The communicator’s secret weapon

Effective communication is more a journey than a destination, said Gary Mills, cofounder and chief operations officer at Pinnacle Performance, a communications-skills training company in Chicago.

"Great speakers are made, not born," said Mills during a fast-moving 75-minute session at SHRM 2018. "We're all trying to get better."

And for good reason. Today's knowledge-based economy has created new demand for communication skills. Findings from a Pew Research study found an 83% increase, since 1980, in hiring for jobs that require strong social skills, including interpersonal and communication. Employers want people who can listen, convey information clearly, and engage with others in a way that fosters productivity and morale.

So how do we get there? Mills outlined a three-step method developed by him and his Pinnacle Performance cofounder and CEO David Lewis. Mills and Lewis are both professional actors who worked in television, film and theater prior to launching their company. Their approach, known as the Pinnacle Method, is based on skills they learned during their acting careers. The pair discuss the model in depth in their new book The Bullseye Principle, which launched in April. Mills outlined the approach during his presentation at SHRM.

There are three steps to influential communication, said Mills; they are:

  1. analyze your audience
  2. understand what action your message should compel
  3. modify your delivery to drive the desired outcome

The model revolves around two components: intention and objective. Objective is what the speaker wants—the goal—and intention is how he or she is going to get it, explained Mills. The two concepts work together in something Mills and Lewis call the persuasion equation: "I want to [intention] my audience so that my audience will [objective]."

"These are the communicator's secret weapon," said Mills.

But what does this look like in practice? Mills and Lewis detail the full suite of tools in their book (and it's refreshingly uncomplicated) but here are a few practical takeaways from Mills' session.

Stand up straight. Remember when Mom said not to slouch? Turns out she was right. A tall, straight posture helps project confidence, said Mills. He calls this home base position. "From here I can do anything," Mills said. "[T]his body language is confident, open and relaxed. Anything I do as a communicator that deviates from a strong home base is going to change what you make of it."

Keep it short. Don't lose your message in a wordy delivery. The longer you go on, the more likely you are to bury your point, say the wrong thing, repeat yourself or bore your audience. How do you avoid this? "Stop talking," said Mills. "Keep it concise. Say less. Don't be afraid of silence."

Slow down. Do you get nervous speaking in meetings or presenting information? Slow down, said Mills. A deliberate pace, with intermittent pauses, helps demonstrate confidence and poise. "The faster you go, it just seems like you want to get it over with and get out of there," Mills explained. "So slow down."

Don't point. Gestures help you connect with your audience. When gesturing to a person, use an open hand, said Mills. "It's okay to point at things; it's not okay to point at people," he explained. Avoid gestures below the waist; they can make you appear weak or small. Above all, be natural. "As long as your gesture is supporting whatever it is you're saying, you should be in good shape," Mills said.

Ditch verbal viruses. Get rid of words like "ah" or "um" that sneak into your communication and clutter your message. These verbal viruses, as Mills called them, are distracting, annoying and damaging to a confident presence. The worst place to have a verbal virus? The beginning of an answer to a question. (Your client: "Can you fill this order in three weeks?" You: "Um, yes.") "You can't come across as credible if you have verbal viruses," Mills said.

Careful the sucker punch. Tough questions go with the territory in HR but the ones we're not expecting can land like a punch in the mouth. A connector statement can help you stay on your feet. These statements connect your answer to the person's question, explained Mills, giving the example of "Good question; let's discuss that." Connector statements buy you time so you can formulate your response. "[O]nce the words come out, you own them," said Mills. "You're going to be judged on that. Be careful what comes out."

Shift gears. You have about five minutes to capture people's attention before they get distracted and tune out, said Mills, citing a study by Lloyd's Bank of London. Combat distractibility with a pattern interrupt. "[A pattern interrupt] is anything you can do to shift gears and buy another five minutes," Mills explained, offering ideas such as changing speakers, showing a video or telling a story, among others.

These tools, and others found in the book, will help you make your message stick and keep listeners engaged, said Mills. And it is your job to make sure your audience is engaged, he emphasized.

"If your audience is bored during your presentation, who's to blame? The speaker. The burden of engagement, in what we call The Pinnacle Methodology, always lies with the speaker," said Mills.

 

Kanoe Namahoe is an editor with SmartBrief in Washington DC. She covers issues related to education technology and the workforce.

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Do you come across as arrogant? 5 workplace behaviors to curb

Many of us have had to battle the specter of arrogance at one time or another. No one is perfect, and the particularly intelligent must be especially careful about slipping into egotistical behavior.

If you worry about being perceived as arrogant at work, read on to check your tendencies and learn about the alternative habits you should be perfecting. Even the most humble have to be wary of any action that can seem arrogant -- it’s the wrong way to get noticed, especially when you’re working to climb the corporate ladder.

Arrogant habit: Acting entitled

Think about your everyday behavior and decide whether you would find it acceptable if it were coming from someone who worked for you, instead of someone at your level. Do you hog the conversation, interrupt people or expect the whole meeting to be rehashed for you because you arrived late? If you use your title as an excuse to demand others accommodate your habits and schedule, you could be driving people away with your sense of entitlement.

Instead: Be the team captain. Rather than use your title to lord over others and demand special treatment, use your role to guide the group to be better, do more and achieve superior results as a team. Genuinely engage in communication with the group and listen to their thoughts. Team captains aren’t always the best players -- they’re the players who are best at motivating everyone to work together. Use your role to empower and unite.

Arrogant habit: Belittling others

Dressing down someone in an open forum not only embarrasses and demotivates the person in questions, it makes others fear displeasing you. Since all humans eventually make mistakes, people will find opportunities elsewhere rather than stick around and risk being the next person you humiliate in public. Managers should also be careful when engaging in teasing or ribbing -- what’s acceptable between co-workers may seem hurtful from a superior.

The higher you rise in your organization, the more lightly you must tread with humor that might seem to be at someone’s expense.

Instead: Build up, don't tear down. The adage "praise in public, correct in private" should always hold true. Even when you have critical feedback to deliver, be sure to do it constructively, respectfully and away from other ears. Don’t hesitate to inject some humor into day-to-day life -- just be sure it’s light-hearted and positive instead of cutting. If you must poke fun at someone, poke fun at yourself, but keep self-deprecation to a minimum so people don’t feel uncomfortable or obligated to come to your defense.

Arrogant habit: Being hierarchical

Be wary of appearing to value only the work and the opinions of those higher up. If you seek advice strictly from colleagues and superiors, you risk not only missing out on a great idea but also alienating those who work below you. If you regularly pull rank and demonstrate that you think title matters more than good input, the team will see no point in going the extra mile to bring you exceptional work.

Everyone wants to feel their work has value and meaning; if you only recognize those around and above you, the team will feel unappreciated and move on to better pastures.  

Instead: Be inclusive. Forget titles and rank, and concentrate on cultivating good ideas and great work. Make meetings more like a roundtable workshop, and less like a one-way information briefing. Instead of telling the team how things are going to be, make an effort to create a level playing field. Take the time to explain company vision, philosophy and direction, but make more room for different ways of getting there and be prepared to compromise. You’ll be rewarded with a loyal group eager to bring you great ideas and work hard to execute them.

Arrogant habit: Being inconsiderate

Do you pay attention when someone is talking at work, no matter the subject or the speaker? Do you arrive on time to meetings? Do you fully engage in the conversation? Do you meet commitments you made to your team?

Being inconsiderate is more about demonstrating, rather than verbalizing, that you think you are better or more important than others. Reading your phone during a presentation, interjecting when someone is talking, blowing off meetings without notice: These all say, “I think my time and opinions are more valuable than yours.”

Instead: Be gracious. Focus on the task or the conversation at hand, no matter what the topic. Give your full attention to each person and their presentation. Treat them with equal respect and consideration for their time and input. Be someone who notices and praises the efforts of others, no matter their level. Not only will you learn more and improve your own understanding of the organization’s strengths and challenges, you’ll draw the best talent to you with the best ideas because they know you’re listening and appreciative.

Arrogant habit: Being condescending

The very smart have to be especially careful of becoming someone who talks down to others. This could be glossing over the details instead of taking the effort to explain properly, or describing things in overly simplistic terms for an audience. Even when you’re the most brilliant person in the room, being patronizing is an ugly habit; not only will you alienate the person you’ve talked down to, but you'll also put a bad taste in the mouths of anyone who witness it.

Instead: Be patient. Remember that often, people are perfectly capable of grasping an idea or a situation, but they haven’t been immersed in the issue like you have been. They lack the background or context, or are processing in their own way. Give space for people to think and evaluate what you are saying and use your communication skills to fully and properly explain. Your patience and good humor in properly conveying information will be noted and remembered by those around you.

Even the most genial people have to guard against appearing arrogant. Work these alternate habits into your daily life and it will become easier and easier to ensure you are presenting an open, inclusive and respectful persona. Note the times you slip into arrogant behavior, such as times of extreme busyness or stress, and be especially mindful when those conditions occur. People will be drawn to your egalitarian ways and help you get ahead.

 

Joel Garfinkle is an executive coach and recognized as one of the top 50 coaches in the U.S., having worked with many of the world’s leading companies, including Oracle, Google, Amazon, Deloitte, The Ritz-Carlton, Gap and Starbucks. Recently, he worked with an executive who had received a lot of feedback about being arrogant. Garfinkle designed this checklist to help the executive turn his habits around and become a more inclusive leader. Garfinkle has written seven books, including "Executive Presence" and "Getting Ahead." More than 10,000 people receive his Fulfillment@Work newsletter. When you subscribe, you’ll receive his e-book “41 Proven Strategies to Get Promoted No.”.

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Decision-making 101

Executives are hired to make decisions. As such, it’s a topic worthy of study.

Evaluate your assumptions. Before you can move ahead, you need to know where you stand. What is prompting you to make a decision? What is the basis for your thinking?

Consider the alternatives. Knowing your assumptions, what choices do you have? Why would you pursue those choices? Sometimes there are not good alternatives. For example, shutting down a plant or laying off people. Neither is good, but one solution might be better for the health of the organization.

Game-plan the possibilities. When time permits, you can narrow your options to one, two or three choices. Consider what happens in each instance. It’s a bit like stacking dominoes.

Make a decision. Leaders are judged by their decisiveness. When an executive wavers over a major decision, the organization remains in stasis. Nothing happens. Therefore, a leader must choose what do it and why to do it. Next, the leader must communicate that decision widely so everyone knows what happens next.

Only the future will determine if a decision made today was the best choice, but when a leader makes time to think, that is all you can ask.

John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership educator and executive coach. In 2018, Trust Across America honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in Trust. Also in 2018, Inc.com named Baldoni a Top 100 Leadership Speaker. Global Gurus ranked him No. 22 on its list of top 30 global experts, a list he has been on since 2007. In 2014, Inc.com named Baldoni to its list of top 50 leadership experts. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including his newest, “MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership.”

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Virtual leaders should worry less about connectivity and more about connections

Virtual teams -- once a novelty -- have now become the norm. Last year, 43% of American employees reported working at least some time remotely.

Remote work makes good business sense. Removing geographical constraints allows businesses to source the best available talent. That talent is frequently more focused, engaged and productive than their co-located colleagues. And, given the volume of knowledge work to be done, a distributed workforce is often the most agile and cost-effective model available.

Yet, despite the ubiquitous nature of virtual teams, many organizations and leaders continue to struggle with the fundamentals of how to manage this permutation of a workgroup. Too frequently, they focus their efforts exclusively on the technology that enables connectivity and fail to address what’s actually most important to attaining the desired results: the human connection.

Anyone who’s led or been part of one of these teams knows that the virtual setting changes the human dynamics. Distance can breed ambivalence, assumptions, and misunderstandings that can be addressed more naturally and quickly by people who share a workspace day-in and day-out. And not working together in the same space can easily compromise the sense of cohesion, identity and community that flows naturally when a team is co-located.

Virtual leaders who have cracked the code and brought their distributed workers together into high-functioning teams know that connection in this environment doesn’t happen by chance. It’s incumbent upon leaders to intentionally nurture relationships, weave connections and transform mere groups into collective communities. Here are five key priorities for making this happen.

Turn up the trust

Trust -- a cornerstone of positive relationships -- is built over time and based upon the experiences that people have with one another. Unfortunately, there are fewer opportunities for this to happen in a virtual setting.

For a team to operate optimally, members must trust each other’s motives as well as their fundamental competency. Leaders can help make this happen by finding ways for each person to shine and making strategic assignments to ensure that trust builds through the shared experience of work and accomplishment.

Cultivate effective communication practices

With so many available communication channels, it’s important for leaders and members alike to be thoughtful and intentional in the selection of the best method for the message. And, in a virtual setting, everyone must compensate for the loss of cues that are picked up naturally by those who are co-located. In general, effective virtual leaders tend to overcommunicate and overdocument to keep people on the same page. But this must be balanced with not overwhelming people and further contributing to information overload and communication fatigue. And, of course, the importance of active listening cannot be overstated.

Invest in shared vision

Communities and teams are formed as people rally around common interests. A clear, compelling and engaging vision reminds everyone about what they’re working toward. A shared vision and values contribute to trust, leaving members feeling like "these people are my tribe." However, developing that vision is not enough. Leaders can’t cross that off the list and hide it away; they must refer to it frequently and treat it as a living document, updating as necessary.

Nurture norms and agreements

Shared agreements for how people will work together is important for any team. But, it becomes even more important when teams aren’t co-located. When everyone understands the "terms of engagement" or "rules of the road," they can go about their work confident in the behaviors and performance they can expect from others. Allowing teams to play a role in creating norms and agreements goes a long way toward creating trust. As with shared vision, these can’t be tucked away, either. They must find their way into meetings, conversations and interactions with others to build a culture and connection.

Mine (and mind) your meetings

Meetings are a primary vehicle for bringing virtual teams together and facilitating connections among members. While important in any setting, meetings take on greater significance for virtual teams. Regularly scheduled meetings create a cadence and predictable opportunities for people to connect. And impromptu meetings address evolving business needs and approximate the more casual way people might come together in co-located settings. Whatever the form, good physical meeting practices must be elevated to the next level when operating virtually -- with a clear purpose, outcomes, agenda and roles, as well as exemplary facilitation skills.

Effective virtual leaders focus less on the technology and details of connectivity and more on helping their teams create genuine, authentic connections. And when they do, they can bridge time, space and cultures to unleash unbeatable results.

How are you doing? Take this short survey to evaluate your effectiveness at each of these practices and download the "Cultivating Connections Within Your Virtual Team: 26 Tips from A to Z."

 

Julie Winkle Giulioni works with organizations worldwide to improve performance through leadership and learning.  Named one of Inc. Magazines top 100 leadership speakers, Julie is the co-author of the Amazon and Washington Post bestseller, “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want,” a respected speaker on a variety of topics, and a regular contributor to many business publications.

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Report: How to succeed in cross-border commerce — Transforming the global shopping experience through digital adoption

This post is sponsored by Loqate, a GBG Solution.

The rise in retail technology has transformed the global exchange of goods and services. With unprecedented access to new markets, retailers of all sizes can reach customers no matter where they are in the world. The growth of emerging markets, coupled with advancements in mobile, logistics, retail technology and data intelligence have opened the door to cross-border commerce, but as competition increases retailers are pressured to implement a global framework as soon as possible to ensure success.

The cross-border challenge

So what can retailers do to successfully go global and make their way to the top of the international retail rankings? The recently released Retail Internationalization Index report, an analysis of global retail strategies compiled by Planet Retail RNG, Retail Week and Loqate, a leader in location intelligence, leveraged international retail data to determine the most successful retailers in terms of global presence and customer-centricity.

Retailers looking to go international face a host of challenges from rapidly evolving technology, volatile economies and competition from big industry marketplaces like Amazon and Alibaba. Loqate’s report identified the top 30 global retailers based on more than 70 attributes and strategies ranging from digital capabilities and global partnerships to raw numbers like non-domestic sales, international locations and projected global growth. According to the report, some of the most successful retailers struggle to deliver the same seamless journey in international territories as they do domestically. To remedy this, retailers can offer think-global-act-local solutions like flexible payment and foreign currency options that support a positive global purchasing journey. Other globally driven features include foreign language translation, locally responsive web experiences and verification technology to ensure goods and services reach customers everywhere.

While innovations in shipping and logistics have played pivotal roles in global e-commerce, deliverability still remains a major risk when entering new markets. The issue affects about 4.7% of US deliveries, 5.6% of UK deliveries and 4.6% of German deliveries, according to Loqate’s recent Fixing Failed Deliveries report. The consequences of delayed and lost packages not only result in financial burden, but also affect brand loyalty, reputation and customer experience. One of the most frequent causes of delivery failure involves poorly collected location data. Data collected at online checkouts and in-store POS systems is not always reliable – and that’s where tools like address verification come in. By leveraging global location data, retailers can improve operational efficiencies, package deliverability and ultimately customer experience.

At the end of the day, the Internationalization Retail Index found that by combining the right tools and a great customer experience, retailers can tackle these challenges head-on – and succeed.

From challenges to opportunities

Retailers looking to succeed in today’s digital world should strive to establish unified e-commerce strategies that provide customers with a frictionless shopping experience regardless of which channel they use to shop.

Mobile is especially important in regions where smartphone adoption leapfrogged traditional methods of accessing the internet. Regardless of where they are in the world, shoppers want to locate, purchase and return products using the device of their choice. Mobile technology transcends physical and digital shopping environments by enabling customers to make purchases from their devices, locate items using visual search, compare prices from multiple retailers or support in-store shopping with location-based technology, push notifications and barcode scanners. The Internationalization Retail Index found that in order to be successful, mobile apps need to generate additional value for the customer. This comes in the form of loyalty rewards, location-based shopping suggestions, store locators, digital account management and digitized receipts.

While many retailers looking to offer a seamless mobile experience still struggle with security, payment processing and localized internet issues, optimizing websites for mobile devices in lieu of a native app, in addition to leveraging mobile security tools, can help offset risks while engaging mobile shoppers in new markets.

Tapping into scalable technology is important – it can help retailers cut costs and avoid regulatory issues that come with expanding physical store counts, franchising, acquisitions and other traditional methods of international expansion.

Gaining a deeper understanding of global customer locations is a vital part of successful internationalization. By collecting accurate location data during checkout and onboarding, retailers can leverage the data to power personalized shopping experiences and localized services.

Adding to logistics networks by establishing distribution centers in foreign markets can also put retailers ahead of the competition. International distribution not only expands their reach for online deliveries, but can also increase retailers’ abilities to offer premium delivery services including click-and-collect or free returns. German retailer Zalando has invested in a strategy that pairs large automated facilities in its domestic market with smaller distribution centers throughout the rest of Europe in a bid to offer same-day delivery to as many locations as possible.

“The lesson here is that focusing on international distribution and creating a strong global presence pays off,” according to the report. “However, retailers must carefully select the expansion method most appropriate for their business to achieve strong results.”

To learn more about the strategies featured in Loqate’s Internationalization Retail Index report, don’t miss the International Retail Index webinar on July 18 featuring a panel of retail experts including Ian McGariggle, chairman of World Retail Congress and co-founder of Retail Week; Robert Gregory, global research director at PlanetRetail RNG; and David Green, managing director of location intelligence at Loqate, a GBG solution.

How circumstances affect delegation

In an earlier post, I shared some reasons that so many leaders do not delegate more often and presented arguments why they should. I also spelled out seven steps to more effective delegation. In this article, I will delve into who to consider when seeking to delegate tasks and projects.

“The way you delegate is that first you have to hire people that you really have confidence in. You won't truly let those people feel a sense of autonomy if you don't have confidence in them," Robert Pozen said.

Though the term delegation may be defined consistently as the shifting of responsibility for a task or project from one person (usually a leader or manager) to another, the situations in which it is applied can vary greatly. And in many cases, the leader is doing something very different than delegating.

Here are two factors that can greatly impact the nature of what is being delegated.

  1. Experience and expertise: What degrees of experience and expertise do the subordinate bring to the project?
  2. Environment: How stable is the environment in which this task is occurring?

Let’s take a closer look at each.

The term “Situational Leadership” was coined by leadership experts Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey to describe how different situations demand different types of engagement between leaders and their people. In essence, they offer four scenarios along a continuum of employee experience and expertise.

  1. Directing. This approach is for subordinates who are least experienced in completing the desired task and may suffer from low self-confidence. Leaders in these situations need to do a lot of directing to ensure that the team member is clear on what needs to happen and in what way. The leader must also help the subordinate work through any deficits in self-confidence or other barriers to success.
  2. Coaching. Coaching is appropriate for subordinates that are a bit more advanced but still need a lot of direction. Through coaching, a leader can bring him/her more into the conversation about how to do things and helps push things along when the subordinate’s initial enthusiasm for the project invariably starts to wane. At this stage, the leader still decides.
  3. Supporting. Over time, the subordinate becomes more comfortable and takes on added responsibility and leadership. The leader’s role is to continue to support the subordinate through conversation but allows the subordinate increased decision-making authority.
  4. Delegating. In this final stage, the subordinate “owns” the project and is largely left alone to achieve the necessary outcome.

Notice that in this model, delegating only occurs after the subordinate has been directed and/or supported, often deeply, for a period of time.

(Note: The Situational Leadership Model does not require the process detailed above be repeated in the exact same way when new, similar projects are introduced. As subordinates build capacity and efficacy, they can be delegated to more directly earlier on.)

Environment also plays a critical role in determining whether one should direct, collaborate with or delegate to a subordinate. Let’s analyze these along the continuum of crisis to stable environments.

  • Crisis. Leaders who are dealing with crises have neither the time not the bandwidth to work with subordinates through the process detailed above. In most cases, the leader will need to assume an authoritarian or directive role in mobilizing others toward desired outcomes. When dealing with very experienced, expert subordinates, a more participative approach is recommended.
  • Changing/High-growth. In fluid environments that are active but not crisis-ridden, leaders should seek to use a more collaborative approach so long as the subordinate possesses at least moderate levels of capacity and know-how.
  • Stable. This is the kind of environment in which the Situational Leadership model is most effective.

As I noted in my earlier post, there are many strong reasons to delegate, and it’s important to not be short-sighted in this area. Leaders who understand what delegation is, what it isn’t and which approaches to use in each situation will be better served to advance projects, build capacity and dramatically increase productivity and workplace engagement.

 

Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, (@impactfulcoach) is president of Impactful Coaching & Consulting. Check out his leadership book, "Becoming the New Boss." Read his blog, and listen to his leadership podcast. Download his free new e-book, “An E.P.I.C. Solution to Understaffing.”

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Report: How to succeed in cross-border commerce by learning from the best

This post is sponsored by Loqate, a GBG Solution.

Growth in smartphone adoption and innovations in retail technology have unlocked unparalleled access to customers across international markets. Enterprising partnership models, greater efficiencies in shipping and logistics and new methods of leveraging data to power localized experiences have lowered the barrier to global entry, enabling businesses of all sizes to reach customers around the world. Location intelligence company Loqate recently released the Retail Internationalization Index report, which identifies the top 30 retailers in terms of innovative global commerce strategies. While it’s no surprise to see Amazon at No. 1 on the index, it was unexpected to see Apple (No. 5) trail behind digital-first brands like ASOS (No. 3) and Boohoo (No. 2), demonstrating the power of the digital experience for international success.

Overall, the most successful retailers have chosen partners and technology that allow them to offer localized experiences with global applications. While costly traditional methods such as acquisitions and physical expansion still have a strong effect on global brand success, the report found that by focusing on convenient and intuitive omnichannel experiences, retailers could acquire customers with diverse backgrounds at a much lower cost.

Amazon landed at the top of the ranking, with about 40% of its $180 billion in sales last year taking place outside of the US. What the e-commerce giant lacks in physical retail, it makes up for in logistics – Amazon can make deliveries in less than two hours in several markets through its Prime Now service, it can deliver orders within two days to Prime members around the world and it fulfills orders to more than 200 international markets, utilizing address verification for efficient global delivery. There are many pieces to the puzzle of successful internationalization, and Amazon is not the only one getting it right.

Striking up the right partnerships

Teaming with foreign retailers and global distribution networks has proven to be a successful strategy for several of the ranking’s top 30 retailers.

European online pet products retailer Zooplus ranked No. 7 on the index and has achieved international success through its third-party distribution partnership with Amazon, its strong commitment to fulfillment and its outstanding customer experience. The Munich-based pet food and accessories specialist has customers in 30 countries, an excellent international logistics network and fast delivery available across Europe. Meanwhile, Gap (No. 20) drives its international e-commerce business through a partnership with solutions provider Borderfree, and German fashion retailer Zalando (No. 10) offers its clothing and accessories to customers across Europe.

While retail partnerships have helped some of the top merchants meet international demand by offering distribution and free return services (which are offered by 25 of the top 30 retailers in the ranking), UK-based ASOS (No. 3) turned to logistics solution Temando to power its returns service.

Partnerships can also prove valuable to offset the risks associated with new and unfamiliar market entry. To expand into China’s rapidly growing, mobile-first market, Costco (No. 13) and Apple (No. 5) teamed up with Alibaba’s T-mall, while Walmart (No. 9) and Sephora (No. 8) sell through JD.com.

Third-party payment providers also make a difference when global customers expect local payment options during their online purchasing journey. Twenty-four of the ranking’s top 30 offer flexible payments through providers like PayPal, Venmo and WeChat Pay.

Expanding shopping across channels

The report also found that robust multichannel strategies are key for the most successful retailers. While most industry buzz focuses on digital commerce, physical retail still matters, especially when it comes to international expansion. In an age when a positive customer experience goes hand-in-hand with consumer loyalty, having brick-and-mortar spaces where shoppers can interact with associates can boost brand affinity.

Physical retail continues to play a major role in global growth for many of the ranking’s top merchants. Walmart (No. 9) reached $116.1 billion in international sales last year with help from its network of stores that span 27 markets, while Schwarz Group (No. 17), parent to European discount grocer Lidl, operates more than 11,000 stores outside of its domestic market.

Top retailers leverage their physical presence to bridge the gap across selling channels – 21 of the ranking’s top 30 retailers offer click-and-collect services, while only four have no physical pick-up locations. At Walmart (No. 9), shoppers can get discounts on orders placed online, schedule in-store pick-ups and avoid waiting in line by paying in-store with the Walmart app.

French beauty retailer Sephora (No. 8) combines in-person events like beauty workshops with internet of things technology such as virtual mirrors, sensory tools and iPads that can identify exact skin tones to help customers select the right makeup. As of last year, the retailer offered this multichannel shopping experience at 2,300 stores across 33 countries.

When it comes to multichannel retail, the path can go both ways: Pure-play online merchants are increasingly moving into the physical realm, with Amazon (No. 1) growing its global system of pick-up lockers, and HelloFresh (No. 14) teaming up with UK-based grocer Sainsbury’s to sell its meal kits at grocery stores.

Getting e-commerce right

The index’s top retailers build loyalty among their global audiences by accommodating international purchases with features like global address verification, currency flexibility and location-based language options. Implementing address verification across mobile and web environments improves international user-experience by providing responsive forms that seamlessly accommodate the more than 130 different global address formats. In fact, more than three-quarters of retailers who make use of address verification experience an increase in international orders. The easy-to-implement technology also compliments checkout fraud solutions while significantly decreasing failed deliveries.

Finding the right formula for cross-border e-commerce does not stop with the desktop experience – it must include a mobile strategy. Each of the index’s top 30 retailers offers mobile-optimized websites. While only 10 offer international delivery via mobile app, all of the top 30 offer a transactional mobile app experience. Address verification is again present in the mobile experience for two-thirds of the top 30 retailers, but only Amazon (No. 1), ASOS (No. 3) and Sports Direct (No. 4) offer the feature on an international scale. This number will likely grow in the future – 54% of international shoppers anticipate that cross-border purchases will be affected by delivery issues, making address verification an integral part of a successful cross-border strategy.

Making cross-border shopping easy and convenient

At the end of the day, shoppers – no matter where they live in the world – want to be able to buy things as easily and conveniently as possible. The top retailers have all found ways to deliver against this demand across channels to successfully increase their global footprint.

In addition to partnerships, mobile technology and address verification, the index also highlights innovative ways retailers have adapted in-store strategies for the digital world. Loyalty programs from Amazon (No. 1) and ASOS (No. 3) offer unlimited next-day delivery for a yearly fee, encouraging brand loyalty while also helping retailers gain a better understanding of their customer’s unique buying patterns. German shoe retailer Deichmann (No. 16) provides shoppers across 24 markets the ability to check in-store stock online or from a mobile device, along with easy in-store returns and hassle-free prepaid return shipping for online purchases.

“As retail internationalization accelerates, retailers need to adopt a mindset that embraces innovation, collaboration and the integration of digital and physical capabilities to meet customer expectations,” according to the report. “Those that already have are reaping the benefits, while resistance to this change could see retailers slip out of the top 30 in the years to come.”

To learn more about the strategies featured in the report, don’t miss the International Retail Index webinar on July 18 featuring a panel of retail experts including Ian McGariggle, chairman of World Retail Congress and co-founder of Retail Week; Robert Gregory, global research director at PlanetRetail RNG; and David Green, managing director of location intelligence at Loqate, a GBG solution.

Cultivating the courage to lead

“Put ‘em up! Put ‘em up!” says the Cowardly Lion as he confronts the palace guards.

Of course, by this time in the story, we know that the beloved "The Wizard of Oz" character is more bluster than Braveheart.

By the end of the tale, our Lion learns the truth about courage, that it isn’t about bullying others but about standing firm in our convictions. It isn’t something that is born into our natures either, but is something that anyone -- even a cowardly lion -- can cultivate and practice. And this is good news for every hopeful future leader in business, and in life.

The topic of leadership seems to be everywhere. There are countless books, blogs, and podcasts on how to become the leader you want to be. I’ve written several of those myself. But when you boil it all down to its essence, leadership is about choosing to be courageous.

To be clear, it is not as if you are going to get up one morning and say to yourself, “Hey, I think I’ll be a leader now!” Developing your leadership capabilities will require mindful practice, every day, of making courageous choices.

"Why,” you might ask, “does leadership require courage?”

Leadership in any area of life involves risk. Granted, a career in business, education, health care or other mission-driven organization does not generally involve running into a burning building to save the family cat, but there are still challenges that can produce enough fear to stop us in our tracks. Here are three:

Fear of failure. We live in a success-oriented culture. The fear of failure encourages us to remain on the safe, yet ultimately self-limiting, path. The sad thing is, “failure” is rarely well-defined and in fact means different things to different people, and at different times in different places. It is worthwhile to ask yourself honestly and often, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” Usually, the worst possible outcome of a situation is not only unlikely but is something you really can deal with.

Fear of success. I know, it sounds weird. But don’t be fooled: I have seen many talented professionals sabotage their success over the fear of achieving it. Reaching your goals might leave you with a blank slate, a gnawing feeling of “What’s next?” Worse, what if achieving success doesn’t feel as great as you thought it would? What if you hate where you have landed? If that’s the case, review fear No. 1. What if your closest friends and colleagues begin to resent you for being happy? Move on to fear No. 3.

Fear of not being liked. Everyone wants to be liked. That goes for leaders, too. The difference is that leaders are willing to put this personal desire aside when the situation demands an unpopular decision. Often, unfortunately, the most important decisions are those that make no one happy. At those times, leaders focus on doing what is right.

Anyone -- everyone -- can overcome these, and any other, fears related to becoming a leader. It doesn’t require a monumental leap of faith. It requires a commitment to practice. Think of it this way: If you were planning to train for your first-ever marathon and had never run before, you wouldn’t just show up at the gate on race day, right? You would start small, building each day, until you had the strength and stamina to go the distance.

It is the same way with leadership. Start with small, daily decisions that point you toward your goal. Be sure to include things that make you a little uncomfortable. Those are the ones that will build your leadership muscles. Go to a networking event or volunteer to sit on a workshop panel. Take on a project at work that involves learning a new skill -- quickly. Ask your supervisor if you can sit in on meetings of a committee that is tackling a tough strategic issue.

Each of these activities chips away at those three big fears. Will you stumble? Of course. But I promise you, every success will make you eager to keep going.

Just like the marathon runner, your small, leader-focused choices will develop your capacity to choose leadership. When the time comes to make the big decisions, you’ll be ready.

 

Dennis C. Miller is a nationally recognized strategic leadership coach, executive search consultant, author and motivational speaker. He is the managing director of The Nonprofit Search Group with more than 35 years of experience working with nonprofit board leadership and chief executives across the country. Miller is also an expert in board governance, leadership development, philanthropy and succession planning. In addition, he is a sought-after motivational speaker, retreat facilitator and leadership performance coach. He can be contacted at dennis@thenonprofitsearch.com.

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Hiring with intention: 3 tips for slowing down to scale up

After years of focusing on growth at all costs, it seems that leaders at some of the world’s fastest-growing companies realize the importance of putting culture first.

CEOs including Uber’s Dara Khosrowshahi and Snap’s Evan Spiegel recently spoke up about the steps they’re taking to reshape toxic company cultures, and the broader conversation is beginning to shift. I recently attended the CloudNY conference and was struck by how many of my peers emphasized the importance of deliberately building company culture, even in the midst of rapid business growth.

Creating a great corporate culture requires many things. Perhaps first among them is thoughtful hiring. No matter the size of the company, you can’t build a great workplace without employees who embody your values.

The challenge is that it takes slowing down to create an intentional hiring process. Otherwise, you risk making snap judgments that can lead to missing out on great people or bringing on employees who aren’t the right fit long term.

My hiring philosophy is based on lessons I learned at a large organization, Salesforce, that I’ve applied to a growth-stage company in my current role as CEO of Invoca. Here are the main pillars:

1. Define what you measure and who will measure it

Earlier in my career, I tended to approach interviews without a lot of formal preparation or consistency. But through personal experience and observing industry trends, I've learned that the ideal way to get the best results is to be methodical in the hiring process.

Without clear criteria, interviewers will default to their own biases, whether conscious or unconscious. A growing body of research shows that unstructured interviews help you get to know someone on a surface level, but they’re highly subjective and don’t reliably predict job performance. People tend to prefer candidates who resemble themselves, but this bias is mitigated when companies evaluate candidates systematically.

Slack recently redefined its interview process to support a more diverse and inclusive company. The hiring team assigns each role a list of desired characteristics and skills. They write a list of behavioral questions that assess this information, ask every candidate the same things, and measure their answers against each other.

I highly recommend taking a page from Slack’s playbook and creating a rubric for each role. With a consistent set of questions and evaluation criteria, you can draw more objective comparisons between candidates. I find it’s a best practice to define roles and responsibilities for the interview team so that each person knows what they’re evaluating (e.g., technical skills, interpersonal/management skills, critical thinking) and can provide specific feedback about that area.

2. Evaluate adaptability as well as experience

Much has been written about the need for adaptability at both the organizational and individual levels. The capacity to learn on the job and transfer knowledge to new contexts will only become more critical in the coming years as technology advances and “hard” skills more quickly become obsolete. 

I value strong "intellectual athletes" who are adaptable and can take on new challenges — in part because I enjoy learning new skills. I learned the value of adaptability working in management consulting, an industry that by definition requires that you learn and adapt on the fly as you take on new projects with new clients in new industries.

During the decade that I spent at Salesforce, I also saw how successful executives were able to move between different roles in the company, taking on new challenges and strengthening their skill sets while continuing to make a substantial contribution to the company.

There are a few ways to optimize for adaptability. You might experiment with Zappos’ approach and meet with candidates before deciding what role would be the best fit. At Zappos, recruiters chat with applicants one-on-one, then invite promising candidates to company meetings and events.

You can also design interview questions that gauge how adaptable someone is, for instance:

  • Tell me about a time when you adjusted to a new role.
  • Describe a time you’ve had to navigate ambiguity — how did you approach uncertainty?
  • What previously held assumptions have you had to unlearn?

Pay attention to how often “learning” comes up in your conversation about a candidate’s previous roles and career goals. Talk to their references about how this person has tackled new problems and whether they’d consider them emotionally intelligent, intellectually curious, and self-motivated.

3. Assign a real problem with real data

As part of the interview process, ask candidates to solve an actual problem you’re facing. For example, if we’re interviewing someone for a product management role, we might outline a specific feature that we’re looking to build, and ask the candidate to do a 45-minute presentation outlining how they’d approach designing and building the first version of that product.

The process gives us a good sense of what it would be like to work together. In addition to evaluating the candidate's ideas, we can observe what kind of questions they ask and how they approach problem-solving. It also allows the candidate to step into the role and feel out the team.

My advice is to share actual data to the degree you feel comfortable. Give the candidate the same information your team can access and ask what they’d do differently. This real-world problem-solving scenario is particularly helpful if you’re considering a less traditional candidate. While their previous experience may not match up precisely with the job description, you’ll get a sense for how they’d approach the role. This reduces the risk associated with bringing them on and helps you understand their working style, motivation level, and approach.

For example, when we hire for product roles, I am always curious to see which candidates proactively sign up for our product, tinker with it to understand key features and come into an interview with an informed perspective.

Hiring has been a big part of my job for the past 10 years. But it wasn’t until I became a CEO that I truly appreciated the role of a deliberately designed plan in both hiring great people and building a long-term culture.

The hiring process often feels like a sprint, but it’s in your best interest to slow down. Give yourself the time and space challenge your own biases and snap judgments, and create a system that allows your team to do the same.

Gregg Johnson is CEO of call intelligence company Invoca. He also writes about leadership and the tech industry. Read more at Into the Deep End.

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Are you an innovation skinny-dipper?

Lead Change is a leadership media destination with a unique editorial focus on driving change within organizations, teams, and individuals. Lead Change, a division of Weaving Influence, publishes twice monthly with SmartBrief. Today's post is by Chip R. Bell.

 

I grew up in the rural South. Most every farm had a pond created for water for cows, especially during a dry spell. It was often the water source for irrigation and the recreation source for fishing and swimming. When a group of boys gathered at a pond with an “I dare you” mentality on a summer day, the challenge to skinny dip was never far away.

Typically, all ultimately participated. But, the ones to strip off first and head for the water were considered the pacesetters. It had little to do with anatomical pride; it was an attitude of adventure and courage.

We live in a time when incremental improvement will not suffice to retain competitive advantage. Winners are the innovators willing to take risks and boldly go beyond what peers are unlikely to even try. It is not foolhardy recklessness like jaywalking on a busy street. When Elon Musk launched a Tesla roadster into space, it was symbol of bravery. When Tim Cook lead Apple’s launching of the Apple Watch, it was less about what the watch actually was and more about a gallant vision of what the watch could become—a wearable portal to practically every facet of life!

One of my favorite innovator stories is skinny-dipper Samuel Colt. Sam grew up on his grandfather’s farm. One of young Colt’s chores was taking a horse and wagon into the shipbuilding town of Glastonbury, Conn., for supplies. On one trip, Sam listened to soldiers rave about the prowess of the double-barreled rifle, boasting the impossibility of anyone ever devising a firearm that could shoot more than two times without reloading.

It was a watershed moment for the 12-year-old Colt, who vowed to become the person who would craft an “Impossible gun.”

Pursuing that childhood dream, he created a pistol (the Peacemaker) that could shoot six rounds successively without reloading. With an order from the Texas Rangers to quickly produce 1,000 pistols, he realized the “one-at-a-time” artisan approach to gun making would never work. However, a pistol with interchangeable parts would be more efficient and help him realize his dream of an assembly-line process for greater productivity.

He wrote to his father in 1836: “The first workman would receive two or three of the most important parts and would affix these and pass them on to the next who would add a part and pass the growing article on to another who would do the same, and so on until the complete arm is put together.”

Henry Ford in 1913 reasoned that Colt’s two concepts (interchangeable parts and assembly line production) could be a way to provide automobiles for the masses. He improved on the process by making it movable. It became the factory operation approach for all industries. With the advent of railroads and the availability of labor, especially immigrant workers, America quickly became the industrial capital of the world, exporting goods cheaply due to efficiencies gained by mass production.

We can thank skinny-dipper Sam for starting a chain reaction that today produces smartphones, IBM's Watson technology and Tesla electric cars that can accelerate as fast as a Ferrari!

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing,” wrote Helen Keller. “To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate, is strength undefeatable.”

Let go of your anxiety of being rebuked, the concern for potential failure and the challenge of going unclothed into ambiguous waters. Surface your inner bravery and dive into the waters of uncertainty to confidently swim in the pond of innovation.

 

Chip R. Bell is a keynote speaker on leadership, and customer loyalty topics, as well as trainer and best-selling author. He has worked with a range of Fortune 500 companies, associations, and government organizations. He’s also authored several best-selling books, including "Mangers as Mentors," with Marshall Goldsmith. Visit his website.

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