Respond, Please!

Inbound contacts are significant. If you don’t take the time to respond, people perceive that they are not important. Don’t forget that you are responsible for the implications you create.

Our most common client complaints stem from a lack of good contact etiquette.

More than fifteen years ago, a Long Island entrepreneur contacted me and asked if I could help her because “business is slowing down.” She was and is well known, respected and successful. Many years as a journalist taught me to ask questions and to be attentive to responses. In the early 2000s, email was starting to gain traction but the phone remained the most-used form of communication. When asked “How long do you wait to return a call to a customer or prospect?” She said, “A week or two. Three if I’m out of the country.” I remember being grateful that we were on a conference call since she could not see me instinctively rolling my eyes. After a pause (I was carefully considering my response), she said, “Christine, are you there?” I answered, “I’ll give you sage advice and bill you for an hour. If you can follow this instruction, your phone will ring again.” I could hear her the surprise in her voice when she said, “Instruction? It’s that easy?” I nodded and advised, “Pick up the phone when it rings and answer voice mails within 24 hours.”

I still see that entrepreneur once or twice a year. She invites me to dinner without fail as a thank you for the advice.

We tend to overlook the obvious. It’s hazardous when we are running too fast to keep up with ourselves. Slow down!

Nowadays, we can become overwhelmed with many more contact points and methods (phone, text, email, facebook, Linkedin, the list is long). Choose wisely what you can manage and respond to regularly. If you are on Facebook, post something at least a few times each week. Before establishing a Facebook page, be prepared to check it daily and reply to questions or comments.

A CEO recently told me, “I most often respond to voicemail since I only get a few per week. The rest is overwhelming. If I need an answer immediately, I text. If whoever it is can’t text me back by the end of the day, I won’t be doing business with them.”

Not every phone call merits a call back. Only you can prioritize your time. An email, response is fine. Put together a boilerplate email for the responses that you are not sure about or who are low on your totem pole.

Don’t discount the phone as a legitimate mode of communication. If you don’t text, consider making it your next big accomplishment in learning. Find time, each day, to sort through and respond to email.

If you would like a response, you need to respond. You will stand out to your prospects and customers, building and fostering loyalty and respect.

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Unpacking Strategy

Business strategy is key to continued success. In today’s fast-paced environment it’s more important than ever before. We hear about strategy everywhere – in boardrooms, coffee shops, staff meetings, and classrooms. It’s a resurging buzz word. The simplest definition of strategy is a plan to reach a designated goal. From start to finish, strategy includes three important steps: creation, communication and execution.

At the start of the creation step, we need to consider two questions:

  1. What do or will customers buy?
  2. Are we producing what customers buy or providing a service they will use?

If we cannot answer these questions or can’t answer the second one correctly, we are not prepared to develop an effective strategy. We must focus on the core of the business and become more customer-centric to ensure that a strategic focus is responsive to our market. Relevancy is not an overused word. Our product or service must add value to or enhance people’s lives.

In a Boardview blog entry (October 2016), Hasse Jansen listed “94 Mind-Blowing Strategy Execution Stats” (re-referenced in this blog). Thanks, Hasse!

64% of middle managers and leaders say their company is good or excellent at formulating strategy appropriate in changing market conditions.

The second step in executing a successful strategy is communication. Consider asking employees and stakeholders, at every level, to help craft a new company strategy or revise the existing strategy. The company will be more capable of execution if everyone understands how it will change their job or affect their daily lives. A good strategy will impact the direction and personality of a company. We need to trust the people who are by our side… or find new people.

77% of successful companies have an established mechanism to translate their strategy into operative terms and evaluate it on a day-to-day basis.

Planning future endeavors is easier when you are sure of today’s realities. Implementing a strategic plan requires a willingness to change and be agile. We have to be ready to seize opportunities, be creative about unanticipated obstacles and keep systems running efficiently. Make measurement tools part of the plan and evaluate progress regularly. We can’t be afraid to exit if that’s what our measurement tools suggest. Successful strategy and innovation might be more apparent if we disinvest rather than burning out employees and continue losing money.

76% of successful companies focus on a limited number of strategic initiatives to reach their objectives.

If we can create one or two strategic initiatives and successfully get them through the communication and execution phases, we are almost to the finish line. We will be seeing results!

These are our recommendations in a whimsical acronym form:

Satisfy your stakeholders with a succinct shift that syncs with your customer needs and ensures a sustainable, successful direction for your company.

Trust your employees and strategic partners to be thoughtful trailblazers who will contribute in a strategic direction, transparently aligning you with where you are today.

Revitalize and revive relevant relationships, recognizing the remarkable employees and clients who will contribute to ROI and execute strategy to realize results.

Acknowledge your affect, with the help of associates, advocates and ambassadors, anticipating accommodations while you approach achievements with honest agility.

Think about taking chances, while being tenacious about and thankful for a team that is helping you to transform your company.

Enthusiastically experience everything. Efficiently expand your horizons while evaluating each endeavor, which will enable you to emerge and expand.

Guarantee you gain the reputation of a groundbreaking game changer through generous and genuine goal setting

You should consistently remember to say “yes” to new opportunities and innovations. Think about the YELP reviews!

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Personal and professional parallels: Don’t chase

Recently, I helped a friend’s son navigate a few job options.

Impressively perceptive for someone in his mid-20’s, he observed, “The first two companies asked standard interview questions and tried to convince me how great they were.”

The last of the three interviews was different, “The interviewer focused on my skill set and how it fit into their product and processes rather than trying to impress me with the greatness of the company. The interviewer was determining if I was a good fit for them.” The organization had established criteria and wanted to ensure he was the ideal candidate to contribute to their productivity and company culture based on his responses regarding skills, abilities and personality.

The first two interviews required him to complete a standard boilerplate job application. During those two (short) interviews, they were “trying to sell me on how their places provide distinct products. I found it curious that they did not ask about my abilities or for references. No one asked questions about how I thought I would fare doing any one specific task. In both cases, the interview questions were predictable, like they came out of an interview playbook.”

The application that he filled out before the third interview focused on technical skills and abilities. One application question he was impressed with listed 10 distinct processes and process steps.   On a scale of 1-10, he was asked to estimate “How confident are you in these processes?” other application questions included: “What additional skills would help you contribute to getting through each named process?” and “Which of these 10 processes would you be more suited for you and why?”

The interview questions that impressed me were, “How would you do if we threw you into something new? Are you open to learning new things?”

He found the two distinct interview styles thought provoking and acknowledged that he was confused.

When he asked for my advice, I responded, “the third was a true ‘interview’. They did not have to sell you on their company or unintentionally seem desperate to hire you. They not only gave you details about the job you were interviewing for, they offered you a glimpse into their culture.”

All three companies offered him a position. He accepted the last, even though it was slightly less money. The first two were chasing him, trying to convince him about their validity and value.

The important personal and professional parallel is this: Respect yourself enough to know that no one is worth convincing or chasing.

As an interviewer, if you’ve got a quality product or credible service, word of mouth and referrals will ensure that talented, skilled employees will seek you out. Know yourself and your company well enough to confidently interview candidates rather than attempt to convince them to join you. When you know the specific skills and qualifications that a role demands and are prepared to discuss and answer questions about your products and company culture, you will stand out as an interviewer and as an organization.

If you are an interviewee seeking a job, trust your intuition. Ask someone you trust for advice if you are unsure. Even if you are sufficiently skilled for a position, the company culture may not be compatible. Watch for “red flags” and avoid discovering yourself trapped in an unhealthy work situation.

In general, when you follow up with a potential employer or chosen candidate and they do not get back to you, try again within two weeks, and again in four. Don’t wait any longer than two weeks and stop after four. If they continue to not respond, don’t chase! We may never know the reasons why, but carrying on a one-way conversation can be embarrassing and is a waste of your time. Why would you want to engage with someone who is unsure, not interested or distracted?

This sounds like relationship advice because it is. There are parallels between our personal and professional lives.

If we are confident about who we are, personally and professionally, we will know whether or not we are having relevant, promising conversations. If there’s chemistry, each of you should be, in short time and without doubt, talking about a well-defined, successful partnership.

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Communication, Appreciation and Respect

Twenty years ago I was a buyer for a manufacturing firm. I loved that job! The administrative and engineers’ offices were upstairs with windows looking down on the manufacturing floor.

During the initial interview I asked, “How often does the buyer meet with the engineers who design the parts and machines you sell?” The answer: “Everyone meets once a week.” Then, “How often does the buyer meet with the guys who run the machines that manufacture parts and components you sell?” After a long pause, the Vice President’s response was, “Why would you need to meet with anyone on the manufacturing floor? The engineers should be able to answer your questions.” I immediately asked, “But what if their machine breaks down? Or they think that something is not acting right? They are trained machinists, right? They each work on a designated machine five days a week?” He asked, “What would you do?” I replied, “I would come into work in jeans and visit each of our 21 machinists and the foreman before changing into business clothes and sitting down at my desk. The engineers can walk 20 feet to my desk at any time with a list of what they need for new machines. The guys downstairs will tell us what we need to keep our own manufacturing machines running. Plus, they must feel isolated down there. Don’t you visit them?” He looked at me quizzicality, sighed, grinned and hired me on the spot.

Every morning I would visit the 21 machines, check-in with the foreman, head upstairs, change into business attire and source what we needed. I knew every employee by name, knew their wives’ names, children, pets, birthdays and what sports teams they followed. I knew what was important to them.

If a machine was malfunctioning, I would get down on a roll-around board (yes, I’m sure there’s a name for it…) with the machinist. We would get under the machine and try to figure out if a screw was stripped, an LED was out or a spring was loose. Sometimes, we would don one of those headband lights (they laughed when I said that) and look deeper into the machine. We tried to get to the “heart” of the problem like machine doctors. I had a clue since I grew up in a family deeply involved in construction and manufacturing, but I had to earn that respect.

Our efficiency and production numbers grew. Within 30 days people from upstairs were visiting downstairs more often. Engineers would ask machinists for advice on design. Secretaries would join the crew for lunch. We learned each other’s names and became a team. The floor you worked on no longer mattered.

The economy was sluggish at the time. Everyone I worked with and everyone I met was afraid of the “pink slip” or a business closure. The engineers and machinists worked so well together that after a year, management decided to cut costs and decentralize buying. They never needed a buyer; they needed to build a respectful, co-operative communication loop. They needed to become a team.

Anyone can perform tasks knowing that the result is a paycheck. When you demonstrate respect and appreciation at every level of an organization, you will experience the seamless results of being a team. Every single person who works with you is an individual with a name. When individuals are recognized as a component of overall company success, they work harder and become invested in every component of the organizational machine.

Communication, appreciation, and respect are important elements of a healthy return on investment that is unfortunately unfamiliar to many companies. The same elements are frequently taken for granted when they exist in a department or division of a large company. If you are a leader in a small company, greater success may be as simple as taking the time to learn everyone’s names. If you are a leader in a large company, mandate that managers do the same. Smile and greet people… Ask an administrative assistant for help with spelling or grammar, ask a machinist to explain the aspects of a design you may not fully understand, ask an engineer to lead efforts to plan an employee appreciation party. Engage! I, and more importantly, your employees, will respect and appreciate your efforts!

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Laugh Your Way to Success

You should be able to laugh at work. Laughter is infectious. If you are a President or CEO, I hope that your employees see you laugh and that they laugh with you. If this is not the case then “lighten up”, or hire Infinite Vision!

Humor can be a management tool. Yes, we may not laugh at the same things- imagine how powerful a team would be if they recognized that. Humor breeds creativity, transforms fear to comfort and begins to break down transparency barriers. Who would not prosper in a creative, comfortable, transparent team-based space? Companies like Zillow do this very well.

Michael Kerr, an international business speaker, president of Humor at Work, and author of The Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses are Laughing all the Way to the Bank (Dec. 2013), says the amount or type of humor you’ll find in any given workplace depends almost entirely on the culture. “In workplaces that encourage people to be themselves—that are less hierarchical and more innovative—people tend to be more open with their humor,” he says. “Even people who aren’t always comfortable sharing their humor tend to do so in more relaxed environments where the use of humor becomes second nature with everyone’s style.”

You will earn respect from your employees, peers and clients when you take a chance at being humorous. It’s like participating in karaoke at a work party, even if your attempt to sing is terrible, people will clap and support you, admiring the fact that you had the confidence to step up. Remember to keep it clean and as universal as possible. Racial, gender or bias-related humor will not be well-received. The goal is to lead and bond the team using humor, not to separate or draw attention to differences. Getting laughs in the workplace can garner respect. Allowing this to happen will make people feel good about where they work and create a friendly environment.

Many surveys suggest that humor is one of the keys to success. A Robert Half International survey found that 91% of executives believe a sense of humor is important for career advancement; while 84% feel that people with a good sense of humor do a better job. Another study by Bell Leadership Institute found that the two most desirable traits in leaders were a strong work ethic and a good sense of humor.

Perception is reality. If you or your office is having a down day, find a reason to laugh—and to share it with your co-workers, peers and employees. Be creative, sincere and open to whatever comes next. Better yet, make it a daily habit.


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First Steps

It’s taken me a while to know how to answer when someone asks, “What do you do?” I consult.

That is always the first step.  You have to live and learn enough, ask enough questions, make enough mistakes, find the right path… then you consult. You have to listen more than you speak. I write, analyze, suggest, network, build, connect and advise.

Some conversations are easier than others. I’m an objective observer and a catalyst.  It’s true; I’ve been accused of asking more questions than a five year old. After an initial consultation, a business owner may come up with the answer/s on their own. More often, there’s a project, a vision, a concern or a new, unfamiliar challenge that our clients need to discuss, unpack and resolve. It’s our privilege to bring in a variety of unique expertise that gets results.

Getting this website together has been a labor of love.

My colleague (and cousin), Scott has advised me multiple times to minimize my use of the word “happy”.  He’s right, of course (my cousin is very smart). Happy is a relative term and completely subjective. “Content and satisfied” are more achievable and measureable- individually and as a team. I still sneak in the occasional “happy”. Who doesn’t want more happiness?

Shelley’s energy and enthusiasm motivates me. She kindly and covertly pushes you to get things done. You realize later that she was being a sweet drill-sergeant. She would put her foot down hard if you tried to walk away.

We consult and work on things related to relationships.  If, after consultation, we uncover an issue that relates to a physical asset (truck fleet, manufacturing equipment, computer software/hardware, accounting policies), we may refer you to contractors who will help you fix your problem.

We are a talented and eclectic team who believe in individuality, progression, teamwork and engagement.  A friend, when discussing our website launch, said “Congratulations!  Launching must be like giving birth with less rearing.”  That’s a great analogy, except that “rearing” is exactly what we will do with this baby every day.

Watch for an invitation over the next couple of weeks to our “Launch Party”.  We look forward to your help and engagement as we rear our, (and possibly your) projects, and celebrate as often as possible.

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Building relationships-worth the investment

I learned early on that relationships make the world go around. Everyone lived a distinct life in their distinct house with their distinct family. I watched my father build houses, which included hiring masons, electricians, plumbers, and other contractors who worked together toward the common goal of getting the house built. Their work was distinct, but they shared the ultimate goal of building a house they could be proud of. Those contractors that tended to be unhappy, were also frequently late, did not show up at all, or were unmotivated and unproductive. They slowed down the job. Everyone else suffered. The contractors who whistled while they worked (literally) made everyone else want to come to work, including me. Houses were built faster.

I said something about this to my grandfather, who worked with my father. He looked at me like I had spoken another language and turned away silently. Am I the only person who noticed this? He had no response because he didn’t know what to say. He was part of a generation that did not understand job satisfaction and how it impacted a final product.

Today, the importance of employee satisfaction is becoming a recognized benchmark for companies of all sizes. It’s true! Satisfied employees are engaged in what they do and happy to be there. They leave their distinct personal lives to, ideally, bring distinct skill sets to an employer/company where everyone shares the vision and goals. Too often, communication breaks down, habit takes precedence over innovation… one person stops whistling or products become more important than people.

We’ve enjoyed opportunities, over the past year and a half, to help people and companies determine what was broken, what had stalled or where communication needed to be reinvigorated. Employee engagement is a part of what we do, but we offer much more and so many of these services share similar foundations. It’s all about relationships, engagement, satisfaction and, as often as possible, happiness. Thank you to the businesses who have asked us to help them, and thank you to the people who believed that their employees and customers are worth investing in.

My ultimate infinite vision is to help professionals and businesses find their path to success. What brought me here? A lifetime of growth, transition and change. I was raised by entrepreneurial parents and surrounded by innovative and eccentric grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. No one and nothing was an obstacle to achieving goals. We made jelly out of wild grapes and pickles out of garden cucumbers. There is so much more to that story. Maybe next time… until then…

Welcome to Infinite Vision.

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