Tuesday
Jun142011

Appreciation Marketing

What is Appreciation Marketing?

Tommy Wyatt and Curtis Lewsey wrote Appreciation Marketing – How to Achieve Greatness Through Gratitude. In the book they describe how the simple act of expressing sincere appreciation to any of your customers, prospects, employees, family and friends creates a strong emotional bond between the two parties.

Validating others and expressing your appreciation for what they have done, or who they are has the effect of generating increased positive activity in your direction in the future. That is, the simple, often overlooked, act of recognizing your relationships engenders lasting goodwill in the recognition recipient. And the natural outcome of that is more of the behavior you recognized from your relationship. Example: the outcome of genuinely thanking someone for their business is that they will give you more business and refer others to you as well.

One of the truest forms of demonstrating appreciation or of validating someone is to send them a greeting card. Not an e-card, a physical greeting card. Studies have shown that people at any age enjoy receiving a personalized recognition that comes through the mail. The research says greeting cards generate a feeling of happiness from the moment the recipient recognizes the envelope as that of a greeting card. A smile usually comes to their face and you can almost sense the heart swelling with happiness. The person will take time to read the card, especially any handwritten note inside. Most often, the card will be propped up on the highest, viewable, flat surface in the vicinity of the card recipient. For example, if there is a bar height counter next to a traditional height counter, the card will more likely be placed on the bar height counter. This is a subconscious act saying: “look at me, I’m special, someone is validating me.”

Greeting cards satisfy that human need to be validated. Think of it from your perspective; can you ever think of a time when you weren’t happy to receive a genuine greeting card? Interestingly enough Lewsey and Wyatt also discuss how the act of creating and sending greeting cards has a very similar effect on the sender. That is, those who are considerate enough to recognize others via greeting cards are also very satisfied and fulfilled that they have positively recognized others.

This simple act of kindness returns more than increased business, it returns personal satisfaction and an overall positive energy around the relationship -that is infectious. If you ever have the pleasure to be around the two authors, you’ll understand the power.

The power was so great that we immediately signed up – STI is an independent distributor of the online card service that is revolutionizing card giving. Check out our site at the following link to learn more. https://www.sendoutcards.com/124811/

Or call us for a 15-minute demonstration at             919-650-3954      . Your life will change forever.

Saturday
Jun042011

A (very special) College Fund

Anna LusardiIf you watched the NBC Nightly News on Wednesday, June 1st, you heard the story of a boy, La’Shaun Armstrong, just 10 years old, who survived a very tragic accident in which his mother drove a van carrying him and his three siblings into the Hudson river. La’Shaun was able to escape via a car window and swim for help. Tragically, his mother and siblings were dead by the time help arrived. But if you watched that broadcast, you also heard that the Ray Lewis Foundation and United Athletes Foundation (UAF) recently organized a fund-raising event to provide La’Shaun with counseling and a college scholarship and how athletes involved with the foundation have rallied to support La’Shaun.

I am going to put on my economist’s hat to talk first about college funds. Over the past decade, tuition and fees at four-year public colleges and universities have increased more rapidly than they did during the 1980s or 1990s, rising by an average of nearly 5 percent each year (adjusted for inflation). With this trend unlikely to abate, an average American family with children can expect to dedicate a sizable share of their resources to paying college tuition. However, according to the FINRA Financial Capability Study, well below half—41 percent—of those who have financially dependent children have set money aside for college educations. And even those who have set money aside may not have done it in the most tax-savvy way. Only 33 percent of those who have set aside money for college educations have used a tax-advantaged savings account such as a 529 Plan or a Coverdell Education Savings Account.

But with the costs of college increasing so fast, planning for children’s education is critically important and may be the deciding factor in whether children will be able to go to the college of their choice or even to attend college at all. And with wages diverging so widely for workers with and without a college degree, not having that degree may mean a lifetime of low and stagnating wages. Building a college savings fund may be not only the best investment for the children’s future but also a way to inspire children to go to college. Of course, starting early is the key to build up savings: one dollar put aside today at an interest rate of 5 percent will more than double 15 years down the road. It is great that the foundations helping La’Shaun have thought about a college fund for him.

But let me now return to this story without my economist’s hat. As Albert Camus would say, life has its way of being tragic, and those frigid waters changed La’Shaun’s life instantly and dramatically. His is a story of incredible survival and resilience. Still, a kid of that age needs more than financial support. I had the opportunity to meet La’Shaun in New York at the recent event organized by the UAF. He is a shy kid with a tenderness in his eyes, and on meeting him, you can hardly resist giving him a hug. And a big hug he got from, well, a very big guy (you can see pictures of those strong hugs along with the full NBC story here: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/43236305/ns/today-today_people/t/boy-who-survived-hudson-crash-nfl-star-brother/ ). Ray Lewis and the UAF have committed not just to establishing a college fund but to being the mentors, the family, of this very special kid. In the words of La’Shaun, Ray Lewis is “like an older brother to me.” Reggie Howard, the president of UAF, has made La’Shaun part of the players’ families.

When asked what they aim to do for La’Shaun, Ray Lewis stated it succinctly. His hopes are “to achieve much more than what his situation offered.” There is early indication that what they are doing is working. When asked what he wants to do when he grows up, La’Shaun responded without hesitation: “I’m not sure yet.. First, I have to finish college.”

If you want to donate to this very special college fund, see the link below.
http://www.unitedathletesfoundation.org/

 

 

 

 

Tuesday
May312011

Ending Athletes' Bankruptcies

ANNAMARIA LUSARDI HANOVER, NEW HAMPSHIRE, UNITED STATESI’d like to dedicate another blog post to the issue of athletes and financial literacy. Around the time of my previous post on the topic, NPR featured a story about professional athletes and their financial literacy (the link is provided at the end of this post). The article mentions Kenny Anderson, who earned more than $60 million during his 14 years in the NBA, yet declared bankruptcy the year his career ended. The story goes on to talk about what happens when athletes acquire great wealth without having a clue about money management. Even in the NFL, which has the most college graduates, players often do not have any experience managing money, including what they might learn from paying for a college education, as they generally attend college on a scholarship.

I sent the NPR story to Reggie Howard, who is the President of the United Athletes Foundation and cares deeply about this topic. His reply came back with even more sobering information. He was just informed that 15 athletes in the Miami area have been victimized by a single financial advisor. Each athlete gave the advisor’s agency control over their bill payments and money management and all got a bad deal. No one ever talked about it, which allowed the advisor to continue to use the same method on each player. Reggie was outraged and ended his message with the passionate tone he uses when he talks about victimized players: “This subject really gets my blood boiling. We have to change this.”

Stories like this one illustrate yet again the dire consequences of financial illiteracy. Unfortunately, professional athletes—newly wealthy, young, and inexperienced—are ideal targets for scams or unscrupulous advisors when instead good financial planning is the thing they need the most. Even for those making very sizeable incomes, there is no guarantee that the money will last a lifetime; athletes’ career paths are very unique (for example, they can be quite brief) and risky (a serious injury can put a quick end to a high income), and this requires even more skillful money management than normal. Sound planning is needed to make sure that money will extend well beyond the careers of players, that it is invested to grow over time, and that it is not squandered in unsustainable lifestyles or in risky investments that players do not understand or have experience with. And athletes need to know how to protect their wealth, including how to avoid bad advisors and unscrupulous agents and how to make good decisions when presented with well-intended requests or investment suggestions from friends. 

We cannot expect all professional athletes to be experts in dealing with money. They become wealthy very early in life, before they have had a chance to gain any experience in dealing with financial matters. Their colleagues are mostly other athletes or sports professionals, so it is not possible to get much help from their peers. In my view, some money management has to become part of the standard, ongoing services that are offered to athletes. In the same way that it is standard for athletes to have coaches, doctors, and managers to help take care of their physical fitness, so it should be standard to have help in taking care of their financial fitness. And this help has to be specialized, designed to fit the needs of the very specific career that athletes face. Finance and financial decisions are too important, with potentially profound consequences for athletes' futures, to just be left for the athletes to figure out on their own.

Like Reggie, I detest the idea of athletes going bankrupt. It is not just the fact that it is unjust, unnecessary, and ugly as hell. It is also that we look up to and admire these people. Unlike them, we cannot bound up two flights of stairs without gasping for breath, we have back pain from sitting long hours at a desk, and we have boring jobs and screaming children. But when we see these athletes play, they make us dream. We believe they are special and we admire their skills and talents. This is why we get very upset when we find out that an athlete has, say, a gambling problem or beats up his spouse. In our eyes, they are better than we are, and they should do better than we do. And to young people, athletes are practically superheroes. Telling kids about athletes’ financial troubles would be like breaking the news that the Bat mobile has been repossessed. If athletes are in financial trouble, then, well, they are just like the rest of us. I’d like to see them be better equipped to make good financial moves; maybe if they can do so, the rest of us will follow. 

Here is the link to the NPR story.

http://www.npr.org/2011/05/19/136445218/for-some-athletes-a-short-lived-financial-success

 

Thursday
May262011

The Art of Delegation and Empowerment

Cornerstone Competencies of a Successful Company!

 

By John T. Hewitt

Founder & CEO of Liberty Tax Service

 

[Sixth in a series of articles on managerial and company building successes by John Hewitt.]

 

For many business leaders, the great conundrum has always been how much can I effectively delegate and how much empowerment can I provide before I lose control of the quality of the fulfillment. In order address this intelligently, perhaps we should begin by defining the fundamentals of delegation first, and then move into appropriate empowerment as associated with each delegated task or responsibility.

 

There is an art to delegation. Savvy leaders realize this and work diligently, as any artisan would, to expand their skills in this area. Understanding delegation practices allows the successful leader to associate appropriate responsibilities or tasks to the appropriate individual who is trained and capable of its successful fulfillment. For example, it is highly unlikely that any intelligent or responsible leader would delegate year-end audit reviews to anyone other than someone whose background and expertise would allow them to actually be able to do the job. Using myself as an example, this approach would make as much sense as my being delegated the task of painting or sculpting art suitable for the Louvre. This is simply not within my area of expertise; and no matter how hard I may try, and in spite of how sincere my efforts may be, I will likely never meet the expectations as fulfilled by a Michelangelo! As outrageous as this association may sound, so often are the types of demands and expectations some managers and leaders often make on unqualified staff. That being said, it is not by any means the act of delegation that is at fault; but rather the “art” of the action is where the error exists.

 

In order to create an atmosphere of successful delegation, savvy leaders must first ensure that they hire internal intelligence capable of implementing-to-expectation. The onus is on the leader to ensure he/she understands the importance of “artful” delegation, and has set the stage accordingly, in order to build a thriving company. Savvy leaders create an atmosphere in which there is a straightforward contract with each person who joins their company, an unambiguous agreement to perform to excellence, and clear messaging that nothing less is acceptable. What does this mean? It means that every function within the company, from Building Maintenance to Receptionist, from Managerial to Departmental staffing, from Executive team to the CEO, and in my particular case as a tax service Franchisor, from our family of Franchisees to their staff — we are all in this together and must work in synch in a cohesive manner in order to accomplish success. A successful company is essentially a “healthy organism”, one that continues to grow and thrive ONLY because its health is nurtured and maintained. If there is a breakdown in any part of the organism that creates this “body” we call a corporation, the disease of failure contagiously takes over. After all, business leaders and internal intelligence (i.e. employees and Franchisees in my case) are the hosts of this great organism, and therefore must ensure that they maintain its health through innovative and supportive practices so that the body that is “the corporation” may flourish.

 

As I look introspectively, as well as outwardly to many of my fellow corporate leaders, I realize we all have a tendency to think, at one time or another, that we are indeed “Atlas”, and that we can, and often are expected to, hold the weight of our corporate worlds squarely on our own shoulders. While we all do indeed hold the responsibility of successful direction of our “worlds”, success, as I continuously proclaim, is unequivocally dependent on the efforts of the whole. I will not insult your intelligence by boring you with more well-worn adages such as “no man is an island”, and so on; nevertheless, I will repeat the fact that no company has ever truly been successful because of one person. One person may have had the idea and he/she may have had the leadership skills – but these corporate leaders were smart enough to bring in the right people to fulfill that strategic vision. With over 42 years in an industry that has provided me the pleasure of leading two very successful companies, both of which have broken industry records over the years, my current company, Liberty Tax Service, is considered to be quite an anomaly in its ability to grow at an unprecedented pace in the tax industry’s history. However, I am confident in proclaiming that I did not do it all on my own. This is why, in my opinion, delegation sets the stage that is vital to the encouragement and empowerment of a team that will ultimately reach the heights of success that began as only a “vision” within a visionary’s dream!

 

Delegation allows internal intelligence to work through and solve problems that you, as a leader, may not have had the opportunity to see. After all, no matter if your company is a “David” or a “Goliath”[discussed in a previous article], as a leader, you need to focus on the big picture and build a team that will support and enhance the foundations of the strategy. And, for those of us who, heaven forbid, think we ARE on top of all situations, it is important to remember that proper delegation allows innovative thinking, which in turn, creates new approaches surrounding ideas or solutions pertaining to issues, or potential issues that we, as corporate leaders, may not have had the time to even realize existed. The role of a successful business leader is to focus on the future and the opportunities it provides. By virtue of being corporate leaders, and I say this to anyone leading any company at whatever size, big or small, we have accepted the responsibility to ensure that the company’s internal intelligence is of the highest quality to ensure its success. In my case, this is what our employees and our Franchisees depend on me to do, because both are dependent on one another. Liberty cannot be a successful company without exceptional employees and Franchisees alike. So we continue to work toward achieving the symbiosis that this reality requires in order for Liberty to continue in its path to becoming the “greatest tax company in the universe”, the corporate mantra I explained in a previous article to be the revered chant in our company. 

 

That said, it is important that we understand the essential components of triumphant delegation, so that we can follow this discussion with the all-important “empowerment ingredients” that are so essential to this formula for success. Learning to delegate may seem like more of a chore than a complement to success by some; but it is indisputable that savvy delegation dramatically increases the amount and quality of work, not to mention employee satisfaction. In fact, delegation is simply common sense....but it  takes work.

 

I realize that attaching the words “delegation and work” in one statement may seem like an oxymoron; but to delegate successfully, you must deploy a great deal of effort. Smart leaders ensure that, as delegators, they (and their management staff) fully understand the task(s) at hand and are very clear about the expectation for fulfillment so that they can select the appropriate individual that has the skill sets and/or potential to victoriously complete the tasks and responsibilities that have been assigned. Communication-to-expectation that accompanies successful delegation is not always something that comes naturally for many people. That’s why I refer to the ability to delegate successfully as an “art”, because those who are accomplished at delegation have worked on this craft, viewing it as an essential element of their managerial and corporate growth. In my opinion, this is, in fact, an integral function of a great leader. However, delegation is also a skill that can be honed into an art, and should be part of all leadership growth practices. [More on this in an upcoming article.]

 

Unsurprisingly, the toughest part for many leaders and managers is being able to shift the decision-making authority that must ultimately accompany delegation. It is important to realize that responsibility assigned to any staff member, at whatever level of the company, without granting authority to those same individuals who will be rated on their successful fulfillment of a delegated assignment is not only incongruous, but can be calamitous to the success of the overall organization. This practice serves to only breed discontent and lack of emotional engagement by your stakeholder team. For many companies, this lack of attention to internal satisfaction mechanisms have been directly tracked to their eventual downfall, as the corporate culture was viewed as restrictive and unsupportive. For this reason, it has always been important to me that I build a company that allows its internal intelligence to be exactly that — intelligent. And by doing so, I have had the pleasure to work with many professionals to whom I can personally attribute as having been instrumental in the success of my companies, including the thousands of Franchisees with whom I have had the pleasure to work over the years.

 

There are simple rules of thumb that should be followed when delegating a responsibility. None of these are “evangelically inspired”, but are simply commonsensical approaches to a commonsensical practice. As a successful leader, I believe these simple rules should always be in practice in your organization for appropriate delegation practices:

 

1)  As previously stated, delegators must understand the assignment and match it to the appropriate individual for fulfillment. This is their responsibility and it is important that they realize its importance. As a leader, you are responsible for ensuring that you have built a culture within your management team that requires strict adherence to this primary rule.  

2)  Communication-to-fulfillment is without question. If employees are uncertain of what they are supposed to provide at the end of the day, so to speak, then how can they satisfy the expectation for successful fulfillment? This communication should always include deadlines and specific deliverables.

3)  Ensure you have created a culture wherein the individual being assigned a project feels comfortable in asking for more detail and, in some cases, perhaps guidance, i.e. a level-leveling approach between management and employee. Remember, your goal as a leader is to create other leaders, and you can’t do this if you don’t provide an environment conducive to open communication without repercussion.

4)  Monitor results. This requires an open feedback loop so that expectations can be reiterated if necessary, and an open interface between delegator and delegate is encouraged. This is not only a very common team building exercise, but it is a very simple and savvy project management technique.

5)  Do not focus on the process but always on the results. This statement just happens to be one of our core principles at Liberty Tax. We acknowledge that everyone may have a different route to the finish line. As long as they arrive at the finish line by the designated time with an eye on excellence and integrity, we make it a principle to refrain from forcing the route they may take to get there. At Liberty, our goal is to move as far away from micromanagement as is humanly possible!

 

Enough about delegation, for now, I think I’ve made my take on this subject fairly clear. Let’s move on to the all-powerful “empowerment”.

 

Empowerment allows your internal intelligence access to the necessary stepping stones to reach the next level of success for themselves and your company. In today’s technologically-rich environment, company leaders sometimes forget that their staff is not just a new “software release”. They are not mechanical and/or programmed beings that intellectually or emotionally function within a contained environment, programmed to be effective, supportive, constructive and content. A company very simply cannot build internal evangelists, who will proclaim and exhibit the superiority of a company or its services internally and externally, unless it acknowledges this reality. Smart leaders understand that they cannot lose site of the humanity within their corporations that is fundamental to each individual that supports the company’s success. Unfortunately, this acknowledgement often seems to be lost by so many companies as they embark on their road to success. That is why empowerment is so important to building a prosperous organization, because it incorporates the needs and intellect of a thriving support system.

 

So why are so many business leaders and/or their management staff afraid to empower their staff members? By definition, empowerment is the process by which an employee is enabled or authorized to think, behave, take action, and control work and decision-making, theoretically, in an autonomous environment. I believe that the sense of “autonomy” is the key detriment driving many leaders to shy away from this very powerful strategic business tool.

 

But what we, as business leaders, must realize is that empowerment allows our team members to take control of their own professional destiny and to do so through the success of their inputs and contributions to the organism to which we have referred herein as “the corporation”. We may fear staff-level empowerment because many of us are afraid that someone might make a mistake; and if we had not empowered individual thinking and action, this would never have happened! But think about the adverse effect of disempowerment. In my mind, stagnation is the true threat of death for any company. A business simply cannot survive, and certainly not prosper, if there is no sense of responsibility shared across its internal intelligence. Empowerment is key to building that much needed internal ownership that all team members must have in order to ensure corporate success. Empowerment encourages creative thinking. It encourages discussion of possibilities. Empowerment opens doors for thought and innovation that would forever remain closed if never given the opportunity to exalt in the light of “unencumbered permission”.

 

Let’s be very clear about what I am saying. If delegation is done properly, then empowerment is a fairly safe risk, and one that is well worth the taking. Isn’t it better to build a company that consists of “extraordinary professionals” than one filled with “ordinary subordinates”? Every business leader should be aiming for “unimaginable success”. It is only with this goal in mind that successful companies can ever reach the heights of achievement beyond that which they are experiencing today. I believe that a successful company will never reach its full potential unless their leaders realize that, with each new day, with each new hire, with each new opportunity and with each new influence, their companies have the opportunity to transcend beyond what once might have been believed to be the great “home run”. But, companies will only get there if their leaders understand that that they have a world of intelligence available to them. And, if treated and nurtured properly, they may proudly proclaim that they have extraordinary professionals as part of their team, who act as invaluable drivers of their success.

 

Savvy business leaders never rest on their laurels. They understand that the certainty of a new challenge will always exist and they are keen to embrace the opportunities at hand by developing internal competencies to greet these new opportunities, while creating a culture that will attract like-minded professionals to the family.

 

I personally will always opt for the “extraordinary”, and I am always on the lookout for talented, enthusiastic individuals. It has been our tradition never to isolate our recruitment efforts only to fill job openings or position descriptions. We are always seeking out talent regardless of whether we have a position available within the firm. As a matter of fact, sometimes we interview individuals who ultimately create their own positions during the interview process.

 

It has always been important to me that we sculpt a team environment that consists of professionals that joined us because we appreciated their talents and enthusiasm, and they, in kind, appreciated the opportunities and culture of personal growth and empowerment we offer. Does this approach work? Without being too braggadocios, I think my track record has proven this approach to be more than adequately successful!