Bill Zipp http://billzipponbusiness.com Helping Senior Executives Accelerate Business Growth Tue, 28 Oct 2014 16:38:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Helping Senior Executives Accelerate Business Growth Bill Zipp no Helping Senior Executives Accelerate Business Growth Bill Zipp http://billzipponbusiness.com/wp-content/plugins/powerpress/rss_default.jpg http://billzipponbusiness.com Four Keys to Time Mastery http://billzipponbusiness.com/keys-time-mastery/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=keys-time-mastery http://billzipponbusiness.com/keys-time-mastery/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 07:00:08 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=4269 Busy, busy, busy, busy, busy. That’s the word that describes the life of every business leader I know. Busy. Crazy busy. That’s the word that probably describes your life as well. It’s the reality of the 24/7/365 world in which we live. We can’t stop it, but we can control it. We can master it. […]

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24-7-365Busy, busy, busy, busy, busy.

That’s the word that describes the life of every business leader I know.

Busy. Crazy busy.

That’s the word that probably describes your life as well. It’s the reality of the 24/7/365 world in which we live. We can’t stop it, but we can control it. We can master it. In fact, we must master it, or it will master us.

“Concentration—that is, the courage to impose what really matters most and comes first—is the executive’s only hope of mastering time and events instead of being their whipping boy.” Those words were written over 40 years ago by Peter Drucker in The Effective Executive. Never have they been more true!

Here, then, are four keys to mastering time and events (instead of being their whipping boy):

Time Mastery Key One: Your Vision

The first key to time mastery is knowing where you’re going. It makes no difference if you land half an hour early at Atlanta International Airport when you’re supposed to be in New York. In other words, efficiency with your time is useless if you’re headed in the wrong direction.

That’s what vision does. It heads you in the right direction. It tells you, in the words of Peter Drucker, “what really matters most and comes first” in life.

The mistake most of us make with vision is that we allow it to become one dimensional. That is, we make it about work only and live a life about as satisfying as listening to a guitar with one string. No one uttered these words on their death bed, “Damn, I wish I went to more meetings!”

Right?

So capture a vision for all of your life using the questions below:

four-life-tasks

Time Mastery Key Two: Your Year

Vision, however, is not enough. While it’s good to have high ideals and noble aspirations, they are utterly useless if you don’t do anything about them. So the second key to time mastery is making sure every year you have a handful of specific, measurable, challenging goals for the four key areas of your life outlined above.

A lot of blood has been spilt devising memorable acronyms for the definition of a goal (that no one actually remembers). Goal setting is really very simple. A goal is:

X by Y

That’s it.

X is exactly what you’re going to do and Y is exactly when you’re going to do it. Pursuing a handful each year ensures that the vision you have for all of life actually gets done in real time. In other words, your goals determine “what really matters most and comes first” for the next 12 months.

MORE: How Many Goal Should You Have?

Time Mastery Key Three: Your Week

And, yes, all of us have set goals for the year that never saw the light of day after the first few weeks of that year. So the third key to time mastery is making every week count so the vision you have and the goals you’ve set actually get done.

I believe the most important personal discipline you can establish in your life is a weekly planning meeting with yourself. The half hour or so I spend every week reviewing my vision and revisiting my goals is the secret to keeping me on track with them.

Not just reviewing them, however, but taking action on them. One question drives the agenda of my weekly planning meeting, “What are the most important things I can do this week to fulfill my vision and achieve my goals?”

I determine those things and place them in my calendar and task list for the week. They are not the only things I do in my week, but they are the most important things. They are the first things. They are the things that get done no matter what.

MORE: How to Make the Most of Every Week in 60 Minutes or Less

Time Mastery Key Four: Your Day

The Prussian general, Field Marshall Helmuth Carl Bernard Graf von Moltke (How’s that for a name?), famously said, “No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy.”

And he was right.

Contact with the enemy is where your vision, your goals, and your plans for the week come face to face with the demands of your day. But it is here where we must, again, “impose what really matters most and comes first.” And that takes, as Drucker declared, courage.

Start your day with courage by quickly checking in with your calendar and task list and making sure what you have planned for the day is even reasonable to do. If not, make changes immediately.

Live your day with courage by saying yes to the things that are aligned with your vision and goals and saying no the the things that are secondary and trivial. Or as 37signals founder, Jason Fried, advises, “Dump half your projects to focus on the core of your business. Too much time and effort are wasted on second-tier objectives.”

End your day with courage by honestly reviewing what got done and what didn’t get done in your day, setting up the next day for success.

24/7/365 is not going away any time soon. The genie is out of the bottle. And for the most part, that’s okay. It’s our job, however, to respond to this new reality and live the life we want to life, not the one the genie is telling us to live.

Cast your vision. Set your goals. Make a plan for every week and check-in with that plan every day. Dream it and do it!

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31 Ways to See Things Differently as a Leader http://billzipponbusiness.com/31-ways-to-see-things-differently/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=31-ways-to-see-things-differently http://billzipponbusiness.com/31-ways-to-see-things-differently/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 07:00:27 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=4227 Everyone has had this happen to them. You’re taking a shower, driving the car, walking the dog and—wham—an idea pops into your head that’s a perfect solution to a pressing problem. A solution that comes to you in a flash: not by thinking about the problem, but by doing the exact opposite. What’s going on? It […]

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Everyone has had this happen to them. You’re taking a shower, driving the car, walking the dog and—wham—an idea pops into your head that’s a perfect solution to a pressing problem. A solution that comes to you in a flash: not by thinking about the problem, but by doing the exact opposite.

What’s going on?

It is, quite simply, how our brain works. Over-thinking about something can be just as detrimental as not thinking about it at all, because over-thinking paints us into a corner mentally and emotionally.

Harvard researcher and psychologist Shelley Carson, author of Your Creative Brain, advises that if you’re stuck on a problem, an interruption (like taking a shower, driving the car, or walking the dog) can “provide the break you need to disengage from fixation on an ineffective solution.’’

As leaders we must admit that sometimes we get stuck in our problems, fixated on ineffective solutions. We get so obsessed with an issue that we can’t find an answer to it, even a patently obvious one.

How do you get unstuck?

You get unstuck by seeing things differently, opening your mind to creative ways of thinking. Fixation is broken when you stand on top of your desk, as the character played by Robin Williams urged his English boarding school students to do in Dead Poets Society. This is critical because, “We cannot solve our problems with the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” An astute observation attributed to Albert Einstein.

Here, then, are 31 ways to do that. That is, 31 things you can do to stand on top of your desk, opening your mind to the random moments that bring a blinding flash of brilliance. Pick one of these to do in the next 30 days, and pick one to do in the next six months. Then make it your aim to live like this as a leader.

  1. Go on a road trip for the weekend.

  2. Tour a museum or an art gallery.

  3. Serve in a soup kitchen.

  4. Go to a concert or a comedy club.

  5. Visit one of the great cities of the United States, like New York, Boston, San Francisco, or Seattle.

  6. Write poetry.

  7. Climb a mountain.

  8. Plant an herb garden.

  9. Read a children’s book, like The Chronicles of Narnia, The Giver, or The Phantom Tollbooth.

  10. Learn how to play a musical instrument.

  11. Take a college class for credit.

  12. Go bungee jumping, sky diving, or zip-lining.

  13. Help build a house with Habitat for Humanity.

  14. Invite all your neighbors over for a BBQ.

  15. Learn how to speak a new language.

  16. Wander through a bookstore.

  17. Visit one of the great cities of the world, like London, Amsterdam, Tokyo, or Sydney.

  18. Volunteer with hospice.

  19. Listen, really listen, to great music.

  20. Read, really read, a great novel.

  21. Take a hike or a bike ride.

  22. Run a marathon or a half-marathon.

  23. Go to a Shakespeare play.

  24. Go to a Broadway play (It doesn’t have to be on Broadway).

  25. Help a medical relief team in a developing country.

  26. Brew your own beer.

  27. Bake your own bread.

  28. March in a parade.

  29. Go to the circus or the zoo.

  30. Learn how to draw or paint.

  31. Befriend a senior citizen and listen to their life story.

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Two Incredibly Simple Secrets to Excellence in Execution http://billzipponbusiness.com/excellence-in-execution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=excellence-in-execution http://billzipponbusiness.com/excellence-in-execution/#comments Tue, 05 Aug 2014 07:00:12 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=4201 We had come to the end of two very intense days. Whiteboards had been scribbled on, erased, and scribbled on again and again. Flip chart pages stuck to the wall like debris from a battlefield. The executives in the room sat bleary-eyed and exhausted. I had seen this before. I had caused this before. And […]

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We had come to the end of two very intense days. Whiteboards had been scribbled on, erased, and scribbled on again and again. Flip chart pages stuck to the wall like debris from a battlefield. The executives in the room sat bleary-eyed and exhausted.

I had seen this before. I had caused this before. And I wasn’t done. At least not yet.

For I’ve learned from bitter experience that all the best intentions of any strategy session, no matter how brilliant, will amount to nothing—zero, zip, nada—if execution isn’t part of the process. So I end every engagement like this with the following two exercises and have discovered that these exercises are, in fact, the secrets to excellence in execution.

Yes, they’re simple, but they’re not easy to do. And, yes, they work. Amazingly. The last team I used them with delivered the highest quarterly revenue increase in the history of their company. So here they are: focus and follow-through.

SECRET ONE: Focus

The first exercise, which you can do anytime as a business leader, is this: Select 3-4 things to do from your long list of things to do and make them your most important things to do for the next three months. In other words, I ask the executives in the room to identify, from all the issues we’ve talked about, what their highest priorities are for the next quarter. And I only let them have three or four.

One reason why we fail to execute at the highest levels of excellence is that we are simply trying to do too much. When we try to do too much we end up doing a lot of things halfway and nothing very well. So the first key to excellence in execution is focus. That is, determining the handful of things that will have the greatest impact on our work and concentrating on them like a laser.

Focus as a key to execution is confirmed by actual data from the field. Productivity specialists, FranklinCovey, surveyed thousands of teams and discovered the following facts:

How many goals

Please note, that focus is not doing less for the sake of doing less, but doing less for the sake of doing more. That is, doing the few things that will achieve 100 things, rather than doing things that are utterly inconsequential to your business.

Focus simply answers the question, “What are your vital few priorities for the next three months?”

Notice, also, how this secret doesn’t just focus on a limited list of things to do, but also on a limited time in which to do them: one quarter. Ever wonder how you get so much done before you go on vacation? Or how hard salespeople push to meet their goal at the end of the year? Want to enjoy that same intensity all year long? Establish four finish lines, not just one, by creating highly-focused quarterly sprints.

Quarterly sprints, to be sure, need to be coordinated with your annual plan and overall business objectives. The secret to their success, however, is that you concentrate on a few high priorities and get them done in a fixed period of time. I even like the rhythm of 12 weeks sprinting and one week jogging four times a year, rather than a 52 week marathon.

SECRET TWO: Follow-through

Focus, however, is not enough to drive excellence in execution. It’s not enough to identify your top priorities for the next three months, you actually have to do them (Imagine that!). So the next exercise we complete is what I call a Sequence of Events.

A Sequence of Events is simply the steps of action it will take to complete your vital few priorities for the quarter. First brainstorm all those steps, making sure that they are specific and measurable. Then put them in their chronological order based on due date and assign them to the person who will be accountable for their completion. Another way to say this is WWW: Who is going to do What by When?

Then make the Sequence of Events publicly available for all to see and track progress against it every week for the next 12 weeks.

Excellence in Execution

As simple as it sounds, very few leaders actually do this. It’s like they have leadership ADD, moving on to the next shiny object that attracts their attention, rather than keeping the main thing the main thing. If adjustments needs to be made mid-quarter to the Sequence of Events, and I’ve never seen a quarterly sprint that didn’t need some adjustments, make them and move on. Plan your work and work your plan.

I have a group of business leaders I meet with for an entire day each quarter of the year. I call this group the Business Growth Club. In our sessions together we talk about all kinds of issues, effective marketing, employee engagement, financial intelligence. But every session ends with each leader identifying the 3-4 goals they are going to work on in their business over the next quarter, and the specific steps of action they’re going to take to achieve those goals. And every session begins by each leader standing up in front of the group and reporting on the progress of their quarterly plan.

The growth in these businesses over the course of the year is amazing. I’ve become convinced that I could do nothing else but insist that the two exercises of focus and follow-through are completed, and these business leaders would get their money’s worth from the program. But, of course, they get much more (Not to mention a free lunch).

Here’s The Bottom Line

Two older women sat in the back pew enduring a typical Sunday morning sermon. One of the women, who was hard of hearing, said to the other woman, “Is the sermon done yet?”

To which the other woman replied, “It’s been said, now it needs to be done!”

When all is said and done in business, there’s a lot more said than done. Yes? It’s time to stop talking about things and it’s time to start doing them by utilizing the two secrets of excellence in execution: focus and follow-through.

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How to Coach the Strong Personality: Three Secrets http://billzipponbusiness.com/how-to-coach-the-strong-personality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-to-coach-the-strong-personality http://billzipponbusiness.com/how-to-coach-the-strong-personality/#comments Tue, 08 Jul 2014 07:00:17 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=4178 Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. That’s the dilemma facing leaders dealing with a strong personality on their team. If you do try to coach the strong personality, the whole thing can blow up in your face, causing more trouble than it’s worth. If you don’t try to coach the strong personality, […]

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Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. That’s the dilemma facing leaders dealing with a strong personality on their team.

If you do try to coach the strong personality, the whole thing can blow up in your face, causing more trouble than it’s worth. If you don’t try to coach the strong personality, this person can cause so much turmoil that your leadership life becomes a living hell.

So you’re stuck. Here’s help.

Having spent most of my professional career in the sales side of the business, I’ve had more than my share of strong personalities cross my path (You know who you are). I realized I needed these intense individuals to help me meet my goals, but had to learn how to lead them well or else I would lose my mind. So I made coaching this kind of person one of my strengths, and the people who possess this personality became some of my closest friends.

Here are my three secrets:

SECRET ONE: Affirm

The driving force of the strong personality is this: they want to be heard. As a result, they will press their point until they feel they are heard.

The problem is that this behavior backfires on them, as other less dominant individuals withdraw in silence in the face of their verbal barrage. So the strong personality presses even harder, and the rest of the world withdraws in silence even more.

As a leader it’s your job to stop this unproductive cycle by listening to the strong personality and affirming what they’re saying. This does not mean you have to agree with them. That’s not even what they want in pressing their point so hard. They just want to be heard. So listen and show that you’re listening by reflecting back in their own words what you hear them saying.

One warning, however.

Don’t patronize the strong personality. They can sense insincerity a mile away, and it will infuriate them. What you have to do is truly listen, being fully present in the moment (no faking it) and rephrase what they’re saying until they exclaim, strongly of course, “Yes, that’s it!”

Coaching the Strong Personality

SECRET TWO: Reframe

Now we all know that the strong personality, like any flawed human being, is not right all the time. They may not even be right most of the time. The problem, however, because of the way they communicate, is that it sounds as if they think they’re right all the time. And, because of the way they respond to feedback, it seems impossible to convince them otherwise.

Truly listening to this person, Secret One, will get you far in preparing them to explore another point of view. But when it’s time for you to speak, it’s critically important to frame your input in a certain way. Here’s that way: Respond to the bold declarations of the strong personality with an honest, authentic question.

If you merely match strength with strength, responding to their bold declarations with bold declarations of your own, all you’ll get into is a battle of wills where there’ll be no winners (even if, on a paper at least, you think you’ve won). An honest, authentic question—not a rhetorical question or a leading question—disarms the strong personality and diffuses the unproductive cycle of pursue-withdraw-pursue-withdraw-pursue-withdraw.

A Real Life Example

Imagine that you want to help a struggling sales rep that a strong sales manager you supervise has on his team. As this sales manager’s boss, you know you can go directly to that sales rep, but you don’t want this leader to think that you’re conspiring behind his back. So you ask him about it.

His response to you is, “Absolutely no way! There’s no way I want you talking to Susan. You’ll completely undermine my authority with her and undo all the hard work I’ve put in teaching her how to sell!”

You now have three options:

  • Say, “Screw you, I’m going to do it anyway!”
  • Back off and let Susan continue to struggle without extra help
  • Affirm and reframe

You know from experience that neither option one nor option two will end well, so here’s how to do option three.

“You’re exactly right, Tom. You’ve put in an amazing amount of time working with Susan teaching her how to sell. A lot of lesser of leaders would have given up already. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that I would never do anything to undermine your leadership with anyone on your team. That kind of garbage gets us nowhere.”

“I’ve just found that sometimes a different set of eyes and a different voice can help people get unstuck. I was wondering how we can give that to Susan without undermining your great leadership and undoing all your hard work?”

Now don’t press for a decision. If you press for a decision, you’ll force the strong personality to react, and, being strong, they’ll react strongly. Let them think about it and come back to it later in the conversation or at another time. Not in a month or two, but later in the day or the next morning. And keep asking the question until you reach a mutually agreeable answer.

I’ve used this affirm/reframe process literally hundreds (thousands?) of times and have found that when I’ve done it with a true, honest heart and a servant-like approach to leadership that it works for me most every time.

SECRET THREE: Flatter

I thought long and hard about using the word flatter for this third secret, because it’s so easily misunderstood. But I think flatter is the right word, as I explain later, but here’s what I don’t mean by it. I don’t mean by it that you lie or make stuff up. The strong personality will reject these kind of overtures completely and will never trust you again if you use them.

I do mean by using the word flatter the very best dimensions of that term: to praise this person, to compliment them, even charm them.

Here’s why this is needed. Due to the bold exterior the strong personality publicly portrays, most people wrongly assume they don’t need to be praised. Or when they do receive recognition, it’s about things they’ve done, accomplishments and achievements, never about who they are as a person.

So whenever I’m working with a strong personality, I always make it a point to praise them personally, even for silly things like the new sunglasses they just bought. That’s what I mean by flatter, recognizing this individual for who they are as a person. And trust me on this, you’ll be the only one in their life who does. Sad, but true.

Strong personalities, especially in the sales side of your business, are critical to helping you reach your goals. They are the hunters of our modern-day business world. Master your interactions with them by utilizing these three secrets—affirm, reframe, and flatter—and you’ll reap rich rewards, both personally and professionally. And that’s the point of leadership, isn’t it, getting results through people, not feeding your ego.

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SOTW: The Right Way to Conduct a SWOT Analysis http://billzipponbusiness.com/swot-analysis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=swot-analysis http://billzipponbusiness.com/swot-analysis/#comments Tue, 03 Jun 2014 07:00:16 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=4143 One of the most impressive minds in the consulting world today, Alan Weiss, famously wrote that the oft-used planning tool called the SWOT Analysis is “insipid and simplistic” and using it “ought to get any consultant thrown out into the street.” Tell me how you really feel! Alan is mostly right, but partly wrong. To […]

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One of the most impressive minds in the consulting world today, Alan Weiss, famously wrote that the oft-used planning tool called the SWOT Analysis is “insipid and simplistic” and using it “ought to get any consultant thrown out into the street.”

Tell me how you really feel!

Alan is mostly right, but partly wrong. To refresh us all, the letters SWOT are an acronym formed from four quadrants of an internal and external audit of an organization’s operational environment. Both the positive and negative aspects of each are explored, and the organization’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats are identified, as illustrated in the diagram below.

SWOT

The first argument that could be leveled at the SWOT Analysis is that it’s incomplete. And that argument is absolutely correct. The main reason why SWOT is incomplete is that it doesn’t include analysis of the customer environment. It’s focused internally, on your company, or externally, on your competition. Therefore it should never stand alone in strategy formation, for any strategy that leaves out looking at the needs, desires, motivations, and habits of your customer is really no strategy at all.

A second failing of the SWOT Analysis is that it’s merely theoretical, data only without a path forward to action. And, again, this argument is true. I’ve sat through SWOT sessions where, at the end of the discussion, everyone stared proudly at walls covered in flip chart pages, thinking they had just finished a strategic plan.

Nothing could have been further from the truth.

All too often we are content with engaging in theoretical exercises because the real work of change is hard. Data gained from a SWOT Analysis is just that, data. As such it must be acted on for it to have any usefulness. And, ironically, the more data you have, the more resistance there will be to change. Analysis paralysis is what this is called, and it’s a real issue; not because the two words rhyme, but because information considered outside of the context of execution is fatally flawed at its core.

A Twist on SWOT: SOTW

In spite of these limitations, however, a SWOT Analysis can be helpful as part of a strategy formation process when used properly. And its proper use is considering the elements in this order: SOTW, or what I call The SOTW Path.

SOTW Path

 

Companies, like people, have things they do very well and things they love to do: passions and proficiencies. These are our strengths, and instead of being “well-rounded” companies or individuals, we should be well-leveraged. That is, investing heavily in utilizing our strengths in at least 80%, if not 90%, of what we do. This is the only way to achieve excellence in the competitive markets in which we live and work.

Another way of saying this is identifying your company’s core competence, the handful of things you can do at world class levels, and maximizing the full use of them.

Where do you do that? In Opportunities. That is, moving from the S quadrant to the O quadrant. Our best work should be invested in our best opportunities for our business to grow to the greatest degree. Or as the authors of Blue Ocean Strategy assert, exponential business growth occurs in uncontested market space where competition is the least.

What happens, then, when we do our very best work in the very best areas of opportunity is that this leveraging of our our strengths makes threats to our business irrelevant. They become overwhelmed by the expanding opportunity, or at least minimized to a manageable degree.

What’s the point in considering threats at all? By understanding how they relate to your weaknesses.

This is where you move in The SOTW Path from the T to the W. Just like matching Strengths to Opportunities, you need to see if there’s any match between Threats and Weaknesses. If there are none, move back to leveraging your Strengths in the greatest areas of Opportunity. If, however, there is a match between a Threat and a Weakness, that gap must be filled in some way or else you have a fatal flaw that will undermine your business, like a hole in the bottom of a bucket.

For example, last summer I had a kidney stone attack while on a business trip in New Mexico. I received amazing treatment from everyone in the emergency room of the hospital I was rushed to. I did not receive a bill, however, for that treatment until six months later—180 days—an eternity in the world of accounts receivable.

From the outside looking in, I would say this hospital has a strength, extraordinary patient care, in an expanding area of opportunity, the aging baby boomer population in a state that’s high on most lists of worthy retirement destinations. However, a threat to anyone in the health care industry is the ever-increasing demand for detailed documentation, including timely and accurate billing. If left unaddressed at this facility, it will become a fatal flaw.

There are only three things you can do about a fatal flaw:

1. You can stop doing it.

2. You can get a little better at it.

3. You can outsource it.

A hospital can’t stop invoicing for services, but there are lines of business most companies could drop entirely. They’re not good at them and they aren’t profitable for them. Continuing to invest in these lines of business will result in even more loss, and they should be eliminated entirely.

If you can’t eliminate something, it is possible to get a little better at a weakness. And that may be all that’s needed. An area of weakness will never become a strength, but it doesn’t have to be if good enough is good enough.

Should you try to get a little better at something to fix a fatal flaw? It depends on the severity of the threat. A dire threat to your business cannot be met by getting a little bit better at something, a moderate threat might, however, might be assuaged in this way.

Finally, the option I would recommend to my hospital friends, is outsourcing the activity to someone for whom this is a strength and represents a welcome opportunity. They will take it on with the passion and proficiency it needs, and the hospital will reap the reward of being able to focus on that which they do well and love to do.

Speaking of friends, I would count Alan Weiss on that list, albeit a distant one. He is right, a SWOT Analysis used as a stand-alone strategy solution is overly simplistic. Those words could be said for any assessment that’s being employed as a magic bullet, as opposed utilizing a variety of tools in one’s consulting toolbox.

I do think, however, that this assessment used in a more insightful way, as in SOTW, can bring helpful insight to the strategy formation process. I truly hope it won’t result in my being thrown out into the street!

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Beware of This Conversation Killer and Know What To Do About It http://billzipponbusiness.com/conversation-killer/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conversation-killer http://billzipponbusiness.com/conversation-killer/#comments Tue, 20 May 2014 07:00:29 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=4130 38, 53, and 72. Note these numbers and note them well. It was 38 degrees on January 28, 1986 when Challenger flight 51-L launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The region had been experiencing unseasonably low temperatures that delayed this shuttle mission time and time again. Pressure was mounting, both from […]

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38, 53, and 72. Note these numbers and note them well.

It was 38 degrees on January 28, 1986 when Challenger flight 51-L launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The region had been experiencing unseasonably low temperatures that delayed this shuttle mission time and time again. Pressure was mounting, both from the press and within the NASA community, to get on with the show.

The problem was that the O-rings on the Challenger’s fuel system had been designed for launch at temperatures of 53 degrees or higher. Design engineers were concerned that the rings would fail to seal at lower temperatures, leading to loss of the integrity of the system.

And that’s exactly what happened.

Just 72 seconds after takeoff, Challenger flight 51-L erupted in a fiery explosion. All seven astronauts on board lost their lives and the American space shuttle program was grounded for nearly three years.

38 … 53 … 72

The greatest tragedy of this disaster was that it was entirely preventable. Engineers knew about problems with the O-rings but couldn’t agree on what to do about it. Extended discussions, both internally and externally, were conducted about this issue, but no action was taken to fix it.

I’ve read the transcripts of the actual conversations between NASA’s leaders and the engineers at Morton Thiokol, designers of the space shuttle’s fuel system, hours before the fateful decision to move forward was made. They sent shivers up my spine. The pages are filled with personal attack, angry accusations, and outright arrogance and animosity.

In short, the Challenger disaster was not an engineering failure, it was a failure in human relations.

These transcripts are a clear example of the conversation killer that shuts down constructive communication. What is it? It’s when the course of a discussion moves from being objective to subjective, from logical to emotional, from professional to personal.

When this occurs, the energy and resources of the people in the meeting shift from solving the problem at hand to protecting one’s self from attack. Once that shift occurs, nothing productive comes from the discussion. This can happen in the following relationships:

  • Between you and a customer
  • Between you and a vendor
  • Between you and an employee
  • Between you and a coworker
  • Between you and a spouse
  • Between you and a child

What can you do about it? Here are three steps:

1.  Stop and Reschedule

The very first thing to do when this conversation killer raises its ugly head is to stop. Do nothing. Say nothing.

What happens to all of us in a tense situation is that our emotions sense danger and adrenaline begins to surge through our veins. When that happens, we instantly become more focused, more intense, and more prone to act. Drunk on adrenaline we say things and do things that we regret later. Really stupid things.

Take time for your adrenaline surge to subside and reschedule your meeting. That may mean scheduling a five minute break or reconnecting on another day. Under no circumstance, however, move forward under the influence of adrenaline. Nothing good will come as a result.

2. Reaffirm Areas of Agreement

When you meet again, after a cooling off period, start by affirming the areas in which you have agreement. With most of the executive teams I work with who get stuck in conflict, simply listing the commitments this team shares gets them unstuck. Instantly they realize that they have much more in common with each other than their petty differences and quickly arrive at a mutually agreeable solution.

When people work closely together in a group, their human tendency is to become more aware of each other’s flaws and become fixated on them. Reaffirming areas of agreement is an antidote to this dilemma. Even in situations where adversarial negotiations are taking place, focusing on the group’s agreements can move the conversation forward.

3. Reengage on the Issue

Ultimately, however, a group must reengage on the issue. But do it differently, in a way that’s both positive and productive. Here’s how:

  • Talk about the facts, not personal opinions.
  • Refer to external behavior, not internal motives.
  • Ask for clarification about something you may not understand, don’t assume you know what’s being said.
  • Focus on the future—What can we do about this now?—not the past—How in the hell did this happen?

Whether in business or in life, it’s the quality of your conversations that move your relationships forward. Eliminating this conversation killer will bring more fulfilling interactions with the people in your world and better outcomes from those interactions as a result.

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17-Point Checklist for Writing A Great Business Blog http://billzipponbusiness.com/business-blogging-checklist/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=business-blogging-checklist http://billzipponbusiness.com/business-blogging-checklist/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 07:00:01 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=4064 Blogging, once the exclusive domain of hobbyists and technophiles, has become the most important marketing strategy to emerge in the last decade. Here’s why. It allows people the opportunity to get to know you, like you, and trust you before any dollars are on the table. In a very real way, it pre-qualifies interested prospects, […]

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checklist-2Blogging, once the exclusive domain of hobbyists and technophiles, has become the most important marketing strategy to emerge in the last decade.

Here’s why.

It allows people the opportunity to get to know you, like you, and trust you before any dollars are on the table. In a very real way, it pre-qualifies interested prospects, setting the table to sell to them.

Business blogging has become a proven means for lead generation and the creation of loyal online communities, two critically important marketing strategies for building business today in the face of traditional advertising’s (insert interruption here) demise.

Doing this well, however, is not as simple as starting a business blog and writing a couple of posts a week. Or three or four or five. More of bad is not better. Blogging is a specific genre of communication that has its own keys to success. You must master them for blogging to work for you.

I’ve written a business blog for six years–over 200 posts and counting–and have, as a result, experienced real commercial success through it. The same can be true for you and your business.

Here’s the 17-point checklist I utilize for every post:

1. Write a powerful first sentence

Other than the title, which I address later in #9, the first sentence is the most important part of any blog post. You’ve got to grab people’s attention right away. Make a claim, give a promise, quote a statistic, tell a story, read their mind. In short, engage your readers’ emotions immediately.

And forget what you were taught in English 101, let that first sentence stand on its own as your post’s first paragraph.

2. Write an engaging second paragraph

Once you’ve written a great first sentence, follow it up with a great first paragraph. Back up the claim, promise, statistic, or story with some cold hard facts, capturing both the heart (your first sentence) and the mind (your second paragraph) at the very start. I write and re-write this part of any post until it’s perfect. It’s that important.

3. Keep each post less than 1000 words

Business leaders are crazy busy and will not read long rambling articles. Keep it less than 1000 words. The average length of my top five most read blog posts is 888 words. Got more to say than that? Turn it into two posts.

4. Utilize 2-3 sentence paragraphs

This is an important nuance of business blogging: no paragraph should extend for more than seven lines. If it does, the post appears too dense and people’s eyes will glaze over in their head. Leave lots of white space that contain short, pithy paragraphs. Remember, your readers are crazy busy. Make it easy for them to access your content.

5. Make it personal

Blogging is a personal, conversational form of communication. It’s this authenticity that makes it so powerful. Yes, you can go way over the top here, but the more real your business blog is the more you’ll connect with your readers. One of the ways I do this is being honest about my failures as well as my successes.

6. Talk to Trish

This is something I learned from Sonia Simone in her brilliant content marketing e-class: write to one person. That means knowing your core customer and speaking directly to him or her. Even those people who aren’t your core customer will be drawn into the dialogue because, again, it’s real and authentic. Trish is the very real person I write to, and filter every post through her profile.

7. Use lists

Bulleted lists or numbered lists, like the one you’re reading now, are a great way for busy readers to consume your content. Most people first scan a blog to see if anything’s in it for them. A list grabs the attention of these scanners and pulls them into the post.

8. Break up your text with sub-headings

If a numbered list isn’t appropriate for the particular post you’re writing, allow scanning readers to access your content with sub-headings. Every 2-3 paragraphs summarize a salient point in a memorable way and use it to break up the text.

Here’s how I do that: The Hour That Changes Everything

9. Create a compelling title for your post

This is the most important strategy of writing a successful blog post.

Yes, you’ve got to have good content, but no one, and I mean no one, will consume that content unless you have a compelling, attention-getting title.

And it’s the biggest mistake I’ve made in blogging, assuming that my content alone would attract readers. It won’t. The day I learned to write compelling titles was the day my blog readership took off.

If this is so important, why isn’t it at the top of the list? When I first write a post, I don’t know what title to use. It takes time, thought, and multiple versions to pick the perfect title for a post. It’s the headline of the story, so you’ve got to get it right.

Here, too, is what I’ve learned about blog post titles over the years: clear is better than clever. These are the titles of the most read posts that I’ve written in the last six years. What do you see?

13 Warning Signs that What You’ve Delegated Won’t Get Done

Five Leadership Styles: What Style Are You?

My Teenage Daughter, Migrant Farm Workers, and the Real Power of Personal Productivity

10. Give attribution

Generosity is the spirit of the blogging world. If an idea isn’t original with you, that’s okay. Share it freely and tell your readers where you got it from.

11. Set internal and external links

Here’s another way of giving attribution, create an external link to the place where an idea originates, like I do in #6 and #14. While you’re doing this, direct readers to other places where you address the topic under discussion with internal links, like I do in #8 and #9.

Any decent blogging software makes this super easy to do. A side benefit is this: Google loves links and they’ll improve your blog’s search engine rankings.

12. Pose a question for discussion

The very best part of business blogging is interacting with your readers in the comments section of each post. This is where online community is truly built. So ask for comments by posing a direct question to your readers.

13. Proofread, proofread, proofread

Yes, typos happen. There’s probably one in this post. But unlike publishing a book, a blog typo is easily corrected.

Even so, I proofread every post I write three times: once in my word processing program, then in MarsEdit, a desktop blog editing software I use that uploads to WordPress, then again in WordPress before it goes live

14. Assign categories

Categories are the topics your business blog addresses, and they should be few in number.

Before I read Platform by Michael Hyatt (a must read for anyone with a business blog), I had 16 different blog categories. Yikes! Now I have five: leadership, strategy, sales, personal productivity, and employee engagement.

Exercise the discipline to write within your categories or no one will really know what your blog is about, including you!

15. Optimize for keywords

Here’s another mistake I made for years in writing my business blog. I didn’t optimize for keywords. Again, I figured that people would read my blog because the content was good. But if they can’t find that content, how will they read it. Right?

Keywords are specific words or phrases people use to search for information online. You must know what those terms are for your products and services and blog about them on a regular basis in a natural way. When you do, you’ll appear in searches for these terms and, in turn, people will read your blog. It’s as simple (and as challenging) as that.

16. Place image(s)

The Internet is a visual medium so your blog should be visual as well. Take pictures, buy pictures, draw diagrams, create process visuals. Put them in your blog posts and give attribution where appropriate.

17. Include a clear call to action

Unlike a personal blog, a business blog is part of a larger marketing strategy. And with marketing strategy there’s always a next step you’re asking people to take.

Rarely, however, is the next step buying anything.

An appropriate next step usually involves downloading a whitepaper, signing up for a newsletter, attending a webinar, or joining an online community (See my call to action below). Ask for it every time and track which posts produce the most responses for your business blog, then write more posts like them.

Expand your leadership and increase sales with this short article series sent directly to your inbox, Seven Business Growth Accelerators.

SIGN UP HERE

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Death of the Salesman and the Rise of Smart Salespeople http://billzipponbusiness.com/smart-salespeople/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=smart-salespeople http://billzipponbusiness.com/smart-salespeople/#comments Tue, 18 Mar 2014 07:00:57 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=3986 It’s the statistic that sent chills up the spine of sales leaders everywhere. It’s not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill statistic that you can shrug off, either. This one strikes at the heart of the very existence of the sales role in business. The statistic was reported by none other than the Marketing Leadership Council, a division […]

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60It’s the statistic that sent chills up the spine of sales leaders everywhere. It’s not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill statistic that you can shrug off, either. This one strikes at the heart of the very existence of the sales role in business.

The statistic was reported by none other than the Marketing Leadership Council, a division of the prestigious Corporate Executive Board. Having surveyed 1900 B2B customers, they found that these customers will contact a sales rep when they have “independently completed about 60% of the purchasing decision process.”

The 60% number, surprising even the surveyors, varied little by business or industry. You can read about it yourself here: The Most Important Number in B2B Marketing .

What does this mean for sales?

It means that salespeople are left responding to the terms and conditions predetermined by the buyer when contacted by them, not setting the agenda of the sale. In a word that means one thing and one thing only: commodity.

You need only look at the automotive industry to see the future of this powerful trend. What does a car salesperson do anymore except respond to the terms and conditions of the buyer? And if they don’t, that buyer will go down the street to someone who will.

What does this mean for B2B sales? Are we in need of a new version of Arthur Miller’s classic play, Death of a Salesman?

Yes and no.

YES: Certain Sales Styles Are on the Endangered Species List

The statistic stated above is just one of the ways sales have changed forever the last few years. As with any disruptive change, there are things that can adapt to the new environment and things that cannot. Two things that cannot are the people-pleasing sales style and hard-working sales style.

People-pleasing has been beat into the heads of salespeople since the book How to Win Friends and Influence People debuted in 1936. Salespeople on the whole are loathe to disagree with a prospective buyer for fear of damaging the relationship and losing the sale.

The problem is, when a prospect has completed the majority of the buying process prior to speaking with you, people-pleasing sends you down the path of deep discounts, razor thin margins, and diminishing profit. This path, too, is traveled by the hard-working sales style, faithfully responding to the demands of buyers and having to do more and more in every sale for less and less.

Not that we should be alienating people in the sales process, or failing to work hard when executing it. But doing these things as our default response doesn’t serve the buyer.

That’s right, it doesn’t serve the buyer.

Consider the recent rollout of the Affordable Care Act. Government officials came to web developers with the request to build an online platform for health insurance enrollment. Getting so-called “young invincibles” into the system was critical to paying for the reforms in the bill, and using technology to do so was deemed critical.

The problem was in the preconceptions that apparently no one had the courage to challenge. How do you get one-sixth of the nation’s economy online in a matter of months? Let alone coordinate this platform with all the different kinds of providers, myriad of federal agencies with their own web sites and proprietary software, as well as 50 states agencies, some of whom had opted into the program and some of whom had not.

Regardless of what you believe about the Affordable Care Act, its rollout was a train wreck of epic proportions, as checks written to the lowest bidder were cashed. No one is served by this approach, hard-working and people-pleasing though it may be.

NO: Smart Salespeople Are More Important Than Ever

What this means, then, is that smart salespeople are more important than ever to the buyers who need them and the businesses who employ them. Smart salespeople do three things differently than the people-pleaser and the hard-worker.

1. Smart salespeople push back with respect

Smart salespeople are not afraid to challenge the buyer. They don’t do this in an offensive way, always maintaining respect, but they do it nonetheless. The reason they do is that they have found that in a complex B2B environment, erroneous preconceptions can be formed that will end up hurting the buyer, especially when they’ve pursued the process independently.

Although these conversations may become uncomfortable at times, smart salespeople have learned how to master them because they are in the best interest of the buyer. As one smart salesperson told me recently, “The customer isn’t always right, but the customer is always the customer.”

2. Smart salespeople collaborate with their customers

When I got started in sales, I was repeatedly told, “Never ask a question you don’t know the answer to.” The thinking was, you must always control the sales conversation and not let it travel into the land of the unknown.

Just the opposite is true today. Smart salespeople ask lots and lots of questions they don’t know the answer to and take up permanent residence in terra incognita.

This dialectical process ends up serving both themselves and their customers. The complex global marketplace in which we work is filled with “unknown unknowns,” and no one has all the answers to the pressing problems we face. Multiple parties from multiple disciplines working together is what it takes to find lasting solutions. Smart salespeople facilitate this process through their strategic collaboration.

3. Smart salespeople arrive before the decision to buy is made

Finally, smart salespeople don’t wait until a decision to buy has been made to serve their prospects. They know that, by that time, it’s too late anyway. So they get there before a buying decision occurs.

How? Not by using clairvoyance, but by proactively providing value to their prospects. Smart salespeople set the agenda of the sale by becoming obsessed with the buyer’s challenges and bringing them ideas about meeting those challenges before they’re asked.

In this way they don’t say, “What’s keeping you up at night?” But rather, “Here’s what should be keeping you up at night!” And their prospects respond, “Wow, I’ve never thought of it that way before.”

That’s smart selling!

At the end of the day, smart salespeople are not seen as a salesperson at all, but as an important business partner. Salespeople like these are more important today than ever before.

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WARNING: Don’t Use Email This Way. Ever. http://billzipponbusiness.com/email-warning/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=email-warning http://billzipponbusiness.com/email-warning/#comments Tue, 04 Mar 2014 08:00:31 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=3973 I look back on it now with complete and total embarrassment. I had been tossing and turning since 2:00 AM, and it was now 4:00 AM. A slight that had been served me became amplified in my sleepless mind into a full-blown violation of my basic human rights. I was incensed! Finally getting out of […]

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warningI look back on it now with complete and total embarrassment.

I had been tossing and turning since 2:00 AM, and it was now 4:00 AM. A slight that had been served me became amplified in my sleepless mind into a full-blown violation of my basic human rights. I was incensed!

Finally getting out of bed, I authored a sharply worded, extensively documented email, and sent it to every person on the planet. Then I went back to bed.

I awoke to utter humiliation and weeks of apologies.

We’ve all done something like that with email. This amazing technology provides us with the power to ruin relationships and destroy our brand as a leader with a click of the send button. Here are three things to avoid to keep that from happening to you:

EMAIL WARNING ONE: Don’t send under the influence of adrenaline

The great power of email, or course, is its immediacy. We can’t imagine the time when we waited a few days for a letter to arrive, let alone a week. “Snail mail” we call it with a sneer.

Immediacy is also one of email’s great weaknesses as well. There are times, especially when issues are tense and relationships strained, that a few days, or even a week, is exactly what’s needed before engaging in a conversation.

Here’s why.

The first thing that happens to us in a tense situation is that our emotions sense danger and adrenaline, the brain’s emergency response system, surges through our veins. That surge of adrenaline makes us more focused, more intense, and more prone to act aggressively to protect our turf.

Drunk on adrenaline we can say things or do things that we regret later. Anyone who witnessed Richard Sherman’s rant after winning the NFC championship game against the San Francisco 49’ers knows what I mean.

This is referred to as “emotional hijacking” and it’s an apt image. Emotions charge the cockpit of our brain, take over the controls, and crash our relationships, and our brand as a leader, into the ground.

When an overwhelming impulse to send that perfectly worded email to put someone in their place comes over you, stop. Do nothing. Don’t write anything. Get control of your emotions, then, and only then, take action.

EMAIL WARNING TWO: Don’t correct via email

A second warning to heed regarding outbound email is this: never use it for correction. Please don’t conclude from that statement that you should never correct your people. That’s not true at all. Just don’t use the medium of email to do it.

Again, here’s why.

Correcting people via email is one of those things that’s efficient but not effective. It’s efficient because, being a busy leader, you’re able to scratch something from your list by zipping off a well-worded rebuke and getting on with your day.

The problem is: you can’t control the context in which that email will be received. And context is everything when it comes to correction.

Consider these possibilities:

  • The person who receives your email may have just been given bad news, like losing their biggest account or having a parent rushed to the hospital, and your correction rubs salt in their wounds.
  • The person who receives your email may read it quickly in-between meetings and miss the point entirely.
  • The person who receives your email may read it over and over and over again, becoming obsessed with the slightest shading of a word or phrase and losing complete perspective and objectivity.
  • The person who receives your email may share it with other people, making your private correspondence a topic of public conversation.

When you correct via email you don’t intend for any of these things to happen, but they do every day in business as effectiveness is sacrificed on the altar of efficiency.

When you need to provide correction as a leader, control the context of the communication as much as you possibly can. While this may take a little more time at first than writing a quick email, it will save countless hours of unraveling painful misunderstandings.

EMAIL WARNING THREE: Don’t allow replies to get past two

We’re all familiar with these email software functions: forward, reply, reply all, copy, and blind copy. And we know the well established protocols related to them. Copy only those who need to be copied with an email. Never use blind copy, its deceptive. Only reply all when, truly, everyone on that list needs to be included in the conversation. Everyone. The same applies to forwarding.

When it comes to hitting the reply button, however, there’s one more protocol to follow. Don’t do it more than two times in an email string.

I arrived one morning for a series of coaching sessions with the executive team at a client company. Before getting started on my day, the HR Director took me aside and showed me a printout of the email correspondence of two executive team members. The stack of paper was over ten pages long, single spaced. Reading from the back to the front, each ensuing email was longer and more intense than the one before it.

Warning One was ignored, as both leaders were writing under the influence of adrenaline. Warning Two was ignored as well, the printed pages were full of correction. But before this happened, if Warning Three was followed, Warning One and Warning Two would have never been an issue, or at least not as much of an issue as they had been here.

When you feel compelled to hit reply more than twice in an email string, it’s time to talk. Make a phone call, set an appointment, pop in to someone’s office, but don’t resolve the matter via email. It just won’t work.

Additional articles on email:

Executive Email Effectiveness: Six Essential Steps

Inbound Email Mastery: Four Powerful Practices

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Inbound Email Mastery: Five Powerful Practices http://billzipponbusiness.com/inbound-email-mastery-five-powerful-practices/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=inbound-email-mastery-five-powerful-practices http://billzipponbusiness.com/inbound-email-mastery-five-powerful-practices/#comments Tue, 18 Feb 2014 08:00:04 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=3953 11,680. That’s the number Barry Gill reported in the June 2013 issue of Harvard Business Review. The average worker receives 11,680 pieces of email per year. That’s 234 pieces of email in a work week, 47 in a work day. One every 10 minutes. I don’t need to tell you that email overload is killing […]

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Email11,680. That’s the number Barry Gill reported in the June 2013 issue of Harvard Business Review. The average worker receives 11,680 pieces of email per year.

That’s 234 pieces of email in a work week, 47 in a work day. One every 10 minutes.

I don’t need to tell you that email overload is killing workplace productivity. It’s the technological innovation we love to hate. The most successful executives, however, have mastered email overload by applying these five powerful practices to its inbound flow:

PRACTICE 1: Have set times in the day to check inbound email

The first step in mastering the flow of inbound email is not letting it drive the agenda of your day. The way we’ve allowed email to interrupt our lives is like revving up the engine of a sports car, racing down the road at top speed, and then bringing that car to a screeching stop after traveling one city block.

And doing this constantly. All day, every day.

The most successful executives don’t live this way. They set specific times in their day where they process email and stick to those times religiously. What this takes is scheduling 10-15 minutes a couple of times in the morning and 10-15 minutes a couple of times in the afternoon to attend to inbound email.

Because you’re writing crisp, clear and concise correspondence and not letting email replace actual conversation, this is really all the time you need.

MORE: Executive Email Effectiveness: Six Essential Steps

What’s surprising about this discipline is that it will actually increase your email effectiveness not decrease it. Instead of giving half your brain to inbound email, during your set times you’ll be able to give it your undivided attention, and, as a result, execute better on it.

PRACTICE 2: Turn off inbound email alerts and pop-ups

The second practice in mastering inbound email is turning off all the notifications you receive when an email arrives in your inbox. What these alerts do is destroy your focus as a leader and keep you in a constant state of emergency.

The best option for this is actually shutting down your email application and opening it only during the specific times in your day when you check your email. But some people find this step too severe. So at the very least turn off the all the alarms that sound, all the bells and whistles that go off, and all the pop-ups that appear when you get an email.

Why?

A joint study by Microsoft and the University of Illinois found that it takes, on average, 16 minutes, 33 seconds for a worker interrupted by an email to get back to what he or she was doing. Multiply that 16 minutes and 33 seconds by the 47 pieces of email we receive every day, and we have a problem. A serious problem.

It’s impossible to provide the people you lead undivided attention and answer the pressing problems of business today with breakthrough solutions when you’re interrupted every few minutes, no matter how cool the ring tone. Turn all this stuff off.

PRACTICE 3: Do it or defer it

During the specific times of your day when you check your email, use the letters D, D, D, and F to guide you. No, that’s not your son’s latest report card (Okay, maybe it is). It’s a filter for processing inbound email.

When you read a specific piece of email and can take action on it in two minutes or less, do it and remove the email from your inbox. That’s the first D.

If you can’t take action on it in two minutes or less, assign it to a future day. That is, defer it, the second D. You can revisit this task later and decide whether or not it’s really something you need to do, but for now it’s out of your inbox.

Inbound Email Processing System

Under no circumstances allow your email inbox to become an additional task list. It’s merely a temporary staging area for incoming messages. That’s all.

Click and drag software exists to quickly turn an email into a task with the subject line becoming the title of the task and any attached documents being placed in the Notes section. This makes sifting through your email quick and easy. Follow the two minute rule and keep your email check-ins limited to 10-15 minutes or less.

PRACTICE 4: Delete it or file it

If an email is not actionable, that is, if it’s something you need to know and not something you need to do. Read it and delete it, the third D. Also, immediately delete anything that’s irrelevant to achieving your highest priorities and pre-delete unwanted email by unsubscribing to unnecessary newsletters and using your spam filters to the greatest degree.

If you must save certain email to refer to it later, create folders to put them in that are outside your inbox. That is, file it: F. Keep these folders, however, to an absolute minimum. I send email like this to Evernote where I keep track of all the digital details of my life and leadership.

MORE: 19 Essential Evernote Terms and Tricks for Busy Leaders

PRACTICE 5: Get your email inbox to zero

Now use the D, D, D, F system to get your inbox to zero at the end of every day and, with the few stragglers that are left in your inbox that you didn’t get to at the end of the day, absolute zero at the end of every week. Achieving this goal will be one of the most liberating things you can do for both your business and your life.

I’ve worked with executives whose inboxes were filled with thousands of email, and it destroyed their ability to execute crisply as important details fell through the cracks. If this is you, schedule an undisturbed block of 2-3 hours as soon as possible to sift through all your email using the D, D, D, F designations and get your email inbox to zero.

Now stay on top of your email every day. If your email inbox gets cluttered again, schedule another appointment with yourself to get back to zero.

I have three messages currently in my inbox, and that number will be zero by the end of the business day. I can’t tell you how freeing it is not to have the mountain of email screaming at me. The same could be true for you.

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