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Sunday, 21 August 2016

Too Much Fire-fighting? Concentrate On What Is Important!

One of the constant cries that arise from a busy leader (or anyone else for that matter) is a complaint about the shortage of time.

This is, of course, nonsense because we all have exactly the same allocation of time as everyone else.  It is just the way in which we allocate the requisite amount of time to the action or inaction in hand.

Professor Stephen Hawking says that asking the question of what was there before the big bang is like asking what is north of the North Pole.   It is, on the face of it, an unanswerable question because the general onion is that there was nothing or in Kabbalistic terms, no-thing, prior to the creation.

Inherently there was neither space nor time both of which came into immediate existence at the big bang. Space was ever expanding to what we call infinity and time was reckoned from that point, 13 billion years ago.  Even that is an estimate based on our conception of time.

It is interesting to take a quick stroll through Google to see what brilliant minds have made of this concept and have tried to define time.

For example:

That which is measured as seconds, minutes, hours, days, years, etc.
That doesn’t define time, merely the way in which we measure it..

A non-spatial continuum that is measured in terms of events which succeed one another from past through present to future
Once again this depends on how we see the way in which time is measured.

The Greek philosopher Plate expressed it more poetic terms:
Time is the moving image of eternity

The fact that great minds have been unable to derive an understabable concept of time without resorting to the method of measurement is a testament to its mystique while at the same time (!) dominating our very existence.

Money has been made from training courses on Time Management when the real issue is not in terms of management but rather of time allocation.

This, I suggest, depends then on what the individual considers to be important and that needs to be prioritised.  If we have a certain amount of time in order to achieve something then it makes sense to be sure that the right amount of time is allocated to the action.

That is obvious but how many times do we allow things that are actually only urgent to get in the way of those that are important.

Consider this thought.   In business, urgency is almost always communicated to us by someone else.  If we succumb to the tyranny of the urgent, more often than not the really important takes a back seat and a severe attack of fire-fighting takes over.

If we consider one of those quadrants so beloved by consultants this time with the vertical axis labelled Important and the horizontal axis as Urgent, then the box in which the leader should be operating is the Important/not Urgent.

It is self evident that the not Important/not Urgent box can be discarded and the other two should be delegated.

The art of the management of the time available to us is to decide what is important to us while not necessarily being urgent and then make the time to do it.

Sometimes, by the way, doing nothing is a great option.  Golfer Sam Snead said that we should take time out to smell the roses.  Taking time out to think is never wasted and it is more often than not the most productive thing that a leader can do.

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Sunday, 14 August 2016

What D Your Sales People Sell? It Shouldn’t Be Just The Product!

How good are your sales people?  More to the point, how good are your sales methods and how good are your sales training methods?

A further question to ask yourself is, what is the focus for our selling effort?  Be careful if you discover that your sales people are concentrating on the product without any reference to the needs of the customer or indeed the true purpose of the sales function.

So many businesses think that the only function of the sales force is to sell the product or service and they reward this by offering commission on the sales achieved by the sales force.

Commission by definition encourages sales people to sell more product irrespective of the needs of the customer and it also encourages avoidance of follow up calls to ensure that the customer is satisfied.

Think about it.  When you are the customer what do you look for when a sales person comes to see you? 

In my earlier days I was a visiting lecturer at a noted Business School and was giving a presentation to a group of senior executives on sales and selling.  I asked them their opinion of the quality of their sales people and received a universally positive response.

I suggested that it was great that they were so confident about the quality of their selling effort and asked them what was their general opinion of the sales people from suppliers, either actual or hopeful.

Again their opinion was almost unanimous.  They thought that the standard of the people who came to see them to sell them something was pretty poor and sometimes dreadful.

I suggested that they take a few minutes out to think about what they had said.  They were correct, of course, that the general standard was poor and it made them look a little more forensically about their own people and methods.

The fact is that many businesses measure their rate of success by the invoiced sales they achieve when the gross profit is the real income of the business.   Again many businesses allow their sales people to negotiate prices and this results in the drive for the top line irrespective of the real needs of the business.

I am not an advocate of the business being bottom line driven at all costs but every business needs to make a return in their activities.  Net portability is derived from the gross margin achieved and this should be the main thrust of whatever the business is doing.

Selling price needs to be fixed by the business and should not be at the whim of a sales force.  Reward your people by all means but preferably against the gross profit they achieve.  The drive will then be to achieve higher rather than lower selling prices.

A colleague of mine in the chair community of Vistage USA says that we should sell the problem that we solve rather than the product.

Just think about it.  Every product that we buy either commercially or personally is bought for a reason.  We buy toothpaste to keep our teeth clean and the supplier sells toothpaste to the shop so that it can satisfy the needs of the customers.

Selling has often been described as an exercise in building relationships.  When those relationships are strengthened by solving the buyers’ problems then they are likely to be longer lasting.

The classic error that so many sales people make is to list with enthusiasm all the products that they have to offer and wait then to see if one of then strikes home.  Far better to ask questions to uncover the problem that they can solve, keep quiet and listen.

Good training, change of emphasis and constant monitoring of face-to-face performance can change the ethos of a sales force and it is well worthwhile to implement such a programme. 

Remember, it’s the problem that we can solve, not just the product that we sell.

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Sunday, 7 August 2016

Someone Made a Mistake? Sort It Out And Avoid The Blame Culture!

Those who know me are well aware of my rooted aversion to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme primarily because of their interviewing style.

The cricketer and commentator, the late great Richie Benaud, used tell new entrants into the world of communications that they should "never ask a statement".  How often does that happen and I confess to letting it irritate me.

It normally starts with "Do you think......?" and continues with a statement that is the opinion of the interviewer, in other words it is usually a biased question.

Even more toxic is that question after discussing a problem that starts with "Who do you blame?" and then moves into "heads must roll" or "someone needs to be held to account".

It is all very negative and leads to people avoiding making mistakes in any way which says that they tend to avoid doing anything with even a modicum of risk that might end up with a mistake and a reprimand.

In other words the blame culture is an inhibiting factor rather than an influence intended to encourage imaginative thinking and a willingness to take risks.

Generally speaking incompetent people need something or someone to blame for any perceived shortcomings. It leads to closed minds and low morale.

On the other hand great open-minded leaders value their people, they encourage them, they trust them, they reward them with praise and they get out of their way and let them get on with their jobs.

This is not to be a closed mind to the possibility of mistakes occurring. The clever thing is the way to handle the consequences

There is a story of a business where an employee made a mistake that led to a cost to the company in excess of £250K.

He immediately offered his resignation that was just as promptly rejected.  The leader told him that he was the best person to design a process to make sure that it wouldn't happen again.

Perhaps this is a rare and very enlightened approach to the situation. Nevertheless it is eminently sensible and accepts we are all vulnerable to the occasional error.

I accept that constant and repeated mistake making needs to be handled in a different and more positive manner.   Even so if you consider how infrequently this happens we can see that special though unusual actions are necessary.

There is no question that regular scheduled one-to-one meetings between the leader and members of the team are extremely valuable. Not only do they foster a better mutual understanding but also they encourage both sides to give and accept positive challenge.

A great one-to-one needs to be to the agenda of the team member rattan that if the leader.  The leader can prompt information and discussion through judicious questioning, drilling down in fact.  It is a ritual part if the leadership coaching function.

Leaders need to be on their guard against asking biased closed questions especially during one-to-ones with their ream members. We always need to ask the open questions that will bring out the deeper feelings of team members.

Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem that started:

"I have six honest serving men
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Why and When
and How and Where and Who"

Use these words as starters to any question and you are likely to have a considered response rattan than a simple Yes or No. By the way, try the What Else? question as a follow up then sit back and just listen.

You may well be surprised by the result.  Above all avoid looking to allocate blame for anything that has gone awry.  It is a futile exercise and will close down any reasoned debate.

An enlightened approach to resolving an error means that you take it seriously while accepting that we are not all percept, inclosing
ourselves.


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Sunday, 31 July 2016

Looking To Improve The Business? We Need To Plan And Be Consistent!

I heard a neat little maxim recently that really had some resonance for me:

“You don’t have to be sick to get better”

My old friend and US Vistage speaker, Lee Thayer, used to say that the first line on everybody’s role description in any business should read:

“My primary role in this business is to make it the best there is in the industry, BY ANY MEASURE”

Please note the words By Any Measure because adding that puts meaning into the maxim.  We can’t achieve what we can’ t measure so making the comparison on a level playing field makes it easier to assess where improvements need to be made.

Lee also said that he didn’t like the Japanese concept of kai-zen, or small, incremental changes, to achieve the improvement.  He much preferred a big, dramatic change that would resound throughout the business and build enthusiasm.

There is a good reason for this approach as big improvements are noticeable in the business whereas small incremental changes creep up relatively unnoticed until someone checks the figures and notes the change.

However there is good evidence that kai-zen works in the right hands.  For example, Sir Dave Brailsford, former head of Team GB Cycling and now head of Team Sky Cycling is a great enthusiast for the small regular incremental change.

He has a ferocious adherence to the smallest detail that can be changed for the better as the results in both of his recent appointments testify.  Team GB was extremely successful at the 2012 London Olympics and did you realise that Team Sky has won the Tour de France three times in the last four years?

Just watch the way that Team Sky dominated the race this year.  It brought cries of “They are suffocating the race” from commentators who should know better.  If people didn’t like it they had the answer in their own hands.  As Dr Steve Peters says, somewhat dismissively “Deal with it!”.

There is no doubt that Team Sky are the one to beat but it doesn’t stop them constantly looking for small incremental changes to equipment, riding styles, tactics and strategy not just to stay ahead but to consistently move ahead.

In so many cases we leave change and specifically improvement changes to a time when we most need them perhaps in a recession or when we experience surprise competition.

The time to implement improvements to whatever we are doing be it in design, operations, quality, service and so on is when we are at our busiest, not at a time of desperate need.

For example the sales effort can start to be slowed down when the order pipeline is long and deliveries start to suffer.  That is just the wrong time to slow down, that is when we are sick, and then the need to get better is paramount.  Desperate times generate desperate measures that are not always to the benefit of the business and its people.

In the 1920s, a French psychologist, Emile Coue, became very fashionable for his strictures on self -improvement.  He suggested for example, that we should daily clasp our hands tightly and say several time:

“Every day and in every way, I am getting better and better”. 

Auto-didactic it may be but if the constant repetition of the phase achieves its objectives who can argue?
As the saying goes, we don’t need to be sick to get better.  Indeed we certainly should not wait until we are sick to try to look for improvement.  It may be just too late if we do.  Dramatic change or incremental change?  Whatever is best for you and your business but constant, dedicated, planned and programmed improvement is essential.


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