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Sunday, 14 October 2018

Retweet, Like, Share? We Need More Meaningful Feedback!

Social media has led us into the mistaken belief that "retweet", the “like” and “share” are genuine feedback whereas they are not much more than the “mine is bigger than yours” syndrome.

In much the same vein all my members give numerical feedback ratings and comments on the speaker’s presentation as well as their satisfaction with their Vistage experience.

I always emphasise that while the numerical assessment is useful, the real feedback of value will be found in the comments.

Trawling back through an archive of more than 500 blog posts I was slightly surprised (and pleased) to discover that I had not posted a blog on the subject of feedback.

Pleased I was because after nine years of Ivan’s Blog finding new and different topics is becoming more and more taxing.

It is always a pleasure to have feedback on the blog and I enjoy wading past the spam comments to discover what my readers really think about it.

If I am called upon to give feedback to one of the members of my Vistage CEO peer group then I like to give it some thought before committing myself.  The point is that feedback can be anywhere on the destructive/constructive continuum and pitching it correctly seems to be a black art.

Feedback, obviously, can be destructive if,as happens so frequently, it is tinged with reprimand.  On the other hand it is said that we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. How then as leaders can we pitch the feedback to be honest without being destructive and wholly negative?

I am a great fan of TV cookery programmes one of which is The Great British Menu where chefs compete for their dish to be selected for a major culinary event.

In the early stages three high end chefs are judged by another usually veteran on each of their dishes and the feedback (pardon the pun) can be both hugely complementary and/or brutal.

Take a look at the delivery of the judgements and learn how not to give feedback.  Typically the judge will say something like “I loved presentation, the sauce was delicious, there was a range of textures.......”. and then comes the killer word, BUT...followed by criticism.

The reaction of the chefs being judged is fascinating. Their body language is there for every viewer to see, going from pleasure and surprise to misery as soon as they hear the dreaded BUT……

I accept absolutely that this is an artificial environment but just ask yourself, how often do we give feedback like that?

Most good feedback, if it is totally honest will have negative and positive components. Not many people come to a one-to-one to hear nothing but praise or nothing but complaints about their attitude or behaviour.

We are dealing with complex organisms called people and we need to adjust our input to cater for the many and varied aspects of their (and our ) needs.

However on a simple note remember the chef example. Consider whether we should start off with praise or the need for improvement.  Solicit their feedback on a regular basis so that we, as leaders, can better understand complex situations that inevitably arise.

Above all, if we give critical feedback then we are entitled to expect a change in attitude and/or behaviour which will be checked on a regular basis.

Psychologist Frederick Herzberg suggested that recognition and reward by praise are major factors in motivating the team whereas other factors such as salary and the working environment have little or no effect.

Simply because as leaders we are expected to offer a motivational environment to the team we can use feedback that is evidence based to help people to change.

There is no other satisfactory way. We can’t change people or even expect them to change unless we give them an environment in which they can change IF THEY SO DESIRE.

Great, honest feedback is the best starting point.

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Sunday, 7 October 2018

When Does a Problem Become an Opportunity? Every Time!

There is a tide in the affairs of men which, if taken at the flood, leads on to fortune” and William Shakespeare in his play, Julius Caesar, neatly summarises the whole philosophy of opportunity.

Many wise things have been said by many wise sages about the need to redefine problems or mistakes in business as unleashing opportunities but at the time, the problem as such usually gets the nod for action. It’s called the sticking plaster solution.

It is the perennial issue of the chimp, the emotional brain, outweighing the human or rational brain at a time when rational thinking could well uncover the answer to a problem that in turn can develop into an opportunity.

Too often do we hear people saying “if only I had realised that if we had gone about it in a different way then perhaps…..

The wondrous equation, E + R = O. that for me has been a life changer, can really come into its own at this stage.

It means Event + Response = Outcome and that can be looked at in two ways.

Firstly, if we react instinctively to a situation without prior thought then the outcome becomes very uncertain. Unconsidered reaction can lead to unexpected and undesired consequences.

Tempers flare, defence mechanisms strengthen, logic goes out of the window and positions become entrenched.  None of this can be construed as satisfactory or leading to a mutually acceptable solution.

Indeed when we consider how a negotiation has gone in the cold light of day we can come to the conclusion that with a little foresight and self-control a more desirable outcome and a potential opportunity can be uncovered.

Indeed the best plan is to avoid looking into the situation from a superficial standpoint but rather from one where we can redefine the desired outcome and perceive it as an opportunity.

This means that E + R = O takes on a different aspect.  In this case we now redefine it as accepting the event that has occurred and which cannot be changed as a consequence, defining the outcome that is the most satisfactory and then responding to achieve that outcome.

The dreaded thought at this stage is “Does this mean that I may have to compromise and will that make me look weak?”

If we start out by deciding on the purpose of the exercise as being a way to uncover an opportunity, perhaps even  for both sides, then by no means does this imply weakness.

It is only weakness when we try to defend the indefensible that problems arise.

The trick is to go with Shakespeare’s strictures and look for opportunity in every problematical situation.  When Thomas Edison was asked by colleagues how could he go through the trauma of thousands of futile experiments before finding the solution, he said “Because the next experiment may be the one that works”.

In exactly the same mode I recall a US-based Vistage chair colleague who would dive into virtually every company that he saw while driving, demand to see the CEO and then tell him/her that they should be a Vistage member.

When we, somewhat shocked, asked him how many times he got a positive response or even managed to see his prey, he told us, about one in a hundred.

He looked upon the method in the same way as Edison - highly inefficient perhaps but it was done absolutely with purpose.

A far better plan is to select a small number of open minded people in the business to do some blue-sky thinking.  I heard of a UK-based Japanese owned high-tech company that used a think-tank of high end academics merely to think about market and/or product possibilities and then to pass the ideas on as opportunities for action.  

When we take the tide at the flood, with purpose and positive action, then success is more likely than merely waiting and hoping for it to happen.

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Sunday, 30 September 2018

How Can The Role of a Leader be Defined? Ask The Followers!

I recall a friend of mine who was promoted to the lofty heights of Chief Executive in his company and he really looked forward to starting in the new post.

He was delighted to see his name on his office door and went in and sat behind the desk.  Then reality kicked in.  He looked around and thought to himself:

What on earth do I do now?  More to the point, what am I supposed to do?

Of course he did the clever thing and called his PA and asked her.  She was equally realistic and gave him a few ideas that got him up and running.  Perhaps the best advice that she gave him was “Just go for a walk around the business
 and make yourself known to everyone”.

A simple tale but it reminded me that there is very little if any formalised training for leadership, perhaps because the role is an intangible.  Operational managers in functions such as finance, sales, marketing, operations, technical and so on have (or should have) clearly defined roles but the role of the overall leader is holistic.

There are perhaps two effective routes by which a leader can expand his/her knowledge; the MBA route and by being involved in a peer group.

The MBA route, by definition and because it emanates from an academic institution, tends to be both academic and theoretical.  This is not to say that there isn’t great value in this experience but rather to understand that the basis is not angled towards the practical application of the theoretical.

On the other hand, the peer group, as in the Vistage example, is strictly practical, drawing as it does on the experience of other members of the group and helping the members come to decisions as to their objectives and the desired outcome. The ideal, of course, is a blend of the theoretical and the practical simply because the definition of the leader’s role demands both.  Again, in the Vistage example, members hear the theoretical through high-end speakers as well as having the peer group experience.

Admire him or not, the election of President Donald Trump has elicited a kind description of his leadership style as “complex, charismatic and controversial”.  It seems to me that this description encompasses the style of just about any leader of note who comes to mind.

Think about it; Churchill, Gandhi, Douglas MacArthur, Lord (Bernard) Montgomery, Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, Sir Alec Ferguson, Brian Clough and many others in many different fields of activity, all had that indefinable ability to lead and they were all complex, charismatic and controversial in their own way, and by the way, these are the benign examples.

The best people to tell you about the abilities of the leader are the followers; they are the ones who will go with the leader to the metaphorical ends of the earth simply because belief has been instilled in them; a belief in their own abilities and a belief in the leader and his/her objectives for them and for the business.

In the end developing leadership strengths is auto-didactic. It is a matter of learning from the experiences of great leaders, reading the right books, taking on board the theoretical and the academic and learning from the experiences of others in a similar position.

Above all, it demands dedication, commitment, resilience, enthusiasm, understanding and the humility to accept that the learning never stops.  

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Sunday, 23 September 2018

Having Difficulty Closing the Sale? Ask AIDA to Help!

One of the perennial faults with many sales people (note: Sales, not Business Development) is the tendency to talk incessantly rather than to ask questions and then shut up and listen.

I well recall a young lady who came to us for a sales position and she told us that she would be ideal for the job as she “had the gift of the gab”.  She was right. End of interview.

It seems to me that not only do we need to ask pertinent questions and then listen but we also need to be very aware of what might be called buying signals from the buyer.  I am using that description although it encompasses any individual sitting across the table in a sales pitch and they can be in any function of their business, not only in the Purchasing role.

Again I remember being taken to a sales call with a senior colleague a lot of years ago and I was there to learn from the master.  He started out by showing the buyer our brochure with some lovely photographs of the Managing Director and the factory and eventually got round to discussing the reason for the call.

The buyer listened to the sales pitch that had been delivered without any reference to his possible needs and started to nod from time to time and make interested noises.

This is called a “buying signal” and the great sales people like my old sales mentor, Phil Copp, the Sage of Wythenshawe, would immediately take the hint and start in on the detail and possible ways in which we could help to solve a problem.

Not my senior colleague.  He prattled on until the buyer’s eyes started to glaze over as he looked at his watch and shuffled some papers. Even then my colleague didn’t take the hint until we were courteously but firmly shown the door.  My colleague appeared satisfied with this result and said that we would meet again in a couple of months time etc etc etc and off we went.

The moral of the story?  Not only do we need to ask questions and then listen but we also need to keep a very close eye on how the buyer reacts to information.

In fact I was given a great mnemonic recently to ensure that we do just that.  It is:

·      AIDA

and that stands for

  • Awareness
  • Interest
  • Desire
  • Action

those being the stages through which any buyer would pass during the sales pitch.  That is would IDEALLY pas.

The initial route is to ask relevant questions to elicit, if at all possible, the level of need on the part of the buyer followed by at least a modicum of information to create the awareness of your product or service, always answering the WIIFM (what’s in it for me?) question.

At this stage we need to look out for expressions of interest and ideally expressions of desire (that would do the job, it sounds just right for us, how much?) and so on.

Finally there is the action phase and surprisingly that seems to be the one that gives so many sales people the biggest problems. 

Heaven protect us from those sales people who create great relationships and don’t ever close them out. In the end, we have to Ask For The Order (another acronym - AFTO) and there are many ways in which to do that.

The key to the whole discussion of effective selling techniques is to realise that we don’t sell, but people buy from us to solve a problem.  They are in the driving seat and it behoves us to use that charming lady, AIDA to encourage the buyer along the path to success (ours, that is).

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Sunday, 16 September 2018

Problems Challenging the Team? Try Being Carefrontational!

In my long experience in Vistage UK I have collected several great techniques and methods that have stood me in good stead in chairing my group.

For fairly obvious reasons a major part of the process is to challenge the members to make sure that they drill down into an issue to establish the root cause and then to help the group to offer their opinions as to the solution that is the bit they enjoy the most.

It has been wisely said that there is nothing so satisfying as telling other people how to run their business.

This can, however, be a painful process for the presenter of the issue because while they know, deep down, the solution they do not like the answer and would prefer not to hear it or take the suggested action.

We realise that the whole rationale for joining a peer group like Vistage is to learn from each other and to have someone to listen to them in a safe environment.  However, when the chips are down it can be difficult to absorb and to accept.

A wonderful word borrowed from Vistage colleagues in the USA is:


and that neatly encompasses all that is good in a business relationship.

How then does it work?  In essence it emphasises that challenge is essential; not, you will accept, on the basis of reprimand but rather in the mode of questioning and constantly searching, as Thomas Edison said, for a better way to do things.

However, the human psyche being what it is, there is always a possibility and sometimes a probability for defence mechanisms to be unleashed whenever an idea or a method is challenged.

There is nothing worse than the defensive rebuttal to challenge.  It slows everything down, promotes argument that is usually unproductive, and generally drains energy from the situation.

The question to ask, then, is why do people become defensive when they are challenged?  In some cases it can be a matter of pride, even a matter principle, in some a fear of seeming inadequate and under certain conditions, even a feeling if rejection, none of which add to the effectiveness of the individual.

The whole carefrontational approach means that although the team member is challenged (and why not in a go-ahead business?), it is done in a way which maintains respect and that, to my mind, is an essential in all working relationships.

My friend, mentor and top Vistage speaker, Lynn Leahy taught me long ago that there is a major difference between being assertive and being aggressive although it can be a short step from one to the other. 

Lynn says that being aggressive implies top-down authoritarian management whereas being assertive means that while a point can be made in a forthright way, it will always be made with respect to the opinions and feelings of the other person.

In other words, people can be challenged in a forthright way while still being shown that combination of care, understanding and respect that is the right of everyone to expect.  

The result is far less likely to be defensive and will more likely be positive and productive, an outcome always to be desired.

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