Archive: March 2010

What did we learn from the market this week?

March 30th, 2010

I hope you had a huddle with your team last week and asked the question, “What did we learn from the marketplace this week?”. I did. Guess what happened? My team liked it. The meeting was for one business unit, our human resourcing product, which deploys recruiters and HR consultants to our clients. The question started a conversation. The conversation was not about me talking. The conversation was about staff working together and sharing. We learned a lot about the customers and prospects we talk to each week. However, the real benefit in this case was the team realization that they need to talk to do their jobs well. That the insights give them confidence, and with confidence they feel more in charge. We also stopped ourselves when we became aware of our internal focus, when we were not focusing on the impact of our thinking on the customer. It helped bring us back to our purpose.

I asked a customer that I coach to start doing the same activity. He agreed, but then admitted that rolling a new meeting format out was difficult. “We don’t talk about this sort of thing; we barely talk about the day to day…” in mid-sentence he stopped himself. “Wow, no wonder communication is always on our agenda.” The big aha? It is hard to talk about something strategic or something new if your meeting rhythms are out of whack (or non-existent).

I asked my good friend Tim, who runs a sales organization, how they gather intelligence from their marketplace. Tim said it best. He asks this question with each of his 27 staff. In one-on-ones. In team meetings. In annual kickoff sessions. But it is what they learn that enable him to ask each time. Tim does something with what he learns. Tim has changed and altered a sales process. Simplified the customization of his products. Taught his leaders to ask questions and listen to the answers. His organization is now market driven or Outside-In®!

Three simple things to do:

  1. Bring sales and service staff together around the question. Once the fireworks subside there is tremendous learning that takes place.
  2. Repeat the question in every internal meeting for three weeks to build the habit. Staff need to be certain it is not the leadership flavor of the month.
  3. Shift your focus external to your constituents.
  4. Most importantly, ask yourself the questions: What did you learn as leader about your marketplace this week? Do you see any trends? Identify any opportunities for staff development? See anything you want more information on?

A Learning Organization

March 22nd, 2010

Over the years I have done many talks and speeches about culture and the advantages its brings in business. Culturally led businesses outperform those that do not work on culture – it is that simple. What comes up the most? What exactly is an Outside-In® organization? I often start with the story of leaders in a boardroom. The leaders like to make decisions; to decide their own fate right? In fact, it is the role of the leadership team to know what is going on and to make decisions on the strategic direction of the business. As leaders we do make those decisions and set that tone.

A question we should all be asking ourselves is, “how many times are those decisions made with customer input or made based on employee perspective of those that are closest to the customer?”. The answer is: NOT often enough.

As leaders, the real momentum comes when your team knows they can speak up. That they can share what a customer said. That they can tell you when a policy is harmful (or just plain stupid). This kind of environment does not come about about overnight. It needs to be created and cultivated by leaders that believe in it and encourage it with their words and their actions. Too hard? Maybe. I know all of the arguments: Staff won’t see what they are not responsible for or what they are not measured by. It is not their job. They don’t have the training or inclination. We need their production, not their ideas! That is my job as leader. Some of those arguments may be true. However, you should view this as your competitive advantage or secret weapon that other companies won’t bother to implement or think to copy.

Imagine a world where every employee takes a few minutes each day to ask “what did we learn from the marketplace or customer today?”. Perhaps planning and asking the question is the easy part of all this. Imagine also that everyone asks the question and knows that you really want and value the answer. That is an Outside-In® company in its simplest state. Where the front lines run the show. Where good information is not lost; it is cherished and respected. Our job as a leader? Set the tone. Help folks interpret what they hear. Share any knowledge that gives the employee more context on what they observed. Help everyone understand the value. That today’s tidbit is tomorrows trend. And tomorrows trend is a customer solution or product line. Or business unit. Or next business.

Start by asking the question in a team meeting. What did we learn about the marketplace today or this week or this month?

Try this! More help on this in the next blog…

The daily huddle in your business drives the questions that get to the core of your business and how it will compete tomorrow. Most of us in business know enough to realize that our products five years out have not even been considered. Why not start right now? It is cheap – if not free.

DelMarVa SHRM Presentation – March 16, 2010

March 17th, 2010

I was honored to be the speaker at last night’s DelMarVa SHRM event. View the presentation above or download using the link below.

“The Economic Tsunami: How Businesses Are Rethinking Recruitment & Retention.”
Delmarva SHRM – Economic Tsunami Presentation

The Leadership Hot Seat

March 15th, 2010

Times are tough. Business is down. The recession is still lingering. Everyone is a little tired of being tired. The winter seems to never end. As a Leader I often talk of (and enjoy being in) the leadership hot seat. On second thought, perhaps not all of the time…

After the winter we have had in the mid-Atlantic, many of us are happy to enjoy the “little things,” like sunshine and temperatures above 50 degrees. But for most of the winter, it has been hard to live without the heated seats in my SUV. Let me say, these are not your average heated seats. These get hot. Really, really hot. So hot that my son Josh and I often have contests on who can take the heat the longest. Remember as a kid taking a red hot candy and putting it under your tongue? The seats are that hot. Who wins? It’s 50/50 on most days. The truth is, we often think, “this can’t be healthy”. Is it possible that something is wrong here and that we could achieve second or third degree burns? No, of course not.

Then the special safety recall notice came in the mail. To quote it, “the front seat electric heating elements on your vehicle may overheat and cause an interior fire or result in injury under certain operating conditions”. I hope you can imagine how we have laughed about what we thought was just a funny household game. Now, the potential is there — we could actually catch fire and get the burn that we have been teasing about for years.

Since my words often about leadership — I guess my leadership hot seat will never be the same…

Social Entrepreneurship Done Community Style

March 9th, 2010

The other day, I was leaving the office and heading to a wonderful lunch with my wife. No business talk, no talk of teenagers and braces or obligations and plans. Frankly, the weather was ugly — raining and 34 degrees. NOT the day to spend much time outside. Then it happened. As I was leaving our parking lot I noticed an older gentleman with a cane walking around his car, ankle deep in water, mud and melting snow. His car? Stuck in the mud, having missed the turn due to rather poor visibility and driving conditions. The gentleman’s wife was in the car and she could not get out without the use of a walker.

Do I drive away and continue with my plans? I only have an hour for lunch. Did they notice me? Someone else will stop, right? We all fight this internal dialogue. Trying to get their car out of the mud and waiting an hour with them for AAA was easy. In fact, it started to feel great. What struck me was how good it felt to help someone who needed it. To walk by, take notice and do something about it.

As I was standing outside, I started to think about this story and think about our habits as leaders. As leaders we know how to plan our days and stack meetings on top of one another. We let the world know how self-important we are by the pace we push and the company we keep. However, who on your team is stuck in the mud and cannot get out? Who needs us to stop, take time out of our day and help? How many times as leaders do miss opportunities to serve by rushing right past someone who needs us?

Later that day, I stopped what I was doing and I went around and actually looked at each employee. I asked them how they were. Offered to help. I listened. I’m not sure how many “cars I got out of the mud,” however, it felt as good as my earlier community service!

As a leader, who have you stopped to actually help today? Go take action now! It costs little, yet pays huge social dividends!

Have you “Earned the Right”?

March 1st, 2010

Every organization that I come across today, whether they are partners, vendors, clients or prospects — all rank driving new revenues and raising their top line as a top goal of their organization. Today’s organizations have lost more than 6 years. What do I mean? Most business are operating with top line revenue numbers in line with their 2004 reporting and staff levels on par with where we were in 2000. The toll of the recession has been six years of economic penalty and taken us back almost 10 years in terms of staff growth.

What do I do as a small business owner? Rethink sales? Make more commitments to marketing? Maybe add new services or kill non-performing offerings? All of us are in need of more and new customers.

Most simply increase their sales activity. We tell sales staff to make more calls. To see more customers. To send more emails. It is just a numbers game, right? The more you do the more you have in potential sales pipeline. Not!

I propose that we need to rethink the notion that more effort will get you more result, as there is a point of diminishing returns. Most importantly, is your sales process as customer friendly as the rest of your company; do you treat sales like you treat paying customers? Are you “earning the right” to build new relationships?

Earning the right involves building relationships. Earning the right means you must focus and shift to consultative sales. Earning the right is about learning about your new customer’s business. Earning the right is about being authentic. It is being credible by doing what you say.

Earning the right is NOT just about doing more.

If you are thinking about how you go to market and how you differentiate your business in the early stages of your companies relationships than perhaps you should do an “earning the right” audit.

Go sit next to your sales force. Are they earning the right or simply doing more of the same?

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