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

 

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.

 

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!

 

Managing Like the State of Connecticut

connecticut-flagI cannot remember a time when government had such a deep credibility problem. The juxtaposition of reality TV actors with long-time incumbents reciting the same tired lines has energized the electorate. But, energized to do what? As one who follows Connecticut politics closely, I am exasperated with the leadership being modeled by our legislators. Ironically, I observe many businesses that mirror this style; albeit on a smaller scale. What follows, are two leadership patterns that make me cringe the most:

Murky Intentions and No Measures: Last week I studied SB 1, a huge bill titled to suggest it paves the way for Connecticut becoming an Innovation Center.  The bill talks about creating a new quasi-agency that performs functions already are performed by existing agencies, renovating communities to provide a lifestyle attractive to younger professionals, and expanding access to technical education programs. Nowhere does the bill state the results these costly changes are intended to create and the measures the State can use to evaluate success. The logic is that if we copy the activities and environment of successful innovation centers, we will become innovators. The question is whether these investments address the critical barriers to innovation.   For example, does beautifying our communities change young professionals’ behavior if they still cannot afford the cost of living in Connecticut? The lack of measures eliminates accountability and explains why government programs never die.

Businesses can also launch projects without clear intentions.  It is common for managers who are feeling strapped for cash to direct their sales force to get more sales. A sale is the result of a customer identifying a need that your product can satisfy. There are many obstacles that can prevent sales and most of them are outside the control of a salesperson.  Weak products, noncompetitive pricing, ineffective marketing, and lack of sales productivity can all be a problem. Without measures that clarify where issues lie, sales initiatives can fall flat and frustrate an organization.

Allocating Inadequate Resources to Be Successful: Connecticut has many unfunded mandates that direct agencies to take an action without identifying where the resources will come from to carry out the act. This can be an environmental regulation where the agency lacks equipment or expertise to consistently enforce a new regulation or a call center that has been tasked to deliver a new customer service without clarifying the existing services to be discontinued.

Resource allocation is the most common reason I observe for strategic plans failing in small businesses. The underlying cause is often that executives lack clarity on how their human resources are being spent. Executives will assume a staff can juggle a key initiative without delegating at least some activities tied to customer product and service delivery.  The result is that businesses miss opportunities to grow due to an inability to adequately identify the tactics that will obtain the goal.

As always, feel free to comment. Please take a deep breath and stay engaged in the electoral process.

Three Ways Executives Stumble

Intention is everything when creating strategic and business plans. Too many executives use annual plans as a “snapshot” or “State of the Enterprise” presentation rather than a dynamic instrument of changestumble. AH Maslow is credited with developing the Cycle of Change which identifies three transformations to achieving change. They are: awareness that change is necessary, identifying what needs to change, and understanding how the change can be achieved. If managers are not deliberate with each step, much can go awry. These are my top three ways to stumble:

Failure to recognize how fast customers will evolve: Companies are sustained by learning to time product introductions to a market window. A proven process to capture customers’ future preferences and strategies is a given requirement. Even the best market intelligence, however, will only render a hazy outline of how your product offerings need to evolve. Understanding key material, tool, and process trends provides more clarity on product cycles. Intuitive customer understanding and the ability to predict schedules and cost, however, is the “secret sauce” for a winning product program. And while the biggest prizes are awarded to disruptive products that leapfrog the competition, ideas cannot be so innovative that customers fail to understand their value. Apple is recognized for the graphical computer interface and personal audio player; but was not the first to market either of these products.

Reluctance to lead change: I have seen executives who desire organizational change stumble when they did not factor how they need to change. When people are presented with a new idea, over half the population will respond by rejecting the idea until it can be proven to their satisfaction that it’s a good idea. While clear communication regarding what the change is, why change is needed, and how the organization will benefit is vitally important, leading by action is equally as important. Allowing employees to participate in planning change, working to build trust, and involvement in demonstrating the changed behavior will help achieve success.

Inadequate reallocation of resources: Executives worry how change in their business might unsettle customers’ willingness to buy. Businesses will often attempt to maintain both old offerings and services while the replacements are being developed and introduced. The decisions businesses make regarding capabilities, skill development, and capital are impactful. How often have we seen?

  • Acquisition of new systems while skimping on the necessary implementation training
  • Jobs eliminated while neglecting to resolve how responsibilities will be reassigned
  • Incumbent employees assigned to master new technology while restricting ongoing education

The ability to forecast capital requirements and cash flow is an invaluable skill. The discipline to release high-skill employees from marginal product lines without disruption will lower stress on the organization.

I have seen attitudes toward strategic planning jaded by these missteps. The rewards of management team learning to be proficient at planning, however, make learning worthwhile.

 

 

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!