Culture Matters in the Workplace

Does your business have a specific culture? Of course the answer is that it does whether it is conscious or not. For instance, at my firm we have the JW Way ( It is a mission statement consisting of twenty one fundamentals. We believe that since making these fundamentals of our firm’s culture a conscious part of our firm it has improved what already was a good place to work and guided us to better hiring decisions, all of which has had a positive impact on our bottom line.

This should not be a shock, though if you ask most business owners about the culture of their company it is not so easy to put into words. Sometimes putting it into words honestly may lead to the realization changes are needed. Change is hard, but if you invest in doing so the results will reflect the time and effort.

For instance, I read last year about Incheon Airport in Seoul, Korea. It is ranked No. 1 by passengers every year. When one employee was asked “What is it? What’s so magical?”, he responded as follows: “It’s because everyone – airport and airline personnel, security, concessionaires – we all share the same vision and we all deliver the same level of customer service.” They have a culture at that airport that allows that to happen. They all are pulling the rope in the same direction.

When that happens it is no surprise that success follows. When there is culture like that it tends to weed out those who don’t or refuse to follow the culture. That is what you want because it allows you to bring on people who appear better suited to be part of the culture and thereby help improve your business.

On a side note, a number of years ago my wife and I had a pretty long layover at Incheon Airport. Still to this day it is the best (and cleanest) airport we ever have been in, which sure made that long layover easy to make it through.

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Seize the Moment!

If you have my attention, blow my mind. Impress me and make me want to know more or invest in you or spread what you have shared. Opportunities are everywhere, but you need to treat them like they can be life altering.

This can be something general like just being nice to everyone. Was that millennial dressed more casual than you think she should be and seemingly on her phone too much a slacker or a tech innovator with a company more valuable than you can imagine. It is impossible to know and judging people on dress and looks will hurt you in today’s world. Talk to someone and see what happens. Worst case you cut the conversation short. Best case is the sky is the limits.

This can be something more specific like getting an audience with someone you really want to meet. Do you mumble and stutter trying to get your thoughts out or did you plan for the presentation or conversation? Practice a presentation, many times. Plan the conversation and possible questions in your head. Maybe practice this too so you can work out answers and what you want to say. This can help you hone your answers and not talk too much. Delivery counts.

Sometimes a certain opportunity only comes along once. Will you be ready??

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Challenge yourself!

Not sure what I mean by this? I will explain. I mean set goals, both short term and long term. And once you set the “goal,” which you should do in writing, write the action steps to get there. If you have no roadmap how can you expect to ever find that goal, let alone reach it. One roadmap you can follow is turning your goals into SMART goals:

  • Specific – target a specific  goal or area for improvement.
  • Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
  • Assignable – specify what you will do.
  • Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved.
  • Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.

This works both personally and professionally. Want to learn to play an instrument? Find an instructor good with beginners and take weekly lessons. And then practice, practice, practice. Even if it is fifteen or twenty minutes a day, make sure you carve out time in your schedule to do so. Putting that time on your calendar is even better because it is much more likely to happen.

Want to write a blog? I set out time to write these posts and to post and distribute them. Sometimes I block out time to write one post. Sometimes I write number at one time because I know upcoming weeks are really busy. Next, I block out time to send and post them. It helps that I enjoy doing this, but if I didn’t take the steps I do, I likely would have stopped years ago after a few posts.

So what is your goal? Once you know, determine the steps to reach it. If you are not sure, talk with a mentor or someone you think can help you formulate goals. It also helps to receive feedback from others on goals and action plans.

If you don’t set goals everything will stay the same. That may be fine with you, but if you think so, you should be asking yourself why. It equates to being a lifetime learner and continually trying to improve personally and professionally. Try it and see what happens.

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Do you manage expectations?

This is so important. In fact, I will venture to say its everything in business and in life. There are three possible outcomes with expectations: (1) exceed expectations; (2) meet expectations; or (3) miss expectations. Two out of three possible outcomes help you maintain clients, customers and business, while the last one likely will lose business or damage relationships.

It is better to under promise and over deliver than to over promise and under deliver. An example of this is when I tell a client I will have draft or project complete by a certain date. If I deliver it before the date I told them I have exceeded the expectation I set for them. If I deliver it on the date I said I met their expectation. If I get it to them after that date, I have missed their expectation, which I was in control of when I gave them the date originally. I know where I want to be when I have set the expectation and we all know what we think when someone else does so, such as when your car will be ready when in the shop to how long a doctor’s appointment will take.

And expectations in other areas, such as cost or fees, are incredibly important to manage. If you tell a customer a number or range, the cost better come in under or up to the number or within the range. Go under and you are a hero. Go over and you are a goat. You will be left making excuses for the cost and probably will end up cutting your bill. If you know the cost is going to be more than what you quoted, call them the minute you know and explain why. And get direction on how or if they want you to proceed. If you don’t, you do so at your own peril.

Sometimes things happen for innumerable reasons and you know you will not meet a deadline. What do you do? You call your customer and let them know, right away. And you then reset their expectations with a new deadline you believe you can and will meet. Having to reset expectations once in a while likely won’t harm your business, but if you make it a regular practice you do so, again, at your own peril.

So manage expectations well and you will have better client and customer relationships. Don’t, and you likely will have less client and customer relationships to worry about.



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Don’t talk too much!

We all know that person, the one you meet in a business or personal setting who cannot stop themselves from dominating a conversation or room. They don’t let anyone else say much. When the conversation or meeting is over, you know too much about them assuming they spoke about themselves, which most people like that do, or too much of their personal opinions, and we all know the saying about opinions and everyone having one. On the other hand, they may not even remember your name and didn’t let you speak enough to learn about you to have anything substantive to remember.

I read an article recently about annoying personalities on display at all networking events. That author had nicknames for various types of characters she encountered. It made me think of different types of people. The person I describe above can be referred to as the “Chatterbox.” The Chatterbox may be that way for a number of reasons such as (1) ego; (2) lack of self-awareness; or (3) social awkwardness. The reason doesn’t matter, but what you should do does: exit the conversation.

When meeting someone for the first time for business make sure you try learn more about their background and their business versus what you speak about and share. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share about you and your business, but if you focus on asking questions and learning about them, you will put yourself in a place to make a possible connection and know they aren’t walking away thinking you talk too much and don’t really care about what they do or have to say.

A great resource I work with passed on a link to a good article on this subject last year. The author of the article wrote about what he referred to as the Traffic Light Rule. It is another method to use to avoid talking too much. The gist is that the light is green the first twenty seconds you are speaking, yellow for the next twenty seconds and at the forty second mark the light turns red. If you play through that red light, bad things can and do happen.

So don’t be a Chatterbox or run red lights and you will put yourself in a better position to have meaningful interactions.

Here is the link to the article referenced above – How to Know if You Talk too Much by Mark Goulston:

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Success Does Not Happen Overnight

“Overnight success” is a cliché we all are familiar with. But in the real world most overnight successes have put in their time and you don’t even realize it. For instance, most people look at the Beatles as an overnight success. Actually their rise to the top took approximately five years, thousands of hours of practice and hundreds of live performances. To think they didn’t put in the time and sacrifice to get to the top is shortsighted and wrong.

Their first UK number 1 was in May 1963 and their first US number 1 was in January 1964, but John Lennon and Paul McCartney first met in 1957. Thereafter, Lennon asked McCartney to join the Quarrymen, who, other than Lennon, were not very good musicians. In 1958, after lots of practice and many shows, George Harrison joined the group. By 1959, only the three future Beatles remained in the band.

In 1960 they renamed themselves the Beatles. After that they went to Hamburg, Germany for a good amount of the time between August 1960 through December 1962. During that time they lived in one cramped room with a bathroom down the hall and practiced for endless hours each day, while playing clubs at night. They put in hard work and sacrificed to improve their skills. Obviously it worked for them.

You are asking yourself, “okay, but what does this mean to me?” It is this type of investment in and commitment to whatever you are doing, whether alone or in a group, that gives you the best chance to succeed in any field. I could have told you the same story about entrepreneurs, professionals, etc. from every industry, but the Beatles work because everyone thinks their success was immediate when it wasn’t, and don’t realize the time and energy they invested in themselves leading to that success.

And that is the usual route. Hard work doesn’t guaranty success, but it gives you a much better shot. So plan your strategies for your business, career, networking, marketing, whatever you are doing, regularly and think long term. Ask most successful people you know and you will get a good story about what it took to reach where they are and that they continue to try to improve, because staying on top of the mountain is as hard as reaching the summit.

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Be on time

Be on time. Yes, it is that simple. Everyone’s time is valuable. We all have one more thing we can do before walking down the hall for that scheduled meeting or leaving to make it on time to that lunch meeting. What this really boils down to is that we all need to honor our commitments.

When you show up late you are saying “what I was doing is more important than being on time for you.” If it is worth scheduling, it must be worth showing up on time, right? If not, then you need to question why you scheduled the meeting. Sometimes it is not your choice and those above you require you to attend yet another meeting you think is a waste of time.

If that is the case you should think about what you are saying to your superiors by showing up on time or not (or not paying attention such as checking your phone…). If you are not showing up on time you may on purpose or by mistake be sending a non-verbal message about what you think. And that may stick in the mind of your superior and will it affect your ability to move up through the ranks in the future? Do you want to take that chance?

Like him or loathe him, Woody Allen has a great quote on this: “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Again, it is simple: be on time.

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Manage, Don’t Micromanage

Some people who manage other people micromanage them because they have the need to control what their subordinates or employees do. There can be good reasons such as safety or training. Or maybe the end product is going out in the name of the higher up or under the name of the company they own or manage. In those cases the end product, whether a letter or a widget, reflects on the company, its owner or whoever is sending it out. But having control of the end product is different from micromanaging the process for that end product.

You may think you have the best way to manufacture the widget or are a better writer than whoever is drafting something your that will go out under your name. But if you train your people well and then let them control the process, amazing things can happen. George S. Patton said “If you tell people where to go, but not how to get there, you’ll be amazed at the results.” This is how products or processes are improved because innovation happens when people have a starting point and an ending point, but also have the opportunity to think outside of the box.

So the next time you want to tell you employee or subordinate how to do something for you, maybe you should try telling them what you need and let them carve the path. You will either get the same end result as if you micromanaged them, or be surprised by what they come up with. Either way you get what you want, but one path leave the door open for innovation, as well as employees who know you trust them to do their job.

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Who is your customer or client?

Of course the answer to this question is dependent on what you do, but if you don’t start by answering this question you will miss out on opportunities. The answer, based on your line of work, may be a type or category of businesses or  categories or people.

Some sales people think the answer is anyone and everyone, but it isn’t. On the surface, if you are in pharmaceutical sales it is doctors or medical practices or if you are a pool installer it is home builders or homeowners. It is important to start with the big picture and then narrow it down so you can come up with reasonable marketing and networking strategies. If you are the pharmaceutical salesperson, your company may assist with this by assigning you a region of a city, state or the country and providing leads. If you are the pool installer, you have to choose the geographical area you can reasonably cover with your crew(s), let alone the number of projects you can work at one time without causing delay and upsetting customers, before deciding how to market to your audience of potential customers.

Some professions, including attorneys, accountants and financial planners, have a different answer. We all have the skills to help many types of businesses and people, but a wise man I know told me something years ago about who your clients are likely to be, which still holds true today: look in the mirror. What he meant is that you are naturally going to connect to people similar to you, whether in age range, family background, interests, etc. We all know personal connection helps or causes us to make choices a lot of the time.

Where this leaves you is to remember, no matter your business or profession, you need to have a plan and strategy for your marketing and networking. If you have no plan, you have no plan, and you will have hits and misses, though likely more misses, because you are leaving your business to luck or casting too wide a net (a wide net has large holes for potential business to slip through!). It also helps to put your plans on paper, with short term and long term ideas, plans and goals.

If you start by defining who is your customer or client and drill down from there you increase your chance for success. So start today because there is no time like the present!

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Say what you mean through direct and honest communication

A lot of people sugarcoat what they say to save other’s feelings. This is good in theory, but detrimental to your business. If you cannot have honest, hard conversations with your peers and employees, what does that say about your business? What are you training them to do or be (or not)?

It reminds me of a quote someone sent me yesterday from Zig Ziglar: “The only thing worse than training employees and losing them is not training them and keeping them.” Right! If you can’t be honest with peers and employees that will be an element of your company’s cultural, and a bad one, and you are headed for lower results.

I have heard hard conversations referred to as “courageous conversations.” The truth is they are hard or difficult conversations usually dealing with a performance issue, an attitude issue, a disagreement on an important business issue or deal, or something similar. These types of conversations need to happen in a timely manner to have the best effect.

There is a mountain of information online and numerous books on this topic. What they generally say is that as part of sharing negative information, you also should accentuate the positive. If you manage people you should read and speak to others to learn how to have hard conversations, which do not come naturally for most people. That is how you can make difficult conversations constructive and a benefit to you, the other person and your business.

Of course, you can and should tailor what you are going to say based on who you are speaking with. But don’t make sugarcoating important matters part of your company’s culture or nothing will change and opportunities will be lost.

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