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A Leadership Development Tool for an Independent Problem-Solving Team

People often undermine their own leadership development by looking to established leaders for help solving problems that they can solve on their own. It’s a part of human nature, and a personal-risk mitigation play. “If I ask the boss for the solution, I won’t be responsible for any failure.” Put another way, “I won’t get it wrong.”

Usually, that’s an unconscious process. Consciously, it’s much more like, “I’m not sure how to solve this. I bet Boss does.”

The way we respond as leaders will determine the future of our team’s performance.

Here’s a tool that will help insure that your people will grow, improve, learn, and lead in their own right. It’ll free you up and leverage your experience so you’re enabling greatness at all levels of your organization.

It’s leadership development gold.

The Problem

Change happens. Surprises arrive. Problems arise. As leaders, our own response to the fear of uncertainty is often to step in. Take it on. Offer our opinion. Tell folks what to do. Control the situation.

Sometimes this deep executive involvement leads to a better resolution of the problem — not always. Almost always, it leads to an undesirable outcome. Instead of breeding confidence, capability, and independence, this style of leadership leads to dependence and self-doubt, and inhibits learning in our direct reports. It retards the leadership development of our team distracts us from the higher-level work we could be doing.

Here’s a valuable alternative.

The SMART Model

SMART is — I admit — a cheesy acronym — The cheese helps you remember, because if you don’t remember, you won’t do it.

So… The SMART Model.


S – Slow down. Giving them the answer may be quicker in the short run, and it will insure that you’d approve of the solution. It’ll also insure that they remain dependent on you for all their problem solving needs. This step is critical because by slowing down, you create the possibility of solving YOUR problem. The problem that people are coming to you. Giving them the answer is the easy thing. It’s addressing the symptom rather than the root cause.

 

M – Make it theirs. Try something like, “You’ve got a problem? Thank you for identifying that problem before it got out of hand. Keep me posted on your progress.” This communicates not only that you view the problem as theirs, but also that your expectation is that they’ll solve it on their own. You even seem to think they must only be informing you, because of course they’re not expecting you to bale them out.

 

A – Ask. Before they go, ask if they’ve considered this variable or that factor. Ask what resources they intend to employ. Ask to be kept in the loop. That way, you insure they’re thinking about the things you want them to be thinking about.

 

R – Reflect. Reflect some of what your experience has taught you. “Look out for this. Be sure to get input from here. When we did X once before, Y happened.” By reflecting your experience, you give them the benefit of your expertise in a way that supports their autonomy instead of usurping it. And they learn to think of you as a resource for learning rather than solutions.

 

T – Trust their judgment. At first, their solutions may not be as good as yours. Trust them to be good enough. You didn’t hire no fools. If their initial solutions are 75-80% as good as yours, you’re still ahead because your time is better leveraged doing the things only you can do. And as they learn and gain confidence by acting with autonomy, they’ll become more and more valuable to the team as their skills grow. And soon, their solutions will be better than yours. That’s the inevitable outcome of sound leadership development.

Your Challenge

Each leader faces their own challenge with one or more of these steps.

Some (like me) get impatient out of the gate. We don’t want to slow down. Giving the answer is so quick. Today. Tomorrow, when someone comes back again for our solution to a problem they can solve, it’ll be quicker again to give them the answer. And those times add up.

Giving over the problem to someone else is hard for some of us. Relinquishing that control opens up a world of uncertainty. Finding the questions to ask that help lead our people to their own best thinking is an advanced skill. Reflecting our experience without handing them the answer is also a fine distinction. And it gives others some of the power we’ve fought hard over a career to build up.

And Trust… Trust is a doozy for a lot of folks. “Prove yourself, and I’ll trust you,” we say. Problem is, no one can prove themselves if we don’t invest our trust in them in the first place. Trust is a verb. Extend it. Feel it later, when your people reward your trusting them by delivering results.

The Leadership Development ROI

Expect big things. Demand greatness. Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown — world renowned leadership development experts — call leaders who are willing to build the capacity of those around them “multipliers.” In their HBR article, “Managing Yourself: Bringing Out the Best in Your People,” They observed, “Under the leadership of these “multipliers,” employees don’t just feel smarter, they become smarter.”

The people on your team are smart. And you’re smart too. With a SMART leadership response to people who come ask you to solve problems for them, everyone’s smarts will soon be working full strength to help advance your company.

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Leadership behavior shapes and defines culture. Culture shapes and defines the destiny of your company. Adeptability Training helps build leadership habit that supports communication, collaboration, and innovation. And fun. Book a call today.


Unexpected Link Between Dress Code and KPIs

There’s a link between your company’s dress code and the performance of your team. It’s not what you think. It’s not that there are standards of dress that lead to greater performance. It’s much better than that.

The Dress Code Situation

For years, General Motors had a dress code in their employee handbook that was 10 pages long. Whoa.

“What’ll I wear today?” Glancing through the closet. “Wait a second, wait a second.” Sitting in the reading chair and picking up a ten pound employee handbook. “Gotta do a little source research before I dress myself today.”

What’s the unrealistic part of the short story above? It’s the part where someone reads a 10 page dress code. Almost no-one reads a 10 page dress code. Chances are, yours isn’t as long as that. Chances are, yours is between 1 and 2 pages long.

Chances are, even at 1-2 pages, you haven’t read it. If you have read it, you don’t remember what it said. And it’s not just the dress code that you haven’t read. You’ve only glanced through the entirety of the employee handbook.

There are employee handbooks in every workplace in the country simply gathering dust.

The Problem

The important problem here is not that your dress code has gone unread. It’s not the wasted paper or shelf-space. The important problem here is that even when you don’t read a 10 page dress code, it does profoundly convey a message deep into your brain. Two messages, actually.

  1. We don’t trust your judgment. You don’t know how to behave at work. You can’t even be trusted to pick out your clothes for work. So we’re going to spell out our expectations for you in exacting detail.
  2. We’re covering our butts in case we need to discipline, fire, or otherwise protect ourselves from you. The time may come when we’ll need to make a decision in response to your bad behavior. When that time comes, we’ll need to be able to quote chapter and verse so we can prove that you’ve been out of compliance.

The Solution

Mary Barra became the CEO of GM in 2014 and made an adjustment to the dress code that she called, “the smallest biggest change,” she’s made. She shortened the dress code to two words:

Dress appropriately.

When I suggest changes like this one — shortening the employee handbook, setting descriptive policies instead of prescriptive ones — my clients sometimes object.

  • People will interpret this policy wrong.
  • I will have to talk to people about these policies — talk to them about what they’re wearing, etc. I’ll be wasting my time.
  • Each manager may interpret these policies differently.
  • Managers may interpret these policies differently in different circumstances and with different people.

That’s right. each of these objections is true.

The ROI

Each of these objections is primarily a benefit.

  • When people interpret the policy wrong, that’s an opportunity to talk with them about the present circumstances and explain the impact of their interpretation and decisions. Meanwhile, you’re strengthening the relationship if you speak to them with respect, and you’re building their capacity to have strong judgment, influenced by yours.
  • Talking with people about the policies and impacts of different interpretations has the above benefits. That leads to greater engagement, better future decisions, and the incidental development of a leadership bench.
  • Different managers making different interpretations isn’t a problem. It’s flexibility. Small companies with strong cultures often falter as they become big companies. Part of this is centralized leadership that’s far from the front lines. Descriptive policies permit “local leadership” and “local culture.” While the culture is largely consistent because the policies and values are the same, it’s also flexible, permitting greater fit for the smaller climates within a larger company. And managers have a sense of ownership and pride that comes with decision making.
  • While there is some space for discriminatory interpretations and applications of subjective policies, that in turn is an opportunity to reveal the unconscious prejudice for an opportunity to address it. All of this increases feedback and growth. It doesn’t come without some risk. And profit always comes as a benefit of smart, calculated risk taking.

In an environment shaped by principle instead of rules, people are engaged and their performance improves.

So, if I were to make this recommendation in two words…

Principles first!


Why Most Corporate Training Doesn't Work, and What to Do About It

There are a number of factors contributing to the prevalence of mind-numbing corporate training programs out there that don’t lead to change.

In this video, 4 reasons and remedies.

It’s not a lack of great information. And it’s not a shortage of well-meaning corporate training providers. I blame school. It’s the model we all have for information transfer. So school is what most training programs are modeled after.

Here are the reasons most training doesn’t work.

1) It’s not training. It’s teaching — an information dump with a bit of practice for good measure so you KNOW how to apply it. Training involves reps, exercise, solidifying the principles and strengths required to “DO” in the field. KNOWING how to apply the learning is less important than having the experience and habit of using the tools to actually practicing what you’ve learned in real-life.

2) It doesn’t inspire emotion. Our brains have evolved to dismiss as unimportant anything that doesn’t inspire emotion. We need to remember the things that scare us, delight us, excite us, cause us pain, make us laugh. Emotion is the brain’s signal that I may need to avoid or repeat what’s happening now. So I’ll need to store it for future reference.

3) It doesn’t create community reinforcement. Habits are powerful things. Community can help us shift habits over time by providing feedback and modeling. Without encouragement and feedback, we all revert to easy, established habit.

4) It doesn’t effectively answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” Like it or not, our brains are deeply concerned with this question. It’s hard to get the brain to resolve to maintain a new direction without a clear reward in sight. An abstract and distant reward doesn’t change behavior as fast as a clear and present one that’s directly tied to the desired change.

Want your training to be impactful, effective, memorable? Address these 4 shortcomings, and reap the rewards.

 

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Imagine your team operating with great effectiveness and efficiency. And imagine a sense of community among you to fuel that performance. Trouble is, reading an article doesn’t often change behavior. That’s why we created Adeptability Training for your team for a communication and collaboration culture as a matter of habit and mindset. Want an Adeptable team?

Book a call today.


Five Cent Company Culture Upgrade

With just 5 cents, you can make a major upgrade to your company culture. And are you ready for the kicker? You don’t even have to spend the five cents. You can keep your money and still get the upgrade. Look in the sofa cushions, grab five pennies, and read on.

COMPANY CULTURE

There’s a lot of talk about the importance of company culture. There’s not a lot of clarity about what company culture means. At The Yes Works, we have a useful definition of culture:

A company’s culture is the set of contagious tendencies of behavior, language, and values common to the people working there.

Want to know the secret to this five-cent/free company culture upgrade? Thank you. No, I am not thanking you for your interest (although, thank you for your interest). That’s the secret. “Thank you,” is the secret.

Thank you is a behavior that reflects the attitude of the thanker and affects the attitudes and the behavior of the thanked and of everyone who overhears the thanks. In an environment of recognition and gratitude, people are engaged.

A so-called leader I once spoke to said, “Why would I say, ‘Thank you,’ to my employees for doing their job. I pay them. Their paycheck is my thanks.” He wondered why he had to constantly police people to insure they spent their time on task, and why there seemed to be a problem of petty theft at the office. He didn’t believe in a connection. “That’s how people are.”

Whenever I hear, “That’s how people are,” I know that’s a team that could benefit from a shot of Adeptability.

Another employer I met recently complained that her executive assistant said she’d like more feedback. “I don’t know if I’m doing a good job.” This employer bragged, “I told her, ‘You’re still here, aren’t you? I haven’t fired you. That’s how you know that you’re doing well.’” She added, “You can’t coddle people.”

You may find these exchanges cartoonish. The sad truth is, they’re painfully common.

You’re here, reading The Yes Works blog, so your culture and your leadership are doubtless light-years ahead of that. Let’s take it to the next level. Introduce or turn up the volume on a “Thank You” Culture.

“Thank You” Culture

The research shows that if you want performance, you should be thanking people. Non stop. Thank the people who work for you. Thank your customers. Thank your vendors. Thank the people you work for, and those whom you work with. Cultivate a company culture of thanks.

Why bother?

THE THANK YOU ROI

The reasons are simple:

  1. It’s polite. Don’t get a reputation as a self-centered boor.
  2. It’s good for relationships, and as you may have heard me say before, “It’s never about the thing. It’s always about the relationship.”
  3. We crave it. One of the top complaints people have about work, “My contribution is not recognized or appreciated.”
  4. It’s contagious. When we’re thanked, we thank. Thank a lot, and the thanks are going to propagate all over your company.
  5. It reinforces the behavior you want. Behavior recognized and rewarded is behavior repeated. Thanks encourage performance.
  6. Use it or lose it. Behavior not specifically recognized and rewarded fades away. It’s not because people are peevish. It’s the way our brains are wired. Thanks reward the centers of the brain that crave belonging — and those centers are powerful indeed. “Thank you” is the best kind of peer-pressure.

A management truism is, you reliably get what you measure. That’s true of ourselves as well as those we supervise, so we’ve got a tool for you. It’ll help you drive your “thank you” performance.

Five-Cent Thank Yous

Here’s the five-cent tool you don’t have to pay a dime for. It’s an easy and contagious company culture upgrade.

  1. Put five pennies in your left pocket.

  2. Every time you thank someone for something they’ve done, move one penny from your left pocket to your right pocket.

  3. Every single day, make sure you’ve completed the transfer of funds from left to right. That’s 5 thanks a day. Better than an apple for company health.

Sound simple? It is. Still, it can be quite a challenge. We all like to think we’re gracious bosses and colleagues. Fact is, when the pressure is on, when we’re feeling busy and pressed for time, gracious may go right out the window. Saying, “thank you,” it’s only going to count — only going to deliver the benefits — if you’re received as genuine.

There’s a skill to finding and delivering a thank you that’s genuine even when you’re stressed, even when under duress. We’ve got some suggestions.

Here are a few guidelines from our Adeptability program:

  1. BE SPECIFIC. “Thank you,” even, “Thank you for your work,” is nice but gets limited ROI. Specific is far more powerful. “Thank you for double-checking my work to ensure we’re error free on this report.” That’s specific. That’s powerful. “Thank you for consistently turning your work in ahead of schedule. That keeps us on target for our clients and ensures we have a reputation for value.”
  2. TALK ABOUT BEHAVIOR. It’s not useful to thank people for generalities or for your interpretation of  their attitude — “Thank you for being friendly. Thanks for being awesome.” Thank people instead for behavior. “Thank you for smiling at me this morning.” Thanking someone for being, “helpful,” is fine. Thanking someone for, “giving me a heads-up before the meeting that Greg might need the Klein Numbers,” is better. Not only does that make the behavior easier to repeat. It’s also more gratifying to hear. I know you mean it.
  3. CULTIVATE GRATITUDE. Nothing is too small to be worthy of thanks. Thanks for holding the door. Thanks for the paper clip. Thanks for hearing me out. Thank you for coming early to the meeting so we could start on time. Thank you for always doing what you said, or communicating in advance if there’s trouble. (Gratitude, by the way, is good for you — physically and psychologically.)
  4. DEBT ACCUMULATES. CREDIT DOESN’T. Did you miss all your thank yous yesterday? Get ten in today. Did you get ten in yesterday? You still owe five today. (Need proof that this idea that credit doesn’t accumulate is a practical principle of real truth? If you get a bonus this week, is it okay with you if your employer doesn’t pay you next week?)
  5. SPREAD THE LOVE. Don’t focus all your gratitude on your close-in teammates. Spread some gratitude to others in the group, and also to those outside your department. Together with your teammates, become the “Thank you” department. Build a department reputation for gratitude. Watch how easy it becomes to get things done across silos that used to be like pulling teeth.

BONUS

Are you crushing your thank you numbers? Here are a couple of suggestions for upping your game.

ADVANCED SKILLS:

  1. FORGET 5 CENTS. Go for 10. Go for 15. When you’ve cultivated your gratitude capacity, you begin to notice oodles of opportunities. It becomes an unstoppable habit. Spread this culture contagion even wider.
  2. TALK RESULTS. You’ll notice that some of the examples above don’t end with thanks for the behavior. They go on to name the result of the behavior. “Thank you for checking my work,” names a behavior. The likely result, “We turn in an error free product.” You can also build an Accountability Culture on this behavior-results type of feedback. Actually, you can’t separate the two. “Thank you for pointing out where I was failing to deliver.” Behavior. “I’m beginning to notice a tendency I have to gloss over that area of my work, and I’m taking actions to insure I remain attentive.” Result.
  3. PLANT AND FERTILIZE. Sometimes people hold back the behavior you’re looking for. Maybe they’re not sure you really want it. Maybe they’re uncertain their efforts will be recognized and received. Only getting a shadow of what you’re after? Try thanking people for the whole thing, even if you’re getting only the barest hint. “Thank you for your quality control attention on the whole project like that.” Even if they’ve only been scratching the surface, you’ll watch the behavior grow under a nurturing thanks. Thanking someone for their effort in building a new skill will drive and motivate more effort and faster improvement.

Gratitude is an Adeptability Culture skill. It’s contagious. It’s productive. It’s not the only way to get exceptional results. It is one of the easiest and most sustainable ways to drive ever improving performance and productivity.

And it does a body good. Pass it on.

 

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Communication and collaboration are some of the hardest things to get right in any company culture, and the difficulty increases exponentially as you add more people to the team. Adeptability Training gets teams communicating and collaborating effectively as a matter of habit and mindset. Book a call today.


Set Expectations Like an Improviser

Are you in sales? Do you have a boss or have people working for you? Got people working with you? Do you work with people? 

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, there are people who expect things from you.

The question is, are their expectations consistent with the reality you are prepared to deliver? Will you meet their expectations, or will you disappoint?

Half the answer lies in what you deliver. The other half lies in what they expect.

THE INCOMPLETE SET

Last month, I placed an order with a marketing company. They told me, “Your marketing product will go live in no more than 30 days. Maybe sooner.”

That’s expectation setting. They gave me an expectation about timeline.

They also told me that I’d have a “success manager” assigned to me and my marketing efforts, and that I’d hear from that manager to get my input along the way.

They gave me specific time when I should expect completion, but no specifics about when I’d hear from the “success manager.” Because they left a gap in setting expectations for me, I filled the gap with my own expectations about what the interim timeline would look like. Because I set my own expectations about their service, they set us both up for confusion, disappointment, and anxiety.

Indeed, two weeks later, when I hadn’t heard from anyone, I touched base with the sales rep who brought me on board to ask how things were progressing. “The holidays have created a backlog. I’m sure you’re still on target. You’ll hear from someone soon.”

Cool. Reassuring. A little bit.

When I called again a week after that, I heard, “There’s a bit of a backlog because of the holidays, but I’m sure your release will happen on time.”

Less reassuring. Kind of vague.

When I heard from his colleague that same day, “I received your search landing page today, and you’ll see it for review in about an hour,” that truly reassured me.

Why?

THE COMFORT OF SPECIFICITY

Was it the tangible progress that reassured me? Because someone had seen actual work done on my project…?

Well, that was part of it.

A bigger part of it, however, is that the info they gave me was specific. It was not a general assurance like, “I’m sure you’re still on target.” Or, “You’ll hear from someone soon.”

I heard instead, “I’m currently looking at this specific aspect of our deliverables to you.” She said, “You’ll see it in one hour.”

It was nice that I’d see it so quickly. But, “tomorrow morning by 10AM,” would have been almost as good. It’s the level of specificity that gave me something to hold on to. My worries are gone. And I know when I should start worrying. I can directly compare the reality on the ground with the expectation they set for me.

IMPROV’S LESSON FOR SETTING EXPECTATIONS

What I’d like to impart to you is a bit of wisdom I learned by training as an improviser…

The more specific you are with others in your life — those who work with you, live with you, depend on you, employ you, work for you, buy from you, sell to you… whatever — the more specific you are with others, the more comfortable they will be.

And guess what, the less likely they are to irritate you as well. I think I got under my vendor’s skin a bit, by writing a few times to ask about the status of my order.

What would have saved me the worry that my order would be late? What would have saved my vendor the irritation of my, “Are we there yet?”

One thing would have saved us both the stress — practicing the improviser’s tool, “Be Specific.” Had they been specific, not only about the deadline for the finished product, but about the timeline of every deliverable along the way, I’d have rested comfortably and left them to do their work.

BE SPECIFIC

So, dear reader, the next time you find yourself in a situation where someone else is looking to you for answers about what to expect:

  • When will you…?
  • What will X look like?
  • How will costs be calculated?
  • What do you like about…?
  • What are the metrics for success?
  • Where can I find X?
  • How can I attain X results?

Be as specific as you possibly can.

Expectations are like bowling. When you’ve got a seven-ten split, you can’t expect to knock down both pins by simply rolling the ball down the alley “that way.” You’ve got to hit the seven pin just so, in order to send it spinning into the ten. That’s a specific task.

So is communication. You’ll be rewarded for your specificity.


2 Ways to Sell Anything -- Sales Strategy

There are essentially two ways to go about selling anything. Either sales strategy can work if we define “work” as “lead to a sale.” One way will leave you and your client happier, more satisfied, and with a stronger relationship. The other will not.

To illustrate this, let me tell you the stories of my last two visits to a car lot and the sales strategies they reflect.

WAY #1: HOW TO MAYBE MAKE A SALE & CERTAINLY ALIENATE YOUR PROSPECT

Yesterday, I visited a car dealership for my first test-drives as I consider buying my next car. I’ll be buying very soon.

The sales rep (Bret) who approached me as I peered in some car windows was a young guy, inexperienced, but pleasant. Brought me some keys, accompanied me as I drove two cars, chatted me up, and learned about me and my life. He missed a few opportunities to dig into my purchase plans, but overall, a pleasant experience. So far, so good.

When he learned that I train sales teams, he said, “I want to introduce you to my sales manager.” That’s where things took a turn for the worse.

WHAT THE SALES MANAGER DID TO ALIENATE ME

Mr. Manager said, “Tell me how Bret did. Just a second,” and he tried to get me to leave Bret in the lobby while we went outside. He wanted me to critique Bret’s sales performance where only he could hear. I refused to leave Bret anxious and alone in the lobby.

Mr. Sales Manager went on to:

  • Express frustration about the state of one of the cars I drove — not from empathy for me, but because he himself was angry that it wasn’t up to his standards.
  • Chastise an employee of his in front of me and in front of other employees.
  • Tell me of a customer he’d asked to leave his lot because she was rude to his employees, berating his staff.  (“Good,” I thought.) Then he said, “I told her she’d be happier somewhere else.” (He lied to her.)
  • Tell me repeatedly, “I’d really like to sell you a car,” even after I said, “I’ve got to go pick up my daughter.

He accomplished all this in under 10 minutes.

HOW MR. MANAGER COULD HAVE DONE BETTER

He could have:

  • Said, “Bret’s a new sales rep. He’s been working hard. Would you tell Bret what he’s done well as your salesman?” Then, “How could he improve?” He could have acted in Bret’s interest to develop his skill instead of only to get some evaluation without building Bret up.
  • Thought and framed his disappointment about the car’s condition not being up to snuff from a standpoint of empathy for me. “I’m sorry we didn’t meet our own standards. I’d have liked for you to have a better experience. I’d have liked for you to see our best work.”
  • Held his criticism for his employee for a time they were alone, without customers and other staff around. There was nothing urgent going on.
  • Told that rude woman who was berating his staff, “I don’t need your money. I understand you’re angry. I don’t want anyone to talk to my staff that way. Please either apologize, or look for a car at another dealership.”
  • Heard and respected that I needed to leave to pick up my daughter.
  • Focused his thinking and speaking on helping me instead of being self-centered. “I want to sell you a car,” is none of my business. To be blunt, it’s not my job to care about his sales goals.
  • Come from a standpoint of service. “I want to be sure you get a car that’s going to really serve your needs.” Or, “I want to make the often obnoxious experience of buying a car easy, efficient, and pleasant for you. I hope that will win your business.”

Your customers are not there to serve you with a purchase. Rather, they’re expecting your service in exchange for their purchase.

To be fair, I was probably never going to purchase a car from Bret or his manager.

Because I’m loyal to Steve.

I stopped at Bret’s dealership because I’ve just started looking, and I like to see what’s out there, drive a few cars. The dealership was convenient at a time when I had an hour.

Two years ago, when I was shopping for a car, I knew just the car I wanted: a 2012 Jetta Sportwagen. I called one dealership that had one, and I was directed to Steve. (You can find Steve at this link. This is not a paid advert. Steve earned my appreciation and loyalty.)

WAY #2: HOW TO MAYBE MAKE THE SALE & CERTAINLY PLEASE PEOPLE

When I arrived at Steve’s two years ago, he greeted me like a guest, went out of his way to make me comfortable, and didn’t try to sell me anything. I’ve been telling the story and recommending Steve ever since.

HOW STEVE WON MY LOYALTY

  • Steve let me run my car buying process.
  • On the phone I said, “I’d like to drive the car on your lot, then I’m going to drive another car in the next town over. Then I’m going to weigh my options, and make a purchase.” Steve said, “Ok. Great.”
  • When I arrived to drive the car, Steve greeted me warmly, humanly, authentically without any sign of a forced smile.
  • He had the car running and the seat warmer on already. It was a cold day.
  • He spoke a little, but mostly let me listen to the car and do my thing as he rode along with me on the test drive.
  • When I said, “Thanks. I’m going to drive the other one tomorrow, and you may hear back from me,” he did not reply, “How can I put you in a car today?”
  • When I called the following afternoon and asked to drive the car again, Steve was warm again, not annoyed at my request.
  • Steve usually sells new Lexuses. But when I arrived, Steve had done a bunch of research into how to sync my phone with the car’s bluetooth. He showed me how. He went out of his way to make everything easy and pleasant for me.
  • He called me a week after I bought the car and asked how it was treating me.
  • He called a year later and said, “Happy anniversary.”

TO SUM UP — A Pushy Way, and a Helpful Way

In short, “Way 1”, focusing on yourself and the sale, pushing your will on the buyer may lead to a sale — once. And it will almost always alienate people, even if they buy.

“Way 2”, focusing on your prospect and seeking to serve them, looking at things from the perspective of their interests, will often lead to a sale — if it’s good for the buyer. And it will almost always make you friends and fans who’ll come back and refer others.

Bret’s manager was all about Bret’s manager. Steve was all about me. I’m sure Steve is acting strategically at some level to maximize the likelihood of a sale. But his strategy is about how to give me the best experience with no pressure.

Pressure will sometimes win a sale, but it will not win anyone’s heart. Stepping into a prospect’s life with the intention of helping to improve it if you can — that wins hearts. Steve won my heart, so I’ve referred business to him. And I’ve called him again to tell him what I’m looking for in my next car. He sold me a car once. He did it right. And now he’s got my business anytime I need a car.

Don’t be like Bret’s manager. Be like Steve.


6 Ways to Speed Up During Year-End Slowdown

It’s natural to slow down this time of year. The days are shorter, and we’re biologically programmed to slow down. There’s a break from Christmas through new years when many businesses all but shut down. We’re all thinking about family and friends — as we should. And we’re surrounded by so many messages about ending, that it’s hard to think about what’s continuing and what’s starting anew.

The holiday season is a full time. Good cheer, family, vacation, celebrations, feasting. Many of us look back at the year that’s ending and evaluate where we are compared to our dreams for ourselves and our companies. Many look forward to the coming year and start to resolve to change.

Unless you’re in retail, business tends to slow down, too. Productivity slows. Sales slump, especially B2B sales. The pace of everything seems to wind down along with the year as if preparing for a hibernation. And after New Year’s, many businesses take a while to gear back up to their usual operating pace.

After the holidays, people stumble back in from their family trips and too many cookies. They look around the office as though it’s a familiar location from long ago. They blink in the fluorescent light, and they’re just not sure how to get started again.

Sound familiar?

Diminished productivity and lost momentum add up to lost revenue potential. Can’t cancel the holidays. Wouldn’t want to. So I hope my improviser’s mindset can help you and your team enjoy the holidays fully, and keep and even accelerate the speed of business.

Here are 6 things you can do over the next few weeks to keep the pace up now, hit the ground running in the new year, and improve the vitality of your team all at once. Improvisers look for opportunities to keep the action moving.

1. Express gratitude

In keeping with the season’s traditions, thank people for their work. To have the greatest impact, Be Specific.

  • Name specific behaviors. Like this, “Carla, when you go out of your way to help a client…”
  • Name specific events as examples. “Frank, you took the initiative to call Jerry over at ACME Widgets because you’d heard through the grapevine that they were having trouble with…”
  • Name specific results. “Beth,we keep happy clients and get more referral business because you…”
  • Name a specific desired future. “Thank you, Alan. Please keep doing that.”

If you do nothing else on this list, express gratitude this way. Gratitude is a prime motivator, and boosts engagement and productivity all by itself.

2. Shore up relationships

If sales and service activities are slowing down because of year-end, you and your team can reach out to clients, vendors, peers, competitors, colleagues. Reach out to anyone who’s important in your business, and express care (including gratitude). Have lunch or coffee. Attend holiday parties, and go deeper than typical small-talk.. Connect with people on things that matter to them — family, career, dreams, hobbies. Strengthen relationships, and reap the rewards in the new year.

3. Survey what you’ve built

Your team has accomplished a lot this year. Often, though, we just keep plowing forward, looking to the next project and the next task. Take a moment. Take a whole meeting. Look at what you’ve done together, and give each other a pat on the back. Even if you’ve taken a beating this year, you’re still standing. Take pride. If you can’t take pride, give pride to one another. A sense of accomplishment can bolster resolve and accelerate growth.

4. Plan for next year

If you haven’t begun this already, you’re behind. Plan for next year. What are your goals and targets? What are your metrics for success? How will you reach them? Be specific about actions you and your team will need to take. Begin to make assignments and map out responsibilities. Include your team in the planning process. Rather than allowing big goals to intimidate you and your team, frame the plan as an inspiration. And let people begin to take action.

5. Plan for the first week of January

Before everyone leaves for Christmas, gather your team to plan for your return. Set deadlines for the first Thursday that people are back. Include activities that require collaboration and accountability. Give people some work they find fun to jump into when everyone’s back. That way, when January 2nd rolls around, people will come in bright-eyed, eager to work. Gather very briefly on the morning of the 2nd to give people a high-spirited reminder of the plan. Then connect that plan with intrinsic motivators like pride in their work and the gratitude of their colleagues and clients.

6. Express Gratitude

Did I mention that already? This is something trained improvisers do easily and readily. They notice resources, structures, and people that support them. They acknowledge people who have their back.

Improvisers know that constant feedback drives behavior. Feedback is the material that all relationships are built from.


Improve internal Sales Communication

"Going Great" and Other BS Sales Reps Say Sometimes

Improve internal Sales Communication

If you’ve got sales reps working for you (really, if you’ve got anyone working for you), and you’re getting all the accurate information from them that you need, when you need it, then read no further. If you need any more accurate information than you’re getting, when you need it, read on.

 

A SALES TEAM PROBLEM

Engaged and high-performing sales VPs and sales managers are telling me about a problem they’re having with their reps. “My reps aren’t communicating well with me. And sales cycles are too long.” Sound familiar?

Maybe broken communication and too-long sales cycles sound like two problems, not one. I’m combining them because solving internal communication problems can shorten sales cycles. And the same fears that prevent communication also interfere in sales relationships and prohibit rapport building.

Fear of uncertainty leads to vague, unproductive communication.

BREAKDOWN 1

You ask your rep, “Rep, how’s it going with the Smith & Co. account?” Your rep smiles and replies, “It’s going great.”

Best case scenario, you and Rep are on the same page about what “great” means. Progress is happening swiftly. Prospect is eagerly moving through the buying process. Commitment leads to commitment, and a signed contract is on the way. And Prospect has been qualified as good a fit for you as you are for them.

But what if “great” means something different to the rep than it means to you? To you, “great” means the deal is making distinct and swift progress down the pipeline. To Rep, maybe “great” means that this difficult and demanding prospect hasn’t been making demands this week. That’s easier on Rep, but could actually be a sign of a stall.

Worst case scenario, but a very common one, “great” is not actually in any way related to the deal. It’s a default response. Like, “How are you doing?” and “fine.” It’s just an effective way Rep has found to end the conversation with you, the supervisor, “so I can get back to work.” It’s a method reps use to avoid looking bad in front of supervisors. Rep doesn’t have to face your disappointment or their own if everybody accepts “great” as an acceptable response.

BREAKDOWN 2

You ask your rep when the Acme Ltd deal is going to close. Rep replies, “By month end.” But the deal doesn’t close by month end. Was Rep simply mistaken? Did something unexpected and unpredictable come up, or was the roadblock expected and predictable? Or, did Rep knowingly promise you a pipe-dream in order to delay delivering bad news they knew was coming?

Well meaning reps, even high-performing ones, often dodge, delay, defer effective internal communication. “If I report green, and then bust my butt, I’ll get this account to green before it hits the fan. Everything will be cool. I’ll make sure it becomes cool. No one will have to know that there was ever a problem.”

BREAKDOWN 3

You ask Rep about the pending Anonymous & Associates deal, and Rep says, “They asked me to check back next fiscal year.”

You say, “I thought the contract was a done deal, all but signed.”

“Yeah.” Rep says, “I thought so too. They changed their mind.” You ask what happened. Rep bows her head. She tells you about a blunder she made on a sales call last month, putting her foot in her mouth. She apologized at the time, but the whole tenor of the relationship changed. And she just couldn’t pull the deal out of the resulting nose dive. If Rep had only come to you immediately, you know you could have helped mend the damage done, and come out ahead. If only Rep had told you at the time.

A SALES TEAM SITUATION

Your job as a sales team leader is to increase revenues, to improve systems and strategies, and the get ever greater results from the resources at hand. It’s a sales-team leader’s job to get more this year out of well-meaning reps who are doing good work than we got last year.

Many people in your role, however, struggle to get the granular, specific information they need to assess, project, and support. Sales Directors say they’re learning about problems in the pipeline later than they wish. If I’d known earlier,” they mourn, “I could have helped. And my projections would have been more accurate.”

And when sales reps project a front that, “It’s all good,” it can be difficult to assess where they need coaching, and to support them in advancing their skill and to improve their results.

Does this sound like your life? Do the well-meaning (even high-performing) reps on your team keep information to themselves when it would serve the company (and themselves) better if they’d share it?

You need a collaboration boost.

 

AN ADEPTABLE SALES PERSPECTIVE

That’s why I want improvisers on my sales team. It’s not just that their presence and focus on others create great relationships with prospects that convert them to clients, keep them coming back, increase referral business, and generate gratitude (as described in an earlier blog post). They’re a part of an open system of information that allows the whole organization to thrive, improve, and succeed.

Teams trained to improvise (in programs like Adeptability Training) have more fluid and open information flow — and thus they’re more adaptive, more responsive, and more effective collaborators. Improvisers share information — even information that shows their vulnerabilities — freely and frequently. Sharing information is how they get ahead.

Even before Adeptability Training, you can start to practice its principles today. At your next sales-team meeting, coach your team to put this one into practice. We call this principle “Be Obvious.”


A SOLUTION

Ask your team to “Be Obvious” with you. Tell them, “Nothing goes without saying.”

People who practice “Be Obvious” say more about more. You can ask for more information — and get it — by saying, “Nothing’s too obvious to tell me.” And you, as a supervisor, can be obvious right back. When Rep tells you, “Everything’s great with Smith & Company,” you can say, “I don’t know what ‘great’ means in this circumstance. Tell me more.”

This only works if you tell them as well, “When you come to me early with a problem, I will have your back.” Provide them with the coaching, the support, and the resources they need to excel. Sales reps thrive with support, and faith, and freedom. Most of us in sales are relational types. We may have lone-wolf tendencies, but we get a lot from the relationships that nurture us.

Make a game of it. You might say, “I know this might be obvious, but…” and then say what you think no-one should miss. “I know this might be obvious, but…” and then ask the question whose answer may be obvious. “I know this might be obvious, but have you asked Prospect this question.”

Ridiculing people for being “Captain Obvious” is a common thing in the culture at large, and in many company cultures as well.

“Be Obvious” culture, however, is far more effective. And with a little practice, feedback, and having fun with it, “Be Obvious” can easily be installed within a few weeks.

You’ll never go back.

When your reps are “obvious” with you, you’ll suddenly have three times the opportunities to provide coaching inside the sales process. With more information flow, you can close more business and fine-tune your sales process to truly respond to the particulars of your business, your product, and your clients.

As you repeatedly ask for more information, your reps will learn that vagueness won’t fly. They’ll stop saying, “Going great,” and they’ll actually start giving you details before you have to ask for them.

BONUS ADEPTABLE TOOL

Be Specific.

Ask your team to give you more specifics, greater detail — as a rule. This principle walks hand-in-hand with “Be Obvious.”

The tough part for you… Have the patience to keep asking. Dig into the details, and don’t take “fine” for an answer. Be kind. Be patient. Keep at it. The folks on your team will become fonts of specific information you can use to shepherd deals, notice skill gaps, give an assist, and coach effectively.

Your team will thrive. You will exceed objectives.

 

TRAINING VS. INSTRUCTION

I make a distinction between training and instruction. Instruction provides information. It takes considerable work to implement. You’ve got to bring considerable, deliberate attention to bear.

Training is experiential and creates habit. Once trained, people behave as trained by default.

 

If this sounds useful, book a call. We’ll help make it easier to keep the information flowing on your team.