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.

 

Why Hiring Up Pays Off

SteveJobs

Building a high performing team is the #1 responsibility of all leaders.  It requires vision, skill, intuition, conviction and a clear understanding of the company’s objective and purpose.  It also requires courage.

Early in my career I received some hiring advice that was worth its weight in gold from my boss.  She said “hire people you wouldn’t mind working for in the future.” I have lived by this advice throughout my career and it has served me well.  Here are the two major take-aways from living this hiring philosophy:

  1. Your focus should be the candidates capacity, and desire, to learn new things and not based solely on what they know today.  To a large extent your focus should be on their attitude not their aptitude.  With the right abilities, the proper does of desire, and some passion, any one can accomplish anything.
  2. The circle of life is more than just a famous line from the movie Lion King.  Work in a management or leadership role long enough and you’ll experience people coming and going, and moving up and down.  I see it as a blessing that I have been able to provide leadership to many who have risen in the ranks, some even faster than I.  Being able to develop a new generation of leaders is something I’m most proud of.

By hiring up, you demonstrate confidence as a leader.  We’ve all seen leaders (I use this term loosely) who hire a warm body.  A robot.  Someone willing, and able, to take orders but not capable of having an individual point of view.  And then there are those leaders who everyone else wants to work for.  These are the people who hire up.  They look for those that are smarter than they are, have more ideas than they do, and who see the world through a different lense.

Assembling a team of talent that surpasses your own, demonstrates your leadership strength. I’d much prefer to be surrounded by people smarter than me than to be the only one with any answers.  There’s great truth to the saying, “if you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room.” Build a team that can teach you as much as you teach them.  A team that can generate ideas faster than you can on your own.  A team that is willing to take on any issue, problem, or challenge because they know they have a better chance of winning by leveraging their collective brilliance versus trying to win with a single idea from just one person.  Hire really smart people and then get out of their way. I think Steve Jobs was onto something here.

Hire up.

 

 

Winning the Sale Requires Marketing

winning

To win a sale requires a number of factors all aligning properly at the right moment.  The buyer’s need, a good story, the right product, and of course, an easy fulfillment (sales) process.

I’ve led marketing and sales teams for more than 20 years.  Neither could win without the other, yet each feel confident they reign supreme when it comes to closing the business.  However, there is an increasing body of work that suggests the role of the sales person, relative to closing the business, is decreasing.  Buyers are self-educating themselves all the way through fulfilling their own purchase.  Think Amazon.  You sign in, check out the product your interested in, perhaps read some reviews, and into your cart it goes straight through to check out.  If you’re Amazon Prime, 3 days later it’s in your hands and ready for use.  As the buyers journey continues to change, it’s up to the sales leader to adjust and learn new strategies that will increase their effectiveness; adding the right ingredients, at the right time, to achieve the desired outcome – a sale.

Nothing gets sold without a product, price, place or promotion.  I’ll add process in there as well as the 5th “P” of Marketing.  Combining these 5 P’s into a single offer that results in a sale is where the true beauty, art, and science all come together with marketing and sales.

Marketing is the lead function in any organization that is charged with providing an end-to-end view of the buying process.  Beginning with product development and ending with the sale, Marketing’s role is one focused entirely on creating a remarkable experience for the buyer on his journey to the cash register.  Much like a cardiologist confers with an anesthesiologist prior to surgery, a sales person should consult with Marketing.  No matter how great a heart surgeon is, she would never go into the operating room without the help of a strong and competent anesthesiologist.  If she did it would be disastrous.  If a sales person meets with a prospect without understanding the marketing behind the product the outcome can be quite disappointing.  And while I’m certain egos exist in the OR, I’m equally aware of the egos that exist within Marketing and Sales.

So here’s my challenge to Sales leaders interested in improving their team’s results…

Partner with Marketing to truly understand the offer.  I’m sure some heads are shaking right now and perhaps worse tempers are flaring.  Sales leaders by nature are confident with Texas-sized egos.  But the great sales leaders know it’s all about being a continuous learner.  Without learning you can’t be strategic, and without strong strategy skills

you’ll never improve your results.  You’ll simply go about doing things as you’ve always done, getting what you’ve always got.

Instead, I’d suggest sales leaders meet with their marketing peers.  Ask them questions surrounding the 5 P’s.

  1. What are the 3 most important features of this product and why?
  2. How did we arrive at those features?
  3. Tell me what went into our pricing for this product?
  4. What’s the impact to our brand if we discount the product?
  5. Are there any unintended needs that our product addresses? (think Post-It notes)
  6. Where in the process would my help and involvement, from a sales standpoint, yield the greatest end result?
  7. Where in the buying process do you feel there is room for improvement and can I help?

Questions like these will accomplish several things including: establishing trust between these two functions, educating each other by expanding insights and perspectives, fostering collaboration, and most importantly, if done right, this interaction will keep the conversation, efforts, and resources focused on the customer.

So to all the sales leaders out there, open your minds, focus on the customer, and be excited about the possibility of learning something new and connect with Marketing today.

Curiosity: The Key to Great Sales Talent

 

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Is it really possible to hire great sales talent?  What makes one sales person succeed and another fail?  How does one sales person out-produce another, or an entire team?  Is there a secret trait, or characteristic, you should know about?  Average turnover in Sales ranges from 35 – 60% annually.  I’m aware of some companies where turnover is even higher, hovering in excess of 70%.  Imagine a sales force where 7 in 10 will be gone within the first 12 months.  Not a pretty picture.

If you’re building a sales team there are two traits that I have found to serve as a good barometer of future sales success; curiosity and the desire to learn.

Sales people must be curious. They should enjoy tinkering with things.  Changing things up.  Trying new things.  Asking tons of questions.  They should show a spark when presented with a problem, not shy away and become quiet.  Being curious allows a successful sales person to better understand their customers needs, the marketplace, trends, and possibilities.

The second trait that is a reliable predictor of sales success is the desire to learn.  Notice I didn’t say ability to learn.  We all have abilities…some natural, some taught.  However, what we really need is desire.  Desire speaks to what an individual will do regardless of what’s required.  If the desire is strong enough she will move mountains to accomplish what’s in her sites.

So how can you probe for curiosity and desire?  Here are some questions to ask during the interview process that will provide you insight on whether your candidate has these traits:

  1.  What would you do if you knew you wouldn’t fail at it?
  2. What was the last book you read? What did you learn?
  3. What LinkedIn groups do you belong to, and tell me about a discussion within that group that you found to be interesting and why?
  4. What types of books do you like to read and why?
  5. Who is your favorite author? Why?
  6. If you could start your own business what would it be and why?
  7. Who would you pick as your favorite leader and why?
  8. What is your preferred method of learning?
  9. What 3 adjectives would a client, or former colleague use to describe you?
  10. Tell me your 3 favorite questions to ask prospects
  11. What would you do if you won the lottery?

Selling requires strong critical thinking skills.  Critical thinking skills are developed  by expanding your insights and perspectives which happen primarily through learning.  The more curious someone is, the greater their propensity will be to be a continuous learner.

Let me know what you think.  Happy recruiting!

Preparing to Fail is the First Step to Winning

Failure

Some of the most important lessons we learn in life are from our failures.  They serve as proof that we are trying new things, pushing new boundaries, and welcoming the unknown.  John Maxwell, the famous inspirational author, says the quality that distinguishes someone successful from one who is unsuccessful is his “capacity to manage disappointment and loss.” He goes on to say that while we all want to succeed, we should instead train for losses.

From our earliest days as children we learn to accept failure.  We fall while trying to learn how to walk, or ride a bike.  We don’t make the team we try out for, or we do make the team but as second string.  We get accepted by 4 of the 5 colleges we apply to, but that one declination stings.  Failure is everywhere.

Imagine if the world’s greatest inventors refused to fail.  Everything from the light bulb, to air travel, from the television, to the computer would be at risk.  When Thomas Edison was asked about how many times he tried for the light bulb and failed he said, “I didn’t have 1,000 failures.  It simply took 1,000 steps to make the light bulb.” Talk about an optimists attitude.

Our challenge is to rid our mind of the negative stigma associated with failure.  Human beings by nature are curious creatures.  Asking “why” leads to testing new thoughts, ideas, ways of doing things.  In the absence of curiosity we would have never discovered new lands, new civilizations, new technologies, or new medicines to treat and cure disease.  So why is it that people run from failure?

I would submit that some people believe failure shows weakness.  If you knew…you wouldn’t have failed.  Talk about an absurd viewpoint.  The famous management expert, Peter Drucker, said, “I would never promote a person into a high-level job who was not making mistakes…Otherwise he is sure to be mediocre.” Many organizations reward status-quo.  Companies that find themselves on a winning streak become complacent.  Their leadership sits back to relax and enjoy victory.  The problem is, that while you’re sitting back complimenting yourself for being so brilliant, your competition is working feverishly to disrupt your success and pass you by.  It happens every day.

So shift your thinking from having to be an expert at everything to one of a beginner…a learner.  When you’re in a learning mode your mind is open to everything that’s possible.  When you’ve decided you are an expert your subconscious shuts down your critical thinking skills creating tunnel vision.  So open your eyes, let your mind wander, and begin to think of new ways to do things.  As John Maxwell said, “Mistakes are acceptable as long as the damage isn’t too great. It doesn’t matter how much milk you spill as long as you don’t lose your cow!”

Embrace your failures…with each one you’re learning, growing, and becoming better at whatever you’re doing.

 

 

Never Settle

RichardBranson

Having a beginners attitude is a difference maker for great leaders.  They approach life with curiosity, questions, intrigue.  They believe anything is possible. They’re not afraid to try new things.  Their interest in learning and exploring is genuine, and it sends a strong signal to others who have a passion for innovation and invention, acting like a magnet.  These are the leaders that attract the best and brightest talent.

Real leaders are always preparing. They are in constant “getting ready” mode. They are always “on their way”, having not yet arrived, and as far as they’re concerned they never will.  In fact they believe if they finally do arrive it’s game over.  They never settle.  They never check the “all done” box. Real leaders are constantly looking for new challenges, new problems to solve, and new roles that push them out of their comfort zone – because that’s where the learning happens.

Nothing worth while in life happens without risk. No home run has ever been hit without taking a swing. The light bulb wouldn’t be here if Edison didn’t take a risk, both financially and scientifically.  Great leaders are comfortable with taking risk.  These risk-takers are not careless.  Far from it.  Rather they are prepared for it.  They believe in themselves, the skills they’ve developed, and their intuition.  They are comfortable with being uncomfortable.

So when someone offers you an opportunity do something different, think about it.  Push yourself to get comfortable outside of your comfort zone. Don’t shy away from a challenge.  It’s far more risky to remain static than it is to change. Don’t settle.  Be curious.

Stop Managing Change, Start Inspiring It

Leadership

Today’s leaders believe they must be skilled at driving change, leading change, and managing change.  It’s their job.  It’s what they are supposed to do.  But is it?

Many leaders wear their “change” credentials like a badge of honor.  They know how to drive change. What they might be saying is that they know how to force change.  Driving, or forcing change may in fact work initially, but if your “followers” aren’t aligned, in sync, or haven’t embraced the change because they can’t quite see or understand it, the change itself won’t last.  When you hear leaders describe their company as “always changing”, beware.  If something has to constantly change it may just mean that it hasn’t yet found its calling – it’s grasping at straws.

Also think about what image “driving” evokes. If you’re driving something that means you’re behind it.  You’re in the back pushing. How can you lead from behind?  Leaders should always be in front. Being in front may be symbolic, it may be ceremonial, but no matter it’s leadership.

If I force a change to take place, it’s likely that I’ll have to force another change shortly.  However, if I inspire change, if I rally those around me, if I can paint a clear picture on what that change will produce or deliver, then I have a much better chance of getting folks to rally not just around me, or the change, but around both.

If you’re a leader in any size organization consider this…

People don’t want to be led. Human beings simply don’t like being told what to do.  No.  Going back to the beginning of time our ancestors learned the importance of working together toward a common goal.  Whether that goal was to produce fire, transportation, or medicine, people need to understand the goal first, and believe that if they achieve that goal they will benefit and prosper.  Imagine if fire produced no heat, and no light.  What would the benefit have been to “invent” fire making?  There has to be a clear goal with benefits, to serve as the first ingredient to an effective change recipe.

It’s your job as the leader to provide this vision.  If you can inspire those around you to see the value in the change you’re suggesting you’re well on your way to building an effective, sustainable, and adaptable workplace.  Your team will trust you when they know why you’re asking them to do certain things and to make certain changes.  This does not mean you need everyone to vote in your favor.  No.  This is not about singing Kumbaya and holding hands.  Inspiring change is about leadership.  It’s about having the courage and conviction in the value of the change you’re asking to be made and those you’re asking to make it with you.

 

 

Caution! Employee Morale Not As Good As You Think.

employees.JPG

Employee morale seems to be quite high.  Management teams everywhere breath a sigh of relief after seeing their satisfaction surveys results.  They’ve got it under control.  People are happy and satisfied.  Executives look at this data and believe all’s well.  But it’s not.  Not really.

Many employee satisfaction surveys test for how happy, or satisfied, the employee is with the work they do each day.  But this measure can be misleading.  While I may love building spreadsheets, I might not like the environment in which I have to perform this work.  I may really enjoy creative writing, but don’t like the team I’m on, or the boss I work for.  Measuring how happy an employee is with the work they do, just might provide a false positive reading on satisfaction.

In a recent SHRM study, they surveyed 600 employees on 43 different criteria related to job satisfaction.  The overall employee satisfaction score came in at 86%.  However, in diving deeper into the analysis there is cause for concern.

The survey found the most important criteria to employees is being treated with respect.  Across all 43 criteria, 74% of employees rated this category as #1 in determining their satisfaction.  However, only 33% of employees gave this criteria a satisfactory rating.  The second most important category at 64% was trust between employees and management. Yet again there was another major disconnect with only 24% of employees scoring this criteria as satisfactory.

The lesson here is simple.  Reading the cumulative satisfaction score is comparable to evaluating someone’s health based entirely upon their ability to read an eye chart.  What about blood pressure?  Or cholesterol levels?  Or their weight?  I could have 20/20 vision, but be 100 pounds overweight with high cholesterol…am I really healthy.  There is so much involved in truly understanding employee morale and obtaining a true measure of their satisfaction.

In 20 years of building teams, managing teams, and leading them, I have found the only true measure of employee satisfaction is by having a genuine connection to your team.  Sending out a survey to trumpet a score, or a title on the greatest places to work list, can be quite dangerous if you place 100% confidence on just the score.  Dig deeper. Ask the tough questions. Be courageous. Be brave.  And most of all be willing to recognize that no company is perfect.  Think about that for a minute.  If there was a perfect company that would mean they have perfect employees.  If they had perfect employees that would mean you’d have no need for a performance review system as all of your employees would be exceeding (perfect) your expectations.  No.  Companies can only be as perfect as the people whom they employ.  So be ready to confront reality.  Be ready to take action to address all employment related criteria and not just those that are convenient.

Is it time to change?

The-Rol-of-Good-Communication-Skills-While-Introducing-Change

With nearly 200,000 books on “change” for sale at Amazon.com you can bet people are trying to understand change in their lives.  Whether it’s a new job, new boss, your first child, a different diet or a ruptured disc, chances are someone somewhere is trying to understand how it will affect their life.

Some companies spend years and countless resources to avoid change.  They operate under the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” model.  This mindset stifles innovation and simultaneously sends a message to employees to not try new things.  Sure we can all agree that New Coke’s introduction in 1985 was a miss.  It resulted in a drop in market share and ultimately ended in 2002 as Coke brought back the “classic”.  New Coke however represented a change.  It represented innovation regardless of the outcome.  Think about it.  Steve Jobs introduced the first PDA, Newton, in 1993 and just 5 short years later it was discontinued.

So when should you change?  Is change mandated by a timeframe?  Does your competition drive when you change?  Does your boss require you to change, or a merger that results in a new management teams arrival force a change?  Is it a measure of market share?

There’s no one way to advise someone, or a company, when the right time is to change.  My belief is that it’s better to change before change is forced upon you.  However, if you have a change mindset chances are you view change as a learning experience.  A way to grow.  A chance to expand your horizons.

In the movie, The 100 Foot Journey, Helen Mirren’s character, the owner of a one-star French restaurant who is in relentless pursuit of her second star, asks Manish Dayal’s character, a chef, why he changed a 200 year old recipe.  His response? “Maybe 200 years was long enough.”

Don’t change for the sake of change.  That’s silly.  Change because the thing you are altering, modifying, or adjusting will become better as a result of the change.  Perhaps the true result indicates the change wasn’t worth it.  I’d suggest to reevaluate a few weeks, months, or even years later.  When Steve Jobs was asked why Newton flopped yet the iPod took off, Jobs said the world simply wasn’t ready for Newton.  The infrastructure, specifically referring to the iTunes store, wasn’t ready.  Sometimes a change made today doesn’t make sense today, tomorrow, or next month.  But with time, an open mind, and a beginners attitude we can learn from all of our changes.  They instruct us, inspire us, and lead us to better outcomes.  Without change we become stagnant, static, irrelevant.  And who wants that?

How Pressure Affects Performance

Pressure

I work better under pressure.  Courage is grace under pressure.  When you work under pressure you trade perfection.  Pressure is something you feel when you don’t know what the hell you’re doing.

Perhaps somewhere along the way you’ve heard someone say one of these things, or maybe you’ve been the one saying it.  Regardless, pressure takes many forms, and delivers an equally different number of outcomes.  But harnessed properly, pressure can create a winning edge in business.  I had a former boss that said, “it’s my job to back the bus up as close to the edge of the cliff as possible without going over”.  That’s pressure.

Pressure develops our ability to adapt.  Under pressure we may be tempted to look for the path of least resistance yet it’s most likely that the situation created by this pressure has already eliminated all the paths without resistance.  All that’s left are the paths that present resistance ,including conflict, confusion, and discomfort.  The better equipped we are to effectively deal with the confluence of these challenges the better we are able to succeed.

While human nature leads us to avoid pressure I would submit that seeking pressure improves performance.  Diamonds are made under enormous pressure; without it they are just rocks; carbon deposits.  But with pressure they turn into beautiful gems of great, and often times, enormous value.  Top performing athletes are molded under pressure moments.  Peyton Manning holds the record for the most 4th quarter comeback wins with 44.  By definition, comeback, means pressure.  You’re behind.  You’re losing.  That’s pressure!

Look for opportunities to experience pressure.  Volunteer for a project at work.  Offer to bat clean-up on your baseball team.  Commit to losing a certain amount of weight in a specific period of time.  Tell others that you plan to get a certification or license of some sort by the end of the year.  All of these create moments of pressure. Only in times of pressure will you be able to see what you’re truly made of.  Remember how diamonds are made, and even further how that process creates the hardest, natural-made material known to man.