Posts Tagged ‘Effectiveness’

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Leadership in a Matrix Environment

March 30, 2011

As a professional speaker, the toughest crowd is the one filled with folks who talk for a living.

Salespeople understand how to tell stories; they understand that the customers’ story is where it all starts. Then, on to proposing and closing…and whoever tells the best story, wins. Delivering a product or service in a complex sales process is never the work of just one individual. Resources must be engaged, in order to respond to the RFP, or address particulars of technology, service level agreements (SLAs), etc. Many times these required resources have no direct reporting responsibility. In other words, the challenge facing sales executives is how to create leadership, without real authority. Creating a keynote on leadership can be challenging, especially for a bunch of sales pros. But, who wants the easy route, anyway?

Some believe that it is easy to inspire good behavior when you have the power and authority to influence bonuses, paychecks, and annual reviews. However, relying solely on a title, or the ability to hire and fire, is not about true leadership. Managing the day-to-day actions of a team of employees is a separate task from leadership in a matrix environment. Handling your reports is about direction; leading others without authority is about inspiration.

In a recent presentation to international sales executives at HP at HP Sales University, the topic of “acceleration” came up. In complex sales, there is no real way to accelerate the IT decisions or cap-ex (capital expenditure) investment that major corporations will make. However, it is possible to accelerate the role of the leader, fostering greater trust in a matrix environment.

Inspiring team members (even virtual team members) begins with recognition. Identifying and connecting with others means understanding a person’s unique contributions. Sure, it’s easy to see that the engineer or security specialist brings their own particular talents to the customer engagement; but what’s beyond the skill set? How can you recognize the unique contributions of the individuals on your team? More importantly, how can you demonstrate your ability to value (and leverage) those contributions?

Recognition really starts with “Why?” We all do our thing from 9-5, to collect our paychecks. But not all paychecks are created equally (even if the numbers are exactly the same). Consider: Why do you do what you do? Just to make money? OK, maybe so…but what does that money allow you to do? What are you able to do for yourself, your family, your church, your parents…because of what you do? Understand your “Why”, and then understand the “Why” of your team members. Get engaged in their story, and they will get engaged in yours.

Leadership is about influence.

It starts with recognition of others, as the first step towards trust. True leaders are able to be clear and transparent with their teams. By understanding the capabilities and the needs of the members of your team, you understand how to create an environment where individuals are not just recognized, but valued. Everyone, at every level, wants to make a contribution that is recognized, and valued. Prove that value to others, and you are telling the story that everyone wants to hear. Through trust and recognition, you earn the right to lead — not just in a matrix environment, but in any environment.

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What’s the Value of an MBA?

September 29, 2010

There are some things they don’t teach you in business school…

What’s the value of the MBA degree? Every program has a cost, whether you pay through student loans or scholarships.  And, there’s also an investment – whether you go to school part-time, full-time or on the weekends.  So, there’s an investment of time.  Of course, there is the quality of the teaching in the classroom that has to be considered.  But what is the value of the MBA?

We all know that thousands of students graduate from MBA programs each year.  But the value of the degree is more than the cost, more than the quality of the teaching, more than the investment.  The value of the MBA can only be found in action.

The real value of the MBA is based on what the students make of it.  Top MBA programs realize that they have to give students real-world insights that can help them to apply their knowledge in a new economy.  Studying the work of Deming, Porter or Bennis is crucial to establishing a knowledge-base.  But, it’s what you do with that knowledge that establishes the value of the degree.

In my coaching sessions with professionals and MBA students, I focus on what they don’t teach you in business school.  Topics include:

  • Personal branding: Going beyond “sensible shoes, matching belt” to create executive-level interaction
  • Business Development Strategies:  Emails that Get Results, How to Bridge the Gap between Gen-Y and the Hiring Manager, Web 2.0 & Search Tools
  • Leadership:  Communicating at the executive level, and establishing yourself as a leader (no matter where you are in your career path)
  • Promotions, Raises, and Responsibility: How to Negotiate like a Pro, and Know When It’s Time to Move Up (or, Move Out)

Going Beyond the Classroom

The economy has changed, and MBA programs need to adapt.  More than the employment picture, MBA programs must consider the value of their brand – the application of the knowledge they provide.  By providing students with insight that they can’t find elsewhere, schools create competitive advantage, and enhance the value and prestige of their institution.

In my career, I have answered phones, done data entry work, and even delivered food.  I’ve also run a global sales force, with responsibility for 1200 systems integrators and distribution in 68 foreign countries.  In order to move from “smiling, filing and dialing” to the corner office, I had to become a student of success – observing and noting what skills and techniques were rewarded in the workplace.  For top-quality graduate programs in the new economy, the prestige of the degree (or the institution) isn’t enough.  Professionals have to understand how to apply their new-found knowledge, if they want to maximize the value of their degree.

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What CEOs Really Want

September 14, 2010

Click the image to see more on this report

Recently, IBM surveyed over 1500 CEOs, to find out their most pressing challenges.  The complexity of the worldwide markets, combined with an increased rate of change, were the top remarks.  In attempting to deal with the challenges of the current economy, business leaders cited one quality above all others that can help employees to make a difference.

Surprisingly, the most-desired quality or characteristic was not technical competence.  It wasn’t loyalty, or communication skills, or financial acumen.  The number-one most important characteristic for business leaders?  Creativity.

Surprising, when you consider the traditional definitions of creativity.  For “creatives”, that word is used as both a description, and an excuse (Ever heard this one? “We can’t/won’t/don’t do that, we’re ‘creative'”).  Under careful consideration, “being creative” is not always a positive and encouraging description.  Where do you find “creative” accountants, for example?  Answer: Jail.

For financial professionals, project managers, executives and other task- or numbers-oriented individuals, the call for creativity seems quite contrary to the training and experiences that form the very foundation of the business world.  “Creative” is a department, or a compartment, reserved for individuals with unique talents that are not particularly commonplace in shipping, accounts payable, or operations.  So, “creativity” is rare, shapeless, often negative, potentially dangerous and certainly counter-intuitive.  Has IBM generated a survey that appeals for an artsy-craftsy approach to business?  Or is there a deeper meaning that this author has carefully chosen to ignore, in an attempt to roll out a few one-liners? (Ah, you caught me….)  This survey actually says that it is time for creativity to turn this economy around.

Creativity, in the context of business, means the power of creation.  Creativity is the way that we harness our imagination to disrupt the status quo, and find new solutions to the same old problems. The global leaders in the IBM survey seek creative solutions to experiment and innovate.  The leaders in the survey identify creativity as the antidote for the status quo, and central to the necessary disruption that is required for our collective marketplace to get unstuck.

CEOs are looking for ways to shake up their portfolios, their business models, and their old ways of addressing challenges in the marketplace.

Business leaders expect complexity to increase, and the need for disruption to follow (perhaps even lead) the advancement.  Creativity is needed, above all else, in order to innovate and lead through this current financial climate.  Why?  Because business must create a new future.  That future must build on the present, but in new and meaningful ways – ways that can only be described as “creative”, because they haven’t been created yet!

Creativity means many things, but at its core, the process of creation begins with an idea.  Based on current information, “what if?” opens the door to imagination – and new solutions can only come from within the realm of new ideas.  As the economy continues to churn and struggle, the leaders of tomorrow are the ones who are open to new concepts, new perspectives and new solutions.  Seeing things as they are is an important skill (awareness), but seeing things as they could be – and then making them that way – well, that takes some creativity.  Don’t you agree?

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Brainstorming for Results

September 7, 2010

Have you ever had a really good guided tour of the weeds, often called a “brainstorming session”?

As the ideas churn forward, each one less practical than the last, participants are rewarded and encouraged to dream large and often improbable solutions to real-world problems. How can these sessions be managed into an effective process, one that allows for the necessary freedom of thought but also the guidance that delivers real and tangible results?

Brainstorming About Acorns? Consult an Expert

Separating real accomplishment from group therapy requires a facilitator who is willing to set up clear communication on what is expected. (I will assume that “Six Thinking Hats” and other resources are already in play for the group leader). Often what is missing is a clear objective for the session, and necessary details about the business challenge at hand.

In a brainstorming session, CONTEXT trumps CONTENT.

In other words, participants need to know a clear objective and framework for what is about to be discussed. We CAN think of lots of things, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we should. The best ideas will be the ones that fit the context most appropriately. It is a delicate balance to create an environment of trust and openness within a framework of objectives and results. However, that is part of the clear communication that is required before anyone goes deep into the potential abyss of “brainstorming”.

Setting the ground rules is key for an effective session, and all participants (operative word: “ALL”) need to understand that they will be expected to offer ideas. Effective brainstorming takes courage, and that requires en_couragement from the facilitator. Oftentimes, the starting point is a version of “there are no bad ideas”…(ooh, I’ve had a few. There was the football bat, and the unicorn feeder…still convinced that all ideas are good ideas?) The key thing to remember is: Don’t get married to your ideas, but put them out there just the same. A good facilitator creates that environment and gets everyone to play in the sandbox.

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If every idea is good, then none of them are. That’s why Edward de Bono’s book is so effective, because it breaks brainstorming into steps and facilitates cream rising to the top. For me, the first step is a clear and established context for ideas – only then can those ideas be shaped into results.

Judgments and comparisons must come after the brainstorming session, to separate the wheat from the chaff. The stack ranking of ideas and collation of valuable material must be handled with respect – but handled nonetheless. Brainstorming takes courage, a true willingness to bring your best ideas, and an ego-less attachment to the outcomes.

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“Please Just Send Me Some Information…”

June 22, 2010

Have you ever heard that one before?  When you’re talking with a prospect, and you just know that what they need isn’t information – it’s an exit strategy from your conversation?

For me, when I’m not interested or if a service isn’t appropriate, I say so and I also say why.  I sell for a living, and I always appreciate honesty, so I try my best to provide it when I’m in the customer’s seat.  I have found that people like to know where they stand; polite honesty is what I seek and what I try to give.

Still, if you are running into this objection more than you’d like, you may be getting the brush off.  Maybe it’s time to take a fresh look at your approach.

“Sell Your Cleverness and Purchase Bewilderment” – Rumi

So, is “more information” just another way of saying, “I’m not interested”?  You have to trust your instincts. If it feels like a blow off, it probably is. My question would be: Where does their interest go away? Is there a point in your story or your value proposition that is a turning point (or turn off, I guess you could say)?

The obstacle probably appears before they ask for the information. There are a lot of choices for products and services, but there should be a strong reason to invest (if it’s the right prospect and the right product).   But how do you know if it’s the right prospect and the right product?  After all, it could be that everything’s right…except you.

If I were you – and I felt like I was getting a brush off from a good prospect – I would put a great big pile of truth on the table. When I’ve been in situations where I’m getting a lot of pushback, I’ve used a version of this speech and it always breaks the ice.  It takes courage and sincerity to lay these cards on the table, but it has been very effective for me in the past.

If someone says, “Just send me some information”, try this response [with comments in brackets]:

“Yes, of course. [You can’t say “no”, because then you might look sneaky, evasive or even unprofessional!]  But I’ve run into this request a few times before, and it seems to always end with no interest. Quite frankly, I’m starting to think that there’s something I’m leaving out. Maybe you need to know more before you can agree to a meeting, or maybe it’s just not a fit for you right now. Either way, that’s ok. [Always always make it OK to say no –  unless you know how to squeeze people until money comes out 😉  ].

“But, would you help me to know if there’s one particular reason that you need additional information? Maybe [my product or service] is not a fit for you – but I’m interested in getting your opinion, so I don’t keep repeating a pattern that doesn’t seem to be productive. I’m sincerely interested in meeting with you, if for no other reason than to make my approach as professional and effective as possible. Would you be willing to give me 15 minutes of your time, and a little advice, so that I can understand what information is missing – and what you need – so that I can be more effective?”   (Sell your cleverness and purchase bewilderment…and get ready for a fastball from your prospect.  Summon your courage for what you hear in reply; it may not earn you commission, but you won’t get a sale until you find what’s missing.)

This approach changes the conversation: you are asking for advice, not for sponsorship. You must be sincere in this request (not a bait and switch, where you push them hard for $$), or it won’t work. And the prospect has to be willing to be really straight wtih you (not everyone is). It really does have to be OK for them to say no to the sale, because now you need info (not revenue, that comes after the learning). If an actual prospect can give you some advice, it would really help. With some clear feedback, you would know if “send me information” is sincere, or a smokescreen.

It’s also a good idea to call someone who did decide to buy in to your product or service, and ask them why. Then, use that information as a testimonial to explain to prospects what another customer saw as a key benefit. Step your prospects through that process – the one that ended with a sale – and explain how you would like to begin the same exploration with them.

The antidote for objections is always truth serum.  Get the issue out on the table, and see if the prospect can help you to find what’s missing.  Focus on the customer with a sincere curiosity, and it could give you just the clues you need to close that next opportunity.

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Thoughts on Building High-Performance Teams

May 25, 2010
"Chart of Team Dynamics"

Context for Hiring Effective Teams

Building and leading a high-performance team requires an understanding, first and foremost, of your own personal leadership style.  The best leaders are aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and can identify exactly what the team needs (and what skills they need to hire) to succeed.  That’s where the talent of the team comes into play.

Each team member brings unique skills as a solutions provider to the team.  While some skills can be outsourced, depending on a company’s business model, competencies, and budget, an internal team is built around the talents of the members.  Within a context of the leader’s style and abilities, employees must present their talents for consideration within the following context:

  1. Relationships: both interpersonal (within the team) and professional (connection to the organization and to leaderhship personnel).  Does a particular candidate have a prior relationship with your company, your customers or (watch out) your supervisor?
  2. Personality/Fit: ability to connect with the boss is key, especially at executive levels.  Personality also goes to the foundation of good team dynamics:  key characteristics include integrity, honesty, work ethic, coach-ability and willingness to take on responsibility/ownership
  3. Quantifiable results: For hiring managers, “soft” skills like integrity and work ethic are hard to measure.  Even past performance is no guarantee of future results.  Testing tools help to stack rank employee capabilities, and provide insight into personality traits.   Balancing relationships, personality fit, and measurable characteristics are key to wise hiring decisions.  Rely on testing to confirm or deny your instincts on candidates and team compatability.  Then, tracking performance with scheduled feedback will help confirm your choices, as a hiring manager…or help you to understand when it’s time to make a change.

Finally, all teams exist within a cultural framework.  Creating a culture of open communication, integrity and honesty is the job of the leader.  If team members know that they are supported (as well as measured!) with clear objectives and straightforward feedback, the team – and the company – is much more likely to succeed.

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Westfall and Associates

May 24, 2010

Looking for new ways to grow your business?

Video introduction to our services and our approach.

Special thanks to Jeff Adair and the team at Dream.Work.Conquer for all their help!