Friday, June 29, 2012

Affordable Care Act - Alone in a Crowd

Alone in a Crowd by vnduan
Alone in a Crowd, a photo by vnduan on Flickr.
If there were a day that proved the power of attitudinal goggles, yesterday was it.  The Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act as constitutional, and citizens either celebrated or mourned, depending upon their perspectives on the value of the signature legislation of the Obama administration.

Amid the celebration and consternation, one professional, whose core values and occupation are wrapped up in providing accessibility to health care for all, said yesterday that he was exhausted.  He has fought the fight for a long time, and he said he has been working for a number of years in a setting where the movers and shakers in the community seem unable or unwilling to see the same value that he does.  His motives are altruistic.  They have nothing to do with usurping personal autonomy or installing the government as nanny to the masses.  Yet he feels like he's constantly swimming upstream against prevailing opinion in his community.

It's not easy to be alone in a crowd, and it's especially difficult when the issue - it could be health care, religion, the role of the arts in schools or even who's the best football team - is near enough to the bone that emotions become inflamed by it.

Is discretion truly the better part of valor?
Part of the issue for this person is that although there are others around him who share his perspective, they are also tired of hearing the opposing view.  So they have adapted to the situation of feeling outnumbered by keeping their mouths shut and thereby avoiding arguments.

Certainly there is a time and place where discussing controversial and potentially emotionally inflaming topics is not wise.  But are these people inadvertently helping to strengthen the very perspectives that they oppose by not speaking out?  There might be other people in the vicinity who are also reluctant to feel alone in a crowd, not knowing that they are not, in fact, alone.  If the individuals had the courage to make themselves known they might find heretofore hidden compatriots who would join them in the sharing of their views, and potentially influence those individuals who don't really know the facts, but who are jumping onto the loudest bandwagon.

Black, white, and shades of gray
Too much certainty ("I know everything about it and you won't change my mind") creates aloneness.  Certainty about one's values and standing up for them is a sign of character, but in the complex world in which we live the facts are always filtered through our attitudinal goggles.  "Truth" in the mind of one person can be complete fiction in the eyes of another.  Black is rarely black, and white rarely completely white.

When you have too much certainty you are not open to information that conflicts with your presumptions.  If you lean left you search for information that supports your views, and if you lean right you find pundits and authors who support that perspective.  All of the commitment to a current way of thinking without the benefit of discussion digs bunkers of partisanship.  Then the warriors shoot at one another, with the citizenry caught in the crossfire.

Taking their word for it
Who is making the determination about how you are going to think?  Who are your sources?  In court heresay is not acceptable evidence, yet in the public discourse second-and third-hand information, deftly spun for consumption (see the above section) is swallowed hook, line and sinker by a public that's too busy or too something else to do its homework.  Who are you really representing when you're representing?  Do you know what you're really saying, or are you simply repeating something that sounded good at the time you heard somebody else say it?

Being alone in a crowd because you stand for something can be an admirable position.  Being part of a crowd for no good reason - not so admirable.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Climbing off the roller coaster

Cylone Roller Coaster by elisamike
Cylone Roller Coaster, a photo by elisamike on Flickr.

Take a good look at the faces on this ride.  The guy in the white shirt in the front seat is having the time of his life, while his seatmate appears to be clinging onto the armrest in an attempt to stabilize herself.  The guy in the second row looks a bit queasy while his seatmate has a hand in the air.  

It would appear that roller coasters aren't for everyone.  The peaks and valleys provide thrills if you're into that sort of thing - but you can bet that fewer people would be smiling if they didn't know that the steep downward plunge was going to be followed - every time - by a climb back up.  They wouldn't be lifting their hands up in the air if the cars weren't secured to the rails.  Instead they might avoid the ride altogether, or hang on for dear life, wondering whether this ride would be their last.

Does your business feel like a roller coaster to you?  Are there cash flow ups and downs, seasonality, economic sensitivity that can have a dramatic influence on your results?  Are you enjoying the thrill of the ride, or are you gritting your teeth and hanging on, counting on a yet unseen upturn on the track?

Think for a moment though, about whether you're solely riding on the roller coaster, or whether you have the opportunity to design the ride.  Do you really have to sit there buckled in while someone else decides where the dips and curves are going to be?

You may be missing opportunities to work on your business while you're working in your business.  For instance, have you considered these questions:

  • What is the source of the main stream of revenue in your company?  Are there multiple sources, or do one or two contribute enough that if they went away you'd be in hot water?
  • What would happen if you wouldn't be able to go in to work?  What would stop happening?  Would it be life-threatening to the company?
  • What is the impact of speed in your business?  If you delivered faster would you generate cash more quickly?  Is your Accounts Receivable process in good shape so you're receiving appropriate and prompt compensation for work done?
  • How happy are your customers?  What do they like (versus tolerate) about your products and services?  Are they coming back, or you having to reinvent your book?
  • Is your product mix the right one for your target market, your resources, and your future?  Would it stabilize your business to have more variety, or to cut the nonperforming ones from your offerings?
You don't have to ride along clinging to the armrest.  You might not be able to eliminate all of the peaks and valleys in your business, but you may be able to smooth them into a more enjoyable, more sustainable ride.  It's not the easiest task to step back and be strategic when you're in the middle of a crazy schedule and people pulling at you from all directions.  But stepping back and being strategic is exactly what you need to make time to do if you want to climb off the roller coaster.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

So you're in an argument....part 2

JoA in an argument by Anders V
JoA in an argument, a photo by Anders V on Flickr.

This is part two of a two-part post on communicating in conflict:

So now you find yourself between the proverbial rock and the hard place, in a conflict situation. Understanding what's going on (yesterday's blog topic) is your first step.  Now you determine your course of action. Notice that the word is "determine."  That means your communication is likely to be most effective when you hit your internal "pause" button and consider before you act.  Otherwise your response to the conflict will be reaction, founded in your conditioning, which is not always helpful in creating the results you want.

If you're directly involved
  • Stop and listen. There is the specific point of disagreement, and then there's everything else attached to it that's creating the emotional state. You want to understand both pieces of the puzzle in order to find a way forward.
  • Acknowledge the feeling and the content coming from the other person. Feed back what you think you're hearing, for two reasons. First, it confirms to the other person that you were indeed listening. Second, their response to your feedback helps you identify whether the real source of the conflict is in the issue itself or in something else. (For example, people have projected their work frustrations on their families for years, arguing with the people who love them instead of the people who could fire them.)
  • Identify common ground or a common goal. When you can, start with a basis of some agreement and go from there. When you agree on part, it's easier for one or both of you to concede, compromise, or find a completely different third option together.
  • Determine whether it's truly important that you agree. Sometimes it's OK for two people to occupy their own spaces, believing or doing different things. Some conflicts are caused when you step out of your own space and invade that of the other person. When you release your desire for unnecessary control of the other person, the conflict fades.
  • If what needs to happen is not agreement, but rather compliance, say so. If you are in an authority position you are ultimately in the driver's seat - it is not always a democracy. Your power is enhanced when you can inspire the "right" actions in the other person via the relationship rather than by wielding your authority, but sometimes your authority is an appropriate tool in getting things done. In addition, sometimes people need to see that an action is right by seeing it work - the conflict will resolve itself once they see the success of the recommended (mandated!) action.
If you are not directly involved:
  • Stay out of it unless you have a designated role as leader or moderator. Let the parties work it out among themselves. When you step into a conflict without some designated role you are taking on the role of parent. Even with children, when you step into a conflict and don't allow space for them to figure out how to handle it you are preventing them from acquiring the tools to do so.
  • Share information if you think it will help to shed light on the content of the conflict. Sometimes conflict arises when two completely misinformed or uninformed parties verbally duke it out over false assumptions or bad information. It works best to ask both parties before you enter the conversation, or you will find yourself in parent role, and now a participant in the conflict.
  • Contact the appropriate authorities if the conflict looks severe enough that it could escalate to the point of physical violence. They are trained to calm conflict situations, or in the worst case, to restrain violent or threatening individuals.
If you are a designated leader or moderator:
  • Your job is to set the tone. Conflict can be healthy if it is an exploration of differing ideas, thus stretching a group and helping it learn. That exploration can be done without including personal attacks. If you are running a group, set ground rules (preferably with team input) to set the expectations for behavior ahead of time, and hold the group to it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

So you're in the middle of an argument... part 1

Arguments - a photo by dpup on Flickr
Effective leadership and influence is usually not the result of some new and flashy technique; rather, it's more often the outcome of executing the fundamentals of human relations well. This is part one of a two-part post:

It's relatively easy to say that you are an effective communicator when you are with friends, or when sailing on relationship water that's smooth as glass. One of the true tests of communication skill, though, is when you have to navigate the choppy seas of disagreement and conflict. When you're engaged head to head and you want to find a productive course through it, here are some questions to ask yourself:
  • Is it important that you agree? Many times the answer to this question is no. Yet people still allow themselves to get all riled up, as though this were the game of the week and the winner gets a cut of the TV profits. When you get too ramped up about a particular perspective you place it higher in priority than your relationship with the person with whom you are communicating. And when you're firmly seated in your own "rightness" you are in parent ego state - not a mode that's likely to help the other people feel open to your input. It makes you less persuasive, not more.
  • What is the most important outcome of this conflict? Sometimes it's most important that a decision be made so that it can be acted upon. In other situations your priority is to maintain or repair the relationship with the other person. If the relationship is in the forefront for you, you might choose to downplay or avoid the conflict-ridden subject, or detach yourself from a specific outcome. If, however, you want your perspective to prevail, you might use various techniques to compete for the "win."
  • Does one opinion have to prevail, or can there be a blended solution? Not every conflict is required to result in "I win, you lose"or vice versa. Collaboration at its best includes the mental work of all participants. There is rarely only one right answer to a situation or a problem - despite the fact that one of the answers is yours.
  • Is it really about this conflict? This is a common situation in longstanding relationships - this disagreement contains a meta-message behind the actual content of the conflict. It represents, for example, autonomy or power - either yours or the other party's. Or you might be angry about some other issue that you haven't brought to the foreground, and this conflict is the opportunity to express your anger - it's a designated issue. If this conflict is a designated issue you won't truly feel better until you deal with the other, root issue. If you choose not to deal with the root issue, be prepared for replays of the conflict.
Part two of this post will contain tips for communicating effectively in conflict situations.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The best next step

next step... by Dan SIP.08
next step..., a photo by Dan SIP.08 on Flickr.
Sometimes progress is measured in leaps forward. But far more often, progress is best approached by considering the best next step forward.  And in some cases, the next step isn't even without a helper or a net.

Sometimes people resist the knowledge that a particular change is important, necessary, even a life or death issue for them.  They resist because they see the huge quantity of effort that is going to be required (or that they assume is going to be required) to arrive at their destination.  And so they wait.  They hold onto the knowledge of the need for change, looking at it in the mirror and wearing it around their necks until it starts to weigh heavily on them.  And ultimately the disconnect between what is known to be needed and what has not yet been done starts to create an internal dissonance and discomfort.

The best next step is not always known.  Sometimes a step - best choice or not - is enough, though, to break the inertia that habit or fear has created.  Once the result of that step is revealed the next step shows itself, and one by one the steps start the journey.

You don't have to take a giant leap and cover all of the distance at one time.  Sure, you might feel pressure and a sense of urgency to get it done, whatever it is.  But ultimately it will come down to one step in that direction - and then another and another.

What are the big things that you have not yet started?  What are the projects, the goals, the dreams and aspirations, that feel overwhelming in their size or in degree of difficulty?  You know that nothing different is going to happen until somebody helps it to happen.  And when you become the person who chooses to take a next step to create positive change, the first thing you change in a positive way is your view of yourself.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Being there for the point of decision

Left of Right ?   Decision, Decision !
Left of Right?  Decision, Decision!
A photo by on Flickr
When you're in a position to influence, either with or without formal authority, one of your goals is to help people make decisions that are in alignment with your desired direction.  In sales, you hope the decision is a "yes" to the opportunity to move forward with you.

When you have been surprised with the outcome of a decision, particularly when it doesn't go the way that you wanted it to go, part of the reason might be that you haven't been present when the actual decision was made.  You might not have been speaking with the ultimate decision maker, but rather only with the person who could filter you OUT of contention.  Or you might have been working with a group, where both individual preferences AND the group dynamic impacted whether or not you were able to obtain a "Yes."

How do you know whether the group or individual made a "good" decision if you were not there for the thought process?  In many instances they might have compared apples and oranges and chose a lesser alternative just because it looked less expensive.  Or their decision criteria as individuals decision makers in the larger group was unknown to you, so you didn't provide the kid of information they needed to help them validly evaluate whether your recommendation is worth pursuing.

You reduce your reliance on salesperson "hopeium" when you help your prospective clients through their thought process.  That means that you need to stop presenting and presenting and start asking questions.  Don't present until you have asked questions to determine needs and wants.  Ask questions about the perceived benefits associated with taking action and the consequences of choosing another provider or no action at all.  Ask questions that will stimulate discussion of perceived shortcomings in your product or service (how can you debunk misconceptions if you don't know what they are?)  Through your questions and their answers you can help them explore the idea more thoroughly, provide evidence on your prior performance, etc.  By being more involved you can help them decide more promptly and feel good about whatever decision they make - and thereby reduce the potential for buyer's remorse later.

Some buyers aren't going to make a decision on  the spot no matter what you do.  It's part of their regular practice to remove themselves from the in-person influence you have over them.  Sometimes a group needs you to be out of the room so they can speak frankly among themselves about your recommendation.  Even so, rather than go straight from presentation to decision, build in an interim Q & A session.  Give them the chance to go away and generate questions and objections, then bring them back together so you can field them together - and have more control over the accuracy of their information and assumptions.

If a lot of your pending sales are in hold mode while individuals or groups are deciding, and you don't have a good idea which way they are tending to lean at the moment, it might be that you haven't been involved enough in the decision process.  Not to butt in or press, but to provide exactly the information they need to do their jobs effectively.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Daily fires burning out of control?

FIREFIGHTING SCHOOL, a photo by wheelerdonna on Flickr. 
Here's the scene:  You arrive at the office, coffee in hand, and head toward your desk when one of the employees in your department stops you.  "Hey, we've got a big problem with the order for Bigco.  I don't know whether we can fix it.  Can you come over right now?"

Great.  Another day in paradise, and you're off to fight the fire.  It's lucky that you have the expertise and the political pull to fight this thing; you just might have a shot at fixing the problem before Bigco, your best customer, is impacted.  But geez, this seems to be happening way too often.  Your coffee will probably go cold before you have a chance to drink it this morning.  Again.

What's causing the fires?
The assumption in your company might be that you have a people problem.  They aren't paying attention, they don't care, they can't get it right to save their own lives - they, they, they.  But this assumption is usually wrong.  Sure, there might be an employee engagement problem, but that's a symptom, not the disease.  You need to look upstream, and you'll find the real issue in

  • Planning
  • Process
  • Management
What?  That's you?  Sorry, but although your intentions may be wholesome, the buck stops with you.  You need to be planning in both long term and shorter term time frames to make sure that today's activities are in alignment with your company's overall direction.  You are also the creator and keeper of work processes, and if they are broken even the best people can't keep them going indefinitely without failure.  And the manner in which you lead contributes to or detracts from employee engagement.  If you intend to go in today and crack some heads over this latest brush fire you're likely to perpetuate the kind of secret keeping and frustration that will nearly ensure that you'll be dealing with this problem again.  If you go in with the intention of finding and convicting the culprit you'll erode teamwork - unless they unite against a common foe, and that would be YOU.

Fire Prevention
If you don't want to live this way, with stress hormones coursing through your veins every day and a perpetual cup of cold coffee on your desk, it's time to take action.  Do something differently right now.  Nope, you don't have time to do it.  That's a given, but it's not a valid reason not to act.  Fire prevention time is time you will probably have to steal from something else that's pulling at you, but that is not really important to your results.  Stephen Covey would call fire prevention activities "Quadrant Two" activities - not urgent but important.  You have to choose to allocate time for them.  Planning, relationship building, process improvement, capacity building - even rest and relaxation - are fire prevention activities.

Hidden Pyros
OK, now for the tough question:  Do you love fires just a little bit?  Do they give you an opportunity to emerge from the same-old same-old and stretch your mental muscles, your problem solving ability, and your authority?  You don't have to say so out loud, but if you recognize that you're a hidden pyro, understand that you're trading outstanding business results for short term thrills.  

There's no question that when your energy is focused on the crisis du jour you don't have time to think, to plan, to change.  In some respects these crises keep you where you're comfortable - exercising your judgment in areas where you know you have expertise and keeping you out of the unknown.  The unknown can be a bit scary, ambiguous and unpredictable, but that's where you're supposed to be.  That's why you get paid the big bucks.

You don't have to settle for life as a firefighter at work.  Or at home.  And if it's happening over and over again, understand that on some level you are choosing to be one.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

HR myth - you have it or you don't

You don't know me by Cyril BRETON
You don't know me, a photo by Cyril BRETON on Flickr.
During or after a series of professional development workshops for newly minted leaders (work Summit does a lot of) someone will inevitably ask, "Who do you think is going to make it?" as though the fact of the matter can be determined after spending five and a half days with the participants. 

Years ago, when still working inside the corporate setting, Summit coaches observed a similar phenomenon, albeit played out a bit differently. Based upon a candidate's education, connections, intelligence, looks, etc. some managers were guessing up front what that person's potential for corporate success (defined by progressively higher authority) would be.

The evaluation itself seemed harmless enough - until it created management behavior that used the informal comments as career pathing criteria.  This handicapping practice set up a sort of caste system where the perceived up-and-comers were granted engineered high-profile opportunities to prove themselves - and those not judged to have great futures didn't get them. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy!  This doesn't even touch on the question of favoritism or discrimination based upon other criteria - actions that could have legal consequences for a manager or a company.

The self-employed are not immune from these assumptions and preconceptions, but they can choose on their own to overcome them.  O
ne of the better aspects of being self-employed is that nobody but you gets to decide what your future is going to be. No matter your education, your intelligence, your connections, your looks - if you do the activities necessary to attract and maintain customers you're going to be successful.

Corporate titans and their new business fallout
Some former execs, highly educated and financially rewarded in their prior lives, blanch at the idea of being rejected on a cold sales call. They dislike that step of the process so much that as new business owners they don't contact prospects to start the client acquisition process. They wait for the unwashed masses to discover them and hurry on down to part with their hard-earned money in exchange for some genetically-acquired expertise.  Or these titan-owners get their noses out of joint after the first few prospective clients answer their phones with, "Who the heck are you??  What makes you think you know what my company needs??"  They begin to avoid the uncomfortable startup activities, and ultimately discover this truth - nothing happens until somebody sells something. A number of new businesses disappear from the radar screen because their owners' pride prevents them from fulling their potential and earning the opportunity to share their vast stores of expertise.

Many ways to skin the cat
Some incredibly intelligent people repeatedly shoot themselves in the foot by spending too much time thinking about what they need to do and not enough time doing it. So they wind up disproving the myth about intelligence as a predictor of performance.  On the flip side, certain analytical, quiet individuals debunk the "extroverts do sales" myth when they lay out detailed plans for their desired futures, then methodically take one step at a time to build outstanding businesses.  They far surpass the assumptions about what their temperament will or will not enable them to do.  Then there's the evidence of the self-named introverts who draw clients like flies to honey because they listen instead of talking their prospective clients' heads off, They don't show up and throw up like the old-school presentation-oriented sales models.

So the invalidation of "you have it or you don't" amounts to the way in which you use and develop what you have to achieve the outcomes you want to achieve.  Does it help to have good tools in order to succeed?  Yes. Does it make the job easier to have certain skills, talents and resources already in place? Sure. Can a person stand a greater chance of being successful if they use a process that's been proven to work in a broad assortment of venues by a wide variety of practitioners? Of course.

If you're in the leader role, the point here is that it's time to be done with handicapping people's potential. Stop sizing them up and deciding right out of the chute what their fate is going to be. Otherwise you'll set up the very conditions that prove your assumption, even if you weren't correct in your initial assessment of them.  Let them show you. Let them share in the responsibility for their own futures and demonstrate to you that they can develop themselves into the leaders, the owners, the human beings they dream they can be. You owe them that.

And if you think you've been pre-assessed and your future determined - you don't have to settle for less than what you can do.  Show 'em.  Debunk the assumption.  Stretch yourself.  Let them realize their mistake in underestimating you, and you AND the people who follow you will benefit.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Who broke the vase?

Broken glas. by jacobssalon
Broken glas., a photo by jacobssalon on Flickr.
It was only a bit of hijinks.  It was only a careless comment on a stress-filled day.  It was only an attempt to beat the traffic light.  But now something has toppled over and shattered into pieces.

You didn't mean for it to happen.  You're usually careful.  And you thought you had considered all of the ramifications of doing whatever it was that you were doing.  Well, maybe you didn't.  Maybe you missed some.  And maybe you were so caught up in the dash through the house that you forgot to look out for Grandma's favorite vase on the table.

Unintended consequences are sometimes the hardest to accept.  You didn't mean to hurt their feelings.  You didn't mean to destroy property.  You didn't think that today's actions would create fallout that could last for weeks, months, even years.  But here you are.  The vase is lying in shards on the floor, and it can''t be unbroken.  Mended, perhaps.  But even the best repair job will likely leave behind the shadows of the fractures from the event, even if you can put the vase back together well enough to place it back on display.

Stimulus - response.  We live in a world where reactions are immediate, impulsive, conditioned.  If somebody runs, you chase them.  If someone argues, you argue back.  If you see a police cruiser with its lights on, you touch the brake pedal even if you know that you're driving well within the speed limit.

If only there were an internal pause button that would automatically stop that impulsive or conditioned behavior before the vase is broken.  With some mindfulness, you can help yourself prevent the broken vases and hurt feelings in your life.  You can strengthen your will to choose rather than react.

But until you do so, the hard lessons will still be there.  Not all containers bounce back from a fall, unharmed.  Sometimes the vase is broken, and it can't be mended.  You might not be able to replace it with a comparable item.  That's a hard lesson, especially if you're attached to it, or it has some special meaning to you, or it's rare and valuable.

Perhaps you won't have to break a vase before you determine that you want to develop your internal pause button.  That's our wish for you.  But if you have experienced unintended consequences along the way and have not learned from them- perhaps it would be good to have another thought coming.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Lasering in on your ideal customer

Ideal Customers by kapshure
Ideal Customers, a photo by kapshure on Flickr.
So you're in sales and you want customers.  Will any customers do?  Is it all about the cha-ching sound that you hear in your head, or is it about more than that?

After the first sale
It's a misrepresentation to call the official signing on the dotted line a "closing."  It's like marriage - the beginning of your relationship with that customer.  THIS sale to your new customer isn't going to determine the longevity and success of your company.  It's the string of repeat sales that follow this one (that are 80% cheaper to make) and the referrals of your thrilled customer to other customers that will make your company's future bright.

If we follow the marriage metaphor we can see the shortsightedness of the "close 'em!" mindset.  Young folks with impending nuptials tend to be consumed with the Big Day, the dress, the flowers, the cake, the band - and lose sight of the Long Partnership with its string of bad hair days, kid-consumed years, short budgets, and arguments about money.  In this same vein, too many salespersons and their managers are consumed with the technique-based close - the sales version of the Big Day.  They work on honing the tricks and (dare we say?) manipulations that get that first yes.   What do Ben Franklin, the Dutch Uncle, etc. have to do with how well you serve your customers?  The first yes only creates the opportunity for success.  Your delivery of what is expected - and more - paves the way for a long term relationship.

It might not go too far to say that over-focus on sales might be happening because the delivery isn't cutting it.  When you are over-promising you can run customers through the revolving door and never make progress in your revenue growth goals.

Strategy around the Ideal Customer
When you know exactly what you're good at delivering - and consistently well - you can hone in on a profile of your ideal customer.  When you REALLY know what you're looking for you're more likely to find him or her.  In addition, knowing what job title they have, their gender, their age, their location, their buying habits - even their color preferences - you can use the information to make well-aligned decisions about:

  • Your location
  • Your delivery systems
  • The best sales process
  • Your logo
  • Your pricing
  • And more
Let's take an example.  You have decided that your customers are business owners, because they are the usual decision makers for your product or service.  You have far more questions to ask yourself if you want to build your business around an ideal customer profile.
  1. What are my ideal customer's needs and wants?
  2. When do they buy?
  3. How do they like to buy?
  4. What type of person do they relate to best?
  5. How do they like to interact with us, and how often?
  6. How old are they?
  7. How many employees do they have?
  8. How old is their company?
  9. Who are their customers?
  10. (This could go on and on)
A lot of the inefficiency in planning for your company's future comes from not having enough information to discover a clear pathway.  If you want your business to be sustainable, you need the best match possible between your company's core strengths and customer needs.

One last thought
Identifying your ideal customer does not mean that you can't do business with anyone else.  It simply means that you are choosing to focus your decisions and your resources around your ideal customer.  Additional business is the icing on the cake - no wedding pun intended.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

What your goals have in common with chickens

The pecking order! by Oceanraider........ On & Off for autumn :)
The pecking order!,
a photo by 
Oceanraider........ On & Off for autumn :) on Flickr. 
The pecking order isn't only an expression.  Chickens have a dominance hierarchy, and one of the behaviors they use to demonstrate dominance is pecking.  Through the pecking order (literally) chickens determine who is the "top chicken" and the "bottom chicken," and they do this even in hen houses that have no rooster in residence.  (Who ever said that leadership was gender-based?)

Now for your goals.  If you have been paying attention to what we've been saying in this blog you have developed a list of your key goals. It's in written form and you refer to it regularly to keep yourself on track.  But if you're like many people, some of your goals might have a built-in conflict with others.  It might be a time use conflict (you only have 1 hour to work on something and have to choose what it will be).  It might be a resource conflict - investing money on item A or item B but not both at the same time.

Your goals need a pecking order.  They need to be prioritized.  You determine the top chicken(s) so you won't simply default to working on the goal that is the smallest or easiest, or the one that's sitting right in front of you.  You determine which is the most important.  Then you align your resources with the intentional choice.

You might choose from a variety of criteria to figure out your top chickens:

  • Seasonality - summer is the best time for some of them, winter for others
  • Biggest bang for smallest resource outlay
  • Key stakeholders want one of them ASAP
  • Customer impact if it's completed - or not
  • Committed time deadline or delivery date
  • Integration with goal of a larger group - the next person needs yours to be complete before they can do theirs
  • You have more passion about them

When you don't prioritize - when you don't identify your top chickens - you increase the likelihood that you will be feeling conflicted and pulled among your goals.  That often results in scattered energy use or lack of real action toward any of them.  Go count your chickens, and line them up.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Are you ready for a communication policy?

by SummitHRD 2012

Communication methodology is perhaps the largest contributor to your company's culture. Yet in many organizations it grows not by intent, but rather haphazardly or organically. The larger your company gets, the more important it can be to have a formalized communication policy because you
  • Don't necessarily have direct contact with everyone in the company
  • Can't assume that all employees and stakeholders are coming from the same set of skills and values
  • Have more people conveying the company image to current and prospective customers
And these are just the first reasons that come to mind. There are many more.

This topic came up when a retiree told us that his former employer's policy was to "Tell them everything unless we can't tell them." Interesting. The company's operating mode of full disclosure - unless it was important not to disclose for some reason - meant that employees were really bought into the company and its culture. At least that's how the retiree framed it.  Employees knew what was going on and felt like participants in it, to the point that some of them would bleed the company colors if they were hit by a truck.

If you think it's time to get more formalized in your communication, to the point that you want to create policy, here are some of the considerations:
  • What are the values behind the policy? (complete candor in everything, our employees are key stakeholders, our customers need us to keep their secrets, our main asset is intellectual property, etc.)
  • What is the purpose behind creating a communication policy? What do you hope to achieve?
  • Who are to be included as official senders of communication?  Who are the intended responders to customers and other outside inquiries?
  • What level of engagement do you want to maintain with customers?  With employees?
  • Who is responsible for corporate image consistency? Can just anyone copy the company logo, or does it have to be in approved format in approved colors?
  • Who are the recipient groups for communication? How will the methods used vary from group to group?
  • In what direction are you trying to encourage information flow? Down? Up? Sideways? Radiating out from the company? Inward from customers?
  • How are you best at communicating with them?
  • How do they best like to receive information? (Your communication will be better if you consider the preferences of the prospective receivers when you structure it. If you live by email but they don't and you want to reach them use their mode, not yours.)
No matter what policy you set there will be an informal communication system in operation in addition to yours. Your biggest influence on the informal system will be to provide real information in larger quantities that you've been used to doing. The grapevine loves a vacuum - people will feed on tidbits and lose productivity trying to interpret them, not to mention that the interpretation will most likely be (a) negative in spin and (b) inaccurate.

Cluetrain 101 Sketch 1
Originally uploaded by Stephanie Booth

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Change things by being a drip?

As the water drips by NolanH
As the water drips,
a photo by 
NolanH on Flickr. 
Sometimes the best lessons about how to effect change come from nature.  A week or two ago we talked in this blog about the unreliability of impact to effect change.  Today, a few words about one of the most reliable methods - spaced repetition.

Your brain doesn't automatically evaluate everything that enters it - your brain's job is to store information.  Period.  That's why you remember the lyrics and tune to songs you don't even like - you have heard them often enough on the radio that they have turned into ear worms, stuck in your head and repeating themselves until you replace them with some other stimulus. Your message can be just as lasting as those tunes on the radio.

That's also why you might jolt awake in the middle of the night, adrenaline rushing and pulse racing even though you know that there can't possibly be an intruder.  Your brain doesn't evaluate whether your sudden fear is justified.  You just feel it.

If you want to change the environment in which you work, or even change your own habits of thought, you are well served to make like drops of water and land on the rock over and over again.  It might seem like the drops of information are running off, but over time even the hardest rock can be worn away.

Repeat your message, and repeat it.  Statistically you (and others who hear it) will retain more than half of the message for 15 years to life.  Water can form the Grand Canyon, and you can create dramatic change too - if you're willing to be a drip - er, a drop of water.