Overcoming Inaction Epilogue

While I hope everybody picked up one gem from the blog series, I hope even harder that people will see the benefits of acting. It is not uncommon for the Return on Investment for projects I take on to be in “the triple digits” over a one year period. For example:

  • Simply giving sales people a structured process can boost results 30% or much better
  • Writing down a business case wins financing to expand
  • Developing a young leadership team that paves the way for that succession plan you’re itching to execute

These are all straight forward tactics, but they all require a leader to change and lead the change. We all have some instinct to squash personal change, when presented.  My parents came from the Greatest Generation and placed an enormous value on self-reliance. I choose an engineering profession that rewards individual innovation. I wrestled to overcome this modeling and accept that these values are not optimal in a management environment.

There are three major themes that describe resistance to change:

  • Lack of confidence: lacking confidence in skill, process, or market
  • Over-managing: relinquishing control of details undermines authority and creates vulnerability to failure
  • Too much confidence: A belief that current results will continue forever

But amazingly, I find motivation to make a change is even more significant than resistance to change. People need to believe that they can create the future they long for. They also need to cope with objectives that are 100% self-directed. There are no deadlines in creating success.

I would like to end the series with an invitation to speak with me about how you are creating success and the challenges that come with it. I don’t assume that scheduling a talk with me in any way suggests you would want to work with me. And you can pick phone, zoom conference, in-person, or whatever format suits as a platform.  If interested, click the link in the email.

SUCCESS THROUGH PROCESS

I once had a client that wanted to improve sales and worked hard to create a new, compelling business strategy. After an enthusiastic launch, frustration grew as the order numbers remained fairly flat. What was lacking was a clear sales process with measures to isolate where sales people were running into difficulty and why.  If goals are a map to set direction, then process is the speedometer. The basic building block for process is employee responsibilities. Without written descriptions, even a small business that has yet to evolve to processes will flounder. From a manager’s desk, process problems appear murky with no obvious solution in sight.

Some examples of process issues are:

  • Customers tripped up by the same service or delivery issues
  • Stifled productivity from employees welcoming a high-skill employee handling their responsibilities and, thus, becomes the bottleneck
  • Intense finger-pointing over who is responsible for a decision or to blame for an issue
  • Difficulty, or even inability, to forecast orders, cost, and delivery times

By definition, a process is an activity requiring work to be divided across multiple organizational functions. Successful hand-offs of work require a complete description of each task, who is responsible for the task, how it is determined that a task is completed correctly, and what action is to be taken if a task cannot be completed as scheduled. Here’s a questionnaire to help you assess your process expertise. Each “No” should be regarded as an opportunity to improve.

  • For the sales, operations, finance/accounting, and general management functions, is there the one name clearly recognized in your business as being responsible for each function?
  • Is there a quality policy that allows the employee closest to the assembly of the product decide if a product is ready to ship?
  • Do employees have a clear written description of their responsibilities and are able to recite how their performance is evaluated?
  • Do you have periodic reviews of key activities and process to determine which processes are obsolete and need redesign?

If you answered yes to all the questions, you likely have confident employees and satisfied customers.  Regardless of how you answered, you can download a white paper titled, “Marketing Quality Management.” And, spoiler alert: if sales are down, don’t be quick to blame the sales people.  Accelerated Achievements has helped all kinds of companies improve efficiency and quality. If questions have been triggered by this post and you want to talk, drop me a line.

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

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.

 

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

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.

 

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

 

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!

 

Habits that Kill Growth

Every business leader wants to see their business grow. All too often, the business owner that launched the business relies on their intuition to sustain it. While Operations professionals study process and collect data, rarely does that practice extend to the front office. Growing skills to build relationships, implement measures, and collect relevant data are vital to growth. Here are three growth-inhibiting habits to consider:

prooduct-acceptanceAvoid what you don’t understand – Whether it is business planning, Internet marketing, or appreciating the difference between order taking and sales, it is a good bet that the skill set that helped start the business will not sustain it. Many business owners forego writing a business strategy because they do not appreciate that the underpinning of all marketing activity is built on the business strategy. If one can answer these questions, “Why are we in business?”, “Why will people buy from me rather than my competitors?”, and “How much revenue can I capture from this market over the next three years?” their business plan will be better than most of corporate America. The fundamental skill is engaging customers and prospects so to understand what they want and the trends that are driving their interest. This skill comes naturally to a small group of gifted people. The rest of us need to learn a process and practice, practice, practice.

Avoiding development of high-skill employees – The skills and traits that make managers and sales professionals successful are almost identical. The most important of those skills are leadership and interpersonal skills. When I talk to business owners about how they evaluate sales performance, the most frequent response is, “My folks are very skilll-continuumexperienced.” While this response dodges the question, interpersonal skills are usually developed with maturity and growing self-awareness. In the sales world, experience can be a two-edged sword. On-the-job experience needs to be balanced against how professionals have updated skills to remain relevant with the changing nature of sales. Skill development does follow a logical progression. A sound “on-boarding” process should engage an employee with the position and company. Skill in setting and managing goals will accelerate development of interpersonal skill. Development of interpersonal skills requires modeling of desired behaviors and coaching employees on how to achieve results. While engagement and goal management can be measured with surveys and percentage of goals achieved, evaluation of interpersonal skills and leadership require close observation to verify desired skills.

Misconception that the value is the product– Pride in company and product offerings is almost always a good thing. Customers, however, focus on what value they might gain by consuming the product rather than the product itself. Customers’ perceived value can only be fully understood by objective, yet empathetic inquiry with the customer. Again, interpersonal skills are essential for sales and marketing staff to understand current and future customer wants. Business leaders that shy away from developing interpersonal skills will shy away from gaining adequate customer focus.

Accelerated Achievements is an advocate for Marketing Quality Management (MQM). Lasting improvement is achieved through a comprehensive assessment of process, people, and skills and implementing real-time performance measurements. Please contact us, and we will be happy to share ideas on how you can upgrade your marketing capabilities.