8 questions a manager should ask direct reports during reviews

While employees may look forward to reviews or scheduled one-on-ones to get advice from their manager, these conversations offer managers an opportunity to learn new things from their employees too. The best way to do this is to ask the right questions.

The Business Journals

During employee reviews and meetings, managers can ask questions of their employees to gain insight into different perspectives of the company or to learn more about their team. Here, eight members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share the essential questions that managers should ask.

1. What makes the company an attractive place to work?
If the employee has been at the firm for a while, what makes them stay? What are we doing as a company to make this an attractive place to work? You can learn a lot from the positive aspects of your workplace. – Bruce Weber, Weber Group

2. Are there any doors I can open for you right now?
Ask if there are any roadblocks you can take out of their way or doors you can open for them right now. This question indicates your confidence in your direct report’s skills and that you are willing to empower them to do their best work. – Rebecca Thorburn, Visible Impact

3. How are you?
As a manager, your goal is to help people. To help people, you do need to have a relationship. Even though it is a professional relationship, it does need to be there. Take time to see how they are doing and how things are going in their personal lives. Asking questions to see how their life is going will provide a lot of answers on the “why” relating to work performance. Start with, “How are you?” – Zane Stevens, Protea Financial

4. What motivates you and your work?
It’s always great to find out what truly motivates someone to understand what they love about their work or what processes they think can be optimized to continue to strive for improvement. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

5. How can I help provide you tools, resources and training?
An essential question that managers should ask is, “How can I help you?” The manager is there to ensure the employees have all the tools, resources and training to deliver the required outcomes. Regularly asking how you can help them reaffirms you are there to help when the need arises. – Laura Doehle, Elevation Business Consulting

6. What ‘wins’ would you like me to acknowledge?
Beyond asking how you can be of service to your team, I’ve found asking a few personal questions helps build rapport and encourages the free flow of information. I’ve also asked about the “wins” they would like me or us to acknowledge as they are important in increasing confidence and appreciation for management. – Kent Lewis, Anvil Media, Inc.

7. What are you working on that you’re excited about?
It’s helpful to create space to reflect on their work and how they’re doing overall, beyond the status updates or challenges to discuss. This means asking things like, “What are you working on that you’re most excited about?” or “What is frustrating you lately?” to continue for both you and them to hone in on who they are, what is meaningful work to them and possible changes to consider. – Amy Marshall, Slalom

8. How do you rate job satisfaction?
One of the most revealing questions I ask is, “On a scale of one to 10, how would you rate your job satisfaction?” If the rating isn’t a 10, “What would make it a 10?” This provides actionable input for you as a manager. – Kimberly Lucas, Goldstone Partners

Personalization at Scale: What Synthetic Media’s Rise Means for Brands

Advancement in artificial intelligence (AI) is giving rise to synthetic media. But is it something brands should lean into? Here, Christian Jones, head of marketing, Hawthorne Advertising, discusses synthetic media’s advantages and how marketers can integrate it into their brand strategy.

 

Synthetic Media Can Drive Personalization at Scale

Consumers expect personalization. It’s table stakes in 2022, and brands that can’t deliver the personalized content people expect are at risk of losing customers to competitors who can. But while companies of all sizes can define customer segments, it’s difficult to personalize digital content using traditional methods due to the expense. Smaller companies and startups, in particular, find the price tag impossible.

The emergence of synthetic media makes producing personalized content fast, easy, and affordable.

Synthetic media, as defined by Wikipedia, is “a catch-all term for the artificial production, manipulation, and modification of data and media by automated means, especially through the use of artificial intelligence algorithms.” In sum, it’s content produced by technology, not by humans directly. The most visible type of synthetic media at this stage is “deepfakes.” While there are countless creative examples, the Tom Cruise deepfake is often referenced based on his global familiarity and an admirable character impression. But what if customers could interact with your brand’s spokesperson or representative as a deepfake, as museum visitors in Florida did with surrealist painter Salvador Dalí? This kind of interaction could be game-changing.

Deepfakes (and their more nefarious implications) aside, synthetic media has many non-video applications that are immensely useful, including AI-written text generation, music composition, realistic human photogeneration, voice synthesis, and more. As technology advances, the toolsets for creation will become easier and more accessible.

For specific examples of how synthetic media may be of immediate use to brands, consider the avatar as a virtual spokesperson and brand representative. What if technology could render your products already on a consumer or an avatar that represents your target audience? It’s easier to see yourself buying shoes or a new hoodie if you’ve already tried it on, creating brand affinity within audience segments.

In Roadrunner, the Anthony Bourdain documentary, filmmakers leveraged synthetic media to create a realistic voice-over from Bourdain that he never actually voiced. Synthetic media also creates new possibilities for companies with a global customer base. This is deeply distressing to anyone who knew or loved the late author and television star. But it does illustrate the possibilities of editing and creating video content with synthetic media.

After developing video content with a host speaking a message in one language, synthetic media toolsets make it simple to translate a video message and “voice-over” into dozens of other languages. Creating new ad spots without additional voice-over recording, reshooting, or dubbing? It’s almost unheard of. Script changes are also a snap — edit the script, and the facial movements and VO follow along. The tools to generate synthetic media can essentially eliminate traditional “linear” production processes for localization, customization and personalization.

How Synthetic Media Will Evolve in the Near Term

The advancements in the production capabilities to generate synthetic media are evolving quickly, so it’s a good idea for brand marketers to know its advantages and understand its limitations. Currently, one of those limitations is the uncanny valley phenomenon. As the technology evolves and target audiences become accustomed to synthetically generated content, that will likely be less of a concern. But a measured approach over the next 2-4 years is probably best.

Synthetic media is already making inroads with consumers, and the acceptance rate of the emerging technology may follow a trajectory similar to photo filtering, widely popularized by Snap and Instagram. Photo filters have been a gamechanger in the photo-sharing space because algorithm-driven platforms make incredibly complex operations simple for everyday users. That’s starting to happen with synthetic media too.

Younger consumers are experts with filters on Instagram, more receptive to tools like digital face-swapping technology and more comfortable interacting through digital personas. Platforms like Rosebud let users map their facial expressions onto avatars to tell stories and bring old photos to life, giving users a “decentralized Hollywood on your laptop,” according to the creators.

Integrating Synthetic Media Into a Brand Strategy

As synthetic media usage on consumer platforms grows, the impact on brand marketing will increase because the potential advantages are massive. In addition to the ability to personalize at scale, synthetic media can fundamentally change concepts like spokesperson name and likeness usage. This provides brands with PR crisis-proof spokespeople (since non-human avatars are impervious to scandals, for now at least) and boosts the productivity of human spokespeople by reducing the need for recording sessions.

Brand marketers will need to be thoughtful about how they integrate synthetic media into their strategy. For companies that have a synthetic and/or tech-forward focus, it might be a natural fit, whereas brands that are high-touch and/or human-centered should proceed cautiously. The target customer is also a consideration; younger audiences are definitely more receptive.

It hasn’t fully escaped the uncanny valley, but synthetic media and other technologies will eventually automate many creative processes associated with video production, including scriptwriting. As the palette of tools becomes more advanced, marketing, as we know, will change; but we’re not there yet. For now, brand marketers should keep a sharp eye on the explosion of new tools to exploit this new tech and be ready to jump in when the time is right.

16 Ideas Agencies Can Use To Tap Into The Power Of The Metaverse

The metaverse is being talked about everywhere you look lately, and yet many consumers aren’t quite sure what it is. The truth is, not even its creators know what it will become eventually—many moving parts are constantly evolving, which opens up some exciting opportunities for agencies seeking new avenues to reach target audiences.

Forbes Agency Council

When an agency is among the first to embrace a new technology or platform, it can learn a lot about how to best leverage that innovation to meet its clients’ goals; however, compared to its late-adopter competitors, it also has a shorter on-ramp before audiences see what their efforts have produced. Here, 16 members of Forbes Agency Council offer exciting and creative ideas an agency can use to ensure any brand activation crafted expressly for the metaverse provides a memorable customer touch point

1. Build Creative That Is Personalized

Based on user profiles, agencies can target individuals with unique content. For example, an agency can retarget a client that has purchased a product already with a custom coupon code that is unique to them for future purchases. Using interactive ad units in the metaverse, the agency can design a personalized ad for this purchaser. – Geoff Crain, Kingstar Media

2. Bridge Digital And Physical Worlds

For me, it would need to be an activation that bridges digital and physical, as the jury is still out on the metaverse and its potential. Given the sectors in which we work, a music event would work. For example, take a well-known festival to the metaverse and then create a pop-up at that same real-life festival where people can enter the metaverse while at the actual event. – Jules Herd, Five in a Boat

3. Create Immersive VR Experiences

To move beyond other early adopters, agencies should find ways to surprise and delight where the real world and metaverse meet, such as a virtual reality test drive at a car dealership that immerses the client in an exciting driving experience. Or, imagine a family vehicle where kids get their own VR headsets and can choose different soundtracks and scenery for virtual rides while their parents listen to the sales pitch. – John Dutton, Camden Advertising

4. Craft Digital Apparel For Avatars

Digital clothing and footwear for metaverse avatars is an area that fashion brands can run campaigns around. This could be a new skin in Fortnite or custom accessories that can be purchased in Roblox. – James Ross, Hype Partners

5. Elevate A Core Aspect Of The Brand Experience

The most effective brands are focusing on a core aspect of their brand experience and then extending it in ways that elevate it—whether that’s hosting a virtual sports event, creating an immersive storytelling and virtual showroom or setting up shop in already-established virtual worlds. All of the best metaverse examples have two common threads: confidence in the experience and meaning in the value exchange. – Bryan Specht, Salient Global

6. Do Brand Education And Build Consumer Loyalty

There’s an enormous opportunity to do brand education and build consumer loyalty in the metaverse. For example, spirits brands can take consumers on a tour of their distilleries, offer cocktail-mixing classes and provide access to invite-only panel discussions with the brand’s founders for superfans or non-fungible token owners. The metaverse is in its infancy, and we’re just beginning to uncover its possibilities. – Kim Lawton, Enthuse Marketing

7. Consider Adopting Extended Reality Experiences

Before overhauling your digital strategy, start with a building block toward the metaverse: Consider adopting extended reality (XR) experiences, such as virtual makeup try-on tools or floor model shopping. Combining the virtual with something more tangible will provide a memorable experience for your customers and add an engaging aspect to your retail and e-commerce space. – Lars Lehne, Incubeta

8. Showcase Talent In Gated Brand Zones

Create a branded experience in the metaverse with talent, such as a musical artist performing live on a given date, thus generating user engagement. Another way is to create gated brand zones with exclusive content, drops and more, which can only be accessed with specific NFTs that act as entry passes for customers. This requires the brand to have an NFT collection, however. – William Soulier, Talent Village

9. Build Community And Activate Connections

Brands should look at the metaverse as an extension of their community-building efforts (events, groups, chats and so on) to foster connections between consumers and their brand mission. Activations could include concerts, speaker series and NFTs that link real-world products with metaverse skins (clothing, cars, products, etc.) as a way for people to represent who they are in the metaverse. – JP Johl, AdTribute

10. Offer ‘Digital Twins, But Better’

If you offer a product in real life, offer a special code for a digital version—but break limitations with the metaverse version. If you encounter a consumer through the digital version, offer a code for real-life engagement, such as an in-store experience or product purchase. – Hamutal Schieber, Schieber Research

11. Foster Unique Interactions That Bring Consumers Together

Instead of looking at the metaverse as a digital extension of experiential marketing, brands should be thinking of it as an extension of apps such as Discord or Reddit: a place to foster unique interactions that bring their consumers together. For example, imagine a phone brand connecting strangers and asking them to overcome challenges together in a virtual reality using everything but their voices. – Mike Popowski, Dagger

12. Provide Unique Value Aligned With Core Brand Values

Brands should worry less about what is “exciting” and more about what is relevant and authentic. In the short term, brands may generate attention from the still-nascent metaverse by just being there. But ultimately, if the experience doesn’t align with core brand values, consumers will see through it. Instead, imagine how your brand can provide unique value in this new environment. – Matt Miller, X-FCTR

13. Build Trending Elements Into Your Brand Experience

Before entering the metaverse, it is key for advertisers to know their audience and create experiences relevant to that audience. Then, consider what other types of games or experiences your audience is engaging with now. For example, socializing or playing with other gamers live is a popular experience. Building these elements into your branded experience could lead to success. – Donna Robinson, Collective Measures

14. Exchange Actions For Tangible Products Or Services

The metaverse has vast potential for brand and consumer interaction. However, especially in these early stages, companies must ensure that human connections can be made within the metaverse. There must at least be some action taken within the metaverse that results in a tangible product or service being delivered to the consumer afterward so that a memorable link is made. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne LLC

15. Create An ‘Up Close And Personal’ Consumer Experience

We work in agriculture, and consumers are increasingly interested in where their food comes from. The metaverse is a great place to create an “on-farm” experience. Consumers can get “up close and personal” by using a robotic milking machine, harvesting apples or growing their own corn. Brands can then put those NFT apples, milk and corn flakes up for sale. – Sara Steever, Paulsen

16. Design ‘Liminal Spaces’ To Turn Processes Into Journeys

Design “liminal spaces” that convert average processes into exciting journeys by focusing on the job customers are trying to achieve. By creating these thresholds, you can make people feel as if they are on the precipice of their physical location while facing a virtual extension of the world. Liminal spaces can deliver physical, emotional or metaphorical experiences that help consumers connect with the brand. – Rodolfo Salazar, iDigital Studios

7 industry leaders’ tips for coping with supply chain issues

Headlines about ongoing supply chain issues are all over the media, and consumers are increasingly becoming used to seeing sparsely filled or even empty shelves in stores. But supply chain issues aren’t only hitting the retail sector; businesses across industries are struggling to maintain adequate supplies of the materials they need.

The Business Journals

A fast and easy answer to widespread supply chain issues isn’t likely to come soon. Still, there are several ways that businesses can adapt so they can continue to provide services to customers and clients. Below, seven members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share their best advice to help leaders cope with ongoing supply shortages and delivery slowdowns.

1. Be upfront with clients.
Be transparent! We’re all facing supply chain difficulties and running into backlog issues. The client will (or should) understand the challenges in the current market with supply. Where you get into hot water is when you aren’t upfront about these constraints and the customer is continuously disappointed by delays. You may have one the first deal, but you’ll never win another. – Colt Parsons, Insight

2. Look for new ways to serve customers.
Every crisis is the foundation for a new opportunity or service. It’s hard to get business partners to consider changes when things are rolling along. Supply chain issues create a perfect environment to secure the attention of senior leaders to propose meaningful change. – Dave Doherty, Digi-Key

3. Relay information from your suppliers to clients.
Prepare your team and your clients by diligently keeping in touch with your suppliers. In the construction and design industry, we are advising our clients to order things earlier than they would traditionally be needed to try to stay ahead of supply chain interruptions. When there are interruptions, we assess if there are alternative solutions that won’t compromise the final desired product. – Laret Casella, Casella Interiors

4. Ensure processes are optimized before a crisis hits.
The best way to weather any storm as a business — including one related to supply chain shortages — is to be prepared. Before a crisis hits, make sure that your processes are optimized and rely on the most essential inputs only. Establish relations with alternative suppliers and look for substitute inputs. Build a team that is capable of helping you find alternative solutions in case of a crisis. – Peter Abualzolof, Mashvisor

5. Find out each client’s driving factors.
Driving factors vary for clients; some may prefer to wait things out while others will be willing to do whatever it takes, whether that’s paying a premium or waiting for the long haul. Find out what your client’s driving factors are first. Establish systems and relationships that allow you to address your client’s needs irrespective of where their goals and objectives fall. – Maleda Berhane, AR Spruce LLC

6. Always have alternate supply sources, and shop locally.
Specific products will fall victim to supply chain issues. That is why it’s important to be looking well in advance to problem-solve issues that come up. Source replacement products or locally sourced supplies that will not have the same issues. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

7. Consider what customers need versus what they want.
As you consider what you provide, consider what customers truly need versus what they want. Creative solutions are often met with grace during challenging times. Also, think: What else can you provide them? For example, if you provide a product, what adjacent services can you provide to help fortify the customer or fill a different need? Or if you provide a service, is there an alternative? – Kimberly Janson, Janson Associates

3 E-Commerce and Social Media Trends to Watch Through the Rest of 2022

Man looking at tablet

Credit: Getty Images by Tim Robberts

E-commerce sales have been on the upswing as a share of total sales since before 2000, and in the last decade, social platforms have played an increasing role. Then 2020 happened, driving an unprecedented spike in online sales. This year so far, we’re seeing social media mature as a force that drives e-commerce, in addition to emerging technologies like the metaverse and 5G. Here’s a look at how e-commerce and social media will intersect across three major platforms through the rest of 2022.

1. Instagram Retains its Leadership Position in the Social Commerce Sphere
This image-forward social platform is already a major player in e-commerce, with 72 percent of users reporting that they’ve made a purchase decision after seeing a post. Savvy brands have capitalized on Instagram’s visual-first design, placing content on the platform to keep consumers current on what’s new in stores or available online.

With a successful suite of e-commerce features and the No. 1 rank among social platforms consumers use to follow brands, Instagram is still in a strong position in terms of e-commerce and brand communication, and that’s unlikely to change in the months ahead. Keep an eye on new features on Instagram like variable focus and augmented reality (AR) tools.

2. Snapchat Plays Catchup
It may seem counterintuitive because Snapchat has a cutting-edge AR system, but the popular instant messaging app is losing ground in terms of active users relative to its competitors, and that makes it less of a player in e-commerce today. Instagram has well over twice as many active users, and TikTok has pulled far ahead, too. Snapchat remains popular with teens but has struggled to make inroads with older users, even as other apps have attracted new users.

That said, the platform’s Snap Scan AR scanning feature has much commercial potential and a reported 170 million users. Snapchat is also performing well financially: The company generated $2.5 billion revenue in 2020, a 47 percent increase over the previous year’s results, and in 2021, its stock value rose 350 percent over its 2020 performance, as reported by the Business of Apps. However, if Snapchat is going to live up to its early promise in the e-commerce space, it will have to play catchup with competitors in the months ahead.

3. TikTok is Set to Grow E-Commerce Revenue
Even though TikTok is the new kid on the social media block, the platform is showing incredible momentum, doubling the number of users more established competitors like Snapchat, Pinterest and Twitter racked up since it came on the scene. The platform’s format is a natural for influencing purchases, and this year TikTok expanded its partnerships and added a shopping tab for business users as well as new ad options, according to TechCrunch.

TikTok has catapulted everyday users into influencers with a single video. Brands of all sizes use the platform to post content about products, and online retail giant Amazon.com got in on the act by dedicating a page to TikTok user recommendations. As TechCrunch noted, popular clothing brand Princess Polly garnered a six-fold return on ad spend and increased page visits by 50 percent using TikTok. Look for TikTok to expand its foray into e-commerce in 2022 and beyond.

Keeping an Eye on Social Media-Driven E-Commerce
No one can confidently say if new consumer buying habits formed during the pandemic will endure, but the evidence points in that direction. Even demographics that had previously been resistant to e-commerce started buying online. Smart brands are looking for ways to meet consumers where they are, and increasingly that’s on social media. Even hardware is reflecting this trend. At CES 2022, the Vivo V23 handset debuted with ultra-powerful front-facing cameras and software dedicated to high-res selfies, looking to target the selfie and influencer space, capitalizing on tech dedicated to virtual clothing try-ons, filters and other capabilities.

To stay ahead of customer trends, brand managers should keep an eye on social media-driven e-commerce in the year ahead, including Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. That’s the best way to prepare for what comes next as new features and capabilities change the marketplace again.

11 ways to help stakeholders overcome resistance to change

When a business rolls out new initiatives, buy-in from its stakeholders is essential to helping those initiatives succeed. However, people can sometimes be unwilling to try something new.
The Business Journals

This challenge provides leaders with an opportunity to help stakeholders overcome their resistance to change. Here, 11 members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share their advice for leaders who are facing this challenge.

1. Use human-centered design thinking.
Use a human-centered design thinking approach. The best way to handle resistance is to prevent or lessen it. If these are truly stakeholders, they stand to win or lose as a result of this initiative. Getting clear on desired outcomes and how the stakeholders measure success is key. Resistance usually is a result of being dictated to versus being consulted, considered or co-created with. – Kim Baker, Vivid Performance Group

2. Communicate change in clear terms.
Effective leaders communicate change in clear and tangible terms, not just ideological perspectives, sharing each new initiative and how and when to measure success. Such communications must be concrete, honest and frequent. And if a new initiative doesn’t succeed, it is imperative to communicate openly with the rest of the team so that future experimentation is rewarded, not punished. – Daniel Serfaty, Aptima, Inc.

3. Ask a small beta team to try for 30 days.
Change is always hard. When I introduce a new idea that I know my team will resist, I ask a small beta team to try it for 30 days. If we scrap it after this beta test, it means we didn’t see the results we were looking for. Most of the time, I win champions for the change and then the rest of the team jumps on board. – Kimberly Lucas, Goldstone Partners

4. Get them to participate in ideation.
Buy-in doesn’t imply simply getting stakeholders’ endorsement and support once you have a new initiative to approve. It means getting stakeholders involved from the beginning of the process through the execution and promotion. If you get stakeholders to participate in the ideation, they will be as convinced of the need for change as you are and will be your best supporters. – Peter Abualzolof, Mashvisor

5. Make it clear how change is beneficial.
Find a way to help people buy into the change. Make it clear to those who are resistant how the change will benefit them. By highlighting potential benefits and instilling excitement in that group of people, they will be ready and willing for the change to occur, as the change will be seen as something that will bring value rather than a burden they have no control over. – Jack Smith, Fortuna Business Management Consulting

6. Discuss the pros and cons of change.
Present a comprehensive argument to stakeholders to discuss the pros and cons of moving forward with any new initiative. This will ensure that all sides are being heard and a path forward can be determined. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

7. Demonstrate the cost of passing on it.
The best way to make a change, or at least gain support for a new initiative, is to demonstrate how the cost of not implementing the initiative is more costly than actually embracing it. The challenge is to quantify how the current way is sucking resources and profits compared to the alternative. Incentivizing teams to implement changes typically helps as well. – Kent Lewis, Anvil Media, Inc.

8. Socialize big ideas before jumping in.
Bank of America taught me to socialize big ideas before heading into a larger meeting. Determine stakeholders’ concerns, figure out where they can add value, express the tremendous value they add and use their words to create the connectivity and feeling that it is their idea. Directly ask for their support as a favor in upcoming discussions and ask them to help lead the conversation to drive this change. – Kimberly Janson, Janson Associates

9. Involve them in the decision-making process.
Normally stakeholders from multiple departments are involved in the decision-making process, each coming with their own priorities of importance based on how they’re impacted. I make sure I’m doing my homework and am coming prepared to overcome any objections that might be shared by each member. This includes if accounting wants to know the cost to implement, sales needs to see how it impacts revenue, etc.. – Messina Truttman, Beck Flavors

10. Get stakeholders’ perspective on strategy.
Gain stakeholders’ perspectives when devising a strategy. Be prepared to provide examples of the challenge that lies ahead or of a solution that was successfully developed due to an initiative being rolled out. Also, encourage questions up front and make all affected parties aware that adjustments may occur along the way as the initiative takes better shape. – Carlos Munguia, Amegy Bank

11. Ask key questions about desired results.
Nobody likes to change if they think the current way of doing things is fine. That is human nature. Leaders need to discuss why the current way is not the most effective. This is not just telling but asking key questions about whether you are getting the desired results and whether there is room for improvement. Once people understand the why behind the change, they are much more likely to “buy in.” – Gary Braun, Pivotal Advisors, LLC

10 smart strategies for building a crisis-resistant enterprise

Leaders of businesses and organizations might easily be forgiven for feeling as though they’re in constant crisis mode these days. Lingering effects from the pandemic, inflation, supply chain issues and labor shortages are converging to make running a company a particularly challenging effort.

The Business Journals

While leaders can’t control everything that’s happening in the world and the economy, they can take steps that make their organizations stronger and more resilient. Here, 11 members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share smart strategies for building a crisis-resistant enterprise that every leader would be wise to take.

1. Reframe a ‘crisis’ as a ‘challenge.’
Start by redefining “crisis.” If every challenge is a crisis, you and your team will constantly be faced with making decisions that seem like do-or-die decisions. That kind of thinking is burdensome, stressful and overwhelming. Reframe “crisis” to “challenge” and emphasize using solutions that solve the challenge and any similar issues in perpetuity. – Brock Berry, AdCellerant

2. Beware of knee-jerk reactions.
Decisions impacting the entire organization should be made by a committee of two to three people. Once a decision has been reached, don’t communicate/announce it right away. Allow it to simmer for 30 minutes, an hour or a day, depending on the urgency. This gives you time to account for previously unknown variables and adjust accordingly instead of backtracking. – AJ Ansari, DSWi

3. Build a lean, proactive team.
As a business leader, you should know that your enterprise is only as good as your team is. Thus, you should make sure to build a lean, high-performing, proactive team that will be your right hand both when handling a crisis and when preparing for growth. Running a business is not a one-man show. Start building a reliable, motivated team right now if you haven’t done so already. – Peter Abualzolof, Mashvisor

4. Strengthen senior leadership teams.
Strengthen senior leadership and senior management teams. For 99.9% of teams, this means hiring a consultant to diagnose the teams’ effectiveness and the factors driving those results. One study has found that only 21% of senior leadership teams are effective. For organizations in constant crisis mode, this endeavor, if done well, reveals aspects of senior teams that may be driving that state and how to shape and sharpen change capacity. – Kim Baker, Vivid Performance Group

5. Invest in employee recruitment, training and development.
This may sound trite, but I’ve found the best way to address a crisis is to avoid it. Invest enough in recruiting, training and employee development to confidently empower employees to identify and mitigate a potential crisis. Investing similarly in product development and customer experience (service and support) should eliminate all but the greatest crisis outliers. – Kent Lewis, Anvil Media, Inc.

6. Maintain a mindset of steadiness.
Every leader needs to understand that nothing is ever as good or as bad as it seems. This allows leaders — and, subsequently, their teams — to respond to dynamically changing environments by maintaining a mindset of steadiness. Through this thought process, nothing becomes a crisis; rather, it’s just the next step that needs to be taken. – Jack Smith, Fortuna Business Management Consulting

7. Create norms for daily tasks.
Work to create norms for the daily things that pull on you and pull you away from managing crises well. Make agreements on such details as how much email is OK and how many meetings are held, and push decision making down into the organization to create capacity. Also, reliance comes from experience. Experience builds judgment. Have a long-term play for developing judgment and perspective to enable resiliency. – Kimberly Janson, Janson Associates

8. Encourage and absorb feedback.
We know the importance of feedback loops; aircraft systems use them to maintain control and position in flight to stabilize for speed, wind direction and more. Similarly, the more feedback loops a company has internally and externally, the more stable it can be. Your organization can adapt with purpose by continuously encouraging and absorbing feedback about employees and the outside world. – Daniel Serfaty, Aptima, Inc.

9. Ensure that leaders have needed support.
Ensure that every leader is effective by giving them the right support to tackle the most important work. Take anything that can be off their plate so they can maintain focus and composure. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

10. Develop a culture of resilience.
In the business world, it’s not a matter of if a crisis will occur, but when. One key step is to develop a strong culture of resilience. This means creating an organizational culture that values learning from mistakes and encouraging employees to take calculated risks. It also means having clear policies and procedures in place so that employees know what to do in the event of a crisis. – Adam Toren, RaisingEmpoweredKids.com

9 high-level business metrics to track during pivotal points

Whether good or bad, every business goes through pivotal points throughout its lifetime. Pivotal points can occur due to growth, obstacles and other occurrences. It’s important to track certain aspects of the business during such points to ensure that everything is staying on track.

The Business Journals

While it’s always important to track high-level metrics, there are some specific ones that are crucial to keep an eye on during pivotal points. Here, nine members of Business Journals Leadership Trust discuss these specific high-level metrics and why it’s important to track them.

1. Related indicators and their ratio.
Identify two related performance indicators and track their ratio over time (i.e., track how they trend). For example, revenue by itself tells a portion of the story, as does expenses, but it’s better to track gross margins (in dollar amounts or as a percent) or profits. These are the basics. When you can do this, the next metric to track is customer acquisition cost today and over time. – AJ Ansari, DSWi

2. Employee satisfaction.
Employee satisfaction as it can be a proxy for several other metrics. Why? Because an unhappy team results in turnover, inefficiencies, quality issues and generally not being bought into your mission. Other metrics that can roll are workload capacity, work fragmentation and communication, to name a few. – Joseph Wynn, Seiso, LLC

3. Number of sales meetings.
The number of sales meetings that your team is having each week is in my opinion the most important metric a business can track. You should know how many meetings it takes in order to close a deal and work backward from there to set goals based on the number of deals you want to close each year. These meetings are the absolute building blocks of your business. – Courtney Folk, Textile Restorations

4. Degree of awareness.
Pivotal points are usually the result of a change imposed by external market forces or internal structure to improve organizational performance. For this change to succeed, a necessary precondition is that everyone involved is aware that the change is happening. Without it, there is no chance of success. Therefore, your key performance metric is the degree of awareness — how many people know? – Daniel Serfaty, Aptima, Inc.

5. Cash flow, cash reserve.
Cash flow and your cash reserve are critical items to keep a close eye on. Business investments and pivots can quickly eat up cash, and you need to make sure you have enough to keep the company healthy and running. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

6. Employee turnover.
Employee turnover is an indication of a company’s health, and this is particularly true for those employees who are on your list of regrettable losses. Top talent is the first to leave if they feel organizations are not being led well during pivotal points. Organizations are perfectly designed to produce the results they are producing. High-potential talent uses this as a metric on the health of the business. – Kimberly Janson, Janson Associates

7. Chargeability rate.
In my industry, chargeability has to be that metric, as it’s how we earn revenue. With low chargeability, you cannot grow or invest in your business. – Jerry Ramos, LJA Program Management, LLC

8. Churn rate.
No matter what your business is going through — whether it’s a circumstance experienced by the entire ecosystem or a factor specific to your company — you have to make sure that your customers still find value in your product and want to continue using it. Keeping track of your churn rate is the most efficient way to ensure that your product remains relevant to your customers’ needs. – Peter Abualzolof, Mashvisor

9. Customer-centric metrics.
During a pivotal point, tracking customer-centric metrics is critical for businesses. These metrics may include customer acquisition costs, customer retention rates and the percentage of repeat customers. The importance of customer-centric metrics is inexorable. Knowing your customer acquisition and customer retention costs gives you actionable insights for improving the business overall. – Sanjay Jupudi, Qentelli

7 industry leaders share simple growth hacks for boosting the bottom line

Every so often, business needs a boost. If sales are slumping or they’re not signing new clients as quickly as they’d like, business leaders may need to take quick action to improve the bottom line. Many leaders may believe doing so takes a major initiative, but that isn’t always the case — sometimes a quick addition or adjustment can yield significant results.

The Business Journals

There are several simple growth hacks leaders can leverage to make a positive impact on the bottom line. Below, seven members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share the best growth hacks they’ve learned and discuss the results they’ve seen from leveraging them.

1. Boost your online presence.
One of the most straightforward hacks I’ve learned over the years is ramping up visibility across various channels such as social media, search engines and even your own website. Today’s world circulates around virtual spaces, and your online presence matters. Thus, increasing and maintaining your social media interactions, search engine optimization and so on are valuable initiatives. – Sanjay Jupudi, Qentelli

2. Look closely at operations and operating costs.
Sometimes boosting the bottom line means taking a good look at your operations and operating costs. See what efficiencies can be improved to tighten overall operations and minimize costs. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

3. Leverage positive reviews from happy customers.
In our case, the simple growth hack that helped us significantly increase revenue without adding a lot of new resources was focusing on positive reviews from existing customers. The happy, satisfied clients were already there; all it took was establishing a simple process to collect their reviews in a systematic manner. This helped boost new customer confidence and raise our conversion rate. – Peter Abualzolof, Mashvisor

4. Identify redundant, low-value activities.
We reached a point in our growth where we were at capacity but wanted to grow top-line revenue. As a service business, you are always constrained by people capacity. We took time to really document our workstreams and then identify those activities that were redundant, low-value and repetitive. By eliminating waste and automating repetitive activities, we saw a 30% increase in revenue over 2020. – Kimberly Lucas, Goldstone Partners

5. Develop new services based on client requests.
A simple method that has led to business growth for us has been to focus on client requests. When a client asks us to do something new, we then extend that new service to all our existing clients. The expansion of our service offerings helps us to continue doing business with existing clients while also attracting new ones. – Jack Smith, Fortuna Business Management Consulting

6. Revisit product pricing and service contracts.
Revisiting your product pricing and service contracts — especially if you’re in the professional services business — can have a significant impact. For example, we changed how we billed our clients for reporting technology and turned it from a top five largest expense to a top 10 largest income line item in less than a year. – Kent Lewis, Anvil Media, Inc.

7. Add value pricing packages, and be aggressive about managing expenses.
Value pricing, where clients buy more and receive some type of valuable asset in addition to the traditional product, is a strong way to drive revenue and boost the bottom line. The other way is to manage expenses very tightly and aggressively, especially for a short-term interval. Doing without expensive items, such as travel, for 90 days can create savings that go directly to the bottom line. – Kimberly Janson, Janson Associates

Opening a business? Nine up-and-coming locales and regions to consider

While remote work may have opened up the “anywhere” workplace, there are still locations that are hotspots for building a business. In fact, the digital economy that has supported remote work is part of what’s making less-than-traditional locales attractive choices for a new concern. While traditional business centers are still humming, smaller cities and markets — and even more rural areas — are touting the perks and lifestyles that both business owners and employees are looking for.

The Business Journals

Depending on your industry, there are hotspots all across the country that offer attractive incentives for building a business. Here, nine members of Business Journals Leadership Trust discuss some specific, up-and-coming cities with great features that business owners and investors should keep an eye on, as well as regions with characteristics that are also worth a second look.

1. Austin, Texas
Austin remains a hotspot for business owners. The city offers something that is essential for continued growth: building infrastructure that is a low lift for employees to thrive in that environment. As an employer, I made the move to purchase a historic building suited for my employees and clients. This foresight allows my teams to thrive in a place that inspires them in an incredible city. – Kathleen Lucente, Red Fan Communications

2. Dallas, Texas
Dallas is a hot spot for business. The number of available jobs and the cost of living are still great in the North Texas Area. I believe that people are also coming to Texas to work with other professionals in person so that they can collaborate and grow professionally, which would not happen remotely. – Douglas Carter, Ironside Human Resources

3. Miami, Florida
With no state income taxes, incredible beaches, entertainment and ample job opportunities, it’s no wonder people are flocking to Miami. It’s second in the U.S. for new tech company formations and it’s becoming the crypto capital of the world, all while contributing to the fourth-highest state GDP in the U.S. All this sure makes it hard not to be bullish on Miami, and it’s why I think every business needs to have its eyes set on the “Magic City.” – Michael Ayjian, 7 Wonders Cinema

4. Phoenix, Arizona
Phoenix is quickly becoming one of the most business-friendly cities in the United States. The city has a thriving startup scene with a number of incubators and accelerators working to support new businesses. In addition, Phoenix is home to a talented workforce and a lower cost of living than many cities. – Adam Toren, RaisingEmpoweredKids.com

5. Raleigh, North Carolina
I’m biased, but Raleigh is experiencing explosive growth. Top tech companies including Apple and Lenovo have already or are establishing significant operations in the area. A low tax rate, an abundance of highly educated graduates from top colleges in the area and Research Triangle Park are enticing to many companies. It’s a great area for investors to tap into emerging startups primed for success. – Colt Parsons, Insight

6. The metaverse
One of the emerging locations for businesses to have a presence is in the metaverse. Virtual worlds provide an opportunity to engage with customers, prospects and other constituents on a global scale, avoiding Covid and travel expenses. It’s still the Wild West, but it’s suited for technology-centric and decentralized organizations. – Kent Lewis, Anvil Media, Inc.

7. Locations with a large university population
If you are looking for an eager and available workforce who is talented and ready to work, I always suggest focusing your headquarters in a city that has a large university or college population. If there are lots of colleges, there is a revolving door of new workers who will help you scale every quarter. – Christopher Tompkins, The Go! Agency

8. Locations with innovation centers and social spaces
Businesses still need to find locations that are conducive to collaboration and, ideally, some in-person social interactions. Locations with collaboration or innovation centers that also offer a variety of restaurants and bars can help a business progress. – Steve Wang, Protiviti

9. Locations that offer ‘the great outdoors’
Many workers are moving city to city. However, businesses should also be paying attention to more remote, outdoor locations that have a hip, local vibe for the worker who is truly looking for that outdoorsy lifestyle balance. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising