Developing Your Successor

Whether the issue is preparing a business for sale or enabling the next generation to take over, managers increasingly find themselves wondering where the future leadership for an organization will come from. They may wonder, “When will Jim finally step up and take some leadership around here?” or “Will Susan be willing and able to assume control when I’m ready to retire six years from now?” The more appropriate question is, “When will this manager execute a plan to prepare new leadership to take over this company?” It is ironic that for a leader to find a successor, they must take the lead in developing leaders.

The reasons for employees not pursuing leadership are fairly predictable. These reasons are based on preconceptions regarding their ability to do the job or perceived satisfaction of taking on such a job. The list of reasons can include:

  • Complacency – liking things just the way they are
  • Lack recognition of the key skills necessary for leadership
  • Lack of confidence
  • Intimidated with how the culture treats leaders
  • Do not see incentives for taking on additional responsibility

All of these reasons will require the employee to undergo personal, positive change before they can be ready to lead. For this change to happen in a timely fashion, four elements need to be present in the management culture: Goals, Rewards, Instruction, and Process. To remember them, I refer to them as GRIP; as in “get a grip”.

 

Goals: An effective goal set is multi-dimensional. They address both long and short terms and both tangible and intangible changes. To grow leaders, there needs to be a clear link between organizational and individual goals and management needs to teach members to hold themselves accountable for their goal success.

Rewards: The best rewards are win-win. A win for the company is a reward that gains the desired result without stunting the growth of the company. A win for the employee is being able to achieve the goal and receive a reward that supports a valued, personal goal. Win-win rewards are far more effective than cash rewards.

Instruction: To grow leadership, instruction and coaching need to be available to develop the key soft skills of communication, persuasion, time management, and productivity.

Process: The owner of a small business often personally directs how work is to be done. Businesses take a leap forward when they document roles and process. When members clearly understand how the operation operates, there is hope they will step up and lead the operation.

Many business owners need to undergo their own changes before they can get a GRIP. Change can be sped up with a good guide that understands their challenges. Please talk to me if you would like to explore how I might be able to support the development of your organization.

 

Will They Remember You?

 

The essence of making a good business introduction is connecting with the other person. The great poet, Maya Angelou, captures this notion succinctly:

 “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

While it is important to tell people what they might want to know you, it is best done while putting people at ease.  Developing this skill requires taking time to get a sense of who you are and then taking that identity lightly. To help with this reflection, I find that focusing on the points Why, Who, What, and How to be useful.

Why      This point covers why you entered your profession and why you continue to do it. Of the four points, “Why” is the most revealing and often creates the most connection. Yet in an effort to be brief, people’s discomfort with talking about themselves will cause them to skip it.

Who      The best way to cover this point is to describe the type of customer you most enjoy working with.  Some people are tempted to keep this description as broad as possible; so as to not rule out any prospects. Yet, by being specific, people to will remember you when they meet somebody who might want to work with you.

What     Of the four points, this one is most mishandled. People most often will talk about what they do instead of what they do for their customers that makes them want to buy again. By using visual language that captures the impact your work has on satisfied customers, you become memorable.

How      This point explains how you uniquely deliver the “What” that makes you preferred over your competition. The “How” is never a technical explanation and does not have to be earth-shaking. It can be the value or practice that consistently draws satisfaction and makes you trustworthy.

For example, a real estate agent might say;

My home grounds me and is a source of my refreshment at the end of my day. So I work to reduce the time families feel the dislocation of selling and buying a house.  I most like working with young families in southeastern New Haven County looking to expand into a larger home that is still under $550K. My clients tell me they especially appreciate my ability to understand what they feel are the key selling points of their current property and then communicate persuasively to get interesting offers on the home.

As I wrote at the beginning, the words are not nearly as important as being genuine. Good luck.

 

Most Critical Lesson for Success

I have found in life that there are two groups of people: the Doers and the Servers. The Doers look inside themselves to decide what action they will take. The Servers look outside themselves to decide how to act. The simple lesson is, if you want to be successful, be a Server. Learning to be of service, however, is not so simple and most people resist it.

Serving is more about attitude and focus than style.  One need not be an extrovert to serve; you can take direction from those you serve without changing your environment. Being of service is never passive; it requires action. For example: many people have complained that government is ineffective and needs to be changed; yet few have ever introduced themselves to their representative in Congress. Many people are concerned about those in society that need assistance; but few have committed themselves to a mission that extends a hand. And many people in business claim to be customer-focused while never asking for critical feedback from customers or using customers’ important problems to direct business plans. While the concept of serving is simple, putting it in action is difficult. Often people are not aware of the priorities and values that create obstacles and can benefit from a teacher, mentor, or coach to change. Here are three reasons I think it’s so difficult:

It requires maturity. We are all born with a Doer’s mindset. Being of service requires the awareness that customers or people being served are not an extension of you. I am one of many people who grew up with the parental message, “If it’s good enough for me, it’s good enough for you.” Many missteps in business have stemmed from thinking that there is some universal logic that causes customer wants and needs to be the same as the business owner’s. Service requires humility and respect for what is different.

It requires embracing ambiguity and agility. I recently heard Carnegie-Mellon’s Prof. Anita Woolley speak about Smart Teams and the importance of having Right Goals. Prof. Woolley noted there are process-oriented goals that focus on executing a process with little regard for outcomes and outcome-focused goals that focus on an outcome with no preconceived process for getting to the outcome. Both approaches are appropriate and Smart Teams correctly identify which approach is best for a circumstance. Customer-focused strategies take a desired outcome identified by customers and trust that a process can be found to achieve it. Many organizations balk when they need to stop doing what they’re comfortable doing and listen deeply to find the way forward.

It turns values upside down. People start businesses with a passion for a trade or technology and a desire to practice it independently. Focus on customers creates a dilemma that asks the business owner to cede independence for interdependence with customers. Customer-focused businesses are taken in directions that the owners never could have anticipated.

The first step in changing a business’ focus is developing Right Relationships where needs flow from the customer to the provider and not vice versa.  I am happy to be of help to businesses looking to make that first step.

 

What Would Cause You to Change?

What would you have to do to really change in 2017? We’re all filled with wishful thinking. But, what would it take to change attitude and those habitual behaviors? Amy Morin, in her book, “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do,” suggests that repeating mistakes is one of those behaviors mentally strong people don’t do. Here are my suggestions for the committed:

Spend 5 to 10% of your time planning I have concluded there are two types of people: those who avoid change and tell themselves they don’t have time to plan and those who believe they don’t need to plan. Both attitudes are equally ineffective. Nobody plans to fail; but 95% of those who fail, fail to plan. Taking time to assess what’s working, what’s not working, and what has changed will invariably lead to achieving goals faster.

Set change-focused goals Committing to stop smoking is a change-focused goal. In business, I often see goals written that are not linked to specific behaviors. For example, “get more sales” leaves open how to get more sales. Goals that are difficult to achieve have obstacles that must be overcome for success. A strategy for better goal setting is to focus on what will be done to overcome the obstacles.

Know what motivates you It’s important to know what gets you excited and engaged. While some people are money motivated, more people respond to opportunities to work more independently, exercise self-expression, or be of service to other people. If a goal or project is not linked to a strong motivator, it will likely languish or be a source of stress.

Build your network Highly-effective people have no issue with asking for help and often know exactly the right person to call when an issue pops up. Drawing on assistance from others will invoke the Law of Reciprocity. When someone who provided their services needs your services, they will think of your name first. A good network can provide invaluable perspective and feedback.

Find a coach or mentor People seeking to offer unique, creative solutions benefit from having a trusted advisor serve as a sounding board and offer outside perspective. Besides being your advocate, a good coach can reframe perspectives, offer ideas, and preview plans to enrich possibilities and results.

Accelerated Achievements offers coaching services. If you want better understand how a coach can help you achieve real change, contact us.  Happy New Year!

 

How Good People Lose Sales

 

happy salesmanThe only thing that separates lay people from sales professionals is that sales professionals receive incentives to be good at sales. Some people conclude that sales people are born with the gift of gab and scary, manipulative skills. But know this: all sales skills can be learned and all sales people are better at some skills than others. Even talented, well-motivated sales people have blind spots that allow some opportunities to go by the wayside. Some sales people are stronger at counseling and reassuring; while others have the talent to simplify complex concepts and help apply technology. Here are four examples of how good sales people can lose sales:

  1. Lack of focus and articulation on the value of their solutions. It is common for technology and commodity sales reps to develop a belief that simply describing the product is sufficient for a prospect’s buying decision. In an age where people can get all the data they need on the Internet, what prospects really want to know is how representatives’ products and services can improve their business and make their lives better.
  2. Lack of appreciation for how people want to make their decisions and be communicated with. Some people just want to understand how a purchase will effect their bottom line, while others are more concerned about how their company will perceive them if they make the purchase. A sales rep’s ability to perceive a prospect’s style and motivations will impact their success.
  3. Misreading who will really make the purchase decision and the timing and resources available for a project. When the person across the table is really excited about a solution, it’s easy for a sales rep to lose focus on key logistical questions that will impact a sale. When prospects are confronted with the capital and manpower needed to implement a solution, they will sometimes opt for an approach better suited to their constraints. It is also important that the sales rep identify when a prospect is stalling and holding up objections without basis. Correctly handling a stall can get a sale back on track.
  4. Not being able to position a solution benefit against a real want. Sometimes a sales rep will make a solid presentation to a prospect and learn that there is no interest in going further. This happens when the sales rep is unable to discover the issue that the prospect really cares about. When that pleasure or pain point has not been identified, prospects will dismiss solutions arbitrarily for one of many possible reasons. In this situation there often is no opportunity and the real loss is the time invested by the sales rep.

While these problems may seem obvious, missing an important cue can leave the sales rep bewildered when the opportunity fades. By learning to focus attention and ask questions that will lead to a thorough discovery, sales performance can improve. For readers in the Branford, CT vicinity, I will be leading a ten-session class beginning September 20th that develops key sales skills. For more information, click here.

 

Is Anybody Listening?

ConversationIt’s only July, and most everyone I meet is sick, if not distraught, with this campaign season. While I have seen glimpses of positive persuasion and leadership, most of the current news stories illustrate what we should not do as leaders. Personal attacks and political spin invariably make me stop listening. To be a great orator, you have to be a great listener, first.  The candidates have me asking myself the question, “Is anybody listening??” As listening is quintessential to all leadership positions, it is worth reflect on your own listening skills. Here are the three steps you can take to be a better a listener.

Stop Talking – This may seem obvious. But if you are speaking more than 25% of the time during a conversation, you’re at best doing a marginal job of listening.  I sometimes find myself thinking that sharing my experiences, suggestions, or reactions will be helpful to a person seeking to be listened to, when I know that it’s not. In business, executives, sales people, and service professionals all need healthy egos to be successful and the ability to restrain their egos to be exceptional.

Discern the consequences and possibilities a speaker is focused on – By simply noting whether a speaker is focused on possibilities or consequences, the quality of communication will greatly improve.  Discovering sources of excitement or concern will deepen connections and build trust.  Attentive listening is required to make these discoveries; as speakers are often not aware of the true root of these emotions.  We all have habits of thought and a good listener is required to disrupt those patterns so situations can be seen in a new light.  

Make it personal During the course of a good conversation, you will discover hopes, goals, and fears. There is a temptation to take these conversational gems at their face value; when asking one more question might change the course of the conversation. The question is, “What does realizing (or failing to realize) this goal mean to you personally?”  Even though most of us appreciate being asked such a question, our social conditioning can make us reluctant to ask a personal question.  Ask yourself, “What does completing my goals mean to me personally?” If this question doesn’t give you pause, think about setting a goal you are really excited about.

Effective leaders know that meaningful conversations with collaborators are a source of creativity, innovation, and unity. Engage in a conversation today and try it out!

 

Dangerous Circumstances

dangerI enjoy speaking with teenagers about their ideas of career and success. In this sluggish economy where it is difficult for young people to find work, I often hear teenagers complain that success is a product of circumstance or luck. These young people perceive acceptance to a top school or an exciting job requires a “parting of the Heavens and the appearance of a guiding light.” Adults associate these attitudes with teenagers who have yet to discover their worth and take responsibility for their lives. Adults, however, are not immune to resigning to circumstances at times and can pay dearly for the relapse. These are my three warning signs that you might be in danger of missing the next turn on your road to success.

Mid-life complacency: When starting out in life or business, the key goals are starkly obvious and centered on survival. But once you get to the point where you can cover the car payment and mortgage and have a little left over, setting new goals can be trickier. Climbing Masloff’s Hierarchy of Needs requires us to clearly understand what will bring us satisfaction and fulfillment while setting goals. And, more important, to believe we are worthy of such success.  When people avoid introspection and hope that life will continue just the way it is, they often get a surprise.

Ignoring our environment: Whether considering business, family, or ecology, it all changes daily. We can either accept change or change. Staying connected to the people and customers around you and understanding their evolving needs is critical to mastering change. By actively negotiating how to serve others’ needs and your own, you lower the risk of encountering new circumstances.  The key word is “actively.” It is a delusion that people can solve this complex problem in their head.  Only clear communication, deliberation and writing down identified goals will clearly guide successful change.

Yielding to unreal obstacles:  There are two types of obstacles: real and unreal. When people think about being hindered by circumstances, they usually think of real obstacles like money, education, and discrimination.  However, the more crippling obstacles are the unreal obstacles rooted in habits of thought.  Self-defeating attitudes and unwillingness to explore new possibilities are far more limiting. Simply put, you have to play to win.

A good coach can help clients discover possibilities and overcome circumstances. Please reply if you want to learn more or argue about circumstances.

3 Measures for Customer Focus

customer-focus-image

Many clients seek my services when they lack customer focus and are not achieving the order growth they had planned for.  One of the ironies I observe is that people, who lack customer focus, will often resist obtaining it. A symptom of being “unfocused” is the belief that if people were only aware of the excellent products and services, they would buy them. Businesses following that logic will invest in advertising and social media; only to observe disappointing results. This reminds me of the American who believes foreigners will understand English if they just speak louder.

Business people generally care greatly about their customers. Customer focus, however, is acquired by developing a new attitude toward business and customers.  An attitude is a habit of thought and, like any other habit, it can be difficult to break an old habit and acquire new ones. These are three measures to gauge your customer focus.

 

Have a list of customer-validated desired results:  What customers want will drive buying decisions. Wants are associated with feelings and experiences people yearn for. A result is the observed change in measures or perceptions that occur after the purchase of a product and go far beyond the function of the product. Customer focus is identifying the expectations buyers have for what will result after a sale. A self-centered focus only studies getting the sale. Simon Sinek has described how successful companies focus on why customers want to buy their products rather than which products customers buy.

Have data from your customers regarding what they find satisfying and dissatisfying about your business and a plan to improve: Customer loyalty, or the willingness to purchase a business’ product repeatedly, is based on the complete purchase experience. The ease of ordering and paying, the warmth of product displays and service employees, and the ability to resolve product and service issues are as important as the product. And because customers’ perceptions are relative to your competition, it is impossible to understand how customers perceive you without asking them.

Desired results, product benefits, and product features are in clear alignment:  The value of products and services is determined solely by the customer.  Advertising and sales presentations will have little impact unless they touch on what customers want. The first bullet addresses what customers want. This bullet addresses how clearly a business satisfies a want. In short, how many of your customers are raving fans?

I welcome all comments regarding customer focus. If you have concerns about the focus of your business, please contact me at Charles@accelachv.com.

The 3 A’s of Sustainability

The topic of sustainability has been a source of stress since the earthday_picbeginning of humanity. Around 600 B.C, Aesop wrote the fable of The Grasshopper and The Ant. The Grasshopper was the opportunist who lived for the day and enjoyed the summer sun while the Ant industriously stored food for the winter. The Greeks understood sustainability to be obtained only through the most moral and noble virtues.  The continuity of nations, civilizations, and institutions could be preserved only through sacrifice and the acceptance of change for the common good.

Whether your concern is for the planet, your business, or family, your attitudes toward change will determine your future. While some experience the Green Movement as an unwelcome intrusion on their lifestyle, “the Ant” understands that reducing, recycling, and reusing are the keys to preserving cash, growing the bottom line, and a cleaner planet. For me it’s not so much that I want to hug trees; rather it’s just that I want to have trees. I believe there are three key elements to sustaining the institutions and world around you.

Awareness:  It is vital that leaders succeed in building a shared understanding of what’s valuable, what’s essential, and what has the potential to disrupt. Like the Greeks, it is best that value be defined outside of yourself. Successful businesses give their customers exclusive purview over value. Enduring communities look at what its members commonly hold most dear. What’s essential is that necessary to build the value and what’s disruptive is that which can destroy the value.

Accountability:  Planets and businesses are sustained when each of their members allow examination of their actions and decisions by the rest of the community. If a business wants to improve the performance of a department, there’s no better way than to have the employees measure their individual performance and report the results to the department. Accountability is built on the clear, shared goals and values described in the previous paragraph.

Adaptability: Aesop wrote about the small reed that will bend in the wind to survive the storm. For planets and business to be sustained, the members of the community must be willing to undergo constant change. After laboring hard to create something we’re really proud of, most of us will succumb to the temptation to impede change in order to preserve the status quo.  We’ve all heard the expression, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” The fact is that impeding change assures failure.

This Earth Day I hope that you will all pause to think about what’s truly precious and what changes you can make in yourself to best preserve what is precious. And then tell everyone who shares that precious thing what your intentions are and request they keep you accountable to your plan. Happy Earth Day!

Skills Managers Need for the Digital World

Digital OrgThe successful manager in the digital age will foster innovation and collaboration, respect employees’ desire for work/family balance, and guide workforce development in a rapidly changing landscape. These managers will often cede their place “at the top of the pile” and behave like another node in the organizational network. Managers that rely on authority and structure to achieve organizational goals will frustrate and flounder. Managers with the courage and compassion to lead will thrive.

Our politics, commerce, religion, and increasingly mobile lifestyles demonstrate a decline in highly-centralized institutions and a rise in flatter organizations where decision-making is distributed to gain its full knowledge and expertise. This period of powerful social and technological change are shaping business leaders to have a balanced focus on innovation and quality processes.

With the challenge of bringing change to large organizations, corporate leaders are already sensitive to this “sea change” and are well on their way to adapting. I believe leaders of small and medium-sized business will prosper by growing their skills as described below:

  • More ability to inspire and persuade and less focus on direct and control
  • More ability to extend the length of their planning horizon and less focus on reactive problem solving
  • More ability use a long-term vision and purpose to assess the importance of short-term issues and lead the organization
  • More ability design roles and incentives that foster collaboration and encourage personal leadership and initiative
  • More ability to coach and develop employees so to build their trust and confidence in carrying out responsibilities that the manager might normally hold onto for themselves
  • More ability to match employee responsibilities to their natural skills and less “pigeon-holing” employees by credentials and their entry position in the organization

While many people already associate these skills with exceptional managers, this type of skill development requires persistence and commitment. Small business leaders often have not been afforded an opportunity to develop these skills. Executive coaches can play a role in preparing small business leaders to play in the digital world. This is my vision for future business leaders. I welcome all comments, questions, and differing views.