VIDEO: You Oughta Be in Sales

Is there any business process more despised than sales?

But if sales is held in such low esteem, then how are customers supposed to come to us? Do they magically appear like Christmas presents under the tree?

Sales is that five-letter word no one wants to mention. Too bad. All of us need to be in sales. What you are selling is YOU.

So if are not selling, it means you lack faith in self and faith in what you can do to help others.

Re-framing sales then means re-thinking what you do. Very basically, consider sales as everything you do for a client — service, execution, follow up and re-engaging the process.

Selling your commitment is something that anyone with whom you work with can appreciate. Ultimately, sales is a reflection of your and your work. Use it to your best advantage.

First posted on SmartBrief on 7/14/2017

A Methodology for Leading into the Unknown (HBR)

One of the toughest things to teach leaders is how to lead when the context and variables are constantly changing. One man who is helping leaders make better decisions is Don Vandergriff, a retired Army major, lecturer and author. Vandergriff has developed the Adaptive Leader Methodology (ALM) that helps individuals learn to lead in situations of escalating complexity.

The principles of ALM are universal and applicable to anyone who must manage and lead others. As Vandergriff explained to me, ALM immerses students in “complex scenario, and facilitate(s) them as they attempt to solve it.” As Vandergriff sees it, ALM “places people in roles of responsibility so they understand the context their unit or organization operates in… In ALM, they are placed two or three levels higher [than their ranks] in many of the scenarios.”

ALM is uniquely suited to teach military officers how to lead in “asymmetrical warfare,” where the unknown variables outweigh the known ones. “Instead of repeating a given scenario, you continue on and do a different one, with different conditions.” As Vandergriff explains, “By varying the scenarios, the conditions, and then… giving a good “reflection” session from peers, the teacher, and [observers], the learning process becomes continuous.”

This is break from the Army’s traditional approach to education which emphasizes competency. A shortcoming of that model is boredom and barriers. Says Vandergriff, “Good and great students got bored very easy. Plus, they did not discover their unit’s place in the larger picture because they were only allowed to go as high as that unit in their learning environments.”

A twenty-four year veteran of the Army and Marines, Vandergriff taught ROTC at Georgetown University and routinely received top marks for his instruction. Today his students are lieutenants and captains in the field leading combat troops. Lessons they learned from ALM are “what prepared them (the most) for what they face now.” Specifically, ALM provides a tool kit approach that fosters innovative thinking, new approaches to problem-solving and rapid decision-making, Vangergriff’s influence extends beyond the Army; he has taught Marines, Navy SEALs as well as units in the British and French military. 

Vandergriff also teaches in the corporate and public sectors, applying the same principles. Part of his instruction includes tactical decision games that can be very challenging. Participants “were frustrated, confused and challenged. As they day went on, they got into it, and then remarked at the end of the day and follow-on emails, how much that made them better leaders. When developing adaptability, you want to put your students in uncomfortable situations doing scenarios they are not familiar with,” he says. 

“The number one objective in my developing leaders is strength of character,” says Vandergriff. “I believe in what I am doing… What keeps me going is a belief in what I am doing is right. I was raised to see a problem, fix it.” That’s good advice for anyone leading in a complex environment. Leaders lead by doing, and so often they must do the fixing and solving so that the organization can move forward.

First posted on on 7/21/2008

VIDEO: Managers! Learn to Budget Your Involvement

Know your place.

That’s advice that Scott Rudin believes is the role of every producer. One of the most successful producers on Broadway today, as well as a successful film producer, Rudin believes that it is the role of a producer to create a safe place for people to collaborate.

As Rudin told Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” he didn’t always believe that. When he was producing films — after starting on Broadway — he felt he needed to be everywhere and do everything. Not only was that a recipe for burnout it negated the talents of the people hired to work on the film. So Rudin learned to budget his involvement to the benefit of his people and his projects.

Rudin’s lessons apply beyond the footlights. Management itself is the art of bringing people together to work on something in which they believe and in which they can succeed.

It is a matter of knowing your place.

Why Do You Want to Manage? (HBR)

“Most new leaders advance in their careers due their proficiency with technical skills, but they don’t necessarily have the leadership abilities needed for success in their higher-level positions,” says Steve Cohen, senior vice president with Right Management. Bingo, Steve! 

Time and again, I have witnessed talented and productive employees move into management not only without the necessary training, but also without a real desire to manage others. This phenomenon is particularly acute among employees with technical skills such as design, engineering or science. It also appears in high-producing sales people who can make more selling than they do managing.

Moving into management is a huge leap of faith. First, for many employees, it means giving up what they really love doing. That’s why they’re considered promotable in the first place, because they’re good at their jobs. But too frequently managers-to-be are not asked if they really want to move up, and worse they’re not prepared to manage others.

So before you consider promoting a competent employee ask three questions:

Why does this person want to manage? Technically competent employees typically enjoy their jobs. Many want to continue being designers, engineers and scientists; management to them is administrative, not something worthy of their skill set. Ask the prospective manager if he actually wants to manage and, if so, why? More money and prestige may be incentives but they aren’t enough to sustain a career.

What additional contributions can this person make as a manager?Employees who are contributing at a high level are hard to find. Sometimes organizations forget that promoting the high-level performer into management means she will not be doing her old job. On the other hand, other organizations will prevent a good employee from advancing because she is too productive. For employees who do not want to advance, the answer is to leave them be; for those who want to advance, organizations need to find ways to let them grow and develop. Otherwise they will leave to work for another company.

How will we support this new manager? If a new study by Right Management is any indication, the answer is, “not well.” Just three in 10 new managers receive coaching, even less than the 35% that senior leaders (including CEOs) receive. Coaching is not the only solution; support can come in the form of professional development via executive education courses. In-company mentoring is another solution. Regardless, the newly promoted manager needs some help, sooner than later.

Some employees have the gumption (as well as the self-knowledge) to say no to the promotion. They know that they enjoy pursuing their chosen passion rather than becoming a manager. On the other hand, those who do want to manage eventually discover one of the hidden pleasures of management: leading a team for results. Those who succeed in this endeavor are called leaders!

First posted on 8/11/2008

VIDEO: 3 Things Managers Can Do to Promote Collaboration

We expect our managers to give us direction for our projects.

When you invite an employee to speak about the project, you make it known that you are someone willing to listen. That, of course, is just for starters. Savvy managers can take it a step further by employing a three-step methodology.

  1. Comment. Ask your employees to tell you in their own words what the project is all about.
  2. Contribute. Invite your employees to tell you what changes they would make to the project.
  3. Collaborate. Challenge them to collaborate with you. If the project is to be successful it will need to involve the contributions of everyone.

Direction is essential, but so, too, is the ability to add your own ideas in order to make the project better.

First posted on SmartBrief on 6.03.2017

Live Standards, Don’t Just Talk about Them (HBR)

“Speaking Truth to Power” was the headline of a cover story in the Economist marking the occasion of the death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the former Soviet dissident and Nobel laureate. In his books, Solzhenitsyn chronicled the horrors of Stalinist repression, revealing the hypocrisies of the Soviet system that subjugated people to party. His defiant stand earned him exile but honor and dignity in the West.

The headline serves not only as a fitting epitaph for a dissident, but also as inspiration for those who aspire to lead. We often equate leadership with power, but it’s not always the case that they are connected. Indeed, it may be true that those in senior positions have power, but they may not be leaders. Conversely those without power are true leaders. 

How can this be? Those in power who put themselves before others are acting in their own self-interest while those without power who put others before themselves are acting for the good of the group. There’s a degree of altruism in authentic leadership, and while it’s difficult to practice, it does give genuine spine to an organization. Here are three ways to implement real leadership:

Report bad news. A 2006 study by Vital Smarts/Concours Group showed that one key reason that projects failed was that people failed to speak up when they saw things go wrong. Sometimes people are afraid to speak up because the failure may make them or their boss look bad. Yet this is exactly the time to report mistakes so that they can be corrected.

Stick up for your team. One reason bosses get no respect is because they fail to show respect for their people. Such bosses take credit for team success and affix blame to hide their own shortcomings. The boss who lauds his team in front of his superiors is a boss that employees love working for. And when the boss takes the heat for things gone wrong, they like him even more.

Create a righteous culture. Doing the right thing can be difficult; we all suffer temptations from fools and ourselves. But if the boss holds himself accountable and expects the same of others, acting with integrity becomes less of a chore and more of an aspiration. This is not simply about ethics; it also involves treating colleagues with respect and honoring their points of view, especially when they conflict with your own. People want to do the right thing but even more so when others are doing the same.

These three suggestions should not override diplomacy. That is, there are times to speak up and times to remain silent. You don’t need to challenge the boss or the boss’s boss every time you disagree. That kind of constant criticism will marginalize you and diminish your influence. People will assume you’re a crank and dismiss you. Then when you have a real issue, you’ll be ignored as the team’s contrarian, the one no one pays attention to.

Make no mistake, leadership is not sainthood. Leaders have faults first and foremost because they are human. But genuine leaders acknowledge their faults and seek to do better. Their self-awareness is painfully real; they know their personal shortcomings. Over time, their example sets the standards for others to follow.

First posted on on 8/19/2008

VIDEO: Promote People Who Say “No” to the Boss

I like to refer to my wife, a successful health care executive who works with physician leaders, as Dr. No. What she lacks in medical insight she makes up for in business acumen and decisiveness.

She is adept at weighing options and providing clear and cogent advice. More important, she is not afraid to speak truth to power.

Every organization needs people like my wife. To encourage others like her, Bloomberg columnist Al Hunt advises rewarding people who have the gumption to challenge their bosses.

An executive need not heed every bit of contrary advice, but every executive should demonstrate the courtesy of listening.

Executives whom I admire encourage their direct reports to speak up. To mitigate such fear, executives should reward people who do speak up with increased levels of responsibility.

These are the executives who can be groomed for greater roles because they have demonstrated that they have the guts to voice opposition when they believe it is necessary.

First posted on SmartBrief on 5/26/2017

Put Aside Platitudes (HBR)

“Our people are our most important resource!” That statement or some variant of it can be found in nearly every corporate mission or values statement. Sometimes employees file past posters emblazoned with the statement on their way to all-employee meetings where headcount reductions are announced.

Please, enough already. If senior managers truly valued their employees, then Scott Adams would still be working for the phone company instead of drawing Dilbert, and The Office would have been canceled after the first episode. And hundreds of thousands of people recently laid off in the automotive, financial services, pharmaceutical, and real estate industries would be gainfully employed.

Headcount reductions are among the first-trigger moves that companies employ when the economy softens, which is why repeating that hollow mantra that employees matter most during an economic downturn is pure poppycock. Repeating it to employees, as many senior managers do, is as disingenuous as it is de-motivating to the people who remain with the company. (For how long is anyone’s guess).

So instead of saying people matter during a downturn, prove it. Here are three ways:

Stop pretending. Economic downturns produce anxiety in the workforce. Daily newscasts or hourly web updates chart the downward effect on markets, industries and companies. Pretending that bad news will stay away is a losing strategy, yet many corporate managers do try to avoid the subject. Be straight with people; explain what the downturn means and the implications on your business. And if you don’t know something, admit it, but try and find out. Sooner than later.

Encourage personal decision-making. Give employees more say in how they do their jobs. Managers determine the “what do to”; but when employees have a say in how they do the job, they feel more engaged. Loss of control over one’s fate is vexing in a downturn, but if employees feel they have some say over how they do their work, they feel more in control.

Invest in employees. Training and development are typically cut during down economies. That’s too bad because often the acquisition of new skills and the development of untapped talents are the factors that will help the company survive the downturn. Sometimes downturns bring lulls in the work flow. Use such time wisely by grooming your talent base.

When times are tough, employees want to know their bosses are down on the floor with them, not perched high in an office tower. In a study by the Center for Creative Leadership (October 2007), nearly 100% of managers surveyed said that collaboration was essential. Yet less than half of respondents said collaboration occurred.

That’s too bad because collaboration might produce one thing that senior leaders really need right now — commitment. When employees know the facts, and believe that senior leaders are being straight with them, they may pay more attention to their jobs. They may be more willing to commit to their work instead of worrying (too much) about when the ax will fall on them.

First posted on 8/22/2008

VIDEO: It’s Your Job to Create a Sense of Belonging

Belonging is essential to developing engagement. And here are three ways to nurture it.

  1. Find purpose. Work without purpose is work; work with purpose can be joy. When people know that what they do matters to others and how it is connected to what the organization gives meaning to labor.
  2. Recognize results. Work is hard. Life is short. Two well-worn clichés that can be mitigated when management takes the time to recognize a job well done.
  3. Encourage camaraderie. Work is a place to pull together to do the job. There is joy in working together for a common cause.

Fostering the sense of belonging may be one of a leader’s most powerful levers because encourages employees to bond with one another in the work they do.

First posted on SmartBrief on 4/07/2017

Three C’s of Dealing with Underperformers (HBR)

“Since my last report, this employee has reached rock bottom and has started to dig.” 
“This employee is depriving a village somewhere of an idiot.” 
“Works well when under constant supervision and cornered like a rat in a trap.”
Alleged Quotes from Performance Evaluations

Performance evaluations such as these, true or not, always draw laughs, chiefly because we know these people. For all that’s written about stupid bosses, we’d be remiss if we didn’t address the issues of poorly performing employees, too. In fact, some employee misbehavior is what drives once-well-intended bosses around the bend.

The challenge for managers is what to do with under performers. It’s easiest to ignore them and in fact that’s what usually happens. Again and again in large organizations, peak efficiency is undermined because companies retain people who are clearly not doing their jobs. One reason under performers hang on is because their supervisors fear confrontation. Other times, the employee has a connection to an executive in high places. But ignoring the problem is not bliss; it’s stupidity, one that undermines the integrity of the organization. 

Here are three things you can do with an under performer:

Converse. Before you address the issue of under performance, you need to find out what’s going on in the employee’s life. Personal problems such as a sick child, a pending divorce or an ailing parent will distract an employee from devoting full attention to work. If there is such a problem, and the employee has a history of good performance, find a way to work around the issue. Those employees are worth saving.

Coach. Keep in mind that often employees under perform because they lack the necessary tools and or training. It’s the manager’s job to provide on-the-job coaching. The process is very straightforward. Discuss the issue so that the employee understands where he’s falling short. Ask him to devise solutions for improvement. Talk about those solutions and agree on a timetable for improvement. And always hold the person accountable by following up.

Can. If there’s no improvement (and outside issues are not relevant), then you must come to the conclusion that the individual is not right for the job. He or she should be encouraged to find another position for which he or she may be more qualified. (Note: don’t pawn an under performer off on another department; that simply kicks the issue over to another boss.)

The first two options are relatively easy, but terminating an individual is not. Tread carefully and work in sync with your human resources department. Otherwise you could find yourself on the wrong end of lawsuit. While it’s never easy confronting individuals about poor performance, tolerating it is a failure of leadership.

First posted on 9/10/2008