company’s culture and each employee’s influence on that culture. The foundation of this information begins on an organizational chart. When a company doesn’t have this chart, and therefore likely doesn’t understand the employee influences, we recommend a functional organization chart (FOC) be created for the entire company.

Understanding Influence

Creating an FOC does not need to be complex, all you need to begin is a basic organization chart. On this, you should find the hierarchal composition of the company. This chart, by adding functionality, can become one of the most powerful tools in the manager’s toolbox. Having access to what responsibilities each position has, who fills those positions, and who supports those positions is powerful. Adding “communication lines” between employees identifies how they interact and for what purpose. In front of a qualified manager, the FOC can help make decisions about hiring and other key aspects of running a business much more intuitive.

DISC Workplace profiles should be included on your FOC. DISC is a behavior assessment tool based on the psychological theory of William Moulton Marston, which centers around four personality traits: dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness. Adding your DISC assessments of each employee to your FOC will produce an influence chart.

The combination of technical and psychological knowledge at your fingertips, something the influence chart (FOC + DISC) provides, allows managers to understand the current influence of the organization. This paves the way to hiring the best individual that will bring a combination of technical and psychological skills into the work culture for each position you are hiring for.

Applying Your Understanding of Influence to Hiring

As a manager, once you have this knowledge about your organization, you can apply it to your hiring decisions. The hiring process is generally the same:

  1. Identify the need for a new person
  2. Advertise for the position
  3. Interview people for the position
  4. Hire and onboard the new person
  5. Turn that person loose into the work environment

Understanding your influence chart will allow you to hire the correct individual to fill your open position. This allows you to positively influence the company when making your hiring decisions. Also, successfully developing an influence chart shows a more intentional understanding of the role culture plays in the workplace and hiring process.

Step two in the hiring process, advertising, is a perfect way to convey the technical and cultural aspects of your company as honestly as possible. Doing this will make it more likely that the correct applicants will apply and will narrow down your list of individuals to consider. Those that apply who ignore the technical or cultural points identified in the posting can be pinpointed quickly and eliminated from the decision pool.

During the interview process, HR should not be the only division involved (unless, of course, you are hiring your first employee). People with whom the candidate will interface with should be utilized at some point during the interview process. It is during this phase that a melding of the technical and cultural aspects can be seen through the inclusion of potential peers. Final selection of a candidate should be focused on technical skills supported by the best cultural match.

Once you have chosen your perfect candidate based on their technical and psychological profile, you will be able to prepare them for their onboarding process. For some individuals this includes being partnered up with another employee to show them the ropes, and for others this includes reading manuals or watching video tutorials to learn what is expected of them. Tailoring your advertisements, interview, and onboarding process to fit your new employee that correctly distinguishes your company’s culture is how you will find the best person for the position every time.

Having a concrete understanding of the technical and psychological aspects of the company and the position means the hiring process can be tailored from the beginning—from advertisement to onboarding. Managers that understand this can influence the overall process and create an environment that has the best opportunity for low employee turnover.

Why Standards Matter

Written by: Brian Smith
Original by: Quality Digest

Throughout my career, I have been a member of several trade organizations. I believe that standards have meaning, in every field. When I become a member of an organization, I endeavor to learn as much as possible.

For many companies, belonging to an organization is a purely financial decision. The amount of money spent on being a participating member in certain organizations can often add up to the same amount as a yearly advertising budget. However, many companies feel that belonging to certain organizations, and having the privilege of advertising that organization on their websites or via other marketing tactics, makes it well worth the money.

The real power of organizational membership is when members embrace and use the foundation of the organization’s standards for building their company’s internal structure. Standards in any association can lead to defining an entire industry. Take, for example, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) or the International Kitchen and Exhaust Cleaning Association (IKECA). The NFPA is an association that sets standards and provides guidance and resources about fire, electrical, and other industry-related hazards. It provides support to industries such as HVAC, electricians, restaurants, and more. IKECA provides standards that use some of the NFPA’s standards (e.g., NFPA 96) to provide guidance to kitchen-exhaust cleaning professionals.

Driving better products and services

The conversations among consumers who are affected by these and many more associations are changing—even if they are changing slowly.

For example, we are hearing more frequently about consumers who want to discuss the regulations that may affect them and the standards that drive those regulations. I will use the kitchen-exhaust cleaning industry as an example again. Cleaning the hood system in a restaurant used to be a commodity service that went to the lowest bidder; however, due to the complexity of cleaning restaurant hoods and understanding that it is more about life safety than cooking performance or luxury, IKECA and its standards are now common among restaurant facility owners and managers.

These discussions are causing the consumer to expect better products and services as well as safer environments, meaning that those needing the services are now agreeing to paying a higher fee for the service. It’s sets of standards like these that have a dramatic effect on everyone involved in the industry, especially when discussing human safety.

Elevating industry reputation

We also notice that providers who are members of trade organizations are more receptive to discussions about different solutions they use in remediation of the issues they face. When an organization has standards to fall back on, it will often do business with suppliers that meet or exceed those standards. This elevates the industry’s reputation as well as the solutions being presented. Vendors supporting the associations will also adopt a more in-depth set of standards. Standards are driving solidarity at the operations level, which is bringing together vendors in support of the specific communities they service.

Knowing that associations are able to bring together diverse, yet single-minded, groups should be a catalyst for other markets to expand their goals and think about how their roles have been defined as professionals in their industry and by the standards everyone agrees to. Within the world of IKECA and its affiliation with NFPA, there has been a dramatic change in the kitchen exhaust cleaning industry. The level of quality has steadily increased since IKECA was formed 30 years ago, and its standards are now regularly required in requests for cleaning proposals submitted by the largest restaurant groups in the world. This also applies to vendors supporting these associations because without consistent external support, the fabric of associations and their members could slip back to inconsistency and shortcuts to alleviate the challenges faced each day by providers in the industry.

Not only have we seen associate membership (i.e., vendors’ members) increase by more than 300 percent during the past 30 years at IKECA, but we’ve also seen that percentage more than triple for associations like RFMA (Restaurant Facility Maintenance Association) and NADCA (National Air Duct Cleaners Association). All three of these associations have a direct impact on both business-to-business and business-to-consumer members.

Solutions-based selling

The next phase for the associations is to refine their solutions-based selling, starting from how their standards support the overall application of standards within the industry. By embracing standards and using them to create educational, public relation, and marketing messages for everyone in their influence, associations can fully embrace solution-based selling and the standards that affect them and their customers. Using standards to emphasize the correct remediation of issues that face the members of an association in a broad, united voice will reinforce the standards and elevate that association and industry community beyond what it is today.

Enhanced Communication Boosts Bottom Lines

Written by: Brian Smith
Original by: REP

A critical component of being an effective real estate sales representative is having strong communication skills—and that involves much more than being personable with clients.

According to Dr. Brian Smith, author of Individual Advantages: Find the “I” in Team, agents should be cognizant of the message they communicate both to the public and throughout their infrastructure.

“Oftentimes, if you look at the way real estate agents communicate, things aren’t really clear,” Dr. Smith, whose company IA Business Advisors has over 1,300 clients worldwide, told REP. “I know they want to post the best of each property, but they can ruin their reputation when they post something that isn’t indicative of the property they’re trying to sell. It starts with the word communication and the visual communication; so by ensuring it’s accurate, detailed enough, and conveys the true nature of what’s being sold, they’ll find their reputation and engagement will get better.

“Similarly, within their offices, there seems to be a disconnect where one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing, so developing and keeping a clear form of communication between your team members, especially when you’re working on multiple properties in multiple areas and with different kinds of properties, it gets really confusing when people don’t understand what they are.”

While agents work for brokerages, they’re essentially autonomous businesses and that can sometimes becloud their disposition. Dr. Smith recommends a top-down infrastructure scheme, the predication of which is clear communication between agents and their brokerage peers, so that nothing is lost in translation.

“While they’re independent agents, they still have to communicate effectively with the teams that support them. If somebody calls in about an ad they’ve communicated, it’s important that their office peers know their schedule, or know which properties they’ve listed and even know a little bit about those properties, and have a clear understanding of what’s expected of them with regards to collecting information from the prospects who call. Agents have to set up their teams to support them, and that way the communication will be more cohesive and they will set themselves up to build better rapport with customers and within the company.”

Understanding the limits of one’s workload is also vital to an agent’s business strategy. Dr. Smith says that agents might sometimes believe too much of their own hype and juggle too many properties, and in the process deliver poor service to all of their clients.

“They’re just trying to get somebody to sign that contract so that they can move onto the next contract, and then they overburden themselves,” he said. “They don’t focus on that contract as much as they can, and should, because they’re trying to grab the next one. They should balance their utilization: How many properties can they handle effectively with their team and the infrastructure they have in place, and how do they keep that balance so that they’re always representing themselves, their companies and their clients’ properties at the highest level?”

The Wrong Way to Lead

Written By: Brian Smith
Original By: CEOWorld Magazine

Leading is not something that comes naturally to most people. Imitation of those that influence us is how a vast majority of individuals develop leadership skills. On the surface, one of the first lessons learned may be to follow orders; so, one may assume that all you need to perform as a good leader is to tell people what to do and whatever task was given will be completed with accuracy. This style of leading is not wrong, however, telling people what to do must be followed up with proper action.

My first questions when I meet a new manager are: Are you a boss, or are you a leader? Do you think they are one in the same? My experience and philosophies tell me they are not one in the same and my goal in consulting and in this article is not to dive into the depths of their differences, but to discuss a common issue that managers seem to create within their organizations. They demonstrate a, “Do as I say, not as I do,” management style; this is the wrong way to lead.

The biggest difference between individuals who consider themselves a boss and ones who consider themselves a leader is that a leader sets examples through action. A boss will use phrases such as, “Because I said so,” or, “Just do what I say,” or, “I am the boss.” However, actions speak louder than words when it comes to earning respect and creating an environment where leaders are held in high esteem.

The biggest issue with a boss who thinks they deserve respect due to their title is that they still have significant influence. Unfortunately, many individuals have the belief that because someone owns or is the manager of a company (the boss), that they have the right to lead with the, “Do as I say, not as I do,” mentality. The flaw with this mentality is the misuse of their influence which creates future bosses who believe this is how leaders are meant to act.

Being a “boss” (in terms of the definition I have laid out here) not only leads to the creation of future “bosses,” but it also produces a high employee turnover. Any company whose owner or manager has the mentality that, “The boss is always right,” or that it is okay to lead with, “Do as I say” undeniably has an organization with high employee turnover and organizational issues.

Standards matter in every organization. When a boss creates standards that are only for their subordinates—and does not follow the standards themselves—those standards have no credibility; by lacking credibility in standards, the boss lacks credibility. There are always exceptions to the rule as there will always be some organizations that can lead with this kind of management style and still survive; however, don’t focus on the exceptions, focus on the rules. Organizations that are led by “bosses” with eventually fail and that failure can be measured on several scales.

High turnover doesn’t apply to just the employees; high turnover applies to customers as well. Bosses who have a, “Do as I say”, attitude usually don’t accept criticism—no matter how constructive—from others easily. They can’t grow individually, and they limit their area of growth for influence (that they can have over others in their individualistic way). Individuals with this mentality, who are not the owner of the organization, typically bounce around from job to job and the only loyalty they receive is from those who buy into the, “I’m the boss,” mentality.  These managers usually leave a path of organizational destruction and don’t realize that they are the destroyer.

Leaders, on the other hand, are individuals who manage by example. They develop policies and standards that they follow along with their subordinates. When confronted with a moment where they are challenged to do as they say, they strive to be accountable. Leaders engage and listen to their subordinates to improve the influence they all have together as a team and as individuals. These managers usually have organizations where problems are not detrimental but are learning opportunities and lead to positive change and growth for everyone involved.

Leaders have a sense to diminish the boss-like attitudes and mentalities. Leaders help develop other leaders by setting examples through action. They identify action properly and allow the team to lead when acceptable. Leaders delegate not only physical action but also creative chances for decision making, creating an environment of ownership and accountability that is trusted by everyone in their influence.

If you find that you are a boss who leads with a, “Do as I say” mentality, self-reflection and looking at your organization to identify where your actions have created high turnover with staff, customers, and vendors is vital.  Look at the areas in your influence and if there is continuous turmoil or conflict, ask yourself honestly what you do to contribute to the chaos. Once you have solidly identified some specific examples of the failures being caused by tumultuous behavior, address them in a pragmatic way. Offer a solution to the problems and attempt to make the issues better. Take accountability for your actions and own the issues as the leader; ask your team to work with you to resolve them by considering their input.

In the end, leadership is about developing a path to success through positive influence. A “boss” won’t be able to do this because they exercise control and authority by directing through inaction, while leaders contribute to positive action and development through example, engagement, and empowerment of the entire team.