Monthly Archives: April 2011

Playing Nice in the Sandbox

27 Apr
by Bridget DiCello

“I can teach people skills. I can’t teach them how to play in the sandbox.”

–Caryl M. Stern, president and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, as quoted by The New York Times

Yes you can! This mindset that is voiced by Ms. Stern is a common way of thinking for many managers and leaders.  However, I am living proof that you can learn these skills as a valedictorian in high school and college who thought the world revolved around book knowledge.  Needless to say you would not have described me as one who knew how to play in the sandbox when I entered the workforce.  Without the mentoring of several important figures in my life, I would have continued to reach a certain level of success because of my competence, but would have been limited in the area of bringing out the best in myself and in others.

The fact is that playing well in the sandbox requires a set of skills just like any other job task.  However, they tend to be a set of skills that many managers and leaders do not have themselves, so they find it very difficult to teach others.

Here are just a few of the skills that are essential to “play nice in the sandbox” that are not inherent in everyone’s personality, but can be taught:

§ Building self awareness – Most individuals do not have a high degree of awareness of why they act and react the way they do, especially to the point where they can change their reaction as necessary.

§ Identifying common goals – Focusing more on daily tasks, many people never take the time to identify goals, much less what goals are universal to their team or organization, and how each person’s contribution is essential.

§ Earning trust – There are a variety of ways people describe trustworthy behaviors.  One of the most common is that people Do What They Say They will Do.  Try this:  in a group of 10 people, ask them for a definition of that phrase, you will get a huge variety of responses.

§    Communicating effectively – Talking to one another is something that seems like it should be really simple, but based on the enormous volume of resources available on the topic, skills such as listening are on the forefront of what people need to learn more about how to do well.

§    Engaging in productive conflict – Rarely more than 5% of the room ever responds that they enjoy conflict when I ask the question.  Yet so much productive conversation, innovative thinking and utilization of creative and unique approaches are never seized without a productive discussion that may stem from or be full of conflict.

§ Interacting with those very different from you – Not only do many individuals not have a firm grasp on their own style and how they come across, but seeing the strengths and benefits of others’ approach is challenging to do without some good tools in your toolbelt.

§    Increasing confidence by improving one’s own performance – There is only so much that we can improve without continually asking and challenging ourselves with what we will do differently.  Consistently doing a great job often feels like enough to us, since our lives are so busy or stressful, and is considered enough by our supervisors who may not wish to challenge us or rock the boat if we are doing a good job already.  Without incremental and continuous success and improvements the confidence of any member of the team can erode, which may result in increased defensiveness.

Share your insights!  Agree or Disagree.  What other skills have you learned that make you a better sandbox member than you were years ago?  What skills have you taught your team that make them easier to get along with – resulting in better business results?

Are you Happily Married to Your Business?

20 Apr
by Bridget DiCello

People say that there is no difference between ‘finished’ and ‘complete’.

I say there is…..

Marry the right person, and you’re ‘complete.’

Marry the wrong person, and you’re ‘finished.’


This joke immediately made me think about business ownership.  Owning your own business has some parallels to marriage.  So does your business complete you or finish you?

A few secrets to a business that completes you are:

- Your tasks ‘fit’ you.

- You have a passion for what you are doing.

- You are using your talents and strengths where there is demand and profitability.

Your tasks ‘fit’ you. Do you enjoy the tasks you do on a daily basis?  Do you look forward to going to work and tackling your things to do list?  Granted, most business owners jump in and do whatever needs to be done, whenever it needs to be done, given their dedication and investment.  However, you can enjoy jumping in when needed, knowing that your primary roles and tasks are those you enjoy.  And depending on the stage that your business is in, you may need to do some things that you don’t particularly enjoy until your business matures in certain areas.  For example, you might need to spend more time selling than you would prefer until the level of sales supports hiring that next salesperson.  However, if sales are not your favorite thing to do, you at least know that delegating those tasks is on the horizon.

You know you’re ‘finished’ if most of the tasks you do on a daily basis, you really wish someone else was doing, you’re not that great at them, and there appears to be no end in sight to this dilemma.

You have a passion for what you are doing. What energizes you?  What is it about your business that is incredibly exciting to you?  Or is it just a job?  Is your business something that you have a great deal of enthusiasm about and desire to dive in to, build, nurture and grow?  Are there multiple moments throughout the day and week where you feel totally fulfilled?

You know you’re ‘finished’ if you see your business as simply a job that has great potential to make you money.  But, on a daily and weekly basis, you feel more tired and overworked than you do energized.

You are using your talents and strengths where there is demand and profitability. Being passionate is only part of the picture.  I might be passionate about riding horses, but my talents and strengths are not nearly enough in this area to create a demand for my riding abilities.  There may be a demand for what you are passionate about, but are people willing to pay what it takes to be profitable in this area?  If you have no profit, you do not have a viable business, no matter how massive you can make your revenue numbers.

You know you’re ‘finished’ if you enjoy your work and do things that energize you, but selling the product or service is incredibly difficult, both because people are not real interested and those who are interested are not willing to pay a price that you must command in order to realize a profit.  If you cut your prices to extremely minimal or no profit margins to get the business going, you are definitely in trouble later as you try to turn a start up into a viable and profitable business.

What else is important to determine if your business completes or finishes you?

Does Customer Service Increase in a Bad Economy?

07 Apr
by Bridget DiCello

Have you been treated any better as a customer over the past two years?

I was wrong to assume that in this economy, with less money being spent and businesses going out of business, that the survivors would be incredibly focused on customer service.  My experience may be atypical, but I have found not only a decrease in attentiveness from vendors, but a decrease in their desire to make the customer incredibly happy.

I sense that many workers and leaders are tired, mentally exhausted and worried about their business and their job.  I have personally been disappointed by companies both large and small with the service they deliver, and their lack of concern about addressing or resolving issues.

What does this mean to you as a leader or owner?

1.      People are tired. Even in the businesses that are doing well, there is a general concern about their family and friends who may not be employed, there is a hope that things in general will get better, and yet despite the publicized numbers, the average person does not at all feel that the worst is over.  If your business is struggling, your employees know it, and they may even have had to take a pay cut or a cut in hours.  They may be asked to do more with less help or less resources.

2.      People may have lost focus. It’s tough to stay focused on work when life is tough, but one of the greatest things that you can do is provide your employees an environment where they work towards something important and can feel successful on a routine basis.

3.      Refocus yourself and your team on your goals, your mission and your way of doing business. Give them something to identify with, be proud of and work to achieve.  This means you have to set the destination and then hold them accountable to it.  Recognize their successes and push them to achieve their potential.  When you ask them to act more strategically, and focus on “how”, not “if”, you give them the opportunity to do more with less, in less time.  You are not necessarily asking them to work more hours.

4.      Define your customer service standards. There are extremes of customer service.  At the Audi dealership where I have my car serviced, Jeff in Service is fantastic, never says no, and always does just a bit more than he said he would.  Compare this to the post office where I was told that even though my mail was not being delivered properly, there was no one I could talk to, and when I found a customer service phone number on my own, she took my name and number, told me that if I did not get a call in 48 hours, to call back and then hung up before I could ask a question.

We all want to believe we look more like Jeff’s customer service than the USPS, but what are your specific standards?  How do your employees know what you expect?

This economy provides an opportunity, but you must provide concrete focus, direction and accountability to enable your employees to stay focused on the customer and the desired results, and work with you to make your business a success.