Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Eight ways that companies screw up their sales production

When sales growth isn't happening at the speed at which management wants (or needs) to see it, it's easy to first blame the salesperson.  After all, it's their job to get out there and drum up some revenue.  If nothing is happening it must be because they are not doing their jobs. 
Go ahead and evaluate your sales staff's effectiveness, but it's not that simple.  Companies everywhere (maybe yours?) are inadvertently exhibiting one or more of the eight self-destructive behaviors toward salespersons listed below, and are thereby standing in their own way on the road to better sales performance:
  1. Hire them and send them right out into the field. Don't want to waste time with too much product detail - after all, it's not their job to make it, only to get somebody to buy it.
  2. Make sure they aren't weighed down by piles of marketing material to take into the field. What do prospects need - for them to draw a picture?
  3. Let them find their own leads. Who do they think you are - the Library of Congress??
  4. Pay them all the same. Wouldn't want to show favoritism, because they're all putting in the time, regardless of how much revenue they produce.
  5. Bury them in sales reporting requirements, and then yammer at them about how they need to make more sales calls.
  6. Give them lots of territory - so much that they spend 80% of their week in a car or on a plane, instead of face to face with prospective and current customers.
  7. If they're an outstanding performer give them the opportunity to start over several times so they can feel the thrill of accomplishment.  When the size of their customer base starts to bloat their commission checks, cut the territory into several pieces and distribute it among several people .
  8. Mess up the fulfillment of their customers' orders. You have the options of late delivery, partial shipments, rude service, or poor quality. You will have extra impact if it's the first order from this customer.
Perhaps you don't recognize your company in these eight behaviors.  If you don't see yourself here, there's another way to determine whether you might be contributing to your company's slack sales volume.  Ask yourself, "Who were the most recent salespersons to leave the company?"  Were they the underperformers or the all-stars?  If your best sales producers are choosing to leave your company, take another look at the list above.  The problem, and the key to the sales turnaround you need, might be right in your own hands.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Change the frame, change the picture

Reframed by Canis Major
Reframed, a photo by Canis Major on Flickr.
The cancer survivor baffled his friends when he said, "Getting cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me."  He had surgery, lost his hair through follow-up chemotherapy treatments, was debilitated by nausea and weakness, and had to stay isolated from the public while his treatment compromised his immunity.  Why would he say a thing like that?
The cancer survivor reframed his disease.  Instead of looking at the physical trials that he had to face, he paid attention to the priority shifting effect it had on his life.  He had been working too hard, playing too little, and not investing enough time in his family.  His cancer was his wake-up call to a more balanced and intentional life.
You don't need to come down with a life-threatening disease in order to shake up your priorities.  You can choose to change your frame of reference and thereby change your attitude about your current circumstances, or about the significant people in your life:
  • Boring job - or vehicle for financial security?
  • Disobedient teenager - or adult-in-training testing her own theories of life?
  • Ugly tie -  or carefully selected gift from a person who loves you?
  • Perpetually cluttered house - or fun home base for your kids and a herd of their friends?
  • Nothing to do - or found time in which to do whatever you want?
  • The end of a crummy year - or a fresh start with a new one? 
The importance of reframing is this:  your attitude drives your behavior, and your behavior drives your results.  When you have a frame of reference that is possibility-oriented, open, uplifting, you are more likely to take the actions that help it to become so.  If, on the other hand, you continue to see the dark side you're more likely to do less or even nothing, because what would be the use?  And if you do nothing what will be the likely results? 

What are the areas in your life right now that could use some fresh framing?  What if a new interpretation, a new frame, could replace your preoccupied spouse with a creative and thoughtful one?  How would you see that person differently?  Would you find it easier to appreciate them, or to do nice things for them?  And if you chose to do those things, what would be the impact on your relationship?

Reframing is a powerful tool for greater achievement and quality of life.  It doesn't require financial resources, or special education, or a specific job title.  You carry its potential with you every day.  It is, after all, all in your mind.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thank you God for laundry

hanging laundry by Squarebug
hanging laundry, a photo by Squarebug on Flickr.
Thank you God for Laundry
The burgeoning pile that seems to breed moment by moment in the basket,
The shirts, the trousers, the pajamas, the socks, the unmentionables - pretty and not-so-delightful.
Yes, thank you for laundry.
Because this laundry means that my family has clothing, and enough to have choices that fill a basket.
It means that I have ready supplies of clean water and soap that enable me to wash them.
In my household, unlike some, this laundry is a reminder that I have a machine that cleans the fabric and not a stone that I need to wield to get our clothing clean.
I can trip over the laundry walking down the hall, and not haul it somewhere else to clean it.  Help me not to swear if I stub my toe.
I can choose to hang the laundry out to dry, not because that's the only way but because I like the way the fresh air makes the sheets smell.
Thank you God for laundry,
Because every stained pair of pants and every sweaty shirt belongs to a person that I love.
My basket is full because my house is full, and I am grateful for that.
Thank you for the opportunity to clean it, to fold it neatly, and to leave it like a present for my family to use, as a sign of my affection for them.
I appreciate that they take the "magic" of clean laundry for granted, for that means that they believe they can count on me without question.
And thank you God for helping me to remember - at least for right now - that laundry is a gift.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Claiming your leadership space

The Open Door by EricMagnuson
The Open Door,
a photo by EricMagnuson on Flickr.
"Pay me $100,000 and I'll really show you what I can do!"  Dream on, young leader.  It doesn't work that way.  Unfortunately for you and for all of us, leadership comes first and then the rewards, regardless of educational credentials or the handsomeness of the face.  Packaging can play a strong supporting role here, but in the kind of company you want to work for, performance comes first.  And in the case of leadership, leadership of self precedes leadership of others.
Let's say, though, that you're a leader with a lot of potential.  You know you are capable of a greater contribution than your current role gives you the room to make.  You want to climb to the next level of authority in your company.  But it's not happening fast enough to satisfy you.  You might have to push the door open.
The crack in the door
Unless your direct manager is a complete autocrat and wants to define every moment and prescribe every action by every staff member, there's probably a crack in the door.  There is likely an area of his or her job that your boss doesn't like, or that he or she doesn't have time to pay complete attention to.  Or perhaps your boss is trying to implement change and improvement in your company, and there are projects that aren't moving as fast as they would like.  Each of these scenarios creates the small opening for you - the crack in the door - to demonstrate leadership, and to pave the way for learning and ultimately broader career opportunity.
When you see the crack in the door it's your job to push it open - gently.  Your boss will probably not do it for you and invite you in.  Part of leadership is identifying the opportunity yourself and stepping up to get involved.  It's probably not to your advantage to leap through the doorway, slamming it against the wall in the process.  You might break something.  The world hasn't been awaiting your hallowed presence, ready to bow down when you drop into it.  But you step into the doorway and create the opportunity to earn your way into the room.
The knowedge and experience gap
Your educational credentials and your experiences so far might not have fully prepared you for the next challenge.  Your job is to learn what you need to know, wherever you need to learn it.  Find a class, find a website, recruit a mentor, buy coffee for an expert.  It's often the most knowledgeable who earns the opportunity. Don't wait for someone to tell you that you need to expand your knowledge base - choose it on your own.  Initiate and perpetuate your personal and professional self-improvement process.
People skills can trump knowledge
You have seen it - the sigh, the eye roll, the exasperation of the all-knowing individual who can't believe that another person would ask such a "stupid" question.  You have seen the person who steps on anyone they don't perceive as a help to their career.  You have observed the individual who doesn't make time for building relationships.  You will have a tough time claiming your leadership space if you behave like this person.  You don't have to know everything, especially not if you know the people who know, and it especially helps if you have established relationships that enable you to tap into their expertise.
A full 80% of the reason why leaders fail is their inability to get along with other people. As you move away from the front lines and closer to the executive suite your people-effectiveness will become 50%, 60%, and ultimately 90% of your job.  You might be able to learn it by observing other leaders, but beware:  your internal role models might not be the best.  Many role-modeling discussions are actually negative - "I will NEVER be like my mother!"  They don't define what you want, but rather what you don't want.  Soft skills are like technical knowledge in that they can be developed.  Your company might not have an existing process for you to expand yours, but the resources are out there.
Fulfilling your commitments
Whenever you make a commitment you are creating the potential for leadership.  When you have a door-opening opportunity it's particularly important to do what you said you will do, by the timeframe in which you said you will do it.  Yes, this is a test.  If it's your first time up to bat in this sort of thing people will be watching you, and they will make an assumption that what you do now will be representative of your future performance.  No pressure.  (yeah, right)  But that's what happens.
Patience, patience
Just because you step up doesn't mean that the door will be easy to open.  If you are in a family business and dad or mom is still the boss it might take time for them to see you as a leader.  Remember, they still can picture you at 6 years old with chocolate all over your face and hands.  And in addition, even though you're ready to step in, they might not feel ready to step out.  The best thing you can do is to become their right hand reliable ally.  If you have the sneaking suspicion that they are starting to feel threatened by seeing you in their rear-view mirror all of the time, it might be appropriate to define a special project or area that is new for the company to explore.  Build your own path within the organization where you can stretch your leadership skills.
This won't happen overnight.  This might not be easy, or a steady climb.  There might be detours along the way.  But you need to be the one to spot the open door, and then to open it.  That's leadership step number one.

Summit provides individual coaching and team development processes through which current and emerging leaders can improve their effectiveness and expand their contribution to their companies.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Don't click "send" without doing these things

Email email email by RambergMediaImages
Email email email, a photo by RambergMediaImages on Flickr.
In dozens of offices and homes across your community, people are seething.  Their blood pressure has spiked, and they have headed to the medicine cabinet for some antacids.  Some relationships are damaged, perhaps severely enough to be permanently destroyed.  All because one person clicked "send" without thinking it through first.
When you send email you are de facto creating several conditions:
  • You are creating a permanent record. 
  • You are communicating in a one-way mode that makes it difficult to answer questions or clarify statements you made.
  • You are demonstrating your writing skill, and creating the opportunity for some people to interpret your intelligence level from that.
  • You are releasing your control over the ultimate destination of your message.  Your email might be forwarded hither and yon - and if you have upset someone, the likelihood of that happening increases.
  • You have no timely indication of the manner in which your message is being received.  You could be creating a flurry (a fury??) of follow-up emails among other parties of which you are completely unaware.
Email is convenient.  It is efficient - perhaps so much so that the time you save is well invested in reviewing your work and its potential interpretation and fallout before you click the "Send" icon. Here are some things you should check:
  1. Check your goal.  What are you trying to accomplish?  Are you trying to share information?  Complete a task?  Build relationships?  Vent some negative emotions?  Reprimand someone?  Some of these goals can be effectively achieved via email, and some cannot - at least not without some fallout.
  2. Check your spelling.  This should be a no-brainer, but in the haste to send a message spell check is often skipped. Inaccurate spelling doesn't matter to some people, but for the ones to whom it does matter your credibility automatically slips by a notch or two when words are misspelled.
  3. Check your vocabulary.  You want to make sure that your audience understands you, so steer clear of acronyms and internal jargon.  Beware of words that might be inflammatory.  If your intention is to inflame, perhaps you would be well-advised to click "Delete" instead.  Right now, before somebody gets hurt.
  4. Check your facts.  If your information is inaccurate or incomplete you could, at minimum, hurt your credibility.  You could also misrepresent a situation in a way that creates conflict that is completely preventable.
  5. Check your tone.  Even if your spelling, vocabulary, and facts are in line, a judgmental, accusing, or parental tone will build walls, not bridges.  Take out the should-oriented words unless you want to represent yourself in a position of authority over the recipients.  And if you are not in a formal position of authority over the recipients, when you choose to take this tone you will run the risk of losing some, if not all, of your informal influence over them.
  6. Check the temperature of the message.  If the information in your email has you emotionally upset, or you anticipate that it might upset the recipients, seriously consider a face-to-face mode instead of email for your message.  The higher the temperature, the worse email is for sending it.
  7. Check your timing.  Think about your recipients and not only yourself here.  It might be efficient to crank this out right now while you have a spare moment, but there are other factors involved.  Will your incendiary email catch someone right before they have an important task to perform?  Will it create a destructive distraction?  Will this message catch its recipients too late for them to respond?  If so, why send it?
  8. Check your distribution list.  The importance of items 1-7 above increase with every additional name you add to your distribution list.  If you want to keep people informed, the "nice to know" distribution can be your friend.  Strategic use of the cc can build accountability. If you have content in your email that could be perceived negatively, the broad distribution list can create a whale of destructive activity from which you might not like the fallout.
With power comes responsibility.  Email is a powerful tool for productivity, information, and relationship-building.  If you choose to use it as a bully pulpit you can literally destroy your career.  Think before you click send.

    Friday, November 18, 2011

    Competing via mass customization

    A Young Couple Posing In Front of their Model T Ford by The Nite Tripper
    A Young Couple Posing In Front of their Model T Ford,
    a photo by The Nite Tripper on Flickr.
    Back in the beginning of mass production, Henry Ford said that a customer could have "Any colour - so long as it's black."  One model, one color made it easy to set up an assembly line and crank out (pardon if that sounds punny) car after identical car.
    Of course customers today wouldn't stand for that - even people who like to stay in the mainstream and be like the Joneses want to be able to find their own cars in a mall parking lot.  And of course the focus on variation in color begs the question of function, and therefore the model - from SUV to hybrid to sports car.
    On the other side of the production spectrum from that of Henry Ford, consider the custom tailored suit.  Certainly a tailor would have a selection of fabrics in stock or samples for specially ordered ones.  But the suit is built from scratch every time.  The cut of the suit, the length of the sleeves and choice of venting on the jacket, the length and cuffing on the trousers would be determined by the client, aided by the tailors recommendations and measuring tape.  Every suit is different from another in multiple ways.
    The mass production method that Ford brought forth is low cost, but doesn't accommodate variation in the needs and wants of customers.  It requires only the minimum amount of skill per worker on the production line, because each job is narrowly defined.   One person could be attaching hood ornaments all day long every day.  (Mass production assembly line methodology also bores workers out of their minds, but that's not the concern here.) 
    The custom suit, well executed, wows customers, but requires a high level of competence on the part of the tailor.  It is high cost because of the amount of time invested in measuring and fitting.  And the material prices are harder to negotiate with suppliers because they are being ordered in small lots.
    So the balances to strike are between
    • Customers' desires for uniqueness and the cost of unique, small lots of materials
    • Efficiency/low cost of labor and employee engagement toward production of quality product
    • Individual made-to-order and speed of delivery
    This list is not all-inclusive, but intended to stimulate your thinking about the trade-offs. 
    Some of the parts differences among automobile models are required for the functionality of the indivdual vehicles, but some are not.  Sometimes the difference is only that of a brass or chrome finish on a power socket.  In a particular component, is brass vs. chrome an important choice?  Perhaps not.  And if not, then why include that as a variable that opens the door to production errors and higher materials costs?  (The question of "Is it important?" has to be answered by the targeted customer base.)
    In order to back off from fully custom to control costs the tailor might begin to moderate his number of choices in cut of jacket, and/or in the fabrics available.  He might also start to maintain a limited number of standard cut jackets that can then be altered to the specifications of an individual customer.  The field of customization is narrowed, but individual preferences are accommodated and the speed and cost factors are improved, as long as he keeps his inventory under control so as not to tie up too much cash.
    On the spectrum of mass (one size fits all) to completely custom, where does your business fall?  Are you missing market share because you don't appeal to a diverse enough customer base?  Or are you eating up cash by being extremely diversified in aspects of your product or service that don't really matter to your customers?  Do you move toward one end of the spectrum or the other with the intention to dominate a niche?
    Your decisions here influence how your company is positioned competitively relative to customer needs, but also determine your profitability per unit sold.  Have you made a conscious choice about your direction on this?

    Thursday, November 17, 2011

    Attraction and the odd man out

    Odd man out by Lisa Norwood
    Odd man out, a photo by Lisa Norwood on Flickr.
    The young woman stood on the periphery of the conversation, listening (yet again) to the tales of her friends' latest trips, fabulous dates, and shopping conquests.  She didn't have anything to contribute to the discussion.  As a matter of fact, these particular topics were somewhat sore subjects for her.  She had no boyfriend, no spare money, and apparently no friends who cared to notice that she was standing breathing right next to them with a pit in her stomach and pain in her heart.

    Perhaps this sounds a bit dramatic - the social life of young women can sometimes be so - but this sort of thing doesn't go away as you get older.  It transcends gender.  There are times when you can feel like the only red blueberry in the bucket, and worse, nobody else seems to notice.  Poor you, right?

    Let's look beyond you for a moment.  Let's think back to those situations where you were a part of the "in crowd."  You got all wound up discussing your favorite sports team and the game on Sunday when they were robbed of their victory by their evil opponents during the last sixty seconds.  Who else was there in the room during the Monday-morning quarterbacking session?  Were they involved in the conversation?  Did you make eye contact with them?  Did you ask them a question to draw them into the discussion?  What did their body language tell you?  And what did you do about it? 

    At a table of eight at a networking luncheon, how many of the eight do you consistently engage in conversation?  The two people next to you?  The ones that you already know?  Is there an odd person out sitting right across the table while the rest of you chatter, joke around, or discuss your mutual business interests?

    Stephen Covey would tell you that relationship building is one of the tasks that is not urgent but is important.  You need to make time for it and choose it in order for it to happen.  If you are working to become more attractive as a business and as a person, conscious inclusion of the odd person out is important.  Helping a diverse array of individuals to be comfortable around you is important.  The more comfortable and engaged they are around you, the more they will be attracted to you, and the more loyal they will be to you.  A huge component in leadership is the emotional bank account that you establish and maintain with the people around you, and acknowledgement of each of them individually and in group settings makes deposits into your account with them.

    Diversity adds flavor to your life.  Who wants to talk about the same things over and over again?  Sure, rituals are comfortable, but after a while when you're with the same people all of the time talking about your three customary topics, it starts to become a bit stale.  That odd person out might help the old crowd to step out of its rut and move into new territory.  And you won't know unless you involve them.

    There is one other point to be made here: some of the most valuable contributors to your work and your life won't be jumping across the table to share information with you.  Some people think before they talk (not while they talk), and some people feel more comfortable one-on-one or in smaller groups.  They will wait, bide their time, and if not drawn in by you will drift away. 

    How much are you missing by leaving an odd man out?  And if you are feeling like that red blueberry, step into the discussion and take it in a direction that you'd enjoy, to a topic where you can contribute.  You are in charge of your own life and you don't have to wait to be invited.  You might find that you are exactly the breath of fresh air that the group needed.

    Wednesday, November 16, 2011

    What entrepreneurs know

    This is Entrepreneur Week, when we celebrate the individuals who put it all on the line every day to start and run businesses.  Their investment is deep - their time, their family resources, their intellectual capital.  And they risk a lot, from their financial standing to their reputations, for the sake of fulfilling a dream in commerce.

    Several CEOs of fast-growing and prominent businesses and the MBA Director spoke at a conference held at York College yesterday.  Here are a few of the thoughts from the speakers that are worthy of remembering:
    • "If everything seems under control, you're not going fast enough."  Mario Andretti
    • "We sell good stuff cheap." 
    • "All of my executives are shareholders."
    • "Sell the dream." 
    • "It's important to invest in the infrastructure that supports your business."
    • "I asked myself, 'How can I improve the experience patients have going to the dentist?'"
    • "You need to think about your vision, your higher calling." 
    • "Here's my investment banker - my dad."
    • "Your business can't grow if you can't evolve it's structure.  Write it down on paper."
    • "Only 10-15 percent of what happens in organizations is based upon logic.  The factor that trumps everything is EGO!  And there's a difference between a strong ego and a big ego."
    • "Change your words, change your world."
    • "I was blinded by my vision."
    • "There has to be one steering wheel and one person holding it."
    • "Define your box.  Name yourself, or they'll name you."
    • "Take strategic planning seriously.  Commit to working your plan - or don't do it."
    • "Keep balance in your life."
    • "You cannot do it yourself.  You need advisors, and people to emulate."
    • "Don't stray from your core values."
    There's so much to think about here - don't be surprised if it feels like your hair is blowing back!

    Tuesday, November 15, 2011

    That elusive c-word: Culture

    cherry blossoms : umbrella / travel / costume / culture : maiko (geisha apprentice) kyoto, japan  by momoyama
    cherry blossoms : umbrella / travel / costume / culture :
    maiko (geisha apprentice) kyoto, japan ,
    a photo by momoyama on Flickr.
    Margaret Meade, the legendary anthropologist, studied it.  You see it in photos of other countries.  You feel it when you are outside of your usual surroundings, particularly when it's different from the one to which you have become accustomed.  It lives in your company, and it will support - or kill - your strategic direction.  Culture.
    Wikipedia says the word "culture" is most commonly used in three basic senses:
    • Excellence of taste in the fine arts and humanities, also known as high culture
    • An integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for symbolic thought and social learning
    • The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization, or group
    When applied to your company, culture determines things like:
    1. The meaning attached to wearing a red tie
    2. Whether employees wear ties at all, or sneakers, or jeans, or pearl earrings
    3. How open leaders are to being challenged or questioned in group meetings - in some companies it's standard practice and in others it's an act of career suicide to do so
    4. Whether people take problems to teams, try to handle them on their own, or place them on the boss's desk
    5. Whether departments collaborate with one another, or compete with one another
    6. Whether employees expect to work overtime, and if they do, whether it's by coming in early or by staying late
    7. Whether the company will leap tall buildings in a single bound to satisfy a customer, or will instead ascribe customer dissatisfaction to flawed thinking or misbehavior on the customer's part
    The challenge in managing culture (and that's your job as a leader,) is that it contains a multitude of moving parts.  One act of change won't budge it, nor will two or even three, unless one or more of them is cataclysmic enough or impactful enough that it overrides all prior assumptions and expectations. Why?  The third definition of culture says that it is the sum-total of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices.  This means that many of the ingredients for culture are held at the subconscious or habitual level.  Employees (and leaders) are often completely unaware of their criteria for decision making, for instance, because the criteria are applied automatically, without questioning.

    Let's say that a leader realizes that in his or her company there are a zillion cultural obstacles to the effective attraction and maintenance of profitable, sustainable customer relationships.  How does the leader begin to shift the organizing cultural structure in the company and move to one that supports a customer-centered manner of operating?

    1. Step 1 - Identify the intended strategic direction.  Determine what the desired "point B" is for the company.
    2. Step 2 - Determine the current, "as-is" state.  Do some surveying or other analysis to determine the size of the gap between current and desired.
    3. Step 3 - Gain commitment of senior leaders.  No change of culture will work without the role models on board with you.
    4. Step 4 - Develop your staff.  Help them acquire the skills and attitudes that the desired culture requires
    5. Step 5 - Establish goals.  Give the organization a focus for its behavior as new ones are being ingrained.
    6. Step 6 - Examine and refine work processes.  Often the behavior follows the work, and if your processes are not in alignment with your strategy it's difficult to maintain employee behavior that you want.
    As said earlier, there are tons of moving parts.  This is just an overview.  Culture can change, but it takes time - sometimes 1-3 years - so it's not something that you decide lightly.  It is, however, the foundation for a sustainable business focus.

    Monday, November 14, 2011

    Shut up and shoot

    Experiment by jeff_golden
    Experiment, a photo by jeff_golden on Flickr.
    The photograph in this post was taken by someone who said he wasn't feeling inspired or creative when he took it.  But that day he decided to "shut up and shoot."  He decided not to invest time in thinking whether his idea was good enough or whether the conditions were perfect for it.  He just took out his camera and went to work.
    If he had not decided to curb his inner critic and put his camera to work he would not have come up with this cool photo.  He would not have produced any result at all. 
    Today you might not have the perfect conditions in which to do your work.  You might not be feeling very inspired.  You might not have what you think is a great idea, or even a particularly good one.  Even if that's the case for you today (or tomorrow, or the next day,) just shut up and shoot. 
    There is not only one solution to overcome the obstacles you face.  You have choices. But there is no perfect path, and you won't be certain which one will take you where you want to go until you get to work and try something.  Stop waiting for the lightning bolt to strike you in the noggin and deliver divine inspiration.
    Your skills and knowledge will pull you through when inspiration isn't sparking - as long as you apply them.  Turn the problem upside-down, or look at it backwards, or through a window.  Show it to a colleague or a friend, and work together.  But don't invest time and energy griping.  Don't wait until tomorrow, or until the wind is blowing at the optimal speed from the correct direction.  Just shut up and shoot. 

    Friday, November 11, 2011

    A Veteran's Day Tribute

    From the photos of MSgt. Chadwell B. Poland
    How far are you willing to go for your job?  Are you willing to work overtime?  Travel?  Wear a uniform?  Are you willing to take orders and execute on them, even when you don't necessarily agree with them? 

    What if your boss told you that your assignment was not only difficult, but might cost you an arm, a leg, or your life?  Are you willing to go that far for your job?

    This guy was willing to do all of that for his job, because his job was defending the principles of his country.  He was separated from his wife and four children on numerous occasions.  He asked them to follow him into two foreign countries.  He and they lived in 26 houses in 23 years. 

    When he finally retired from the Air Force, the economy was bad and the job market was tight.  He was laid off from multiple jobs, and finally had to relocate again - five states away from his hometown - to find stable work.

    It's Veteran's Day today.  The men and women who serve are still being shuttled all over the world and being placed in harm's way to uphold the values of their country - our country - your country.  They are being sent back for 3, 4, 6, 10 tours or more.  And some are still coming back with injuries to arms, legs, hearing and sight.  They are coming home with injuries to their souls.  And some are not coming back at all.

    This may not be the day to wave a flag, to celebrate, to jump up and down and cheer.  This may be a day instead to mourn the fact that their service is still necessary in this world.  This may be a day instead to stop, be silent, and contemplate the magnitude of their sacrifice.

    Thursday, November 10, 2011

    Managing points of connection with customers

    Contact by moggsterb
    Contact, a photo by moggsterb on Flickr.
    Satisfied customers are those for whom your company has met expectations.  Unfortunately, satisfied customers don't stay.  The lure of a new, potentially better deal can draw them out of your customer base and into someone else's.

    Loyal customers are different from satisfied customers, or rather they are an important subset of your satisfied customers.  Not only have you met their needs - they have developed an emotional connection with your company.  When they are emotionally connected they like to talk about your service and they bring other customers to you.  Instead of buying once per month, they might buy every week.
    So here's where the points of connection come into play.  Think about all of the places and by what means your customers contact your company.  Each of these are opportunities to create loyalty - or to interfere with its development:
    • Convenience (and safety) of your parking
    • Appearance of your entry
    • Behavior of your outside and inside sales staff
    • Understandability of your invoices
    • Cleanliness of your restrooms (customers link that to your overall quality)
    • Quality of your product
    • Ease of ordering
    • Speed of delivery
    • Your housekeeping in the facility
    • The experience during the buying/selling transaction
    • Helpfulness of your staff
    • Signage and ease of navigation on your property
    This might sound like a long list, but it's by no means comprehensive.  Some companies focus on one or two points of connection and create branding around them, and some create emotional connections that last a lifetime.  Here's an example:  many, if not most, families with kids talk about Disney.  They went to Disneyworld or Disneyland, they are getting ready to go, they wish they could go, etc.  The customer experience is managed thoroughly there, from the tattoos and dangly earrings that you won't see on the cast members, to the spotless streets and walkways, to the cast members waving goodnight with their Mickey or Buzz Lightyear hands on.  The connection is such that people with or without children go back there again and again.  And it's not a small investment to do so!
    Not every company sells magic and imagination and wholesomeness like Disney does, but the point here is the level of detail at which the customer experience is managed, down to the "good morning, Princess!" salutation that greets little girls all over the place. Have you identified your key points of connection?  Are you certain that at every point in the customer relationship, your business is creating loyalty?  Not just met expectations, but loyalty?

    Wednesday, November 9, 2011

    The job interview: a double selling-buying process

    Talk to a seasoned salesperson about the stakes associated with an upcoming sales call and he or she is likely to tell you something like, "If they say no, I say NEXT!"  They follow their process to the best of their ability, get an answer and then either follow up on a "yes" or move on.  The highest performing salespersons build an allowance for some non-starters into their activity planning, knowing that for some people the answer is going to be "No money, no worry, no hurry, no time."

    The job interview is a sales appointment, but it differs from other types of sales in two primary ways:
    1. Many if not most individuals won't be engaging in the same level of sustained activity on a job search or hiring project as they would in an ongoing sales job.  This means that each job interview is expected to have a higher likelihood of a "yes" decision.
    2. It contains two sellers and two buyers.
    The double selling-buying process
    The applicant has the opportunity to sell his or her credentials, skills, knowledge, growth potential, and core values.  At the same time, the applicant is determining whether this opportunity, this boss (if it's at that point in the process,) and this company will provide a fair exchange for their current skills and potential for future growth.  The applicant is selling, but is also buying.

    The interviewer is looking for a good match with today's open position, and may even have the opportunity to bring a human asset on board that will have outstanding growth potential.  Every day, week, and month that the position is open, the company is losing productivity, and potentially missed business opportunities.  Yet while it's important to fill the open slot, the interviewer knows that there is risk and hard dollar cost associated with making a hire, so while it's important for the interviewer to buy good talent, the candidate will also have to sell his or her value as part of the interview.

    Varying balance in the process
    The scales don't balance in the same way every time a job interview is held.  Sometimes they tilt in favor of the interviewer, for positions that are relatively easy to fill or that can be held open for a while without too much disruption until a "perfect" candidate is found.  But in other cases the advantage goes to the candidate, when he or she possesses skills that are scarce or highly valued in the marketplace, when he or she has a proven successful track record, or when the open position is causing operational stress within the company.

    The point here is this:  both parties in a job interview need to recognize that they are in both roles - that of seller and buyer.  The best hire occurs when both parties see themselves as receiving something of satisfactory value in exchange for the value that they bring to the table.  The hiring process sets the table for the relationship down the road, so to enter into it with a clear perception of fair exchange prepares both parties for a mutally beneficial engagement.

    Monday, November 7, 2011

    Do you have what it takes to lead in times of change?

    Fraternidad Tobas Dinastia Team Leader
    Fraternidad Tobas Dinastia Team Leader by scattered 1,
    a photo on Flickr
    Team leaders are selected for many qualities - for technical skill, for good communication skills, for their extroverted personalities, because of their experience, or possibly due to their education.  Regardless of the means by which they arrived in their positions, one of the biggest tests of team leaders comes during times of change.  The bigger the change, the more the leader's actions can help the team move forward - or keep them stuck and upset.

    The challenge in this is in many settings effective team leadership is not part of the training and staff development plan.  The assumption is made that people skills "come naturally" or that they are inborn.  All that is needed is the opportunity for the gifted leader to perform.

    Perhaps there are temperaments that naturally lend themselves to group influence, but there are many effective leadership styles and methods that can be effective.  There is no one sort of ideal leader, because different leadership situations call for different skills and methods.

    In times of rapid and/or dramatic change, a leader needs some of these capabilities:
    • Understanding of the desired result - You can't lead when you don't know where you're going.  The team leader might not be part of the decision making and strategy setting, but the team leader needs to be fully informed about what is intended and why.  The why becomes particularly important if he or she is to effectively represent the seniormost levels of the organization as part of the overall leadership.  And the leader needs to be able to maintain the long view when the immediate going is tough.
    • Positive relationships with the team members - Times of change sometimes require that a leader expend some relationship capital.  It helps trememdously when the leader has already established trust among the team.  They are more likely to follow, and they are more inclined to give the leader a heads up when they see issues or potential hazards along the way.
    • Solid knowledge of the team members - Some of the skills on your team have not yet been tested.  It helps to know who your informal leaders and influencers are.  There might also be opportunity for individuals to stretch a heretofore untapped skill.  Change can create positive developmental opportunity when you know enough about your team members to match a new, expanded, or temporary role with the right person.
    • Win-win perspective - Not every team member is going to be excited about the change.  The team leader is more effective when he or she can frame the changes in terms of the benefits to the members of the group, and to the organization as a whole.  The leader should work to prevent situations where one person benefits at the expense of another.  The leader should also beware the squeaky wheels who are intent upon avoiding having to make a change.  Their grieving is a natural part of the process, but is not typically adequate reason not to move forward.  If the leader caves in to resistance, he or she is likely to erode his or her credibility and influence for future situations.
    • The ability to diffuse, not escalate, conflict - When a leader uses language that is charged with negative emotion and parent ego state, whether in print or in person, he or she is likely to alienate team members.  Insulting or baiting does not inspire people to act.  If the leader is in a formal authority position, the team members may comply because of fear of authority and retribution.  But they won't go willingly.  And they will demonstrate their unwillingness by doing only the minimum required work, showing up late, calling in sick, etc.  In a volunteer or informal leadership setting this kind of leader behavior can erode the number of people willing to show up and participate.  They don't have to put up with it, and at some point they won't.  They will just go away, and the leader may never find out the specific incident that led to their departure.
    • The willingness to keep the team informed. - Withholding information is a sign that the leader doesn't trust the team to handle the information appropriately.  Sometimes there is information that is sensitive and may not be shared, but if that's the case, inform the team of that fact.  Keep them posted on milestones and progress.  They need to be in the position to make good decisions, and they can only do so when they have adequate information.
    When you are leading in times of change, your team especially needs you to have (and to exercise) human relations shills.  If you don't have them in the quantity or quality that you want, find a resource.  You will be measured on your ability to keep a team together and functioning effectively.  This is not a "nice to do".  It's mission critical.

    Friday, November 4, 2011

    Having a rough day? Avoiding a problem? Either way, thank Murphy

    30/365: The Missing Link???
    30/365:  Missing Link???,  a photo by raggedj on Flickr
    Everybody has a bad day now and then. Sometimes it can seem like the bad days come one after another, and morph into bad months.  You spend your hours and days fighting fires, and you're tired.

    Yes, your state of mind can have an impact on this, but we're not talking about motivational rah rah stuff today.  It's the weekend, for heaven's sake!  Have some fun and wallow in your troubles!

    If you think that your most recent bad day came from having experienced Murphy's Law ("Whatever can go wrong will go wrong,") test yourself on this bit of trivia - do you know the origin of Murphy's Law? Although there is some question as to whether the law that "Everything that can go wrong, will" has older roots than Murphy, we can thank him for giving it his name. Here's the Murphy's Law story from its website:
    The following article was excerpted from The Desert Wings, March 3, 1978
    Murphy's Law ("If anything can go wrong, it will") was born at Edwards Air
    Force Base in 1949 at North Base.It was named after Capt. Edward A. Murphy, an
    engineer working on Air Force Project MX981, (a project) designed to see how
    much sudden deceleration a person can stand in a crash.One day, after finding
    that a transducer was wired wrong, he cursed the technician responsible and
    said, "If there is any way to do it wrong, he'll find it."
    The contractor's project manager kept a list of "laws" and added this one,
    which he called Murphy's Law. Actually, what he did was take an old law
    that had been around for years in a more basic form and give it a name.
    Shortly afterwards, the Air Force doctor (Dr. John Paul Stapp) who rode a
    sled on the deceleration track to a stop, pulling 40 Gs, gave a press
    conference. He said that their good safety record on the project was due to a
    firm belief in Murphy's Law and in the necessity to try and circumvent it.
    Aerospace manufacturers picked it up and used it widely in their ads during
    the next few months, and soon it was being quoted in many news and magazine
    articles. Murphy's Law was born.
    The idea of Murphy's law is not only to help you roll your eyes and wallow in misfortune.  Murphy's Law goes so far even to invite trouble. If you want to make the most of it, use the pessimism that Murphy brings to the table to do some crisis prevention, before Murphy catches up with you and your project. The more important it is that you achieve a positive outcome, the more critical it is to anticipate and ensure against contingencies. See? Murphy's Law is your friend!

    Murphy's Law has corollaries, and additional laws that make sure that you are able to anticipate, prevent, or at least recover from a variety of the worst possible scenarios. Here are some of the juicy bits:
    • If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the one to go wrong
      Extreme version: If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the FIRST to go wrong
    • If you perceive that there are four possible ways in which something can go wrong, and circumvent these, then a fifth way, unprepared for, will promptly develop
      Corollary: It will be impossible to fix the fifth fault without breaking the fix on one or more of the others
    • If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something
    And finally, before we say Happy Weekend, The Murphy Philosophy:
     Smile . . . tomorrow will be worse.

    He He He.

    Thursday, November 3, 2011

    The pros and cons of sticking together

    Stick Together
    Stick together - a photo by Big Brother Bear on Flickr
    "Watch out," her husband warned while she drove down the tree-lined country road.  "When one deer crosses in front of you there are likely more behind it." 

    During rutting season (October-December) deer become a bit more unpredictable.  They are often more visible as they move around during the rituals of mating season.  And they are likely to stick together.

    The American Way is said to be to look out for one's own interests regardless of the group.  Stories in the cultural history revere individuals who resisted going along with the crowd because the result of their doing so was innovation, discovery, or some such other desirable outcome.  Are you better off in a group, or is it preferable that you make your own path and follow it?

    Behavior as a cohesive unit can bring strategic advantages:
    • Physical protection and/or moral support during times of threat.
    • Sharing of knowledge or skill among the group, increasing the overall capability of all.
    • Greater predictability - if one does it you can pretty well count on the others to do it too.
    • Organization, or at least the appearance of it.
    But walking in lockstep can have its pitfalls:
    • The group can find itself making the same mistakes over and over again or repeatedly missing opportunities as the individuals follow one another down an unproductive path.
    • In a group the members can tend to shift into follower mode, so that forward progress is slow. 
    • The relationships among group members can become predominant over the desired result, and individuals become concerned about being too pushy, or about being disliked by the others in close proximity.
    • It assumes that every group member's preferences are the same, or that it's important to sublimate one's own preferences for the sake of the group.  Individuals who don't agree but repeatedly go along to get along start to resent their sacrifice, and that starts to erode the cohesiveness of the group.
    Your situation might call for cohesive group behavior, or it might not be necessary in order to achieve a good outcome.  Ultimately you will make your best decision about it when you consider what is important in the situation.  In an intact work group, sometimes your number one concern is the result, but in other instances you are more concerned with the dynamic within the group. 

    Regardless of whether you are the formal leader of the group,  when you are in a group you are the leader of yourself.  You can choose to go along with the group or to go your own way, although your decision in either direction will have consequences associated with it:
    1. Groups require reciprocity for good relationships to be maintained.  If one party is doing more of the compromising and another (not in a formal authority role) is perpetually pressing his or her own interests, the group goes out of balance, and will ultimately have to address the imbalance in some way.
    2. Circumstances and situations change, calling for a shift in behavior, regardless of the balance in honoring preferences within the group.  If you are playing follow the leader in a group, you're crossing the road and there's an oncoming car, you had better stop following right now if you don't want to be a blot on the pavement.
    3. Group members may interpret more meaning in your actions than you intend.  Failure to go along might be due to a specific circumstance or internal criteria, but the group may interpret your choice as a rebellion against the group, or as a symbol of your disregard for their opinions, feelings, etc.
    4. If you choose not to go along with the group you might find yourself on the outside of it, depending upon how much emotional attachment the group has to its norms of behavior.  Some outlier behaviors don't matter to the group, but in times of change or stress the group can tend to draw its norms more tightly, and to have less tolerance for noncompliant team members.
    How important is affiliation to you as an individual?  How much does the success of your work rely upon the glue from relationships within a group?  Unsatisfactory and unrewarding group experiences can lead to worker (or member, volunteer, contributor, etc.) disengagement, and that could place your results at risk.

    Wednesday, November 2, 2011

    Should you keep the fish or throw it back?

    My first fish of the day...
    My first fish of the day...a photo by freppy on Flickr
    If the fish is already filleted, fried and on your plate it's a bit late for this question, but what should you do if the fish is on the boat?  What if the fish has just been hooked and lifted into the air?  Do you keep it, or do you throw it back?

    Certainly game laws specify what size of fish is too small to keep.  But what about fish as a metaphor - what about your staff?  Do you have fish on the boat that really shouldn't be there?  Are they too small in size?  Are they bony, or do they have a reputation for bad taste once they're cooked?

    Your vision and your way of doing business
    The clarity of your vision is one of the initial determining factors for your staffing strategy.  If you know, for example, that you are building an engineering firm that you want to develop into a sales machine oriented toward a certain targeted market, you'll select for engineers that are either already tooled in sales skills or at least open to being developed in that direction.

    Alignment of your company resources, people resources one of the key ones, can only happen within the context of your strategy.  Otherwise it's difficult if not impossible to determine who should rise to greater leadership and what sorts of development should be provided for employees.

    Providing opportunity for your staff to become the way you would have them become
    Not everyone may come to the table with all of the resources they need to achieve what you need them to achieve.  You can choose to hire only those who are ready, or who have positive track records established in the role for which you are considering them.  But if your company is already operating, chances are good that some, if not most, of your staff will have to catch up with any updated strategy to which you are committing the team.

    Leaders, salespersons, effective generators of customer loyalty, etc. are developed, not born.  There are multiple successful models and temperaments for each of these roles, and one of the tasks in developing your staff is to help them envision themselves in the roles that your new strategy needs.  Said another way, it's a skills issue, but it's also an attitudinal issue.  And attitudes, like skills, can be developed in the direction you want them to go.

    Alignment of rewards, processes, structure with people to achieve your strategy
    Sometimes a performance issue isn't about the person and his or her skills and attitudes.  Sometimes it's about team goals but pre-existing individual rewards.  Sometimes poorly managed (or at least inefficient, ineffective) processes foil employees' attempts to be effective in their jobs.  And sometimes reporting structures are so convoluted that it's hard for a good fish to get a solid answer from someone with authority.  The resources have to be aligned with one another if you want to support good performance.

    Values and your willingness to throw the fish back if necessary
    Ultimately it gets down to asking yourself one question:  "How badly do I want this outcome?"  If it's not a do-or-die scenario for your business you might be willing to settle for less than optimal performance, thinking that the cost is not enough to warrant doing anything differently.  You may be in a situation where your senior leadership team is not in sync about what the values are, and if that's the case you may have to choose to lobby with them or resign yourself to the prevailing culture. 

    Despite concerns that you might be perceived as a bad employer (or erode the loyalty of your employees) if you are too precipitous with the hatchet, you send a message through the behavior that you do and do not tolerate.  If you say you want sales behavior from your professionals, for instance, but never do anything about people who refuse to do business development activities, you are, in effect, rewarding the status quo.  It is appropriate to provide the opportunities for them to catch up with your strategy, but if they aren't cutting it even after those developmental efforts you (and they) might be better off if you throw them back in the water so they can become happily engaged in a career elsewhere.

    Tuesday, November 1, 2011

    Navigating through the no-man's land in times of flux

    Scrum 1
    Scrum 1, a photo by guygzohar on Flickr
    Between the announcement of a change and the ultimate integration of the change is a no-man's land of ongoing negotiation - and not always by direct and organized means.  Constituencies and special interest groups emerge, some more invested in "the old way" than others.

    A variety of views is held by the people impacted by the change, including:
    • Maybe if I keep my head down it will all go away
    • Hell no, I won't go
    • I'm taking my ball and going home
    • Whatever the group wants to do, I'm willing to do
    • I'll do whatever ___(fill in the name of your choice)_____wants to do
    • I'm going to keep talking and objecting until they cave in to my point of view
    • Whatever - don't know, don't care
    One valid method of finding a new path - test and measure - can actually amplify the impact of the no-man's land period.  One time it's this way, and the next time it's that, much like the rugby scrum when the entwined clump of opposing players moves forward, back and sideways until somebody emerges with the ball.  Each time the crowd moves in the desired (one's own) direction and then is pushed back, invested individuals grieve their loss of ground all over again.  There's pushing and straining and little progress during the scrum, and occasionally incidental injuries occur.

    Let's not overstate the "opposing teams" idea here.  Sometimes there are two views that are opposite and that cannot exist concurrently, nor than they be combined into a negotiated hybrid.  But often among the impacted individuals there is a spectrum of willingness to do things differently, from firmly entrenched to flexible and unattached, with many degrees between.  The scrum contains numerous teams, not only two, as well as some free agents that are complicating the issue even more.

    During the no-man's land timeframe, structure and process help the group and its leaders find a way forward.  Here are some proven benefical components:
    1. Clearly drawn lines of authority.  Even in rugby, rough and tumble as it is, there are officials, and the official's call must be heeded. 
    2. Rules of engagement.  Even relationships that operate smoothly during "normal" times can become strained during the no-man's land time.  Define what behavior is sought, and what is out of bounds.  If you want people to speak candidly, provide a time and place for them to do so - and without retribution - even if they don't tell you what you want to hear.
    3. Planning for contingencies.  Sometimes the rules don't - or shouldn't - apply.  For instance, if there is a standard that a child must wear dress pants to school and the class is going on a field trip to a farm on a rainy day, perhaps the dress pants rule should be waived for the day.  It may make perfect sense, but the authority defined in #1 above should be the one to make the call if you want to keep conflicts within the group to a minimum.
    4. Structured times to touch base.  Find out what the impacted individuals are thinking, and provide the opportunities for them to air their views.  Write their comments down and do so in their words so they will know that they have been heard accurately.  Conflicts and concerns brought out in the open can be handled, but those left underground will fester.  It's important for everyone to know what is happening and how it's working, but it's equally important for the impacted individuals' feelings to be acknowledged, and for problems to be solved together. 
    5. Keep the goal, and the benefits of achieving the goal, in front of mind.  Sometimes in the throes of the daily navigation of no-man's land, people can lose sight of the reason why the change is being made in the first place.  Bring this back to top of mind regularly, and help it serve as a unifying force in the middle of what can be stressful times.
    Remember that storming is a good sign.  It is a sign of commitment.  Once people have integrated the change it's likely that they can become equally committed to a new point of view.  It might take some time with some folks.  It might seem that it would be great to be able to shorten the duration of the times of flux.  But the process of negotiation and grieving and testing serves a beneficial purpose - to create something new and better together.