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Is Your Productivity Up to Par?

Five Compelling Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Productivity by Mark Akerley
Wouldn't it be great if we could wave a magic wand over our workplace and instantly achieve a 10% increase in productivity? Hallucination, you say? Perhaps. But for more than 20 years, I've been asking hundred of folks from hundreds of companies a couple simple questions, and their candid answers indicate that a 10% increase is quite reasonable. The two questions are:

1. Are you working to your full potential?

2. Is there something YOU (not someone else) can do that would enable you to become 10% more productive?

With few exceptions people answer the first question with a resounding "No," implying a significant amount of untapped potential is just waiting to be utilized. From what I've seen working with a large variety of companies and people, that's certainly true. I'm continually amazed at the above average talent that resides within "average" people.

Answers to the second question are also typically "No," accompanied by a fair amount of finger pointing as to why someone else is the cause for their performance status. This answer, however, I don't buy — for about 99% of the cases anyway. Even under the most difficult working conditions, you can always do something to be a little more productive; you just have to look for it and want to improve.

Now, I'm not suggesting that you become an efficiency expert or a time management guru to achieve a 10% increase. Simply doing more is not the answer. Rather, I'd like you to ask yourself three questions that will enable you to focus your efforts on getting the right things done at the right time. This will not only increase your productivity but also your overall effectiveness as well. Consider these questions on at least a monthly, preferably weekly, basis:

1. "What am I really good at and how do I do more of it?" This is where you need to spend most of your time. The more time you spend on things you are good at, the more productive and effective you will be. (Warning: Make sure you're brutally honest with yourself when determining where you excel.)

2. "What's the most important thing I need to accomplish today or this week?" Make it number one on your to-do list. Engage others in your efforts right away. Don’t stop until it's done. (Warning: This should be generated from your plan, not from a neat idea that hit you at Starbucks this morning.)

3. "How can I identify and reduce the noise?" Noise is distraction. Noise is something you feel obliged to do but really don't need to be doing. Noise is something on your priority list that really should be on someone else's. Noise is activity that doesn't produce a result. Stop doing, listening, thinking about things that are just noise. (Warning: Reducing noise sometimes causes pain for others … you need to get used to that.)

More than just increasing productivity, these questions help provide focus and discipline to enable you to achieve more results and fulfillment. And isn't that what it's all about? So try making these three questions part of your weekly routine. I think you'll like the results.

Your Reputation With Customers Travels at Light Speed by Rand Golletz
Considering the fact that buyers are the lifeblood of any business, it's amazing that more businesses, especially smaller businesses, don't employ formal mechanisms for getting buyer feedback. I suspect that part of the reason is that we all wince at bad news, even when we profess that we want it. Most of us take criticism personally and either find a way to blame the provider or create a reason that any transgression is an anomaly. The fact is, however, that frequent feedback from buyers – the more stinging the better – can make the difference between prosperity and bankruptcy.

My question: Are you better off knowing how your buyers regard you or not? The answer ought to be obvious. I've got some examples that are instructive:

A couple of years ago, I got an e-mail with an attached PowerPoint presentation from a person I'd never met. It seems that he and a business associate had made a guaranteed reservation at a hotel in Houston. They arrived late at night, and the front desk clerk had given their room to a walk-in. A lengthy discussion ensued between these two guys and the front desk clerk. The bottom line: The clerk had blown it but concocted excuse after excuse to convey his belief that they were culpable because of their late arrival. A couple of days later, these two guys (the irate customers) crafted a lengthy, very humorous PowerPoint presentation and sent it to the clerk and the hotel manager.

Hang-on; the problem gets hairier. They also sent a copy of the presentation to about 1,000 of their friends, associates and acquaintances. I became curious as to how many people had eventually received the PowerPoint, so I called a few of the 1,000 people and asked them two questions: "How many people did you send it to?" and "Would you please share a few of their names?" I then called a few of those people and asked the same questions. Here's the killer: Per my own conservative estimate, about 50,000 people eventually received a copy.

In our age of electronic connectivity, bad news travels far and fast.

There's a brighter, flip-side to this coin.

A few years ago we had some bad winter storms and lost a number of shingles on our cedar shake roof. A neighbor had a restoration company over to do work at their home, and I asked this company about getting a roofer to look at our roof. They recommended that I call Gene Phifer with Phifer Construction in Montgomery County, Maryland. I called him, he came out and walked the roof. He said it was OK, but that he'd look at it the following year to reassess its condition. So, for the next couple of years, I called him in the fall. Each time, he walked the roof, reassessed its condition and repeated that while the shingles were getting dry, the underlying roofing paper was still good. He never charged for this service nor exploited our ignorance. When we finally decided to replace the roof, I called him to get an estimate. I also got estimates from two other companies and completed reference checks. Everyone raved about Gene's service — he even maintained one elderly man's roof that he hadn't installed — and we decided to hire him.

After we signed the agreement, he showed up when he said he would, his workers were pleasant and they cleaned up after the job. Sometime after completion, we had severe storms and experienced a couple of problems where water seeped in through a roof addition and around skylights in our screened-in porch. We called and he was out immediately. (I'm talking within two hours!) He boarded up the area until the rain subsided and then returned promptly to correct the problems. He followed up to be sure it remained secure. Later he had his painter repaint water-stained areas (including areas that existed prior to his roofing job). Because of our experience/recommendation, he has done at least three of our neighbors' roofs.

Gene Phifer is not Jack Welch nor Peter Drucker. He doesn't have a Harvard MBA. What he does have is an innate sense of the lifetime value of a customer.

The lessons from these two examples are obvious, but I'll enumerate a few of them briefly:

• In the information age, word travels quickly and broadly.

• Marketing is not primarily about focus groups and systematic feedback; it's largely about keeping every commitment you make. (You can read more about this from our January 2006 issue ). The rule of thumb: under-commit and over-deliver — not the other way around.

• A "can-do" obsession will overcome minor lapses in quality or service. The guy at the hotel treated his customers with antagonism. Gene Phifer knew that the real test of product and service quality came after the original work was done.

Copyright 2006 Value Connection, All rights reserved.

About the Author: At Value Connection, our mission is to enable business chiefs to create and execute a meaningful value proposition for business and personal growth.
The partners, Mark Akerley and Rand Golletz, each have more than twenty years experience leading businesses, from the inside and outside, to achieve outstanding results.
Their resumes include the titles of CEO, Chief Marketing Officer (Fortune 100 company) and consultant to the senior executives and boards of many companies in a variety of industries.
Value Connection maintains offices in Chicago, Illinois (lead by Mark Akerley) and Washington, D.C. (lead by Rand Golletz). For more information, please visit
or e-mail us at or

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