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.


Will They Remember You?


The essence of making a good business introduction is connecting with the other person. The great poet, Maya Angelou, captures this notion succinctly:

 “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

While it is important to tell people what they might want to know you, it is best done while putting people at ease.  Developing this skill requires taking time to get a sense of who you are and then taking that identity lightly. To help with this reflection, I find that focusing on the points Why, Who, What, and How to be useful.

Why      This point covers why you entered your profession and why you continue to do it. Of the four points, “Why” is the most revealing and often creates the most connection. Yet in an effort to be brief, people’s discomfort with talking about themselves will cause them to skip it.

Who      The best way to cover this point is to describe the type of customer you most enjoy working with.  Some people are tempted to keep this description as broad as possible; so as to not rule out any prospects. Yet, by being specific, people to will remember you when they meet somebody who might want to work with you.

What     Of the four points, this one is most mishandled. People most often will talk about what they do instead of what they do for their customers that makes them want to buy again. By using visual language that captures the impact your work has on satisfied customers, you become memorable.

How      This point explains how you uniquely deliver the “What” that makes you preferred over your competition. The “How” is never a technical explanation and does not have to be earth-shaking. It can be the value or practice that consistently draws satisfaction and makes you trustworthy.

For example, a real estate agent might say;

My home grounds me and is a source of my refreshment at the end of my day. So I work to reduce the time families feel the dislocation of selling and buying a house.  I most like working with young families in southeastern New Haven County looking to expand into a larger home that is still under $550K. My clients tell me they especially appreciate my ability to understand what they feel are the key selling points of their current property and then communicate persuasively to get interesting offers on the home.

As I wrote at the beginning, the words are not nearly as important as being genuine. Good luck.


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.


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!


Singular Focus Bests the Competition

DSC04155-BWe are approaching that time of year when we make and forget resolutions. Verne Harnish in “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits” wrote that effective business leaders identify just one high-priority goal to be accomplished over the next 12 to 18 months. The power of one shared goal greatly increases the likelihood that the goal will be achieved.

Goals fall short when the safety of the status quo outlasts the desire to see a change of fortune. The obvious advantage of one goal is focus; not just for you but for the organization as well. There are three areas where focus can provide the leverage to achieve change and results: innovation, priority, and accountability.

Innovation: The most dramatic change comes when organizations take a fresh look at a challenge that replaces a process; rather than doing the same thing faster or cheaper. Having a single goal fosters broader cooperation and collaboration that will break down resistance to change.

Priority: Whether you are a one-man shop or a large corporation, time spent on activity that does not support the goal threatens success. Insufficient resource in a particular skill area is the killer of many initiatives. Departments and individuals are far more likely to schedule activity or volunteer resource if they attach some urgency and importance to a single goal.

Accountability: One advantage of a single goal is that the scorecard is fairly simple. Initiative will flounder if there are no measures in place to measure progress. The common excuse is that it’s difficult to project schedules and cost for something an organization hasn’t done before. The discussion surrounding setbacks and disappointments will often reveal a new approach to the solution. (See Innovation.)

Another key success factor in achieving positive change is picking the right goal. The business leader needs a process for researching markets and technology that guarantees the goal is meaningful and realistic for the business. An experienced strategist can guide and direct a leader through an effective process.

Wishing you every success in 2015!

Three Dimensions of Successful Time Management

Effective use of time is a vital tool for business success. A business leader’s ability to use her time to delegate and motivate will grow an innovative and productive organization. A salesman’s ability to heighten a sense of time scarcity in his customers will close sales.  A passive, reactive style of time management will lead to disappointment and unsatisfying results. I have found three necessary foundations for effective time management: clarity of intention, focus on effectiveness, and desire to innovate and improve.

Clarity of Intention:  Having clear goals is an obvious requirement for managing time. Clear intentions require both an understanding of all the results you want to achieve and how you need to contribute to the result. The best goals are directed at what is going on in the present. For example, revenue and profit measure what’s been going on over the last few months. Winning five new customers in a specific market segment or achieving a 50% gross margin on a bid focuses a business on what is happening right now. The other question is what are your effective behaviors? Managers organize and clarify, salespeople empathize and persuade, and production workers need to be precise and consistent. The suggestion is to identify the activities that will boost your personal productivity. I would caution that another requirement for personal productivity is having clear goals for your life outside of work. A lack of life balance will disrupt your time management.

Focus on Effectiveness:  Clear focus is engaging in the activities that are important to achieving the result and reducing the unimportant. The focus needs to be broad enough that it addresses both the activities and the relationships necessary for success. While the purpose of a business is to satisfy customers, focus needs to be on delivering products and services that are pleasing to your customer; and not just pleasing your customers. Whether it is a relationship with customers, a boss, or a personal relationship, once you surrender your focus, your effectiveness is lost. The amount of courage required for maintaining confidence in your mission and integrity in your relationships should never be underestimated.

Desire for Improvement: Measurement is the basis for all improvement. Effective measurement includes metrics for all the important activities that lead to a result; rather than just measuring the end goal. A willingness to keep an open mind and experiment with new approaches and tools is vital. In the Internet age, we are bombarded with new ideas and information. The trick is to pay close enough attention that you can identify the ideas that may be of use to you. A mentor early in my career advised that managers should always take phone calls. (This was back when businesses depended on the telephone.) His argument was that one call in twenty will guide you to a really great idea. Stay vigilant and keep changing it up.

I enjoy helping organizations tune their productivity. Please post your own suggestions or any questions on how to make time management work.

Seven Top Attributes of a Salesperson

I have had a flood of people approach me lately bemoaning the difficulty of finding top sales personnel. Selling is difficult to master and people who have no sales experience often do not fully appreciate how valuable an asset a top salesperson is. Chances of making a good hire improve dramatically if one takes the time to reflect on what they are looking for. What follows are the attributes I look for in a sale person. The weight or importance of these attributes can vary and depends on the type of product or service being sold.

Ability to set and achieve goals – If a candidate has sales experience; it’s always good to understand how they have performed against a quota. Quotas are often set by the employer. I prefer an example where the candidate came up with the goal without outside influence. When a candidate joins a new company; the speed with which the candidate becomes productive will depend on their ability to independently set challenging, meaningful goals.

Capture attention – The late Bill Brooks taught that the first minute of contact with a prospect has the most impact on sales success. There is a misconception that this ability is tied to a gregarious personality and charm. Good eye contact and an opening statement that connects with a prospects needs and wants gets the job done.

A Balance of Caring and Motivation – The difference between sales and manipulation is that sales people care and are committed to the success of their customers. If all a sales person does is attend to existing accounts, there are not going to be many new customers. Sales success requires the motivation to do the hard work of prospecting.

Able to Discern Customer Signs – Talented sales people can read body language to determine if a customer is interested, when the customer is ready to understand product and service details, and when the customer is ready to buy. Failure to read and respond the signs results in lots of meetings and no sales.

Ask the Right Questions – A successful sales person will spend no more than 30% of the time talking during a conversation with a prospect. It’s vital that the questions asked both reflect an understanding of the customer’s business and capture the key wants and needs.

Handle Critical Conversations – Companies sometimes make mistakes. It’s vital to a company that their sales people can handle a customer’s frustration and anger and find a remedy that will start to restore trust.

Handle Objections and Clarify Value – The key objective for every professional buyer is to turn your product into a commodity. Sales people must understand the company’s unique value and be confident in the organization’s ability to deliver. Success depends on the sales team resisting price pressure and bringing the prospect back to the economic value of your products.

Please comment if I have missed an attribute!!

What if your Employees Were Volunteers?

I recently assumed a leadership position in a faith-based organization that is rebuilding after a terrible splintering of the congregation. I have volunteered over the years at numerous non-profits and have observed that they are more volatile than for-profit organizations because of the large volunteer population. People are more inclined to express themselves when they are not dependent on a position for their livelihood. My question is: What would happen to your business if the employees were all volunteers? Would they remain unwavering in their commitment to the mission or would they quietly withdraw from the organization.  Or, would they aggressively confront the leadership on the direction the mission is taking?

Successful management of volunteers requires clearly-defined, shared values, a clear mission, and a steady stream of appreciation and recognition. Volunteer organizations need goals that are clearly centered on serving the community they serve. Successful leaders of volunteer organizations focus on engaging their volunteers and developing them to fit the mission. In short, non-profit organizations are very aware that they can accomplish little without their volunteers. Likewise when volunteer organizations experience setbacks, it is apparent that reaching out to volunteers to reestablish the vision and mission is a first step on the way to recovery.

For-profit leaders can learn much from their non-profit counterparts. Maintaining excellence in a commercial organization’s employee base requires the same focus on engagement and mission. Failure to maintain this focus can result in turnover of top performers and employee apathy (on-the-job retirement.) My suggestion is that managers make a tune up of vision and mission an annual event and discussion and reinforcement of these goals with employees a daily occurrence.