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.


Succeeding in a Fake News World


Regardless of political persuasion, television news is full of upset these days. Deliberate misinformation is dishonest and meant to disorient perceptions of others and the truth. My strategy is to read the news from reliable news sources and take my time identifying the facts. Misinformation was not invented in Washington D.C, however. The business world is full of colorful characters that confuse what they want you to believe with the facts.  Failure to identify these players quickly can be detrimental to one’s career.

Deception in the workplace is always a matter of scale. In his works on Transaction Analysis, Eric Berne observed that whenever we receive communication that calls for a response, we make a choice to respond honestly or dishonestly. Most of the time, deceptions are small in nature and designed to avoid some behavior or to duck accountability. But in a stressed environment, the stakes can become large. I recall early in my career going to work for a troubled private company where stakeholders were positioning the company for sale. The entire executive team was fearful of being terminated with a stain on their career. This was the first time in my career that I became aware that managers were flat-out lying to me with the hope that I would somehow indict one of their peers to get them fired before they were. Over the next nine months, I learned much about maintaining integrity in a toxic work environment.

These are the key lessons I took away:

  • Make clear goals and set your intention before every meeting. Act on opportunities to move closer to your goal and resist attempts to be distracted. Don’t give up on your goal!
  • Make it a practice to separate facts from beliefs and opinions. Facts are observable. When I read the paper these days, I look for direct quotes and observed actions. Beliefs are the “I think”, “he should”, and all the other interpretations of what happened.
  • Monitor your thoughts and separate facts from beliefs there, too. We are all emotional creatures with the tendency to act on our emotions. When your emotions are stirred up, take a minute to identify the belief that caused the upset. Note that facts do not solicit an emotional response; missed expectations do.
  • Verify your source. If something feels a little incredible, find someone else that can report the facts.

The epilogue is that the company was acquired and I was promoted by the acquiring company.  I have found that it’s good to live by Robert Schuller’s quote, “Tough times never last, tough people do.” I have always observed that good companies fix bad management.  Feel free to share your experiences with a difficult culture and remember that Accelerated Achievement can help managers committed to fixing their organizations.


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!


Donald Trump’s Wisdom on Employee Engagement

D TrumpFor months, pundits and experts have been predicting the demise of the Trump campaign. As we start the Republican primary season, Donald’s campaign is stronger than ever. While theories abound regarding the Trump success, it is clear that an angry, disassociated electorate is demanding wholesale change. Business executives would also be wise to observe how Mr. Trump has ridden this wave of discontent.

Anatomy of Disengagement Last month I discussed how traumatized employees can disrupt and derail an organization with active disengagement. Business restructuring, extended periods of unemployment, underemployment, and the increasing number of jobs offering partial employment are all sources of stress for American workers. Add the inability of Federal government to act, mindless “tax and spend” State government policies, and the threat of violent crime and domestic terrorism, and we have an electorate ready to toss institutional conventions and embrace radical change promised by Mr. Trump, Cruz, and Sanders.  Mr. Bush, national political parties, the news media, and other fading institutions are being ignored pushed aside.

On Politico.com, Matthew MacWilliams presented research that concluded the most dominant trait of Trump supporters is an inclination toward authoritarianism. People with this trait are obedient to authority, drawn to strong leaders, and react aggressively to outsiders. MacWilliams estimates that 49% of Republican voters have this trait. Whether through profound wisdom or sheer luck, Donald Trump has done an outstanding job resonating with this voting bloc and it is becoming increasingly clear that this group has little interest in candidates tied to past government dysfunction and the institutions that have supported them.  Will skipping this week’s debate over a disagreement with a Fox journalist harm his popularity? Not likely.

Readers familiar with style assessments, like DISC or Meyers-Briggs, might see an analog in the business world. Business organizations have a group of decisive, results-oriented executives and a much larger group of detail-oriented workers that build and deliver the products of the organization. The latter group prefers consistency and is usually loyal to the organization. When this group accumulates enough traumas and stress that they disengage, bad stuff happens. In addition to deteriorating productivity, key employees can quit in mass, executives get fired, and boards get dismissed.

Recovering Engagement Restoring an organization’s trust in leadership requires time and commitment on the part of the leaders. There are three general steps to recovery: emotional connection with the disengaged, validation of their worth and role in the organization, and a clear vision for how the organization will move forward.

While Mr. Trump’s comments about Muslim immigration, the “Mexican wall,” and labeling some candidates as low-energy have mortified much of the country and global community, they have struck a chord with his target group and demonstrated an understanding of their frustration and insecurities. I believe Establishment candidates’ difficulty in getting traction with their campaigns is rooted in a perception that they caused workers’ distress and their inability to establish an emotional connection.  Without that connection, their candidacies are going nowhere. In the book Critical Conversations – Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, the authors write of the importance of an executive publicly owning their role in creating a conflict or crisis and hearing workers’ upset before any discussion on how to move beyond the problem proceeds.  The goal of the conversation is for workers to feel their worth to the organization has been revalidated.

Many executives stumble by failing to articulate a vision for how the organization will move forward. Mr. Trump has yet to address such a vision and could stumble, as well. The vision requires enough detail and thoughtfulness that an audience of detail-oriented people can understand the plan and their role in it.

Watch Out for New Paradigms  Many of the articles I have read recently about Mr. Trump’s success share the idea that Mr. Trump’s campaign is revolutionary and a harbinger of what is to come in American politics. David Von Drehle, in the January 7, 2016 edition of Time, presents the term “disinter-mediation.” Mr. Trump entered politics which an established brand highlighting an aggressive, successful businessman. He has bypassed the national party, big-money PACs, and the news media to take his message directly to the people over social media. Using Twitter, @realDonaldTrump gives access to people to ask questions and feel closer to the candidate without mediation from traditional power centers.

There are changes afoot in the business world that will impact employee engagement. America has long celebrated the “hands-on” manager who remains involved with vocational activities while juggling managerial responsibilities. The increasingly critical scrutiny that all leaders are facing will drive managers to focus more on management. The ever-tightening labor market will give talented workers increased leverage to demand that managers focus more on leadership, communication, and employee development. Disappointment will result in turnover.

One Strategy that Will Improve Profitability, Quality, Healthcare Costs…

Gallup ImageWhile perusing a digest on LinkedIn, I came across a link to a Gallup report entitled “State of the American Workplace 2013” (http://bit.ly/1RQ5Bpa to register and download.) This is an informative report that establishes a quantitative value for employee engagement. When measuring employee engagement, the companies in the top quartile reported 22% more profit, 41% fewer defects, and significantly lower healthcare costs than the bottom quartile. Of America’s roughly 100 million workers, 30 million are engaged, 50 million are not engaged, and 20 million are actively disengaged. Actively disengaged workers sabotage, obstruct, and steal to act out their unhappiness and cost the US economy $450 to $550 billion annually. Of the industry sectors measured, manufacturing has one of the lowest levels of engagement, customer service is the job function with the lowest engagement, and Connecticut has one of the highest levels of actively disengaged employees. The bottom line is that an unpopular supervisor may be costing you a lot more than you think.

I encourage all my clients to manage engagement. Per Gallup, engaged employees create most all innovations, win most new customers, and provide the most entrepreneurial energy.  So as we prepare to roll into a new year, here are my top suggestions for improving engagement:

Tie Employee Goals to Vision and Strategy: First of all, make sure you have a vision and strategy that employees can read and understand. All employees realize fulfillment by feeling connected to a mission that is valued by their community. Sense of mission is the most fundamental and necessary element of engagement.

Managers that Motivate and Measure:

It used to be common wisdom to treat all employees equally. Today, great managers recognize the diversity of their team and tailor how they approach team members to satisfy individual engagement needs. For some, a sense of belonging may be essential; for others it might be mission. The ability to connect with employees needs to be balanced, however, with an objective accounting of results and helpful feedback.

Flexible Work Rules:  Employers that accommodate employees’ needs outside of work grow employee engagement. The Gallup data shows that remote workers had higher engagement and worked more hours than in-house employees. Of note, employees who were permitted to work less than 20% of their time remotely had significantly higher engagement scores than both the in-house and 100%-remote employees.

Invest in Employee Development: Anyone under the age of 50 gauges their loyalty to an employer by the employer’s willingness to create opportunity and develop careers.  Millennials comprise over 30% of the workforce today and perceived lack of advancement opportunities is the #1 reason for changing jobs.

This is just a sampling of ideas. Please share any tactics that have worked for you or examples of employers who are great to work for.

Wish you every success in the new year!


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.

Management Case Study: State of CT

EnpowermentExcessive employee turnover undermines the growth of companies. I am struck by a statistic that over half of the residents of Connecticut would leave the state if they had the means to do so.  That measurement occurred prior to passing of a $1.8B tax increase. Living in Connecticut has become a lot like working for a poorly managed company.  Here are a few of the skills I wish that Connecticut government would master:

Long-term vision and proactive decision making: Employees are motivated by understanding the purpose and intention of the company and seeing how goals influence decision making. Vision can maintain stability in tough times and protect against crisis-driven decision making. Nobody likes to pay more taxes. I believe the greater dissatisfaction in Connecticut comes from the lack of understanding for how the State will get out of this mess. The strategy rests on the economy turning around while enacting fiscal policy that will slow the economy.  Hmmm……..

Leadership Integrity: The true test of leaders is whether anybody wants to follow them. Engagement requires that leaders do what they say and demonstrate they can bring results. Since 2010, the majority party has run on a platform of “No new taxes.” Yet, over the last five years we have had two of largest tax increases in State history and, even with these taxes, we are projected to have an $800M deficit two years from now.  Four more years?

Decision Transparency: Strong companies find a way to bring the thoughts and opinions of all effected parties into the decision making process.  People need to feel like they matter. The tax package described has been enacted with no public hearings and minimal floor debate.  I grew up outside Chicago during the Mayor Daley years where public policy was crafted in small, smoke-filled rooms and dead people voted.  Opposing the machine was literally dangerous. It feels a little that way in Connecticut. The major difference being that Chicago ran like a well-oiled clock.

Innovative thinking: Companies that succeed are driven to provide new and exciting products for their customers. The esteem in an organization rises when they prove they can solve difficult problems by “thinking outside the box.” This legislative session did have some traces of innovation with SB 1 addressing the notion of regional municipalities. However, the divisive choice between more taxes or discontinuing services to people in need permeated the budget discussion. That’s a lot like asking an employee whether they want an unpaid sabbatical or to lose all their benefits. It’s not a choice one can live with.

I find the Governor’s willingness to negotiate with corporations after the budget has passed disturbing.  (See Integrity) The fact that the negotiation is occurring signals that trust between the two entities has dissolved and it assures that a greater burden will be thrown on small business. A majority of employees who receive a raise in response to a threat to quit the company are no longer with the organization after one year.

Stay involved.

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.

Overcoming Obstacles to a Younger Workforce

I hBINDear many employers in Connecticut voice concern about their aging workforce and their desire to attract younger employees. More often, these comments are prompted by anxiety over the eminent retirement of key employees. But I wonder if these employers appreciate the extent to which the “Net Generation” will transform the workplace.  I recently read that the most desired recruiting prospects in the Millennial Generation will have five full-time jobs before the age of 27. Much of the turnover stems from dissatisfaction with today’s corporate cultures.

I use the acronym, BIND, to summarize the key adaptions that will make companies more desirable to the Millennial Generation:

Balance: Millennials feel strongly about maintaining a healthy balance between work, family, and friends.  Companies will profit from understanding how to make flexible hours and work rules mesh with their business model. Employers need to make the effort to create a work environment that fosters comradery and acceptance.

Innovate: Young people today are schooled to be better at critical thinking and innovation than their parents and, especially, grandparents. Organizations are missing big opportunities if they don’t harness those skills and put them to work for the organization. It’s important for Baby Boomer Bosses to never confuse laziness with boredom. These minds need to be challenged.

Net-Centered: Whereas Baby Boomers appreciate the Internet as a great source of information, Millennials have moved beyond that to share their activity and understand how people in their network can help each other. Millennials are born collaborators and do not revere hierarchical authority like previous generations. As Millennials are network-savvy, companies need to be more proficient and mindful about the information and image they convey on the network.  The image needs to be fresh and invigorating.

Development: Unlike Generation X, Millennials are very open to coaching and guidance from their “more experienced” colleagues. To survive coming talent shortages, companies will need to take a more progressive stance on career advancement. At least part of the attraction with companies like Facebook and Google is their ability to create a position around an employee’s strengths. While Millennials are great team players, companies will need to intentionally invest in developing leadership and managerial skills to replace the retiring Baby Boomers in time.

My last comment is for those employers. Retaining young talent will require managers to collect timely feedback and measure employee satisfaction. Do you do this measurement today?