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Paula Marshall's Blog

The musings of a female CEO, trying to change the way business is done.

I get asked about my experience as a female CEO frequently. I have a unique perspective on the world of business because I run a large company that deals with some of America’s largest food franchises. I deal with small suppliers and big customers. I am somewhere in the middle. I took over my family’s business in 1985, and it has been a crash course in Management and Ownership ever since. I was prepared for the role, and I had a good support system, but there were a few things I simply couldn’t be prepared for.

1. Laying Down the Hammer

The general idea of being a boss and being an owner is that you are the one to blow your top when things go wrong. Screaming, yelling, firing, and throwing papers around seems like the way to get things done. Being a woman, I thought I had to be extra tough to be taken seriously. I learned later that being a woman gave me the great advantage to be able to listen, hold back my assumptions and anger, and make rational decisions. I now know that laying down the hammer is not something that should be done on a regular basis, if at all. It stifles people’s productivity and makes them scared for their jobs.

2. Throwing Spaghetti at the Wall, to See What Sticks

Like most CEOs I am an idea person. I surround myself with a team that can execute my ideas at a moments notice. But, I also expect them to be able to tell me when an idea isn’t plausible. I don’t like to hear ‘NO,’ but I also need to know my limitations. When the economy began to turn for the worse, I began to realize that throwing our resources at some of my random projects was causing unnecessary waste and slowing down some of our more lucrative projects. I had to learn to limit myself , instead of running with every idea that enters my head.

3.  Slurp Your Soup

When dealing with international customers, in my case the Chinese, it is important to respect and honor local customs and ways of life. Not following suit can cost you a huge account. In Hong Kong it is customary to bring your soup bowl to your mouth, and slurp. This shows you appreciate the cooking, and are enjoying your food. You could offend someone by not researching the customs of a foreign customer.

4. Photograph the Roses

Work-life balance is important, but having a very stressful job can cause you to lose yourself. You feel as though your identity is wrapped up in your job rather than who you are, or what you enjoy. A few years ago I found  I wasn’t sleeping, I just worked and emailed through the night, and continued to work the next morning. I decided something had to change. I began drawing and taking photographs, because I was in search of some beauty in the world. I realized that through interacting with the world around me in a creative way, I began to find myself again. It was a wonderful feeling. I am still drawing and taking photographs, and I have also begun writing short stories.

5. You’re so Vain

When put in a position of power, the mind begins to play tricks on you. You begin to think you are the center of the world. Since your company revolves around you, everything else must too. When you say something, people scurry to make sure it gets done. This is a very dangerous place for a CEO’s mind to be. Every person has a unique contribution, and a unique set of experiences to add to an organization. Not one of them is more valuable than another. A CEO must keep their feet firmly planted on the ground in order to make realistic business decisions and forecasts. Find your center, and realize that you are the best leader when you are grounded and confident in your own experiences.


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Enjoy my latest VLOG!

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I am experimenting with a new format today. I received this question from one of my friends on Facebook. I would like to address it as well as I can using the principles laid out in my book.

“Hi I have read alot of your materials, but have you written any thing I can use for my staff? Especially in regards to eliminating poor customer service and building employee morale. I would like to use it as a tool for my first meeting with new staff. Thanks”

–Racquel G.


First, I want to thank you for thinking of me to answer your questions. I am going to try to address Customer Service and Employee Morale as best as I can here, but remember this is a blog. I could write another book on just these subjects alone, but this will get you started.

Improving Customer Service

9 times out of 10 bad customer service is  linked to a lack of training. Especially in small businesses, when all the essential functions are handled in one office. In big corporations, bad customer service has to do with outsourcing, language barriers and a lack of valuing employees. However, in a small office, we often don’t have the resources  or the time to train new employees as much as they should be trained. Much of the time, we just throw them in for OTJ (On The Job) training and assume they will pick it up. This is a grave mistake. If you expect all your employees to create a unified effort to ensure your customers are happy, you must train them on what that unified effort is. If you don’t have any idea what you want that to look like, study some cases of companies that have great customer service. It can be a local small business with whom you had a great experience, or a large corporation. Apple is one company who sets the bar in customer service. Even if you just go into the Apple Store, and study how the employees relate to the customers. Take notes. From your notes you should have some idea what you want your Customer Service plan to look like. Even if its as simple as “The customer is always right,” or “Always smile, be cheerful, and be as helpful as possible.” The next step is enacting it. Train your employees from the moment they walk in the door, let them know what is expected of them. This way, when an expectation is met, there can be a reward and when an expectation is not met, there can be punishment or grounds for termination. I can’t stress enough how important training is. Training will help you showcase your brand and what type of company you are.

Employee Morale

Raising employee morale, or increasing Employee Engagement, is one of the topics I get asked about the most. Happy, dedicated employees are the holy grail, some would tell you. Well I don’t think it’s that hard to develop better morale, but it does take some time. People thrive on relationships. Feeling as though we belong and that people care about us is the center of our core being. If your employees don’t feel cared for, or valued then they will start to detach. They will begin working as robots, without really investing themselves. This is when errors and bad customer service start to become a problem. Building trust and relationships takes time, and understanding. Your employees have to understand that you wont just fire them at the drop of a hat, that you want them to succeed. This means having the courage to confront people when there’s a problem, but doing so because you are concerned about the person as well as your business. If you don’t know where to begin, I have some suggested reading material that will help you find your way into a more caring and soulful business environment.

The Seven Acts of Courage: Bold Leadership for a Wholehearted Life by Dusty Staub

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

I hope this has helped and good luck with your business!

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Have a problem with competing egos?

To know how to eliminate the Corporate Ego, we must understand what Ego is, both personally and within a corporate culture. According to Freud, the Ego is the part of our brain that is constructed from external feedback. What the world tells us about ourselves, we internalize and this information thus becomes part of who we are–for good or for ill.

In more modern terms, the ego is our pride. Our pride can grow or be diminished by feedback from others, especially those close to us such as our spouses and bosses. The ego is the most fragile part of our personalities because it can be so easily damaged by hearing negative things about ourselves, whether these things are true or not. When the ego rules our actions, things can get out of control very quickly. The ego is fueled and reassured by material goods; salaries, cars and houses are examples.

In the sense of a corporation, a collective ego can exist within a corporation and its members. The ego becomes a part of the corporate culture and this can be very dangerous to the employees and the bottom line. When the ego seeps into corporate culture, people in all parts of the structure begin to fear honest feedback. Honest feedback is the ego’s enemy, because it can be damaging to how we see ourselves. The ego only likes positive, over-inflated feedback, so that it can continue in its original direction–towards acquiring more stuff.

The purest cure for eliminating Corporate Ego is honesty and listening. But the key is, everyone in the structure, no matter their position must be allowed to contribute their honest opinion of what the organization, and its members, could improve on. In contrast, everyone must be listened to in the organization. When suggestions are made, they must be taken seriously no matter who makes them. If you feel your business or the company you work for may be Ego-Infused, the best way to eliminate it is to institute a system for giving and receiving honest feedback.

Sometimes this means hiring a Human Relations specialist, or counselor for your organization. There must be some system of support to build you, your managers, and employees back up after you are all are knocked down and humbled by the first round of feedback. To deflate the ego of a corporation can be scary, and without support people may lose faith in their ability to do a good job.  The goal is to have people believe that they can do their jobs well, but for them to be open to receive feedback and new learning about how to do their jobs better. Ego clouds one’s ability to learn and improve. Eliminating Corporate Ego is one of the most important steps to rebuilding American businesses.

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My blog on EQ Training has been my most popular, and gets more views than any of my other blogs. I decided to do a VLOG about EQ, what it is, how our businesses have gotten off track, and how using EQ can bring American Business back from the dregs. Enjoy!

Here’s part 2, numbers 7 through 14 of Deming’s Points of Management (courtesy of the Deming Institute)
  • Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company. Fear causes a scarcity mindset. When the mind believes there is scarcity (a scarcity of everything from fun, to jobs, to tasks) it begins to shrivel up into itself. It refuses to share, collaborate, grow or generate new ideas. An organization that operates out of fear cannot be innovative. We must eliminate fear, and replace it with love. A mind that operates around love believes in Abundance, the abundance of jobs, tasks, money, influence. When we are not afraid, we are free to work together. To collaborate, share and innovate great products to please our customers.
  • Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team, to foresee problems of production and in use that may be encountered with the product or service. Many times in an organization we don’t even know who we need to go to in order to get things done. Because of too much departmental structure, we are discouraged from building inter-departmental teams. Creativity and thoughtfulness flow most freely when many different perspectives are being shared. When projects are always worked on by the same people from the same department, things tend to get stale.
  • Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work forceEliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor. Substitute leadership. Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals. Substitute leadership.
  • Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality. The shortest road to employee empowerment, and engagement is allowing one to have pride in their work. Once the pride is instilled in their daily tasks, then they can begin to be trusted to make baseline decisions. Decision making is the first step to empowerment. Empowered employees are happy, they feel respected and feel they are part of the process.
  • Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship. This means, inter alia, abolishment of the annual or merit rating and of management by objective. People on the manufacturing lines aren’t the only ones who need to feel pride in what they do. When managers lose the passion for leading people, there can be very negative repercussions on products, customer relations, and employee relations. Finding ways to keep management connected to their daily contributions, and encouraging them, helps them to feel as though their work is important to the bigger picture.
  • Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement. At Bama we encourage all our employees to quit smoking cigarettes, to become physically fit, and to reengage in training sessions. Furthering training and education helps cut down on accidents and defects.
  • Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job. Getting everyone on board is the most important thing. Make sure everyone is trained properly on any new techniques, and make sure the entire organization changes their mindset to reflect the new environment.

I want to elaborate on W. Edwards Deming’s 14 Points of Management. The 14 Points are “a signal that the management intend to stay in business and aim to protect investors and jobs.” (Deming Institute) Deming’s goal is not to find cheaper jobs overseas, it is to maintain existing jobs. Shipping jobs overseas may save money in the short run, but it demolishes morale and internal structure. There can be no cohesion when half a company’s employees are on the other side of the world, when they don’t speak English, and when they are being paid a fraction of what American employees make. This breeds insecurity. “When will my job be outsourced? Am I worth keeping” It’s only a matter of time.”

Deming’s points must be integrated wholeheartedly to make any effect.

These are the first 7 of Deming’s 14 points.

  • Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs. This is the cornerstone of any Deming-infused system. At Bama, we implement the Six Sigma business management strategy which focuses on eliminating defects on the product line. There must be a system in place dedicated to constantly improving our products. We can’t be complacent, or think that something is “good enough.”
  • Adopt the new philosophy. We are in a new economic age. Western management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change. When Deming was writing, the U.S. was losing a lot of manufacturing business to the Japanese. It was important at the time to recognize that we couldn’t just keep forcing a system that wasn’t working. A lot of businesses today are still stuck in those old ways.
  • Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place. Inspection is fixing what you’ve done wrong after the fact. It causes waste, and is an acceptance of existing problems instead of curing the problem at the root. Fixing problems at the root eliminates the need for over-inspection.
  • End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag. Instead, minimize total cost. Move toward a single supplier for any one item, on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust. Having suppliers that you can trust, and trust you, is priceless. At Bama we try to have only one supplier for each product. It cuts down on paperwork, and gives us more time to cultivate a relationship with the supplier, and keep them happy.
  • Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs. Improvement doesn’t always mean eliminating defects. It means making your product the best choice for the customer. If your product doesn’t have the most competitive price, then it isn’t the most competitive. You could have the best product, with no defects, but that does the customer no good if they can’t justify paying the price.
  • Institute training on the job. No one person has all the education needed for any one job. On the job training is vital to your employees’ success.
  • Institute leadership. The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets to do a better job. Supervision of management is in need of overhaul, as well as supervision of production workers. See my post on Organic Leadership for more tips on how to integrate true leadership into your organization. Bosses are mentors, not time-keepers. We must teach each other how we feel comfortable being led and the most productive ways for us to be managed.

Stay tuned for the next 7 points, coming next blog!

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