Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Performance standards, feedback and the moving target

What are the performance expectations for the job?
Google Images:  districtadministration.com
How is performance measured and feedback provided?

These two questions may sound simple, but they are often not answered in a manner that helps to generate sustainable, high quality performance.  These questions apply to paid work, to volunteer jobs - even to the instructions you give your children at home.  What is the standard, and how will everyone know whether or not the standard is being met?

Setting the performance standard
You need data to be able to set a performance standard, so if you are a startup you won't be able to know enough to establish all of them from the very beginning.  There can be values standards that guide behavior, like you commit to respond to inquiries within 48 hours.  But you won't know, for instance, what volume of sales is reasonable per employee until you have some experience under your belt.

Once you have gathered a large enough sample size you can set a reasonable target.  When you are setting performance standards, if you make them so high that only super performers can reach them you'll create frustration and demotivation in your staff.  If you low-ball it, you create a haven for folks who are phoning it in.

It's important to be specific when setting standards.  "Make your bed" may mean "throw the covers in a heap on top of your bed," or it may mean "I want it to be tucked in so tightly that a quarter will bounce off of it!"  If you assume that you all agree on what good performance is, you're setting up a preventable future reprimand.  Don't make them read your mind.

If you set no performance standards, your employees will be trying to hit a moving target.  You will be placing yourself at risk of a discrimination complaint if it's perceived that one employee is being treated better or worse than his or her peers.  And having no solid performance standard means that your team members will live in continual fear of a reprimand from you.When you're having a bad day and looking for a dog to kick, there they will be with only your immediate emotional reaction to define whether their performance is laudable or sub-par.

Providing useful feedback
Your employees need feedback on results, and they also need feedback on methods.  Especially when the cycle time for a process is longer or the employee is relatively new and inexperienced, interim feedback helps them stay engaged and motivated.  You create a contract of sorts with them when you establish performance standards.  You let employees know whether you'll be looking only at results or whether you'll be looking at their methods too.  Sometimes both matter, and sometimes it's only the results that are important.

Either way, you provide feedback based upon the expectations that were set and communicated.  Otherwise you can't hold the individual accountable.  If they didn't know what was expected they couldn't be expected to engage in the behavior to fulfill your expectations.

Time is often an issue in providing feedback.  How do you allocate a spot for it in your crazy-busy schedule?  One method that works is to have regularly scheduled one on ones with your direct reports.  That way you can keep notes on performance feedback and know that you'll be having the opportunity to share it when you get together with them for your regular meeting.  They can also keep notes and/or questions they want to ask you, reducing the number of interruptions you have to manage in the course of the day and week.

Of course if a significant course correction is needed, immediacy is important.  If you let a problem simmer you'll run the risk of making it worse.  In addition, your frustration will mount as the problem continues, making it more difficult for you to provide feedback to the employee without feeling angry or frustrated with them.  Poor performance due to lack of standards and lack of feedback isn't on them - it's on you, their leader.

Perhaps the best form of performance feedback is the sort that the employee can see for himself or herself. If SMART goals are set and action steps defined, employees can measure progress against them.  If data is made available to employees, they can see for themselves how they and the company are doing.  This self-evident performance feedback helps keep you out of "parent evaluator" role and helps employees own the process.  They may even generate their own performance standards (higher than the ones already set) as they challenge themselves to stretch and aim for continuous improvement.

Monday, March 2, 2015

No information means _______?

What do you think and how do you feel when you
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have no information?  Your answer to this question reveals a lot about your habits of thought.  Being left out of the loop and in the dark, can revive old thoughts and feelings of:

  • Suspicion - if you have habits of thought around the selfish or bad intentions of most people
  • Fear - if your attitudes lead you to be wary of perceived threats all around you
  • Defensiveness - if you are expecting to have to protect yourself when the information finally comes out
  • Curiosity - if you are conditioned to find out when you don't already know, lack of information might send you on a drive to track it down wherever it might be, in open storage or concealed.
  • Other ____________________
Attitudes (habits of thought) drive behavior and behavior drives results.  If you have noticed in yourself one of the reactions or interpretations above given a situation with lack of information, what did you do?  What happened as a result of that?  Were your results satisfactory? Given more awareness of your habits of thought, do you think you would respond in the same way now that you did then?  Why or why not?

Yes, this is a lot of questions for this time of the day.  But these insights about yourself and the way in which you respond to common situations can help you to change your results.  Think about the outcome of one of these situations.  If you didn't like the results, look upstream at the way in which you behaved.  What were your actions, and what did you say?  To whom did you say it, and to whom or to what were your actions directed?  When you go upstream of your behavior you get to your attitudes, your habits of thought.  In this scenario were you replaying thoughts and feelings and actions that bore less relationship to the situation at hand than they did to something that happened a long time ago?

Let's take this outside of you, your own attitudes and behavior for a moment and consider the people that you lead.  If you have these responses to a lack of information, how would you imagine they think and feel when they are out of the loop?  Do you think they perceive no news as good news, or instead that being kept in the dark reflects their lack of importance, lack of status, your lack of trust in them, etc.?

Transparency in communication is an important ingredient in the development of trust, in your business and in your personal life. When you demonstrate that you are willing to share information, you avoid engaging some of the negative habits of thought in others like the ones listed in the bullets above.  Beyond the perception of trust and value, when they have more information people can make better decisions and better manage their own performance.

What data do you have access to that would benefit others in your organization?  Why not share it?  What difference could it make in relationships, workplace behaviors, and results? This is your field work for the week - to share information that you have not been used to sharing, and then observe any changes that arise as a result.

Have a great week!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday Favorites - Jumpstart your creativity

Wish you were feeling more creative?  You can look partly
Google Images: verbalplusvisual.com
to your education - being told to color inside the lines and being taught that there is only one correct answer can tend to lessen your ability, even your desire to look outside the existing framework.  The creatives among us tend to retain a bit of the childlike spirit, the one whose whimsy is untouched by attempts to pull it into the norm.

No matter how creative a person might be though, sometimes the ideas run dry. Recycling isn't always the best policy in the idea business - you don't want everything you write or paint or do to be an echo of something that has already been done. Applied creativity, the process of putting a new twist on an existing concept is valid. It's just that you might have something completely fresh to offer. You might have the opportunity - and the wherewithal - to develop something entirely original and new.

If you want to stoke your creative fires, here are some places to look and be inspired:
  1. Walk in nature and look around. Listen.
  2. Look at something really closely, perhaps even through a microscope.
  3. Look at something from really far away, so you can see the macro forms and relationships.
  4. Observe a kindergarten teacher at work.
  5. Observe a kindergarten student at play.
  6. Talk to an expert.
  7. Talk to a complete non-expert.
  8. Read - books, periodicals, blogs or other Internet sources.
  9. Listen to music - classical and jazz have been known to stimulate brain function.
  10. Play games with your head: "How would I handle this if I were _______(Tom Clancy, Lady Gaga, Barack Obama, Paul Simon, Peter Max, Vincent Van Gogh, Martin Luther King...)
  11. Pray.
  12. Stand on your head, or assume some different physical position.
  13. Change your location.
  14. Engage in some mindless, repetitive exercise that uses both sides of your body (and brain) like walking or jogging.
  15. Take a nap.
  16. Grab some crayons and color on a blank page. Let your mind wander.
  17. Play with a building set.
The exciting thing about your creative mind is that it does not have to go through "B" to get from "A" to "C". You might even find that your brain jumps to "L" or "Q"! These preceding tips are intended to create associations, whether conscious or subconscious, that serve as a platform for new ideas. You might find that a handful are particularly fruitful for you with the unique way in which your brain works.

You might not be wild about the first ideas you generate, but don't rule them out right away. Creativity starts when you generate a volume of ideas without judging them. You can separate the sheep from the goats later.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

It's not about the money

It's no secret - money is one of the top sources
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of conflict in relationships, and it's one of the big issues involved in divorce.  Our position is that most of the time it isn't about the money at all.

When it is about the money itself
Bills have to be paid, groceries bought, health care provided.  There are the necessities of life that fulfill the very basic of needs - food, shelter, warmth, clothing, safety and the ability to get out and function in the world.  There is a certain amount of money that is necessary to get this job done, and if that amount is not available all bets are off about anything else.

If it's not about the money, what is it about?
Money is symbolic.  It and the things that it buys represent power, accomplishment, status, belonging, individuality.  The person who possesses the money possesses these things.

In a relationship the person who holds the purse strings is holding the power, both literally and figuratively.  The person who makes a large purchase when the mortgage is overdue is rebelling against the lack of control over money.  This, along with behaviors like hiding purchases in the trunk or the closet are methods of grabbing secret privilege when someone else is supposed to be approving the expenditure.

There are societal norms about who "should" be providing the money in a relationship.  Old school norms say that the man is the breadwinner, whereas younger generations expect both partners to carry a sizable proportion of the financial load.  When the reality is bumping against the norm (whichever one it is), the individuals who are not performing as they "should" start to have negative feelings about themselves and their capabilities.  Their partners whose expectations are not being met start to feel resentful about not being cared for in the manner they imagined.

When the earning power is disproportionate in one direction or another, access to the bigger pot of funds is a symbol of love, trust, and caring.  "Our money" represents a stronger partnership than "my money" and "your money".  This also implies that both parties make decisions about any major investments and agree (or at least compromise) on saving versus spending, brands versus generic, etc.  As in the "shoulds" about breadwinners, saving and spending are attitudinal positions - they are habits of thought that come through past conditioning.  (So your relationship money issues are sometimes reruns of those you experienced as a kid.)

In the workplace money is also symbolic,.  The size of a person's paycheck represents his or her value to the organization. The scope of a budget under management indicates the amount of trust the employer has in this individual's decision making. The money available for marketing, R&D, employee training and development, and bricks and mortar demonstrate the business's values and priorities.

Why is this important?
If it's not really about the money but about something that is experienced through the money, you won't improve the situation until you identify the underlying thing.

  • Feel powerless?  What would make you feel like you have more influence or standing in the relationship?  How have you communicated that to the other person in the relationship?  What are you doing to make sure that your needs are being met?
  • Feel inadequate?  What is your contribution to the situation other than money?  What is the value of that?  Do you really know what the other person's expectations are?  How recently have you discussed them?
  • Feel underpaid?  What would you have to do in order to be paid more?  Get more education?  Work longer hours?  Take more responsibility? Change employers or relocate with your current one?  Are you operating under assumptions about what is and isn't possible for you in your career?
The worst thing you can do when you have money issues is not to discuss them.  They won't go away while they are being ignored.  Money issues accumulate like loose change on the dresser, and at some point the pile becomes too big to resolve without taking drastic action.

How is money speaking to you in your work and your life right now?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Women - Longing for the path not taken?

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Looking at someone else's life and wondering what it would be like to live it?  Wondering what might have been had you made different decisions along the way?

Every decision point changes the trajectory of your life just a bit.  Given the decision of college versus no college a person can drastically increase lifetime earning potential.  Given the decision of staying in one's home town versus moving to a new city, state, or even country for a new opportunity changes the quality and types of relationships, one's dietary preferences, even the language that's spoken on a daily basis.

Whether you agree or not, for businesswomen one of those decision points is whether to have children.  For a woman serious about her career, the pull of two strong and sometimes opposing priorities can create stress and a feeling that she's never quite doing either one as well as she'd like to be doing.  Case in point, a woman down the street with a fabulous career in sales labeled herself a "loser mom" for not being able to get into school for her daughter's kindergarten "gingerbread house" project.  She wondered about the paths she didn't choose to take - solely career focused or solely family centered.

Summit's founder, a small business owning mom, was infuriated a year or so ago when the statistics about the persistent gender-based wage gap resurfaced in the news.  Women in the workforce hadn't made much progress since 1969 in closing the disparity between their average pay and that of a man in a similar job.  Male executives being interviewed during a radio news story talked about women who "Weren't doing the long hours that were required" in order to progress in the workplace, and therefore were viewed by some of their male colleagues as "not being serious" about their careers.

Here's a news flash, guys.  Who's at home making dinner and driving the kids to lessons and sports practice so that you can work late?  The (your) wife.  The buck for family maintenance stops with her.  She's completely serious about her work, but she has two jobs to juggle, three or more if you consider cooking, housekeeping and child care to be in different buckets.

Given this pressure from multiple roles and the incredible expense of professional child care during the workday, it's no wonder that some women are choosing to put their college degrees and their financial independence on the shelf to hold only the unpaid jobs.  It's no wonder that a large number of small business startups are run by women who are looking
to an alternative path that splits the difference between career and family life.

Don't misunderstand women-owned small businesses as mere dalliances to prevent maternal boredom, only counted upon for pin money.  Women support themselves, their children, and sometimes their husbands through their businesses.  They maintain a measure of financial independence, and they make their own rules for balancing work, family, and household.  It's not necessarily a prettier scenario than working for somebody else.

The demands of being self-employed are sometimes heavy, and sometimes there's nobody to whom you can delegate.  But in this scenario a woman business owner can work from home where her kids are if she chooses to do so.  She can get done what she needs to get done without someone else looking over her shoulder to make judgments about whether she's working enough hours, the Neanderthal definition of whether she's serious enough about her work.

A group of women gathered recently, some of whom worked in "traditional" jobs, some of whom were self-employed, some of whom worked part time and some whose total focus was on home and family.  Their problems were the same.  Nobody felt as though they had found the answers; rather, each was pretty clear that they fantasized a bit about what it would be like to be in another woman's shoes.

It's not which path you choose that matters - it matters that you choose.  You won't know what your choice really means until you live in it and experience all of the good and bad that goes along with it.  But if you choose with intention, using your values as a reference, you will be less likely to long for another path.  You'll know why you're doing what you're doing.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Seven sales fundamentals for small biz owners

One of the biggest fantasies - yes, sorry, this is a
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fantasy- of startup business owners is that when they hang the shingle outside the door (or when they click "publish" on their website) customers will flock to the door, clamoring to buy their goods.  There are ingredients that contribute to early success in business, like

  • an accessible, popular location
  • great products and services
  • outstanding attention to customer needs
But none of these become factors in the business's success until and unless the business takes steps to prime the pump for buying activity.

Good sales results aren't instant, nor are they easy to obtain.  There are a few principles that have to be mastered if you want sustainable results:

  1. Understand your sales funnel.  Not everyone who looks at your products or knows about your business will buy, no matter how hard you work. The time needed to flow through the funnel from "hello" to "sign here" will vary from prospect to prospect.  And last, the best way to keep results flowing is to continue pouring prospects into the top.  Squeezing the funnel  to eke out a few more sales is an exercise in frustration for you and for them.
  2. Use a customer-focused sales process.  If they don't need it or want it, you can talk until you're blue in the face and they won't be buying.  If, on the other hand, you become masterful at helping people identify their needs, you will be able to match the correct products and services to make them loyal, repeat customers. This means you take the time to ask questions, and you don't rush to the presentation before you know what they are looking for.
  3. Help your prospect identify the implications of having (or not having) what they want.  What will it mean if they can achieve their goals and/or meet their needs?  What will it mean to their family, to their job?  What is the downside if they don't have it, take care of  this risk, etc.?  This potential purchase needs to pass the "so what?" test multiple times if they are going to part with a substantial chunk of change to have it.
  4. Learn to identify the difference between latent and active needs.  That person who is "just looking" might have a need for a ball gown or a socket wrench set, but he or she doesn't realize it yet. Latent needs are problems without known solutions and therefore no immediate action is planned; active needs are the "right now" search for a solution.
  5. Don't skip steps and rush to present your product! If you have not helped them identify their wants and needs, you will not be able to make a connection between your products and their needs. This means that they will have a difficult time justifying why they should part with their hard-earned cash to buy from you.
  6. Recognize that an objection can be your friend.  An objection is a request for more information, not a sign that the opportunity is over.  Does it come in pink?  Is there a warranty?  Does the customer have to pay in cash right now, or are there extended terms? Of course the answers to the questions might sort this prospect out of your funnel, but they might also help to move the process forward to the sale.
  7. Know your numbers.  How long is the average time in the sales funnel?  What is the average sale size?  What is your profit margin on each sale? How many prospects do you need to talk to before someone buys?  You can only project revenues well when you know your numbers.  Once you know them, you can simply work backwards to identify how much sales activity needs to be taking place now in order to have $X in sales within 30-60-90 days.
So you didn't expect to have to be a salesperson to run a business?  The only way to avoid this function is to delegate it to someone else.  And when this business is your baby, who has more passion about it than you do?  How will you manage the sales function if you don't know it intimately yourself?  You're in business, bucko.  And that means de facto that you're in the sales business.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Profile of a bag diver

Does a bag diver go diving for bags?  Nope.  The bag diver
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goes for what is inside the bag, literally or figuratively.  He or she is a salesperson who has prepared extensively for the sales appointment.  The salesperson likely thinks he or she is doing the right thing to generate great dollar results for the company.  Via drop-ins or preset phone appointments, the bag diver's goal is clear - to sell this prospect something that is in the bag.

With all of this preparation, goal orientation, and good intentions for the results desired by the company, why not do what this person does?  Because there is a factor in the sales process that this person is completely ignoring - the most important component in the whole deal - the prospective customer and her wants and needs.

"Want one of these?  These are great!" the salesperson asks as he digs his best item out of his bag and shows it to the prospect. He waxes on about all of the cool things the product can do.  Why, it even makes the bed in the morning!  But the prospect is unmoved, regardless of what he says.

The salesperson moves on to his next option.  This one is less expensive than the other, a bit smaller with a few less features.  "If you're looking after a tight budget," he confides, "this one can get almost the same job done at about 1/2 the investment of the item I just showed you a moment ago."  Still the customer is not giving buying signals.  She isn't even asking any questions, and the bag diver salesperson has a sneaking suspicion that it's not because of his comprehensive descriptions.  He senses that she is composing a to do list in her head while he's talking!

The bag diver's problem is that he is presenting before earning the right to do so.  He hasn't gathered information enough to know what the best recommendations would be for this prospect.  Imagine walking into a clothing store and just trying garments on without thinking about what occasion they would suit or even checking the size to make sure the zipper will close!  That's what the bag diver salesperson is doing.

No matter his helpful intention, the bag diver's prospect is likely to grow impatient with all of the assumptions and laundry list of features.  And if the bag diver is particularly self-absorbed, he will miss the nonverbal cues that say. "Slow down!" "Move on!" or even "Stop!  Enough!"

When he doesn't see the cues and the prospect is unresponsive the bag diver is tempted to persuade (read "pressure") the prospect by adding more features to the product description.  The additional features might or might not help his case, but the pressure messes up his chances of having a good relationship with the prospect.

When the bag diver's up to his tricks he isn't helping the prospect buy - he's selling with all of the stereotypical behaviors that give the career of sales a bad rap.

It's OK, even desirable to be excited about the products and services that you represent.  Just remember that you need to know about the prospect's wants and needs before you recommend, present, or whatever your company's terminology is for that later part of the process.  If you resist the urge to skip the "discovering needs" step and the questions you need to ask to implement it, you will increase your close ratio.  Waiting to discover needs before presenting potential products or services will allow you to increase your sales revenues.  It's as simple as that.