Applying Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits to Your Buyer’s Journey

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In his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey presents seven habits (and one bonus habit) that he observed made some people more effective than others.  Since his passing in 2012 I have revisited my copy of this book on a number of occasions.  I have found overwhelming similarities between how these 7 Habits, if practiced consistently, not only produce more effective people but also more effective companies.  Over the next week I will highlight each habit and how it can translate into helping you understand your buyer’s journey.

Habit 1 is about being proactive and taking responsibility.  In business, the leader’s job is to provide the vision for where the company is headed, and is the owner and nurturer of the company’s culture.  Many companies delegate cultural ownership to the head of HR or some other executive.  But culture is much deeper than simply finding a champion or cheerleader.  Culture is about setting a tone, establishing expectations, accepted behaviors, and perhaps the most difficult ingredient of the culture, which is the creation of confidence.  The ultimate leader of the company sets the culture even if he or she doesn’t want to “own” it.  It just happens.  Employees look to THE leader as both watchers and witnesses to behaviors. How THE leader acts and behaves is how the entire organization will act and behave.  If the leader is proactive, the company will be proactive.  If the leader hides behind walls, doors, and desks, the entire company will hide from its customers’ behind walls, doors, and desks.

To be proactive requires a great degree of curiosity.  It’s the ability to wonder what if, what could be, or how could we?  The ultimate one word that demonstrates just how proactive someone is – “why”.  When you ask “why”, you’re being proactive. Think about it.  If Thomas Edison never asked why, would we have lights? If Steve Jobs hadn’t asked why, would we have many of the modern-day conveniences and access to information that we have today?  There are thousands of examples of how asking why delivered major inventions or innovations to our society.  If no one took the time to ask why, we’d simply all be sitting around, idle, stagnant, and unchanged.

As you look at your buyer’s journey ask why?  Be proactive.  Don’t wait for a major disruption or crisis to force your evolution.  Get out in front of it. Take every opportunity to talk to your customers and ask questions, get their ideas, opinions, emotions.  Don’t rely on paper, or automated survey’s.  Engage them live, in real time.  Be bold, brave, and most of all be proactive in understanding what’s important to your buyer.

 

 

10 Phrases to Eliminate from Business Conversations

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As a curious, and active, participant and observer in business, I have developed a list of 10 phrases we should all strike from our business conversations. They add no value, and in many cases subtract from it.  While some of these may seem far fetched, I’d challenge you to zone into your conversations and listen for them.  They are in fact present in many business conversations each and every day.  Here they are, and what the person you’re talking to actually is hearing:

  1. Trust me – If I have to say these words, apparently I haven’t earned it.
  2. Believe me – Whatever I’ve told you must seem a bit far fetched so I’m left with this long shot request.
  3. To be honest – Up to this point I’ve been lying. But this next statement…is the complete and utter truth.
  4. I’ll tell you what – I’m annoyed with you.  You’re not trusting or believing me, so now I’ve just got to tell you how it is.
  5. Look – The ultimate smack-down.  Let me help translate this so a 5 year old can understand.
  6. It is what it is – I can’t tell if you believe me, or anything I’ve said.  I’m close to surrendering.
  7. Dude – I’m failing fast and scrambling to connect any way I can.  By the way, this is only used between guys…at least in my experience.
  8. I can’t say – Why not?  Well, this information is on a need to know basis and you don’t need to know…so I can’t say.
  9. We’ll figure it out – I’m not exactly sure what your concern is and why you’re worried about it.  I’m not about to try to understand it right now but “trust me” we’ll figure it out later.
  10. There’s no way – This one I find intellectually thought provoking as I have heard this used so many times in business. To be so “negatively definitive” about anything I find quite interesting. Imagine if any of the following people heard “there’s no way”…in fact you already know how they’d respond: Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan, Walt Disney, Jack Welch, John Chambers, Marc Benioff, Ronald Reagan, John Adams, George Washington,  JP Morgan, Thomas Edison…shall I keep going?  There’s always a way.  The question is NOT if there is a way, but instead, am I willing to do what’s necessary to find a way?

What are your favorites?  And what phrases get under your skin that I didn’t capture?  Looking forward to hearing!

Why Hiring Up Pays Off

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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.

 

 

Is it time to change?

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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?

Is a Leader a Solo Act?

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Yesterday the Wall Street Journal published an article on Bill McDermott, the CEO of SAP. The article profiled McDermott’s rise within SAP and the fact that this German company will now be at the hands of an American CEO for the first time in its history.

McDermott has placed his beliefs front and center, stating that SAP must move quickly and innovate. “There is no speed limit on innovation” McDermott told a crowd at a recent event. But herein lies a fundamental problem that challenges  the “believability” of that statement. Can innovation happen through the efforts of one person alone or does innovation require a team?

Today’s most admired companies are those that innovate. Companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, and ExxonMobil are all at the forefront of their respective industries due to constant innovation. Additionally, their ability to innovate is often credited to their employees and the teams they have assembled to drive some of the best innovations and inventions of our times. Yet McDermott seems to have chosen a “go it alone” strategy having terminated most of SAP’s previous leaders of innovation.

SAP’s advisory board seems to be in full support of Mr. McDermott and has done nothing less than support him in his me, myself, and I strategy. But will it work? Here are 3 areas where McDermott’s strategy may go awry:

1. Collaboration breeds innovation – even the late, great, Steve Jobs saw the benefits of team collaboration when launching the first iPod as referenced in the book Inside Steve’s Brain by Leander Kahney. Teams were assembled to take a raw idea and bring it to life. Contrary to popular belief, Apple’s success wasn’t Steve Jobs alone.
2. Checks and balance. Not having a #1 or #2 on your team can lead to beliefs of invincibility and disillusionment. Every leader needs a strong next-in-line. Believing that only you have all the answers or ideas is very risky. Beyond the benefit to the business, having the right #2 will stretch and challenge the leader to explore options he or she might have otherwise dismissed.
3. Competitive Intelligence. Much like the reasons for #2 above, it’s highly unlikely for one person to be “in-the-know” on all things at all times. I rely on my team as a unit to keep us all up to speed on current and trending market conditions. Having multiple inputs from different folks minimizes bias and assumptions.

So will SAP’s strategy work? Time will tell.

Stop Trying to Fit In and Start Being Remarkable

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Everyone wants to fit in. To be a part of the crowd. Some people go to extremes to remain invisible whether at school, the office, the gym, or anywhere else in pubic. Blending in is part of our culture. Why do you think brand names like Nike, Levi’s, Coke, Asics, Hollister, and Target are so valuable? They represent the main stream. Sure they offer quality and value but they also offer a strong emotional connection to safety. I’m safe if someone sees me wearing Nike, shopping at Target, or buying a Diet Coke.

But success doesn’t come to those who play it safe. Success isn’t for the faint of heart, or those who want to be part of the crowd. No. Success usually comes to those willing to take chances, to challenge the norms of society, to stand out and be remarkable.

Are you remarkable? Do you stand out at work or are you one of the crowd? Do your co-workers look at you as a thought leader? A progressive thinker? Or are you one of the many doers that get things done but not the one “cutting the edge?” Do you invest in building your personal brand? Are you working to create awareness around your ideas and opinions or are you silent, laying back, waiting for the next set of directions to come your way?

History is a great teacher of the correlation between remarkable and success. Thomas Jefferson, Steve Jobs, Donald Trump, and The Beatles all were remarkable for their time. Dimon, Reagan, Lincoln, and Gates made bold decisions, often unpopular, but remarkable in ways that led to great discoveries, financial stability, and peace through power.

We all have the ability to be remarkable. We may not all be Thomas Edison’s or Michael Dell’s but we each possess unique characteristics that if amplified make us remarkable. A great sense of humor, the ability to provide calm during turbulent times, or being able to rally people together for a common cause can be remarkable characteristics. What makes you remarkable?

Just Enough

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We’re taught to be right at all costs. Not to make mistakes. We learn at an early age that failing is the mother of all curses in life. If we do fail the voice in our head tells us we didn’t plan enough, think enough, study enough, or work hard enough. And so begins our journey toward the ever-popular destination called “Just Enough”.

We do just enough to get by. Just enough to not be too visible. Just enough to not stand out. We focus on doing just enough work to keep our jobs, get that standard raise, and maybe, just maybe, retire with free healthcare for life. (Oops, didn’t plan on ObamaCare).

But doing just enough carries a huge risk. The pace of change today is faster than the speed of light. Seth Godin, author of The Icarus Deception writes about the infinite connections now created through the Internet that he refers to as the “connection economy”. The connection economy is where every human is capable of connecting with another for any reason, without needing any money, for any cause. This connected economy provides us all with an even playing field as we all have the ability to stand out, speak up, and make our unique thoughts known. The question is, are you taking advantage of this newly created connection economy or are you doing just enough?

For years I worried about being right. Getting it right. Making the right decisions. Doing the right thing. My journey has been filled with ups and downs like many others. But recently I have come to understand that it’s less about getting it right and more about being sure.

You see, often times in our lives it’s impossible to get it right because we simply don’t know what is right. Should you submit the report that shows your division’s poor results to your boss? Should you take a new opportunity offered to you or stay where you are and play it safe? Should you go to that big-name school or stick with the smaller college no one has heard of?

The point is, doing what you’re sure of, will often times result in better outcomes for you. Being sure of something means that it feels right rather than is right. Being sure of something carries an emotional connection to making it right.

If Steve Jobs worried about being right he most likely wouldn’t have invented and introduced the iPod in 2001. But he was sure it would be a hit. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook wasn’t worried about getting it right. He was sure that Facebook was needed and would become THE way people communicated with one another. Or how about Redbox, the dvd rental kiosk company. Started in 2002 as a joint venture with McDonald’s, Redbox looked at the changing market for home entertainment, listened to what customers wanted (cheap movie rentals) and innovated. They were sure first…and ultimately got it right.

Think about the important decisions in your life. Make time for yourself when you can be alone and ask yourself that all-important question…“what am I sure about?” You may be surprised by your own answer.

3 C’s of Innovation

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The late Steve Jobs said “innovation distinguishes a leader from a follower”. While certainly a simple statement, Jobs struck the core of what makes innovation work…the leader. But it’s not the leader who is innovating yet instead creating and leading the culture of innovation that exists within the business. If a company is not innovating then a quick look at the leader will spotlight the reasons why.

A recent article appearing in Forbes magazine showcased the differences between companies on the “cutting edge” versus those that were surviving or just getting by. In every case reviewed, it boiled down to the leader. It was the leader that fostered a culture of innovation. The leader encouraged, and in many cases pushed, their teams to innovate…to stretch the boundaries. The leader’s ability to effectively instill this type of culture depends on 3 C’s: Collaboration, Courage, and Confidence.

Leaders of innovative companies possess a strong collaboration trait. They understand that developing the winning recipe requires several minds working together – not just their own. While perhaps one of the most brilliant innovators ever, Steve Jobs understood that he still needed his engineers, marketers, and other stakeholders to bring his dream to life. The same can be said of other great innovation leaders from Scott Cook of Intuit, to Jeff Bezos of Amazon, and Fred Smith of FedX. All of these leaders knew that to bring their vision, idea, and dream to life required input from other people to refine and build their idea.  That’s collaboration.

Courage is another characteristic of strong innovative leaders. It takes courage to think and act differently. We can all dream big dreams. Many companies are developing their BHAGs – Big Hairy Audacious Goals – but few will be able to realize them. The challenge with achieving your BHAG is the tremendous amount of courage required to move toward fulfillment. Somewhere in grade school we begin to lose our ability to dream, and worse our belief that anything is possible. While in school we get put into boxes, and typecast, creating our first experience with the concept of “settling”. We begin to believe in ceilings. There is a cap to how far we can go, how much we can do, and big we can dream. Great innovative leaders have the courage to be bold and tackle their BHAGs head on.

The final trait required of all great innovators is confidence. Strong, effective, successful leaders with proven innovation track records are enormously confident. Why is Confidence a necessity for the leader leading innovation? For many leaders they either believe they are the only ones capable of generating a successful idea or they are intimidated by those that have good ideas and feel threatened that their idea will outshine them. Confident leaders know that what is truly important is winning or achieving their BHAG. They spend little to no time worrying about where the ideas come from that help in the successful attainment of the BHAG.

It takes a confident leader, with a passion for collaboration, and a fair amount of courage to develop and lead a culture of innovation. Does your organization innovate? What was the last new innovation you placed in the market? Whose idea was it? Where did it start and how many people were involved in its development? If you’re looking to assess an organizations ability to innovate ask the leader of that organization those questions and see how he or she replies. Their responses may surprise you.

4 Behaviors That Will Improve Your Performance…Before 6 am

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In studying many of the world’s greatest leaders, I have found a series of 4 common behaviors that drive each of them on a daily basis.  Whether a political leader, business leader, or a leader in the world of celebrity – Hollywood, or sports – great leaders display and demonstrate these behaviors on a consistent basis…daily.  What makes this all the more interesting is that all 4 of these things  take place between 4 – 6 am!  That’s right.  Great leaders are up and engaged well before the sun rises.  So what do all great leaders from Steve Jobs and George W. Bush, to Lou Gerstner and Bill Clinton have in common?  Here they are:

  1. Early risers.  Great leaders start their day early.  Many at 4 am.  They realize that by the time the rest of the world awakens they need to be ready to engage immediately.  Waking up early is the first step in their high-performance process.
  2. Exercise.  Many great leaders start their day by hitting the gym, getting a run in, a SPIN class, or yoga.  They understand that taking care of their bodies allow them to endure the stress and strain of their daily responsibilities.  The beauty of exercise beyond the obvious benefits is the release of endorphins.  This chemical reaction that takes place when exercising is what causes a “runners high” and overall great feeling of accomplishment when you’re done exercising that lasts well into the day.
  3. News.  A quick scan of the news is a common behavior shared by great leaders.  Not to get bogged down in the details but to have a high level understanding of what’s going on around them and how certain news may impact their business, customers, employees, etc.  There are a variety of apps available today that help gather news and put it in a format that allows the reader to view it quickly and efficiently.   Applications like Zite, Flipboard, and Pulse are known as personalized digital newspapers.  You select the general topics you want to be informed about and the application scours the internet for news on those specific topics, gathers it, and puts it into your digital newspaper.
  4.  Self-reflection.  Perhaps one of the most powerful performance enhancing activities is self-reflection.  Start each day with 15 minutes of self-reflection.  A time when you can take an introspective look at yourself, where you are, what you’ve done, what you’re doing, and where you’re headed.  If the activities you are currently doing are not aligned with where you’re heading, through self-reflection you can identify this disconnect quickly and make a course correction.  Self-reflection allows you to keep to your True North.

Try adding these behaviors to your daily routine for 3 weeks and see what differences you notice.  For something to become a habit you must do it 21 times.  One idea is to get a calendar and cross off each day…a countdown of sorts.  It will help you adjust and acclimate to this new performance enhancing ritual.  Let me know what you think.

“A manager is responsible for the application and performance of knowledge.” – Peter Drucker

What’s happening at Apple?

With last week’s financial results posted by Apple showing a $1.3 billion decrease in year-over-year profits, is it possible we are about to witness one of the greatest rise and fall from corporate stardom?  What’s going on at Apple?  What are the employees thinking?  Better yet what is Tim Cook thinking?

Sure Apple returned a nearly $19 billion to shareholders via dividends and share repurchases, but their operating numbers raise some eyebrows.  While revenue was nearly flat at $35 billion this quarter, over the same period last year, what is more concerning is the drop in profit.  This year’s quarterly profit was $6.9 billion compared to a $8.8 billion profit a year ago.  And to make matters worse, sales of iPads dropped by more than 2.5 million units along with a 200,000 unit-sale decrease in Macs.

So what’s happening at Apple?  Have they lost their swagger.  Perhaps.  But why?  Is the answer fear?

Apple has been one of the most, if not the most coveted brand for the last decade.  People rush to buy their products, attend their conferences, and hope to work for a company whose founder is no doubt the greatest visionary of this generation.  Apple’s goals and desires rose above Wall Street’s performance expectations.  They operated with this notion that they could really change people’s lives…and they did.  And, as a result of changing millions of lives they in fact changed the world and how we consume information, use it, access it, and show it off.  Apple products carry a certain cachet with them.  All these accomplishments are the result of many things but perhaps the single biggest driving force behind their success was Steve Jobs.  A bold visionary who bucked the pressures of Wall Street and critics and moved in directions others wouldn’t dare.

Today Tim Cook is at the helm with some big shoes to fill.  It’s hard to expect a mere man, while a good man, to become superhuman like Jobs.  Cook may be a good operator but he’s no Jobs.  He may have walked into the worst CEO seat in the universe.  After all, following in the footsteps of someone like Steve Jobs would be difficult even for many of the greatest CEOs of all time.

Signs are already showing that Apple is becoming a “me-too” company.  After the strange introduction of the iPad mini, I began to wonder what was next.  Perhaps a gaming system like Xbox, or getting into selling flat screen TVs like Samsung?  Apple seems to be flailing about trying to find their way.  They’ve shifted their strategy in their retail stores from a laid-back, informative, fun experience to the typical “gotta sell them something” model used by all other retailers.  Unfortunately this shift has been noticed by consumers and they have voted with their feet as sales slipped to $4 billion, down slightly from a year earlier.

While the fear of failure affects people and companies differently, with Apple it may not have a positive result.  Companies throughout history have turned to visionaries when facing troubled times.  Chrysler turned to Lee Iacocca, GM turned to Bob Lutz, JP Morgan turned to Jamie Dimon, and Xerox turned to Anne Mulcahy.  Leaders that have clarity of vision along with a strong sense of conviction.  These leaders took bold actions, dismissed Wall Street, and focused their attention on the priority of turning their respective companies around.

Apple needs to find its hunger for innovation and market disruption once again if it expects to stay on top.  The out-of-the-box thinking driven by Jobs, along with his obsession with elegant, yet simple-to-use designs, created a Disney-like company where dreams are made of.  Let’s hope the dream is not over.