Saturday, February 23, 2008

Why Multitasking Only Works To A Point

I've written before about the perils of multitasking and will continue to rant on this topic. I'm at fault for multitasking too much---I do emails on conference calls, update my calendar during web conferences, and manage to focus on watching the news rather than listening to my wife in the evenings.

Somehow multitasking has become the test of how important or how busy we are. I've been convinced that productivity and quality of results actually declines the more we multitask. Most of my evidence, however, has been anecdotal, or personal. (Sure I can quote accident figures about people talking on cell phones while driving.)

I read an interesting post in t the Wall Street Journal BizTech blog by Ben Worthen on February 1. In the post, he cites a study by researchers at the University of Oregon. Some points from his post: (paraphrasing Mr. Worthen's observations.)

  • Researchers found the average person can only focus on four things at once.

  • Despite claims to the contrary, there is no correlation to age. Younger people cannot multitask more.

  • The complexity of things doesn't matter. There is little difference in trying to recall very complex/intricate items or simple things. That means little things that we take for granted, like following the car in front of us, take as much effort as something more complex, like a difficult phone conversation, or reading.

He concludes, that new technologies provide us the capability to multitask even more, however, human evolution has not kept pace and we have real limitations. It's an interesting post and worth reading. I still feel four tasks is overstating things a little.

The study does explain one thing.....why I still have problems walking and chewing gum at the same time......

Monday, February 18, 2008

Focus On Your Customer's Need To Buy! Getting Personal With Your Customer.

We have spent years getting sales professionals and organizations trying to become more customer focused. About 10 years ago, I published an article, Focus On Your Customer's Need To Buy, Not Your Need To Sell. To be successful in selling, sales professionals and organizations need to get personal with their customers.

It is important to talk to your customer--not the organization, but the individuals involved in buying your products. We need to get beyond the surface needs and obvious requirements. The sales literature is filled with stuff about "identifying the customer pain points." As Adele Revella cites in her Buyer Persona blog, often customers have been living with these for years. Yet they have not been motivated to change or buy.

The job of the sales professional is to dig deeper into understanding the customer. Each of us has both business/professional needs and personal needs. Most sales people tend to focus on the business needs but take no time to understnad the personal needs. These may be what really prevents the customer from moving forward. These needs may be very simple---help reduce the hassles I face in the job. They may be profound---I'm afraid of what will happen if this fails. Whatever they are, until we identify and address these, it will be difficult to sell.

Most sales people don't do this very well. It requires investing in the customer--individuals. It requires building a relationship. It requires questioning, listening, and understanding. In today's world, so much of the time sales people focus on the pitch, they focus on their need to sell.

It's amazing though, how simple things are is we start with Understanding The Customer's Need To Buy. Starting from the customer's point of view focuses you on your customer, increases your value to the customer, and increases your odds to win. Try it, see how it helps you and share your experiences in comments.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

In Praise Of The Checklist

Fast Company has an interesting short article, Heroic Checklist, that is a worthwhile read. I'm a tremendous fan of checklists, though in our consulting practice we find too many people resist them as either too structured or too simplistic.
Checklists are great, there greatness lies in their simplicity:
  • They help keep us disiciplined and focused.
  • They make sure, that in the rush of everyday activity, we don't overlook critical items/activities.
  • They free us up to identify and focus on the most critical issues.
  • They help us be more effective.
  • They free us up to be more creative and innovative.
  • They help us produce results.
Use checklists, keep them short and simple. They make a difference. They help us be more productive and effective.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Improving Our Communications

I've been seeing a lot about "problems in communicating." Newspapers and TV are filled with stories about "communications problems." As I speak with business executives around the world, much of the dicussion is rooted in communications problems. Even my wife complains, "you don't listen!" -- It's true---and I think most husbands probably get this same complaint---but that's a different issue.

A lot of the materials I see about "improving communications skills" are oriented around presenttion and speaking skills. Something struck me about the things I read and, in fact, a lot of the conversations I have been invovled in that we spend a lot of time talking about talking. Perhaps when we talk about communications skills, we should be spending more of out time talking about listening.

Most of the material I read does talk about listening, but the balance seems to be off. Listening is always treated as either an afterthought or represents the smallest part of the discussion. Perhaps this balance is off.

When we talk about improving how we communicate, shouldn't we spend most of our time talking about how we listen? Remember, someone once said "God gave us 2 ears and one mouth--use them in that proportion."

While not profound, we tend to be very good talkers. However, if we focus on becoming much better listeners, perhaps many of our "communications problems" would disappear.

One of the best resources I have read about listening and communicating is a book, Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott. I picked it up a number of years ago and just re-read it. It is one of those books that you want to keep and periodically re-read to remind yourself and get rid of bad habits.

These tips may also be useful:

1. Listen actively, engage the person in a dialog.
2. Pay attention to the person and what they are saying, not what you are going to say next.
3. Make sure you understand what is being said and what the individual means.
4. Be aware, that you may have to change your opinion and accept someone else’s point of view.
5. Be aware of non-verbal communications.
6. Don’t “multitask,” give them 200% of your attention.
7. Spend more time listening than talking.
8. Do not interrupt. Let them complete what they are saying.
9. Take notes, they remind you of what was covered and slow both of you down sp you can concentrate.
10. Remember, God gave you two ears and one mouth.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Stop Networking And Start Building Relationships

I've written a number of times about Social Networks and Networking. Today, I read a nice blog entry at thd Dumb Little Man-Tips For Life Blog: Stop Networking and Start Building Relationships.

Echoing my thoughts, they write: "Creating working relationships should be the goal of networking, not meeting as many people as possible." They comment on MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn, saying: "We need to shift our goals from numbers and volume to quality and relationships. After all, the point of networking is to connect yourself with others who can help you, as well as you help them. Relationships, communication and trust are fundamental to this."

The article goes on to offer tips on creating value and trust based relationships. It is worthwhile reading. I commend the authors on a good article.