You Are Competing Against Apple (And May Not Even Know It!)

Whether you are in a consumer business or B2B, the quality of your customer service experience with your company is key to generating loyalty and referrals. Many businesses believe that they are good at customer service, but that level of good may not be good enough.

To many customers, their expectation of good service is based on the best service they have received from anywhere. For example, if they have an iphone, they have Apple’s level of customer service in mind as a standard when they deal with you, too. Therefore, even if you are in a totally unrelated industry to Apple’s, customers’ expectations are high because they are not just based on your company’s service quality or even on your industry standards, they are comparing your service with a global expectation of the best experience they received anywhere. Relative to Apple, this means that they want easy access to your “geniuses”, a relatively quick fix or at least quick attention to the issue, and a smiling personality to handle everything.

Achieving this, may be less difficult than it sounds. It starts with refocusing your perspective away from your own standard to the broader one. Explore service you receive from every company and take note of especially outstanding experiences.

Ultimately great customer service starts with leadership setting the tone at the top. Leadership must set an example of quality and not waver from setting a high bar. Leadership then must support their customer service initiative by training everyone in techniques and expectations, as well as giving people authority to solve problems for peak customer satisfaction, reminding them that they are competing against Apple every day.

How Pennsylvania can become the preeminent place to live and work

Pennsylvania and Philadelphia must focus on infrastructure, energy, education and entrepreneurship.

In 2014, Pennsylvania ranked 37th in economic performance and 33rd in economic outlook, according to the Alec-Lifer State Economic Competitive Index. In the Forbes Best States for Business List, Pennsylvania was ranked 30th. This is a third quartile performance in all three measures.

The ability of Pennsylvania to improve to first quartile economic performance depends on our state’s ability, as well as that of our largest City, Philadelphia, to create an environment that encourages existing businesses to stay and grow here, encourages new business formation, and encourages people to choose our state and City as places they want to live and work.

I believe there are four ways for Pennsylvania and Philadelphia to accomplish this:

Transit & Energy

Many of our roads and bridges in Pennsylvania are in need of major repair or replacement. This investment cannot be avoided, and must not be delayed. The longer these projects are delayed, the more expensive they will be. Ignoring this infrastructure will eventually impede the distribution of goods and services, and adversely impact quality of life. These projects provide high-paying jobs and will have an excellent long-term return on investment.

Continued development of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale natural gas is an imperative. It has already resulted in the creation both directly and indirectly of thousands of high-paying jobs and lower costs to heat our homes and run our factories, putting more money into other parts of the economy, stimulating economic growth, resulting in job creation.

Through the development by the oil and gas industry of fracking and horizontal drilling technology, as well as continued development of solar and wind technology, the U.S. will become energy self-sufficient by the end of this decade. Building off of Philadelphia’s existing energy infrastructure, our City has the potential of becoming the East Coast Energy hub, favorably impacting our state and local economy.

Energy development and the need to protect the environment are not mutually exclusive. The technology exists to do both. Rigorous monitoring is needed to insure all environmental laws are obeyed. Protecting the environment is an important focus in oil and gas production, transportation, processing and distribution.

Improve Education

The state of public education in Philadelphia will prevent the City from achieving preeminence. Due to the drain of funds by charter schools, the school district has reduced spending to the point where it has impacted the quality of education of our children. Funding of the Philadelphia school district and how charter schools are funded is an issue that needs to be addressed.

The school district also needs to hold its administrators accountable for providing the best leadership possible at every level. Administrators need to be held accountable for the performance of their principals. Principals need to be great leaders and role models. They need to be held accountable not only for the education of their students, but also for how effectively they lead and inspire their teachers. Principals also need to be held accountable for the tone at the top and the organizational culture they establish within their respective schools. Ineffective administrators, principals and teachers need to be replaced. They should not be protected. They shortchange our students.

Teacher unions need to be treated as full partners in the improvement of the education of our children. Their members are on the front line every day, some teaching in very difficult conditions. One of the things business leaders learn early on is that the best performing organizations have nurtured a culture in which their employees are empowered and feel a sense of ownership in what they do. Schools are no different.

Attract Business

My association with the Close School of Entrepreneurship at Drexel University and its students, as well as with a number of startups in Philadelphia has convinced me that entrepreneurship is a very important driver of economic activity in the region. Philadelphia is a place to be for young college students to stay after graduation to launch their businesses. To keep them here, we need to ensure that the business environment and quality of life is attractive to them.

In an article that appeared in the Philadelphia Business Journal on Dec. 1, 2014 headlined “Educational ecosystem is driving Philadelphia entrepreneurship,” I wrote “Philadelphia’s stature as a major hub for entrepreneurial activity will only grow in the future, and its educational ecosystem for entrepreneurs will play a key role. We want entrepreneurs to recognize that this is where they can learn needed skills, tap advice and expertise, start their business and grow them. Few initiatives will have a greater impact on the health and vitality of the region.”

Our state and City need visionary leadership by government, business and labor leaders. Courage is sometimes needed to break old paradigms. I would like to see Pennsylvania and Philadelphia become preeminent places to live and work. I think we are moving in the right direction, but with much to be done.

Stan Silverman is the Leadership Catalyst at Tier 1 Group, a firm of strategists and advisors for preeminent growth, as well as vice chairman of the board of Drexel University, and authors a weekly column on effective leadership in the Philadelphia Business Journal.

Stan Silverman is a writer, speaker and advisor on effective leadership. He is the Leadership Catalyst at Tier 1 Group, a firm of strategists and advisors for preeminent growth. Silverman is vice chairman of the board of Drexel University, a director of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania and former president and CEO of PQ Corporation. Follow: @StanSilverman. Connect: Website:

In Selecting Your Next Leaders, Here Are 4 Things More Important Than A Great Resume

Perhaps the most important thing every leader must do is to select and prepare his or her successor, or at least to create a leadership culture where budding leaders have the best opportunity to flourish.

However, even in a thriving leadership culture, sometimes it becomes necessary to look outside the organization for its next leader. When that is the case, often the board and its search firm scour resumes to find that one person with a blue chip line of experience together with a storied body of successful experience in just those areas most important to the organization. But don’t stop there. Although experience and expertise are important, we believe there are four characteristics that are even more valuable:

Honesty – a natural inclination to do the honest thing, in both positive and negative situations.

A Listener – someone who automatically listens first and even has the skill to draw out the positions of others in the organization before voicing his/her own.

Optimism – not a Pollyanna, but a person who approaches life from a positive perspective and reflects a positive outlook and environment.

Respect – for people and their ideas, no matter what their status is.

For best results, create your short list based on resumes and then make your final selection based on these 4 qualities.

Stan Silverman is a writer, speaker and advisor on effective leadership. He is the Leadership Catalyst at Tier 1 Group, a firm of strategists and advisors for preeminent growth. Silverman is vice chairman of the board of Drexel University, a director of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania and former president and CEO of PQ Corporation. Follow: @StanSilverman. Connect: Website:

As A Leader, Are You Communicating Your Expectations To Your Employees?

Years ago, as the new CEO of my company, I set out to tour our divisions once our business strategy and plan had been finalized. I wanted to present it so everyone would be on the same page. After a presentation to one division in particular, I had an opportunity to sit down with their divisional management team to chat.

After a number of their questions relating to where I saw product growth from their division together with an appeal for the allocation of capital resources to support that growth, it soon became apparent that there was a major disconnect here. This division’s product line was in a highly mature category where cash generation from them was our corporate goal and it was critical to supplying capital to other high growth areas of the company. Once I explained that to them, they actually seemed relieved – they knew what was expected of them. I pointed out the change in tenor of our conversation to which they remarked, “no one had ever taken the time to explain their place in the business plan.” “We were stressing over growth when the company just needed us to provide as much cash as possible.” Once they understood their assigned mission and the role they played, they could focus on their part in making it a success.

Don’t make your employees guess what their role is and what your expectations are of them when communicating the company’s plan. To maximize results as a leader, everyone must understand their roles. To accomplish this:

1) take time to present your big picture plan directly

2) clarify everyone’s role in achieving the plan

3) reinforce their worth and value in achieving organizational success.

This will help create a sense of ownership in your employees, and increase the probability of achieving the plan.

4 Powerful New Year’s Resolutions For Leaders

As the calendar flips to 2015, many people will be making New Year’s resolutions. Many of their goals will be personal, some will be professional, but regardless of their nature, creating goals is often an innate characteristic of an effective leader. Here are four suggestions for New Year’s resolutions to better create and maintain an effective leadership culture at your organization:

1. Become a better listener. Resolve to listen to new ideas and approach every suggestion with an unbiased and open mind. Your employees and peers will appreciate it, and it will make everyone better at their jobs.

2. Respect! They say that respect is not given, but earned. Have you earned the respect of your employees through effective leadership? Perhaps. But just as importantly, have your employees earned your respect through hard work, smart ideas and great initiative? If so, and you haven’t communicated it, the new year is a great time to start.

3. Re-evaluate. Are you rubber-stamping another similar plan for 2015 or will you try some things that are new? For most organizations, complacency can be a death sentence. Have confidence in testing some new things, even if some might fail. Especially if things are going well, don’t be content to sit back because business is fickle and things can change at any moment.

4. Stick to your principles. Even as effective leaders maintain an open and honest dialogue about the goals of their organization, it’s crucial that these goals happen through the prism of your own—and by extension, the organization’s—core values. When was the last time you thought about your core values? If it’s been a while, re-establish them. Employees appreciate and can rally around a leader and an organization with a strongly communicated mission and goal.

Stan Silverman is a writer, speaker and advisor on effective leadership. He is the Leadership Catalyst at Tier 1 Group, a firm of strategists and advisors for preeminent growth. Silverman is vice chairman of the board of Drexel University, a director of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania and former president and CEO of PQ Corporation. Follow: @StanSilverman. Connect: Website:

On Valuing A Leadership Culture

Throughout my life, I have been a student of leadership. In the business and non-profit world, I have worked for leaders and have observed leaders, both good and bad. I have been a leader myself. Leadership fascinates me. Perhaps it fascinates you too. What makes an effective, or even a superlative leader, has been both a personal and professional quest for me.