Mike Brubaker’s Blog

Mike Brubaker’s Blog2017-06-19T15:03:45+00:00
1703, 2017

Why Mutual Respect is Critical in Business

In today’s business climate, surrounded by what seems to be a culture of division and disrespect, it’s more important than ever to create an environment where mutual respect is encouraged, and flourishes.

I have first-hand experience with the advantages of respecting your colleagues.  As a former state senator, I worked collaboratively with a number of people with whom I had strong disagreements. But, if we were going to accomplish anything, we needed to respect each other and find common ground.

In fact, a colleague from “the other side of the aisle” and I literally found common ground when we created the Hunger Garden at the capitol in Harrisburg.  

Now that I’m back in the world of business, I’ve found that respect is mandatory when dealing with clients, employees and colleagues. It keeps the conversations civil and lets people genuinely work together towards common goals.

This is especially true with employees.

It turns out that a 2014 study by Harvard backs me up. According to study, more than half of those surveyed did not feel respected by their bosses—yet respect was more important than financial compensation.

Worse, in a separate survey, 25 percent said they behaved in an uncivil way because they didn’t have a role model for respect.

What, exactly, then is respect and how can we model it? How can we make our employees feel respected?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of respect is: high or special regard. It also refers to a “state of being esteemed.”

But Christine Porath, associate professor of management at Georgetown University, reminds us, in her Harvard Business Review article that, “Leaders need to keep in mind that respect is different for different people; it’s all in the eyes of the beholder. Respect is directly tied to what a particular individual expects — and how the leader makes the person feel. Norms vary by culture, generation, and gender — as well as industry and organization.”

So, given the variables, how can we create an environment that is one of respect and civility?

It begins by listening to your employees. Solicit their opinions, let them air concerns, and take their suggestions seriously when warranted and possible. If an employee has a great idea that solves a problem or helps the bottom line, you won’t know about it unless you hear about it—which means keeping an open mind (and ear!)

Once listening and engaging is productive dialogue occurs, share the goals of the business and see how these goals align with your employee’s personal goals. Maybe you’re ready to expand your client base at the same time they want to move away from an administrative position. If you support them by encouraging them (maybe even with time off for classes!) to take the Series 6 exam, it benefits you both.

Be sure to give direct, timely praise for work that’s done well and acknowledge the role your employees have (individually and as a team) in the success of your business.

In financial services, it’s also good to share any compliments about your employees that are made by clients. In a world of complaints, a compliment goes a long way!

Finally, correct any behavior that is uncivil or disrespectful.  If you are modeling and encouraging respect, employees need to know that they are expected to treat each other with the same consideration.  

It’s okay to be human (everyone is!) and there will be bad days. But bad moods that spill over to the workplace, and negative attitudes towards others—especially if it crosses into personal insults or derisive comments—have a demoralizing effect and must be addressed.

Respecting people in the workplace will go a long way to countering the culture of incivility.

803, 2017

It’s Never Too Late to Grow Your Network

Networking is a known quantity these days, part of any progressive career track. But effective networking is not always so well publicized. What makes networking effective? Forming genuine connections and building authentic relationships with your contacts, not just exchanging business cards and empty conversation.

Super connectors are people who have organically grown their own expansive networks. These networks wouldn’t be sustainable or, indeed, useful to anyone if the foundations were flimsy. So super connectors grow connections naturally by trading in value: quality versus quantity. And super connectors strengthen those relationships by enabling and facilitating further interaction within their own networks.

Rather than navigating a daunting “networking event” that may be unfocused, unorganized, and ultimately unhelpful–not to mention draining and time-wasting–consider these refinements to the networking process.

1. Offer Help

Rather than always asking for help, first offer it. Do favors for people to cement meaningful relationships. Build a reputation as a reliable contact, willing to give and not just take. Create value in your connections by building on a solid foundation, rather than just a passing acquaintance.

2. Find Common Ground

Maintain your network over time by keeping in touch with people. Grow your network over time by reaching out to people with whom you have common ground, like friends of friends and alumni networks. This makes meaningful use of both persons’ time.

3. Pick and Choose

If you want to attend networking events, pick and choose. Cattle call networking events aren’t likely to make good use of your time, but focused networking events increase the chances of making meaningful connections.

4. Convene Connections

Once you succeed in growing your network, you might consider holding your own events to leverage and strengthen your network. Super connectors can use such events to brand-build, in a sense, by curating their own networking events. These could be as small and informal as potlucks, or as large as summits.

Organizing these events with an eye for detail and opportunity means people will walk away feeling like the event was a worthwhile use of their time–well worth the value of a registration fee, even–and impressed by the size of the organizer’s network. These kinds of events can build your reputation while extending your network: “The world’s top super connectors use the power of convening to massively scale the depth and breadth of their network while building their thought leadership.”

5. Reciprocate

Once you have built a web of meaningful connections, get in the habit of exchanging value by reciprocating introductions, trading advice, and building each other up.

6. Achieve Mastery

To have something to offer your network of contacts, it’s important to develop your own brand of mastery first. Mastery means value, for yourself and for your contacts, so honing your skills and cultivating your expertise is a worthwhile endeavor. Eventually, your mastery will include making connections, putting you on the path to being a super connector.

7. Stay Engaged

Whether attending events in person, connecting with people online, or just grabbing lunch with coworkers, it pays to stay engaged–and not in a hokey, salesy kind of way, but in a genuine way. Lunch is an easy opportunity to connect outside the office that doesn’t even feel like networking. Finding meaningful networks on social media can lead to deeper connections at meet-ups. And attending such events in person, at least occasionally, helps you maintain visibility with your contacts as you network.

302, 2017

Four Client Meeting Mistakes You’ll Never Make Again

At a point in time when it seems that everything can be done electronically, making the time to meet with clients physically, face-to-face, is more important than ever.

As important is making sure that the meeting is successful, that it furthers the relationship, and that your client feels more satisfied working with you than they did before the meeting.

To that end, there are five client meeting mistakes that you’ll never make again, and one tip about something you should always do after the meeting.

1. Run Late

It sounds simple—so basic that it shouldn’t need to be said. But, with all the excuses around for running late—a last minute phone call, traffic, losing track of time—most of which are avoidable, simply showing up on time demonstrates that respect for the person with whom you’re meeting.

Career and entrepreneur coach, Farnoosh Brock, writes that being on time for a meeting shows that you respect the person with whom you are meeting and demonstrate that you’re are reliable simultaneously. After all, you made the commitment to be at a particular place at a specific time, and you kept your word.

2. Meet without a clearly stated reason 

Even if you are just doing an annual touching-base meeting, there needs to be a clear purpose to the meeting. Do you have new numbers to report, or want to address the impacts of new policy or a leadership change? Is there a particular concern about a specific investment? Creating an agenda and communicating it to the client ahead of time is imperative.  

Everyone is busy, so respect the time that your client is taking to meet with you by making it an effective meeting. This article on Blueleaf suggests an agenda that reflects your goals, but also–and this is key–proposes that you ask your client what they would like to discuss. Connecting before the meeting about the goals and purpose of the meeting will make for a much more useful sit-down.

3. Talk more than listen

The best way to show your client that you hear them is to actually listen. In today’s social media communication-all-the-time climate it often seems like there’s a lot being said, but no one is listening. And what’s being said can sound like nothing more than white noise.

Setting down your phone, being in the moment, and really focusing on the conversation will help you do the best for your client. According to an article in Psychology Today, active listening is the best way to further a relationship.

Poor listeners, however, are doomed. According to Psychology Today, “the problem with poor listeners is not only that they are perceived as rude but that they miss out on important knowledge.”

If your client is worried about ROI, or is anxious about an investment, for example, you need to know that. They may not sit down and dive right into such an emotionally charged topic. Attentive, active, listening is key.

4. Botch the Q&A

Even the best-planned meeting could take a turn into unknown territory. Your client’s great aunt just purchased shares of a pistachio farm in California and wants to give them to your client—so what are the tax implications?

Clearly answering questions that you don’t need to research is a great thing to do during the meeting, if you can. But if you don’t know or aren’t quite sure, it’s better to dig into the topic and get back to your client. Accurate, informed, information is one reason your client hired you.

As Neil Gaiman once said, “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.”

Be sure to set a time frame to get back with the answer, and stick to it.  

The One Thing You MUST Do!

Always follow-up with a thank-you. It doesn’t have to be roses and chocolates —  a note or email will do — but your number one concern is that your clients leave the meeting satisfied and wanting to stay with you. A sincere “thanks for your time” goes a long way towards making that happen.

202, 2017

Mike Brubaker Wins “Essence of Humanity” Award

This January, in honor of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the Crispus Attucks Community Center in Lancaster, PA bestowed the Essence of Humanity Award to Mike Brubaker and his wife Cindy for their continued efforts with the Ryan C. Brubaker Foundation.

Along with their children, Mike Brubaker and his wife Cindy founded the Ryan C. Brubaker Foundation in honor of their son, Ryan, who passed away at the age of 21 years old. The Foundation not only honors Ryan’s spirit, but also raises crucial funds and awareness for youth struggling with a wide array of issues. Mike Brubaker and Cindy were honored to receive an award this year for their nonprofit work.

To learn more about the foundation and Mike’s philanthropy work, watch this SlideShare presentation.

2001, 2017

4 Ways to Communicate a Sense of Urgency to Help Your Business Thrive

In order for us to talk about communicating a sense of urgency, we must first examine where this need for urgency came from: unhappy employees, high turnover rate, loss of revenue, confusing mission statement, inaction, and an inability to transform and overcome the static slump. In other words: a drowsy company. And a sleeping company isn’t a thriving one. A sense of urgency provides access to growth from the inside out. In other words, it is activating your business, employees, and you to succeed.

A professor at Harvard Business School changed the word urgency from what is generally perceived as negative to a positive in business. John Kotter, aforementioned professor, and founder of Kotter International, presented the idea that urgency in business can lead to a shift in business as usual. In his book Leading Change, Kotter outlines an 8-stage model of change, but for the purposes of this article, I will break it down to these 4 stages.

You Win Some. You Win Some.

In my opinion, there is no such thing as a small win. A win’s a win, period. Diminishing successes magnify failures. Creating a sense of urgency can start with a company’s inner dialogue. Sometimes, the simplest way to inspire employees is redefining negative language.

In fact, according to Words Can Change Your Brain, written by Loyola Marymount communication professor Mark Robert Waldman and Andrew Newberg, M.D., director of research at the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Medical College, our brains are word-receptors with targeted responses to positive (and negative) speech.

An interview with Dr. Newberg and Salon goes further by claiming that the effects aren’t just emotional, it’s science:

Starting in childhood, humans’ brains are molded by the words they hear, and they claim that teaching children to use positive words helps them with emotional control and can even increase their attention spans. Their book describes “compassionate communication,” a method they believe can help people express themselves more effectively, but it also offers a fascinating overview of the latest science around speech and neuroscience.

So scientifically speaking: there’s no such thing as a small victory!

Say Goodbye to Old Baggage.

When debating whether to keep or let go of an employee not carrying his or her weight, I refer to something I overheard once: “If you spend more than an hour a week complaining about an employee, it’s time to let them go”. After all, you want a business anchored in its mission statement, its strategies for the future — not a complacent employee who is ‘anchoring’ everyone down. It’s not just bad for the morale of the employees who do have a sense of urgency and passion for the company, it’s literally bad for business.

A Gallup poll recently reported that ‘bad employees’, “

[…] cost the U.S. $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity per year.” Furthermore, the same poll estimated that these employees aren’t only less productive, they are more prone to stealing, and work against the company’s goals. For managers, owners, or executives who think that firing these lagging employees is more trouble than its worth, they need to think again.

Mission Actions, Not Mission Statements.

“Think outside the box” are words that have, frankly, been beaten to death. Most times, when I hear this, it’s from people who don’t think or act outside the box. Instead of thinking outside, I am a huge proponent of acting outside the box, which is to say, action is everything. People who think their intentions define who they are letting themselves off the hook, because intentions don’t convey a sense of urgency — just the opposite. Intentions can give people an excuse to stand still, do nothing, and sit on their laurels, i.e. meaning mission statement.

I don’t mean to disparage those with good intentions because action does begins with an intention, or an idea. But the mission statement of your company should be more than intentions or words. A mission statement without a sense of urgency can become a statement that is too confusing, too general, and too much fluff. The best way to evoke a sense of authenticity is to act authentically, and most importantly, follow through on your mission statement.

The Answer is Always Yes.

Yes is an action word. No is not. So find ways to foster the spirit of willingness in your company. Building successful companies is beyond the brick and mortar, it is building something substantial through both the grand and the minute and though one three letter word seems small, it’s anything but.

From the words of a well-known ‘yes man’, and Google executive chairman, Eric Schmidt,

“[…] Even if it’s a bit edgy, a bit out of your comfort zone, saying yes means you will do something new, meet someone new and make a difference in your life, and likely in others’ lives as well. … Yes is a tiny word that can do big things. Say it often.”

In my personal experience, saying yes has indeed led to mostly successful (oftentimes interesting) ventures. Though this practice doesn’t always reap the rewards Schmidt proposes, I definitely try to say yes as often as I can.

Last Thoughts

To be clear, urgency shouldn’t be mistaken for frenetic, anxious energy. Instead, it is a dynamic, morale-boosting, personalized introduction to a failing or lackluster business. Even thriving companies should promote a perpetual and consistent sense of urgency. Success is a constantly moving entity — which means, your business has to be as well.

1201, 2017

Leading with Curiosity: How a Spirit of Inquiry Serves You In Business and in Life

When it comes to business, one of the core components of my personal philosophy is to always lead with curiosity. In fact, I’m surprised that curiosity isn’t listed more often as a business necessity. The spirit of inquiry innate to a curious mind can serve you professionally and personally; it informs both ambition and innovation.

Curiosity is the strong desire to learn or know something. Too often, the desire to learn is overpowered by the desire to be or appear correct. For example, you may find leaders–from managers to CEOs–that exude confidence at the expense of curiosity. But in reality, it’s not a zero sum game. I would go as far as to say that if you aren’t constantly curious, you have less of a reason to be confident.

Here are five reasons that leading with curiosity in business is likely to serve you well.

Curiosity is as important as intelligence

We all know that IQ, though not the holy grail for success, is generally important. But it takes more than intelligence to be successful—EQ (emotional quotient) is another important factor, as is CQ, the curiosity quotient. People with high CQ are inquisitive, tolerant of ambiguity, and embody nuanced and sophisticated thinking needed to operate and rise in a very complex world. Importantly, curiosity often leads to more of an intellectual investment.

Someone with a high IQ, without curiosity, is unlikely to reach their potential in attaining new knowledge. Perhaps Albert Einstein says it best in his famous quote: “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”

Curiosity is a state, not a trait — so anyone can get there

While IQ is not necessarily coachable, curiosity can be developed and teased out with time. Some may be born more curious than others, sure. But according to Ian Leslie, author of the book Curious, curiosity is really “more of a state than a trait.” Given the right circumstances, anybody can be curious; people are curious about different things to different extents, and their curiosity may grow as their exposure does.

In business, you may want to keep your feelers out for what makes you curious. Following that organic curiosity can lead to big gains. In your daily life, the same is true.

Curious people do great in the C-Suite

Many people in the C-suite are beginning to give curiousity it’s due as an attribute necessary during turbulent times. In today’s age, there is a lot of uncertainty—it might seem unintuitive for leaders to match it with more uncertainty, but the logic is sound: asking questions as a leader creates a top-down culture of curiosity, in which every member is seeking new knowledge and moving the company forward.

According to McCormick & Company CEO Alan D. Wilson, leaders who “are always expanding their perspective and what they know—and have that natural curiosity—are the people that are going to be successful.”

Curiosity is at the heart of innovation

Innovation is increasingly necessary in all facets business, as creativity is needed more than ever to adapt companies to changes in the workforce. This means identifying problems and creating solutions that make big differences and eliminate key issues.

Most major inventions have curiosity at their heart. Simply put, curious people solve problems. This is corroborated by University of Oregon State research, which found that job candidates that demonstrated strong curiosity tended to be better at solving complex problems creatively. As jobs are increasingly automated, candidates that embody a an eagerness to make creative changes through earnest inquiry will be the most successful.

Curiosity vanquishes the stubborn partisan

Lastly, I have found that people get very worked up—angry, even—over my position or your position about anything from politics to management style. This kind of stubbornness makes no sense to me. Because I’m naturally curious, there’s no position someone can take that would offend me. Instead, I’m curious about how and why they think differently from the way I do.

We all have a lot to learn from one another, and from the world. Even, and perhaps, especially those in in leadership positions would do well to keep this in mind.

1912, 2016

Want to Streamline Work Flow? Simplify Communication

Improving the lines of communication in your company can significantly increase productivity and streamline workflow. Empowering your employees to speak to each other and to their higher-ups improves morale, generates ideas, and presents new opportunities for problem-solving.

But how can you quickly and simply fortify the lines of communication in your workplace? Xerox suggests in the Forbes BrandVoice column that encouraging employee socialization strengthens working relationships. Silicon Valley companies that furnish campuses have incorporated this concept into their company culture: Google is famous for promoting employee interaction. The atrium of Pixar Animation Studios was designed by Steve Jobs to feed employees from different parts of the building into one central area, to mingle at the Cereal Bar, for example. These examples may seem to take “all work, no play” to an extreme, but the more your company supports team-bonding time, the more likely it is that your employees will know one another personally, and reach out to each other in work situations.

Facilitating face-to-face meetings doesn’t just fall along horizontal lines, but also along vertical reporting structures. Managers and bosses should be a presence for their employees. As this Fast Company article indicates, employees will often follow the example of higher-ups. Therefore, higher-ups need to be seen and heard in these communications channels, to foster transparency. Whether that’s a ping-pong tournament or company meeting, the endorsement of managers and leaders will further enable employees to effect change.

Avoid the temptation to force this kind of cooperation through open-office seating plans. There is a valuable time and place for interaction, but there is also a time (and there must be a place) for heads-down, power-through work. This degree of focus and concentration can be incredibly difficult to achieve in an open-office environment: a flawed seating chart which fails to consider the varied temperaments of various employees.

Email overload is another common symptom of stymied workplaces. In addition to face-to-face communication taking the onus off email, team-based instant messaging platforms like Slack and Hipchat can offer a less burdensome opportunity for communication. Rather than sending a question to languish in an overworked email inbox, these channels allow crowd-sourced questions, an informal archive of information, the ability to manage multiple conversations, and easy collaboration. These platforms are particularly handy for remote teams for their video chat capabilities, returning quick answers to questions too complex for email or chat.

In addition to social functions and informal conversation rooms, sitting active team members in each other’s immediate vicinity will also greatly increase communication. This recommendation may sound like a no-brainer, but companies often confuse departments based on job function (like Marketing, Accounting, etc.) with people working together on a single project. If projects change, this may mean moving people around occasionally, but the increased collaboration qualified by proximity is priceless.

For communication to increase and for workflows to streamline, these various lines of communication must work in concert. So as Entrepreneur proposes, it’s best to establish a tiered system for these lines of communication, so that all members of a team are clear on where to publish different questions, requests, and notifications. For example, your team may institute a formal email or form application for a request that involves multiples people and several checks. But when communicating internally about the request, you may go through informal Slack communication channels. When responding to the requesting party, you may enforce email updates, so all parties are on the same page. If there is confusion about a request, your team may elect a representative to meet face-to-face with the requesting party for clarification, and send an update via email afterward. It’s always best to resolve arguments or confusion in person, rather than over email or written channels, to avoid escalating frustration.

Simply getting employees to talk honestly and comfortably with each other and with their managers will greatly improve your company’s and individual teams’ workflow. To reinforce this connection, advocate socialization, initiate messaging platforms, seat immediate, project-based team members in close physical proximity to each other, and establish a hierarchical ladder for these communications.

Mike Brubaker