Alignment, Inclusion and High Performance at Costco.com

One of the great keys to alignment is knowing how your work and the work of others fit together in the bigger picture to drive the organization in a common direction. Its not enough just to know your own goals, but know the goals of the teams and workgroups around you. I rarely find that in organizations, and I have traveled all over the world looking into organizations and their inner workings. Continue reading

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Out of Reach (and Out of Touch) Leaders

The number one question I am asked when working with mid-levels in leadership development programs is, “Has my manager been through this?”  That’s a sad indictment on the state of leadership within an organization.  Essentially, what employees are saying is that, “Boy, I wish my management lived these values and behaved in this ideal way!”  How is it possible that so many managers can be so clueless and far removed from the realities of the work and the people that they manage? Continue reading

The Great Questions of Leadership

For those who might wonder just how effective their leadership is in their organization, let me introduce you to “The Great Questions”.  I work with a lot of leaders who are doing everythingquestion-mark-dice they know how to stay on top of the responsibilities that rest on their shoulders: from being great managers of work, to great managers of people, to making an impact and getting things done. And often, in the heat of the moment, with the pressure on, it’s easy to begin to fall into common leadership traps such as complacency (not really leading at all anymore) or naivete (not knowing what a leader is supposed to really do in the first place).

So every time I sit down to work with a leader, no matter what the chief complaint or symptom is that brought us together, I always begin with the “The Great Questions”:

  1. What is the purpose and/or mission of your organization, department, etc.?
  2. Are you accomplishing it?
  3. How do you know?

Let’s talk about the power of those three simple questions, from both the inquirer’s and the receiver’s side.

What is the purpose and/or mission of your organization, department, etc.?

This first question is meant to take all of the things competing for a leader’s time and attention, all of the distractions and all of the small stuff that has become big, and blow it away by regaining context of what this whole thing is about in the first place: why are we here and what are we supposed to be doing in the long run? Asking this question helps calm the seas, focus on what matters most, and quickly tells the interrogator how well the leader understands why the organization even exists in the first place. By doing so, we frame the important conversation and throw anything not directly related to it out the window, off the plate, persona non grata, etc.

Are you accomplishing it?

This is the point where leaders either have an immediate answer or pause to think.  If they have an immediate answer, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are or are not on target, it just means that they think they are.  This question is not meant to be debated, it’s really a set-up for the next question by getting them to answer yes or no, and then slapping question number 3 on there for gut check time.

How do you know?

How do you know is a question about awareness, about measurement, about active inquiry into the ultimate question of “are we successful or not?”  It tells you so much about the manager or leader before you, and what may or may not be missing in their organization.  It also is a question about knwoledge vs. conjecture:  We are asking if they KNOW.  Often, it is difficult to really know, but we want to find out how they are framing their paradigms of the organization.  in 9 out of 10 organiztions, I will bet that the manager never really asks that.  Instead, it’s, “Am I doing what I need to do to keep my boss off my back?  Am I doing what I need to do to look good?”  Those aren’t wrong questions, rather they are more likely indicative of what the real organizational mission may be, rather than what the framed poster in the break room or company banner claims.

How do you know lets the interrogator see if the leader and their organization is measuring their purpose and mission – if not, then it probably is not being fulfilled, and the activities, systems, processes, people and focus within the organization are almost certainly out of alignment, are fragmented and disjointed.

Leaders who lead by “The Great Questions” tend to do less managing and more actual leading and torch bearing, thanks to the vision and clarity that working within the big three allow you to achieve.

So go on, ask them, of your self, of your direct reports and of those you report to.

The Business of BANT

Ducks in a RowI am amazed at how many sales and marketing organizations that I come across that lack defined process, and in doing, lack the ability to manage and improve their own operations.  In the past 15 years, I have been in marketing and sales organizations throughout the world, both small and Global 2000 in scope, and it never fails to astonish me at how much they lack a simple, common set of criteria for prospect evaluation. Of those that do, few use a nomenclature that is enforced and consistently applied throughout the funnel and across the organization.

Enter BANT: an acronym that, I believe, was introduced to the world through IBM (please correct me if I am wrong).  While I have met a ton of sales professionals who know about BANT and give me the, “Yeah” head-nod and twist of the face that means, “I consider those things with my prospects, who doesn’t?”, very few cognitively use it and measure their activity with it  (That’s the thing about successful sales people – few know why they are successful or what they are doing that really drives success).

Whether you acutally use the acronym BANT or some other tool, the question is: do you have a set of clear criteria that is codified, articulated and implemented across your organization? Its not enough to rely on the “gut instinct” of your sales pros – challenge that instinct and ask them something along the lines of the following:

  • Does the prospect / prospect organization have Budget, or will they have it in an acceptable timeframe for us to work with them?
  • Are we working with the right Authority(ies) in the organization that can actually purchase the product?  How do you know?
  • Does the prospect organization / individual have a matching Need with our product / solution?
  • Is the prospect’s Timeframe to purchase an acceptable one for us to be spending our time with them?

Now, there are a couple of key considerations to point out when working the enterprise and/or complex sale.  The first is from a sales management point, that it is not enough to ask those questions.  In fact, you may not want to ask those questions at all, but get at them from a different angle, such as, “What kind of budget do they have at this time, and what are their spending plans for it? Is someone competing for that money?”  Asking questions such as these puts the team on the spot to really learn what the purchasing situation of the prospect is.  I have heard too many sales leaders (and I am even talking VPs of Global Sales) that glance over these, rather than using this as an opportunity for not only accurate forecasting, but mentoring, training and modeling sales skills to their organizations. My favorite question is “How do you know?”.  Simple, straight forward and cuts through the salesman two-step.

The second point of using BANT in a B2B role, is that you may need to be following multiple BANTS: one for each contact and one for each account, perhaps each opportunity if you are selling multiple products into large accounts.  You may have an individual that has 3/4 BANT in the system, or even full BANT, but because we know that it is never just one person making the purchasing decision in an organization, the account or opportunity may not be at full BANT yet.

The second, and equally important part of BANT is that it is not simply for sales, but for marketing as well.  We must let go of the days where marketing activity is merely creative outlet and flashy campaigns. Marketing exists for one reason and one reason only: to get sales.  And with the dramatic change in the purchasing process over the last 30 years, marketing in most organizations has become the sales team.

It’s marketing’s role to manage those inquiries and suspects and begin to score them based on their BANT position, creating messaging, communications, interaction and conversations that move prospects towards full BANT, and there is a way to do that, because not all BANT is equal.

The Preference for “Free” and the impact on Employee Engagement

Since organizational behavior is made up of the aggregation of individual behavior, it’s hard for me not to turn a blind eye to cool research from the field of psychology. Add some marketing or business relevance to that, and I’m hooked.

Here’s a great article on the preference for “Free”. They’ve found that there is even a clear distinction of how the brain reacts to “Free” vs. “Almost Free”, even though they both contain that marvelously enticing word of words.

For marketers, this makes sense. For Leaders – what does this mean?

I think the bigger message here is how we process the feeling or sense of attachment – of price or cost that we will have to pay for something. This isn’t just about products or services. This is about engagement.

When employees feel that the return is not worth the investment, they check-out, and that action translates into the loss of everything from the number of rotations on a screw driver to the level of attentive customer-service provided. It also translates to the amount of knowledge and innovation contributed and captured vs. the absence of such that creates gaps in the value chain and leadership of organizations.

I have seen plenty of organizational surveys that probe opinions and ask for frank insight into employee realities, only to tap the respondents and leave them, 10 months later, wondering what ever happened to the survey? They thought real change was coming!

I have seen managers place prices on behaviors and extract heavy costs from individuals whose desire to contribute and achieve excellence tend to make life for a mediocre-manager, otherwise uncomfortable.

I have seen leaders, fearful of revealing their own weaknesses or trepidation about competency, locking-up decision-making and creating redundant, non-value-added workflow to already efficient processes. The resulting mistrust eats not only the leader, but the organization.

I am sure you can think of many examples where the culture did not convey the right offer of “Free” that might enlist greater engagement from a workforce.

What price are you setting, intentionally or unintentionally, for the needed behaviors and work that will make your business successful?

Managing vs. Leading Marketing

Being an expert in the symphony and leading it are two different skill sets.

Being an expert in the symphony and leading it are two different skill sets.

Every profession struggles with the same issues as their contributors, who have built so much domain specialization, rise in the organizational ranks and encounter that often desperate need to shift skill sets to those needed to manage a business function. Marketing is no exception. If it isn’t apparent with the overly-creative focus or thin-air metrics that dominate all-too-many marketing organizations, then the artifacts are clearly visible in the alarmingly short tenure of the average CMO, where such a soul is caught jockeying for position somewhere between Sales and the Chief Executive.

And so, while there are so many competent marketers at the director and above level, there are very few competent business leaders amongst them who know how to build and lead the function to be what modern business organization’s need marketing to be. I’m not talking about managing the marketing of a business; the outward campaigns, the branding efforts, the product positioning, etc. I am talking about taking all those things a step further and integrating them into a cohesive business function that bridges the gap between making products and closing deals – I am talking about the management and leadership side of business – the stuff that happens on the inside where the public doesn’t see. And there, I’ve been able to find my niche.

It takes more than being a great marketer to build a great marketing organization.

  • If you are a marketing leader and you can’t articulate the flow of the value creation process that your marketing department uses to meet the needs of your internal and external stakeholders, then you can’t manage the function, measure it or improve it.
  • If you are not sure what the communication requirements, the information and decision-making needs, are amongst the function and intra-organizationally, then you can’t properly execute for long-term success.
  • If you can’t see the organization from the trees, then you can’t build it and shape it into a high-performing unit of competitive advantage for the business, and sooner or later, your value and the value of your team will be brought into question (like the finance guys already don’t think marketing is the black hole of spending…).

Marketing leaders: learn the focus of purpose, mission and vision. Shape and build people and competency. Learn to see the unseen and articulate process. Align your organization for high-performance.

The Secret Sauce of Transformation, part Deux

Like I wrote about a while back,  we know there’s no secret sauce. Well, at least we know there’s no secret. But, we do know there is a sauce, listed in Part I (Jan 09), and I’m here to tell you that even though it is difficult to make, it is absolutely delicious when you serve it up with the three-course-meal of transformation: People, Process and Tools.

A dab, nay – a smothering, of humility, discipline and hard work on all three of those dishes will do wonders for not only how it tastes to the workforce its being served to, but for how it gets digested in the culture of the organizational stomach.

Concerning people, we’ve heard the terms plenty enough – almost iconically emblazoned in the vernacular of modern business imperatives: Get the Right people on the Bus. Which bus – isn’t our domain, but getting the right people may not be enough. Those folks have to do something, you know? And what they do, determines whether or not that bus goes to Buffalo or the Biltmore. What we need is for those people to DO the right things, which means to exemplify the behaviors we need for success in our organization or transformation effort.

We get the right behaviors using the right processes (again, there’s that ‘right’ word), which aren’t happenstance, but intentionally designed to get the results we’ve determined that we need to get. Then we give them the tools to follow the processes and do the work. Those tools might be an actual wrench and hammer or a mainframe or new knowledge and understanding.

But all the people, processes and tools are nothing to us if they are not ‘using’ the right behaviors, and that’s where we come back to our sauce. The sauce is what gets the big three to stick together, to have a similar taste and texture. Without the sauce, any one of our picky eaters out there may spit back the portion they don’t like and disengage from the table with that hunched-over, gagging, “I can’t believe you made me try and eat that” look that I get from my kids when I try to feed them something healthy. Only these aren’t green beans they’re rejecting; it’s change. Vital, business-essential change. (By the way, if its not vital, business-essential change, then why are you doing it? You wouldn’t force your kids to eat junk food, so don’t shove your latest whim and fancy down your workforce’s throat either. If it doesn’t build, revitalize and nourish your business, then its organizational junk-food).

I’ve recently witnessed a transformation project, a change project, where they didn’t apply the sauce. The change was so shockingly different from what they had been ‘eating’ before, that many of the frontline workers just couldn’t stomache it. When the consultants left, so did any hope of transformation. They forgot to look at what these great workers’ assumptions and norms were about getting work done before we decided to change their operational diets. They forgot to look at the culture, and begin with that culture, not the new one. 

Begin with where they are, NOT where we want them to be. Talk about the change pipe dream! No wishful thinking or organizational narcotic will mask the reality that if we don’t begin on the cultural level of what people are used to, they simply won’t cross the chasm. The sauce is what helps them blend the taste of the old and comfortable with the new and essential. The sauce is what makes it all palatable. The sauce is our leadership discipline and hard work. Without that, just write the consultants a check and send them on their way. It’ll save you a lot of heart-ache, and probably a lot of money.