OVERCOMING INACTION: SUCCESS THOUGH GOALS

OVERCOMING INACTION: SUCCESS THOUGH GOALS

Nobody plans to fail; but of those that fail, 97% fail to plan. Is the statement trite? Its impact is greatly dependent on the listener’s desire to succeed. Goals and planning is a critical area most prone to inaction. This can be due to a strong ego that believes intuition can solve problems more quickly than planning, a complacency to keep things just the way they are, or simply being stuck on how to proceed with the challenge in front of you. Not acting on the change around you carries a big cost. So, what happens when there is over-reliance on intuition?

  • Managers are getting stressed from taking on too many low-priority tasks at the cost of missing an important goal. You might recognize these folks by their complaints about being too busy.
  • Managers are pursuing projects without budgeting time and dollars and then being surprised by the cost of the project and dogged with rework and disappointing returns.
  • Managers fail to assign names and due dates to tasks and have little recourse to correct employees’ late work.
  • People work chronic overtime because they don’t see an activity with enough attraction to draw them home.

Experts agree that goal setting is the most critical skill for an executive to perfect. Assignment of work, monitoring progress, performance evaluation, and recognition are all impossible without solid goals. Thus, one of the best cost reduction schemes for a business is to do more planning. Here’s a yes/no questionaire to help you assess your goal setting expertise. Each “No” should be regarded as a caution.

  • Are goals not completed or completed late with some frequency?
  • Do you have work and personal goals that motivate you to keep a healthy life balance?
  • Do your employees know what your goals are and have goals to support the accomplishment of your goals?
  • Do you have a regular review of both yours and your employees’ goals to update status and identify new obstacles that need to be addressed?
  • Do you have a process to plan and research key growth initiatives, such as capital investments, market expansions, mergers/acquisitions, etc. that supports sound investment and staffing decisions?

If you answered “Yes” to all the questions, you are a planner extraordinaire.  If not, take heart in knowing that you are in good company and sound planning skills can be readily mastered.  For taking the time to review this post, I’m making The Life Balance Worksheet available as a free download.  If your assessment has left you with lingering questions and you want to kick around ideas about how to strengthen your planning process, drop me a line.

Overcoming Inaction: Creating Value

Overcoming Inaction: Creating Value

How do you set prices? Do you put a markup on your direct costs? Do you estimate the tangible product benefit for your customers and price for a fair return? Or does your accountant keep an Ouija board under their desk? Successful companies focus on perceived value; which is defined as the premium a buyer is willing to pay for your product over that of a competitor’s comparable product. Understanding customer wants and needs with a precision that captures more profit than competitors is fundamental to sustainability. Thus, the best pricing insights are always on the other side of the office windows and managers of action crave facetime with their key customers. Here’s what you might see if a business is casting their gaze inward:

  • Dialog with customers cannot get past bids, price, and transactions.
  • Upper management is obsessed on the strength of products and services and does not search for customer opportunities.
  • A company receives feedback it’s “too rigid” and difficult to do business with.
  • Employees have little interest in the company’s success or the commercial and competitive aspects of the business
  • Sales representatives don’t waste time understanding clients’ current and future needs and resign themselves to being the “lowest bid.”

With even a minimal attempt to explain a competitive strategy to their employees, active managers see an immediate jump in productivity. Active managers understand they need empathy and sincere appreciation of customer businesses to discover the real things customers want. Let’s take a quiz to help assess your value-building expertise. These are Yes/No questions and each “No” should be regarded as an opportunity to improve. Viewers that complete the questions will receive a gift from Accelerated Achievements.

  1. I have a written business plan that is available to my employees.
  2. I have direct feedback from key customers on the top two issues facing their organizations and have a plan for addressing their issues.
  3. Our leadership team convenes at least once per quarter to identify if new competition and technology may pose threats to our plans.
  4. I have secondary research that keeps me apprised on the size of my market and key changes.
  5. I have a plan to obtain the cash, capital, and employee skills to achieve my goals
  6. My leadership team has the interview and listening skills to discover the vital needs and issues from customers and suppliers.
  7. I actively measure customer satisfaction and take input on new product ideas.

If you answered yes to all the questions, you have the framework to offer superior value to your customers. Regardless of how you answered, you can download a white paper titled, “Measures and Improving Strategy Development.” Accelerated Achievements has helped all kinds of companies refine their business plans and sharpen skills to strengthen customer relationships. Contact us if you have questions or concerns about your assessment or would simply like to talk.

Overcoming Inaction: Driving Your Success

Overcoming Inaction: Driving Your Success

If I were to declare to this audience that it is the role of every manager to capitalize on strengths and shore up weakness, I would no doubt see and hear much indifference. But what distinguishes successful managers is the skill to identify which weaknesses are important to address. Organizations stagnate or even fail when managers resist changes that really need to be taken.

So, why do managers so often choose inaction? If left unchecked, any decision to take inaction can overwhelm a manager over time. Unable to envision a structured approach to a solution, the manager will continue to choose inaction.  This post is the first of a five-part series titled “Discovering Your Success.” The series is designed to make managers more aware of impediments and, more important, help identify a course of action to resolve them.

Let’s consider the recurring characters in the center of inaction:

  • Process Paul: It’s too risky to change the process. In some cases processes are tightly-tuned and careful consideration must be given to change. More often, a business has just figured out how to make things “kinda” work and changing it sounds tiring. In either case, the focus is on failure rather than improvement.
  • Marvelous Melvin: It is believed that if Melvin decides to leave the business, the world as we know it will end. So everyone is extra careful not to do anything that would put Melvin in a tizzy. Melvin understands his status and uses it to manipulate the group to his advantage
  • Sweet Sam: Is a supervisor that has learned that managing conflict requires him or her to make decisions that can be unpopular and that life is easier if you let the employees figure it out; regardless of the result. Like Melvin, this supervisor usually has 20 years of experience and you don’t want that walking out the door! So people let it ride with Sam…
  • Blissful Bob: Managers that refuse to publish goals or performance measurements for their organization are blissful. Blissful managers often fail to observe changes customer behavior and their consequences. When they do respond it’s late and attacks symptoms of the problem; rather than the root problem.

Protecting these characters will greatly hinder the business’ ability to evolve and adapt. Inaction builds vulnerability to agile competitors, weakens market position, and creates a permissive work environment. Even with a simple organization, the loss in productivity can easily run into five figures.

Subsequent blogs will look at four areas of working smarter: creating customer value, goals, process, and communication/leadership. I chose these four areas because they are essential to sustaining a business. These posts will boost awareness of the consequences when weak in an area. And, each post includes a questionnaire to help identify actions you can take to move forward. This series is all about self-assessment.  You can get started by taking a moment to write down the weakness in your organization you see most in need of shoring up.

 

The Greatest Revenue Opportunity

The Greatest Revenue Opportunity

 

Nate Dvorak and Ryan Pendell at Gallup published a paper that claims selecting top-talent managers will improve revenue per employee by 27%. In addition, selecting top-talent employees will add another 6% to revenue per employee; for a net gain of 33%. When selecting a manager, the most telling criteria are the results achieved in previous assignments. But, where can you probe during an interview to verify what’s listed on the resume? These are my top three attributes to look for while selecting managers.

Developing Relationships:   Managers need to recruit employees to be on their team and often need to get them interested in doing something they might not be inclined to do. Positive body language and the ability to engage with employees to understand their strengths are good indicators for a top management candidate. A history of keeping trusting relationships intact during stressful times and moments of disagreement is also an important indicator.

Critical Thinking:  I believe that this is the most exercised skill for effective managers. This skill is first used to align the direction and goals of the department to those of the greater organization. Then critical thinking is used to break projects down to work assignments and then tasks and the skills required to complete the task.  An effective interview strategy might be to ask for an example of a key project or an order was completed on-time. Or, ask for an example of project where the delegation strategy accounted for employee strengths and weaknesses.

A Manageable Ego:  There are times a manager needs to be loud and proud with ego on full display and times when selflessness and a muted ego are more appropriate. This is a delicate balancing act between self-confidence and building the confidence of others.  Managers that control their ego effectively will be perceived as both innovative and approachable by employees. An interview strategy might be to ask for examples of a time when their coaching skills developed an employee to produce significantly better results.

The Gotcha: To select and hire top-talent managers, you need to be a top-talent, too. All the skills required to be a top manager can be learned if you are willing to practice.  I am teaching a course called “Managing for Better Engagement and Results” beginning September 17th that is a group experience tuned to give instruction and opportunities to practice key skills to become that top talent. If you want more information, follow this link.

 

5 Reasons Business Plans Fall Short

5 Reasons Business Plans Fall Short

My observation is that business leaders look upon business and strategic planning with the fondness of a root canal or tetanus shot.  Nobody would suggest that planning is a bad thing to do, but many are hesitant to commit time and resource to the activity. Business plans only make sense if the leadership intends to implement change. Many executives reason that their day-to-day intuition has brought the company to exactly where it needs to be. Others will write “high-sounding” goals and never fund them to succeed. Good strategy blends what’s happening outside the walls with imaginative insight for what could be happening in the building. This is my list of reasons for why plans fall short:

Fuzzy understanding of what customers want: What customers want usually goes beyond the utility of the product and service you deliver. Customer values and preferences are constantly shifting. Regular conversations with customers regarding their intentions for the next one to two years are critical. Visioning is a trendy term in the management world. Taking time to lengthen your planning horizon and imagine how the world will change is a helpful exercise.

Fuzzy understanding of competitors and market trends: Particularly small business, often neglect taking the time to quantify the current size of their market and whether it is growing or shrinking. Another issue is not reacting to new technology and competitors when they enter the market. Customer adaptation to new ideas is rarely instantaneous and there is time for companies to react. That time, however, is precious and limited.

Weak appreciation of process: Effective change relies on clear understanding of how things are done today. For a very small operation, this can mean clear understanding of individual roles and responsibilities. For a larger operation, it requires understanding of process in operational, business development, customer service, and financial areas. Problems can arise when the process experts are excluded from business planning; or when process is understood as an operational activity. ISO quality standards have evolved over the last decade to take a more comprehensive view of how businesses deliver quality.

Failure to align mission and process: Even the largest corporations can stumble on this issue. Alignment can be purely a measurement issue. For example, if a company wants to be more responsive, the cycle time of a process and the process’ ability to support product and service variations are critical. There is, however, a larger cultural issue. Businesses must delegate implementation of the strategy to the people who drive the process. This handoff is the “secret sauce” for achievement of positive change and employee engagement.

Under investment in the human element: As businesses grow, the requirement for employees to lead change grows. Many companies will hire people with extensive corporate experience. This can be a successful strategy if the candidate has the experience and motivation to lead the change required now. Successful business plans require complete honesty in assessing the organization and making the investments that will bring change.

You may observe that to address these five points, you need an ongoing management process that continuously collects and digests information. Feel free to contact me if you want to understand more.

 

Developing Your Successor

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.

 

Secret to Retaining Young Employees

Secret to Retaining Young Employees

When the economy heats up, the question of “When will business pick up again?” is quickly replaced with “Where do I find talent?” A number of high-skill industries are struggling with finding younger employees to succeed aging Baby Boomers.  Before companies plan glitzy recruiting campaigns, it is best to make sure their house is in order. Jim Clifton of Gallop wrote, “The single biggest decision you make in your job–bigger than all the rest–is who you name manager. When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits–nothing.” The owner and the management team create the vibe that will attract and retain top performers.

Managers are tasked with bringing positive change to the organization. This is tricky when societal values and consumer preferences are changing at a blinding rate.  Yet, companies too often overlook investment in developing management skill and give a pass to ineffective managers. I believe that managers need to be adept in the following roles:

 

Manager as Coach At a seminar recently, I made the assertion that managers need coaching skills to develop soft skills in sales and management employees. I was surprised to get push back from a participant. There was a concern that if the manager developed close relationships with employees, they might lose objectivity in assessing performance. In my world, close relationships are indeed what we are looking for.  To be a coach, a manager must have clear understanding of the job roles, communicate the desired results for each role, and possess the ability to teach employees required skills to perform the job. If a manager can shift accountability for job performance to the employee, the employee will have a greater sense of achievement and development. Retention of young employees depends on a perception that the company is committed to their development.

Manager as Motivator A successful manager keeps an eye not only on what motivates each employee, but also on what demotivates. Managers need to be skillful at building a level of rapport that permits them to ask appropriate questions that reveal why they came to work for the company and what draws them to perform.  Organizing work assignments and offering recognition that touches those motivators will gain peak performance.

Manager as Leader Whether you are a CEO or first line supervisor, it is vital to have a vision and sense of mission for your organization. The younger generation has little patience with companies that cannot describe a brighter future that will provide opportunities for employees. Positive management values that will build trust and cooperation will shape culture and support the mission.  A question that every business leader should reflect on is whether their managers value, or even like, their employees. Younger workers prefer collaborative work environments that respect their thoughts on systems and work rules. Industries that have been stereotyped as having hierarchical authority and repetitive work assignments need to consider undertaking cultural change.

Manager as Gatekeeper Businesses today need an aggressive, strategic hiring strategy. Managers need to make hiring decisions based on character and skills without compromise. Interviews need to pose questions that discover how the candidate’s values and mission align with the company. A common interview question is “Where do you want to be in five years?”  Strong candidates will have a clear answer to this question. The question for you is, “Can you get them there?”

Executives Bonding with Sales

Executives Bonding with Sales

Perhaps, there is a reason that so many corporate CEOs come from the Sales organization. I have observed that successful businesses have strong teamwork between the Executive Staff and the Sales group. Everybody in a business understands that they are dependent on Sales to provide a predictable, profitable stream of orders. Yet, a surprising number of executives are unaware of what they need to provide to the Sales group to support their success. There are three elements that executives can provide that will support Sales.

Provide a clear two-year outlook for the companySome business owners have the attitude that if you give a sales force a good product, they should be able to sell it. A product needs to be really good and a bit disruptive to sell itself. In most sales situations, the product falls behind the sales representative and company reputation in importance to the buyer. Sales people need to describe to their prospects how the company’s investments and strategies align with the prospects’ anticipated needs. A lot has been written lately about how stories are powerful sales tools. A good story describes how a company came to their current mission and how customers can depend on the company to protect their future.

Accept responsibility for sales resultsQuality models suggest that sales people are accountable for sales and that managers are responsible for them. A company that enforces accountability, but shirks their responsibilities will have a sales force with high turnover. I have always believed that every employee’s performance impacts sales and that it is the executive’s job to assure at the company is responsive to potential and existing customers.

Lead positive change – When a sales person walks into a customer’s office for a visit, it’s common for the customer to ask, “What’s new?” Customers want their suppliers to be dynamic and not static. Sales people need current information that gives an interesting reply to the customer’s question. Once a customer becomes concerned that your business is not keeping up with change in technology and markets, the door is open for competitors to grab the account.

I would enjoy hearing reader’s opinions and practices regarding how they maintain marketing quality. I am scheduled to give two presentations on the topic in the Connecticut area and encourage you to attend and learn more.

 

Will They Remember You?

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.

 

3 Mental Keys to Being Awesome

3 Mental Keys to Being Awesome

 

Coming from a quiet, Midwest upbringing, I was always taught to “never get too full of yourself” or “don’t get too big for your britches.” While I understand that these expressions were well-intentioned attempts to reinforce humility, I always felt them as an admonishment to be compliant and conform.  Most people experienced comparable messages or worse as a child; as over 90% of criticism is negative. Unless you put aside those messages, they will only serve as obstacles on the road to awesome.

Some people dismiss positive affirmation as a pop-psychology gimmick. Executives, managers, and influencers should beware that, unless you consciously dismiss those old messages, they will haunt you for the rest of your career. We have all observed managers that avoid conflict, sales people who hate cold calls, or executives that cannot own a mistake. While these professionals may not consciously recall old messages, emotions will come into play that spurs avoidance, procrastination, or even aggression. These habits of thought can be broken and here are three keys for going forward:

 

Log your dreams and set goals to achieve them. It sounds so simple. Yet, most professionals I know do not set goals. Most of these people are highly productive and competent in their work. A common belief system is that it is an obligation to be highly responsive to the people and events around them. While that’s laudable, such a belief system results in other people and events defining the future.

Improvement requires both learning and letting go. You will never learn something new unless you want to change and believe you are able to learn it. Daniel Goleman, renowned expert on emotional intelligence, began his research by trying to understand why corporate training wasn’t more effective. He found that an overwhelming number of people did not know why they were being sent to the training and most would prefer to skip it. The result was that people returned from training with performance largely unchanged.

Professional athletes spend hours visualizing top performance to improve their performance. In the high-velocity world of professional athletics, athletes must respond intuitively; as there is no time to think. Not so obvious, business professionals face the same challenge. A client or employee speaks to you, and in a millisecond, your body language and facial expression flashes a response before you can even open your mouth. In the business world, responses to stimulus need to be intuitive and preconditioned.

Listening and observing to understand how to speak.

Most achievement is earned through the relationships you form and the level of trust and support you experience in the relationship.  Persuasion and accountability play a large role in recruiting others to support your goals.  In order to recruit someone, you must listen and observe carefully to understand what they want, how they like to be communicated to, and how they like to make decisions. Persuasion is 80% listening and 20% talking.

I will be conducting a class that meets weekly called, Helping People Buy, in Wallingford, CT June 20 to August 22nd. This class will help sales professionals improve their performance by exercising the concepts above. See the link below for more information.

 

Helping People Buy

Register Now