5 Business Lessons from Olympic Athletes

Earlier this week Bill Murray tweeted “Every Olympic event should include one average person competing for reference.” It’s true – when those divers leap off the diving board, gymnasts fly through the air or rowers zip through the water, they make it look almost effortless.

If you take a closer look or read their stories you’ll see how much work, sacrifice and mental energy went to achieving that level of success. Although we may never compete in the Olympics ourselves, here are a few lessons we can learn from these top athletes.

  1. You have to set goals and be focused on them.

No one achieves a high level of success without setting a lot of goals for themselves, both short-term and long-term. That’s how seven-time gymnastics Olympic gold medalist Shannon Miller claimed she reached her ultimate goal of competing in the Olympics. “It’s great to have the ultimate goal, but regardless of what that long-term goal is, you have to set short-term goals. Think about what you can do each and every day to make that long-range goal happen.

As Usain Bolt, three-time Olympic gold medalist and fastest person ever said, “Dreams are free. Goals have a cost. Time, effort, sacrifice, and sweat. How will you pay for your goals?”

  1. You have to surround yourself with people who make you better.

Top athletes are smart enough to hire the best coaches. Look at the women gymnasts. They nicknamed themselves the “Final Five” in tribute to their coach, Martha Karolyi. She and her husband have been training gymnasts for five decades on a ranch in the middle of nowhere, Texas.

As I mention in my book, “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes,” I hire people who are smarter than me. Many business people like to think they know it all. No one does. When you need help, reach out to others to provide that help.

  1. You always have to be on the lookout for competition.

No matter how successful you are or how unique your product may be, you will face competition. Failure to take competition into account can be disastrous. In my book I talk about what happened with Q-Zar, initially a huge success in the laser tag field. But the company didn’t pay attention to the competition that came in the form of big-box stores selling laser tag sets for home use. That failure, coupled with massive fraud in the company, led to its demise.

You don’t have to wait for competition to come to you. The late Norwegian marathon runner Grete Waitz said, “You’ve got to look for tough competition. You’ve got to want to beat the best.”

  1. You have to persevere when the unexpected occurs.

It was heartbreaking to see Annemiek van Vlueten, the woman cyclist from the Netherlands, who was minutes away from winning a gold medal, crash on the wet pavement, and rather than taking her place on the podium, wound up in the hospital.

You’ve worked hard for years, your business is doing well, then bang. Something unexpected and unpredictable happens to derail you. You uncover massive fraud in your company. Or as happened with one of my clients, your biggest client asks to revamp your manufacturing capabilities. You spend millions to do so, then one day, the client cancels the order.

What do you do? You keep going. Olympic track athlete Brenda Martinez knows how to keep going. During the Olympic trials for her best event, a runner behind her tripped and knocked into her, throwing her off and killing her chances of getting an Olympic slot in that event. She just focused on her next event, and came in third, securing that coveted spot on the team. “The track doesn’t care about your feelings,” she said. “You’ve just got to move forward.”

  1. You have to keep your cool under pressure.

It’s hard to imagine the level of pressure these athletes feel. Many of them are just teenagers, but are carrying the weight of the expectations of their families, teammates and their entire countries as they perform superhuman feats. They have all found a way to deal with it. Gymnast Gabby Douglas said, “For the most part, I’m kind of used to it, because it has been a part of me for my whole life. I’m trained to deal under those circumstances—at the gym we do pressure sets.”

CEOs and business owners have to learn to deal with and perform under extreme pressure as well. As Mike Myatt wrote in “6 Ways to Conquer Leadership Pressure,” “How leaders deal with pressure is often the difference between catapulting an organization towards success, and contributing to its demise.”

Is it Time to Sell Your Business?

Have you been entertaining thoughts of selling your business? Many business owners keep that thought in the back of their head. But if you don’t need the money, why should you sell?

Possible reasons include that you’ve gotten a good offer, you’re ready to retire, you are tired of the risk or you feel it’s time for a change. Or, if you have a family business, there may not be a family member interested in taking over. Whatever the reason you have to explore the option of selling, you’ll want to enlist the right team to value your company correctly and help you make the right decision to get the best price.

Maybe the concept to start your business was entirely your own. But you didn’t build a successful business by yourself — you had a team that most likely included lawyers, CPAs, investors, salespeople and your employees. When it’s time to sell, don’t try to do it alone. It’s time to build another team — one that will ensure you get the outcome you desire.

You would definitely want to include your lawyer, accountant, and an expert on the tax ramifications of the sale. Also consider adding a business consultant, even if you’ve never used one before.

Acquisitions is one of our areas of expertise at GlassRatner. We guide our clients through a process that begins with valuing the company, preparing and presenting the company to the marketplace, weighing offers from potential purchasers while balancing the objectives of stakeholders, and closing with the best possible purchase for that client.

We also work with distressed companies that may have filed or need to file for bankruptcy and need a quick sale.

Whatever your reason for selling, make sure to build the right team for the best possible outcome. It took a team to get where you are, and it will take another one to create a lucrative exit.

For more information on selling a business, please see “5 Mistakes to Avoid When Selling a Business.”

New Answer for Mental Illness in the Workplace

In my professional career I’ve unfortunately had to deal with a suicide, attempted suicide, several major heart attacks and strokes of C-level executives. The level of stress business owners and CEOs deal with can have serious repercussions on not only the financial welfare of their businesses, but their health as well.

I’ve worked with companies where the CEOs were suffering from depression and unable to make the best decisions on the direction of the company, even to the point their businesses failed completely. I’ve been in negotiations for the sale of a company where a bipolar owner refused to sign the papers for a deal he had agreed to, only to change his mind and ask me later why we didn’t do the deal.

The mental health of CEOs and employees at all levels is a serious business, and one I need to be cognizant of at all times. It should be a concern for anyone running a business, as untreated mental illness costs companies $44 billion a year in lost workplace productivity, according to the University of Michigan Depression Center and reported in an article in the Wall Street Journal, “Tackling Worker’s Mental Health, One Text at a Time.”

It’s not just that people are missing days of work, with people suffering from depression costing the company 27 days of work a year. They are also less productive when they are at the office.

Some companies have instituted Employee Assistance Programs to help workers who may be suffering from anxiety, depression or some other form of a mental condition. These programs usually involve giving workers free counseling sessions on the phone. But some people are still reluctant to pick up the phone.

They may perceive a stigma to seeking treatment and worry about losing their jobs.  Managers are not sure what to do to help them, according to the article “Mental Problems in the Workplace” on the Harvard Health Publications website.

According to Kent Bradley, former chief medical officer at Safeway as reported in the article “Overcoming Stigma Around Mental Health Services, “71 percent of U.S. adults with depression won’t contact a mental health professional. They figure that they’ve got to work it out themselves.” He points out barriers that include not being aware of their condition, not being open to learning more about it or seeking care for it, the cost of counseling and medications, and difficulty with access to the right health care provider.

So some businesses are seeking to provide help through access to apps that help with their employees’ mental health. Rather than pick up a phone and call for a counseling session, employees can text or video chat with a therapist who can also connect them with a health coach, reports the article.

The app Ginger.io offers “personalized care for stress, anxiety and depression from a team of experts.” Users download the app and are assigned a health care coach, who coordinates their care with a team of specialists and checks in on them if they haven’t heard from the user in a few days. The user can schedule a video chat with a therapist, share information about medication needs with their physician and continue to personalize the plan until they find the right care for them.

Addepar, a financial services tech firm purchased access to the new app for its 200 employees. So far, 50 people have signed onto it.

Sprint has tried another app from Castlight Health for its 42,000 employees and dependents. Once a user downloads the app and enters health information, the app can identify who might need help by reviewing the employees’ medications and health claims and directs them to help.

Let’s say something about an employee indicates they may be suffering from anxiety. They may get a message asking if they are feeling overwhelmed and suggesting they take a questionnaire to determine if treatment is indicated.

Sprint invested a bunch of money in the app – $2.1 million. But the hope is that in addition to helping its employees, the company actually saves money on what it spends on behavioral health treatments.

However you choose to handle it, it makes sense for your company to have some policies in place to address employees who may need treatment for mental health issues.

3 Reasons You Want Employees to Take Vacation

In France, taking days off is considered a national birthright. The standard for an average worker is 30 days paid leave a year. One company, the utility EDF, has a policy that if you work more than 35 hours a week, you get an additional 23 days off every year. That’s on top of the company’s standard 27 days. Yes, that means 50 days of vacation a year – 10 weeks.

Pretty much the entire country takes two to three weeks off in July or August. In fact, the French people are divided into two camps and they even have names for them: Those who vacation in July are called Juillettists and those who chose August are called Aoûtiens.

In case you are wondering, yes, there is a massive traffic jam every year around the last weekend in July when the Juillettists are returning home as the Aoûtiens are just setting out. There’s even a name for that too: it’s known as the chassé-croisé. So here’s your warning: don’t try to travel on the highways in France that weekend.

We do take vacation in the U.S. although the average worker gets just 15 days a year. And even with that amount, some people have to be forced out of the office. But CEOs and business owners would be wise to make people take time off. Here are three reasons why:

  1. It’s better for their health
  2. It makes employees more productive
  3. It can give you a chance to detect fraud

For more on the topic, please refer to “Why You Want Your Employees to Take Vacation.”

Want People to Work for You? Make Them Feel Heard

They have 14,000 employees. And more clamoring to come on board.

Under Armour was recently included on LinkedIn’s U.S. list of Top Attractors, the top 40 companies at attracting and keeping the best employees. In an article referencing the inclusion, “To Thrive at Under Armour, You Have to Answer Kevin Plank’s Three Questions,” I found out one of the reasons why more people want to join the ranks at the sports clothing and accessories company with close to $4 billion in revenue.

The three questions management is encouraged to ask after every meeting or conversation are:

  • This is what I heard
  • This is what I think
  • This is what we are going to do

The goal of the questions, Kevin said, is to make sure you heard and understood what people said. With this method you don’t waste time on miscommunication, you facilitate buy-in and people feel their ideas have been heard, a huge factor in employee morale and retention.

My favorite method for clear communication is the whiteboard. I’m a huge fan of the whiteboard, even writing a whole chapter on its use in my book, “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes.”

For more reasons I love the whiteboard, please read my post “The Value of the Low-Tech Whiteboard in a High-Tech World.” Good luck with your new and improved communication.

 

Qualities of Millennials and How to Work with Them, Part Two

This is the second of a two-part series on working with millennials. The first post introduced three qualities of millennials in the workplace. Part two will examine how to embrace these qualities and use them to retain quality employees and contribute to the success of your company.

Building a motivated, dedicated workforce. That’s one of the most critical components to the success of your business, as I mentioned in part one. As Principal of GlassRatner in our restructuring and bankruptcy practice, I see so many instances where a company may have many of the basics covered, like having a good product and effective distribution channels, but are struggling due to a high rate of turnover and the lack of a productive workforce.

Qualities of millennials include being tech savvy, not being motivated only by money and being used to working in teams to find creative solutions. Here are some ways to embrace these qualities to enhance the success of your business and retain those employees:

1. Leverage their knowledge of tech by instituting a form of reverse mentoring.

While older generations may have decades of knowledge in their field, millennials tend to keep up more with social media and changes in technology. They are the first generation to grow up immersed in tech. So ask their advice, give them a seat at the table if you’re discussing how to incorporate social media into building your brand. They will feel appreciated and valued, and your business will benefit.

The Wall Street Journal article “Mentor Your Boss” mentions a website founder who made a 21-year-old intern their expert for social media. Stacy DeBroff said, “There are so many changes and so many technologies coming alive, and twentysomethings, who have ‘grown up’ using social-media sites, tend to find solutions quickly.”

2. Make their work feel meaningful.

More than once I’ve had employees leave, either with no other job or with one that paid significantly less. And it’s not just happening to me.

A 2012 survey showed 56 percent of millennials would take a pay cut to to work somewhere that is changing the world for the better. Think about that for a second. More than half your workers may leave, for less money, if they felt they’d found a more meaningful place to work. And 91% say that a company’s social impact efforts are important when they are considering which companies to work for, according to the article “Study: Millennials’ Work Ethic Is In The Eye Of The Beholder.”

So take a look at your business. How is it helping people and helping the world? Focus on that narrative about your business and share it. Make your millennial workers feel proud to work for your business because they are working to make the world a better place.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal in “Helping Bosses Decode Millennials—for $20,000 an Hour,” the consultant Lisa McLeod helps companies “set a ‘noble purpose’ to strengthen young employees’ connection to their work.” And share stories of how your company benefits the world with stories rather than statistics, as they find those more compelling.

chart13. Incorporate more brainstorming and teamwork into your business.

In a 2013 survey conducted by IdeaPaint on millennial workplace trends, millennials were asked to complete the statement, “My favorite place to generate big ideas is ….” More than 86 percent responded by saying either collaborating with a small group of colleagues (2-3) or brainstorming with a large group of people.

Millennials feed off the energy of others in the workplace. Give them the opportunity to work collaboratively by forming teams and holding brainstorming meetings during which they are encouraged to share their ideas and they feel their opinions are valued. Create collaborative working spaces.

Making changes in your workplace to embrace the differences that millennials bring will pay off. As this article in Fortune, “How tech-savvy millennials humanize your workplace” pointed out, “The so-called “millennial” has become more than a demographic age group; it is a mindset. A way of looking at the world and, regardless of age, declaring, ‘there has to be a better way.’”

You want that mindset working for you and your business.

Qualities of Millennials and How to Work with Them, Part 1

This is the first of a two-part series on working with millennials. This first part introduces three qualities of millennials in the workplace. Part two will examine how to deal with these qualities and use them to contribute to the success of your company.

 As Principal of GlassRatner in our restructuring and bankruptcy practice, I know that to be successful, a “turnaround” must include many facets. These include financial re-engineering, legal and contractual issues, vendor and customer relations and extensive operational adjustments.

A critical part of the operational piece is not how the “widget” is made or distributed, but whether you have a motivated, dedicated workforce to accomplish the corporate goals. Most company’s workforce is multi-generational and the millennial component is becoming more and more important to one’s success.

Millennials have officially taken over as the group with the largest demographic in our country. Numbering 75.4 million, they recently overtook baby boomers, according to a recent survey released by Pew Research Center. Last year, this generation also took over the majority of the U.S. workforce.

So odds are great that you work in an office with millennials. And if you don’t you still come in contact with them every day in the business world. This generation has some qualities that are different than previous generations — in their work habits, outlook on life and even what motivates them.

So Baby Boomers and Gen X can all lament about it, joke about it and get frustrated about it. Or they can try to understand the qualities millennials bring to our businesses and use them to our advantage.

Megan Abbott is a millennial life coach — yes, there is such a thing — and founder of Fruition Personal Coaching. In an article in Forbes, “Study: Millennials’ Work Ethic Is In The Eye Of The Beholder,” she said,  “Older employers can disapprove and judge millennial values as inferior to their own … or they can accept and strive to understand what drives this new generation.”

As a first step to understanding, here are three qualities that have been identified as defining the millennial generation.

  1. They are tech savvy.

Millennials are the most connected generation in history, and have been referred to as digital natives. They grew up with technology at their fingertips and never took a photo on film, listened to something on a tape and have probably never sullied their fingertips with ink rubbed off a newspaper.

People in older generations are what is referred to as digital immigrants. Generally, they have had to migrate over to each massive shift in technology, adapting to a new way of doing things.

  1. They are not as motivated by money.

You’ve got some employees doing a great job and seemingly happy doing so. Then one day they just quit, possibly with no other job or one at a lot lower salary. It’s happened in companies that I’ve re-engineered and has probably happened to you. What’s that about?

While millennials are definitely motivated, it isn’t always about making money.

They want a good quality of life and want to change the world for the better. While baby boomers seek money, an impressive title and recognition, millennials want to know how their work fits into the bigger picture.

  1. They are used to working in teams and are creative in finding solutions.

Education styles change. While many previous generations primarily learned on their own, millennials were educated in a more collaborative method. They are more comfortable working in teams and also place a high value finding creative solutions to problems.

Do these qualities sound familiar? In the next blog, I’ll discuss how to leverage these qualities to contribute to the success of your company.