Tag Archives: business etiquette

Did Covid Kill Our Conversation Skills?

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It has now been over two years since we experienced our initial “stay-at-home” mandates because of Covid-19. California was the first to issue such an order on March 19, 2020. One by one most states fell in line, and our lives changed forever. Who could have predicted how different our professional and personal lives would be in two and a half years?

One thing that has stood out for me has been the loss of our conversation skills. Covid kept us more than six feet apart. The Internet became our primary means of communication. While Zoom, FaceTime and other online platforms allowed us to see each other’s faces, they did not offer the kind of connection we had when we were in the same room or space with others.

We grew so accustomed to being apart that rather than pick up the phone, we texted or messaged. Talking directly to someone else was uncomfortable. When we received an invitation to an event or an in-person meeting, we tried to find reasons not to go. What? Get out of our comfy stay-at-home clothes? Dress up? Go out in public and converse face-to-face with other human beings? It was almost unthinkable.

The time has come to leave our safe home environment and re-engage with others. That not only means re-learning how to talk to our co-workers but also how to manage conversations with our clients and connections outside the office. Remember business meals and networking events? Engaging with others is necessary in the business world if you want to build relationships and grow your bottom line. This is a suitable time to revisit the art of conversation.

Conversation is much like a tennis match where the ball goes back and forth from one person to the other. It is a balance of talking and listening. It’s the practice of asking questions, paying attention to the responses and building on them. Conversation is the act of showing interest in other people so let them talk. The person who speaks less and listens more is considered a good conversationalist and an interesting person.

Your conversation skills may be rusty, but you have not lost them. Take advantage of every opportunity to engage with others in this new environment. There are good questions you can ask to get a post-pandemic conversation flowing.

Ask:

  1. What did people do to survive staying at home?
  2. What was the most challenging part of working from home?
  3. What did they like the best about working on their own?
  4. How did Covid affect their lives personally and professionally?
  5. How do they feel about going back to the office?
  6. What do they believe are the advantages and disadvantages of both situations?

You get the picture.

Sometimes making conversation feels like work, but you are trying to establish relationships, grow your business and be more profitable. Being a good conversationalist is part of the job.

Workplace Ghosting—Another Bequest from Covid

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We have been living with the merciless Covid virus for over two years. Our personal lives have changed in ways we could never have imagined. Our professional lives have changed, and our interactions with others have changed. We do not communicate as we used to. In many cases, we do not communicate at all. This has led to a behavior known as “workplace ghosting.” If you are not sure what it means, it is just as it seems. Ghosts are invisible. Ghosts are silent. Ghosts are simply not there.

During the pandemic ghosts have emerged—so to speak. Perfectly normal healthy people have become ghosts. Businesses and corporations have become ghosts. You know them:

  • Ghosts do not return your calls.
  • Ghosts do not answer email.
  • Ghosts do not show up for meetings.
  • Ghosts do not answer the phone.
  • Ghost cannot take you call “due to higher-than-normal call volume.”
  • Ghosts hide behind technology.
  • Ghost use automation where the non-human on the other end of the phone says, “You can talk to me like a real person.”

Real people do not seem to exist anymore. And if they do exist, they have gone into hiding.

When the real people emerge from their hiding places and come back to the traditional workplace, their former office or the new one, they are going to have to dust off their people skills and start practicing effective communication and relationship building.

So, what can you do to facilitate courteous communication and build stronger professional relationships? For starters, put an end to workplace ghosting.

  • If you drop the ball, acknowledge your error. You accidently deleted the voice mail before you listened to it. The email got buried in your inbox. You forgot to check your calendar. Things happen, but the way you deal with them is what makes the difference.
  • You dread having to deliver unwelcome news. It’s your jo so do it and do it person. If it makes you uncomfortable, consider this: most people would rather hear the bad news than nothing at all.
  • Do not use technology to relay complicated or sensitive information. Email, texting and instant messaging are no substitute for in person communication. Pick up the phone or arrange to meet.
  • Use every opportunity you can to have personal interaction with your coworkers, colleagues and clients. It’s time to go back in the water. (Thank you, Jaws.)

The return to work is exciting for many reasons, not the least of which is the opportunity for people and organizations to sharpen their communication and relationship-building skills.

***The inspiration for this article came from reading one written by Patrick Galvin, professional speaker and author of The Way series of popular business parables. He is also the chief galvanizer of The Galvanizing Group, a learning and development company.

Covid Cranky—Confessions from the Heart

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Is there anyone who has not experienced what I call “Covid Cranky”? Whether it has been in person, online or over the phone, I am willing to bet you can relate. Covid cranky exists in all aspects of our daily lives. Sadly, it has become such an everyday occurrence that I find myself bracing for it. Whether I pick up the phone, open my email or head out on a simple errand, I am like a knight going into battle, armed with my sword and shield.

What a sad state of affairs. This is not how we should be living our lives. We no longer “plan for the worst and hope for the best.” We plan for the worst and expect the worst.

Let me stop here and confess that I find myself becoming one of the Covid Cranky. Pre-Covid I gave myself credit for being a “nice” person. I have made a career out of being kind and courteous. Sadly, “niceness” is becoming history. I prepare for battle every day.

Do you do that? Are you preparing for the worst and expecting the worst? If you are willing to admit to it, what are you willing to do about it? I had to ask myself that same question. Do I want to end every day counting the notches on my belt of those I have taken out along the way?

Amid my introspective dilemma, I had an unexpected experience with a customer service rep. The company was Instacart. I had been offered a discount for placing an order with them. It seemed like a good idea so I gave it a try. When I completed my order and received my receipt, there was no discount. What to do? Contact Instacart? Good luck, I thought. I bet they don’t even have a phone number. To my surprise they do. I called prepared for the worst.

To my delight and amazement, the man on the other end of the line was pleasant from the start. After listening to my issue, he immediately offered up how he could help. His solution involved some technology steps that I was unable to manage. No problem…he said he’d go behind the scenes and hit a few buttons. It didn’t take long before he returned to say that he had resolved the problem and I would immediately see the discount applied to my account.

Whew! That was easy. I was happy. But it was not over yet. His next words were, “Have I made you happy? Have I made you smile today?” I wasn’t smiling. I was grinning. When was the last time someone has asked you if they made you smile today?

We seem to have forgotten how important it is to make people smile and to make them happy. I am still blown away by this act of courtesy. And, yes, I am still smiling.

What if we all focus on how to make people smile? It doesn’t take much beyond an attitude of helpfulness and intention.

I am reminded of the Jimmy Buffet song “It’s my Job”. This rep at Instacart understood that it was his job to be better than the rest. Hopefully, it made his day, as well as mine, better than the rest.

The Holiday Card – A Victim of Procrastination

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Do you tend to leave things until the last minute? Sadly, most of us do. There is always more time, right? One of the victims of procrastination is the holiday card. It is almost September, and I am already talking about the holidays. It’s not too early, believe me.

In your business and your personal life, if you wait too long to start the process—like after Thanksgiving—sending your cards may become more of a chore than a pleasure. If you delay, your clients and colleagues may already have left the office for the holidays and your friends may be too swamped at that point to notice your thoughtfulness.

Here are some tips to ease the chore and to make your best impression:

  1. Purchase a quality card. It is not necessary to spend a fortune, but good quality says you value your clients, colleagues and friends enough to “send the very best.”
  2. Order your cards while there is time to have your name or the company printed on them. You want them to have a professional look.
  3. Send your greetings early. Have them in the mail the first week in December if you want them to be noticed and appreciated.
  4. Plan to sign your name and write a brief message. The holiday card that comes without a personal signature and a note seems more obligatory than celebratory. It does not matter that your name is already printed on the card. Give it that handwritten touch.
  5. Address the envelopes by hand. While it is easier and faster to print address labels, you lose the personal touch.  Consider hiring someone to do this if you do not have the time to do it yourself.
  6. Use titles when addressing your cards. The envelope should be addressed to “Mr. John Smith” not “John Smith” or “Ms. Mary Brown” not “Mary Brown.” By the way, “Ms.” is the correct title to use in business.
  7. Invest in holiday stamps and avoid the postage meter.  That is just one more personal touch—and a festive one at that.
  8. Email greeting cards may be tempting because they require less time and trouble. It is not totally in bad taste these days to e-mail your holiday wishes, but it is impersonal and not the most impressive way to do it.  Your clever electronic message with singing Santas and dancing trees is a fleeting greeting.  The recipient will click on the URL, download the card, open it, read it, smile, close it, and, in all probability, hit “delete”. Chances are good that your physical card will have a longer lifespan.  Most people save greeting cards throughout the holiday season, and many display them around their office or home.
  9. One final tip: Address your envelopes as soon as you receive your cards. Once you get that step out of the way, you can sit back and relax while you write your personal message on each greeting card.

Covid’s Lasting Impact on Professional Conduct

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This blog post on Covid’s lasting impact on professional conduct is written from the perspective of a business etiquette expert living in Savannah, Georgia, the Hostess City.

Whoever thought that six months after the coronavirus emerged in the US, we would still be suffering its effects in all aspects of our lives? Few of us believe that things will be the same as they were pre-pandemic. A question on the minds of many is what the long-term effects on our business and professional conduct will be.

Emerging from Corona

My home, Savannah, has long been noted for its charm and grace. Visitors to our city are wowed by our cordiality and friendliness. When we emerge from COVID-19, fearful of physical contact and personal interactions, will we still be able to display that Southern charm for which we are renowned? If we must hide behind masks and practice social distancing, can we maintain the hallmarks of our unique business environment and Southern hospitality? How will your city survive?

It can be done, but it will be different. The firm handshake that defines the business professional may become a faint memory. Hugs and kisses, also part of our business culture, may also fade away while we wait to learn that it is “safe to go back into the water.” Thank you, “Jaws” director Steven Spielberg.

Meeting and Greeting Post Pandemic

How will we meet and greet others from this point on? What will happen to the handshake?  If you are not comfortable shaking hands, decide now how you will handle that. Be ready to say, “Please excuse me for not shaking your hand, but I am not comfortable doing that yet.” Nothing else needs to be said.

I am not a fan of fist or elbow bumps in the business environment. They are too close for comfort and not worthy of a polished professional.

Wining and Dining

Wining, dining and conducting business over meals, a critical part of relationship building, will not be the same. Until we feel confident that the virus is not a threat to our collective health, something as simple as sharing a cup of coffee may be complicated.

When you consider where to meet for your business meal, you will want to check with the restaurant about their safety precautions. Make sure that they are following the recommended guidelines so you can concentrate on the business at hand and not worry about the environment.

Smiling through Your Face Mask

Face masks will be part of daily business attire, making it challenging to exhibit charm and friendliness, but it can be done. Although people cannot see your smile through your mask, they can hear it in your tone of voice and see it through your eye contact. It has never been so much what you say as the way you say it that counts.

Professional Conduct Will Survive

For the foreseeable future, there is little doubt that it will be necessary to follow the safety guidelines currently in place. Life will be different, and it will take some getting used to. Old habits may have to be broken, but courtesy and kindness (aka professional conduct) do not have to fall victim to the coronavirus. Whatever needs to be done to protect ourselves and others going forward can be done with the same grace and charm that Savannahians have always shown in their personal and professional lives.

Etiquette Dilemmas Created by Coronavirus

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We are now in the sixth month of the Corona Pandemic and etiquette dilemmas abound. People have begun to venture out into the world while others are still sheltering at home. Businesses are slowly and with a tinge of trepidation beginning to reopen. Some organizations have found they can operate efficiently with their employees working from home. Safety, health and welfare remain top of mind.

The world we are coming back to is far different and more socially confusing than the one we lived in pre-pandemic. It is fraught with awkward moments and challenging situations. If you were uncertain of how to conduct yourself in business and daily life five months ago, you are finding this period even more perplexing.

Everything has changed–from how we meet and greet others to how we interact with our colleagues. We are used to handshakes and hugs. No more of those. We are accustomed to sitting down at work to discuss an issue with a coworker. Forget that. We don’t go to meetings anymore—they come to us. If you are late for an appointment, you can’t blame getting stuck in traffic unless you tripped over your kids’ toys trying to get to your desk. You used to know what to wear to work. Now that you are at home, how should you dress for that Zoom meeting?

When we go out into the world, we wear a face mask. When we encounter another person, we sometimes have trouble deciding “who is that masked man?” It’s hard to understand what people are saying when masks muffle the sound. To me, the most troubling thing is figuring out if that person is smiling or not. And are you sure that you are six feet apart?

Restaurants are now allowing in-house dining. When local laws mandate that we wear face masks in public, how does that work in a dining situation? You can’t eat with a mask on so now what?

There are clear answers to most of those questions.

About the handshake: The easiest way to deal with that is to simply say to the person you are greeting, “Please excuse me for not shaking your hand, but I am not comfortable doing that during this time.” Some people are doing the elbow bump, but it is usually done more in fun and in casual settings. It is definitely not a formal business greeting. Only time will tell whether the handshake will survive.

When you can’t sit down with your coworker in person, there are options. The old-fashioned phone comes to mind. If you prefer to see that person, arrange for a Zoom session, Facetime or one of the other communication platforms. Be kind and don’t surprise your colleague with Facetime if they were not expecting you. You wouldn’t go to their house without alerting them that you were coming. Same thing with video calls.

What’s the answer to what to wear for a Zoom meeting? Unless you are meeting with a high-level executive, there is no need for formal business attire. A clean pressed shirt or a nice blouse will do. Some people are now claiming to have a “Zoom shirt” or “Zoom blouse”. It hangs over the back of their chair or on a hook behind the door. It goes on when the call comes in and off when the call is over. If you are still wearing your pajama bottoms, don’t stand up during the call.

As for those face masks at a restaurant, you need to wear one into the restaurant and while waiting for your table. Wear it when you sit down and while ordering. Only remove it when your food or beverage arrives. Common sense would say that you put your mask back on as you exit.

Little remains the same as it was pre-pandemic. Be patient and be considerate. Keep in mind that others are probably just as confused as you are. As we hear so often “We are all in this together.”

Lydia Ramsey is a Savannah-based business etiquette expert. Contact her at 912-604-0080 or visit her website: LydiaRamsey.com.

Will the Handshake Fall Victim to Corona?

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The handshake, as we know it now, is in danger of becoming extinct, much to the delight of some and to the chagrin of others. During this crisis in addition to practicing social distance, washing our hands constantly, not touching our face, we have been advised not to shake hands. Eventually, we will be able to gather with others socially and professionally. When we do, we may remember to wash our hands frequently. We may think twice before touching our face. But what will become of the handshake? If Dr. Fauci of the Corona Taskforce has his way, the handshake will be history. I have the utmost respect for Dr. Fauci.

I am not disagreeing with Dr. Fauci. I am wondering just how this will work. After all, we have been shaking hands for centuries. Mo Rocca of CBS interviewed an anthropologist who stated that the handshake dates back 60 million years. He said it is “a very primal sort of connection, very emotional.” He pointed out that chimpanzees and gorillas long for tactile contact and do much the same thing as humans. We all like that physical connection.

Throughout history the handshake has been a sign of peace and respect. We shake hands with our right hand. Some say that has its origins in medieval times. Knights used the right hand because that was the one that drew the sword. Engaged in a handshake, the knight was not able to draw his sword and strike.

Today we extend a handshake in both social and business situations. We offer our hand when we meet people, when we leave people, when we thank someone, congratulate someone or offer an apology. If that age-old practice goes away, what will we do? While there are options, one thing is for sure, there will be many awkward moments.

Before you head out into the world of the “new normal’, decide how you want to deal with the issue and plan what you will say. If you choose to remain a fan of the handshake, don’t assume other people are. You might approach by asking people how they feel about shaking your hand. If they don’t want to engage, assure them that you understand. If you are anti-handshaking, say so right away. You might say, “Please forgive me for not shaking your hand, but in light of all we’ve been through, I am not comfortable doing so.”

Some people are turning to the East for guidance and choosing the Indian greeting Namaste. You bring both hands together and center them in front of your chest. Then make a small motion to bow while saying Namaste. In the Japanese tradition, the bow is another choice for staying germ-free.

One more greeting is simply holding up an open hand to others. That signals that you are not going to shake hands. It is generally readily understood. Just make sure your open hand doesn’t come across as “Whoa, back off.”

In case you end up shaking someone’s hand because it’s such an ingrained habit, pause before dousing yourself in hand sanitizer.

I have omitted the fist bump and elbow bump from my list of professional greetings. Need I say more?

Good manners and etiquette are about making people feel comfortable. Keep that in mind when you decide how to deal with shaking hands in a world that the Corona virus has changed forever.

Working Remotely: It’s Not Business As Usual

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Are you working remotely? Do I even need to say Corona virus for you to know where I am going?  In the last two weeks, our lives have changed drastically. It’s not business as usual. Social distancing has become business distancing. Vast numbers of people are working from home during this crisis. Employers are not just asking their people to work from home, they are mandating it.

So how do you handle working from home? Maybe it’s what you thought you always wanted. Now that you can, what do you do? It may be a bit more challenging than you realized.

As someone who has worked from home for 25 years, I have some suggestions for how to maintain your productivity and professionalism from your newly-created home work place.

Designate a specific space for your office. For some that maybe easier said than done. You may have to operate from a shared space. Not everyone has a spare room waiting to be used.  You may need to share your office with a spouse or partner who is also working remotely. The arrangement may not be ideal. Your new office could be your kitchen table. Share that with the whole family.

Set ground rules for others in the house. Just because you are at home doesn’t make you fair game whenever a family member wants to interrupt you.

Create a routine for starting your day. Model it after your previous schedule when you got up, dressed, and left for work. I call this “Let’s pretend.” Let’s pretend you are going to your away-from-home office.

Get dressed for work. Yes, dress for work. Get out of those pj’s. That will help get you in the right mindset. Additionally, you’ll be ready to present a professional image when you receive an unexpected video call.

Schedule your breaks and honor that time. You would be taking breaks in a traditional setting and not thinking much about your water-cooler time. You need to step away from your desk from time to time to refresh.

Don’t be hard on yourself. Take advantage of the perks. It’s okay to put in a load of wash or tend to other at-home duties. Cut yourself some slack.

Stay off social media during your business hours. Turn off everything that might be a distraction. Ouch!

Declare your WFH (work from home) hours. People need to know when you are available. Consider publishing your work hours online and putting them your voice mail greeting. That way people won’t assume that you are goofing off when they can’t reach you.

Establish an end of day routine.  Review the day, create a work plan for the following day, shut down your computer and leave the office.

These are just a few suggestions for working effectively from home. Most are good old common sense. Your organization probably didn’t have a playbook in place for this situation so everyone is working it out either alone or together. The goal is to stay focused, productive and professional while not being hard on yourself and your family—and that includes the dog.

The Business Apology

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The business apology can be worth its weight in gold when done properly. With an intentional strategy, it becomes a part of the overall customer experience and part of a plan involving customer acquisition, retention, and loyalty. It goes without saying that an apology is critical when a company has made a mistake. Just as important, it needs to be part of the customer service approach when the company has not made a mistake, but the customer believes it has. It’s incredible how many organizations don’t know how, when, or even why to apologize and fail to train their employees on the value of uttering with sincerity the words, “I’m sorry.”

There are nine simple steps to a good business apology.

  1. Say, “I’m sorry.” In spite of what your lawyer may have told you, those should be the first words out of your mouth. (Note: If the incident could result in any kind of legal action or liability then delaying long enough to seek legal advice is prudent and necessary.)
  2. Be sincere. Your body language and tone of voice need to match your words. First, people believe what they see more than what they hear. A fake apology doesn’t fool anyone.
  3. React quickly. An apology that is several days old loses its credibility and effectiveness.       A lot of damage can be done if you wait too long.
  4. Drop the excuses. Take responsibility for whatever you said or did. You weaken your apology when you start piling on excuses such as “I was having a bad day” or “I just broke up with my girlfriend.” The last sentence actually came straight out of the mouth of a server in a restaurant. The customer was not impressed.
  5. Forget the blame game. It doesn’t matter whose fault it was. It happened.
  6. Make amends. Do whatever you can to set things right. I recently sent one of my products to a customer. The item did not arrive on the day I promised, and I had an unhappy individual on my hands. I apologized and sent a replacement overnight. There was an additional cost to me, but I won over the customer who has since come back for additional products and services. The shipping company was at fault, but the customer didn’t care and it was up to me to take responsibility and correct the situation.
  7. Don’t get defensive and argumentative. Once you get your dander up, you are headed for trouble and will only make the situation worse. One of my favorite sayings is “Never argue with an idiot.  Those watching may not be able to tell the difference.”
  8. Listen without interrupting.  When customers get upset, they need to vent.   Often they require something to chew on and that may be you. Let them. You may learn something important from what they say. When you interrupt people, you are likely to miss hearing valuable information that could help you resolve the issue.
  9. Finally, don’t go overboard and over-apologize.  Say what you need to say and do what you need to do, then move on. You will only make matters worse with excessive apologies. As the saying goes, “When you find yourself in a hole, don’t keep digging.”

People can come up with any number of reasons not to apologize, but there are many more reasons for the business apology.  Number one is because it is the right thing to do. Plus, it is good customer service, which is good for business and that’s good for the bottom line.

Lydia Ramsey is a Savannah-based business etiquette expert, keynote speaker, trainer and author. Contact her at 912-604-0080 or visit her website: LydiaRamsey.com. Find out how her presentations, workshops and resources can help you and your employees add the polish that builds profits.

Texting in Business: the New Phone and the New Email

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Just a few short years ago would you have thought that texting in business would be a widely-accepted staple of  communication? Probably not, but then a decade ago, you would not have believed that email would be flooding your inbox. Thanks to texting, those overflowing inboxes are no longer consuming the better part of our day. Texting has become the new email and the new phone call.

Before we get into the subject of why, when and how to text, be assured that I am not suggesting that you abandon all other forms of communication in business. Hopefully, nothing will supplant real conversation over the phone or meeting face-to-face.

Why should you consider texting in business?

  1. Your customers prefer texting. Regardless of your preferred means of communication, it’s the customer who chooses. Because of all those spam calls, some people, even in business, do not answer their phones. Others won’t take your call because they don’t want to get involved in a lengthy phone conversation.
  2. Texting has a higher open and response rate. Studies show that people will open a text message while they ignore an email. And they are more likely to respond. Now that’s good business.
  3. Texting is a time– It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that texting is faster than making a phone call or sending an email.
  4. Texting is versatile. You can send out reminders, make appointments, schedule meetings and announce business updates. It’s a short sweet marketing toll. 

Before you embrace texting with all of its advantages, establish guidelines and set standards for yourself and your business. If you don’t, you can quickly spoil a business relationship.

What are the etiquette rules for texting in business?  

  1. Avoid abbreviations and acronyms unless your customer uses them. Don’t assume that everyone knows what you know or knows what you mean.
  2. Text at appropriate times. Is it after hours? Are you likely to be an intrusion?
  3. Use correct spelling. Yes, even in texting.
  4. Limit your number of texts you send. A nuisance will quickly lose credibility.
  5. Include your business name in each message. Again, make no assumptions.
  6. Consider your “why” for sending the message. Your customers need to know what you expect them to do. Do you have a “call to action” or an obvious reason for sending that text? Be clear about your purpose and give instructions for responding.
  7. Proof your text. Treat it just as would your email. Check your grammar, spelling, readability and especially the autocorrect. Texting makes assumptions. If you don’t double-check, it will replace what you wrote with some bizarre and unintended words.
  8. Get your customers’ permission before texting them. There are laws that govern texting in business. Know what they are. Ask your attorney or refer to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

Texting is here to stay. People like it. Why? They like it because it is private. They like it because it leaves a record of conversations. They like it because it’s polite and respectful of others and acknowledges their busy lives.

Lydia Ramsey is a Savannah-based business etiquette expert, keynote speaker, trainer and author. Contact her at 912-604-0080 or visit her website: LydiaRamsey.com. Find out how her presentations, workshops and resources can help you and your employees add the polish that builds profits.