Stop Giving it Away!

Everyone wants to get paid for the value they deliver, but some businesses are their own worst enemies in this regard. 

The way companies deliver products and services is based on many factors, including industry standards, how businesses operate, and the current state of the market. At some point, phrases like “free!” and “value-added” (AKA free!) became all the rage.

A free or value-added service is one given to clients to create the perception of additional value. In many industries, this has become an important component of competitive sales. There was a time when everyone was on a level playing field in terms of the products they offered and the rates they charged. But when some businesses start giving away their services, the whole dynamic gets thrown off. And everyone loses.

It sounds like a great idea 

But does it really do what we want it to do?

Many companies have bet heavily on the fact that if they offer a certain service for free, customers will not only use it, but that they will understand the true value of it. A second wager is that eventually, these same customers will come to love the service so much that they will be willing to pay for it— or buy up. 

Unfortunately, what many have learned is that it’s way too easy to train people to pay nothing. And that when the personal or business investment is zero, the perceived value is often zero as well.

Therein lies the problem

Businesses spend a lot of time designing services that are appealing and useful to their customers. But how can anyone see the value in something they’re getting if the person giving it away doesn’t even value it?

And yet we’ve taught ourselves to not talk about the money and time and effort and manpower that goes into providing those services. What’s more, by giving these things away, even on a temporary basis, we’ve taught our customers to expect that everything we do for them should be for free.

By not placing a dollar value on our value-added or free services, we are getting exactly what we’re charging. Nothing.

How can we change it?

It all starts by changing your own mindset. Stop de-valuing and commoditizing your services. Instead, focus on how you help clients achieve results— and the financial benefits of doing so. 

  • If you’re still using the term value-added, stop. Replace the idea of free services with the idea that you offer relevant and valuable solutions. Convey this message to your clients and, more importantly, believe it yourself.
  • Understand how your customers can benefit when your products and services are used properly. Know what results can be achieved, how to achieve them, and what they mean financially.
  • Only offer the solutions that make sense. Just because you’ve got twelve different products doesn’t mean everybody needs them. Don’t overwhelm customers with unnecessary information. Focus on delivering relevant information and results.
  • Educate your prospects AND clients about your offerings. A customer who doesn’t know how to use what you’ve sold them won’t get the results they need. Or the results you promised. And that isn’t going help either one of you.
  • Be upfront about the real costs of what you’re providing. What does it cost today? What will it cost next month? Next year? Hidden costs are frustrating, as are pricing models that increase over time. These scenarios are perfect breeding grounds for skepticism, misunderstandings, and unhappy surprises.

You wouldn’t be in business if you didn’t have something valuable to offer. But you won’t stay in business if you keep giving it away.

It’s time to recognize that value yourself, communicate it to your customers, and yes—charge people accordingly.


Photo by Olena Yakobchuk

5 Pillars of Employee-Related Expenses eBook

Using Performance Objectives to Increase Employee Engagement

When you think of companies with great culture and high engagement rates, what comes to mind? Free snacks? A relaxed dress code? Dogs in the office?

It’s true that these things can definitely help create an environment where employees are excited about coming to work. But to maintain high levels of employee satisfaction, loyalty, and engagement requires more than that.

In order to cultivate true engagement, you’ll need provide your employees with things like inspired leadership, sense of purpose, and a connection to something bigger.

Oh, and specific performance objectives.

Performance objectives? Really?

Yes, really. Without performance objectives, your team is merely showing up and completing tasks. And what’s inspiring about that?

Performance objectives can be that critical link connecting your employees not only to their work, but also to each other and, most importantly, to your organizational mission and vision. But in order for performance objectives to work their magic, they have to be designed and used properly. And this is where many businesses and managers get it wrong.

How to define them

We’re not just talking random numbers and metrics here. Performance objectives need to help employees understand why their work matters, how it affects the rest of the organization, and where it fits into the big-picture vision.

When choosing your indicators, look at each role and choose a few critical functions that must be done well in order for your employee and your business to be successful. After you’ve selected them, put them in context for each person so they understand why these things are so important, and how valuable their role is to the department, the company, and the overall vision. This is how you connect them to the work, the team, and the mission.

How to measure them

In order for performance objectives to be properly measured, there needs to be a well-defined scale, and a mutual understanding of what outcomes are reflected at each level.

When establishing your measurement scale, it is important that “satisfactory” isn’t the top category. Meeting expectations should be the midline, with room above and below to identify how individuals may be exceeding expectations or failing to meet them.

Here’s a quick example:

Measurement scale:

5 – Far exceeds expectations

4 – Exceeds expectations

3 – Meets expectations

2 – Falls short of expectations

1 – Falls critically short of expectations

This kind of scale not only measures the level of performance, it also provides room for growth, fluctuation, and improvement.

It also provides room for honesty. If you’ve got an employee who consistently gets all fives on their reviews, it means one of two things:

  1. This person has outgrown their job and needs a promotion.
  2. You’re lying.

Okay, we’ll say that in a nicer way. You’re not being entirely accurate or honest with your evaluation.

Maybe you hate confrontation. Or maybe you just really like this person. Or maybe you just don’t know how to offer constructive criticism and feedback. Either way, it’s a problem. Your performance objectives must be evaluated truthfully and correctly. If they aren’t, you’re missing out on the opportunity for valuable employee feedback and development.

You could also be setting yourself up for an HR nightmare. Need to fire someone for poor performance? It’s pretty difficult if they’ve collected a file full of great reviews.

How to use them

That said, far too many businesses use performance measurements solely to punish employees. This is one of the quickest ways to create a disengaged workforce.

Let’s review what performance objectives should and shouldn’t be.

Performance objectives should:

  • Help employees be more productive and successful
  • Help the organization meet its goals and achieve its mission
  • Empower individuals and teams to take ownership of their work
  • Create a clear and mutual understanding of roles and expectations
  • Provide a solid framework for feedback, training, recognition, and rewards

Performance objectives should not:

  • Simply be used to determine job titles and compensation structures
  • Be a punitive tool to point out where people aren’t meeting standard
  • Exist as a system for grading or ranking individual employees and teams

Using your performance management system to connect your employees to the organization, the work, and the vision will help get everybody where they want to go.

Not only will it enhance performance, communication, and trust, it will draw your employees in rather than pushing them away. And put everyone on the path toward better engagement.


Photo by belchonock 

5 Pillars of Employee-Related Expenses eBook

Are You Treating Your Employees Like Kids? Maybe You Should.

Being the boss can be as thrilling as it is frustrating. As tiring as it is rewarding. As inspiring as it is terrifying. In other words, welcome to parenthood.

Think about your own parents. What did they do to bring out the best in you? Where did they fall short? Chances are, their parenting styles shaped you into the person you are today.

When it comes to managing employees, we can definitely learn from the vast amounts of research and literature on how best to do so. But instead of hitting the business books, we’re going to take look at Psychology Today’s top 10 tips for parenting to see how they stack up.

Ready? Let’s do this thing.

Top 10 Parenting Tips (from Barton Goldsmith Ph.D.)

1.) Identify your child’s strengths. You can use these strengths to build your child’s self-esteem, helping to provide the confidence he or she needs to tackle whatever seems difficult. Children will be more willing to listen and understand how to correct adverse behaviors if their dignity is intact.

Bingo! Hopefully you’ve done a good job of this during the hiring process by carefully creating an accurate job description and asking all of the right questions. Sometimes, though, you end up with a great employee in a wrong position. If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to mix things up a bit. Putting that person in a position to succeed will make everyone happier.

2.) Punishing a child isn’t as effective as using praise and rewards. Rather than focusing on weaknesses, find ways to assist your child in developing to his or her full potential. When encouraged, children will acquire talents to compensate for any deficiencies. 

True again! If you have employees who are underperforming, don’t rush to call them out in front of their peers or put them on probation. Recognize what they’re doing well and have an honest conversation about what things might be holding them back and how you can help develop their skills and reach their goals.

3.) Avoid negative emotional reactions, such as anger, sarcasm, and ridicule. If your child has problems with control, negativity will only make him or her feel worse. Use short and mild suggestions to remind your child to focus.

This is always a good rule for workplace etiquette, especially when dealing with employees. And while short, mild suggestions may or may not work, strategic re-directing questions can get your team members back on track. Questions like, “What do you need to make this work better?” or “How can we get this project going again?” will re-focus negative energy toward problem solving solutions.

4.) Don’t compare siblings. If a child thinks his or her brother or sister is favored, it can create a rivalry that may last the rest of their lives and cause problems in your family. Make sure your kids know that they are loved equally.

Ding! Ding! Ding! If this is ringing bells for you, it’s for good reason. Comparing or ranking employees may sound like a good idea in theory, but it can definitely cause problems in your work family. You don’t need to declare unconditional love for everyone on your team, but you do need to make sure all staff members know that their work is valued and important.

5.) Get support if and when you need it. Life with children is a roller coaster ride. Understanding that there will be negative aspects to child rearing and getting some professional advice when necessary will help you maintain your sanity and enjoy the experience.

Expert advice… Take it! Even the best leaders need help sometimes. Make sure you have professional mentors and advisors you can call when things get rough. Whether it’s a fellow business owner, HR professional, legal counsel, or some other trusted advisor, surround yourself with people who care about you and the success of your business.

6.) Children need positive attention. If they do not receive positive attention from family, they may choose to seek out negative attention. This is because negative attention is still attention, and any attention is better than being ignored. Remember to communicate with your child.

Remember that guy in the basement with the red stapler? The one who was totally forgotten? Let’s just say it didn’t end well. Giving employees the freedom and autonomy to do their jobs is a good thing, but failing to check in with them, answer questions, and tell them about things that are happening in the organization will make them feel uninvolved, unsettled and unappreciated. It could also lead to negative behaviors and consequences.

7.) Monitor your child’s use of the Internet. The stuff kids can access in cyberspace can be dangerous. Get a program that will let you see the web sites they visit and monitor their chats.

Chances are your employees are old enough to know the dangers of the Internet, but that doesn’t stop some of them from putting your company at risk. Defining your social media policy and setting clear guidelines about how your brand is communicated online have become increasingly important. One bad post or tweet can do a ton of damage. Make sure your employees know what’s appropriate behavior and what’s not.

8.) Accept that life changes when you have a child. Lazy Saturday mornings in bed are replaced by soccer games and recitals. Remember, you still need to make time for each other – date nights and weekend getaways are important for your relationship.

Ah, yes. How life changes when people are depending on you. If your business isn’t successful, nobody wins. And if your leadership team is too busy in the day-to-day grind to spend quality time thinking about the vision, goals, processes, and direction of the company, it’s going to be nearly impossible to innovate and improve. Get your leadership together regularly to foster a healthy, team mentality and drive continued success.  

9.) Parent by example. Think of your kids as little bipedal copy machines who will mimic everything you do. If you behave badly, you are giving them permission to act in the same ways. Check in with yourself, and don’t lose it in front of the children.

Yes. Yes. 1,000 times yes. Gone are the days of “Do as I say, not as I do.” As a leader or manager, you set the tone for everyone in your organization. Clearly identify and articulate the company values and demonstrate them in all you say and do. When things get frustrating, remain calm and lead the team through it. The example you set will be reflected back to you. Make sure it’s a good one.

10.) Don’t give up on your child, ever! All of your child’s problems can be worked through with humor, goodwill, and perseverance. With proper parental support, even the most troublesome teens can become amazing people.

Ever? As in, never ever? While attempting to work through issues with humor and goodwill is a pretty darn good strategy, this is one area where parenting and managing are, in fact, different. If you’ve got an employee who is clearly causing problems in your organization, you can and should let them go. And you should do it without guilt. Troublesome employees aren’t necessarily bad people. Often, they’re just not a good fit. Set them free so they can find an organization that feels more like home.

It’s a huge challenge

But it can also be hugely rewarding.

You’ve taken on a great responsibility agreeing to nurture and develop your employees. There will be good days and bad days. Days where you’re brimming with pride and days where you’re intensely disappointed. Know that it’s all part of the journey. Seek out advice as needed, and do your best to keep a sense of humor.

If all else fails, try milk and cookies. It never hurts.


Photo by rawpixel 

5 Pillars of Employee-Related Expenses eBook

How to Deal with Organizational Change

Whether it’s a new sales process, revised PTO policy, different employee benefits plan, corporate restructure, or simply a new website, to the average employee it all means the same thing: Change.

And change scares the crap out of a lot of people.

Why so scary?

All change means is that the way you’re doing things today isn’t the way you’ll be doing them tomorrow. No big deal, right?


This simple idea can be terrifying to employees and leadership alike. And the longer your processes have been in place, the harder it will be to get everyone onboard. Even if your plan is going to make things infinitely better for everyone in the long run, you’ll still run into plenty of folks who just want things to stay exactly the same. “Free espresso all day? Bah! I prefer my daily 9:06 coffee break. Even if I have to walk three blocks and pay five dollars.”

So what should you do if change is in the air at your company? How can you get people to be more amenable and less cantankerous?

Evaluate it

Spend some time examining your current structure and what changes will need to be made to support the new model. The more detailed you are in this process, the better. Choose several key people to weigh in so that you get a full perspective of what the needs are in various departments and areas.  

Create an action plan and select individuals who are both knowledgeable and enthusiastic to be in charge of each step of the process, not just for accountability purposes but also to be goodwill ambassadors. If Grumpy Gary is in charge of training everyone on the new database, it might not go so well. Friendly Florence? Now that’s more like it.

Anticipate it

Recognize that people are going to react to change differently. Much differently. In fact, Friendly Flo could turn into an Angry Annie in an instant. You just never know. Be prepared to encounter any and all of the following:

  • Early adopters and change embracers who can’t wait to get started! These dynamos are planning out the details before you’ve even finished explaining the goal.
  • Naysayers who sincerely believe the whole plan is doomed. These guys are already dreading implementation and plotting the resistance.
  • Non-committal fence-sitters who are somewhere in the middle. These folks aren’t quite sure what to think and could go in either direction.

Communicate it

Now it’s time to get the word out. Don’t be stingy with the details of your plan. Explain the benefits of it and the reasons behind it. Clarify what things will change. Give time frames and set expectations to make things seem less intimidating. Talk about the end goal for when everything is said and done.

After you’ve laid it all out, you’ll be faced with a couple of choices for how to handle the reactions you’ve already anticipated.

1.) Spend your time trying to convert the naysayers and convince the fence-sitters

While attempting to win over the naysayers may seem like a logical plan, trying to convince someone who doesn’t want to change that change is a good idea can be a bit like trying to explain molecular biology to the average toddler. They just don’t get it. They don’t want to and they’re not going to try. And all the time you’ve spent trying to convince them that all of this is a good thing is time that you’re not moving ahead with your new plans.

2.) Spend your time recruiting the change agents and involving them in the process

If you decide to focus your attention on your supporters, you’ll be feeding their excitement, valuing their participation, and helping them help you. These folks can and should play a more active role in the implementation. And as an added bonus, they can help you get buy-in. You’ll start moving forward immediately, and they’ll be setting a great example for the fence-sitters, who are more likely to be influenced by their peers anyway.

Roll with it

As with any change, there is likely to be some fallout, regardless of how well you manage it.

There are some people who will flat-out refuse to adjust and would rather part ways than stay and go through the process. That’s okay. Let them go. Having people onboard who don’t support the company goals and vision will eventually bring everybody down.

Celebrate it

Once you’ve made it happen, reward your early adaptors, your hardworking implementers and your former fence-sitters for jumping on board. Review how far you’ve come and then have a little fun.

Throw a party. Order a cake. If you’re feeling crazy, give everyone the afternoon off. Why not? You’ve earned it.


Photo by lightwise

5 Pillars of Employee-Related Expenses eBook

How to Get Stuff Done

How many to do lists do you have going? If you’re like most people, you probably have more than one. But be honest. Are these things actually getting done?

Setting goals and creating a list of the tasks necessary to achieve them are two critical steps toward productivity. But the best intentions don’t always yield the best results.

You’ve got to commit

Making goals and plans and lists feels great. Sometimes, it feels so great that you forget to follow through and actually make it happen. If your plan only involves yourself, you might be able to let it slide. So you didn’t read War and Peace. No big deal.

But if you’re a business leader, your plans probably involve lots of other people. Your plan and your tasks are all part of a much bigger system. And when you don’t come through, it’s a much bigger problem.

In this case, what you need some good old accountability. But not the old kind, where you get rapped on the knuckles when you do something wrong. If that worked, we’d all have nothing but sore fingers and checked off boxes. What you want to do is collaborate with other people who are working on the same plan, and find ways to support each other in getting things done.

Check in regularly

Weekly check-ins can be an extremely helpful tool for accomplishing this. Call it your weekly meet-up, your team check-in, or your accountability planning session. Whatever works! The key is to have a partner you work closely with such as a coworker, colleague, manager, supervisor, or leader, and get together to talk about the week’s activities and results.

Go over your must-do projects together on Monday so everyone is on the same page for the week. But you can’t just stop there. You will also want to talk about how you can support each other in achieving your goals, and then report your results to each other at the end of the week.

This may seem a bit intrusive and daunting at first, but the results are fantastic— and addictive. The amount of productive work that gets accomplished when you know you’re going to be supported during the week and held accountable at the end of the week is amazing. You can move so far so quickly when you are able to focus on the projects and activities that generate results, rather than just filing your day with unstructured tasks, to do lists, and busy work.

Accountability brings focus

Making lists is easy. Making progress is much harder. Implementing a quick, efficient, and standardized accountability system will help you do both.

When everyone knows exactly what they are supposed to be doing during the week, your team will be more efficient, more productive, and less stressed. Finishing one thing no longer requires stopping to figure out what comes next. All you have to do is work down the weekly list.

How should you maintain this list? There are many options. Adopt a system that works for you and your team. Whether it’s an old school notepad or planner, or a fancy project management platform doesn’t really matter, as long as it helps you accomplish your goals and track your results. At the end of the day, the best planning tool is the one you will use. Just make sure you it’s a reliable method so your planning is easy and consistent.

The real value doesn’t lie in the sophistication of the document or the tracking system, but in taking the time to think about your business, and what critical tasks need to be completed by the end of each week to keep you moving forward toward your goals.


Photo by langstrup 

5 Pillars of Employee-Related Expenses eBook