Archive for category Leadership
Rather than seeing success as a specific outcome, change your focus to seeing it as a network of ’10 out of 10′ relationships. When everyone who can stop you achieving success is onside – there is no one and nothing to stop you.
Image sourced from Think Holistic, Act Personal
You cannot achieve success without forging equally successful relationships – starting with the relationship you have with yourself.
Think of a business or personal situation that’s important to you right now.
Who are all the people (include yourself) who can stop you from being successful (i.e. they have the power of veto)?
Give your relationship with each person a score out of 10, where 10 means ‘the relationship with this person is exactly where we both want it to be’.
To get the relationship to a 10, what does each person on the list want from you?
Are you willing to give it? (And what might you want in return?)
If so when?
When we are over-performing, the stage of success is filled with major players and acolytes; all accountable for their right to stand in the blazing footlights. On the other hand, when we underperform; the stage is often deserted apart from the chosen few, caught in the beam of a single spotlight, being asked to account for themselves.
The idea of measuring people to improve ‘accountability’ is also a hierarchical myth. Over-performers apart, it results in form filling to meet the ‘numbers’ and dodge the truth if needed – be it in the private (e.g. sales forecasting) or public (e.g. centralization of schools/hospitals statistics) sectors. A corporate board member of the world’s largest IT company referred this phenomenon to me as “…‘management’s perfumed pig’. What we need instead is truth!”
You, I, we, tick the boxes with answers so that hopefully, in management’s eyes, we aren’t singled out from the crowd. So where is the truth found?
Image courtesy of the Nikki Thomas Network
The journey starts by a commitment to treat successes and setbacks, as opportunities to learn what to repeat and avoid, with equanimity. Secondly, we answer fundamental questions about our behaviour and its effect:
- What is it we do that aids/abets and what is the effect of this ‘helpful’ behaviour?
- What is it we do that inhibits/hinders and what is the effect of this ‘unhelpful’ behaviour?
- In the latter case, what could we do differently and what effect might that have?
- Overall, what do we do/don’t do; knowingly/unknowingly that creates or somehow contributes to the successes and setbacks of ourselves and others?
- And even if we were wise to all the answers to the above questions, do we choose the courage to act upon ‘the wisdom from failure’?
Lack of accountability is only the symptom. The problem is fear.
People are fearful of being perceived as failing or incompetent (by themselves as much as others). People thus fear being accountable.
If management were to have only one task, it’s not about measuring, it’s about releasing the fear in their organization and filling the subsequent void created with wisdom and courage.
An organization releases its fear and gets wise one person at a time, each of their own volition.
Paul C Burr
I saw a definition of the word creativity recently. It went something like “linking two things together for the first time”.
I got a message from Edward de Bono. He encouraged me, to think of creativity as more than selling new things, into a new market, incurring risk (against the grain of the current economic climate). But better still to use creativity to perhaps minimise risk and cut costs. This got me thinking.
“How might we minimise risk, cut costs and increase sales?”
I proceeded to think about the role the various functions or departments play in large corporations. What is it that Marketing, Training and Development, Sales Operations (sometimes called Sales Enablement) do? What do they all try to achieve?
A simple answer could be to get a decision-making customer (the information they need) to make a favourable decision.
Each department looks out from their pigeonhole and does their bit in getting the customer’s favourable decision. The more enlightened departments work in harmony to achieve the same end. Alas, this is a rarity…..
….. because most people still look at the function of their work inside-out….. “What outputs do I create, in accord with my job specification?” For example: a flyer, a campaign, a training event. What they often don’t do is measure the ultimate goal: favourable customer decisions. Instead of looking outside-in, they look inside-out. So the sum of the parts is never the whole.
So how would it be if we merged departments: Sales Training and Development, Marketing and Sales Operations/Enablement?
How about if we created a single department called: “Getting Favourable Decisions”.
(Or something less obvious, like “Customer Enablement” for those organisations whose culture has not yet migrated to the Aquarian Age of meaningful information.)
There is an old phrase: “50% of our marketing is valuable and 50% is waste. The trouble is, which 50% is which?”
Luckily for me, I got to analyse a vast amount of data. The utilisation data of a large global IT company’s marketing materials, deposited into a single digital repository. It tracks which materials are used, by whom, where, when, and for how long. The statement “50% waste” proved to be an understatement. The data revealed it was 85%, i.e. only 15% of the material was read by anybody outside marketing i.e. sales and customers.
Likewise I’ve spoken to many sales trainers about knowledge retention. They typically reckon that when people walk away from a training course, they retain 15% of the knowledge and wisdom imparted. That’s about the going rate.
So curiously enough this number 85% crops up again. 85% of the marketing material isn’t being used, 85% of the wisdom imparted is not being retained.
So how about creating a “zero-retention” application? An application that provides on-the-job information, wisdom, knowledge, learning, call it what you will. It gives you what you want, where you want it, when you want it. It’s concise, understandable, and is already customer ready. (No more time consuming training courses, no more pedantry e-learning.)
We merge, into one repository, all the materials we need, to give customers the right information, in the right sequence, to make a favourable decision. We provide this through one single department. We merge Sales Training & Development, Marketing and Sales Operations/Enablement into one. We reduce management overheads, courses and waste (by 85%?).
Your customers and salespeople engage using (the same) articulate materials, media, dialogues, analyses, questions and messages. They all sing from the same song sheet.
Sales go up. Selling cycles shorten. More sales from less waste.
p.s. Now you know what to do. Should you want to know more on how? Get in touch :).
Paul C Burr
I pondered about the conundrum of “White Space”. The problems and wants (leading to opportunities for you, me, us) that (non-existing and existing) customers have that we don’t know about.
One morning, something came to me in my waking conscious about “The unheard voice of the customer.”
Here’s what popped up first…
The outside is sent as a mirror to what’s inside.
To find White Space, that problem you don’t yet know that customers have. To start, look for the problem in yourself that you don’t know yet.
So how about finding answers to the following questions:
- What problems/opportunities exist in the organisation that the Board doesn’t know about?
- What problems/opportunities do the Board have that the rest of the organisation doesn’t know about?
- What problems exist that customers don’t know about?
Use this data to inform a customer research programme to find the unheard voice of the customer….….
- What met or unmet expectations do customers have that we don’t know about? (How do we stack up?)
- What problems do customers have that we/competition don’t know about (especially those we/competition contribute to)?
- What would happen if these problems and expectations were met (even surpassed)?
- What new opportunities might we help customers create for themselves (value creation)?
- So how can we get ahead of the wave to create new value?
Mmmm this could be some project…. What thinks you?
Paul C Burr
I coach high flying, low flying, delinquent (and some just doing ok) executives. All do the best they know how.
When we meet, I often ask the following questions:
• How much of your time do you spend managing this month’s financial numbers – and how much on where you want to be?
• To what extent are you achieving what you set out to achieve? (Test anyone who says “more than 70%”.)
• How fast are your customers’ expectations changing?
• How fast is your competition?
These lead to one question they all have in common…..
How can I make the next transition fast?”
3 Transitions: from Strategic Business Unit Manager to….
Transition 1: Manage Cross Functional Change, to….
Transition 2: Visualise/Lead Change to….
Transition 3: Innovate Change: 1st to market business models, beyond “the edge of the envelope” (eg the next “Google”, Web 4.0)
The Business Unit Manager’s (budding executive) typical, environmental characteristics:
• Known ie tangible
• Current: this month, quarter, year
• Has much historic and comparative data
• And thus considered manageable
Contrast the above list with Transition 3:
• Little or no data. Historic data of limited value.
• Future paced: Next year, 3-5 years, 100 years?
• Abstract, conceptual
So many of the personal strategies the executive used to get to “base camp” will hold her/him back. Indeed, as their positional power grows, should they continue with the same behaviours, they drive everyone nuts. “Counting the beans in the bag: by size, geography, colour (or whatever category dreamed of) does not make more beans”
What happens? (How might coaching be relevant?)
Tis all about Relationships, Relationships, Relationships….
At a Personal Level:
• A change in context; from say, a promotion (or a move into another part of the organisation), the executive finds that the personal strategies that have underpinned their success, in their careers so far, are no longer as effective.
• With each career transition; to forge new relationships in a new context fast (and existing relationships that also change) requires more flexible relationship strategies and mindset.
• It’s also about helping the executive to find out and let go of what needs to be let go of.
• There may be more/too much data to analyse, or no data. In either case there is less time. So it’s about helping the executive to create personal strategies that are effective when faced with the unknown, missing data, even the abstract.
• To summarise, I coach to get the executive to figure out what to do more of, what to do less of, what to do differently.
• It’s also about the commitment and flexible mindset required to step outside the comfort zone that has enabled the success in their career to date – and even more vital in the next level of impact.
At higher Strategic Levels
(any migration along the continuum, from: Business Unit Leader–>Manage Change–>Lead/Visualise Change–>1st to Market Business Models)
• As their network of influence spreads, the executive’s emphasis for influence transcends from personal to strategic. Despite positional authority, the executive has less face to face time “per person” whilst they visualise and lead change, as well as manage issues as they crop up.
• Two things thus become more important.
1. The success of the executive strategy depends upon on the emotional journey (strategic buy-in or resistance) it receives. So it’s about mapping and future pacing strategy, to foresee emotional blocks, leaks, politics and value shifts required, to make it happen. The logic and process for change adapts to the least path of resistance.
2. The success of the executive is a function of their “Strategic Identity” within the extended organisation. To what extent do their seniors, peers, direct and indirect reports put trust in their integrity and capability. And how does this “trust” underpin their “Strategic Identity”. Is the “Strategic Identity” effective within the current and desired corporate cultures espoused?
• Advanced Influencing: Can the executive deploy advanced influencing techniques, by being at their peak in every meeting? “Yes!”
• And beyond? Is there a space where the executive generates strategies to influence people, who at first do not wish to be influenced (because influencing everyone else then becomes relatively easy)? Once again the answer is “Yes!”
• Distinguishing Traits and Characteristics: I spent the last 10 years studying people who deal successfully with senior executives. This work consists of 100’s of interviews and workshops, around the world, for a number of major organisations including IBM and Xerox. The research points to 7 Key Traits or Characteristics. By definition, traits are nurtured (ie coached) not taught.
Should you reflect, you will see that the transitions happen in everyday life too.
1. We run our own lives as a business unit, day to day. We hopefully balance our bank account every month.
2. Every now and then we have some change passed on to us to manage (e.g. a change in tax laws, a pay rise).
3. Sometimes we visualize and lead change (e.g. we get married/divorce).
4. There are other times we may choose to completely reinvent ourselves (e.g. a new career).
So, conceptually, Executive Coaching is not a million miles away from everyday life. What differs is the context, and complexity of dealing with a vast network of people, over whom we have no direct control.
Executive Coaching needs to address our Strategic Identity as well as the Personal. It needs to address the flow of energy we put into our network of influence, and what we take out.
Paul C Burr
Killer Strategy #1
Coach Top Performers: increase your top people’s contribution by 30% (and maybe increase your total company sales by >20%)
My research over the last 20 years has found that top performers demonstrate 7 key traits or characteristics (eg curiosity: eager to learn). Top performers love to be coached, to go (not think!) outside of their comfort zones. They yearn to discover what lies above and beyond their limits of success (all-be-they high already).
I see top salespeople, whom I coach, increase their sales run rates by 30%, in a matter of weeks. For those who really trust themselves and commit to the journey, performance goes up several fold.
2 Case Studies:
- Account Director (now a Vice President): Responsible for renegotiating a £50M pa contract within 9 months. The client achieved the £50M target within 11 weeks from commencement of the coaching programme.
- Regional Manager (now a Senior Vice President): used coaching methodologies to prepare his team for a new business-services sales campaign with an Australian bank. The team won a pilot worth around $100K in the UK. Our client flew to Australia to extend the bid. He then steered the local sales team to win further contracts……“I won the big one (worth £15M!) for the Australian bank I was after….. my life has changed quite a bit (for the better) and 80% due to your help”
Lever your company’s sales revenue. The top 20% of your salespeople probably bring in 80% of your revenue. Measure, if you can, the proportion, they contribute, to your profit line. I have clients who were staggered at the results.
You can now imagine what happens to your bottom line when your top performers raise their game by 30% and more. And, 0rganisational beliefs (about what’s achievable) get smashed. Others follow. But how fast? And can they keep up the pace?
So what about the remaining 80%?
Killer Strategy #2
Raise Every Salesperson’s Results: model and spread your top performers’ traits and behaviours to everyone else
Sales effectiveness is a function of motivation, confidence, competence and curiosity.
Effectiveness = Motivation x Confidence x Competence x Curiosity
E = MC3
(No longer a Theory of Relativity, nor rocket science, get everyone winning!)
So the objective is to raise everyone’s:
- Motivation: better yourself, seek wisdom, explore below the surface, relate to people and situations, analyse facts, follow process
- Confidence (as opposed to arrogance) know, execute: when to listen (ask), when to learn (bide time) and when to advocate (articulate)
- Competence and knowledge in 4 verbs, to: Connect, Inspire, Prove and Proceed
- Curiosity (to explore below the surface) about: selling, the customer, the customer’s industry, self, technology, your company, the world, and beyond….
This is how top performers come across and do things differently to average performers?
My personal research goes back nigh on 20 years. My studies include cross industry interviews and workshops with hundreds of salespeople, sales managers, directors, consultants and customers around the world.
My purpose here, is not to tell you how to do this. My purpose is to tell you what needs to happen.
Case Study: A pan Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) survey, by a Top 5 Global IT Firm, reveals a boost in sales millions of dollars.
- UK, Regional Business Development Manager: “Sales are up because 30% more Account Managers are going out and selling solutions that otherwise wouldn’t have.
- “Middle East and Africa: Within 6 months of the launch, sales surpass $2.5M, in a region where hitherto, no Account Managers had been selling these solutions proactively.
- Q: “Score out of 10, how much has the approach contributed to the $2.5M revenue sum?”
- A: MEA Regional Business Development Manager “Contribution to sales? I’d say more than 8 out of 10.
Killer Strategy #3
Increase the Effectiveness of Sales Leaders: Equip managers to lead others, outside their zones of comfort.
I coach managers (to coach others). Many have already been “trained in coaching”. Yet, they increase their personal productivity measurably (£).
Because, for most, “training” does not engage the manager sufficiently in the emotional and insightful journey to become a great coach:
I have found that “training” gives process.
Training alone doesn’t:
- Engage the emotional journey of moving into discomfort with a fresh mindset.
- Shift the mindset from being an expert (i.e. mentoring) to a non-expert (i.e. a co-explorer)
- Shift the mindset from being directive (eg “you need to do a,b and c!”) to non-directive.
- Nurture 7 key traits, common to both coach and a top performer.
- Get managers to realise that every coachee (at some level) mirrors their own imperfections
All the above are essential skills and learnings to coach well.
A study carried out by Olivero, Bane, & Kopeirnan in 1997 demonstrated an 88% increase in management productivity when coaching and training were interwoven as opposed to a 22.4 % increase when managers were placed on a management training programme.
Top 5 Global IT Company: European Sales Management Team, Public Sector, already “trained” as coaches.
“When I do follow the coaching process it works and it fails when I don’t”
“First two sessions were particularly useful. I would not have got through that month without the 2 List System. I am more effective in how I use my time and am more prepared for important meetings. SOS helps me synchronise with people. Using 2nd position has helped enormously. Coaching isn’t an individual session; it takes place over a period of time to get to a solution. It’s made me face some demons.”
“The Coaching Process gets an A* for managing poor performers. “
“It has helped me to explore new ideas and not get hung up if they don’t work. I took away the “Preparing for Key Meetings” from the workshop and used it – it’s brilliant. I understand the coaching tools and need to get myself organised to use them on a regular basis next year.”
“I am more rigorous in the analytical and process quadrants and it’s paid off.”
“I took the material from the workshop and applied it rigorously to coaching (underperformer) X. It’s not there yet but the mountain has moved.”
The managers achieved “Top Team” status aross Europe, in the year following the coaching.
Killer Strategy #4
Lift Under-Achievers out of the Mire: Save them, your managers, and you, a lot of time and possibly grief!
What do you do with an underperformer?
- Sack them?
- Leave them alone?
- Manage as best you can?
- Invest in them?
Coach them. Why?
Corporate Sales Case Study: a highly rated salesperson was underachieving in her first year on quota. Within two months, from the start of the programme, the salesperson’s going rate of year-end target increased from 20% to 80%. Her results then went from strength to strength.
Quotation…. “I found the programme extremely beneficial: it grew my self-confidence and self-esteem tremendously, and allowed me to go and sell. I have both the ability and I have earned the right to do this. I also treat customers as human beings, realising that the best way to persuade someone to agree with you is to get on well with them. I am much more ruthless about agreeing to tasks outside the scope of my quota – unless it eventually benefits my quota in some way. I do nothing unless it progresses me closer towards meeting my targets. I am better respected amongst my peer group and managers, and I am assured of a successful career with solid progression!
Overall, I recommend this to anyone, so long as they are prepared to accept new ideas and alter their attitudes to certain ways of working.”
Sales Managers lose 26 days (5 weeks!) per year dealing with poor performers, source: “UK Managers Losing Twenty-six Days a Year to Poor Performers”, SHL GROUP plc, Business Series 2005.”
The UK’s “lost management days” figure is lower than the other regions studied apart from one. The UK figure is 7 days more than Sweden.
No coincidence: Sweden invests the most in getting people to competence. Source: “Getting the Edge in the New People Economy”, www.futurefoundation.net, Future Foundation and SHL Group plc.
Under-performers, when coached, take an emotional journey (similar to top performers) to step up to the next level. They rid themselves of sometimes deep-rooted, personal, blocks that hold them back. Sometimes, it only requires a simple shift: maybe just a reframe of their perspective. Mostly though, it involves something deeper.
I often find that training doesn’t go anywhere near these deep emotional blocks. Under-performers will not allow it to. They fear the consequences of exposing what holds them back, often unconsciously.
The irreplaceable value of coaching: from research undertaken (Trygve Roos, Mental Coaching 2002) to discover what really causes effective behavioural change. It proved that the most pervasive change happened when learners were trained in various excellent techniques, followed by personal coaching/interventions.
Corporate Sales Case Study: New to sales, and prior to coaching, an erstwhile consultant’s going rate was 40% of his year-end target. Within two months his going rate was 80% and he was looking to overachieve. We focused on sales campaigns to win new business in competitive accounts. He went on to win a contract from one of the campaigns worth about $1.5M, from a client whose spend up until the start of the campaign had been minimal.
Paul C Burr
I’ve witnessed sales reporting issues in a number of organizations. They affect negatively:
- Sales productivity
- Sales management effectiveness
- Bid management quality
Three fundamental issues stem from senior management’s right and penchant for scrutiny…..
- Information overkill: There is a lot of work involved in the mechanics of the reporting process itself. Whilst this may be worthwhile for the very top tier accounts, it’s an overkill for the rest.
- Major Bid Scrutiny: The more time senior management have to take a decision, say about funding a major bid, the more information they will ask for. Sales people soon realise that if they put in a major opportunity above a certain level in revenue terms or percentage of winning chance then it will attract scrutiny. They thus underbid to avoid management attraction. They wait until the very last moment to play their hand. And senior management don’t like surprises. They question “Why the swift change?” Back comes the answer, “Do you want us to win the bsuiness or not?” Beneath all this we find no bedrock of Trust or Truth either in one’s self or the other party.
- Isolation of the Weakest: Senior management have tendency to transform any bids going wrong into a star chamber process. So sales people start filing progress reports that will keep management off their backs. They avoid the ignominy and embarrassment of having senior managers putting them under the spotlight of scrutiny. Erich Clementi, IBM, called this ‘The Perfumed Pig’ effect. Senior Management sit in the illusion that bids are going ok – until either cut off has passed or the sale is lost. They may take out their frustrations on those who said everything was ‘rosey’ and is now not. But by this stage the many, that have ‘failed’, hovel together; hoping they won’t be picked out from the crowd – for ‘they can’t sack everyone’.
In every case, game playing is afoot. And whilst the game plays, senior management are making investment decisions based on false data that salespeople use to keep them out of the way.
With this in mind I’ve been working and thinking of ways around the issues. The game playing needs to be replaced by Truth. And that will only happen when salespeople who are struggling with their customer relationships ask for and get help. ‘Beating them up’ simply doesn’t work. The archaic carrot and stick approach is no longer effective in an economic climate where most, if not all, are struggling.
I’ve 3 things in mind…
- I’ve pieced together a best practice, Relationships-based Account Management Template – tis based on my own experience and research. I set out to create a reporting system designed for both Tier 1 and 2 clients – ie requires a fraction of the work that the big hitter systems take up – and is more effective. It currently consists of about 7 pages of data but the vast majority of focus is based upon one relationships chart for the whole of the account. For it is here that sales are made or not. This system is Word based at the moment but I might have an economically viable way to make it fully interactive, fast and trackable….
- The review of account plans is conducted on a peer basis. Where teams, with at least one leading expert, are created to help one another in the sales process. Sales ‘leaders’ (not managers) mentor and coach peers (in a ‘safe’, private and confidential process) who want help through critical points in the sales process. This takes away the pressure that management applies and fosters Truth instead – because the struggling salesperson feels safe to share his problems. This doesn’t stop a sales person engaging management for support if they want it.
- The role of management is then to ‘facilitate’ success as opposed to leaning on people to go out there and win by the of the week/month/quarter at all costs.
I recognize this will require a change in behavior for many senior managers – BUT if Senior Management haven’t got the results they wanted in the past, they won’t get them in the future either – by doing the same things over and over again. The new Sales Leaders need to be equipped with techniques to lead others outside their comfort zones – and do it in such a way that the people they are helping feel ok with them and the process.
Paul C Burr
I was researching the value of Cloud Computing. It’s still relatively new in boardroom parlance.
IT Vendors, speak of several issues to sell new technologies and services (such as Cloud Computing) to customer executives.
“How do we get our message across and understood?”
“How do we get our young salespeople to make executive calls confidently?”
“How do we skill them up, or maybe equip them, to do so?”
“How do we motivate young salespeople, who by definition aren’t experts, to call on Marketing Directors, Finance Directors, and so on?
I’ve been working with a global IT supplier. When introducing new advanced (and world-class) technologies, they had a devil of a job to get their value message across, convey trust and inspire across to its customer executives, outside the IT function
Here are the issues they encountered:
1. Only a small number of salespeople knew how to generate trust, articulate value and inspire action with senior executives in “big clients”
2. The rest avoided selling the new technology because they didn’t know how to perform Action 1.
3. If customer executives aren’t even curious about the value you can bring to planning table, you don’t get invited” to dine” there.
Now if we apply all the above principles to the SME market and Indirect Channel Sales, the whole picture gets economically fraught. In this market space people no longer sell on price and brand – and haven’t done so for years. They sell what they know how to sell.
So how do you give anybody the motivation, confidence, competence and curiosity to go sell something that’s new to the customer and new to them as well? How do you maximize cross and up selling opportunities?
Answer: You make it easy for them (and the customer) and apply an Outside-In Selling Approach.
Sounds easy doesn’t it? And so it is. Why, oh why, don’t more sales organisations apply it?
Here lies Rub #1. IT Vendors are very interested (and rightly so) in how their technology works. Customer executives are interested in the value it brings, i.e. what it does, not how it does it. By and large, customers executives are not intrinsically interested in technology.
Thus the successful sales approach requires a shift in mindset, from Inside-Out to Outside-In. For a large organization to take it on, such a shift has to be sponsored from the top. Why?
Rub #2:The traditionalists in product training and marketing will say they can do it for themselves. Well, they can’t. Because it also requires a structured approach to how customer executives want to receive information. “Less is more”. Product enthusiasts want to say more about what they are proud of. Customer executives want less. About 85% less, if I were to guess. So it’s about having a structured approach to find out which 15% of your collateral can be transmuted to inspire customer action.
“A lot of people in our organisation have supreme knowledge about our technology and what it can do for the customer, Paul. The vast majority of them, alas, don’t know how to articulate it to a customer to inspire action.
Inspiration = Knowledge + Articulation (first to self, then to others)”
– Top performing salesperson in UK for a Top 10 Global IT vendor
I leave you with a thought. I’ve checked out quite a bit of IT and IS vendors’ collateral on Cloud Computing and the like. It’s written mainly Inside-Out i.e. feature/benefit. Which means the customer has to be interested in how it works first, to see its value.
Top selling these years is applied outside in.
Paul C Burr
I’ve seen a wide variety of researched estimates of the average tenure of a CEO. They range from 2.5 to 7+ years. I don’t know many private investors who are that patient. The last two CEOs I met, gave themselves considerably less time to make their mark; 1 year and 6 months respectively.
CEOs seem to have a honeymoon period of around 18 months. By the end of which, if things aren’t significantly better, their ‘marriage’ with the investors will probably not last.
A chat with Professor Colin Coulson Thomas prompted me to write this blog. Colin, author of Winning Companies:Winning People, is Chairman and fellow board member of Cotoco Ltd .
Here are the warning signs that CEOs fear most.
- Bad earnings news: the most likely and quickest sign of departure.
- Corporate programs don’t deliver: mergers and acquisitions “achieve 70% of their potential” at best.
- Failure to turnaround ailing sales quick enough.
- Change takes too long: “Corporate Firewalls” prevent people from getting it done. More on this later.
- Investors don’t understand: a CEO spends 40% of their time articulating strategy and some argue that’s not enough.
- Personal wealth at risk: e.g. missed deadlines can lead to private investors swallowing up the shareholding of a company
- Lack of innovation: playing it safe is no longer an option these days. Competitors and customers are moving too quickly.
- Talent gaps in performance: e.g. 20% of the salesforce bring in 80% of the revenue (and probably a much higher percentage of the profit).
- Conflict in the boardroom: too much time spent looking inwards leaves too little time to focus on the customer.
- Personal credibility at risk: any of the above means less likelihood of stepping up the ladder of success and/or lack of a legacy of note. These in turn can lead to…
- Personal health at risk: where the stressed mind-body connection can have serious consequences. I know of one CEO who, after missing targets set by investors, developed terrible eye problems because he didn’t like what he saw. Another developed disabling back pain through a lack of self esteem. Another who was deemed too rigid and inflexible developed problems with their joints.
Getting the strategy right will largely depend on the advice the CEO receives from those around them and experts (those they know who have done it before). This is called mentorship. And many stop there because it’s traditionally acceptable to have mentors.
But the CEO’s job is not just about getting it right. It’s about influencing people who don’t want to be influenced at first. If they were easily influenceable they’d have done what was needed long ago. This leads us to those constructs that get in the way – I call them….
With a select group of people, the CEO works out what tomorrow’s reality for their organisation will look like – and the strategy to get there. They find the first firewall just outside this group. Everyone on the inside ‘gets it’. Those on the outside don’t – certainly not the whole picture. Which means they miss perhaps key pieces to the corporate jigsaw. The more select the CEO’s inner group, the higher or tougher the ‘wall’ is to breach.
The wall filters out some of the cognition and understanding of what went on inside. It only takes a small amount to create ambiguity. Once ambiguity kicks it can start a trail as follows:
ambiguity –> confusion –> stress –> dysfunction.
This occurs especially in organisational cultures where ‘not understanding’ is perceived as a weakness. And when a ‘senior middle manager’ (say, from outside the group) doesn’t get it, they tend to do one of 4 things. They…
- Ask for clarity (’tis surprising how little often this happens)
- Put their head down, pay lip-service, and hope it will go away
- Push back (the larger the hierarchy the less egalitarian the culture)
- (Most dangerous of all) Make up the missing pieces of the jigsaw for themselves
The latter habit creates the most confusion for everyone in the value chain right through to the customer interface or the grass roots level of the organisation. For just behind this ‘grass roots’ operational level we observe a second firewall. Curiously, those at the ‘grass roots’ level seem to get the gist of CEO messages quite easily. It’s how those messages are translated into action where the confusion lies. And they are sometimes less prone to keeping quiet when things don’t add up. So the CEO has the challenge of involving those who will carry their message wholly and articulately into the organisation on their behalf.
7 Key Traits
CEOs require a mixed repertoire of personal strategies to influence influencers. In my personal research (of several hundred top performers in organisations around the globe) I’ve observed 7 key traits (or characteristics) in those who influence the best:
- Faith-in-Self – when there is no data (or time to gather it) to make big decisions.
- Passion – if you don’t radiate passion how can you expect others to shine?
- Sensibility – to see where others are at, where they come from and where they are headed, in their minds
- Articulate – to simplify complex concepts and make them compelling
- Curiosity – to explore what’s going on below the surface of things
- Networker – it’s not what you know it’s who you go to, to find and share wisdom to get things done
- Composure – under pressure or facing the unknown
We demonstrate traits. They describe how we come across to others. We do not learn them in a classroom through conventional training. We nurture traits. A good Executive Coach accelerates the process of how a CEO nurtures winning traits and behaviours (that may feel uncomfortable at first) – to forge a strategic personal-identity with those people whom they do not have personal contact with. If these winning traits were purely intellectual or comfortable they wouldn’t need a coach – would they? With this in mind, we can see the difference between mentoring and coaching.
We get what we project.
CEOs get people to copy what they project. The onus they face: to transfer the above traits and characteristics to others. Some CEOs see coaching as something for other people with problems. They are part right. It is. But the problems I talk about are all associated with an inability to influence those people who will block/thwart even the best thought out plans. CEOs might not even know what those that hinder are up to – because they are hidden behind a Corporate Firewall.
“We count the beans in the sack, by size category. When we don’t have enough beans, we count them by colour – then by shape – then by country of origin. We find out who’s not selling beans very well and lean on them to get their act together. We find out who’s selling beans really well and incraese their quota to sell more beans. That’s how middle and senior management spend most of their time.” – Top 5 Global IT firm’s European Sales Director
Data when syntaxed and grouped becomes information, becomes knowledge when we understand what the information means, becomes wisdom when we know what to do with it.
A (perhaps over) simple example…
Information: Sales performance data is varied across the organisation. We categorise by product, region or individual so we find out what’s selling well, where it’s selling well and who’s selling well.
Knowledge: So far so good but as yet what’s going on below the surface? What is that the top performers are doing differently to everyone else?
Wisdom: How can we get everyone else to mimic them, fast?
When everyone has access to the best wisdom available and can apply it – you have the opportunity to take a quantum step (20%-30% more?) up in people’s performance. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in sales, marketing, engineering, supply chain mgt, finance – you name it. BUT….
In order to make this transformation happen you need to totally transform your approach to learning (from your top performers), training, development and equipping people to do their work well. For this to work properly it all needs to become real time. There are only a handful of organisations, I know of, in the world trying such a “real time approach”. It takes a bit longer to explain than this blog permits.
“To increase sales you need to get in the sack with the beans and use the wisdom of the biggest and better beans to grow the little beans and more beans at the same time.”…. me
Paul C Burr