Thursday, June 30, 2011

You don't want to be normal

Just what is normal, anyway?  Is normal the way things have to be?  If you're normal are you sane, or are you insane in the same way that other people are insane?  Who gets to define what normal is?

As for the times we're living in, are your current circumstances your New Normal, or are they an aberration that will fade as your prior situation reasserts itself?  How do you know?

Ian Berry, a speaker and coach known around the globe and a colleague in Leader's Cafe, has just released his book, Changing What's Normal.  I'll let Ian speak for himself:

Why shouldn't you have a say in defining, in changing, what's normal?  Buy Ian's book and start to create the changes you want to see - in yourself and in the world.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Giving - and earning - the vote of confidence

Vote of Confidence by dietbruboy
Vote of Confidence, a photo by dietbruboy on Flickr.

How recently have you been asked to "like" a page on Facebook?  How recently have you given a recommendation, whether it's a must-see movie, or a barber, or a business coach?  Did you do so willingly and without reservation, or did you feel a little bit uncomfortable?
With social media and networking becoming more and more the norms for generating new business, it's tough to ignore the word "social" and all of the ups and downs that go with it.
The ups
  • People do business with people they know and people they like.  If you are known and liked you'll benefit from positive word of mouth marketing.  You will have to determine for yourself whether it's better to be unknown, or to be known and NOT liked.
  • You save time when a potential customer is predisposed to buy from you.  Their friend and/or colleague's positive opinion will hover like a halo over your head until you do something to knock it off of its perch.
  • As a buyer you can have confidence in your choice when someone you know and trust validates that it's a good investment of time, money, and/or energy.
  • As your base of satisfied customers grows, so does your base of potential referrers.  The growth can be geometric if you continue to perform.
The downs
  • Sometimes another person has an expectation that you will refer them to others, and you have to look yourself in the mirror and determine whether you can do so in good conscience.  If your conscience has a problem you can make one of three choices:
    • Help your friend by referring them anyway, and hope that they do better than you expect.
    • Tell your friend that you don't feel comfortable referring them and why.
    • Don't refer them in order not to hurt your own credibility, and don't risk hurting their feelings by telling them why.  Just let it drop.
  • You might want to be helpful but you might not know the types of prospective clients for which your friend is looking.  Or in a formalized networking group, the volume of potential referrals you have might not meet the expectations of the group.
You will increase your value in your circles of friends and business contacts when you become effective in helping people make connections.  You know you're on the right track when you hear someone say, "Ask ___(your name)___ - he knows everybody."

How to earn the vote of confidence
These principles are simple but sometimes hard:
  1. Do what you say you will do.
  2. Price fairly.
  3. Work to exceed expectations.
  4. Make a point of "sharpening the saw" in your practices. 
  5. Be nice.
  6. Reciprocate, or better yet, be the first one to give.
Social media and networking are all about the relationship.  It's two-way, meaning that you may need to be the one to get the ball rolling, or to keep it rolling.  As in any relationship, the benefits to you accrue in accordance with your earning the right to receive them.  And you can't rush relationship.  That would be pushing, overpowering, and withdrawing funds from the emotional bank account that you're trying to build.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Creating an extraordinary moment in an extraordinary life

What makes a person extraordinary?  Is it the set of talents they possess?  Is it the quality of the decisions they make?  Is it their dedication to a vision?  Or perhaps their tenacity in fighting against long odds and overcoming mountainous obstacles?

The York, PA area community had a brush with an extraordinary life last week, and it culminated yesterday in the "Big Reveal" of an Extreme Makeover - Home Edition house for local athlete Brian Keefer.  Keefer, a gymnast, sustained spinal injuries in a gymnastics accident in 2008, and has been paralyzed from the chest down.  He was selected to receive a home makeover, in which part of the design was to include a therapy pool and other rehabilitative facilities.  Until now, Kiefer's family has been traveling a 140-mile round-trip to the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury at Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore for 6 hours of therapy a day for 2-3 weeks straight during his breaks from Lock Haven University.

The community pitches in
Local contractors and volunteers worked together to demolish the Keefer's old house and construct their new one.  The York County Chamber of Commerce solicited donations of all sorts from local businesses, some of which included free massage services at the worksite for tired volunteers.  York Wallcoverings donated wallpaper for the new home.  Hydroworx Pools donated a $40,000 T-Series indoor pool to the makeover. The pool features an underwater treadmill and jets that will help Brian complete balance and resistance exercises. An underwater video camera will allow him to watch his movements.

T-shirts were sold to visitors at the makeover site to help to defray Brian's medical expenses.  Other donations from local residents were substantial enough to enable the Keefers' mortgage to be paid off.

The lure of the famous
Of course part of the fun of Extreme Makeover Home Edition coming to town is the opportunity to spot Ty Pennington, host of the show, or one of the designers:  Jillian Harris, Ed Sanders, Tracy Hutson and Paul DiMeo.  Regular viewers of the show have their favorites; on Friday morning Ed Sanders was visible as the landscaping was added to the build.  Preteen girls screamed "Ed! We want Ed!"  along the viewer's line until they scored a wave from the designer.

This local episode will be the season premiere for EMHE in September, and it's certain that a lot of local folks will be tuning in.  Part of the fun will be seeing whether they show up in a glimpse on TV, but it will be thrilling to see the local athlete - up close on screen - as he receives this tremendous gift.
See the action on reveal day

Inspiration by the extraordinary
Brian Keefer's story, his dedication to his sport and his determination in trying to regain the function of his body, is extraordinary.  There are others who struggle with similar life events outside of the camera shots and beyond the limelight.  Brian is not the only one.  To some extent Brian's life is extraordinary to us because he is one of us.

Brian is not the only extraordinary person in this story.  Hundreds of volunteers and donors, not to mention the individuals who nominated the Keefer family for the show, showed incredible generosity of time and resources so that Brian could have his big reveal and the benefits that will accrue to him after it, courtesy of his new, beautiful, and functional house.  And of course ABC, EMHE and its sponsors created the window of opportunity that the Keefers could step through.

EMHE creates a good weekly cry for a lot of viewers.  It's great to see people who have struggled, people who are brave and selfless and deserving, receive such a gift.  This one story will be especially extraordinary for the people here.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The best way to teach adults - keep your mouth shut

Discussion group 2 - teenagers at HIVAIDS conference by
Discussion group 2 - teenagers at HIVAIDS conference,
a photo by on Flickr.

Let's just say for a moment that you have been charged with the responsibility to teach a group of adults about new methods for doing their work.  The new methods aren't tweaks - they are in essence creating a reinvention of the way in which you do business.  Where do you start?  The information in this post applies to you whether you're a trainer by function, or a leader who takes on the trainer role from time to time.  As a matter of fact, it's probably even more useful if you train intermittently, or if you are not completely confident in your platform skills.
The Old School Method
Back in the day the perceived best way to train employees was to put a "sage on the stage" and arm him or her with an outstanding and comprehensive curriculum of information to deliver.  The job of the participants involved first sitting down, being quiet and listening.  Second learner task was then to go forth and implement.  Unfortunately, with the Old School, implementation was often sketchy or even nonexistent.
Problems with the Old School Method
  1. Adults aren't used to sitting still, and if they are old enough (over 18???) they might tend to fall asleep if they are disengaged with the topic.  Or they will engage in sidebars, or text, or even leave the room.  Disengaged participants become vacationers or prisoners.
  2. Experienced workers typically know more about the subject than do the trainers or managers.  After all, they do their work every day, and the trainers and managers are at best one step removed from reality.  No insult intended - just fact of proximity.
  3. Listening is a passive way to receive information, and the least effective mode for the majority of people.
  4. Old School is trainer dependent, so if you don't have a good one the entire group of trainees will be impacted negatively, and your results will suffer.
The operative question:  Are you training because you think it's nice to do, or are you doing so because there is a changed result that you want to create?
New School - Accelerated Learning
David Meier wrote an essential book about a more effective methodology called Accelerated Learning (A.L.), one to use when the intention is participant engagement and application of concepts.  A.L. is based upon some major assumptions:
"A Positive Learning Environment.  People learn best in a positive physical, emotional, and social environment, one that is both relaxed and stimulating.  A sense of wholeness, safety, interest, and enjoyment is essential for optimizing human learning.
Total Learner Involvement.  People learn best when they are totally and actively involved and take full responsibility for their own learning.  Learning is not a spectator sport but a participatory one.  Knowledge is not something a learner passively absorbs, but something a learner actively creates.  Thus A.L. tends to be more activity-based rather tnan materials-based or presentations-based.
Collaboration Among Learners.  People generally learn best in an environment of collaboration.  All good learning tends to be social.  Whereas traditional learning emphasizes competition between isolated individuals, A.L. emphasizes collaboration between learners in a learning community.
Variety That Appeals to All Learning Styles.  People learn best when they have a rich variety of learning options that allows them to use all their senses and exercise their preferred learning style.  Rather than thinking of a learning program as a one-dish meal, A.L. thinks of it as a results-driven, learner-centered smorgasbord.
Contextual Learning.  People learn best in context.  Facts and skills learned in isolation are hard to absorb and quick to evaporate.  the best learning comes from doing the work itself in a continual process of "real-world" immersion, feedback, reflection, evaluation, and reimmersion."
In short, if you are using Old School methods for training your staff, you're wasting money, time, and results.  Interestingly, in the "What's in it for me as the trainer?" category, one of the benefits of using Accelerated Learning methodology is that it saves a TON of preparation time, materials costs, and pressure on the trainer.  The trainer's job is no longer to come up with the slickest materials or have the jazziest platform skills; rather, the trainer's job is now about creating a multisensory, engaging learning environment and about creating the "space" (in the form of activities) in which participants can collaboratively engage.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

You need to know this FIRST before you plan in your business

Small Business by gargoyleuk
Small Business, a photo by gargoyleuk on Flickr.

Context is everything.  You don't really know whether you're short or tall unless you compare yourself to something.  You don't know whether you are paying too much unless you check several prices for comparable goods or services.  And you can't know whether your planning is on track unless you look at it within the framework of what you want from your business.
Here's the concept in question form:  WHY are you in business?  This question is critical to your planning because it creates the foundation for many, if not most, of the decisions you make in your company.  For instance:
  • Have you bought a job for yourself?
  • Is your goal to make money, plain and simple?  (Near term cash flow, in buckets if possible!)
  • Are you building an asset that you hope to grow and then sell in order to fund your retirement?
  • Are you pulled by a passion for the content or contribution of the work you are doing?
  • Do you own a business because your goal is to create jobs in your community?
  • Are you in business because it's what people in your family do, or because your parents owned it and now it's yours?
  • Did you start a business because you wanted to be able to stay at home?  Or to see the world?
For the sake of this post, it's not important whether your reasons are valid or not.  What's important is that you know what they are.  The WHY determines the context for any number of decisions:
  • Do I focus on local customers, or do I market farther afield from my location?
  • Is it important that I start now to groom my successor?
  • Should I purchase real estate to house my business?
  • Do I want or need more than one location?
  • What company name should I choose?
The list of decisions impacted by your WHY could be endless.  Depending upon the size of your company, it might be important to share your reason for being in business, or you might think that it's important to keep that information to yourself.
Imagine for a moment that you have started your business so you can stay at home.  Your WHY determines that the extra bedroom will be used for an office space and not for a TV room.  You will choose to interact with customers primarily via methods that allow you to be in your pajamas in front of the computer, or on the phone.  You will have choices to make that are specific to the home office environment, such as the level of emergency required before kids are allowed to burst into the room during their days off from school.  You'll need to determine the hour at which you will open the office every day, and the time at which you'll take your business hat off and join your family.  (This assumes, of course, that proximity to family is part of the reason WHY you're working from home.)
If you own a business because you are building an asset for resale, your decisions likely will align around creating processes and training people that can operate without you and your expertise.  You might be more likely to keep more profits in the business to build its assets (and its future value) rather than take out every dollar of current cash flow that you can.
You company's vision statement might communicate your purpose, the WHY.   Other people in your business might also find meaning and motivation - and goals alignment - in your reasons for being in business.  But sometimes YOUR purpose as the business owner is different than the COMPANY's purpose.  You might be viewing this business as another asset in your investment portfolio.  And that's OK.  What's important is that you know what your purpose, your WHY, is - and that you align your plan toward that end.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

You don't have to go it alone

Community Advisory Board Spring 2009 by Whitney Museum
Community Advisory Board Spring 2009,
a photo by Whitney Museum on Flickr.

One of the things that drives individuals who choose to start their own businesses is the desire for autonomy, to make their own way in the world.   They develop their idea, create their plan and plunge in.
Every business owner, though, goes through times of testing that can transform the feeling of autonomy and power to one of solitude and - dare we say it? - fear.  The test might come from growth that is too fast to assimilate easily, or from sagging revenues or profit margins.  The owner might be struggling with the juggling act between his or her business and personal lives after a key relationship is threatened by their constant obsession with their company.  Or a new competitor might be entering the market and require the company to make a strategic shift in order to maintain its share of the customer base.
Even the best leader is at risk from his or her blind spots as well.  There are things that you notice and things that you don't.  And the factors that don't automatically hit your awareness can bite you in the you-know-what.  You don't want to talk to your employees about threats because you don't want them to be concerned, and you also probably don't want them to see your weak spots.  Your spouse doesn't really want to hear it because you have placed personal assets at risk in the pursuit of your business-owner dream.  You have eaten, slept, and breathed the company, and they have heard enough already.  Are you sentenced to time alone in your office, pulling out what's left of your hair?
The effective business owner knows that it's useful to have some sort of sounding board for new ideas and solving problems - an advisory board.  The board members might be recruited for their expertise in specific areas, or they might be asked to be advisors because of their interest in your business.  They are your resource for obtaining external feedback on your ideas, and for alternative solutions for your strategic challenges.
In order for your advisory board to be effective for you, you will need to be willing to share all information with them, not just the sanitized, "we're doing great" public relations information.  You need to share financial results, and to be prepared to answer questions you might not be comfortable answering.  The advisory board is not about saving face - it's about growing your company and your capabilities as a leader.
Your advisory board meetings need not be formal unless your business structure legally requires meetings and minutes.  You can go to dinner once per month or once per quarter, or you can meet for coffee around any table that's available and in a setting conducive to candid discussion.
You might have some cohorts in other companies who are seeking similar advisory resources, and if so you can create a sort of mutal mentoring arrangement or mastermind group.  You would take turns bringing issues to the group, and when your business is not the center of discussion you provide the advice to the business that's in the hot seat.
Even though autonomy might have been one of your biggest drivers in starting your own company, at some point your aloneness can be a limiting factor.  Consider forming an advisory board or mastermind group so you can move beyond your individual limitations and create the business that you see in your dreams.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Six critical steps in selling your idea

You are in sales, whether you think so or not.  Now don't go all defensive on me, if the first thought that comes to your mind is the iconic bad suit, dead-animal hairpiece, fake smile and arm-twisting and manipulation.  Haven't you put that old image to bed yet?

You are in sales, even if money doesn't change hands and you aren't moving products and services on behalf of a company.  You are in sales because you have a desire or a need to help bring people around to your way of thinking, or to help them take action on something that is important to them.

Let go of your old image of "I win when you lose" sales methods.  The effective sales professional creates relationships that create customer loyalty, and that brings them back with repeat business and referrals.  So how do the best ones do it?  How do they manage the process such that it's the building of a long-term relationship rather than the handling of a transaction?  How do they help the buyer walk out of the room feeling good about parting with hard-earned cash?  And how can that transfer to the selling of ideas?

There's a process, actually two that go on simultaneously.  You, as the salesperson, have a selling process, and your prospective customer has his or her own buying process.  Logic is involved, and so is emotion, so you need to account for both. 
  1. Introduce yourself. People want to know how you got to be in your current position.  Even if you are selling your idea to somebody who knows you, they might not know how your background, education, experience, or interests relate to the subject at hand.
  2. Make a friend. Your ability to build a relationship with them is one part credibility, one part rapport, and one part situational.  People "buy" from people they know and people they like.  You can have a great relationship and established trust with the person, but if they are distracted or overwhelmed at the moment, the time is not right to sell your idea.  Ask questions to find out whether now is a good time.
  3. Ask questions about their goals, their reasons for pursuing them, and the obstacles that stand in their way.  It's dangerous to assume that you already know; if you guess wrong you could miss an opportunity to align with their interests.  In addition, if you draw premature conclusions you could erode the relationship by sounding like a know-it-all. Their reasons (the rewards and consequences for pursuing their goals) are their motivation to take action.  If you do a good job of uncovering their "why" you stand a good chance of connecting with their goals.
  4. Share your solution(s).  Describe the action that you would recommend they take, and as you are doing so, connect your idea to their goal and their reasons for pursuing it.  Obviously your solution needs to be the logical step - you can't come out of left field with an unrelated idea and expect that it will be accepted enthusiastically.  The idea here is to move forward together with them, on a path that has mutual benefit: you help them buy your idea in order that they can get closer to their goal(s).
  5. Ask for commitment.  This can be as simple as agreeing upon the next steps.  If you did a good job of making the connection between your idea and the other person's goals, the next steps, the commitment, should be the natural continuation of the relationship.  Some people still call this "closing" in sales, but really it's the opening of the next phase of the relationship.
  6. Follow up and follow through.  If your idea's "customer" is now engaged and excited about implementing a solution and taking action, you must take prompt follow-up action.  If you don't follow through as agreed you will erode your credibility and make it harder for yourself to "sell" your ideas in the future.  In addition, the window for their attachment to your solution might be a finite one - they might not be as open to it tomorrow, or next week, or next month.  Another solution that looks just as good might come along.  If you have made a sound recommendation (and I'm assuming that you have,) prompt follow-up will help them experience the benefits of their good decision, and will validate the trust that they have placed in you.
These six steps are not completely sequential.  You may find that you circle back during the course of your conversation with them, inserting information and asking questions that are natural in the sequence of the conversation.  But understand that the six steps are cumulative.  If you skip #2 and go straight to #5, count on a "no" decision, because you will not have given the person enough reason to say yes.

Last, and just for reinforcement, remember that this "sale" of your idea is only one in a series of interactions with this person.  A beneficial long-term relationship with them is your top priority, even more important than this one idea.  If your idea doesn't fit it doesn't fit.  If you push ( in case of lack of alignment) you will risk the relationship; if, on the other hand, you focus on maintaining the relationship you will have the opportunity to be back to sell another idea on another day.

Monday, June 20, 2011

If you want to connect, go where they are

Communication channels of Arua Loc.Gov. by Peter J. Bury [w]
Communication channels of Arua Loc.Gov.,
a photo by Peter J. Bury [w] on Flickr.

A church youth group just created a page on Facebook.  The idea is that, since the teens are already online all of the time, set up a connection in the place that they visit the most.  You could call it online proximity.  You reach them because you go where they hang out in order to talk with them.
When you are looking to improve your reach to individuals with whom you want to communicate, it might be tempting to use the modes and methods with which you are comfortable.  But just in case it hasn't crossed your mind lately, it doesn't matter what modes and methods you like to use.  What matters is the communication modes and methods your target audience use.
Many a manager has complained that employees don't read memos.  If they read the memos they would be completely apprised of new policies, product enhancements, even vacation days and special events in the company.  Perhaps there's a bit of "shame on them" in here, responsibility shirked by the employees.  But perhaps the accountability is not solely in the hands of the staff.  Perhaps the greater culpability lies in the hands of the manager who continues to communicate by memo, knowing that staff members don't read them.  That's not communication.  That's broadcasting - a one-way proposition where you never know until later just how much of the message got through.
So you need to go where they are and use the communication vehicles with which they are familiar and comfortable.  If your message is important, you also need to use multiple channels.  Some people Facebook and some don't.  Some read email hourly, some only check in once per week.  Some people screen every single phone call, so you won't reach them that way (or they don't keep their cell phones turned on.  Right, mom?)
You can only be responsible for your part of the communication process, but if it's important to connect with the other person, you need to take whatever steps are necessary for you to truly connect.  Write it down, draw a picture, leave a message, meet with them one on one, post a scrolling electronic sign.  Redundancy creates the repetition that helps the message to be retained in your audience's memory banks.  When you simultaneously use multiple channels you are also helping to ensure that at least one of the modes will hit your audience's awareness.
Remember your goal:  to communicate a message so that it generates the results that you desire.  If you're not going where "they" are in order to connect, you're squandering your desired result for the sake of your own comfort and convenience.  That's not really what you want to do, is it? 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The chasm between "usually" and "all of the time"

Chasm View, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado by hanneorla
Chasm View, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado,
 a photo by hanneorla on Flickr.

How often are you ethical?  Sometimes?  Usually?  All of the time?
How often are you accurate?  Sometimes?  Usually?  All of the time?
There is a huge difference between having the know-how and the commitment to be consistent and reliable - and merely trying to be so.  Imagine this scenario:  you're a pharmacist who fills approximately one hundred prescriptions per day.  If you have an accuracy rate of 95%, quite enough to earn a grade of "A" in school, you're filling 35 incorrect prescriptions per week, 150 or more per month, 1,825 per year.  Because of your 95% consistency in quality, you have almost two thousand cases of risk on your hands.  Almost two thousand people could become more ill or even die as a result of your 5%.  The distance to perfect isn't far, but the chasm between here and there is deep, even deadly.
Let's take the example of ethics for a minute.  You have espoused your core values, and you are 95% consistent in living congruently with them.  How do you determine the 5 percent exceptions, where you choose to do something differently?  What are your criteria?  Do you abide by your core values
- When it's convenient?
- When you like the person with whom you are engaged?
- When it doesn't interfere with profits?
- When you won't lose face for doing it?
You erode trust when you are not performing all of the time.  It impacts other people.  But moreso, it impacts the picture you see when you look in the mirror.  When you set expectations of yourself and then don't abide by them you erode your self-image.  You start to live out of congruence, and that adds to your stress level, which then has relationship, job effectiveness, and health impacts.
Analyze the root cause(s) of why the 5% defects occur, and then work on resolving the obstacles that are preventing you from performing "all of the time".  It might be, in the case of work accuracy, that there are process issues that, once corrected, will increase your accuracy rate.  In the case of core values - it's simply a matter of coming to grips with a particular value's real importance to you.  If it's not truly core - meaning you do it no matter what, no debates or exceptions - then don't promise it to yourself or others.
For those of you who are aspiring to a higher level of performance, but acknowledge that you're not above 95%, perhaps not even at 90% yet, of course people are not perfect.  Circumstances and obstacles intervene sometimes that prevent "all of the time" performance.  Sometimes the standard is so high that you can only aspire to achieve it.  But it doesn't mean that it's not important to try to do so.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How not to lose your best friend in business

Vanessa and Jen
Jen Schreiber and Vanessa DeLisio
of The Green Bean Roasting Co.
in downtown York, PA
 Starting a business is a romantic idea - you imagine endless profits, short work days and long, glamorous vacations, perhaps a dream home or luxury car funded by the business's abundant cash flow.  You might consider going into business with your spouse, your sibling, or your best friend.  What could be better than sharing the goals and prosperity with someone that you care deeply about?

What could be worse than fighting with or harboring resentment toward a loved one because you're the two remaining passengers on a sinking ship? 

There are questions you should be asking at the outset, before dollar #1 is invested into the venture:
  1. Do you agree on the business concept?  Do you agree on the amount of risk that is acceptable in starting and running the company?
  2. How is the up-front ownership and investment going to be shared?  And after the business is up and running, who is going to be paid what percent of the net revenue?
  3. Who has what decision-making authority, and within what scope?  Who is the tie-breaker in case two partners disagree?
  4. What will the respective daily roles be in the company?  Is there a disporportionate share of work in the hands of one or other of the partners?  Is it aligned with the manner in which compensation is expected to be allocated?
  5. To what extent are personal assets involved in the business?  Have you taken steps to protect your personal assets against the risks in the business investment?
  6. Who are the other stakeholders in the business, and how do you and your partner anticipate them?  Spouses and adult children in particular, but also other relatives and friends can create conflicts between partners about, for instance, the percentage of profits that are re-invested into the business rather than paid out to the partners, summer jobs for potentially unqualified family members, etc.
  7. How do you plan to establish expectations for job performance, and follow up if individuals aren't pulling their weight?   What if the non-performer is a family member?  Do you have agreed-upon criteria for hiring family members in the first place?
Notice that these questions have nothing to do with the soundness of the business concept.  But even if your business idea is sound and your financial backing is sufficient at the outset, failure to anticipate partnership issues and to create structure and shared expectations for the partnership could sink your business - and your relationship with your partner.

Going into business with a loved one means that you should have more, not less, structure defined.  Sure, you're feeling excited about the opportunity right now - but if and when the going gets tough or the worst case scenario plays out for your business, you don't want to risk losing your friend too.  Get to a lawyer and establish a partnership agreement, or at the very least go to and create one yourselves.  Your business and your friend are counting on you.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Rolling downhill is good for your business

Downhill  by aremac
Downhill , a photo by aremac on Flickr.

Are you finding yourself pushing, pushing, to move progress along in your company?  It's a lot of work, it's frustrating for you and the people that you are pushing, and - according to Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline - it's completely unnecessary.
Senge says that you start by imagining the roll of a snowball downhill.  What starts as a small ball is pulled by gravity, without effort, and as it rolls it grows in size and momentum.  The snowball might be slowed or even stopped by obstacles like rocks or trees that are in its path.  But when there are no impediments on the hill, the snowball continues to roll.
Senge's premise is that if you want change to happen, you don't push it.  Instead you remove the impediments and the "snowball" will roll downhill, gain momentum and grow.  But exactly what are the impediments, the trees and rocks, that can stand in your way?
Let's us the example of a goal to increase revenue.  You train your sales staff to become more effective in their sales process.  You invest in a CRM system so they are better able to manage their contacts with customers and prospects.  You institute an incentive program to help them summon the inspiration to do their "push-ups," the phone calls and walk-ins that give them opportunities to have a sales conversation.
You are excited when you see that the snowball is beginning to roll - their activity levels are up, and as they move suspects (names on a list) into prospects (real potential buyers) into quotes into customers.  You see a surge in orders and you think your goal is a no-brainer to be achieved.  Until...
Look out for that tree!  Your production folks are swamped with a volume of orders that they have never had to meet before.  They are working as fast as they can, but some of the deliveries are running late, and a few of the orders have been incorrectly filled.  New customers are angry because your company's performance wasn't as good as it was presented to be during the sales process.  Some might go back out the same door they came in with their first order.
If you want the snowball to continue to roll downhill you have to remove the obstacle - in this sample case you need to straighten out the processes related to production and shipping.  Once you are able to ship correctly at the new volume level, with quality that meets customer expectations, on time, and at acceptable cost to you - the snowball will resume its downward roll.  Sales numbers will grow, and they will become more sustainable.
Exhortation isn't effective, and it is a push for the snowball:  "C'mon guys - we HAVE to get this out!  Speed it up!"  Threat might work temporarily to get people to move faster, but fear tends to have a negative impact on accuracy, safety, and quality.  And over time people become toughened and immune to threat and fear tactics.  Incentives don't have long-term effect either.  People incorporate financial rewards into their paychecks (within about 2 weeks) and then only notice incentives when they are absent or unexpectedly low.  Not exactly motivating.
Remember that the idea is to allow gravity to do the work for you.  Rather than push the snowball, identify and remove the obstacles, and the snowball will roll downhill on its own.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Stop twisting yourself into a pretzel to get ahead!

stretch by talala997
stretch, a photo by talala997 on Flickr.

If change is so good for you, why do so many attempts at it fail?  And if you are getting ready to institute a change in yourself or a group for which you are responsible, how can you predict just how far you or others are capable of stretching in order to achieve better results?
Depending upon what books you read, you probably already know that people only use an estimated 5-25% of their mental capacity.  This means that there is plenty of room in which to grow.  But people have to be willing participants for the process to work.  Here are a few considerations that enable you (and them) to have a greater likelihood of success:
  1. Start with the best match possible.  It's far easier to become a prizewinning marathon runner if you come to the event already possessing a lean body build, a foundation of strength and endurance,  and an affinity for running.  In the workplace I can't look at you and tell for certain just how much potential you have to succeed at a particular task or in a specific role, but I can do some diagnostics to increase the odds of a good match.  Behavioral style, values, and mental aptitudes are all identifiable, measurable contributors to good performance.  (Summit uses DI, VI, and AI regularly with clients.)
  2. The relevance of track record.  There is something to be said for the value of a person’s history.  Their achievements to date help you to identify some of their habits, and if you can work with the habits already in place you won’t have to expend as much energy, nor will they, as you lead them in their new role.  Understand also that the environment in which they have been operating will have had an impact on their performance to date.  Ask questions about the thought process behind their actions as well as the results of the actions they took.  You might find that their thought process is compatible with your future direction, even if their track record to date isn't a perfect match.
  3. The benefit of process.  I'd love to tell you that performance improvement is a straight line from lower left of the graph to the upper right, but that wouldn't be accurate.  I'd also like to be able to say that change and improvement is quick and simple, where you can enlighten someone, they smack their forehead with their palm and exclaim, "NOW I get it!" and they go forth and sin no more - but that would also be inaccurate.  You need to provide process and structure within which they can acquire and/or refine the skills, knowledge, and attitudes you need for them to be effective.  Of course they also have to share in the accountability for change and improvement.  But not to provide that opportunity is to build the same results you have now, extending into the indefinite future.
  4. The focus of goals.  Even a highly skilled individual needs focus, and goals can be an effective vehicle for this.  A whole lot of people operate their businesses and their lives by doing the equivalent of holding a target against their nose.  They are so close that they can't really aim, and they are so busy dealing with the day to day that they aren't thinking about the bigger goal.  Others dream about the castles that they have built in the air but haven't developed a game plan to be able to live in them.  Goals create the middle-distance, operative view.  They give the person the specific action steps that connect today with tomorrow.  When the path is clear, goals can also help to build belief in the positive outcome, and that in turn creates more action toward the desired end.
It is unlikely that you will find change easy - and you won't find that sustainable change is instant.  But if you build alignment into the change you seek, do your homework and provide the process and structure, you create a platform for success - without turning yourself or anybody else into a pretzel to get there.

Summit provides the process and structure to help you and/or your business move to the next level of performance.  If you are willing to do some things differently in order to get better results, contact us for a free consultation.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Change is not a four-letter word

Change is a four-letter word - at least to many of the people outside the small group of decision-makers who just made change the goal for your organization.  Of course we're speaking figuratively here, but you can expect, and plan for, resistance to your change concept.  This resistance might be of varying intensities and duration from situation to situation, but it will be there.  Count on it.

In particular, if this is the first big change that your leadership group has initiated, or the first in recent years, you're going to bump up against the cultural traditions.  This happens in households as well as in companies:  "Why aren't you making turkey for Christmas dinner??  We always have turkey for Christmas dinner!"  Even small changes can upset the stasis, the stability, that people like to feel in their lives.  And the upset intensifies when your change is going to mess with something to which they have developed an emotional attachment.

Institutions in the change sense aren't buildings - they are culturally accepted habits.  The turkey example above is an institution.  The "Every Monday All-Day Management Meeting" was an institution in one company that comes to mind.  It might be that nobody knows anymore why you started to have the meeting, or the menu item, in the first place.  But now that it has been repeated over and over again, it's "what you do". 

When you are contemplating change it's important to anticipate the impact on the institutions, the sacred cows, in your organization - and the people who are attached to them.  There is a variety of methods that can be effective to help bring people along with you:
  • Listen - When you know there are groups who are attached to a specific method of doing things, ingrained in a habit, they have their reasons why, and the reasons may be valid.  If this person or group is impacted by your change you need them to be part of your team, and step one in doing so is to give them the respect of an opportunity to share their feelings, even (or especially) their negative ones.  It might be that there are alternative means to a mutually beneficial end, and if you demonstrate openness to be negotiative, or at least to hear them out, you will at least not add them to your list of obstacles.
  • Consult with the informal leaders - There are some highly influential individuals who can make your life easier or stab you in the back, and you want these people on your team.  They are used to having their own way, being deferred to, and if you do not help them see the benefit in your change they will be active in working against it.  They might have longer tenure than you, or connections with other powerful individuals in the organization that together can sink your change.  In a company setting you can take a hard line of "off with their heads!" for people who won't come along, but in a volunteer setting they could choose to leave, taking their work and their contributions with them.  If you have already determined that your desired outcome is worth the potential fallout, talk to them one on one.  Share your rationale.  Ask for their help.  Field their objections and reservations.  There will be no instant conversions, so you might have to have multiple contacts with each one in order to engage them.  Remember, these are the folks with the most to lose in the change, so they might not come easily.
  • Enlist champions - Some people in your group are not all that invested in the cultural institutions, or they may be able to see more readily the same benefits in change that you see.  Particularly if they are interpersonally skilled, bring them onto your team early to help you navigate the choppy waters of culture change.  They can help you manage the conversation into a productive direction, and provide more sets of ears out in the field to identify current and potential obstacles.  Once a critical mass of people with "new" perspectives is reached, it's easier to make converts of the more resistant individuals.
  • Look all around for solutions - People dislike being changed, feeling out of control.  They, on the other hand, tend to like changes that they initiate.   At every opportunity, when you are communicating the goal of the change you are implementing, ask for ideas on how to accomplish pieces of the bigger change.  You might be surprised to find some progressive minds, creative ideas, in unexpected places.  Then USE their ideas if you want the change to be owned - and supported - by a larger group of people.
  • Take one small step, and then another, and do it now - Change is often a game of inches.  When you make small changes often, you reduce the fear that every one is the end of life as we know it.  You won't get it all done at once even if you want to.  But start now.  Choose short-term goals that can become early victories for your change process, and you can build on their success.  Some people can't see the benefit until they see the benefit.  Show them by doing something.
  • Talk about victories and heroes - This is an internal public relations process, intended to raise the profile of the benefits of the change.  Incorporate this into agendas for standing meetings, share success stories on the in-house newsletter, generate awards or rewards associated with the new direction, show relevant statistics on bulletin boards.  Place the information in multiple channels to increase the likelihood that people will see them and retain the information.
Most "Big C" changes aren't accomplished in one fell swoop.  They are the product of dozens, even hundreds, of smaller changes.  You might be the person whose job it is to put the stake in the ground and say, "Here is where we're going" and to stick to the direction.  But regardless of the compelling business case for change, you have to be effective at bringing the people along with you if you want the change to succeed for now and also to create the foundation for effective future change management longer term.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

How the new specialty of elder law impacts you

Happy Grandma & Rose by Ljalowy
Happy Grandma & Rose, a photo by Ljalowy on Flickr.

You're probably expecting to be a vigorous, contributing member of society until your 70s, 80s, even 90s or beyond.  If you are a Boomer, you are among 80 million Americans who are now seniors by definition, and as a group you are likely to need some legal services associated with your age.
Not ready to go there yet, to imagine yourself in the discussion?  Are you still marathoning, or spinning, or Zumba-ing and feeling exempt from all that goes with growing older?  You may have another, more immediate reason to find an elder law practitioner:  as of 2001, 44% of adults aged 45-55 were caring for aging parents. 
Elder law might enter your life for any number of these reasons, and you don't have to be 85 years old for them to be relevant to you:
  • Asset protection
  • Succession planning for business owners
  • Estate planning
  • Age discrimination
  • Special needs trusts
  • Wills
  • Guardianships
  • Nursing home matters
  • Taxation
Elder law has become a legal specialty, the only one that is defined by the client profile rather than the type of case. The elder law attorney is trained to take a holistic view of seniors' needs.  You can gather more information on key elder law issues by clicking here.  As for finding an attorney that specializes in elder law, look for a certification by the National Elder Law Foundation.  A certified attorney meets these qualifications:
1.Licensure - Attorney must be licensed to practice law in at least one state or the District of Columbia
2.Practice - Attorney must have practiced law during the five years preceding their application and must still be practicing law.

3.Integrity/Good Standing - Attorney must be a member in good standing of the bars in all places in which they are licensed.

4.Substantial Involvement - Attorney must have spent an average of at least 16 hours per week practicing elder law during the three years preceding their application. In addition, they must have handled at least 60 elder law matters during those three years with a specified distribution among subjects as defined by the Foundation.

5.Continuing Legal Education - Attorney must have participated in at least 45 hours of continuing legal education in elder law during the preceding three years.

6.Peer Review/Professional References - Attorney must submit the names of five references from attorneys familiar with their competence and qualifications in elder law. These persons must themselves satisfy specified criteria.

7.Examination - Attorney must pass a full-day certification examination.

If you live in the vicinity of York, PA and would like more information on legal issues specifically associated with seniors, Bellomo  & Associates LLC holds regular educational seminars that you can attend.  Jeff Bellomo, Esquire, is certified in elder law and can also meet with you one on one for a free consultation to determine your specific needs.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The fallout from fast

Train wreck at Montparnasse 1895 by mlevin77
Train wreck at Montparnasse 1895,
a photo by mlevin77 on Flickr.

A programmer friend of mine told me the other day that he just lost his job.  The company wasn't downsizing, and my friend is confident that the quality of his coding was (and is)outstanding.  His assessment of the situation is that his termination is the fallout from fast - an employer that consistently expected work product that is "2 quick 2 be any good".
This programmer is bummed about the loss of income, of course.  He is not thrilled that he has to go through the inconvenience of a job search.  But he says that it's all good - he doesn't want to work for a company that "has its values all out of whack."
Here's the back story - my friend was called in to replace a programmer who has been terminated.  The company was dissatisfied with the prior guy's ability to deliver based on the timeline the company committed to customers.  So my programming whiz went in to save the day, only to find that in the name of speed his predecessor left a coding mess.
The job was supposed to be about "full speed ahead" but instead the new programmer was forced into reverse to correct problems before he could begin to make forward progress.  Meanwhile, the company continued to make unrealistically short timeline commitments to prospective clients in order to win projects.  The workload began to snowball, and the increasingly frustrated new programmer was still searching for a solution to the overall problem when the company ran out of patience with his "lack of performance" and axed him.
What are the lessons from this case?
  • Overpromising is going to bite you in the derriere at some point.  Maybe you can do the dance right now, but understand that your credibility is on the line.  It's far better to give a realistic to conservative timeline and wind up with a happy surprise than it is to miss delivery dates.
  • Every company and every employee has moments of decision about what the top of the top criteria for work performance is.  Customers want fast AND good, and whenever possible that's the target for suppliers, to create processes and well-developed staff that can do it right quickly and the first time.  (Of course low cost is right in there too to complete the customer happiness trifecta!)  But you need to know the customer requirements about which of these comes first on the priority list.  Perhaps fast IS the most important to the customer - but maybe not as important as quality or cost.  And ultimately it's the customer's call - assuming that you want to keep them doing business with you.
  • Values alignment is an important criterion when selecting an employee or accepting a job.  This situation was a train wreck waiting to happen, with the company wanting speed and the new programmer primarily concerned about quality of work product.  Unfortunately, due to the values mismatch in this case the employee now has a temporary (how long?) loss of income and the employer loses too.  The company loses coding time - and time was the stress point in the first place.  The company now has to deal with the inconvenience of a search, and ramp-up time for whomever is the next candidate strolling into its now-revolving door.
This situation was a train wreck, and entirely preventable.  Unfortunately, until this company gets a clue from suffering attrition in its book of business, it will probably happen again.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The impact of one-on one

Intimate conversation by ngawangchodron
Intimate conversation, a photo by ngawangchodron on Flickr.

Catherine sat in the corner of the group, watching the discussion go round and round.  She didn't chime in - only observed and absorbed - even though the group was in conflict and she held some fairly strong views on the subject at hand.  Cathy didn't speak up because
  • She liked to think things through before opening her mouth.  She preferred to have her contributions fully formed.
  • She wasn't particularly comfortable in front of groups.
  • She wasn't completely confident that she could trust the other people in the group.  Cathy had a "history" that wasn't completely positive with one participant in the discussion.
Catherine's contribution is important to this group, and the barriers that are stopping her from participating fully are readily overcome.  Sometimes only one-on-one will do in conversation.  And when you are the leader or the facilitator of a group discussion it's your responsibility to identify the situations where you need to generate head-to-head conversation.  Dyads (two people) talking help in situations where:
  • The group contains varying levels of experience and authority, so the environment has a high potential for discomfort for the participants.  This isn't to say that people should never be uncomfortable, only that when their input is important and they don't speak up you don't have a good work product.
  • The group is populated with quieter behavioral styles.  Some people don't like to be in front of groups.  Or they might need very focused questions in order to draw out their thoughts.
  • Situations where negative energy is abundant.  The "ain't it awful" conversations, when broadly shared, magnify the impact of the message.  If you are trying to move the group forward, you can contain the impact of the negativism by isolating it into two-person pockets.  You know that you need to hear more than hearts and flowers to solve problems - this isn't about editing out the bad stuff.  The negative emotion associated with the discussion can be minimized by not inadvertently creating a venue in which it can spread - like wildfire.
  • When you have overcontributors in your group.  Some people think out loud, and others are simply strong personalities who like to hear the sound of their own voices.  Their one-on-one gives them a lot of air time without detracting from the opportunity for everyone else to talk.
  • Situations where you need to boost the energy.  When you have a larger group discussion, at any one time only 5-10% of your participants are actively engaged - sometimes even less.  In a dyad, half of your group is actively involved, so the energy in the room grows.
  • When you need to compress the processing time.  Taking turns to talk consumes time.  And in larger group settings one comment can lead to a rabbit trail which can in turn lead to a wild goose chase.  You can give a set of partners a list of questions, and handle them efficiently.
  • Situations where you want to personalize the content.  The questions revolve around the participants describing themselves in ways that they might perceive as bragging - something a lot of people are taught from an early age not to do.  It's easier to go there when there is an audience of only one.  In addition, dyads create more individual accountability because nobody can readily hide in the corner like Catherine did in the example.
The facilitator or leader's internal challenge in using one-on-ones more often is that if you're not part of the dyad you won't be controlling the conversation.  That doesn't go down very easily for some leaders, especially in high conflict, high tension situations.  But if you're trying to turn the ship as it were, dyads enable you to have multiple co-pilots - and the extra engagement enables you to turn the ship more quickly.