Fast Forward - February 2016
THE WATER COOLER
Positivity Equals Productivity
When the going gets tough, survival for a company often means employees must shoulder more than their share of the responsibilities that make a company successful. But the side effects of pushing employees harder can do a business more harm than good--inhibiting productivity.
Shawn Murphy, a management and leadership consultant, identifies the symptoms of destructive management and shares some strategies that managers can adopt to help develop and maintain a more positive workplace.
Blind impact occurs when leaders underestimate the value of their employees and cannot connect the dots between work and organizational direction. Antisocial leaders are autocratic and distrustful, dictating tasks and failing to give feedback or praise. Leaders who are resistant to change cannot help teams remain relevant, because they are late to adopt emerging best practices or more efficient policies and protocols.
Leaders who believe profit is the only measure of success are afflicted with profit myopia, chasing goals that are set by shareholders, alienating employees and clients alike. Silo syndrome appears in managers who can’t see beyond their immediate responsibilities and fail to understand what inspires or motivates employees.
To overcome these barriers to a positive, productive workplace, leaders should focus on the team as the top priority and embrace the belief that there’s value in experiencing joy at work. Good managers also nurture relationships with employees and seek out ways to help them achieve goals and acquire new skills. Adopting business practices and workplace policies that foster and support employee well-being can have an enormously positive impact on output.
Betamax, We Hardly Knew Ye
It lost the battle of 1970s TV-movie recording appliances here in the U.S., but Sony’s 40-year-old Betamax player enjoyed a (somewhat) long and fruitful existence in Japan, where the technology was apparently deemed worthy of the price tag. Sony announced last year that it would stop manufacturing Betamax tapes; the player itself hasn’t been sold since the early 2000s.
Other technologies we said goodbye to in 2015 include Windows 8, Google Glass and Apple HopStop. HopStop was available in more than 300 cities to guide users via public and private transportation, and in 2013 it was acquired by Apple--dropping support for Android devices not long after.
On Your Honor
Progressive Insurance wasn’t the first company to use a “name your price” gimmick to bring customers in ... garage sales, produce stands and street hawkers have all given clients the option to pay what they feel an item is worth.
Online retailer Everlane took this approach at the end of 2015, offering customers the chance to purchase select overstocked items at one of three price points. The kicker? Everlane detailed what each suggested price point would cover in terms of labor, materials and ancillary employee costs—as well as funds for future company growth.
If you think this new kind of tiered pricing might work for a promotional products business, ask yourself these questions first: Have your customers clearly or frequently stated what they think an item or service should cost? Is the actual price much higher (or lower)? Do your customers’ valuations vary greatly among each other?
If the answer to one or more of these is yes, it might be possible to implement a tiered pricing system that doesn’t factor in customer order frequency, volume or credit, but instead shows the customer just what each price point accomplishes for them and for you.
Of course, the most important question to ask yourself is, do your customers know the value of what you do for them? If the answer to this is no, then it’s time to become a consultant who imparts value to a comprehensive service, rather than a distributor who merely sells products.
Five Minutes With Matthew Crownover
President, Supplier Identification Plates, Inc.
At the first of the year, Matthew Crownover assumed the role of president at the company his parents started. Now a second-generation leader of supplier Identification Plates, Inc. (UPIC: ID-LINE), Crownover is applying the skills and leadership approach honed in his previous career as a hospital chaplain to the job at hand. He shared his thoughts on shaping the future of ID Plates in a recent interview with PPB.
PPB Your professional background has run a different path than the job you hold now. What approaches to work from your previous career will you bring to your new role as president of ID Plates?
Crownover I spent 15 years in professional chaplaincy, which is a tough industry to get into—you have to earn certifications and go through clinical education. In my case, it was oncology and psychiatry. One of the things you learn in chaplaincy is that you can’t fix all of someone’s problems, but you can help identify resources and tools that will help someone. That’s really what management is, so I walk around the company and listen to people. You won’t survive in business, or in ministry, if you think you can solve everyone’s problems. My team knows what they’re doing, but what I can do is listen—and that’s intuitive for me.
As my parents looked at their retirement, the question arose about what would happen to this business. The fact that we have 70 employees who count on us became a powerful thing for me to think about in terms of stewardship. In deciding to keep the business in the family, I’m driven by that sense of stewardship. So I really haven’t left ministry, I’ve just shifted my context.
I think it’s important to help people find meaning. I know that sounds generic, but it’s about the sense that you’re not just making a ‘widget,’ you’re actually contributing to something much bigger. We make great products, and we make jobs and dreams for people. We have several multigenerational employees working here.
PPB What unique values or perspectives does a family-owned business bring to the promotional products industry and its clients?
Crownover We talk a lot about adding value. There’s a thought that people defer to price, absent value; we see this in our personal lives. I visit a particular shop when I need something for my Vespa. I don’t know if they’re the cheapest, but I go because they take care of me and they’ve done a great job showing me what value looks like. That’s the kind of business I want to be. The value proposition is real for me. Running a business well and treating people well is a real thing for me.
PPB From a business standpoint, what changes or new ideas would you like to implement at ID Plates going forward?
Crownover We want to grow. All the people who built this company are nearing retirement age. As part of my coming here I wanted to move the business forward. The purpose of our business is to bless the lives of others, starting with our customers, our vendors and our employees. But we have to grow. I’ve spent the last year taking our company through the Goldman Sachs 10K Small Business Program. They look at your business from all angles … the process was painful, but helpful. Not only do we have the desire, but we now have the plan and the confidence.
I’m not trying to change everything, but I want to know if we’re doing the right thing or just the same thing. It’s a fresh opportunity to evaluate our relationships, and we’ve recently hired a marketing professional who’s very interested in the promotional products side of things.
PPB As a member of the community, how does staying involved benefit ID Plates?
Crownover We have a bunch of small things that are cool. We’ve always had a robust relationship with high school programs. Some of our long-term employees came to us that way. We have at any given time four or five of those students working here. It doesn’t always turn into a home run, but you never know the seeds you plant.
We also participate in a program called Sharing Life, which operates a food and clothing bank for families. There’s a 5K run that we volunteer to make the awards for, as long as our employees participate. One of the things that challenges us is that our customers don’t actually live here. But the overwhelming majority of our employees live within five miles of here.
PPB What, if any, ideas do you have for getting or keeping ID Plates involved with its local community, or with charitable organizations or causes?
Crownover I’m looking at a company-funded volunteer program–I’ve already done this informally, but I would like to make it a company benefit. The best thing I can do for the community is to run this business well so I can hire more people. If I can give you a job, with benefits, you can send your kids to college. We are also looking at models that deliver some financial management tools to families, things like Dave Ramsey’s programs, for instance. All of us could acquire better skills for budgeting, being out of debt, etc. In the end, such steps free us to be more generous in our efforts to love our neighbor, and that’s what it’s all about.
You’ve got your name on business cards, a sign above your store and even a logo--but is this the extent of your brand? Brittany Warnock with Bluehost explains why having a brand story is crucial to creating customer loyalty, and shares some tips for how you can make your brand story sing.
A brand story, says Warnock, establishes a connection between you and your customer, and helps you craft a sense of uniqueness and scarcity about your products and services. Promotion and advertising that incorporate the brand story can evoke an emotional response and thus have greater impact.
To craft your brand story, follow these tips for optimal success:
Show, Don’t Tell. If you want to be known for going the distance for a customer, talk about a time when you did so, and what the outcome was for the customer.
Follow A Traditional Story Arc. Introduce your brand, then share stories of challenges or obstacles, and end with the resolution.
Engage Emotions. Aim to evoke emotion with your story by appealing to customers’ desires, sense of nostalgia, or hopes for future success. Talk about why you exist, what your mission is as a company, who your key players are, and how you hope to grow as a brand.
Provide A Call To Action. Elements of your story encourage engagement, so include a call to action for customers to follow and receive the ultimate benefits of working with your brand.
Be Consistent Across Platforms. Your story should look and feel identical, whether it’s told in print, on the web or via mobile.