Monday, April 30, 2012

Networker, netsitter, or huckster?

Partners Club Networking Event - February 2012 by Netlaw Media
Partners Club Networking Event - February 2012,
a photo by 
Netlaw Media on Flickr. 
From the Summit Blog archives, worth another look:

For many people in sales roles, networking events have become the chief avenue for avoiding having to make cold contacts. There is always the possibility of meeting your next new client at a networking function, and you can have some social time in the process. These types of functions can be a beneficial part of your marketing mix, but only a part - and if you want them to be more productive for you there are a few criteria to remember:
  1. Know what your goal is before you walk in the door. Are you looking for appointments? If so, how many at this function? Do you need the answer to a question? Is there a particular person that you are trying to find? Or are you simply trying to meet and make a positive impression on as many people as possible?
  2. Have a planned introduction. Expect to be asked, "What do you do?" and possibly, "How did you get into that line of work?" You'll give a more credible impression if you don't stutter or stammer - that makes it sound like you don't know what you do. And for heaven's sake, don't become a candidate for On-And-On Anon! It's supposed to be a conversation, not a monologue. Answer the question and then ask one.  (This principle is effective for subsequent questions you are asked as well.)
  3. Know whose agenda you're on. A client said to me the other day, "Well, that wasn't worth the time. All he wanted to talk about was his agenda - we never got to mine." When in doubt, refer to criterion #1. If your goal is to set a one-on-one appointment with this person, being on his agenda is fine if that leads to an appointment.
  4. The other networkers aren't prospects, they're suspects. You don't have enough information yet, nor have you earned the right yet, to present your product or service. This isn't a group sales meeting. Meet people, gather contact information and/or set a follow-up appointment, then move on. They are trying to do the same thing, so if you monopolize their time you'll erode their positive attention.
  5. Keep moving. If you want to talk to only one person, skip the networking event and make an appointment to talk with them at their office. If you're not meeting new people or refreshing acquaintances with as many as you can, you're squandering the networking opportunity.
  6. Help other people connect. Many of the other people at networking functions are uncomfortable, so you will do a service by helping them meet the people you know. Networking is about building a net of positive relationships, and when you help someone they will be likely to want to reciprocate.
  7. Learn some graceful exit techniques. You can excuse yourself to refresh your drink, or introduce two people and move on once their conversation has started. You can be creative as long as you're polite.
Networking is not a direct sales activity - it's a method to increase your pool of potential prospects, and a way to become known so that people can refer prospects to you. You might have to give several times before you're in the position to get. If you're too impatient about your own agenda you'll place yourself in the dreaded high-pressure salesperson role, and your increased visibility as an arm-twister will hurt, not help, your sales efforts.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The proof is in the

pudding by fruitcakey
pudding, a photo by fruitcakey on Flickr.
Why would this post use an old saw and an obvious concept as its foundation?  Because although you know what you know (and that's a lot,) if you are like most people there's a gap between what you know and what you do.

The size of the gap is for you to know, and other people might never find out.  But when you see the gap and it's really wide, you start to expend a lot of energy around keeping the big secret.

You might not be as successful at hiding your self-image and your conditioned habits of thought as you think you are.  The pudding reveals you - your actions demonstrate the person that you are, more loudly than your words express the person you want the world to think you are.

We'd never call you a big fat liar - it would be presumptuous to assume that you or anybody else is faking it.  The point is that you know what you are and where you are in this.  If you're in misalignment, if your behavior isn't lining up with the expectations you have of yourself, you're diluting the greatness of the contribution you could make.  On the other hand you, fully loaded with purpose, authenticity and congruence between expectation and action - you can be an unstoppable force.  And the pudding could be tasting really good.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Your big idea - under wraps

Spine Braid wrap-around journal by MyHandboundBooks
Spine Braid wrap-around journal,
a photo by 
MyHandboundBooks on Flickr. 
"Somebody should find a way to _________."  "If we could figure out the technology, we could _______."  If only I could locate a source of funding, I would _________."  "We could solve the problem of _________ if we could bring together resources from here, here and here."

Fact #1 - The world has problems that are so tenacious and so big that it can be hard to believe that you could make a difference in them.

Fact #2 - There are solutions that have not yet been fully explored because the right people have not yet come together to collaborate.

Fact #3 - There are people out there in the same boat that you are in - with ideas, capacity, skills, and worthy intentions who could make a difference in the world.

Fact #4 - Economic sustainability and service to humanity (or the planet) don't have to be mutually exclusive terms.

What would you do, what could you do, if the right people were on your team?  Do you have a big idea that you have been keeping under wraps - out of inertia or out of fear of failure?  

You don't even have to be the one with the big idea in order to be a part of one.  There are jobs for a variety of contributors to do:

  • Catalyst - The one who throws the idea out there for somebody to grab onto, or the one who makes the case for a particular change or improvement.
  • Connector - The person who knows a lot of people, and who can notice opportunities to bring the appropriate people together.  
  • Technician - The person with stores of knowledge appropriate to the situation - this is the person who can build generators, or grow a successful crop of rice, or invent a new process.  
  • Financier - This is the person who has access to the money needed to pursue the project.  This isn't any old well-heeled person - it's someone who wants to do good and find interesting ways to use his or her money.  Immediate return isn't necessarily the primary motivator.
  • Soldier - Some big ideas require less in the way of high-flown technical solutions and more in the way of hands and feet doing labor to make the idea happen.  Soldiers go where the project needs them to go and do what the project needs them to do.
There is no problem too big that a team can't make a dent in it.  It's not instant, and it's not necessarily far-reaching at first.  But a big idea can stimulate other big ideas.  It can become a model, and from there it can be replicated and spread far afield from where it started.  What's your big idea?  Is it time that it come out from under wraps?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Four factors for heightened leadership mojo

General Sherman Monument, Central Park NYC by johnleesandiego
General Sherman Monument, Central Park NYC,
a photo by 
johnleesandiego on Flickr. 
In your life as a leader, have you ever felt like you were galloping along on a powerful horse - maybe even with angels paving the way for you?  In those moments of leadership mojo it feels thrilling to step out into the unknown and take a risk.  Your gut tells you that it's going to work, that you're going to prevail and the mission will be accomplished.  In spades.

You know that not every day is like those heightened mojo days.  But it sure would be great to be able to bring those empowering factors together - on purpose, so that your leadership mojo is by design, not by accident.

  1. Connection with a purpose - It all starts with the vision, one that inspires you.  Your purpose is strengthened by envisioning it in detail, engaging all of your senses in it.  See yourself already there.  What does it look like, smell like, feel like?  What is the location, and what is the temperature?  What are you doing physically, and who else is there with you?  What are the rewards associated with the achievement of your purpose?  And what are the benefits that you (or others you care about) derive from those rewards?
  2. A game plan - Belief in the purpose, in the vision, is directly related to you having a plan to get there.  This isn't all hearts and flowers.  Your game plan considers known and potential obstacles, and incorporates strategies for getting past them.  A solid game plan lays out the ways in which you take tangible steps toward your desired end.
  3. Relationships - You might be the person at the front of the line, but you likely won't do it alone.  You'll need people on your team, resources for knowledge, and connections with individuals beyond your immediate circle who can help you take the next step on your journey.  These relationships aren't built instantaneously.  They require an investment from you now to build capacity for later.  When you have invested in building relationships you have freed yourself from the need to know it all or do it all yourself. Relationships multiply your strength.
  4. Resilience - Leaders are not always immediately successful, and they are not uniformly successful at every mission they tackle.  Leadership mojo is revealed in the ability to take one's lumps when things don't go as planned, get back up and onto the horse again.  The resilient leader has a Plan A to fulfill his or her purpose, and also Plans B, C, D - you get the idea.  If your purpose is compelling enough you're not going to say that you're no longer up to it.  You're going for it no matter what.
Leadership mojo is not limited to the extroverts with stores of charisma.  Leadership mojo does not require speech making.  It does not mean that you have to be infallible.  What it does mean is that you make the decision to do something, and then you go forth and do it.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Changing the water in the fish tank

You've read along the way (even here) that the culture in your company is like the water in the fish tank.  The fish (you and your employees) swim in it every day, but you don't notice that it's there unless it has been left unattended and so is starting to grow murky.  The work climate includes things like how people dress, the communication methods that are preferred, war stories about heroes and scapegoats, focus on (or lack of focus on) customers, service, quality, etc.  The water in your tank includes assumptions about authority, the proper length of a workday, and assorted other habits of thought that never reach the conscious thought level unless a specific incident brings a relevant one to the surface.

Here's the thing - you may be thinking that you've got some sick fish working for you (figuratively speaking of course). To some extent the fish have to be responsible for themselves and their own health, but you as the leader are responsible for the condition of the water.  A perfectly sound fish, thrown into toxic water, will grow ill.  Said more bluntly, you are in charge of the work climate in your area, and if people aren't performing well the work climate may need attention from you.

So how do you fix a problem inside your company?  Performance is a combination of knowing what to do (goals), how to do it (skills and knowledge), and wanting to do it (attitude).  You can affect each of these by involving your staff in professional development that has each of these components built into it.

Here are some of the approaches companies have used to address the development of staff:

Pilot Projects
Companies choose to pilot projects or restrict their efforts to current operational hot spots because they want to save money or test their resource before going full-throttle in a people development effort.  This can be a valid trial and better than taking no action when resources are severely limited.  But it doesn't take into account the interdependence between departments, and its impact on performance.  A "cured" fish put back into a tank of bad water won't stay healthy.

Horizontal Slice - Peers
Notice on the diagram that the horizontal slice is at the individual contributor level.  Sometimes this is the easiest decision to make - train our front-line staff - because executives often come with greater levels of education and have more opportunities for professional development.  This doesn't address, though, the fact that management manages the work climate, the processes, the structure, the reward systems, and the strategy that contribute to success or failure.  You can have successes by taking this approach, but you will be leaving money on the table by doing so.

Diagonal Slice
This method places individual contributors directly in the company of senior-level leaders.  It can create greater understanding of the "why" behind executive-level decisions, and can reduce communication barriers that usually accompany interaction among employees at disparate authority levels.  Senior participants can access resources needed to solve problems being experienced by participants at lower levels on the org chart, and there is some beneficial cross-functionality built in here.  Participants should not be with other people in their direct reporting structure, unless the company culture is such that there are no fears of retribution for candid discussion.  

This is the most comprehensive approach, and requires the largest investment in dollars, time, and people.  It does, however, attain the most sustainable results of the four approaches.  The Cascade starts by obtaining commitment to the "fresh water" by senior management, which creates the support structure for the next level, and the next after that until all employees have been touched by the development process.  When employees say, "Management needs this more than us" or "Have the senior managers done their homework?" the company must be able to show sincere commitment at the top if they want to obtain the same level of commitment throughout the organization.

In addition to strategic plan facilitation, process improvement, and executive coaching, Summit has provided integrated cascades of professional development for more than 20 years as part of its vision to unleash human capacity.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

How to make the headache go away

Headache by Flickr Dave
Headache, a photo by Flickr Dave on Flickr. 
Sure, you can take aspirin, or extra-strength migraine pain killer, or acetaminophen, or ibuprofen.  You can put a bag of ice on your head and recline in the dark for a while.  Sometimes that works.  Sometimes you can treat the symptoms and it seems like you'll be fine.  But...

Unless you figure out what's causing the headaches you won't make them go away for good.  And that goes for rashes, stomachaches, cash flow shortages, employee disengagement, quality problems and a host of other symptoms.

You can have temporary success when you treat the symptom.  Feel depressed?  Go shopping - that'll help you feel better.  For now.  Have a cocktail.  Have two.  You can go to the movies to escape.  You can rail at an employee who messed up for the umpteenth time.  But until and unless you are willing to identify the root cause of whatever's ailing you, the treatments won't last.  The symptoms will be back.

What's worse is that your strategy for mitigating the symptoms might cause other problems.  Your painkiller might give you a stomachache.  Your shopping spree might rack up your credit card balance, causing you financial stress.  At work your verbal explosion at that employee will likely mess with his or her productivity for a while today, and maybe the fallout will extend beyond the day into the week, or the month.  And if that employee tells someone else - which he or she likely will - the negative emotions arising from your verbal barrage will spread beyond your intended target and form a mist that permeates your workplace.

Getting at the root cause
When identifying the cause of a mistake or a substandard work product, look upstream in the process.  If the output is wrong, look at the sources of input and look at the steps that processed the input.  Your problem might be between steps, within steps, or at the very beginning with the raw materials that were used.  Your root cause might look like it's with the people, but look closer and you may see that the process is broken, the work environment is too noisy to hear instructions or too dark to read blueprints.  A broken process trumps good people.

In a company setting, looking upstream usually means that at some point you have to look upward on your organizational chart.  Management is cause and all else is effect.  Management is responsible for strategy, for people systems and for operational systems.  If your people are not engaged your senior leaders may be lacking vision or unity in that vision.  They may be displaying inconsistency in follow-through and implementation of company goals, or a number of other factors underpinning the planning, people, and process triangle.  Your leadership might be making assumptions that "every employee should know already" about what is expected of them.

Remediation of the root cause is your ticket to the permanently vanishing headache, and to improved performance that is sustainable.  Ultimately your choice is to fix it for now or fix it for good.  Even if fixing it for good means that you have to look at yourself in the mirror and commit to doing some things differently starting today.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Who do you talk to?

confidants by mattry117
confidants, a photo by mattry117 on Flickr.
Who do you talk to when you want unvarnished, unpackaged, unedited feedback?  Where do you go when you want to think out loud about a solution to a problem, or your latest secret project?  Do you have a mentor?  Do you have a confidant - other than Fido the dog or Boots the cat?

Choosing not to go it alone
News flash - sometimes, perhaps most of the times, you won't know the absolute best answer.  No matter how smart you are, how experienced, or how well educated, some things are outside the boundaries of black and white, yes or no, good or bad.  You might not have enough information, or you might not have had the opportunity to be in this spot before - so you don't know without a doubt your best course of action.

Some people keep it in and try to figure it out on their own because they think they should.  Sometimes they don't want to talk about it because they think it will make them look bad not to be in complete mastery of their current situation.  And sometimes they don't know who to talk to about their concerns - they think they need an expert and don't know where to find one.

Reciprocal vs. non-reciprocal relationships
When you talk to a friend, you talk about your stuff and they talk about theirs.  Depending upon your temperament and that of your friend or significant other, one of you probably has the floor more than the other. You can't spew on about your issues without taking time to listen to theirs too - the back and forth of the interaction is what creates and reinforces the peer-to-peer relationship.

Sometimes your significant others can't help you with what's bothering you other than to empathize with your feelings about the matter.  They might not have the information or experience that you need to draw upon.  And sometimes your issue is such that it creates tension between you and them. You might be so engrossed in your work or your problem and airing it so often that they don't want to hear it any more.

A coach can be a help to you if you are looking for a sounding board and mentor.  You don't have to reciprocate by listening to the coach's issues.  It's all about you.  A coach isn't emotionally involved in the issues at hand, so they can provide feedback, recommendations - or even just listen - and you don't have to worry about whether your relationship will be damaged if you make a particular choice or decision.

Talking vs. doing
Whether you talk to a friend, a spouse, a parent, or a coach - there can be a chasm between word and deed.  If you are full of good intentions but slow to act upon them, who will check up on you or hold you accountable to follow through on whatever you say you want?  The ultimate purpose of communication is to affect someone's behavior.  Sure, it can be helpful to air grievances or brag for a minute.  But the proof of intention is in the follow-through to action, and the results that come after that.  If you're not going to do anything differently as a result, does it really matter who you talk to?  Maybe Fido or Boots will serve your purpose just fine.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The camel with the load of straw

The Straw That Broke The Camel's Back by Marc Shandro
The Straw That Broke The Camel's Back,
a photo by 
Marc Shandro on Flickr. 
This camel's back is not yet broken, but look how he (or she) is staggering under the load!  The camel is weighed down, but the camel is still moving forward.  Eventually the animal's owner will relieve him (or her) of the heavy load, but for now it's plod, plod, plod.  Don't dare to add one more straw, or the entire load could come to a sudden standstill.

Should the camel carry less straw?
Right now it's the decision of the camel's owner and the camel doesn't have a say in the matter.  It's to the owner's advantage to pile as much straw up there as possible, because the trek from source to destination takes a long time.  A bigger load of straw on the camel means fewer trips to the field and back.

If the camel weren't owned by somebody, perhaps the camel wouldn't choose to carry straw at all, but that point is moot.

Should the owner use two camels instead of one?
Looking at it from the camel's perspective - sure.  Having a partner with which to share the load would mean, in theory, that each camel's load would be only half as heavy.  But the owner would have to feed and water double the number of camels, and so would most likely pile it on just as heavily.  The only difference would be that double the amount of straw would be transported.

How do you raise a stronger camel?
How do you build stronger muscles of any kind?  You use them.  You work them under progressively heavier loads.  You trick the body by making the loads suddenly heavy, and then lighter again to cause the muscle fibers minor damage that is repaired in stronger form.  A strong camel is not one that has been pampered.  A strong camel is one that has labored under heavy loads.

What is the sign that one more straw will be too much?
Keep your eye on the camel.  An intermittent stumble or stagger may simply be an adjustment to the load, or an indicator of an obstacle in the road.  But continue to keep your eye on the camel.  He (or she) may need a rest, or some water, or some feed.  The camel can go only so far and for so long without rebelling, or even buckling under the load.  If you ignore the signs and add that one straw too many, you may find yourself sitting at the side of the road with the straw piled around you, waiting for another ride.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Want more new business referrals?

Referrals by gccrepair
Referrals, a photo by gccrepair on Flickr.
How did you find out where to have your hair cut, or where to find reliable and reasonably priced auto service?  Have you noticed lawn signs in your neighborhood showing that the same company is painting five adjacent houses?

You probably rely on referrals to trusted product and service providers more than you realize.  When you need to purchase something important you go to someone you trust and find out who they trust to provide it.  (Of course you'll also be warned off of replicating their bad experiences, and these stories might be quicker to come to the surface!)

You and your business could be generating more new business from referrals.  But if you're like many businesses, you haven't developed and implemented a strategy to make it happen.  Here are some of the reasons we've been told:

  • "I just don't ask routinely."
  • "I don't want them to think that I need the business and am begging."
  • "What if they didn't like what I did all that much?  I'm a little worried that they wouldn't refer me."
  • "I don't know whether I should pay them in some way, or whether that's even ethical."
The foundation for customer referrals
If you want referrals you need to start by creating service experiences that are referable.  Service that consistently goes above and beyond the call of duty can create positive buzz about your business.  Sometimes showmanship in how you serve customers creates a reason for people to choose to buy from you rather than from Brand X.  If you don't have your quality buttoned down, start there.  Fix the things that you know right now might not be showing you in your best light.

If you're throwing up your hands because of some recent boo-boo that has gotten you down, relax.  You don't have to be perfect to generate more referrals.  You will have some customers that love you because you work hard on their behalf, even if things don't go exactly right every time.  Good recovery when mistakes happen can help you solidify a good customer relationship.

Setting customer referrals up from the outset
Let prospective clients know from the beginning that your goal is to provide the kind of experience and results for them that will make them want to tell somebody else about you.  By doing this you're creating a positive expectation, and the expectation will help your client notice the good things you're doing.  If there are specific standards that you strive to meet, tell them - like "We ship within 24 hours of receiving your order."  But only promise what you will consistently deliver.

If you will be asking them who they know that might benefit from your services, let them know.  You might go as far as to make that part of your deal.  A coach we know quotes the investment for his coaching services as "$_______ plus two referrals."  And he's specific about what the word referral means.  "A referral isn't a sales lead.  A referral is when you make my phone ring two times from someone who is seriously considering using my services."

If you're setting up the referral expectation at the outset, follow through on the expectation along the way by asking your customer who they think might benefit from the same thing that they purchased from you.  Of course it's only reasonable to expect a referral if they like what you're doing, so you might have to be partway through your process before they are comfortable enough to vouch for you with somebody in their circle.

Non-customer referrals
Sometimes a helpful prospect or a center of influence will provide a referral to you even if they are not in the position to buy.  For this to happen the referral will be on the basis of you and your relationship with them, not on the service or product you provide.  If you want a referral you will need to ask for one, and since this individual will not have bought from you (yet,) you will help them refer to you more effectively - and help to jog their memory - if you provide a description of your ideal client.  Tell them the circumstances that lead people to buy from you, or demographic or psychographic information about your customer base that will help them sort their contacts for a good fit with you.

Paying for referrals
This is a matter of taste in some instances, and a matter of ethics in others.  For retail services you might provide an across-the-board referral bonus.  For professional services though, consider this:  does the referral lose some of its credibility if the referrer stands to gain financially?  We have a policy not to refer in exchange for money specifically because of that conflict of interest.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Who's too big for coaching?

Tiger Woods by davemihaly
Tiger Woods, a photo by davemihaly on Flickr.
Who makes the best candidate for coaching?  Is it possible to be too big for it?

Tiger - a case in point
Tiger Woods is still on top of the ESPN All-Time Money List Leader Board.  His aggregate earnings are 1/3 higher than the next two golfers on the list (Singh and Mickelson in case you're wondering).  Yet Woods is always working with a coach to improve his swing.  When he ended the recent Masters Tournament with an unremarkable (for him) score, he said that he didn't trust the new swing he was working on.  He has probably already returned to his coaching, to help the new swing become so ingrained that he won't have to think about trusting it on the next go-around.  It will become natural for him, and he will top the Leader Board at more tournaments.

Remedial Coaching
Many leaders are quickest to recommend subpar performers for coaching when they want to take some action to improve results.  This is probably the easiest coaching for leaders to justify, especially when budgets are tight, but it's not the investment with the highest return, and for a few reasons:

  • The person selected to be coached has radar that picks up your "they aren't cutting it" signals, and this radar penetrates any of their manager's fluffy "positioning" of the process.  The radar places the candidate on the defensive and makes them less open to a trusting relationship with their coach.  They see the coach as the long arm of the boss.  This perception means that they are less likely to fully engage in coaching, and it inhibits their progress.
  • Performance is a combination of skills and knowledge, behavior that is aligned with the right goals, and habits of thought that support the desired results.  Core values and aptitudes enter in as well, to form a performance soup with some ingredients that are readily accessible and alterable through coaching, and some that are not.  Coaching is no substitute for a good fit between a person and his or her job role.
  • The feeling of "should" or "have to" can drive better performance in the short run, but only "want to" will keep it going in a sustainable fashion.  A remedial situation can succeed with a highly motivated "want to" candidate - one who possesses many of the fundamentals but needs help channeling them in the most effective manner.
  • No one individual operates in a vacuum - they are part of an interactive and interdependent system of people and processes.  "Fixing" one person is of limited benefit if there are issues beyond him or her.
Superstar Coaching
The highest performing individual, with the most authority and influence, with the highest intelligence and education can be the best candidate for coaching.  Do they "need" it in order to meet the requirements of the job?  In many cases they do not.  But for a performer who wants to be at the top of their game tomorrow as well as today, coaching can be a means by which they can sharpen their saw through a process that is completely tailored for them.

Even superstars don't fulfill their potential if they are not fully engaged.  Boredom in a person who learns quickly and likes to swim upstream can be as big a performance obstacle as lack of skill.  And boredom in a highly paid, highly educated individual is a bigger waste of resources.  

Sometimes superstars arrived at their current positions by focusing heavily in one area (work, for instance,) to such an extent that they have borrowed energy and time from other parts of their lives to make it work.  Ultimately some of those bills can come due in the form of broken marriages, poor health, misbehaving children, etc.  A superstar need not sacrifice quality of life in order to perform at a high level of effectiveness.  Even if you were to take the most strategic perspective on this, a sound case for superstar coaching is the prevention of problems outside of work to help to maintain full, undistracted engagement at work.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Conquer market opportunities with strategic partners

Do you know it all and can you do it all?  Probably not.  Yet the resources may be right at your fingertips that could allow you to bring more value to your clients and to your community.  Your challenge is to recognize that opportunity is abundant, not scarce, in your market.  You don't have to hold competitors at bay - as a matter of fact, you may be able to team up to conquer larger and better opportunities.

A few weeks ago a business owner talked with us about the challenges in his industry, which has been depressed for the past 3 years or so.  He decided to approach another local firm in a related business, and together they bid on a new business opportunity.  Together they were able to rally the resources and the capabilities to knock "the big guy" out of the running and win the project.

If you were to consider collaborating to bring greater synergy and value to your customers, with whom would you do it?  What would be your best next step to open some doors for strategic alliances?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Delegating at your own risk

American Gothic by Thad Zajdowicz
American Gothic, a photo by Thad Zajdowicz on Flickr. 
 Kristin Hershey, a certified financial planner, spoke yesterday about financial planning for women to our Executive Women's Roundtable in York PA.  She asked the participants whether there was any phrase or word that creates a "nails on a chalkboard" reaction in them.  Then she disclosed that for her, in her line of work, the phrase is "my husband takes care of that."  

Hershey said that she understands the need for delegation.  Women are often juggling jobs, kids, and housekeeping, and sometimes it makes sense to place financial planning and management in the husband's bucket of responsibilities. But when a woman doesn't know the state of the family finances she's at risk, and although there are a number of different risks, one is a biggie - she is likely to outlive her spouse.
  • A woman is more likely to be left to make decisions on her own about assistance with her health care and/or activities of daily living.  It's likely that she will be available to help her spouse when he becomes ill, so he won't have a similar need.
  • If a husband's illness depletes the bulk of the couple's financial resources (again assuming that he'll be first), the wife is left to figure out how to manage on whatever financial resources remain.

What if she doesn't know where all of the family transaction and investment accounts are located?  What if she doesn't know the password to the Quicken software, and the dates on which there are scheduled payments coming out of her checking account?  How can she have a smooth transition to handling the finances if she has delegated so completely that she's in the dark?

Hershey informed the roundtable participants that there is a beneficial purpose to engage the services of a financial planner in helping women (and their husbands) get a better handle (and become better prepared) on their finances.  A CFP designation means the advisor has passed a test after numerous courses in investment vehicles, planning strategies, etc.  She suggested that a husband and wife visit a CFP together to lay out the current financial picture, agree upon goals, and work with the advisor to develop a list of action steps near term to start to progress toward the financial goals they identify.

If there was another risk management message that came through loud and clear - and this one was gender-neutral - it was that "we don't have an investment market problem.  The market is fine.  We have a savings problem."  Hershey told the group that even $50 per week or per month would compound over time and could make a significant difference in the quality of an individual's later years.  A ten-year delay in saving for retirement could result in a $500,000 negative impact on the resources available.

Sobering information.  But today's the day to start on a path that will protect you tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How high can you go?

Flying High - J.E. Poland
How long have you been performing at your current level?  Are you swinging upward on that first round of achievement, or have you reached a plateau - even a slump?  Whether your recent journey has been forward or backward or sitting still, have you considered lately just how high you might be able to go?

Your feet might have the capacity to touch the sky.  But it if you want to soar you can't just sit there.  A gust of wind won't be strong enough to move you off the spot.  And another person might not be standing by, ready and willing to push you.  You're going to have to pump your legs.  You're going to have to lean into the momentum to make it work for you.  And you're going to have to keep pumping.

The backward swing is all part of the ride.  And if you're willing to lean into that - you'll have more power to launch forward.  When you stop resisting, when you stop counter-leaning out of fear, you can embrace the pull that nature provides to you.  And before you know it, you'll look in front of you and your vision will be full of nothing but sky and possibility.  And that moment of weightlessness is pure joy.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Whose performance feedback matters most?

Scoreboard by Ron Dressel
Scoreboard, a photo by Ron Dressel on Flickr
One of the toughest (and most frequently procrastinated) jobs of a supervisor or manager is the performance review.  Why do bosses (and employees) dread the conversation?  Shouldn't the boss's evaluation of an employee's performance be the ultimate motivator?  Wouldn't this be a reason for the boss to embrace the idea and get right on it?

Apparently not.  Sometimes when you resist an activity it's because your gut tells you that there's something out of alignment in it.  Sometimes you perceive a risk because you know you don't have enough data to draw a conclusion. If you procrastinate on performance evaluations, could these be two of the reasons why?

W. Edwards Deming proposed that performance evaluations don't work and shouldn't be done because even a front-line supervisor is one step away from the actual job, and that means the supervisor doesn't really know what goes on.  In Deming's view, nobody but the person actually doing the job can evaluate how it has been going.

In 1989 Sidney Yoshida revealed the results of a study of a typical manufacturing company in Japan.  He identified an "Iceberg of Ignorance," which stated that senior management was only aware of 4% of the problems with processes and policies that prevented customers from doing business with their company.

If Deming and Yoshida were correct, then performance evaluation can only be validly done by the person doing the work.  So here's where the scoreboard comes into play, and it isn't relegated to a once-a-year process.  If an employee or team uses a scoreboard of sorts for performance feedback they have the opportunity to compete with themselves on a daily or weekly basis.  They see results quickly enough that they can make corrections to processes or methods before errors have much of an opportunity to accumulate in the forms of waste or delays.

If you're an individual contributor on a baseball team, your stats contribute to the overall score.  You have your own batting average, your own home run and stolen base statistics, and if you watch them game by game you know what elements of your performance require attention to make your contribution to the team bigger.  If you're in baseball, everybody else knows what your stats are too - and the desire to show good numbers on the board unleashes an internal drive to do better.

When you use a scoreboard of sorts in the workplace, whether it relates to cycle times, error rates, numbers of parts cranked out per hour, or number of cars sold by each person each day this week, the numbers tell the story.  Individuals can get their own feedback.  You as the supervisor or manager don't have to exercise subjective judgment about performance because the objective data reveals the performance.

If you want to work in an adult-to-adult climate in your business, providing the process for employees to see and evaluate their own performance data is a key ingredient in creating exactly that climate.  Stand back and see how employees take hold of the data for themselves and use it to improve things.  Let them loose to make positive changes to their work processes.  The scoreboard could be a key tool to continuous improvement that increases engagement and positive results.