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.