Friday, May 28, 2010

Let your yes mean yes and no, no

Yes, Maybe or No?
Originally uploaded by ‾olǝƃuɐ‾

Every kid worth his or her salt knows that a parent's "no" is only as strong as the mom or dad's willingness to follow-through to enforce it.  Sometimes the word no really means "OK, but only if I don't catch you," or even "I'm worn out from the day today and I can't think about it right now," or "no is my default position until you whine and wheedle long enough that I'll cave."  One of the important lessons parents teach children (especially daughters,) is that "no means no!"  and they expect the lesson to be carried to parties, on dates, and in the company of persistent suitors.

The "yes" can also be tricky.  Good relationships are built through expectations set and met (or exceeded.)  A well-intentioned yes that is never implemented, like "yes, I'll take you to the amusement park" creates more anguish and let-down than if the yes were never uttered.  In addition, yes can also mean "Yes, unless your father says no," or "Yes for now, but I might change my mind if you take too long to act upon it."  If the word yes is perceived as a slippery slope your credibility is called into question.

Sometimes it's hard to say what you mean.  The crestfallen face at the sound of a "no" can be gutwrenching to the point that it seems easier to say "I'll try."  Problem is, in some minds that sounds like a commitment - so you're back to the trust-eroding "yes but no" situation.

Trust is earned.  Trust is accumulated when you prove that you are the genuine article - whether you say yes or you say no, you can be trusted when the other party realizes that you mean it.  They might not like your answer, but when you're candid with them you save them (and yourself) time, energy, and frustration.

Here's my challenge for you:  If you say yes, then follow through.  Do so in a prompt timeframe that demonstrates that your yes was real.  And if you mean no, say it.  Soften it if you need to by saying, "I'm sorry, no."  Then once it's out there, stick to your guns.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ode to summer - a poetic indulgence

It's coming!
Summer is coming!
Make a list of your summer must-do's.

Smell the sticky tang of the salt air,
Toast marshmallows at night by the campfire,
Listen to the cicadas shook-shook-shook in the trees.
Relax in the shade in broad daylight, guiltless,
And let your mind wander to slower days that went before.
Revel in the long, long days of no homework
With breakfast on the still-cool patio
And flashlight tag once the darkness has finally fallen.
Chase with the fireflies that flicker across the lawn.
Walk in bare feet, connecting with cool grass, warm sand and refreshing water.
Stand patiently, creekside, with rod in hand, toying with a trout
Then pull it in, wriggling, a trophy of your patience and cunning.
Hop aboard a plane, train, or automobile
And take off for parts unknown, exploring,
Then feel the comfort of your return to home, to the familiar
That wraps itself around you like a blanket.

Summer is coming, ready or not.
Ravish in its rituals and surprises,
But don't miss it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The role of alignment in customer loyalty

It's easy for business owners and managers to make some assumptions about why customers are or are not being satisfied when they make contact with the company.  These assumptions include:
  • If only my people would be better they would treat the customers better.
  • Customers don't know what they want (and other "blame the customer") variations.
There's more to be done than to ensure that employees know how to behave at every point of customer connection, and to have them feel motivated to do it consistently.

The company's strategy points the way for customer loyalty.  Leadership needs to determine the targeted customer base, and that leads to the selection, expansion or contraction of product and service offerings. The plan also includes the basis upon which the company intends to compete:  its strategic advantage might be location, price, innovation, comprehensiveness of product offering, etc.

Have you ever been sent to "voice mail hell" when trying to resolve an issue as a cuatomer?  The business's structure determines how many people are available to serve the customer's needs, how much power they have, and how far you have to go to find the place where the buck stops.

Customer loyalty is in large part about the service experience.  Regardless of the quality of the widget being purchased, loyalty can be won or lost based upon how easy the company is to do business with.  Things like payment methods, payment terms, clarity of invoices and return policies roll into the process component.  Note:  Service deficiencies that are pinned on employees by management are often process issues, not people performance issues. People are usually doing their best within processes and systems that are broken, too complex, or poorly defined.

I don't know about you, but I'm not inspired to buy when I'm leapt upon by two salespersons who are falling over one another competing for me (and for their commission.)  I understand the concept behind pay for performance, but some reward structures by nature lure customer service personnel to take the short-sighted view that this immediate commission opportunity is more important than the long-term satisfaction of the customer. 

The rewards component also reveals the fallout from its flaws when a team is serving a customer, but only one person or role on the team receives the rewards.  Teams under this scenario can eat their young - at the very least there will be conflict between the "fair haired children" who are rewarded and the rest of the team.

Ah, yes.  Now we're down to the people.  Behavior that generates customer loyalty is fueled by effective customer service skills, customer focused and positive attitudes, and goal-driven action.  By goal driven I'm not talking about the self-serving behavior mentioned above in the rewards component.  I mean action that is focused, targeted, intentional based upon the strategic intention of the company.

There are certainly personalities and temperaments that more easily lend themselves to be effective in customer service roles.  But when customer loyalty is a central piece of the company's strategy, customer focus is not only the purview of the people who have direct company contact.  People in management, support functions, back shop - everywhere in the company - have to be hearing the whisper of the customer in their ears and responding to it.

Each of these components is connected to every other component.  If you push on one of them, the rest are going to wiggle.  You'll see problems when they don't fit with one another.  But when these five components are integrated and aligned...well, that's where the loyal customers live.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Honesty has many forms

Originally uploaded by iMan (TM)

I was reading a blog post by Dr. Ada Gonzalez about effective leaders and how they have honest conversations.  You can find her post here.  I concur with her points, and I think there's even more to talk about regarding honesty, leadership, and relationships in general.

It does take a certain amount of courage to make yourself vulnerable and share bad news, especially when you perceive that the news will reflect badly on you.  It might also require some extra intestinal fortitude to be candid with another person about something that will likely hurt their feelings.  There are differences between being honest about external events, being honest about yourself, and being honest about the other person when you're talking face to face with them.  Honesty is wrapped in intention, differentiating between truth and perception, and the choosing between withholding and full disclosure.

The intention behind your honesty is a salient point here.  If you want to be sure that the receiver understands your intention, come out and say it.  Your stated intention (as long as you're being honest about it!) can help to inoculate the person against a disproportionately negative reaction to what you've said.  Some people would call this "couching" or "positioning."  For example, I might say to one of my direct reports, "Harry, I think you are promotable, and I'd like to help you prepare for the next opening.  I've noticed, however, that often you don't recognize the feedback that's coming from other people to you.  It's resulted in some hard feelings that I think may be preventable..."

I'm not going to go through that whole conversation, but in short - Harry needs to know the behaviors that are preventing him from being promoted.  Your honesty with Harry helps him to achieve his goals, and your helpful intention helps him be open to the information you're giving him.

Truth vs. Perception
Some people call honesty "telling the truth."  What is the truth, anyway?  You observe something, filter it through your habits of thought, and interpret it.  If you want to be honest with someone you need to take your perception out of the equation, or acknowledge that it's your perception, interpreted through your lenses.  Here's what I mean:  I could say, "Sally, you've got weak time management skills!"  or I could choose to say instead, "Sally, this is the third project you've turned in late!" 

The first statement is filtered through my attitudes and is an interpretation of her behavior.  The second is simply a description of the behavior.  As shown here, the first statement is not as "honest" as the second, because it's my opinion.  I can up the honesty quotient by representing it as such, saying, "Sally, based on my criteria you've got weak time management skills!"  Sally now knows it's me talking here - not necessarily the universe.  It doesn't mean that she doesn't have to comply - if I'm her boss she'd be well advised to pay attention and to ask for clarification.  It demonstrates, though, that I'm owning my judgment of her.

Withholding vs. Full Disclosure
This refers back to intention.  I need to think through my purpose behind sharing certain information.  Does it help the other person?  If it's a criticism, is it something that they are capable of changing?  Is it important for them to know what's on my mind, even if they can't do anything about it?

In a relationship with another person, intimacy is built upon trust.  I need to demonstrate that my intentions are sincere where they are concerned.  If I want to have an ongoing beneficial two-way interaction with them, I have to earn the right to make full disclosure when my honesty is about them.  And if I am placing the relationship at the top of my priority list, I do not serve the relationship well if I am operating in disguise, inauthentically.

Honesty doesn't prevent hurt feelings - it might actually precipitate them, or the might create some temporary upset of some sort.  But if ultimately your goal is to be an authentic person who attracts others, you can do so better when you're not hiding, and when they know what they're getting when they relate with you.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The seven types of waste are hiding in plain sight...

waste müll 03
Originally uploaded by rootsclubrino

When you're trying to be green, or to squeeze every available dollar of profit out of your revenue, you're missing opportunity for cost savings if you're not looking at the seven types of waste.  It's often not going to be as obvious as haybale-sized chunks of refuse, but it's having a detrimental impact on your business.
  1. Producing defects - If you're a manufacturer and you're reworking or repairing parts, you're incurring this cost.  Even adminstrative or business processes incur this cost in the form of billing errors, typos, or presentation rewrites.
  2. Overproduction - If you have purchased excess capacity on a piece of equipment, or if you've shipped a 50-pound box in a cargo truck, you have incurred an overproduction cost.  If you crank out reports that nobody needs or reads, you're also overproducing.
  3. Inventory - In how many locations are you storing office supplies?  In many companies individuals maintain their own personal stashes of their favorite supplies, and there's also a supply closet or room.  Those additional quarters and dollars spent on pens and sticky notes add up.  I won't even get into the more obvious example of stored product.
  4. Transportation - Have you ever asked ten people to travel to meet with one person?  That's transportation waste.  If you're sending reports via snail mail instead of email you're incurring transportation waste.  And if you're double-handling parts between two processes you've got inflated transportation costs.
  5. Processing - Are you using excessively tight tolerances, even tighter than your customers require or request?  If so, you're creating processing waste.  Multiple inspections are processing waste.  And if you're training employees on skills that they won't use you're creating processing waste there as well.
  6. Motion - Hand delivery of hard copy reports is motion waste (not to mention the other potential wastes attached to the report itself.)  Walking, reaching, etc. are motion wastes.
  7. Waiting - If you want a quick test on waste caused by waiting, estimate the per-hour salary of the people around the table waiting for a meeting to start.  Convert it to a per-five-minute rate and see how much it costs - in hard payroll dollars - for meetings not to start on time.  Now multiply by the number of meetings per month.  Yikes!
In most work environments there is enough low-hanging fruit in the waste-elimination category that a relatively quick walk-around will reveal it.  Consider a waste walk for one of your next executive, quality improvement team, or department meetings.  Why give away money that you can keep?

Friday, May 21, 2010

You can't see the future with your nose against the grindstone

I'm on the road this week, so I'm sharing some of my favorite posts from my Peak Performance archives:

Most of the small business owners I know started out as technical gurus of some sort. Some were toolmakers, some engineers, some salespersons. Now that their businesses have grown many are still choosing the role of player/coach - having personal productivity that directly contributes to the work product while running the company as a whole.

Their personal productivity might or might not be the best contribution they can make to their company. I've seen situations where owners' reluctance to let go of the day-to-day interfered with the motivation of employees who wanted to have a bigger say in the daily action. I've seen others where the owner's habits from years of experience prevented the company from innovating. But in my opinion these are not the biggest potential pitfalls of being a player/coach.
There's an old newsprint ad (can't remember whose) that showed a big target in the center. The first instruction read, "Place your nose against the bullseye." The second instruction read, "Now try to manage your business that way." It stopped me short in the middle of my morning cup of tea. What a terrific and simple demonstration of what happens to leaders every day.

You've heard or read, I'm sure, about the distinction between managers and leaders on an imaginary trip through the jungle. The managers were sharpening machetes to be more effective at chopping undergrowth, they were developing rotations for choppers to preserve the strength of the team, etc. Then finally a real leader climbed up a tree and announced, "Wrong jungle!"

The job of the leader is to look at the horizon and make his or her best assessment of the most likely future so the organization can prepare itself now to be successful then. When I ask many small company owners, however, whether they are operating under a formalized plan they start to clear their throats or squirm a bit in their chairs. Some have a general idea of their direction but haven't laid out the details. And many more know but haven't shared it with anyone else in their company.

Why does it matter? Pardon the cliche, but who wants to be the most outstanding buggy whip manufacturer in the world when cars are now the transport of choice? And why go it alone in your business when you've got additional internal resources of brain and brawn to help get it done, whatever "it" is?

If you're an owner or senior leader, when was the last time you updated your plan for your business? I'm not asking when you did your last budget - your plan should drive your budget, not the other way around. And a plan should take you out a couple of years. It should start from the really big picture of determining (or reaffirming) what your company wants to be and how it wants to be perceived. An effective plan will also crystallize on paper the values by which your business and all of its employees will operate.

I believe that even more benefits are to be gained by aligning the use of people and other costly resources. It can enable all persons in the organization to paddle their canoes in the same direction. They can help achieve the plan one person at a time, one action step at a time.

But it starts with one act - the leader's willingness to raise his or her head and look at the horizon.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Life Balance Pop Quiz

I'm on the road this week, so I'm sharing some posts from my Peak Performance archives:

Are you talking about life balance? Are you taking steps to make sure that your career doesn't run away with your life? Or are you too tired from your life to be completely effective at work? Let's take a pop quiz to see how you're doing right now. Grab a piece of paper and jot down the answers to the following questions:

  1. What is the name of the most recent book you read?
  2. What is the most recent class, seminar, or other brain expansion activity you attended?
  3. When did you do your most recent favor for a friend?
  4. When was the last time you went out to a social activity with friends and/or acquaintances?
  5. When was your last physical exam?
  6. How many hours of sleep did you get last night?
  7. How much have you saved for retirement in the past six months?
  8. To what extent is your current job a good match for you?
  9. How much time did you invest in "face time" with your kids or parents in the past week?
  10. Rate the quality of your immediate family relationships from one to ten, 1 being awful and 10 being outstanding.
  11. When was the last time you prayed or engaged in other spiritual activities?
  12. What was the most recent thing you did to contribute to the well-being of your community?
If you answered all of the questions you were able to do a spot check of all six segments of the life wheel - mental, social, physical, career/financial, family, and ethics and beliefs. How did you do? Is your wheel round and balanced, or is it lopsided?
There are no absolutes in achieving the "optimal" life balance. Life stages, personalities, crisis situations and other factors influence the balance you show, even in the quick pop quiz. The key is that whatever life balance you have should be the one you choose and not merely the result of momentum. If focus in one segment requires sacrifice in another be sure that it's a sacrifice you're making on purpose.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Six ingredients for better preparation

I'm on the road this week, so I'm sharing some of my favorite posts from my Peak Performance archives:

Are you the sort of person who likes to wing it and be spontaneous? Perhaps the uncertainty and necessary extra concentration involved in improvising makes the old adrenaline flow. Preparation, like leadership, is situational. Choosing to fly by the seat of one’s pants might be no big deal on a Saturday afternoon, but might create undue conflict during a big presentation. In order to make a sound decision about the optimal quantity of preparation you need to think about how important the result is to you and how big the risks are.

According to Wikipedia, methods of preparation include research, estimation, planning, resourcing, education and rehearsing.

  1. Research: Where do you go to do your homework? Are you a reader who heads to Amazon or the local bookstore when you need to know something? Or do you talk to an authority on the matter? If you don’t “do the numbers” ahead of time you’ll create two forms of risk: first, you’ll be stressed out because of the uncertainty, and second, if you have to convince someone else to take action they might not find you persuasive.
  2. Estimation: What can you project about the possible outcomes, knowing that you can’t possibly have all of the information to be accurate beforehand? How will different variables impact your results? I must admit that we commercial lenders would occasionally raise our eyebrows or even chuckle at the naivete (ahem - I mean realism) of financial projections, but the thought process was important nonetheless. Usually if the numbers were significantly off it was because some of the other ingredients for preparation were missing.
  3. Planning: Lay it out on paper if it’s important to you. I post all of the time about goal planning, but the ingredients are: The goal in SMART format, rewards if you achieve it, consequences if you don’t, obstacles, brainstormed solutions, specific action steps, and progress evaluation dates. The more critical the goal, the farther ahead you want to plan to give yourself the optimal opportunity to create a sound one. Also, the more extensive the risks are, the more completely you want to think through obstacles and potential obstacles and get your game plan ready for each.
  4. Resourcing: You might not be able to do this whole thing without the assistance of outside individuals or companies. Determine who will assist you and when. In some businesses resourcing is the competitive edge – creative sourcing can make a huge impact on the originality of the output and/or the management of costs.
  5. Education: You or your staff might not be ready to go right now. If you want to become a physician you can’t just make the decision driving down the street and then walk into a hospital and start practicing without risking killing people. The educational requirements might not be written in stone from an outside source, but finding out is part of your research. And if you want people to behave differently you can’t expect change without giving them proven tools and effective models to follow.
  6. Rehearsing: Give yourself an opportunity to do as many dry runs as you need to ensure that you’re likely to have a successful result. Visualization, when done in detail, can be an effective rehearsal method. Role plays and skill practices help to create the paths of effective behavior that help people perform well even when “the real thing” is causing butterflies.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Creating the foundation for referral business

I'm on the road this week, so I'm visitng some of my favorite Peak Performance posts:

Sales and marketing efforts are expensive, and if you're running your own show the expense isn't just in the dollars you spend. Part of your cost is the lost opportunity to be doing paid work during the time you're trolling for new customers. A number of my most successful corporate coach/performance facilitator colleagues estmate that approximately 70% of their revenue comes from referral and repeat business. Many of them are not satisfied with that number - they're shooting for 80%, 90% or higher.
So how does one go about building a practice without going out and pounding the pavements? After all, most of us are in our business to do the content of our business, not to be a salesperson. As a matter of fact a number of us have baggage attached to the label of salesperson - we have an old but persistent habit of thought about the loud sportcoat, fast talk, insincerity, and I win-you lose attitude that the sales role engenders.

What do you consider to be a referral? Are you looking for a list of names that are in essence sales leads? Are you wanting personal introductions? Would you like your referrees to call you?

If you want more of your business to come from positive WOM your job #1 is to figure out what part of your product and/or service will be buzz-worthy, and then work to get it to the standard that will create fans. Perhaps your differentiator will be your process, the visual appeal of your product, your own personality and skills, the quality of service, etc. The idea is to be worthy of referrals by earning them.

Think about the timing of when to ask for them. It's more likely that you'll get valid referrals when you've completed results-generating work for a customer than it is to get them when you've only just met.

Consider how you want to ask for referrals. Are you looking for their help? Or are you giving them the opportunity to help a friend or business associate by hooking them up with you, a reliable resource? These two positions come across very differently, and you want to be intentional about the situations in which you use them.

Overall, the first rule of referrals is to ask for them. The corollary, however, is to earn them. Demonstrate to clients and prospects that you're the resource of choice for their company and that of their colleagues and friends. It will be easier to ask when you're confident that you're providing outstanding value for the investment. And who knows? Your phone might just start to ring on its own.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Being in the place of greatest opportunity

I'm on the road this week, so I'm pulling some of my favorite posts from my Peak Performance archives:

One of the challenges associated with continuous self-improvement is that many of the concepts are simple, yet the consistent application of them is hard to do. So occasionally I find myself writing about concepts that might seem obvious - the challenge for all of us is that they're hiding in plain sight. This is one of those topics - being in the place of greatest opportunity.

A longtime friend and colleague of mine has a saying, "If you're in the orange juice business you'd better have some oranges!" He works with a lot of salespersons who are trying to boost their results, and for many of them the biggest hurdle is at the very beginning of the process - to provide themselves enough sales at-bats to increase the likelihood that they'll at least get a base hit.

My friend is telling his salesperson clients that if you want to sell you need to be out where the prospective customers are - in the place of greatest opportunity. If your customers are CEOs, then figure out where the CEOs hang out and go there. If your prospective clients are women from dual income-no kids households, then be where they are so you can meet them.

This concept has way more than a sales application. If you want to take beautiful landscape photos, go to where the beautiful landscapes are. The place of greatest opportunity might not be in a crowded highrise unless your idea of a beautiful landscape is an urban canyon. If you want to meet eligible single men who have graduate degrees you'll probably find more of them at a university or researching in a library than you will outside a preschool.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to putting yourself in the place of greatest opportunity is that you might not know the opportunity that you seek. The Cheshire Cat told Alice in Wonderland that "if you don't know where you're going any road will take you there." If you aren't sure what "it" is how can you put yourself in the position to find it?

If you have been drifting and haven't happened upon it, whatever "it" is, perhaps some more complete definition will help. What is it, specifically, that you're looking for?

  • If you are looking for a client, in what industry will they work?
  • What will be the issues that they'll have, to which you'll have the ideal solution?
  • Who will be the decisionmaker that can choose to work with you?
  • What will be their level of financial resources, and of their buying volume?
The law of attraction says that as you define more and more clearly what you want you'll start to attract it to you. It won't come slamming into you as you stand still on a street corner - you'll have to take some action. But once you define it more distinctly you'll be more able to determine what those places of greatest opportunity are for you, and then put yourself there.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Is your business seasonal?

Is your business seasonal? What creates the seasonality? Are there weather conditions, special events and/or holidays that affect it? How do you feel about the fact that a chunk of your business happens in one or two parts of the year?

One question that owners forget to ask is “In what ways might we contributing to the roller coaster cash flow in our business?” I’ve observed that business owners and sales staffs contribute to their own seasonality in these ways:

  • Assumptions (accurate or not) about when prospective clients are likely to buy and then planning their business activity – or inactivity – around it.
  • Notions that are fairly narrow about what business they’re in.
  • Lack of management of the sales cycle.
Assumptions about when people are likely to buy
There are a number of examples in my region of entertainment venues in particular that have built events beyond their “natural” seasonal cycles. An amusement park that used to be a “Summer Only” attraction now has special events for Halloween and Christmas to attract visitors and their wallets.

The local swimming club added batting cages and ball fields to attract youth players and families before the outdoor pool is open for business. But I don’t think the owner wants to go too far in expanding his season. The business counts on cooler weather for projects involving maintenance and construction so when Memorial Day weekend comes the owner can be 100% focused on swim customers during a three-month stretch of long workdays. He gives members 4 months advance billing, so with the early birds responding he’s got revenue from February through the last snack sold on Labor Day.

I’ve coached salespersons for years on the topic of “nobody wants to meet” over summer vacation season and the time adjacent to various holidays. How do they know? If you believe the notion that 80% of the job is showing up and you’re wrong in your assumptions about their willingness to meet you’re messing up your own cash flow.  In business-to-business sales, sometimes the very fact that your prospect's business is shut down for holidays, maintenance or vcatations might create the opportunity for uninterrupted planning or special projects in what you considered a "dead" time.

Narrow definition of what business you’re in
A local winery set on a historic estate gained notoriety for its summer outdoor Renaissance Faire and then expanded to indoor events celebrating Edgar Allen Poe and other dinner and/or literary activities. They are no longer only in the wine business - they are in the entertainment business.  (Not coincidentally, by adding entertainment to their definition of their business they sell a lot more wine!)

Lack of management of the sales cycle
How long does it typically take to go from “Hello” to “press hard, third copy’s yours” in your business? If it takes 90 days on average, then whatever you’re doing at the end of August will be funding your Thanksgiving vacation.
It’s easy to get caught up in servicing current clients, especially if you’re selling larger ticket items or services that consume your selling time. But if you’re not continually putting new opportunities in the pipeline and the flow runs dry you’ll need that 90 days of cycle time to get it going again. You might decide that you want to take the summer off, or to winter somewhere warm far away from clients. OK, but if that's the case you’ll want to:
  • Accumulate cash reserves to cover your time off PLUS the ramp-up time when you return,
  • Pre-book post-vacation clients,
  • Develop some service or product that doesn’t have such a long sales cycle and complements your current offerings, or
  • Examine the sales process and identify what non-value-added time or unnecessary steps can be eliminated from it to reduce it from 90 days to 60 or 45, or...
Some businesses use a line of credit to support predictably heavy seasonal cash needs. But a line of credit has to be repaid, so it will place extra burden on future cash flow and will increase your financial risk. I wouldn’t suggest using it to fund time off.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Evaluating Your Coaching Options

A question was asked a while back on a Linked In discussion group, "How can you tell whether a coach is any good?"  It was a fair question, because there is a huge variety in the coaching field, and from a number of different perspectives.  So while this post won't claim to be a be-alland end-all reference to help you choose well, it will give you some starting criteria.
  • The question that goes begging from the start is, "Why are you thinking about engaging a coach?"  What are you looking for, and what are you trying to achieve?  Until you know the answer to these questions, you're shooting darts with your eyes closed.
  • Are you looking for answers, or are you looking for questions that will help you to come up with your own answers?  Consultants are answer people - trained coaches are question people.  As a matter of fact, coaches tend to come from the perspective that their job is to resist the urge to answer questions for you in your relationship with them.  Their job is to help you determine the right action to take - and only you can define what "right" means to you.
  • Does the coach have training or credentials?  There are a variety of certifying organizations, and the best require both passage of an exam (body of knowledge) and a proficiency (coaching in action) test.  
  • Does the coach use a process?  Sometimes your presenting (initial) issue is not the real issue, but rather a symptom of the real issue or a stand-in (proxy) when you haven't wanted to deal with the real issue.  A process can help you go beneath the surface and figure out what the top priority is for your attention and action.  The coach may use resource materials (books, assessments, action plans, etc.) to help you explore.
  • Over what span of time does the engagement go?  Some coaches will have a process that lasts for a specified number of sessions.  Others will go session by session or month by month with you. 
  • What is your chemistry with the coach?  Coaching is a relationship, and so personality, temperament, communication style, and even sometimes gender can play a part in how comfortable you feel.  The best coach for you might not always be soothing - she or he might have to nudge you outside your comfort zone in order for you to take action that you haven't been willing to take on your own.
  • Have your friends, colleagues or family members had experience with this coach?  A coaching relationship is often established via referral, so inquire about whether they have a recommended name for you.  This will narrow the field to a reasonable size, then you make the call. 
Interview a few if you need to.  A coaching relationship can be a powerful tool to enable you to reach the next level of your development.  It's all about you, after all. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Is your plan missing a critical component - a ladder?

climb aboard!
Originally uploaded by wizmo

It is that time of year, and that time in the business cycle when leaders' thoughts turn to strategic planning.  No more keeping your head down in bunker mentality mode to ride out the economic crisis - it's time to carve a new path.

I've seen many plans over the course of 25 years or so, and many of them are missing the key components that will help them be successful.  When it comes down to it, many business owners invest time, energy, thought, and money in creating plans that don't yield the results they want.  Here's what I mean:
  • The vision-only plan.  This plan articulates the owner's dream for the company.  It speaks in hearts and flowers about becoming the provider of choice for the products and services it provides.  It sometimes talks about geographic expansion, or of being on the leading edge of technology.  But it stops short of developing specific, measurable action steps to fulfill its intentions.  It becomes, in effect, a castle in the clouds.
  • The tactics-only plan.  This plan is often developed in tandem with the annual budget process.  It focuses on the activities for the next year (calendar or fiscal.)  But it doesn't reach beyond the limited view of the near-term.  So the boots on the ground in the company or organization don't understand why they are doing what they are doing.
  • The super-secret stuff plan.  This is the work of art that is locked securely in a file cabinet so no unauthorized people can get ahold of it.  Life in a closely held business means that owners often don't want to share the intimate personal details behind the business.  In other cases there are strategies or tactics that are better not shared beyond a limited audience, but usually there are more that can only be accomplished with all hands on deck.
What a plan needs is, in effect, a ladder to connect the boots on the ground with the castle in the clouds.  Sure, create that beautiful vision for the future of the company and the grand purpose that galvanizes employees and gives them the sense of doing something significant.  But then make the connection to tactics - even down to specific departmental or individual accountabilities that will take the company from point A closer to point B as defined in the plan. 

Don't be concerned about a fancy wrapper - rather than a leather binding, give your plan one sheet of paper (highlights, of course) that can live under the glass on an employee's desktop, or on a bulletin board in their workspace.  Make it easy to access and it will have greater relevance to day-to-day activities.

Make it measurable.  Your staff will be encouraged by visible progress up the rungs of the ladder.  This might seem a bit scary if you're not used to making performance measurable and public inside your company.  But what's more important to you - feeling comfortable or achieving success?  I'm betting that the people who work with you can help you reach that castle, and more quickly than you thought possible.

Monday, May 10, 2010

"He can't hear me!"

Some coach colleagues and I have been reading Standing in the Fire by Larry Dressler, and today we're going to discuss it.  The book is all about the ways in which an effective facilitator "stands" in settings that are emotionally charged.  These situations have the potential to trigger the participants and potentially also the facilitator in ways that detract from their effectiveness.

One of the Ways of Standing to be effective is to Stand With An Open Mind.  This is hard, because we often think we know.  The more experience we have, the tougher it is to consider that we don't have the answer, and the more ingrained our assumptions become.

Dressler tells a story to illustrate, (and I paraphrase):

An elderly woman is concerned that her husband is losing his hearing.  He doesn't like doctors, so she's certain that he won't make an appointment to go see one.  So the woman takes matters into her own hands.  She talks to the doctor about her husband's hearing problem, and he makes a recommendation:

"Stand a distance away from your husband and say something to him.  If he doesn't respond, go gradually closer, and repeat whatever you said at each point that you stop on your way to him.  This will help you assess how bad his hearing might be."

So the wife goes home and her husband is working in his workshop off the far side of the family room.  She stands at the edge of the kitchen and calls, "Honey, what do you want for dinner?"  He doesn't answer.

The wife walks midway into the family room and calls again, "Honey, what do you want for dinner?"  Again no answer, so she crosses to the edge of the family room and asks once more, more loudly, "Honey, what do you want for dinner?"  She still receives no answer.

So the woman crosses into her husband's workshop and stands right by his shoulder, shouting, "WHAT - DO - YOU - WANT - FOR - DINNER?"  He turns to her and says, "Chicken!  Three times I told you chicken!"

Hmmm....who's got the hearing problem now?  Just like the old woman in the parable, how many times is your mind closed to the point that you are ascribing issues, faults or foibles to somebody else?  How much more easily would you solve your problems if you paused and considered for a moment that they might indeed be your issues, faults and foibles and thereby are yours to fix, and not theirs?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Resilience - your ability to bounce back

Originally uploaded by munzee

At what point does a person cave in to obstacles?  How far  (and how long) can you go, bouncing back time after time from setbacks?   Many, if not most, of us have had some negative impact from the financial roller coaster of the past couple of years.  Some of us have experienced other sorts of setbacks - health incidents, relationship problems, damage from acts of nature, etc.  Nobody, regardless of economic class, age, race, gender or other demographic label, is immune.

Some people seem to have the ability to overcome setbacks relatively quickly and get on with their lives, while for others the setbacks become the defining moments from which they never seem to recover.  What is the difference between these two types of people?  The first group has developed the skill of resilience.

A person who is resilient hasn't avoided problems - they have recovered from them.  If you are a resilient person, the American Psychological Association says you possess:
  • The capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out
  • A positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities
  • Skills in communication and problem solving
  • The capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses

The APA says that multiple studies prove that rewarding relationships inside and outside the family play a huge role in aiding resilience.  The connections can hold a person up.  In addition, resilience is not a "you have it or you don't" proposition - it can be developed.

On its APA help center site the association has posted a list of ten ways to build resilience:

10 Ways to Build Resilience
  1. Make connections. Good relationships with close family members, friends, or others are important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience. Some people find that being active in civic groups, faith-based organizations, or other local groups provides social support and can help with reclaiming hope. Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit the helper.
  2. Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems. You can't change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. Try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better. Note any subtle ways in which you might already feel somewhat better as you deal with difficult situations.
  3. Accept that change is a part of living. Certain goals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.
  4. Move toward your goals. Develop some realistic goals. Do something regularly -- even if it seems like a small accomplishment -- that enables you to move toward your goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, "What's one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?"
  5. Take decisive actions. Act on adverse situations as much as you can. Take decisive actions, rather than detaching completely from problems and stresses and wishing they would just go away.
  6. Look for opportunities for self-discovery. People often learn something about themselves and may find that they have grown in some respect as a result of their struggle with loss. Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship have reported better relationships, greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality, and heightened appreciation for life.
  7. Nurture a positive view of yourself. Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience.
  8. Keep things in perspective. Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing the event out of proportion.
  9. Maintain a hopeful outlook. An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.
  10. Take care of yourself. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience. 
Your setback is only your defining moment if you allow it to be so.  You have the potential instead to turn it into a discovery of an incredible store of inner resources.  And the seeds for your resilience have been there all of the time.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Caring hands

Caring hands
Originally uploaded by
martien van asseldonk

How do you show that you care?  How does your family know that you love them?  How do your customers and co-workers know that you're important to them?  If caring is part of your purpose, or of your corporate vision, how do you bring it to life?  Do you have caring hands?

There's a reason why they (whoever "they" are) call it the personal touch.  People want to be more than a name or a number.  They want interaction, connection - in concept, and sometimes in the literal physical sense.

How do you feel when you receive words of appreciation?  Can you ever receive too much (as long as it's genuine)?  How do you like it when someone pats you on the back, or offers a hug when you're having a rough day?

I'm assuming that you're thinking, "Of course I like appreciation, and if I think they mean it I'd love a steady diet of it."  So how do you show it?  How do you model the kind of personal touch, the connection, that you like to receive?  This goes deeper than bonuses for employees at the holidays, and goes beyond percent discounts for frequent customers.  This is personal.  How do you show it?
  • A note?
  • A phone call?
  • A handshake?
  • An offer of a hug?
  • A visit?
  • A gift of a manicure, pedicure, massage that you do yourself for them?
  • A surprise detailing of their car, again, that you do?
  • Making a favorite dish? 
  • Your undivided attention?
  • Going to the movie they want to see instead of the one you'd prefer - because they want to see it?
Caring, service, and leadership are very much connected.  Your hands express your caring much more effectively than does your wallet - it's easy to throw money at something.  When you use your hands to express caring you have to go out of your way - it requires more of your energy and intention and thus has higher value.

Who could use your caring hands today?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Why worry about things you can't change?

Gaia / Climate Change
Originally uploaded by tellytom

"Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts."
- Arnold Bennett

"Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are."  - Bertolt Brecht

"It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad."  - C. S. Lewis

I'm thinking that our biggest worry is not that we can't change a certain thing.  Our biggest worry is that we can, but that we have to do something significant or uncomfortable in order to do so.  Take climate change, for instance.  What could be bigger a problem to tackle? Even an issue the size of a planet can be impacted by individual choice and individual action.  Yet it's easy to quibble about whether to carpool (even though we know it saves on gas and carbon dioxide,) or whether we like the color of the light that comes from CFL bulbs.  It's easy to say "why bother?" because "not enough people will sacrifice the things they like to change anything - why should I be the one?"

If you listen to Bertold Brecht (in the quote above,) perhaps if you just sit still things will change around you.  That sounds easy at first, but what if they don't change in the way you predict, or in the way that would be best for everyone, or in the way that you want?  You could be waiting for the water to recede, when all the water can do is to grow deeper.

If you take C.S. Lewis's view of humankind - are you a perfectly ordinary egg right now?  How do you think it will feel to hatch in order to learn to fly?  Are you concerned about the broken shell?  Do you worry that it will hurt you to hatch, or that you will become exhausted by the effort to make your way out?

I suppose it comes down to the importance of the change.  If you don't care about flying, or if you don't have to fly in order to keep yourself or those you love safe in this world, perhaps you think it would be just as well to enjoy the coziness of your present condition.  Even with its limitations.

It might also be worthwhile to consider that one thing you can't change is that you will change.  And if your change means you will grow, that shell will become tighter and tighter, confining you until your arms and legs are stiff and bent.  At some point you will have to break out.  If you wait long enough, will there be irreparable damage from your resistance and delay?

Sure, there are things you can't change - like other people.  They are the ones with the choice (the responsibility?) to change themselves.  You might be able to influence how they are by how you are, or by the way in which you see them and interpret their actions.  But can you change them?  Nope.  That's not something you can worry about. 

Monday, May 3, 2010

Honing in on your ideal customer

Have you created a definition of your ideal customer yet, and what problems your product or service can solve for them?  If you have not you're probably
  • Not attracting as many of them as you want
  • Wasting marketing energy and dollars
When you create a profile of your ideal customer you're not limiting yourself from working with other people or businesses - you're simply focusing on what you want.  Beyond that you can choose how far outside the ideal profile you want to go.  Here are some considerations:
  • Their demographic characteristics (size, location, job title)
  • Psychographic characteristics (mindset, preferences, etc.)
  • Specific customer needs that you can fulfill (or goals that you can help them achieve)
  • Your company (or your individual ) strengths
  • Products or services you or your company provide that match ideal customer needs
  • Products or services that are profitable
  • Products or services proven to generate customer loyalty with similar customers
  • Products or services that are efficient to deliver
  • Work that you enjoy doing
Your ideal customer profile will influence
  • What marketing methods you use
  • The locations in which you market
  • Your sales process
  • Your pricing
  • Product packaging
  • Even how you dress and the appearance of your facility
Even if you're feeling such a huge sense of urgency that you want to take any business that glances in your direction, think about this example - you can't be Saks AND Walmart at the same time.  Ultimately you'll have to choose a predominant market positioning.  This doesn't mean that customers outside your ideal profile won't come to you or that you can't take their business.  Of course not.  But it should enable you to do a larger proportion of your business with the people who will align more closely with your ideal.