Friday, December 26, 2008

The Giant Wake Up Call

I'm spending the slow time of the Holidays catching up on neglected reading. I just read (or rather re-read) Peggy Noonan's opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal: Who We (Still) Are...A Little Perspective For The Pessimistic "Age Of The Empty Suit." It's a great piece, you should read it.

In reflecting on the article, I agree with her. Despite the litany of bad news from so many sectors, we have so much to look forward to. In the past weeks, I've noticed a change in talking to friends, colleagues, and even strangers. I've noticed a much greater thoughtfulness. There's been a shift to living----behaving within our means.

Somehow, with the New Year, there is a feeling of starting things with a clean slate. We have been living and behaving excessively--not just in how we spend, but in how we behave and treat one another. It has reached extremes. Fortunately (that may sound odd), we have had a giant wake up call. With the New Year, we have the opportunity to start again.

I have the arrogance to name this blog, Making A Difference. I truly believe each person has that opportunity and obligation. Ms. Noonan ends her with a sentence that should inspire each of us to make a difference:

In January we have ....."the return of the person who will take responsibility and lead."

If each of us accepts this responsibility, we have the intelligence, capability, resources, and desire to emerge better, stronger, more open, and perhaps more compassionate.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Remembering Deming's Lessons---Always Important, But Somehow More So Now

Art Petty reminds us in Management Excellence, about Deming's lessons and their continued currency--particularly in light of the crises in leadership we face. Every time I read Deming, it seems that he is speaking of issues that are critical to leaders and organizations at this very moment, yet the work comes from many years ago.

While many other business guru's come and go like the latest fashions, Deming's teachings are always important. There is so much of his work that one can cite in a post. Art mentions his theory of Profound Knowledge and 14 Points as good starting points. I agree.

The W. Edwards Deming Institute offers some great materials, including a nice summary the theory and 14 points. For a nice review, go to The Deming System of Profound Knowledge at the site. I've reproduced the 14 points for review.

  1. Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs.
  2. Adopt the new philosophy. We are in a new economic age. Western management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change.
  3. Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place.
  4. End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag. Instead, minimize total cost. Move toward a single supplier for any one item, on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust.
  5. Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs.
  6. Institute training on the job.
  7. Institute leadership (see Point 12 and Ch. 8). The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets to do a better job. Supervision of management is in need of overhaul, as well as supervision of production workers.
  8. Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company (see Ch. 3).
  9. Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team, to foresee problems of production and in use that may be encountered with the product or service.
  10. Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force. Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor. Substitute leadership. Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals. Substitute leadership.
  11. Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality.
  12. Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship. This means, inter alia, abolishment of the annual or merit rating and of management by objective (see Ch. 3).
  13. Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.
  14. Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody's job.

It is easy to blame others about the crises we face, but the recovery will begin only when each of us takes personal responsibility in providing thoughtful leadership within our organizations and communities. Using Deming's teachings as a road map is a great start. Now it us up to us!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What Have You Learned Today?

Nina Simosko wrote a great post at the Slow Leadership blog. She addresses the issue of "can you ever have learned enough." Somehow, the answer to the question seems obvious, but as she implies, unwittingly, many seem to have stopped learning.

There are all sorts of excuses, probably the most dominant is "I'm too busy," the arrogant ones: "I have such deep experience." The list can go on.

Nina points out: "...thinking that you know it all is a sure sign of troubles to come...." As a consultant, unfortunately, many of the problems I see organizations have is they (and the individuals in the organizations) no longer have the mechanisms to learn. Sheer momentum seems to propel them forward. Learning seems to be limited to reading market research about the industry, analyzing competitor performance, looking at technology developments within the industry.

Yesterday, I was on a conference call with a team of people from a large technology organization. One of the participants---the chief technology strategist---chided the others on their waste of time in trying to understand the needs of their customer's customers and the business side functions (e.g. VP of Sales, Marketing, Strategy) of their key customers. "We work with the technologists in our customers. They know what is needed, they drive the business and its requirements. Talking to the business leaders is a waste of time." This organization is struggling to remain important to its customers--with these views, it is easy to understand why.

Two weeks ago, I spoke to a top executive of a small systems integration company. He had a "formula" for doing business. It had been successful in the past, but was failing now. When I encouraged him to consider some different approaches and to look at different examples, he responded: "We know what to do, we have been successful, we will recover just by executing more sharply and more quickly." My sense is he will continue to struggle, but will never achieve the growth he would like and the organization deserves.

Perhaps I'm lazy, but I have always wanted to look around to find new ideas and consider new approaches. I have always thought it is fantastic to look outside the industry I work in---after all, we all know each other and to some degree are becoming "in-bred." I have discovered a wealth of ideas in other industries that I can adapt and modify to help us innovate and improve performance.

Nina highlights the importance of keeping an open mind. She reminds us that learning and lessons can come from many sources. Learning is not just limited to what we read, what we encounter in classes, what we learn from guru's and consultants. She states, "Wake up each morning and ask yourself, 'What am I going to learn today?'"

I would extend Nina's thoughts by taking a slightly more aggressive position: as individuals and organizations, we must institutionalize curiosity! We must challenge everyone in the organization to learn from both traditional and non-traditional sources. We must challenge them to bring these ideas into the business---not into the suggestion box---but constantly be updating how the business works, based on these new ideas.

In following Nina's challenge---I believe a day is wasted unless you learn something new! Comments?

Friday, December 12, 2008

What's Your Question To Comments Ratio?

Great post at Art Petty's Management Excellence Blog. It speaks to the issue that too many leaders -- and I would expand that to business professionals, tend to talk too much and question---listen---probe too little. The Question To Comments ratio concept is fantastic!

Take the time to read and practice his advice!

Vicious Disqualification Is Critical For Sales In A Down Economy!

Yesterday, I spent time with the sales management team of a large corporation reviewing their funnel. I noticed something very important, the quality of the deals in the funnel had declined significantly.

It seems, as things were getting tougher, management was pushing sales to "go out and get more deals!" In an effort to keep their funnels full, the sales people were chasing bad deals. They were deals in which the customer had no real interest, urgency, or funding to go forward with a project. Deals in which my client's solutions were marginally competitive. Deals that were the wishful thinking of hungry sales people.
We had a long discussion about the topic: Is it better to have a high quality, but lean funnel, or is it better to have a full funnel of lower quality. We quickly concluded that, particularly in tough time, maintaining the quality of the funnel, was critical. Some of the reasons include:
  • The lower quality deals have significantly lower win rates, yet consume significantly more sales, pre-sales, and management time.
  • The few times those deals were won, the cost of supporting those customers was much higher. Customer satisfaction was significantly lower--impacting the perception of my client in the market, customer support costs were higher, decreasing profitability, and too much sales and management time was involved in dealing with these situations.
  • The "inflated" funnel set the wrong expectation in the business. Management could not really determine the real performance or expected performance of the sales organization and the gap to plan. Consequently, they were not implementing the right recovery strategies.
  • The time spent chasing bad deals, robbed the time sales people have to prospect and find quality deals. They were missing good opportunities, simply because they were spending too much time managing low quality opportunities.

Maintaining a quality funnel in very tough economic times takes courage, but it is the only way sales professionals and management can optimize their business results. No individual or organization can afford to waste any time or resource on non-productive activities. Maintaining or increasing the quality of the funnel, is critical to maximizing results and sales productivity.

The fastest way to increase sales productivity and building quality funnels is to get sales people to focus on vicious disqualification. They must focus on deals where customers have an urgent need--in today's economy, organizations will only invest in the most urgent, highest return areas. Sales must focus on deals that hit their organization's sweet spot---these are deals that have a higher probability of winning. There may be real deals out there, but if they don't fit your capabilities and sweet spot, you probably have little chance of winning them.

If sales people focus on vicious disqualification, the quality of the funnel will improve dramatically. Win rates and productivity will soar. Management will be able to accurately forecast the state of the business and develop strategies to address gaps. Sales people, with lean, but quality funnels will have more time freed up to prospect and find more quality deals.

It may seem counter intuitive, but vicious disqualification and the highest quality funnels are the best way to maximize business and profitability in a down economy. Your thoughts?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Night Sleeping On The Floor At Houston Intercontinental, Gate B85

It's 6:20 am, Central Time, I'm in the President's Club in Terminal B at Houston Intercontinental. The trials of winter travel started for me last night. I barely made my connecting flight to the East Coast last night. We finally left the gate, 90 minutes late.

Six and a half (that's right 6.5) hours later, still sitting on the tarmac, along with dozens of other planes waiting to be de-iced by one of Houston's 2 de-icers, the pilot turned back, we had burned through our fuel.

Turned out to be the same plight of dozens of other planes. My guess is well over a thousand people spent the night sleeping on the floor somewhere in Houston Intercontinental. I found a comfortable spot near gate B85. (Pictures to come later)

The reason, I am telling this story is that I noticed something really different than I have seen in 20 plus years of business travel. While people were frustrated, I didn't see the hostility and bad behavior I've seen in the past. People, were relatively patient and calm.

Likewise, the overworked, overstressed gate and ticketing agents were very patient and somehow seemed to keep smiles on their faces. After they re-booked everyone, around 3:00am, they brought pillows, blankets, and food around. They did everything they could to make us as comfortable as possible. My compliments to the agents at Continental Airlines.

Except for the guy snoring 30 feet from me, it hasn't been that bad an experience.

This gets me to the reason I'm writing. Last night and this morning, I have seen and participated in a civility, patience, and good humour that I have never experienced in business travel. Usually it is exactly the opposite of this.

I wonder if during these tough economic times, we are all learning to be better people. I hope we are----maybe every cloud does have a silver lining.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What We Miss About Creating Value

I'm often called upon to speak about Value Propositions! Every time, I do some quick research about the topic. It continues to be one of the most popular subjects:

1. Yesterday's Google search on "Value Propositions" yielded 4,140,000 hits, up from 2,900,000 in January.
2. It continues to be a "hot topic" in blogs and in consultant pontification (I guess I need to include myself on this).
3. In our own web marketing (SEO) programs, it is the second highest performer, just behind strategic alliances and partnering.
4. When we talk to our clients' customers, one of the biggest issues they have is they don't understand the value their suppliers bring.
5. In these tough economic times, everyone is searching for value.

I believe one of the reasons this is such a "hot topic" is that most of us are remarkably bad in developing and communicating meaningful value---whether it is to our customers, colleagues, employees, employers, or communities.

There is a lot of good stuff that has been written on the topic of developing and communicating differentiated value. For this post, I won't repeat it. However, there is one area that I never see any mention of:

In every interchange -- particularly those we initiate and whether it is with customers, colleagues, or others, it is critical to think: What value will I create in this interchange?

If we can't define the value we will create, then we are wasting time---we're wasting the time of the people we are meeting with, we are wasting our time.

If we can't define the value we will create, we are best off cancelling the meeting until we can define the value.

Imagine what would happen if each of us started doing this in just our professional lives. Imagine the number of useless meetings that would be cancelled. Imagine the number of thoughtless phone calls or conversations that would be eliminated. Imagine the time that would be freed up to really accomplish things that create value.

Creating value starts with each of us. We can improve our own productivity and effectiveness by making sure in every meeting, phone call, conversation or other interchange we create value for everyone involved.

It isn't tough, creating value is not about solving world hunger. The test of whether you have created value is: Can the person or people you meet with say, at the end of the meeting, "That was a worthwhile investment of my time." If we design all our meetings and conversations to achieve this goal, then we have created real sustainable value.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

It's All About Trust

I've been reading and thinking a lot about trust recently. Everyday, the news brings more reports of breaches of trust. The leaders and institutions I have thought I could trust have failed.

All around, I see erosions of trust---little things, here and there, a commitment made and missed, a confidence betrayed, selfish or thoughtless actions. A close business friend took many months to pay a large invoice and decommitted on a project, in the middle of the project --- costing me thousands of dollars. He has told my how badly he feels, but it was a rather large betrayal. Another friend made a commitment to meet with a major client --- then backed out at the last minute. In reality, none of these was malicious, but each represented a lowering of standards by these individuals I had trusted.

I was starting to feel a little down about things, almost feeling like pointing a finger and blaming all the people that were no longer trustworthy. Then I start to think, am I trustworthy? In the everyday rush of business, have I started to lower my standards? Am I starting to betray trusts, unconsciously, and certainly not maliciously, but am I no longer trustworthy.

I thought of the colleague that, over the past several weeks has left several telephone messages --- I've failed to return a single one. I'm embarrassed and ashamed, my standard it to return every call within 24 hours. I thought of the report a client was waiting for, I delivered it several days after I had committed it. I had good reasons --- maybe excuses, but I still caused him great difficulty in meeting commitments he made to others.

I've made a decision, I can't control what others do, but I can commit to being trustworthy. I where I have betrayed trust, I must start to repair it. If I start taking personal responsibility for being trustworthy ... and someone else (perhaps someone reading this article) ... and someone else ... and so on, collectively we might make a difference.

Several years ago, Stephen R. Covey, wrote a great book, The Speed Of Trust. I've been re-reading it recently. It's a powerful and important guide. Everyone should read it.

In the end trust starts with me, I can't be angry or bitter about others. I have to focus on being trustworthy, I know it will have an impact on me, perhaps it will on others.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Does Your Behavior Foster Or Limit Trust?

Trust is at the core of all relationships. It can take years to build trust and only a fraction of a second to destroy it. Maintaining trust in the face of tough business or personal circumstances can be extremely difficult. Too often, as leaders we succumb to behaviors that destroy what we seek to preserve.

The Slow Leadership blog has one of the best articles I have read recently. I won't repeat it here, but I have copied their list of 30 leadership behaviors that create mistrust. Make sure you read their article!

1. As leader, you fail to keep your promises, violate agreements and ignore commitments.
2. You look after yourself first and others only when it is convenient.
3. You micromanage and resist delegating.
4. You demonstrate inconsistency between what you say and how you behave.
5. You fail to share critical information with your team and your colleagues.
6. You choose to not tell the truth.
7. You resort to blaming and scapegoating others rather than own up to your mistakes.
8. You judge and criticize rather than offer constructive feedback.
9. You betray confidences, gossip and talk about others behind their backs.
10. You choose to not allow others to contribute or make decisions.
11. You downplay others’ talents, knowledge and skills.
12. You refuse to support others with their professional development.
13. You resist creating shared values, expectations and intentions in favor of your pursuing own agenda.
14. You refuse to compromise and foster win-lose arguments.
15. You constantly remind everyone of your status and make it clear that you will not be questioned or criticized without inflicting punishment in return.
16. You refuse to be held accountable by your colleagues or subordinates.
17. You resist accepting your vulnerability, hide your weaknesses and won’t admit you find anything a challenge.
18. You practice sarcasm and put-down humor and rationalize off-putting remarks as “good for the group”.
19. You fail to admit you need support and prefer to mess up rather than ask anyone for help.
20. You take others’ suggestions and critiques as personal attacks.
21. You fail to encourage openness in team meetings and allow others to avoid contributing constructively.
22. You refuse to consider the idea of constructive conflict. In fact, you usually avoid conflict at all costs.
23. You consistently hijack team meetings and move them to your personal agenda.
24. You either ignore or fail to follow through on decisions agreed at team meetings.
25. You secretly engage in back-door negotiations with favored team members to create cliques and political alliances.
26. You refuse to give others the benefit of the doubt.
27. You judge people without allowing them to explain their position or actions and won’t reverse incorrect decisions.
28. You refuse to apologize for mistakes or misunderstandings.
29. You use your position to indulge in inappropriate behavior.
30. When things go wrong, your first response always to defend yourself and protect your reputation.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

My father was (and continues to be) a fantastic role model. I've always looked up to him and sought to live by the example he set. As a kid, every once in a while, I would catch him in some sort of contradiction. His glib response was "Do As I Say, Not As I Do!" Both of us realized the humor and irony in the statement. Both of us realized the real intent. The lessons I learned and the values I have were largely set by the example of my parents.

Today, we seem to see so many executives essentially saying "Do As I Say...." Their personal behaviors and actions within the organization go contrary to what they are saying. Is there any wonder, why their organizations are confused and maybe do the wrong things? Leaders must set the example for their people in their own behavior. If the leaders can't demonstrate the behaviors, attitudes, or values expected, then how can they expect the organization to do so?

In "Leading By Example", John Baldoni addresses these issues head on. The book is mandatory reading for any executive, but a good summary can be found in the
Leading Blog.

Our first responsibility as leaders is to demonstrate what we want through the personal examples we set for everyone around us.

Resistance To Change

Thanks to Art Petty for calling attention to the excellent column in Quality Digest by James Harrington, Managing Resistance To Change. The article is very good. Some of the barriers he cites include:

• An unclear vision that causes confusion

• A history of poor implementation

• No consequence-management system developed to accompany the change

• Too little time to implement the change

• Lack of synergy

There are a number of other reasons that people resist change, but it is important to recognize this resistance as natural. The moment leaders start thinking "What's wrong with them?" the change efforts will fail.

Underestimating people's natural resistance to change is precisely what derails a lot of business strategies and initiatives. Ignoring this, failing to recognize the legitimacy of people's resistance to change, or using a "sledgehammer" to impose change will create the opposite of the intended results.

One of the key jobs of leaders is managing change. This means effective leaders must manage people's resistance to change---they must prepare the organization for change, communicate and reinforce the goals, reasons, and people's roles and responsibilities in contributing to the change efforts. Without this, it will take longer, cost more, produce less.

The Arrogance Of Success

Success masks all sorts of problems and challenges. In the past couple of months, we have been deluged with reports of dramatic failures of all sorts of businesses and organizations --- many of which were the benchmarks of success just a year ago.

While the housing, finance, and automotive industries seem to be the most visible,there are very visible examples in every sector.

We all strive for success, frankly it brings on such a rush. The rush keeps us pushing for more success. At some point, however, too many of us are seduced by success. We forget the hard work, focus, discipline and other things that caused us to be successful.

Many times, we stop listening, we stop learning, we start to think we can do no wrong. In many growing, successful organizations, I also see the newcomers or hangers on -- those who have had no hand in the original success, but now because they are part of a very successful organization, think they are successful and can do no wrong.

The blindness and arrogance the success creates can be devastating to individuals and organizations. It's important that all successful people not be seduced by this. It's great to be proud of success, but at the same time we can't become complacent or overconfident.

It seems to me that all successful people and organizations need to maintain some level of paranoia (Andy Grove was right!) and humility. We have to remain dissatisfied and hungry. We have to continue to listen and learn. We have to look around at others, we have to examine ourselves and continues to change and grow.

I am a great admirer of Jim Estill. Recently, he wrote a blog on this topic -- the
Paradox of Success. Jim provides great insight and clarity on this topic.

Getting Back In The Game

I've been terribly remiss in keeping this blog updated --- there are always excuses that one can use to avoid writing. Over the past weeks, I've been collecting all sorts of ideas, but not committing the time to write and post.

I've made up my mind to catch up and recommit. To those who read this blog and have been wondering where I am, I'm back and starting to post. Thanks for hanging in there, I look forward to your continued comments and feedback

Thursday, November 06, 2008

A Picture Is Worth 10,000 Words

It's been far too long since I have posted. Combinations of excuses---travel, business, and other conspire to make me feel guilty. At this moment, I am in Cairo on a series of business meetings. Last night, however, we had dinner by the light of the pyramids. They are beyond words, so I thought I would post a picture.

Imagine --- they were built 3000 years ago and still inspire such wonder and awe.

More posts later this week.

Monday, October 13, 2008

MS150--Southern California Event.

One of the causes I strongly support and try to "make a difference" in some small way is contributing to the fight against MS. I have a number of friends who have MS and have been active in a number of MS fundraisers and related activities.

This past weekend, I participated in the MS150 Orange County to San Diego ride. It's one of the most fun events I've every participated in ---- plus we raise a lot of money to fight MS. So far, we have raised close to $2 million.

On Saturday morning, our team, the Derailleurs, left Irvine, California at 7:30 in the morning---for a delightful ride down the California Coast with over 2000 others committed to fight this disease ---- Can anything be better? The first day, we rode 107 miles. Great weather, but strong headwinds made the last 30 miles a bit of a challenge. On Saturday evening, we had a great celebration event and barbecue.

Sunday morning, we resumed the ride in Carlsbad California and had an easy 45 mile ride down the coast to Mission Bay in San Diego, ending with a celebration lunch.

It was a great event! The fundraising continues until the end of November, 2008. We still have to do more fundraising to meet our goals!

I'd like to invite you to make a difference in the lives of everyone who suffers from MS, their families and friends. Please donate---help us meet our goal. Donation is easy, just follow this link and have a credit card handy:
I Want To Help In The Fight Against MS!

Thank you so much for your support!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Connecting Versus Relating --- The Disappearance Of Real Relationships

There is a great post in the Slow Leadership blog on "Connecting Versus Relating." It speaks to the breakdown of relationships, transforming them into transactions conducted through impersonal channels like email, messaging, Twitter, Blackberry's and cellphones. I would also add many of the social networking media.

While these "tools" have made all of us much more accessible and available--the emotional connection is lost. Relationships---at least meaningful relationships are built on trust and emotional connections. The new ways we "connect," while convenient, strips away that connection. It seems to me, the more we substitute these convenient ways to stay visible and "connected," the more the true nature of the relationship erodes. Ultimately, we lose the connection, probably without knowing it and we continue the transactions.

These tools also create a shield that enables us to do things that are unthinkable in a real relationship--we can start shading the truth--which gives way to outright lying. We can avoid addressing tough issues head on, or we can do it in terribly insensitive ways. Not having to look someone in the eye, talk to them voice to voice, to understand the reaction limits us terribly.

Research indicates that 70% of communication is non verbal---most of us interpret this as "body language," and other subtle clues we pick up in face to face communications. It would stand to reason the more we come to rely on maintaining relationships through non-direct ways, the more we lose in communications --- and the more we lose in relationships and our ability to trust.

Our worlds, whether business or personal, are increasingly complex. We are all time poor. The new social tools and means of "connecting" add some convenience and speed to communication, these tools are only a complement to building and maintaining meaningful relationships.

We all fall victim to this. It is so easy to send a quick email or SMS. I recently reconnected with a colleague, responding to her invitation over Facebook with an message "glad to reconnect." I got no response and started wondering why aren't we really connecting ---- and the answer is so simple ---- I should pick up the phone.

I am having some "challenges" with a client---who also happens to be a good friend. We seem to be waging electronic war, or at least I seem to be, to resolve a difficult business issue. The other day, he yelled "uncle" electronically ---- I got an email --- "Dave, a phone call would work.... "

We are actually both guilty. We both let the safety of hiding behind email help us avoid a difficult conversation -- but one that will quickly resolve the situation. Doing that has damaged our relationship --- but hopefully not irreparably. I need to give Bill a call!

Monday, September 22, 2008

First Rule Of Management: Stop Whining, Take Responsbility.

Jeffrey Pfeffer has a very nice column in the Wall Street Journal: Woes? Executive, Blame Thyself. There are several very interesting points:

1. It is typical for executives to blame outside-uncontrollable causes (the economy, etc.). Research shows that companies that blame poor results on internal controllable factors see greater subsequent stock appreciation than those who blamed their problems on external factors. Apparently the market appreciates executives taking responsibility for identifying and addressing challenges.

2. Pfeffer identifies the First Rule Of Management: Don't act like a victim. There are always things you can do to make things better. So stop whining and take responsibility.

The article goes on to examine issues about identifying what the real problem is and how to address them, providing examples of both good and bad practice---using the usual suspects. It's good to read!

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Future SalesForce --- A Consultative Approach???

Imagine my surprise to receive an email from CRM Magazine with this article featured: "The Future SalesForce -- A Consultative Approach." I was under the impression that a consultative approach to selling has been the hallmark of sales professionalism for the 25+ years that I have been a sales professional.

Now I have to apologize, I don't like to bash the work of other consultants and professionals, particularly some that I respect, as in the case of the authors of this article. I also realize the constraints a short article puts on an author in expressing ideas on very complex topics.

However, the authors display a bias and a lack of understanding, that I also once had, about the Commodity or Transactional Sale. I think it's a bias that any one who comes from a complex selling environment, particularly those of us from the cowboy environment of high technology sales.

They mis-characterized the Commodity --- Transaction Sale as the following:

• Simple product or service—perceived as a commodity by the buyer
• One or two calls—perhaps telemarketing
• One or two apparent decision makers
• Low risk
• Relationships less important—buyer views the sales professional as vendor
• Technique selling
• Price quote
• Price and availability more important

By contrast they characterized the Complex Sale as:

• Complicated product or service
• Multiple consultative calls, demonstrations, and presentations—perhaps technical sales support
• Multiple decision makers—executive committee or board-level decision
• High risk
• Relationships very important—buyer may view the sales professional as a business consultant
• Value-based selling
• Proactive sales proposal or response to a Request for Proposal (RFP)
• Return on investment (ROI) very important or required

In the past several years, I have worked extensively with organizations selling commodity products in transactional processes. I have come to respect the complex issues and processes involved in selling commodity products and services. A consultative approach is every bit as important in these processes as in the complex sale, but the process and the manner in which the sales professional creates and communicates value is different.

I agree with the authors that a commodity sale involves a product or service that is largely undifferentiated from the competitive alternatives---at least when focusing on the product itself.

After that, I disagree with virtually everything the authors claim characterizing commodity sales. Most of the organizations I work with are dealing with very large transactions, typically in the $10's of millions, sometimes in the $100's of millions. While some telemarketing (by the way, professional telesales is neither distinguished by the complexity of the selling process or the value of the deal--I have seen extraordinary telesales organizations selling very complex solutions, executing difficult transaction sales, all of high value). I have seen many of these large commodity transactions take many calls --- all with rigorous discovery, solution development, and business justification.

The majority of these deals have very high risk to the customers. Imagine, buying a commodity product--something that may be a component of your own products and not getting the deliveries on time. The whole revenue stream of a company may be at risk. Or imagine quality problems and the impact they have on customer satisfaction, profitability, and revenue. As a very real example, consider the plight of most of the major Notebook manufacturers with the battery problems they have faced. Those problems had tremendous costs--financial, reputation, and other wise. In fact one of the major considerations in many of these commodity transactions is second sourcing because customers cannot afford to put their companies at risk in case a supplier fails for any reason.

The authors also characterize the relationship as less important---they view the sales professional as a vendor. Any sales professional that does not create value for their customer, regardless of a commodity or complex sales process is a vendor. Relationships, establishing trust and confidence with the customer is critical in any sale. Making sure that you are creating value and addressing the customer needs is the hallmark of any sales professional--regardless of whether it is a commodity or transaction sale.

Perhaps the area where I disagree the most is the authors characterize the commodity sale as "technique selling" where the complex sale is "value-based selling." Are we to believe that sophisticated buyers of high value, important commodity products are more susceptible and willing to be closed on the "puppy dog approach" than by sales professional who demonstrates real ROI on the transaction.

This is one of the most misunderstood part of value based, consultative, or solution selling. The sales professional must ALWAYS create VALUE. What customers value will vary from customer to customer, deal to deal---regardless of whether it is a commodity or a complex sale. In the so called commodity sale, things like quality, timely delivery, management of the supply chain or logistics processes, facilitating and improving the procurement process and many others are critical elements of value in the commodity sale.

Pricing is important in commodity sales just as it is in complex sales. Building a business case that produces superior return at acceptable/manageable risk is mandatory for all sales cycles.

I can appreciate the mis-impression the authors have about commodity -- transaction sales. I suffered from a similar ignorance until some valued clients showed me how mistake I was.

There are complex and commodity selling processes. They are different, they buyers and their needs are different. Each carries its own challenges, success in each requires great sophistication on the part of the sales professional in building relationships, understanding the customer needs and presenting solutions that represent real value in addressing those needs.

Mailing It In! Bad Sales Performance

Linda Richardson has a nice article on EyeOnSales, "Discussing Vs. Sending Price."

She covers the topic very well, I won't repeat it. I am constantly amazed, however, about the number of sales people that are too busy or too rushed or too sloppy to present their solutions, pricing, and value to customers.

It's never the customer's responsibility to figure out what value they will get from a solution and to develop the ROI themselves.

It's the obligation of the sales professional to demonstrate and prove the value of their solution to the customer. Not doing this is not only sloppy and unprofessional, but it demonstrates tremendous disrespect for your customer.

The job of the sales professional is to help customers achieve their goals, objectives, and solve problems. If you don't take the time to help them understand how they will do this, then you haven't earned the business.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Corporate Culture Trumps Everything

There is a great article at IMD's site on "An Unpopular Corporate Culture." It's a must read.

I think many people underestimate the importance of corporate culture in executing strategies and driving change. Culture is one of those "soft" things---it's hard to define specifically, it's hard to develop specific action, worse yet it involves connecting with people in a genuine fashion.

It's so much easier to deal with the "harder" issues like developing strategies, executing programs and action plans, and so forth.

Having been involved in a number of turnaround situations and clients facing major challenges, culture can trump everything. Harness the culture positively and you can dramatically accelerate things, accomplishing things the organization never believed possible---Oh, and by the way reinforcing and strengthening positive elements of the culture. Ignore it, dismiss it and accomplishing anything can be painfully slow or impossible.

Even worse, for change agents, become seduced by it overwhelms you and makes you ineffective. Years ago, I was involved as a senior executive in a major corporate turnaround. My boss, the CEO, and I were reflecting on the progress we were making and the challenges in continuing to move aggressively in changing things. He taught me a great lesson, he stated: "One of the most difficult things about change is underestimating the impact of corporate culture and being seduced by it---when it leads you in the wrong direction. If you succumb to it, you have failed."

One of the greatest challenges leaders face is learngin from and harnessing the corporate culture in a positive manner. One of the most difficult things to correct is a bad culture. Bad culture outlasts managers and shapes the company far longer than we ever guess.

Read the article, it's worthwhile!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Seven Ways To Fail Big

I'm still rolling the conclusions of Paul Carroll's and Chunka Mui's HBR article: Seven Ways To Fail Big, around in my mind. The article is very interesting, based on research they have done on 750 business failures.

They claim that nearly half could have been avoided (not surprising), and that the avoidable failures were primarily the result of flawed business strategies, not poor execution (somewhat surprising).

They summarize seven key reasons: The Synergy Mirage, Faulty Financial Engineering, Stubbornly Staying The Course, Pseudo-Adjacency's, Bets On The Wrong Technology, Rushing To Consolidate, Roll-ups Of Almost Any Kind. Each reason is accompanied with case studies illustrating the point.

The article is provocative and stimulates thinking. While, it is worth reading and there are good lessons to be learned, I questioned the research methodology somewhat. It appears to be primarily based on secondary research (news coverage, case studies, other document) rather than primary research (interviews and in depth original research).

For several of the cases they highlight, we have some insight that would not be readily available in public information. In those cases, extremely poor execution, lack of commitment to the strategy, and other factors were also key factors to the failures. However, I may be nit picking with a "chicken-egg" argument.

In spite of being slightly troubled with the analysis, the article is certainly worth reading.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Letting Form Triumph Over Substance

John Gardner book, EXCELLENCE, published in 1961 is an inspirational book. One line in the book has always stuck with me:

"Do not let form triumph over substance."

It's a constant reminder to me, and refocuses me, particularly when I get caught into motions and activity.

I sometimes get discouraged, I see so much effort going into form: Saying the right words, writing the proper letter/email, having the right action plan/project plan, doing the right meetings, having the right appearance. On the surface, everything is polished, professional, things look fantastic.

Dig a little bit, and you find nothing behind it. People move from meeting to meeting, forgetting the action plans and commitments they have made. They move from conversation to conversation, crisis to crisis. They have meetings and conversations about things that haven't been done, agree to do those things, then have more meetings and conversations about why those things weren't done.

In the end, it's all been done in the right form, there's been a lot of activity that we can point to proudly, but nothing is accomplished.

We all get caught up in this behavior, it is seductive, easy to succumb to. I look at myself and see all the things where I have done and said the right, astute, insightful things, but not stepped up to the follow through and creating real meaning and substance behind this. In the end, it's just lip service.

I need to constantly remind myself to do a little less, talk a little less, meet a little less, but execute and create real substance and meaning in those things that I do

Friday, August 29, 2008

Why Manager's Don't Do People Management

I'm a great fan of Wally Bock's Three Star Leadership Blog. This week, he posted a great article entitled "Why Managers Don't Do People Management."

Coincidentally, I have been reading several articles and market reports about the tremendous growth in the "Coaching" business. These with Wally's article lead to some real concerns.

In our experience, managers are not spending the right amount of time in "people management," that is coaching, mentoring, developing, and managing performance. Wally cites a study that would indicate 58% of the people responding would believe that managers are not devoting sufficient time to people management.

Wally points out some reasons: They don't think it's their job, they don't have the tools they need, they won't deal with the uncomfortable parts. I think these are important.

The rise of the "Coaching" business show that organizations are "outsourcing" significant parts of their people management responsibilities to people outside the organization.

All of this is disturbing. As a consultant and coach, I believe that outside professionals can provide tremendous value in complementing management in developing their people and organizations. Coaches and consultants can never displace management, or relieve them of their people management responsibilities. Doing this robs the manager the opportunity to develop their own capabilities as leaders and to, in fact lead the organization. It robs the subordinate the opportunity to get the direction, coaching, mentoring most important to their growth and contribution to the organization. Finally, it erodes the strength and potential of the entire organization.

Too many years ago, when I was promoted into my first management job at IBM, I learned some lessons that have stuck with me to this day and form the core of my beliefs about effective management. Part of the reason I was promoted was that I was a great individual contributor--I produced result, met my goals, achieved my numbers.

In my first day as a new manager, I was told that my job had changed. My contributions as an individual weren't the most important things in my new role. My success as a manager was entirely dependent on my ability to get things done through my people. This was not commanding or directing people to execute tasks, but this was done through coaching, mentoring, and developing people to contribute the most they possibly could. It involved getting them to be both efficient and effective in performing their jobs. It meant removing obstacles and barriers that impacted them. Finally, it meant managing performance to the highest levels possible.

It's is an unfortunate comment on the "state of the organization" that 58% of the respondents to a major survey do not believe managers are doing this. It is disappointing to see inappropriate use of outsiders to absolve management of this responsibility----we're good, but we have to be used properly and not as a substitute for strong people management.

Top executive and leaders need to set the example. They need to refocus their efforts on being effective and powerful people managers. They need to set the example. Top managers need to set the expectation, measure and reward the performance of all managers in their organization based on their people management.

One thing I learned in IBM was that I could occasionally be forgiven for missing a goal or not making my numbers. However, the fastest way to lose my job was to be a bad people manager. The reason was simple, the power of effectively developing and leading your people produces results that are far greater than an individual contributor!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Saving The Lives Of Malnourished Children

I believe in and support the work of Doctors Without Borders. Today, I received an email, asking to support their winning a $1.5 Million grant from American Express.

The process is easy and doesn't cost you anything other than your time and a vote. Follow the link:
Saving The Lives Of Malnourished Children. Follow the instructions and vote for their project!

I started this blog on making a difference. Most of the time, I focus on business issues. This is a simple way that each of us can have a profound impact on the lives of children around the world. Please take this chance to make a difference.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Developing And Maintaining A Sense Of Urgency

Thanks to the Leadership Now Blog for their post on developing and maintaining a sense of urgency. It gives me another soapbox!

A sense of urgency is critical to executing any strategy. However, it is important to note that a sense of urgency is different from activity. In John Kotter's A Sense Of Urgency, he describes much of what is done under the name of speed, urgency, or activity is actually a false urgency which is "unproductive flurry of behavior built on a platform of anxiety and anger."

Kotter describes a true sense of urgency as being externally focused and expressed in daily behaviors that move relentlessly to the target, ever alert to changing conditions and weeding out superfluous activity.

A true sense of urgency requires thoughtfulness, focus and disciplined execution. Often, it requires one take time to think and review. Often it takes patience and discipline to follow through to see what results are produced and to take corrective action. Finally it takes courage. So much of the meaningless activity we encounter produces a facade of moving forward, but when you look behind it, nothing is happening and no results are produced.

The blog is worth reading and I've put Kotter's book on my reading list.

Sell Using Value Propositions

In past posts and writing, I've taken a pretty strong stance on how the concept of value propositions has been misused. Too much of the time, organizations treat it as the static, silver bullet that causes customers to buy.

I have argued that value is in the eye of the buyer and to truly present value, sales and marketing professionals need to understand their what their customers value and address those needs specifically. Value is personal, each individual involved in the buying decision is different and the job of sales professionals is to determine and present value for each of those people.

In the latest issue of Business Solutions Magazine, Chris Loringer has written an outstanding sidebar article on "Sell Using Value Propositions." It should be required reading!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Was There Life Before 7/24 Connectivity?

Today's New York Times has an interesting essay by Ben Stein entitle, Connected, But Hermetically Sealed. It is nice commentary about how we use technology to seal ourselves off from the real world.

Mobile phones, PDA's Ipod's, all great technologies that contribute to the quality of our lives also serve to diminish the quality of our lives by isolating us.

Imagine, sitting with a group of people, none talking to each other, but all engaged in text messaging as vigorously as possible.

Yesterday, on a bike ride, I passed someone saying "Hello" as I passed. They didn't hear me or respond, because they were listening to their Ipod.

All of us are guilty, I find myself hiding behind my (de)vices. After all, it's so much easier to bury yourself in email, messaging, playing a game, or listening to music than to be engaged. Rather than observing what's going on around us, rather than talking to friends, colleagues, and, god forbid, strangers, we can hide behind the technology. Without these (de)vices, I have to actually pay attention to something or someone else. I have to listen, I have to hear a different point of view, I have to learn.

It strikes me a ironic, these devices intended to enhance communications instead isolate us. We deal with only the familiar and turn a blind eye to the new.

These devices, which can improve our productivity, are actually diminishing the quality of our experience. Instant accessibility supposedly helps us be more reachable for urgent things, enable us to respond faster. When I reflect on the emails, text messages, and phone calls to my mobile, as far back as I can recall, there was nothing that couldn't wait a few hours. In fact there are many things that would have been better off by waiting a few hours.

I have often thought back to pre-historic times---when we didn't have mobile phones, PDA's etc. How did we deal with "urgency?" I have been engaged with top executives in major businesses worldwide. As I reflect back, business and the quality of decisions these executives made did not seem to suffer from delays of a few hours. In some ways, one might argue that many issues which are urgent at one moment, are no longer important 30 minutes later. The built in buffer of waiting a few hours to get back, actually made numerous issues become non issues and disappear.

Many organizations are recognizing these issues. they set limits on sending and receiving emails. They limit use of Blackberry, phones and other (de)vices. We don't need an organization to help us with that, each of us can take action.
  1. Set your own time limits to email.
  2. Let calls to your mobile phone roll into voicemail---don't interrupt what you are doing to answer it.
  3. Let text messages queue up, look at them periodically, but not instantaneously.
  4. Take some joy in looking around, watching what is going on around you, engage in the real world.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Stop Wishful Thinking ---- Focus On Executing Your Strategies And Business Plans!

Over the course of a year, I meet with dozens of companies and hundreds of professionals. In the course of most of our discussions, people are concerned about their business strategies and plans. These "strategy" discussions are wide ranging--- they can be about an overall business or organization's strategy and direction, it can be about developing and launching new products, about partnerships/alliances, about sales and routes to market, or about a specific sales strategy, or a strategy for personal growth.

Regardless of the specific "strategic" issue, the discussions are always exciting. There is a lot of creativity, openness in assessing alternatives, enthusiasm in developing an approach, and then we finish, we're ready to execute. This is where things come to a grinding halt. There may be some false starts, but nothing happens. The momentum of day to day activities may overwhelm us and we fail to move forward doing what we planned to do.

It's clear, execution is what counts. If we don't execute our plans or strategies we will never achieve the goals we established. We feel guilty that we aren't achieving our goals. We hold meetings to find out what is wrong. We invest time in developing new plans and strategies ----- without ever testing the original strategies. In the end, all our strategic and business planning becomes nothing more than wishful thinking.

There has been a lot of good stuff written on execution. I don't want to repeat that here. I've been thinking a lot about how to move forward --- I've seen too many organizations on the edge of greatness, but unable to take the step.

Here are a few ideas about what may hold us back --- and how we might move forward.
  1. We expect perfection and are afraid that execution may show we are wrong. We have to stop thinking about developing perfect strategies. Plans give us a road map to our goals, but we have to adjust those, based on our experience in execution.
  2. Embrace failure and mistakes. They just help us know whether we are on target or not. They provide real world feedback that enables us to adjust our plans and goals.
  3. Write it down. Write down your first few steps or actions. Set clear goals and metrics. Writing it down does two things. First, there is something about writing it down that makes something more real. I'm sure there are lots of studies about this phenomenon, but writing something down makes the plan concrete. Second, when we execute the actions, we get to check it off on our list. The act of checking or crossing something off, gives us a tremendous sense of accomplishment.
  4. The first step is always the most difficult. Don't focus on the entire action plan, it can be overwhelming. Focus on the first step. Once you get past this point, somehow the next steps seem to come easier. When I assess failure in business strategies, very often it's because the organization never got started, they never took the first step. As a corollary, anticipation is always worse, Nike has the right idea, "Just Do It."
  5. Share the results with your team. Good or bad, you've learned something, now the team has something to work with in continuing to move forward.
  6. Don't over think things, keep it simple. Business schools, consultants, guru's, and all sorts of experts thrive complexity. It keeps us gainfully employed. However, over thinking things and making them too complex keeps us from taking action. Over thinking also starts us on that destructive path of second guessing ourselves.
  7. Don't take yourself too seriously, have fun. Somehow we take ourselves very seriously in executing business plans. When you focus on executing each step, even for the biggest plans, there is little that you can do that is not recoverable or fixable. Laugh when you make an error, have fun as you learn and correct the plan/strategy. Keep it fresh, keep it light.
  8. Execute your plan and give it a chance to succeed or fail. Every plan I have ever seen has obstacles. Don't abandon your strategy at the first obstacle -- worse yet, don't abandon your plan before you start. At the risk of being repetitive, we learn, we adjust, we move forward.

Remember, without taking action, all our planning and strategizing are just wishful thinking.

There are lots of resources out there in planning and execution. A couple of recent blog posts provide some additional hints on execution. Harvard Management Update's "Execute Your Strategy Without Killing It," and The Glue's "Top 10 Reasons Strategies Fail To Be Executed" are worth reading.

Friday, August 15, 2008

When Fad Things Happen To Good Concepts

You already know I am a fan of Wally Bock's Three Star Leadership blog. Today, he had an interesting post entitled "When Fad Things Happen To Good Concepts." It's a good post and worth reading.

However, I'd like to get on my soapbox on management fads. Everyday, it seems there is a new management fad or trend. These fads will certainly save anyone's business, giving them the silver bullets to outstanding performance. As P.T. Barnum said, "There's a sucker born every minute."

Unfortunately, in trying to find out where the fault lies for management by fad, I have to point the finger to my own profession. Too many consultants publish a book, offering new insights, but are mostly recycled and updated ideas that come from solid, well established management research or writing from years ago. Usually, the greatest contribution these "new management" approaches have is boosting the consultant's speaking and services fees. They often burden people adopting the ideas with a new jargon, but little new or innovative.

Don't get me wrong, often there is value in reading these books. An old idea, presented in a slightly different light can stimulate us to think. At the same time, let's not throw out the sound principles from years ago, looking for the new magic elixir.

Most effective business leaders I know focus on basics. As Wally mentions in his post, these basics don't change much from year to year or decade to decade.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Making A Difference -- A Personal Plea For Support

For the past three years, I have been actively engaged in raising money to help conquer Multiple Sclerosis. Over the past few years, I have participated in the Southern California MS150---a 150 mile bike ride down the Pacific Coast. I have raised close to $7000 in the past.

On October 11-12, I will be riding in my third event. This year, I am trying to surpass what I raised last year. My goal is to raise $4,500.

This event is an important. The money raised from this event will fund continuing research to discover the cause and cure for multiple sclerosis. Equally important, it will help pay for a multitude of support services, critical to those whose lives has been touched by MS.

I'd like your help in making a difference in the lives of the people and families dealing with MS. Would you please make a contribution. Clicking on the link below, takes you to the website where you can make a donation.

For online donations, go to the link:

Even better, find a local MS event and participate yourself---a walk, run, bike ride. Put together a team and start raising money to fight this disease.

Thanks to all of you for reading this. Special thanks to those who help by contributing or by participating in their own local events.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

How To Live A Life -- Examples For Each Of Us

I was saddened last night to read of Dr. Randy Pausch's death. With many others, I have been inspired by his courage, humor, and personal example in his battle with Pancreatic Cancer.

I've followed him closely, actually having the privilege to see the live video feed of his famous "Last Lecture." Since that time, the media have elevated him to some level of celebrity. In the past few hours, I have thought a lot about that.

Even in his celebrity, Dr. Pausch struck me as a very "ordinary man." A person dealing with tremendous personal tragedy, but living heroically in spite of it. His example is not isolated. I have seen many other ordinary people, facing tragedy in their life, yet living their lives to the fullest, setting examples and inspiring everyone they touch. Dr. Pausch, to some degree, led for all those people. While he has passed on and his life and message will continue to inspire us, there are 1000's of other ordinary men and women that pick up the torch.

The personal examples of these ordinary men and women, dealing with their own hardships and tragedies, yet living their lives to the fullest will continue to reinforce Dr. Pausch's message. We each have so many people around us that inspire each of us to live our lives to the fullest.

I have had a few dark moment. Fortunately, the media found Dr. Pausch and provided him a platform to inspire all of us. One hopes the media continues to find these inspirational ordinary people. However, it is disappointing the media spends more time on those people who set the poorest examples , yet who are held up and unfortunately influence and inspire the worst behavior that can be imagined.

Britney Spears abandoning her car on the freeway, Paris Hilton showing up at a night club, Lindsey Lohan crashing a luxury car are headline news. The announcement of Dr. Pausch's death was buried---I had to search major publications like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times to find the story. The inspirational stories of other ordinary people never make the news.

I just did a Google Search. There were 104 Million hits on Britney Spears, 81.5 Million on Paris Hilton, 74.8 Million on Michael Jackson. For Dr. Pausch, there were 979,000. We need to look for stories of ordinary people living inspirational lives as role models. We need to find these inspirational people for ourselves --- the good news, they are all around us, we just need to look.

I think of my own circle of people. Friends who have dealt with tremendous health tragedies, a friend with brain cancer, who to the end of her life, was cheerful, happy, living each day to the fullest. Another friend with lung cancer who was more concerned for his friends and acquaintances, worrying more how he could make a difference in their lives and help them achieve their dreams than he did about his own circumstances. Another friend, confined for the past 15 years to a wheel chair, yet who has never let her disability bring her or those around her down. She continues to help make the world a better place -- both for disabled people and for everyone she encounters.

There are dozens of other examples, little acts of kindness, genuine friendship, someone who is interested and listens, those who challenge you to achieve your true potential. People who escape self centeredness and self absorption and set a positive example to everyone they touch. They are the true heroes and role models. These, like Dr. Pausch are the people we should hold up and strive to emulate their example.

I started this blog, focused on Making A Difference. Everyday, all around us, we encounter ordinary mend and women who make a difference. They do so quietly, privately, but inspire people to do better. We need to appreciate them, thank them, and choose the same path for ourselves.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Inspirational Leadership: The Victim of the Balanced Scorecard?

Amy Meyer has an interesting guest article in Art Petty's On Management Blog. As the title indicates, it speaks to the tendency of managers to hide behind things like Balanced Scorecards, using them as the end, not as a means to understanding problems, diagnosing them, developing improvement plans, and leading the changes required.

It's an interesting and provocative article, I encourage you to read it by linking here.

The problem, I think, is not with the tools themselves, but rather with the way some managers implement them or hide behind them. No tool, Balanced Scorecard, or whatever approach can substitute for strong inspired leadership. However, the tools can help an inspired leader more quickly diagnose and lead teams to correct problems or address opportunities. Let's not abandon the tools, but use have inspired leaders use them to help their teams perform at levels they never thought they could achieve.

We Don't Have Time To Do It Right!!!

Why do we seem to make the time to re-do things--several times over--correcting mistakes, but we never find the time to do things right in the first place?

I've been pre-occupied and frustrated by this issue for several weeks. Two multi-billion dollar organizations I am working with are on similar paths. They are in such a hurry to act that the action itself takes precedence over doing things right.

Both organizations have smart, motivated, well intended people. Both face major challenges in executing even the simplest strategies. It troubles me that such smart people are caught in a trap of executing so stupidly.

Here's an example: A key project--recruiting new resellers, engaging them and motivating them to sell my client's products/services is critical to the growth strategy. A program was announced and launched. However, no one had taken the time to develop the detailed plans for fulfilling the program and dealing with the responses.

Here's where the problems started (you might say they started with the absence of thoughtful planning), but the announcement was a wild success! Within 30 days, we had responses from over 200 organizations wanting to partner with my client. We didn't know about these response for over 30 days because the person getting the responses 1)Didn't know what to do with the responses; and 2)Didn't inform management of the responses.

We found the problem after about 35 days. You might think the problem was fixed and we could declare victory---but that makes too much sense. This company spent lots of time talking about the need to solve the problem, but didn't focus on actually solving it (the solution had actually been designed and could have been quickly implemented). In the meantime, more responses and requests for partnering came in. At the end of about 50 days, we had 400 pending requests---none of which had been acknowledged.

People panicked and started focusing on symptoms. An email was sent to the 450 respondents, it told them they now had an access code to my client's partner/reseller website. It neglected to welcome them, it neglected to tell them how to get started, most importantly, it neglected to give them the access code.

30 days has passed since then, frustrated potential partners are not getting responses to their queries, yet the company solved another symptom. It sent out the userids and passwords so that people could access the reseller web site and start learning a little about the products. The only problem though, no one provided these ids and passwords to the webmaster, so all attempts by the resellers to access the web site were rejected with not explanation.

And undoubtedly the story will go on. At each point, before, during, during, during..... I have encouraged the client to get a small task team together and to define a detailed plan, assign responsibilities, and execute the plan. But everyone's been too busy to sit down.

Now, months later, the client is at this point: They have 100's of people wanting to be resellers, the majority of whom have not received a response for at least 45 days, in some cases for over 90 days. Those who have received the first response, were confused and frustrated because they were not provided the information to do what was expected. Those who received the second response, see yet again, a failure in execution. Many potential resellers are so frustrated and fed up with their experience, they no longer want to partner with this organization.

I am frustrated, 1) My client has spent countless person hours in activity that has not only not helped resolve a problem, but has made the problem worse. 2} There is a tremendous opportunity cost---people who wanted to be resellers and who could produce significant revenue are now so upset they are no longer interested. 3) All of this could have been avoided with a 2 hour planning session-----but they were too busy to do this.

If this isn't depressing enough, this isn't an unusual case. It seems to be more the norm than the exception. Activity trumps thinking. Action overrules planning. We always have time to correct mistakes, we never have the time to do the right thing in the first place.

I started my career many years ago in IBM. At the time I started, there was a simple sign on everyone's desk. It had one word: Think.

Reflecting back on that sign, that notion has never been more important to effectiveness and producing results than it is now. Every minute we spend thinking or planning can save us hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars in wasted effort. It can help us realize millions of dollar in revenue and profitability.

But I'm at a low point----people are probably too busy to think about this. People just don't have the time.

Friday, July 18, 2008

How To Form Selling Partnerships That Really Work

The July/August issue of Selling Power magazine has several interesting articles on partnering and collaboration in sales. I'm quoted extensively in the lead article. Good reading---if I say so myself.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

What Did You Sell That For?

In the mid 80's, as a young manager in IBM, I was meeting with IBM's then Vice Chairman, Paul Rizzo. The conversation is as important now, as it was then. Paul had just returned from a trip visiting customers, and in our small group was expressing a high degree of frustration and some anger.

He recounted driving to the customer with the sales person. The sales person was briefing Paul on the account and proudly stated he had just sold a system to this customer. Paul responded with the question, "What did you sell it for?" The sales person quickly responded, "Oh, about $10 million."

Paul expressed his frustration to us, stating the sales person's response, while typical, was devastating to him. Paul wanted to know "What did you sell the system for?" That is, How is the customer going to use it? What value will they get from it? How will it help them serve their customers? How will it help them grow their business? The sale was a transaction to this sales person, the individual had no idea what the customer was doing, just that the customer had paid IBM $10 million to do it.

Unfortunately, over 20 years later, times haven't changed---particularly in many high technology sales. Too often, I speak with sales people, managers, and executives about what they sell. I ask the question, "What Are You Selling It For?" Too often, the response has nothing to do with satisfying a customer need or creating value for them. It is about beating a competitor, often at the lowest price, and winning a transaction.

This isn't just the problem of sales, to many of our businesses are focused on the product. Many lose focus on what the product/service does for the customer, the value it creates for them.

As business leaders and professionals, as sales professionals, as people seeking to server our customers, growing our mutual businesses, the question Paul Rizzo posed over 20 years ago, is what we must ask ourselves every day:

"What did you sell that for?"

If we can't come up with the answer, we will fail to succeed.

Unforced Errors -- A Killer To Effectiveness

I just read a brilliant Post on the Slow Leadership Blog entitled: Why Organizations Make Unforced Errors. Frankly, I can't state it better than has been already stated, but I will extract a few key points.

The concept of forced and unforced errors comes from sports (I know, we tire of sports analogies, but this one is important). Forced errors occur because the opponent is playing better than we are. When I speak, I frequently challenge organizations to OutCompete the competition. By this, I am referring winning through superior skill, offerings, value, or execution. OutCompeting the competition involves performing at the highest possible levels---and doing it on a sustained basis.

Unforced errors are the things we do to ourselves. They have little to do with the opponent or the competition. As stated in the blog, unforced errors result in us throwing away our advantages.

For the most part, unforced errors are avoidable---high performing people and organizations set themselves up to eliminate unforced errors.

Effective teams, working well together, completely aligned in purpose, strategy, focus, roles/responsibilities, make fewer unforced errors in executing their strategies.

Organizations and individuals that slow down, taking the time to think and organize make fewer unforced errors.

Planning and attention to details, understanding everything that needs to be done, beforehand, reduces the chance for unforced errors.

The quest for speed in execution is not inconsistent with this theme, but speed is useless---damaging---unless it is part of a well developed and sharply executed plan. We produce too many unforced errors focusing on speed as the end, not a means.

"Busyness," high activity levels, and multitasking increase the likelihood that we will make unforced errors.

Wimbledon is on now, the Olympics are coming up. Whatever your sport of choice--look at the world class performers in the sport. Look at their forced and unforced errors. Look at how they plan, focus, and execute. Look at how teams work together a one. Look at the speed at which they execute well thought out plans and strategies--maximizing their advantage and minimizing the unforced errors.

Take these lessons into your lives and businesses to improve everything you do.