Business – it’s all personal

Business exists to serve peoples needs. It doesn’t matter if you work for a B2B, or B2C company. Somewhere downstream in the process, is a consumer who is making a decision to buy a product or service you make, or contribute to making.

Business is very personal. Only people can care, a business cannot. A business may be a culmination of caring people but by itself, a business is nothing more than an idea. People bring ideas to life. People bring passion to their work and workplace. People bring thoughtfulness and caring for one another and a community. That all happens with people. A business can only serve as a conduit to deliver what the collection of these people express.

When I hear “it’s not personal, it’s just business”, I would say, it’s all personal. People give their most valuable asset they have to a business…their time. With that time they could invest it elsewhere to generate different returns. With their families, with other businesses, other ideas, other objectives. It is a trade-off. Yet once that trade-off is made, an individual is committing themselves – their person – to the business. This is how business gets done, and it becomes very personal.

Empathy is a key emotion to bridge the gap between business and personal. Why? Because time is the only thing that binds us all together. We all have a set amount of sand in our hourglass. When it’s gone it’s gone. Take some of your sand, and use it with others at work to demonstrate that you hear them, you understand their challenges, and you have ideas to share that can help them. By doing this you add value. And while no one can put more sand into anyone’s hourglass, we can all put a little value into each other’s lives…in, and outside, of business.

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12 Things Great Leaders Do Daily

McChrystal

By definition a leader is a person who leads or commands a group – at least that’s what Professor Google says.  My definition is a bit different.  Who wants to be commanded?  Sure there are times, situations, and circumstances when being in command is required.  Directing, ordering, and controlling are verbs that often come to mind when we think of leaders.

Just about anyone can be taught to do these things.  Just about anyone can dish orders, direct others, and attempt to control.  Many “leaders” regardless of training can do this for some period of time before being discovered as ineffective.  Great leaders however, take a different approach.  These leaders must do all the directing, ordering, and controlling as previously mentioned but it’s how they accomplish these things that set them apart.

Great leaders are great because they:

  1. Understand how to empathize
  2. Effectively communicate their vision
  3. Ask great questions, deep questions that provide insight
  4. Act in their own authentic way, not trying to be someone else
  5. Adopt a beginners attitude
  6. Surround themselves with people smarter than they are
  7. Spend time on self-reflection, how they operate and the result produced
  8. Network and connect with others to learn
  9. Ask for, and accept help when needed
  10. Lean on mentor(s) for coaching and perspective
  11. Roll up their sleeves, never asking others to do something they haven’t or wouldn’t do themselves
  12. Inspire others through their words, actions, and behaviors

So start today with some self-reflection.  What are you doing?  What do you spend most of your time on?  How do you interact with those around you?  What’s the reaction of others when you walk in a room, speak during a meeting, engage with others in a break-room?  Consider this list and strive to embrace each one in a genuine way and you’ll find your results improve in a timely manner.

The Disruptive Buyer: A Cautionary Tale of Change.

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The business owner sat behind his desk staring out the window.  He started his business 7 years ago and for the most part things were okay.  He made it past the infamous first year when most start-ups go under, but it wasn’t easy. His sales were consistent, but flat over the past 3 years. Running a business was one thing, growing it was quite another.

The owner knew he needed to purchase a few super widgets to achieve his growth goals.  He had heard through the grapevine that other businesses using these super widgets were making lots of money. He had to get them if he too wanted to make more money. He needed them now. He wasn’t sure where he’d find them, or who sold them.  So he started his shopping the same way every other business did…

Like every business owner shopping for new products, he reached for the yellow pages and flipped to “W” for widgets but found nothing.  How could that be?  He thought some more and flipped to section “G” for growth. After all, the purpose of super widgets were to make businesses grow faster. Although his guess was correct, he wondered how long he would have looked if it hadn’t been. He would have kept looking if he hadn’t found them in this section, after all, the yellow pages is only so big. He found 2 pages of companies selling widgets. He wrote down the names, and phone numbers, of 5 businesses that sold these widgets and began dialing his phone. With each click of the rotary dial he was introduced to a sales person who offered to send him a packet of information which he’d receive in the mail in less than 10 days. This excited the business owner. In no time I’ll be making more money because of these widgets.

Two weeks past and the business owner sat in his office looking through 5 different packets of information from each of the companies he had called.  From there he narrowed his search down to the 3 companies whose brochures most appealed to him. He decided to begin making phone calls to these 3 companies immediately.

As he made his calls, each sales person sounded identical to the other telling him how long they’d been in business, why they different, and how happy they had made all their customers.  One specific sales person asked about his kids and right then and there the business owner was hooked.  He had made his decision on who he would buy from. It was this sales person who asked about his kids that he liked best. “She shares the same values as I do,” he thought.  She cares about my kids and my family. And with that he gave the order over the phone to purchase 5 super widgets.  He hung up the call excited to receive the purchase order in the mail the following week. In no time he’d be up and running with his super widgets.  In fact, it only took 3 – 4 weeks to receive them once his sales person received his signature on the purchase order and his payment in full. He sat back in his chair and thought about how easy buying these widgets was.  It only took a matter of weeks to educate himself and less than a month later to select a provider and have his super widgets in hand.  This was great…so he thought.

STOP THE PRESS!

Remember when? It wasn’t really all that long ago that this is how buyers made their purchasing decisions.  It’s how you and I both bought products and services.  It’s how we all shopped, considered, and purchased. We relied on the information we were “allowed” to have by the seller along with the claims and promises made by the seller relative to the value delivered by their products and services. We knew just what the seller was willing to release and not much more. You could say we were a lot like mushrooms just a short time ago.  Kept in the dark and fed a lot of….

But that’s all changed.  The age of the customer is upon us. She’s educated, connected, and socially engaged.  She wants information.  She wants a trusted advisor. She doesn’t want to be sold.  She doesn’t need to be sold.  She simply wants someone to help her along her journey, not the sellers journey, but her own personal journey.

If how you’re going to market still approaches the buyer like it’s 1999 I would ask two questions.  First, why? And second, how’s it working for you?

At the recent Digital Growth Conference in San Francisco, Jill Rowley, Social Selling Evangelist, talked about the disruptive buyer. A sales persons job today is to “facilitate the buyer on their journey, getting them ready to buy.” Quite a different and refreshing approach to selling.  A salesperson can no longer survive by having the brightest, shiniest widgets on the market.  They must have strong business acumen.  They must know how to use the tools at their disposal. Jill’s point of “a fool with a tool is still a fool” is quite thought-provoking.  It’s also still how many companies operate.  Produce the cool tool and let Sales run with it.  Bad idea.  Your buyers are way too sophisticated to simply follow the shiny bouncing ball. And not only will they not follow the bouncing ball, but they’ll kick it…hard…in the other direction making you have to chase after it to try to catch it.

Your job now is to be where the buyers are, and answer their questions where they raise them, when they raise them, and how they raise them.  Build it and they will come no longer works. Leading with the sale equals failure, while leading the buyer to the sale equals success.

Why as consumers don’t we want to be pushed, prodded or strong-armed into a sale?  We don’t like pushy sales people in our personal lives yet in business we direct our sales people to be exactly that. A robot can twist an arm, mail a piece of content, and do an online demonstration.  That’s not what the buyer is looking for when she finally engages with a sales person.  And forget value. All this talk about presenting value is overrated.  What is value?  In a recent study conducted by Sirius Decisions, the number one reason sales people lose a sale is because of the sales persons inability to effectively communicate the value proposition.

Your buyer is now the disruptor, more so than technology. She now drives the sales process, you don’t.  She has all the control because she determines what information she wants, from who she wants it, when she wants it and how she gets it. She has access to social platforms that provide feedback about you, your product, your company, your brand, your reputation.  She knows what you sell and how closely it delivers against your brand promise. The slightest disconnect between your brand promise and the experience delivered and you’re out of the game, kicked to the curb.

It’s your job to be engaged socially where she is shopping and learning.  You need to be there at the right time with the right content to help her through her journey.  She doesn’t want to be sold.  She won’t be sold.  She wants to be advised.  She wants information.  She wants hero stories…how others like her have benefited from following your recommendations.  She wants to feel connected to you and your company.  She wants to understand your brand…both brands…that of your company’s and you personally.  She won’t settle for anything less.

The age of the buyer has arrived.  Each buyer is unique.  Each is on his or her own personal journey. Each favoring different points along that journey where they need or want help. So are you still leading with a sale, or leading your buyers through their individual journey to a sale? It’s time to answer that question.

An Execution Lesson for Business – Compliments of the Military

McChrystal

Planning is important. Training is important. People knowing what the goal is, and the actions necessary to attain the goal is critical.  But great planning and training is not enough to beat your competition.  Companies spend millions each year doing both. The infamous “strat plans”, and training sessions, and off-sites all take time and money. Yet the list of companies that actually execute on their plans and achieve their goals is a much shorter list than those that fail. So what’s the lesson that business can take from the military when it comes to successfully executing a strategy? The answer is organization.

A well-trained employee (solider) can not be effective operating in an unorganized environment.  A fairly trained employee operating in a highly organized environment can be very successful.

Current military leaders suggest that an enemy who is well-organized – regardless of training – is the enemy to be feared.  Likewise, companies with strong organizations, processes, infrastructure, and culture of execution, will take the talent they have and win nearly every time.  This understanding is summed up by the great management consultant Peter Drucker who said, “No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it.  It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings.”

Are you organized?  Is your company?  Your department?  Do you have goals that are clear and understood by your entire team?  Have your “organized” your business around meeting those goals? Or have you simply created a new goal to execute within an existing organizational structure?

Goals change each year.  Sometimes more often depending on circumstances.  That’s the nature of business.  If all you do is change the goal without organizing you business around the specifics of that goal you’re bound to fail.  The old saying, “what got you here won’t get you there” will prove correct.  Take the time to test your goals against your current organization structure.  Chances are you’ll quickly identify gaps in your structure that may prevent or hinder the achievement of those goals.  Act quickly to identify them and address them.  Once you do…you’re on your way to successfully executing your plan.

Your Ability To Change Determines Success or Failure

 

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Our ability to change determines our probability to succeed. Of course success has many definitions. Success may look like a college degree, a new car, losing weight, obtaining financial freedom, paying down debt, finding a new job, rescuing an animal, raising money for a nonprofit, starting a business, or growing a business.

No matter what you’re doing in life, your ability to manage change, embrace change, affect change, and ultimately lead change will determine the outcomes you produce. When people fail to change they don’t grow. They don’t expand their knowledge, or insights, or perspectives. They remain static within a dynamic world. When businesses fail to change the results can be stressful and sometimes catastrophic.  Downsizing, layoffs, reorganizations, increased leverage, bankruptcy, and in worst case scenarios complete shut downs happen due to a failure in the ability to change.

How can you prepare for change?

  • Read more, and if you’re not reading at all, get started. Create a mix of categories including business, leadership, inspiration, fiction, and history. There is so much to learn from others who have come before us, as those who are currently on their own journey.
  • Conduct a personal self-assessment. What are your strengths? Stop worrying about your weaknesses. Play to your strengths. In baseball, pitchers are known for having a perfect pitch. Could be their fastball, curve, slider, etc. Perfect your strengths so much so that your weaknesses are irrelevant.
  • Find a mentor. Someone who will be brutally honest with you about you. A great mentor will help you become more self-aware. They can identify blind spots. Blind spots may or may not be weaknesses. The key is to understand what they are, where they are, and when they show up. A blind spot may be how your temper flares when things don’t go your way. Once you’ve identified the blind spot you can work on techniques that can help change your behaviors.
  • Accept who you are. Sometimes the changes required to go from Point A to Point B do not align with your “who”. Don’t settle. When you attempt to do things that don’t align with who you are authentically, you will create stress in your life, and in the lives of others. Be happy with who you are. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Once you’ve accepted who you are you can chose those situations or activities that excite you from a change perspective. If you love turnarounds but hate mature businesses, don’t force a change to work at a mature business. You love the excitement of turning something around. Chose to do that and whatever changes you’ll face in a turnaround situation you’ll embrace and thrive upon.
  • Reflection time. Build time into each day to reflect. Just 15 minutes each day will help you sort through what happened, how you acted, and the outcomes. More than likely you’ll arrive at the realization that a different action would have created a different reaction. It’s cause and effect. Take the time to think about your day, those you encountered, and what took place.
  • Ask for help. Change is tough. Even if you’re changing an area that excites you, inspires you, and motivates you, chances are it also scares you. Going through change alone is even scarier. Having a strong support network is critical. Family, friends, mentors, leaders and teammates can help you with change. I also personally believe that having a strong spiritual belief and faith provides a sense of calm during the storms of change.

Should You Clean House? The most difficult question you’ll face as a leader.

clean-house

Cleaning house is often times the first primary action a new leader takes upon his or her arrival; to fire or not to fire? If you’ve been recruited to fix, grow, turn around, or realign a team, there’s a strong chance you’ll be faced with this question shortly after you walk through the door.  It’s not an easy question to answer.  Turning over a team is physically and emotionally draining.  Yet, leaders are expected to make these difficult decisions in relatively short order.

The question of who, or whom, to let go requires a number of considerations.  Board expectations, executive management, the financial condition of the business, and company’s culture are all considerations when faced with this decision.  No matter what the circumstance, taking away an individual’s job is something that should never be taken lightly.  The reality is that many lay offs, reductions in force, or single terminations are decided upon from afar. But in cases where you are making these decisions locally you need to be prepared to act with confidence and compassion.

If you haven’t been specifically directed to change out a team, you’ll still need to evaluate your players to determine whether or not each individual will be able to make the transition.  You must recognize that the addition of you, the new leader, suggests changes have already been made, and more are likely expected.  Your personal style, philosophy, and work ethic are all new ingredients to this workplace recipe.  Will your team be able to transform?  Who will embrace the change and who will resist?  Remember all eyes are on you and your ability to lead change.  Resistors to the changes you plan to bring will become distractions, obstacles, and in the worst cases will strive for the workplace equivalent of a coup d’état. Your team’s alignment with your visions is critical. The sooner it happens, the greater the chance of you will succeed, and your company progresses.

A recent article in Fortune magazine, titled Should a New Leader Clean House?, author Geoff Colvin presents strong evidence that cleaning house produces better end results than those produced by leaders who attempt to work with the existing team.  The existing team is responsible for generating the existing results.  In many cases, a new leader is brought in to change those results, change trajectory, change outcomes.  Of course the focus is on the leaders ability to produce positive change.  The key is whether the probability of effecting positive change can happen with the existing team, or if the new leader needs to clean house first in order to start with their own team.

Noel Tichy, University of Michigan business professor, and former leader of General Electric’s Crotonville, NY training center, suggests “you need your own team.”  Your plans, ideas, and values will likely be realized by those excited to join the team versus those trying to hang on.  Reluctant followers ultimately become poison to the business killing results, morale, and the culture.

Finding the right path is up to you…the leader.  It’s not an easy decision, nor should it be.  You need to evaluate each member of your new team to determine their abilities and capabilities as they relate to embracing the transformation you’ve been hired to produce. Attitude is far more important at this stage that aptitude.  Perhaps the single most important piece to this puzzle is to ensure you have your boss’s support no matter what direction you make…keeping or cleaning.  Without his or her support your future starts out on shaky ground.  While this may be an uncomfortable discussion to have with your boss you need to have it…preferably during the interview stage, but if not then, immediately upon your arrival.  You’ll find alliances, allegiances, and “witness protection programs” in nearly every organization.  Knowing who they are, where they are, and the latitude you have to deal with them will determine your early and latter stage success.

Are You a Helper, or a Server? An Important Question for Your Brand.

 

ChickfilA

Have you ever thought about what your company does?  I mean really does?  What is it you do? Why do you exist? What’s your purpose?  Are you a helper or a server?  Is there a difference?  Does it matter?  I’d suggest it does matter…greatly. Are you still wondering why the picture of the chicken sandwich?  Keep reading.

Pay attention the next time you’re in a buying situation.  You walk in a store, a restaurant, or car dealership, and in just about every possible example you’ll hear these four words – “can I help you?”  To help, as opposed to serving, boils down to a mindset.  We are taught as children to “help one another” in school, or to “help out” around the house.  As we get older the concept of helping others is seared into our brains as the right thing to do. Consequently in business, we bring those same thoughts with us, setting out to help someone or some business. But let me propose a different viewpoint; one that supports the benefits of serving others rather than helping.  An unexpected encounter at a quick-service restaurant brought this concept to my attention.

While on a recent road trip, my wife and I decided to stop for something quick to eat. We didn’t want to spend time in a full service restaurant.  We wanted something fast, and as close to healthy as possible given our travel schedule.  We pulled into a drive-thru and placed our order. From behind the audio box came a voice that was filled with energy (genuine) and asked, “How may I serve you today?”  What did she say? How could I be sitting in a drive-thru of a fast food restaurant and be this impressed?  This didn’t make sense.  We placed our order, pulled up to the window where we were greeted by a crisply dressed, smiling cashier who completed our transaction, and said, “thank you for your business and I look forward to serving you again.”  WOW!  That restaurant was Chick-fil-A. 

This experience got me thinking.  Who says “how may I serve you?”  Everyone says they want to help, but do they really?  “How may I help you” is regular, predictable, watered down. And how often have you heard those words knowing full well the person asking couldn’t care less about really helping you? But the question “how may I serve you?”, is a purple cow.  Something so simple, yet so remarkably different relative to today’s buying norms that you notice, and notice in a big way.

I wondered if this was a fluke or if there was something more to this one experience.  I conducted a bit of research and visited 3 other Chick-fil-As in different areas.  Shockingly, all provided the exact same experience as the first location. How can a company whose brand is represented by independent operators deliver such a consistent experience?  I just had to ask…

This remarkable service is the result of many things, but two things in particular: training and modeling.  Training content, material, philosophy, and methods are provided by corporate for consistency.  Modeling is provided by the independent operators.  The owners walk the same talk as all store employees.  One such owner that I had the privilege of meeting, walked around the store refilling customers drinks and asking if there was anything else she could do to serve the customers.  Remarkable.

When being served, you may feel special, perhaps honored.  When serving others you might feel fulfilled, satisfied, humbled.  As a result of this experience I have challenged myself and others in my network to give thought to shifting their paradigm from one of helping to one of serving.  I personally, have found this subtle shift in thinking to be empowering.  It fosters a bond between the one being served and the one doing the serving.  Try it and see what a positive change it can make to your customers’ experience.  Are you brave enough to serve or will you stay in your comfort zone and help?  You decide.