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.

 

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

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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.

 

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!

Want to Hire Talent? Here’s 3 Ways to Fail.

Despite all the bad news that pours in over the air waves, I continue to find evidence that our economy is strengthening. The most striking evidence is the number of business owners that are looking to increase the size of their workforce. It’s also striking that the desire to hire is almost immediately followed by the complaint that you just cannot find good talent.

I’m old enough to remember the malaise the US fell into after the OPEC oil embargo and the taking of US hostages in Iran. It seems that the 2008 recession and the divisive politics that followed have had the same chilling effect. Changing the conversation from Carter’s “what to do about inflation” to Reagan’s “we are a great nation and it’s time to show it” was all it took to get the economy in high gear. Focusing positivity on hiring strategies will also bring improved results. Here are three common attitudes that can derail your hiring initiative and business:

“I need to find talent” Too often, I hear people say they need to find good talent. My response is always, “Do you want to find good talent or attract it?” If you find good talent, there’s no guarantee they’ll accept the job or not leave after a few months. Whether you’re “finding” or “attracting,” you know employees of high skill and character are in short supply. Successful companies create two or three viable reasons for why someone would want to work for them. In addition, they have a compelling story for where their business is going.

“I’ve have had problems with younger employees, so I’ll keep looking for older ones” Never mind that it’s against the law, it’s just bad business. My career has spanned…umm…several decades and I cannot remember one time that a company did not draw on the fresh ideas of youth to carry the business forward. Younger employees will bring in innovation and ideas that will position your company for the future. It is worth tackling the challenge of adapting your company culture to embrace younger employees’ work preferences.

“If it was good enough for me, it’s good enough for them” I read an article last week that half of Millennials surveyed were dissatisfied with how they were “on-boarded” at their company. For those not familiar, on-boarding refers to initial employee training and orientation. Younger employees expect companies to be more socially responsible and motivated to build relationships with their employees. A relationship includes some empathy for the reality that employees face today and a willingness to take the time to explain what is expected of them and how they will be developed to meet those expectations. Employers wanting a simple labor rental agreement will have difficulty.

Please share your thoughts on hiring. And as always, if you have questions I’m glad to help.

Three Strategies to Cope with Uncertainty

business-people-working-togetherDuring interesting times I find it best to take a break from the news to rebalance my perspective on what is truly significant. Headlines tout that states are up to their eyeballs in debt and continuing “tax and spend” policies while countries teeter on the brink of default. Thankfully, these events have an indirect impact on most US businesses. But if we let our anxiety about what might come to pass in the future cloud how we behave in the present, greater impact will be felt. A clouded mindset can paralyze an organization by overstating risk and resisting change.  Here are three suggestions for thriving when times get tough:

Don’t take your eye off the ball. There are two elements to this point. The first is to fully commit yourself to the plan you have today and be intentional about achieving your goals. Employees look to leadership during times of uncertainty. Make it clear that the goals are intact. Secondly, stay close to your customers and have clear measures for identifying a looming change that might need factoring into your plan.

Don’t lose your edge. In addition to remaining committed to the plan, keep your organization accountable. Let employees know that deadlines and objectives count and recognize efforts that support the goals.  Companies that can further differentiate themselves from the competition will thrive in difficult times. If you are uncertain about which initiatives customers will value, make finding out another aspect of staying close to them.  Foster innovation by challenging employees for ideas on how to grow these differentiators. Inviting employees to innovate keeps them involved.

Take the offensive with your legislators. We live in a time when government spending is having an increasing impact on the economy. Make it clear to legislators which appropriations should have priority and what level of spending you feel is sustainable.  If you are having difficulty finding skilled talent, raising capital for a critical, or have a new venture idea in search of funding, let them know that too.  I am working with New Haven Manufacturers Association and Connecticut Business and Industry Association to sponsor a local event where business can exchange feedback with their state representatives.  I invite you to get involved.

These points may seem obvious. Yet, most of executives I meet immerse themselves in reactive tasks and spend less than 5% of their time actually growing their business. As always, feel free to comment on tactics you use to keep your edge. Contact me if you need help getting started with these initiatives.