Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Don’t Overlook the Quiet Voices in the Room

This is the time of year when many of us start thinking about brainstorming and drilling down into our organizational strengths and weaknesses. We look closely at our clients and customers to see which ones are most profitable, and which ones are sucking the life and energy out of us. We look at who we’d like to have on our client list and ask ourselves if we have the financial, technology and people resources to get those ideal clients—and keep ‘em happy. Makes sense, right?

If you have doubts about your people, think twice before casting your line into the outside talent pool. You’ll be tying up countless hours of staff time as you vet, argue, interview and recruit new talent that may or may not work out. Before looking outside, ask yourself  how well you really know the team you already have in place. Doesn’t matter if you’ve got two people or two thousand people on your org chart. Chances are you may not be aware of everything they bring to the table—especially the quieter ones.

The loudest aren’t the brightest

Phil Gilbert’s recent piece
Hearing Every Voice in the Room got me thinking about how often the introverts--the serious, quiet contemplators who actually think first before shouting out their ideas and opinions. They’re the ones who often have the best ideas, but tend to get overlooked when organizations or all sizes are looking for fresh ideas. It doesn’t matter if it’s a quick coffee room conversation or a formal offsite brainstorming session—the squeakiest wheels tend to get the organizational grease. Unfortunately, that’s another form or organizational complacency and rarely leads to innovation. Why? “Because team dynamics can easily get in the way of good ideas and the loudest voice often wins,” observed Gilbert.
“There’s always someone who dominates the conversation and others who defer to that person out of frustration—or worse, complacency,” wrote Gilbert a general manager of IBM Design. But the article reminded me of a conversation I had last week with Frank Rudd, new president of the Florida Society of Association Executives (FSAE), a 1,000 member organization with six full-time staff. Rudd is spearheading FSAE’s merger with another organization and he told me of the first things he did when he came on board was ask everyone at the combined organization—regardless of their position—to revisit all of FSAE’s programs and services and assess whether those programs were really things members wanted or were just continuing out of habit.

“One of the first things organizations can do is keep doing things the same way, just because that’s how it’s always been done in the past,” Rudd noted. He looked to see where each member of his team (and army of volunteers) could be best deployed—and not a single person at either organization lost their job during the merger. On Day One, Rudd replaced the automated voice mail system with a live human operator and soon he and his team began driving around the state and to hand deliver welcome packages to all the new members they’ve acquired during the merger. That’s right. Hand deliver! Don’t think that approach helps you get to know your stakeholders and your staff?

At Gilbert’s division at IBM, they focus on two things
: (a) getting everyone to contribute and (b) letting everyone’s contributions be heard. They start with stacking up sticky notes filled with ideas onto a whiteboard. Everyone is free to post or “popcorn” in IBM-speak until the ideas slow to a dribble. Then the team leader groups the sticky notes into overlapping and logical area. That, he said is how you go from thinking about “what’s not possible, to thinking about what’s possible,” wrote Gilbert. Because everyone has buy-in.


If you, or a talented but quiet person on your staff is afraid to step up and champion ideas, we recommend Susan Caine’s book “Quiet-The Power of Introverts.” She’s also a terrific speaker for your events. A former corporate lawyer and negotiation specialist, Cain said that when it comes to adapting to change, it’s important to understand that the introverts on your team aren’t “lesser contributors or less successful in social interaction.” Instead, they process knowledge and interact with their surroundings in a quieter way. “They tend to be passionate, but somewhat shy and value periods of solitude which allow them to be [optimally] creative,” she said.

Food for thought, especially when you’re “popcorning.”

Our blog has more, as does the FREE Resources page of our website.



Wednesday, November 26, 2014

It's All in the Family

As most of you will be hosting or traveling to family gatherings this week, remember that family dynamics are a lot like client relationships. They’re often rewarding and memorable, but can also be a minefield of emotions, tightrope-walking and innuendo. Focus on what’s good about your family, not what’s wrong with it. Here’s why.

Sometimes what’s said or done is often less damaging to family harmony than what’s NOT said or done. Why didn’t you invite Uncle Joe to the ball game last month? Why didn’t you apologize to Aunt Miriam for poking lighthearted fun at her dance moves at your sister’s wedding last year? Did you ever apologize to second-cousin Sam who assumed his invitation to your son’s bar mitzvah was “lost in the mail”? How about your brother in law, Larry, a lifelong Wildcats fan? Do you consider his feelings when the rest of the family is gathered around the TV cheering on the Bulldogs who are giving the Wildcats their annual Thanksgiving Day whuppin’?

Even if you’re from a large, extended family that (mostly) gets along like mine does, communication breakdowns and lack of clarity about responsibilities—anything from who’s bringing the cranberry sauce, to who’s taking over as grandmother’s healthcare power of attorney—can cause friction throughout the year, not just during the Holidays.

Separate your work persona from family persona

Another area in which it gets tricky for adults is separating your work persona from your family persona. At the office, you might be CEO, senior partner or dean of your department….i.e. you’re used to calling the shots. But in your family, you might be the youngest of four siblings and have to defer power of attorney to an older sibling or relative who might not have the same business experience or legal acumen that you do.

Family gathering are even trickier when several blood relatives work in the family business. Tom Hubler, president of Hubler Family Business and a frequent contributor to Elite Advisor Report that we publish with CEG Worldwide, LLC told us happy business families don’t discuss business at family gatherings. He said they also know how to “manage boundaries where normal business differences erode family relationships, or where family rivalry undermines working relationships.”

Hubler said that harmonious families, like successful family businesses, have four common characteristics:

1.      Commitment to harmony
2.      Clearly defined roles
3.      Emotional intelligence skills (empathy, self-awareness, self-confidence, self-control, etc.)
4.      Forgiveness
Remember that, even if you’re in the business of advising families on sensitive estate planning and wealth transfer matters.

Another of our Elite Advisor Report contributors, Hyman Darling, an estate planning attorney in Springfield, Mass. courageously shared his personal story about his own family inheritance disputes with the Wall Street Journal recently.

Hubler may have summed it up best. “Even with people you love, it is virtually impossible to be a family and not accidentally step on each other’s toes. What is crucial is to have the ability to say, ‘Ouch, that hurts,’ as well as the capacity to say ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘I forgive you.’”

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving.
Best, HB
*** Our blog has more, as does the FREE Resources page of our website.


TAGS: Tom Hubler, Hubler Family Business, Gary Shunk, Family Wealth Dynamics, Hyman Darling, Bacon Wilson

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Positive Thinking Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer as you’re starting to get into the Holiday spirit. But, I couldn’t resist sharing Gabriele Oettingen’s recent piece about The Problem With Positive Thinking.

Obviously you don’t want to walk around shrouded in a black cloud of negativity. However, research has shown that being eternally optimistic can be just as debilitating as being overly pessimistic. Say what?
Experts say that fantasizing about “happy outcomes” all the time calms you down, and significantly reduces systolic blood pressure. Sounds good. So, what’s the problem? According to Oettingen, being overly optimistic can also “drain you of the energy you need to take action in pursuit of your goals.” She also argues that positive thinking tricks your mind into believing that you’ve already achieved a goal, thus “slackening your readiness to pursue it.”

Think about that if someone on your team is always playing devil’s advocate or if someone in your family isn’t always in the Holiday spirit.

The power of mental contrasting

So, you need to be on edge all the time if you want to hit your goals and keep competitors at bay? Well, that’s not the right approach either.  Oettingen says you need a “hybrid approach” that combines positive thinking with “realism.”
Here’s how it works: Think of a great client outcome such as landing an ultra-wealthy new client who came to you via a current client’s referral. Spend a few minutes imagining how your wish came true. Go ahead and let your mind wander. Then, spend a few minutes thinking about the obstacles that might prevent you from achieving your wish—for instance, you don’t have the infrastructure in place, or you don’t have a specialist in fine art and antiques on staff, or you don’t have someone who’s fluent in Spanish and Dutch. That’s what researchers call “mental contrasting”—and research shows this approach outperforms excessive optimism or excessive pessimism.

Here’s why our firm finds mental contrasting so powerful. On one hand, it really motivates you when it truly makes sense to pursue a dream hard. At the same time, it allows us to abandon our dreams more readily when a new project or idea just isn’t going to work out. That frees us up to go after other clients, projects or innovations when an eternal optimist would just keep “plugging away.” Mental contrasting works in dieting, exercise, sports, romance, war, business and most other human endeavors.

As Oettingen explains, “ Like so much in life, attaining goals requires a balanced and moderate approach, neither dwelling  on the downsides nor a forced jumping for joy.” What she didn’t explain is how to know where and how to draw the line between plugging away and cutting your losses so you can move on to more productive pursuits. More on that next week. As regular readers know, we’re big on starting your New Year’s resolutions early.  

We wish you and your family a safe, happy Thanksgiving. Just don’t expect to sail through the Holidays without some traffic, flight delays, family friction and extra pounds. That’s not being negative. That’s just being realistic. Save you energy and focus on the good stuff.

Best, HB

Our blog has more, as does the FREE Resources page of our website.

TAGS: Gabriele Oettingen, Problem With Positive Thinking, mental contrasting, early New Year’s resolutions.  

Thursday, November 06, 2014

An Unexpected Gift of Time

Yesterday afternoon, one of our weekly client conference calls was cancelled at the last minute. Nothing remarkable about that, except the meeting organizer, who’s always very on top of things said: “Enjoy the gift of time” in her meeting cancellation notice. You don’t hear that every day.

And, it was a gift. Due to some IT issues that shut us down for half the day, we weren’t as prepared as usual for our weekly “gut check” call with this no-nonsense client. Nice folks from the midwest, but you can’t BS your way through a call with them. Suddenly, we felt we had magically “manufactured” an extra hour of time in the day. Trust me, it didn’t go to waste.

For many of us, the next 60 days will be a series of moving deadlines, delayed decisions, interruptions, weather “events,” travel delays and last minute shopping and year-end planning. You won’t know exactly when a big hole will be blown into your carefully organized schedule, but sooner or later it’s going to happen. We’ve found our most successful clients are not necessarily the ones who are the most organized; it’s the ones who can adapt the fastest to a changing landscape.  

How to cope? Tough love

If you’re expecting us to tell you to take a deep breath, count to 10, make a nice cup of herbal tea and talk a long walk, you’ll be disappointed. As regular readers know, we prefer the “tough love” approach.

So does one of clients, Gary Klaben, of Coyle Financial Counsel in Chicago.  Klaben suggests placing boundaries around yourself and your team so you can’t procrastinate or get distracted. Klaben said the simplest way to accomplish this is to get tough tasks on our schedule. Right there where everyone can see it.

Borrowing a page from Tim Ferriss (The 4-Hour Workweek), Klaben only puts something on his schedule only when it’s a “Hell yes, man, I’m really excited about it!” In addition to “hard scheduling,” Klaben said you should tackle your most difficult tasks first thing in the morning. “I find that if you put those boundaries in place and really schedule things, then 80 percent of the time the task gets done,” he said. “By contrast, very little gets done if you don‘t put it on the schedule.”

A West Point grad (like his son and daughter), Klaben is clearly a disciplined guy. But he also recommends building in “focus” days, “buffer” days and even free days into your monthly and quarterly schedule. This forces you to take a step back and think. In other words spend some quality time ON the business rather than IN the business. But, if you don’t schedule those days, they ain’t gonna happen.

As many of you know, we advocate getting at least a one-month head start on your New Year’s resolutions and revisiting those goals several times throughout the year. It doesn’t matter how lofty or modest your goals are. You need tangible metrics to show progress and make them stick.

If you’re not a morning person like Klaben, don’t sweat it. Just try to figure out when you’re most productive and leverage the heck out of that time of day. For tips on how to do that, check out one of our most popular posts of 2014, The Best (and Worst) Times to Do Things at Work.


Time’s going to keep flying by; we might as well have fun adapting. Happy Holidays  (way in advance).  We also recommend Tom Friedman’s NY Times op-ed piece from yesterday, The World is Fast. He explains how the three biggest forces on the planet — the market, Mother Nature and Moore’s Law — are interconnected and why you need to pay attention to all three.
Fasten your seat belt and enjoy the ride. We’ve got a lot more to do before we ring in 2015.

Our blog has more, as does the FREE Resources page of our website.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Is Work/Life Balance an Oxymoron?

As many of you know, October is the time of year when financial markets tend to be their spookiest. Add to that the Ebola crisis, ISIS, roller coaster weather (at least here in the Northeast) and November elections. It’s no wonder that many of us are not “in the zone” as much as we’d like to be at work.

Being deluged by a 24/7 news cycle doesn’t help. Neither does earlier darkness and later sunrise this time of year. We’ve talked before in this blog about unplugging from the grid and taking the time to think on a regular basis. But, how do you keep all your clients, partners and customers happy without disappointing your family, friends and community organizations--especially at night and on weekends?
Vivian Giang outlined nine definitions of work-life balance for entrepreneurs in Fast Company recently. Hubspot CEO, Brian Halligan, said you have to take a break from email so you can actually think and get in to that state of “relaxed attention.” His big goal for the next year? “Think more and work less.” Natalie Madeira Cofield, head of the Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce said you should remember that life is a “marathon, not a sprint” and that you don’t have to accomplish all your goals by the time you reach a certain age. Better pacing, she implied, will foster better long-term results. Nick Taranto, cofounder of observed: “You can only cut so many pieces from the pie. Work-life balance means making decisions around where, who, and what you're going to sacrifice, because you can't do it all,” said Taranto. “When I was in my early twenties, I said, ‘F*** those old guys, I don't need balance. I can do it all.’ ... but I was juggling too many balls and was dropping a lot of them,” Taranto added.

Demandbase founder, Chris Golec, may have summed it up best: “We all have to work a lot, but lack of balance happens when people start to feel guilty about taking time to meet their out-of-work commitments. It really all comes back to the flexibility, trust, and respect with your work and personal relationships.”

And don’t forget regular consistent sleep, something many of the FastCompany interview subjects alluded to. We’ve found here at HB that it’s not how many hours of sleep you get every night, it’s about hitting the sack and waking up on a consistent basis so your internal clock doesn’t get thrown off—especially during the October witching hours.

Our blog has more, as does the FREE Resources page of our website.
TAGS: Work life balance Vivian Giang, Fast Company, Brian Halligan, Natalie Madeira Cofield, Nick Taranto, Chris Golec, unplug from the grid

Monday, October 06, 2014

Think Like an Artist, Work Like an Accountant

Feeling overwhelmed by the day to day? Not feeling very creative? Maybe what you need is a little more order and discipline in your life, not a fancy offsite retreat or an innovation workshop from a productivity guru.

Say what?

As columnist David Brooks recently observed in a New York Times op-ed piece, “People who lead routine, anal-retentive lives have a bad reputation in our culture. But life is paradoxical. In situation after situation, this pattern recurs: order and discipline are the prerequisites for creativity and daring.”

Quirks of great visionaries

Novelist John Cheever supposedly got up every day, put on his only suit, rode the elevator in his apartment building down to a storage room in the basement where he’d take off his suit, sit in his boxers and write until noon.
Poet Maya Angelou rose at 5:30am, had coffee and by 6:30 was off to a modest hotel room she kept with nothing but a bed, desk, Bible, dictionary, deck of cards and bottle of sherry. She’d write diligently until 12:30 p.m. or 2 o’clock and then call it a day.

According to Brooks, Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope would arrive at his writing table at 5:30 each morning. His servant would bring him the same cup of coffee at the same time. He would write 250 words every 15 minutes for two and a half hours every day. If he finished a novel without writing his daily 2,500 words, he would immediately start a new novel to complete his word allotment.
According to Mason Currey, author of “Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration And Get To Workrenowned carouser/novelist Ernest Hemingway was always up at 5.30 am, even if he'd been drinking the night before. Beethoven, personally counted out the 60 beans that his morning cup of joe required. Benjamin Franklin swore by "air baths", which was his term for sitting around naked in the morning, whatever the weather, Currey recounts.

I can relate. My dad was a vascular surgeon during his prime working years—that meant long hours, late night emergencies and a LOT of coffee. But he always loved art. To relax after a long day, he’d come home around 9 pm, eat a quick dinner and take a nap on the couch. Then he’d rise around 11. But instead of going to bed, he’d put on a fresh pot of coffee, work on his oil paintings to relax until about 2am, before finally calling it a night. Must have worked. He’s in his 80s now and sharp as a tack. Still stays up late at night, drinking lots of coffee and is now painting professionally and exhibiting work all over the Philadelphia/South Jersey area where he lives.

While visionaries’ eccentricities make for great stories, it’s the routine and sense of discipline that makes these folks so productive, so consistently for so long. My dad was a chemical engineer for Procter & Gamble before turning to medicine and then art. Doesn’t sound very creative except he spent most of his time visiting P&G’s various manufacturing plants trying to find a better way to make household products “that we knew nothing about.” History shows many visionaries had unusual starts to their “creative” breakthrough careers. 
As columnist Brooks observed, “creative people organize their lives according to repetitive, disciplined routines. They think like artists but work like accountants.”

One of our clients, Gary Klaben of Coyle Financial Advisors in Chicago, has everyone in his firm schedule their toughest tasks of the day first thing in the morning—that’s right, put ‘em right there on your calendar for you and everyone else in the firm to see.

Others may need to ease into tough task mastering a little, but if you have a disciplined process for warming up your brain (the way athletes warm up for a game or musicians warm up for a performance) you'll have a leg up on most of your peers.

We’ll share some of our daily mental warmup exercises with you in an upcoming post.

As a former marathoner and triathlete, I did years and years of “interval training.” I’m too hyper to sit at my desk all day long. I found I’m most productive if I break up the day into three or four shorter “hard work” sessions punctuated by generous breaks to walk around the block, hit the gym, socialize with colleagues or run quick errands. You can call it slacking or goofing off, but I come back to my desk three times more energized than when I left. Whatever problem I was stuck on before leaving seems to get solved pretty easily and clearly within the first hour of my return.


If you’re in the corporate world, “interval training” may not go over well with “facetime” obsessed bosses, co-workers and HR wonks. Fortunately most of you are in positions to set your own hours, if not your own firm’s policies. As my college track coach liked to say, it’s not how many miles you put in, it’s what you put into those miles. Substitute the word “hours” for “miles” and you’ll get the same result.

Just make sure you “run” your brain hard a little bit every day without overdoing it or taking too much time off without using it.

Our blog has more, as does the FREE Resources page of our website.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Our Top 5 Posts of the Year

With all due respect to January 1st and Times Square, now is the time of year that many of us start thinking about new beginnings, fresh starts, resolutions and goals that did or didn’t get achieved in the previous 12 months. Autumn officially started this week. The weather’s getting cooler and leaves are changing colors in many parts of the country. Kids are back to school. Offices are humming with full staffs for the first time in months, and tonight marks the start of Rosh Hashanah, the official kickoff to the Jewish high holidays.

Even if you’re not Jewish, you probably know that Rosh Hashanah (aka “Rush-a-Homa”) is a generally festive holiday for those of the Hebrasion Persuasion albeit more solemn than American New Year. Like the American New Year, Rosh Hashanah is a time to look back at the past year and make resolutions for the following year. It’s also when the Torah, (Hebrew Bible) resets to chapter 1, part 1. Regardless of your faith, why not take advantage of this short pause in the hectic work week and see if your work/life balance is really in balance and if you’re getting closer (or further away) from the reasons you started your own firm or practice.

Our 5 most popular posts of the year

Can Your Staff Really Work Effectively from Home?
3. Do You Know Why Your Marketing’s Working (or Not)?

Were You Laboring on Labor Day?

The Best (and Worst) Times to do Things at Work

Based on our web stats over the past nine months, it’s clear that time management and work/life balance are top of mind for our readers. You’re also concerned about professional networking, face to face interaction in this digital age and finding the right metrics to gauge your marketing efforts. Management guru,
Peter Drucker, famously said, “Business has only two functions--marketing and innovation. All the rest are costs." To that we’d like to add a third function—time management, as in finding the time to do marketing and innovation well.

Too busy sawing to sharpen the saw

In one way or another, most of you have told us you’re well on your way to living the true American dream. You your own boss and making a very comfortable living doing work that you find challenging and fulfilling. You’re spending most of the day with intelligent clients and co-workers that you like and respect. You’re making a difference in their lives.  But how many of you are really spending enough quality time with family, friends and community organizations—and pursuing your favorite avocations such as tennis, golf, fly fishing, chess, auto racing and triathlons? C’mon be honest.


Drucker also said, “follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”  However you do it, take a little time this week for some quality introspection. Make sure the important people in your life (and your health) do not fall by the wayside as you take your business to the next level of success. You may not have another time to catch your breath until the next set of Holidays in December.

Have a Happy New Year (L’Shna Tova).

PS: Click here if you’ve always been mystified by the Jewish Holidays, and you’ll find answers to many of the questions you’d like to ask, but weren’t sure if they were politically correct. For instance, why don’t the Jewish Holidays fall at the same time every year?

blog has more, as does the FREE Resources page of our website.

TAGS: Peter Drucker, Rosh Hashanah, time management, work life balance, self reflection