Leaders Get Out of Your Own Way

Get Out of Your Own Way

The CEO of a manufacturing company recently approached a business coach because he was frustrated by his organization’s performance. He knew it was underperforming, failing to achieve his objectives, had never had positive cash flow since he took the helm, yet he could not put his finger on why all this was happening. He thought that implementing a good leadership operating system would make all his problems go away. Little did he know that poor leadership was the cause and everything else was effect… Leaders Get Out of Your Own Way!

Without boring you with too many details, the coach facilitated a three-day retreat with the executive team, and it was clear why this company was having trouble. While this company did need a leadership operating system that could help guide them to make better and faster decisions, create winning strategies, limit focus on a few key priorities, align everyone, and hold people accountable, this company faced a bigger problem. The main issue was the dysfunction amongst the leadership team itself. Worse, the CEO could not see that his behavior was the center of it. He loved to argue every point, even when it did not matter, hated to lose more than he loved to win, belittled his leaders at every turn, and had to put his stamp on everything.

After several working sessions with the coach, the team came clean and told the CEO how they felt. Rather than taking this as an opportunity to grow and shift, the CEO’s ego took hold. He told everyone in the room that he did not believe he needed to change, and if they could not stand the heat they should find another place to work! As his coach tried to work with him to see how his people had become “yes” people, the opposite of what he told them he wanted, he became even more adamant that maybe they were just the wrong people. We call someone like this un-coachable. While the coach could help implement the leadership operating system, the effectiveness of the system was severely compromised by the inadequacy of the CEO, leaving an enormous amount of profit and growth potential on the table.

Are you concerned about how to get more out of your team? Have you wondered why one team functions better than another? Have you noticed that your team members are not contributing much in your meetings, but you know they have valuable ideas? Or worse, are you now questioning their capacity to grow.

I share this story right from the start because much of our success as coaches depends on how coachable our clients are. The tools and processes are only as good as the people we work with. Most companies have a lot more growth and profit potential staring them right in the face. Having a great team is right around the corner, but they can’t see it. Less stress, more control over the business, less drama, and happy customers can be more simply attained. The secret can be found in their “Leaky Bucket.” I discuss this in detail in Your Business Is a Leaky Bucket: Learn How to Avoid Losing Millions in Revenue and Profit Annually

The Leaky Bucket concept is very important. The leaks covered in the book will not be found in your financial statements. Yes, they impact the results, but not in ways that are easily measured. I used the Leaky Bucket as a metaphor to help you visualize cash pouring out of a bucket through lots of various sized holes. You can also imagine water flowing over the top because the bucket has not grown fast enough.

I mention my book because this whitepaper, goes deeper into the issues related to profit leak number 1, “poor leadership.” When you make allowances for poor leadership, you are deciding that a substandard leader has more to offer than everyone else put together, which is a fool’s bet. Your ineffective leader causes everyone else to perform at lower levels. You lose access to a lot of great ideas, and people are less apt to willingly give extra effort.

In this whitepaper, I want to address three issues that I have found that have the biggest effect on our ability to maximize success with a client. All three factors can be addressed through training and coaching as long as the “student” is a willing participant.

  • Ego Traps – It is obvious to most people that having too big an ego is not an appealing trait, and nothing good comes from it. Therefore, it is amazing how many leaders are unconsciously walking around daily suffering from an ego problem and inflicting harm to their careers, their team, and their organization.
  • Strength in Dealing with People – A lot more attention needs to be given to soft skills in the college setting. Too many people are walking around the workplace with little idea on how to properly work in teams, how to communicate effectively with others, and just practice simple people etiquette.
  • Learning How to Say “No” – I am sure you will agree that people are too conditioned to say “yes.” Learning how and when to say “no” is crucial to the success of your organization.

Ego Traps

After 35 years in the workforce, I am convinced that the number one hindrance to peak performance is ego. While you would no doubt agree with me, and are probably saying to yourself “duh”, ego problems are the least dealt-with issue and are the most severe the higher up we go in organizations. This is significant because leaders have more of an impact on their organizations than their subordinates. When you have a senior leader with an overinflated ego, business life is a train wreck!

If you have not read it yet, The Ideal Team Player, by Patrick Lencioni, must be at the top of every leader’s must-read list. In this book, Patrick recounts a story about leaders that discover the three virtues that are necessary to avoid having assholes working for them. Sorry for the language, but that was the story line. While it seems obvious in hindsight, he was right to identify that you are not an ideal team player if you do not possess humility, hunger, or common sense about how to interpersonally deal with people. I am going to deal with the last item later in this whitepaper. In his book, they describe people who lack humility and interpersonal skills as “bulldozers.” Imagine what this does to employee engagement, turnover, productivity, and so on. There is no way your organization could operate near its peak performance. Worse, it would be hard for you to recruit top talent or talent in general. Who wants to work for a “bulldozer?”

Are You Even Aware That Your Ego is Causing a Problem?

You may find this difficult to believe but many people do not recognize when their egos are clouding their judgment, swaying decision making, causing favoritism, inciting organizational strife, stifling teamwork, and causing high turnover rates. They refuse to consider the ideas of others, and in many cases, do nothing because they are afraid to be wrong. Ego is a blinder and a form of self-sabotage. It stops them from processing information and seeing the world as it is. In some cases, they are more concerned about themselves and blinded by the beauty of their names in lights that they fail to realize that it is not all about them, that others contributed to the results, that others are not there to serve the leader’s greatness, and that their job as the leader is to bring out the best of others.

 “Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”John Wooden

Do you easily compliment or praise teammates without hesitation? Do you easily admit mistakes? Do you easily take lower-level work for the good of the team? How easily do you defer credit to the team for accomplishments? Do you easily acknowledge and seek help for your weaknesses? Do you offer and accept apologies graciously? If your colleagues do not indicate that for each of these questions you “usually” act in that manner, you have an ego problem.

There are Two Types of Ego Issues

There are two primary ways in which Ego manifests itself. The first is when someone thinks too highly of themselves. This person spends a lot of their time making sure everyone knows how great they are, making sure they get their time on stage. You get to hear their incredible opinions, taking all the credit for success, posting their picture every two minutes on Facebook and Instagram to show you everywhere they are, who they’re with, and their latest recognition. We will refer to this as false pride. The second type, is fear or self-doubt, which is when you think less of yourself than you should and are consumed with your own shortcomings. In many cases, these people can be more damaging than the false pride folks as they can significantly erode their effectiveness or the effectiveness of their departments.

One of the hardest challenges for leaders is to remain grounded in the face of their success. When everyone defers to you, it must be tempting to start believing your own press releases. It must be easy to think: I am smarter, more charismatic, and more powerful than everyone else. As

leaders reach a point where they believe their opinion matters more than yours, they stop listening. And that means they stop learning.  Leaders dominated by false pride are often called controllers. Even when they don’t know what they are doing, they have a high need for power and control.

As an Executive Coach, I’ve encountered many controllers who really believe their people cannot possibly decide without them. They act as bottlenecks to their organizations because everything has to flow through them. They honestly believe they are right every time; every change they make to a document was crucial to its success; they are the best at selecting new employees; and they are expert at every function in the company. This is, of course, buffoonery, but they cannot see it. They can see everyone else’s mistakes but their own. The organization ends its days cleaning up their leader’s messes, doing double and triple the work, and keeping their ideas to themselves because there is no way around it.

At the other end of the spectrum are the fear-driven managers, often characterized as do-nothing bosses. They are described as never around, always avoiding conflict, and not very helpful. They often leave their team members alone, even when these individuals are insecure and need help.

Do-nothing bosses don’t believe in themselves or trust their own judgment. They value others’ thoughts more than their own, especially thoughts from those to whom they report. Thus, they rarely speak out and support their own team members.

Solutions to the Ego Barrier

The great thing about the “ego” trap is that it is a coachable issue. Now keep in mind, one is only coachable if they desire being coached and want to change. If not, you can stop reading because the person you’re dealing with is not going to change.

In The Ideal Team Player, Lencioni suggests we make the three virtues mandatory in our organizations. If someone is not willing to be coached and does not address their humility problem, I would remove them from the organization. In the long run, such people will cost you far more than they can possibly be worth. They cause everyone else to be less effective, and no one person is worth more than the many. If you happen to be a subordinate of this person, and there is no chance they will be replaced (because they are the owner or CEO), then my recommendation is to leave. You will never receive the appreciation you deserve. They will always cause unnecessary drama for you and other teammates, and there will be more pleasurable places to work. Life is too short, and you deserve better!

Now if you want to address the ego barrier here are some practical suggestions for developing your humility:

  • If you suffer fear or self-doubt, it is important identify the cause of your insecurity. I would work backwards in time to discover when it started and how it manifested. Whatever the cause, it is often helpful to share your issue(s) with teammates and manager and ask them for help to overcome it/them. While this seems counterintuitive, it is often liberating when you share with others. You will often receive a lot of empathy and support, and it makes it easier for others to coach you through it when they realize you are aware of your issues and want help.
  • Practice giving credit to others. Giving credit to others helps break your habit of taking credit for everything. A great exercise every leader should practice is to find a least one genuine compliment you can give to at least one employee daily. Keep track and see how many times you give praise versus criticism daily. It is instructive. Leaders that lack humility really struggle with this one at first. I can remember one client with more than 60 employees that refused to do this exercise after their culture survey came back indicating that employees felt they rarely if ever received praise from any managers in the company. In this person’s mind, it was the equivalent of giving everyone a trophy for showing up to work. The CEO felt that it was not appropriate to compliment someone for doing their job. You will not be surprised to know that this organization receives very low employee engagement scores every year and has a serious problem recruiting new employees.
  • Be vulnerable. People cannot relate to superheroes. Recognize and acknowledge your weaker points. On a piece of paper, identify the skills you are weak at. Identify the behaviors that get in your way. Next, I want you to draw 4 squares on a piece of paper. In Square 1, list the activities in the company that you love to do and are great at. In Square 2, list the activities you do that you are great at but don’t like to do. In Square 3, make a list of the activities that you are involved in that you are not good at but like to do. In Square 4, list the activities you are involved in that you are not good at and don’t like to do. If you do not have a fair number of items in 2, 3 and 4, you were not brutally honest. Now sit down with your team and share with the team what you have learned. Show your humility and immediately delegate everything in boxes 3 and 4 to others because there are people who can do those items 5 to 10 times faster and better than you. Stop meddling. Ask your teammates if they agree with you in terms of your strengths in boxes 1 and 2, and be willing to hear them out. Anything that you should have put in boxes 3 and 4, delegate to others. Then figure out what from Square 2 you can give to someone else.
  • Seek mentorship. Find three people you trust to serve as mentors. Choose mentors you can trust to tell you the truth even when it hurts. Make a commitment to listen to their opinions with an open mind.

Strength in Dealing with People

The second most crucial issue I see holding back organizations is how leaders treat their people. In Lencioni’s The Ideal Team Player, the essential virtue of “smart”, which he describes as a person’s common sense about people and their ability to be interpersonally appropriate and aware in individual and group situations. I agree with Patrick that this is an essential component in teamwork and being a leader. However, there is another dimension I want to address, namely the leader’s biases toward how they view subordinates and colleagues in general.

Let’s first address the leader’s common sense about people. Much has been written about emotional intelligence, but not enough has been done to apply it. Let’s face how most leaders have been selected in your organization and others. The people that are the hardest workers, with the most industry knowledge, highest technical acumen, people you may feel comfortable with and have been with the company the longest are usually given the most attention. Soft skill qualities are usually identified as important but, let’s face it, are usually considered secondary.

After all, how often have you seen people in companies that are horrible communicators, cause tons of drama, directly cause the most turnover, and survive year after year because they deliver results or are coveted for the reasons I described above. They are considered irreplaceable because of their customer relationships, contacts, institutional knowledge, etc. In the end, they are horrible with people and are severely holding your company back because you have decided that this one person is more valuable than the many they are infecting.

Worse, once you have tolerated one person treating other people badly, you are telling others that being a jackass is okay. You are indicating to all your employees that treating people with dignity, respect, and character does not affect results. You are indicating that we should not care about the feelings of others. Just focus on results because that is all we care about. If you deliver results, you are untouchable.

The Key Is Assertive Communication

You probably wondering where I was heading with the above. I am sure if I audited your company, I would find at least one leader that has poor emotional intelligence, and you are tolerating it. As an executive and business coach, I witness this issue daily in every organization. What I find frustrating is that leaders allow the dysfunction to continue. I have found that improving your decision making, leadership team chemistry, and organizational effectiveness

can be achieved simply by helping that leader understand how to use the right communication style. An assertive communication style rarely has the issues I described above.

“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”John Wooden

The degree of assertiveness you use in dealing with people provokes fairly predictable reactions by others, which in turn help determine how effective you are as a leader. Assertive communication is characterized by honesty. It enforces rules, requires results, and is a direct approach that shows concern for yourself and others. It communicates the message that “you are both okay.”

This communication style could be construed as treating all the individuals involved as equal, each deserving of respect, and no more entitled than another to have things done their way. You feel connected to others when you are speaking to them, and you are trying to help them take control of their lives. You address issues and problems as they arise and create environments where others can grow and mature.

The reason assertive communication is so effective is that it combines the positive dimensions of both aggressive and passive communicators. The assertive communicator is goal-oriented and direct, and at the same time is a good listener, considerate, and thoughtful. Thus, the assertive leader bridges the most positive aspects of the two other styles of behavior while at the same time avoiding the negative aspects of those two styles. The assertive style is both a good human relations style and a good team-building style for any organization. The assertive leader is viewed as someone who is strong, energetic, and is both able and willing to fight for resources needed by the department. Further, the assertive leader does not appear to play favorites, since he or she does not bend rules or fail to enforce rules in an effort to be liked by others. This leadership style is most admired by team members and employees.

Leadership Biases

As I mentioned above, there are some biases that I believe leaders have that severely hamper their interactions with people. While there are many I could discuss, there are two biases that cause some significant lost opportunities in organizations.

God Complex

I have met too many leaders, particularly founders, who believe everyone in their company exists to serve them. While it is true they started the business, and at one point you could say they were the business, at some point the organization must grow up and operate as a business, not a bunch of serfs working for their master. Everyone in a successful business, including the founder, exists to provide products and services to customers.

Each person in the organization has a role in the process of providing products and services. As a team, we help each other to do a better job than our competition so that we can operate more profitably, and thus enable everyone to earn their fair compensation and the business to expand and create more jobs. The leader’s job is to make the subordinate’s job easier so that all are in a better position to serve our customers well. Not the other way around!

I have witnessed servant leaders on average get two to three times the productivity of those that have the god complex. Their employees give extra effort, work efficiently, and spend extra time looking after the customer. Ironically, they spend more time looking after their leaders than subordinates of leaders with a god complex. I believe the reason is that the latter secretly resent their boss and do the minimums to stay out of trouble.

Leaders with this complex cause everyone else to be inefficient. Employees spend their days readjusting their schedules from best serving customer to best serving the leader, resulting in severe organizational inefficiency. Such leaders misuse resources and do not even recognize it because they are so selfish.

Others Will Not Figure Things Out Without Me

In a world where most jobs require people to use their brains, and each situation is a little different, most roles are filled with knowledgeable workers. Ironically, many leaders do not treat them as such. In Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, Liz Wiseman identified the difference between leaders who access and revitalize the intelligence in the people around them (Multipliers) and those whose view of intelligence is based on elitism and scarcity (Diminishers). The Diminishers believe that intelligent people are a rare breed and that they are one of those few smart people. They then conclude that other people will never figure things out without them.

Here is the rub! We are all Multipliers and Diminishers. The questions are how often are we multipliers and with whom? Leaders that have huge ego problems are most often Diminishers. I know of one CEO that terrorizes the leadership team and other employees daily with emails micromanaging their every activity. This CEO’s team loses tremendous daily productivity in order to respond to those emails, provide reports to show what is being asked for, and attend update meetings so the boss can show them what to do.

Diminishers have other traits that cause them to get far less productivity than their people are capable of. The “tyrant” creates a tense environment that suppresses people’s thinking and capability. We have all been around that leader who loves to debate everything, hates to lose, and loves to win. It takes too much energy to get our own points across, so we just don’t even try.

Another Diminisher is the “know-it-all” that gives directives that showcase how much they know. Then there is the “decision-maker” who makes centralized, abrupt decisions that confuse the organization.

“You are not a failure until you start blaming others for your mistakes.”John Wooden

The Multiplier has a completely different way of handling people. Where Diminishers cause people to underperform, Multipliers can get the very best out of people and some believe exceed expectations. They are considered “liberators” as they create an intense environment that requires people to tap into their best thinking and work. They are considered “challengers” as they define an opportunity that causes people to stretch rather than the directive that limits the outcome. The Multiplier wants to make sound decisions, so they encourage vigorous debate on important decisions, usually staying quiet during the debate. After all, they know their own opinion. They really value the opinions of their team. They are “investors” as they invest in people to take ownership of results and are invested in their success!

Learning How to Say No!

In my book, Your Business is A Leaky Bucket, profit leak number 12 is dedicated to “being allergic to saying “no”. Rarely do I meet someone that tells me that they have mastered the use of time! If you are one of those people, you primarily work only those things that will contribute the biggest impact to your organization and role, and you are good at deferring, delegating, or discarding the rest. As a leader, you are communicating well, and you are emphasizing messages you really want your team to hear. Most importantly, you are clear on the right type of opportunities you expect your team to aggressively pursue and those you want them to defer, delegate, or discard. To a very large degree, your success depends on it.

Do You Use Your Time or Does Your Time Use You?

You cannot manage time itself, but you can manage how you choose to use your time. We are under more time pressure than ever, and those little gadgets like cell phones may make our lives much harder than easier.

Time is the great equalizer. Everyone gets the same amount of time: 24 hours in each day. You cannot buy more time, and no one can give you more of it. Thus, the most important question you can ask daily is: “How can I and my team use time more wisely?”

One of the essential keys to maximizing success as an individual or an organization is to effectively determine where your time should go now and into the future. Where you used time in the past only serves as a guide, a learning mechanism for your decisions as to where time should be used in the future. One person in your group losing focus on congruent goals can impact everyone’s time and even create a huge barrier to success.

Too often people search in the wrong places when trying to understand why they are not achieving their goals. They think there is something wrong with the time management program they’re using, so they buy a new one. The real problem is not what program or process they currently use. Rather, it is what habits of thoughts and attitudes they use to decide how they will use their time.

To do that, you must pick and choose which opportunities and tasks to undertake. Time and priority management is a skill few people master, but every person needs. One of the greatest mistakes many leaders make is to say “yes” too often. In many cases, time management is more about what you decide not to do, rather than what you do. Does your leadership team fail to say “no” often enough? Or does it choose to chase fires rather than identify and address the real issues staring them in the face? While there is no exact percentage, you should be passing on at least 25 percent of the opportunities and responsibilities that come your way. Otherwise, you will find yourself spending far too much time on tasks you never should have agreed to take on in the first place.

Belief systems lead to actions that cause results, which then impact your time management. If you or your people behave in counterproductive ways, try to identify what the belief systems are that cause that behavior. For example, let’s say you decide you should exercise three days a week to improve your health. Your primary belief system, however, is that exercise is boring and painful. What do you think the chances are you’ll implement that “decision” to exercise three days a week?

Commonly, I hear CEOs complain that they spend little or no time on their strategic priorities. Instead, they spend their days putting out fires and dealing with their employee issues. They are usually insistent this is just part of business as usual. However, a closer examination teaches us that some people like to put out fires. They enjoy the immediate gratification of handling the daily emergencies, want to be the ones with all the answers, and have trouble saying “no” to others. These habits directly impact their ability to manage their time effectively.

“Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.”John Wooden

Our society is notorious for seeking immediate gratification. The benefit of better health is a long-term goal. In the short term, however, a person is apt to avoid the pain of sore muscles and the loss of self-esteem that goes along with confirming one’s own bad physical shape by not going to the gym. In other words, they feel better about not going to the gym than they do about going. This is immediate gratification, even though the decision is a bad one for long-term goals.

To change behavior, you must identify the immediate gratification you get from your bad behavior and the thought patterns that cause you to continue to practice it. Once identified, you must find something more motivating to replace them. For example, many people would exercise if their doctor told them, “If you do not start to regularly exercise tomorrow, you’ll have only six months to live. If you do exercise regularly, you will live another twenty-five years.” That is quite a carrot to dangle.

An additional aspect of using time is that most people do not have a good sense of where their time goes. At least once every six months, executives should track their time to see where they really spend it. Once you have a solid understanding of how you spend your time, you can redirect time you control and use it more productively by delegating activities to others.

Are You Chasing Revenue Everywhere?

A key area where leaders have the hardest time saying “no” is when it comes to revenue.  This is critical. Not only is this a critical strategic conversation, it is also an issue that can destroy a significant amount of your organizational resources; both time and money. Not all revenue is good revenue. In addition, the more market segments target, geographies you try to conquer, product and services you offer, and distribution channels required, the more resources required. It is important to be prudent in how you go about building your revenue. It is very important to know when and how to say “no”!

Your strategy will help you consider the best type of revenue to target. The predictability and consistency of your revenue growth rate are important measures of the health of your business. A key to driving your growth is targeting the right market segment, not aiming to be all things to all segments. You might love pie, but you’d likely not be feeling too well if you ate the entire pie at one sitting. The same is true regarding the health of your business. You must pick the right slice and exercise moderation. Targeting every source of revenue can leave you spread thin, the proverbial jack-of-all-trades and master of none. Profit leaks result from not focusing your efforts on the most valuable and sensible avenues for revenue.

What does this have to do with saying “no?” Positioning your company in a growth industry, market segment, or sector is crucial to the continued success of your company. To have future growth, regardless of how you are doing in this quarter or year, there must be a target market that your products/services are focused on and that is regularly growing. When businesses mistakenly chase revenue anywhere it leads them, they wind up with less of it. Great companies quickly learn that by segmenting the marketplace, they can perfect their business model around owning their segment or slice of the pie.

Without Saying “No”, Everything Is Equally Important

You set your employees up for failure by saying yes to everything. When everything is important, nothing is truly important! Perfection does not exist. Simple math dictates that the more things you randomly throw on someone’s plate, the less time they have to spend on each thing. Overloads cause leaks in company buckets.

A domino effect occurs when leaders cannot say “no” to anything. Let’s take the people ramifications. The more complicated your service model, the more talented your service staff has to be. They have to be smarter than the average employee in the marketplace while also maintaining specialized skills to handle your customers. That said, when you overload them with responsibilities, you’ll find they cannot reach all your original projected goals.

“Being average means, you are as close to the bottom as you are to the top.”John Wooden

The number one job of a leader is to make their employees’ jobs easier! I recently had breakfast with a CEO I am coaching, and he had mentioned that the COO seemed overloaded. He had wondered if he had hired the wrong person. As we talked, it became clear that they had never established clear priorities together. In other words, everything was important! When I started asking him questions about what he believed the top priorities where for this person in the current quarter, he paused. It was obvious that he was unsure. A great example of setting a good clear priority was an advertising agency that had too much complexity in its client intake process. It took two weeks and six different people to onboard a new client! After proper focus and attention, that was reduced to one hour and one person. That could not have happened had they not focused on a clear priority and de-emphasized other things to get that done.

You Can Reduce Complexity by Saying “No.”

A great example of a company that benefited from saying “no” is Southwest Airlines. They say “no” often. If you want reserved seating, you do not fly Southwest, because their boarding process does not allow for it. Southwest Airlines, unlike most of the competition, does not charge for bags. All of their planes are 737s. This simplifies their fleet, reduces the time it takes to train mechanics, and drastically improves inventory management. In addition, they do not provide onboard amenities. Also, you will notice they fly to just 101 destinations. They choose airports with lower gate fees. Additionally, you can only book flights on their website. The culmination of these “no” decisions is that they have remained one of the most profitable airlines in the industry. As of this writing, they are second only to Delta Airlines in market capitalization with approximately half the number of employees.

Saying “No” Will Simplify Your Life

Typically, leaders push back on the concept of saying “no”. To that end, make it a priority NOT to schedule any meetings or calls in the first three hours of each day. Use that time to work on one key task to move the rocks (your main priorities) out of your way. If you finish in less time, use the leftover time to go after the gravel, sand, and water tasks in that order, the lesser priorities that also fill your daily bucket. This ensures you are working on at least five key motivators each week. You have been trained since you entered the workforce to please your customers and your bosses. They make you feel as if you always have to go the extra mile and exceed expectations! The problem with this mentality is that by trying to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one. You set yourself and others up for failure. You might think it takes courage to say “no”. In reality, it takes brains to say “no”. And the better practice is to prioritize your time commitments and always put thoughtful productivity at the forefront of your mind.

In Conclusion

Strong leadership is essential to maximizing the success of your organization. Failing to address a poor leader in your organization is the equivalence of leaking money out of your bucket. I encourage you to coach each leader in your organization to check their egos at the door. We all falter. When you notice colleagues faltering, reach out in a positive manner to help them see it so that you can all grow as leaders. Don’t assume that just because someone has poor people skills that it must stay that way. Recognize that they have never been taught or required to be any different. Take responsibility to help them see a new way of interacting with the team. Work hard as a leadership team to say “no” more often. Help everyone see what is most important and get better at letting the rest wait. In the end you will find an organization that will grow more profitability with a lot less drama.

Howard Shore is a business growth expert who works with companies that want to maximize their growth potential by improving strategy, enhancing their knowledge, and improving motivation. To learn more about him or his firm, please visit his website at www.activategroupinc.com or contact Howard Shore at (305) 722-7216.

7 Keys to Working Smarter and Being Highly Successful

After observing thousands of leaders in companies from startups to over $20B in revenue and helping create over $1 Billion in business value, I noticed one superpower in highly successful people. They worked smarter, not harder, and derive much higher results in less time than almost everyone else. These very successful leaders tended to value highly the Management Strategies and Learnings obtained through Business and Executive coaching channels.

For clarity, I deem someone to be successful if they can accomplish three times more than their peers,  have more joy and happiness, and do all of this in less time.  Now, I have to draw a line as many of us are highly ambitious, driven, and are classic workaholics. Most workaholics do not commit to reducing the hours they work and find work exhilarating. Regardless of your view, it would help if you wanted to achieve three times the results and earnings in less time. What you do with the extra time is your business.  But everyone should want to work smarter and not harder.

I am often exposed to CEOs in the same industry and have always been amazed at how varied leader’s approaches are.  To me, the right approach is the one that produces three times the results with a similar effort.  Let’s take the restoration industry.  I have met many CEOs who started their business 20 years before and are stuck at $5M in revenue or less. Also, I have met others that were in the industry for just a few years and had revenue over $5M.   I do not only find revenue disparity. I also find profit and time gaps.  While the average company earns a net profit of 5% of revenue, we have helped companies generate over 20%.  Would you rather be a $10M company that produces $500K of net profit or a $5 Million company that produces $1M in net profit?  That was a trick because you should want to be the $10 Million company generating $2 Million profit, expecting the growth and the profits.

The most successful CEOs build far larger companies, have higher growth rates, have more free time, and have 3x the net profit margin. And, yes, there are other measures of success. I want you to consider that working more hours than everyone else, regardless of what you earn, is a fool’s choice! All I want to do is challenge us to work smarter continually.

Which leads us to the big question: “How can we make it easier to achieve our success goals faster?”  How can a person make far more, achieve their intended impact, and work a lot less? Not only is this possible, but others are already doing it. After watching these leaders, I noticed they were not necessarily smarter, more creative, lack ethics, or privileged.  I have met many highly successful people, some ultra-wealthy, and found that they were formerly homeless, living in trailer parks, had no college degrees, and so on. I am sure all of us are capable of high levels of success.

Achieving success is simpler than you think but not easy. If it were easy, everyone would do it.  The strange part is that we are familiar with the concepts but not living them. Here are the principles you must follow to work smarter and not harder:

(1) Manage Your Thoughts

(2) Have a  Strategy

(3) Be Strategic

(4) Work a Plan

(5) Be Disciplined

(6) Resilience Rituals

(7) Build Wealth

Manage Your Thoughts

There are three dimensions to managing our thoughts: awareness, intention, and perseverance. Our mind is a potent tool. How you think will change your outcomes for better or worse. Thus you need to be aware of what you are thinking. For example, if you make up your mind that someone cannot do their job, your words and actions will differ from those based on the premise they are capable of. Your thoughts need to be congruent with your intentions. If you intend on accomplishing something and focus your thoughts on contrary purposes, you will fail. Imagine you plan to have a good day but your spend most of your day angry about something. 

Once our thoughts and intentions are in unity, we need to have perseverance. When was the last time you set out for something new and challenging, and it worked out exactly as planned? Most often, we find we run into unforeseen difficulties and roadblocks.  If you allow your mind to waiver from the finish line, you may not get there in a practical manner.

Have a Strategy

Too often, I find driven people are in constant motion. They confuse activity with productivity. When they see a problem to solve, they are off to the races.  Often leaders are solving the wrong problems or not taking the best route to solve their problems.  By doing so, you may feel better in the short term, but it could have long-term negative consequences.

I recently witnessed a senior leader get angry with a subordinate because he felt they were taking advantage of the company.  He immediately launched into attack mode and let the employee know how he felt.  While the concern was merited and the employee course-corrected, there were longer-term consequences.  You see, the leader was so busy being right that he lost one of the highest-performing people in the industry. That employee decided to quit his boss.

In the end, the leader was not strategic.  Had he been, he would have waited until he wasn’t angry and would have developed a strategy to course-correct the employee in a manner that was okay for both parties involved. Instead, he may need two people to do the work the one accomplished, and his reputation may cause other competent people not to want to work for him.

While I used a personal situation, the same goes for taking on projects, lofty goals, and conquering the competition. One thing we have all learned is that there are many ways to accomplish an objective. Being strategic requires you to consider achieving the ideal outcomes, choosing what “not” to do, using the least amount of resources, and within the desired time frame. It is usually best to consider expanding your options before choosing a path.

Work A Plan

We are working on a plan ties to being strategic.  However, the critical difference is that the strategy is the vision of where you want to go, and the action plan charts your course from beginning to end—many of us are big picture people. We can see what is possible and have a “can-do” attitude.  The problem with visionaries is they believe everything is simple and underestimate what it takes to achieve the outcome.  Taking the ball down the field is usually someone else’s problem.  To achieve grand visions, I recommend the following project management techniques:

(1) Be specific – The objective has to be clearly stated so that anyone could step in and know what needs to be done.

(2) Make it Measurable – Identify the measurable milestones and deadlines that indicate you are on track.

(3) Action Steps – Identify the action steps necessary to achieve each milestone.

(4) Monitor Progress – There must be processes and systems in place to monitor progress.

(5) Course Correct – When progress is insufficient, it is essential to revisit your plan to get back on track.

Be Disciplined

Whether you are working on getting healthy, achieving your sales goals, accomplishing a major project, it takes disciplined action.  Too often, we like the idea of the outcome but are not disciplined enough to achieve it. Think about dieting. If I eat healthily and eat the right amount of calories for three days a week but overeat unhealthy foods the other 4, it will take a lot longer (if ever) to lose the weight. Where if you ate properly every day, that takes discipline.

My brother Matt is the President of Steven Douglas, one of the fastest-growing recruiting and staffing agencies in the US.  Matt has been a top producer every year since he entered the industry almost 20 years ago.  Most people in his industry only dream of producing his revenue production.  Matt shared with me that he has hundreds of employees, and none of them produce as much as he does. Given that he is President, he spends far less time than full-time salespeople. This caused me to ask his secret. Matt has a list of 300 key contacts he calls every sixty days.  He does this by setting aside one hour daily for outbound calls.  This single disciplined activity has helped him achieve more in 5 hours a week than others can produce in 60 hours.  Successful people are willing to commit to such discipline. I have shared this technique with at least 100 people over the years, and none has had the discipline to implement it.

Resilience Rituals

The airlines taught us a very important less when they told us that we must put our oxygen masks on first before helping others. I have found that highly successful people have a regimen of activities that they use to recharge themselves.  Here are my resilience rituals:

 – 1/2 hour of daily exercise

 – 15 Minute breaks between meetings

 – 15-30 of Meditation

 – 15 Minutes of Quiet reflection

 – Spending time with friends and family

 – Take 4-6 weeks off on vacation throughout the year.

 – Monitor and control my work hours

 – Weekly Massage

It would be best to have the same level of committed discipline to your resilience rituals as your business routines.  For example, if you work out 4 hours in one day, it will not have the same effect as 1/2 hour per day.

Build Wealth

Too many of us are so busy working that we don’t spend the right amount determining how to build wealth. Every very wealthy person I met has at least three streams of significant income.  It is essential that you identify, develop, and give enough attention to your various income streams.  Most people will tell you that the most significant part of wealth came from income streams outside of their day job.  The day gave them the financial start in investing in other activities. Still, many of those activities require learning about and developing strategies and plans to develop each stream. 

In Conclusion

While you can be highly successful without practicing the above activities, it does not invalidate them.  However, by managing your thoughts, being strategic, working a plan, being disciplined, practicing resilience rituals, and building wealth consistently, you will find your path to success with less friction.  Now I challenge you to determine how to use these principles to work smarter and not harder, so you have more time to do the things that are most important to you.

 


Howard Shore is a business growth expert who works with companies that want to maximize their growth potential by improving strategy, enhancing their knowledge, and improving motivation. To learn more about him or his firm, please visit his website at Activate Group Inc or contact Howard Shore at (305) 722-7216.

Trying to Sell an Apple to Someone Looking for Chocolate?

Recently, I facilitated a meeting for one of the most innovative companies I work with. The leadership team is one of the smartest I have ever worked with, and there is a clear vision about solving gaps in their market. Moreover, they arguably have the best SAAS platform to serve their target segment. Yet, they have struggled to grow.

Have you ever wondered why some companies seem to grow with ease while others don’t? I have pondered this question because I have seen far too many organizations struggle to grow. For the SAAS Company, the secret showed up in a strategy session I recently facilitated. The conversation centered around one key question, “Why is this SAAS company finding it so difficult to acquire new customers? The answer was not what you would expect.

Are You Answering the Right Question?

Often, leaders are trying to solve their growth issues by centering on the wrong questions and problems. Typically if you asked the question, “How do we increase sales faster,” you would hear answers like:
• We need more revenue.
• We need more leads.
• We need higher quality leads?
• We need better salespeople.
• Our sales manager is not doing her job.
• We need better marketing.
• We need more marketing.
• We need more salespeople.
• Our customers don’t understand why we are different.
• We have failed to articulate our value proposition well.
• Our salespeople need a better process.
• Our salespeople need better training.

Have You Identified the True Problem?

While the above may be components of solving your growth issues, it is likely not your problem. I often see companies spend significant money and time addressing all the above. After years of frustration, they find themselves right back where they started from. They find other companies in their industry growing far faster, and some started much later and far larger. Your company has likely developed great products and services, cares about your employees and customers, works very hard, and has many loyal customers. In addition, your company might have implemented best-practice execution processes like EOS and Scaling Up, and yet the growth outcomes are not getting much better. What gives?

The right approach is to change your question. In my client example, we changed the question from “how do we increase revenue” to “why is it so difficult to acquire new clients ?” I asked the leadership to answer the question with a question. We brainstormed for 10 minutes until we complied with enough inquiries related to the initial question. Here are some of the questions they came up with?
• How do we remove sales friction?
• What would we need to do to increase market share dramatically?
• Why can’t we sell product “A” to our target market?
• Why is there so much friction in acquiring new customers?
• Would it be easier to sell a product that is on par with our competition?
• What do we need to shift in sales and marketing?
• Who is our real target customer?
• What is the evolutionary path for customers?

After developing 25 questions, I asked the team to narrow down the list to one critical question that would address almost all of the questions. The answer was, “why can’t we sell product “A” to the masses?”

By using the new question as a focal point, we were able to discover their real problem. The market was desiring a product they were not offering. Worse, they had the perfect product, and it was bundled into their more sophisticated product. In the long run, their product was more complete and would better serve their target market. The problem, most companies were not ready to consider their full suite, and they were trying to force it on them.

While there is a lot more to this story, I was hoping you could recognize that these extremely smart leaders were essentially trying to sell an apple to people looking to buy chocolate. When the prospect did not see the chocolate, they moved on to the competitors. We realized that we had to metaphorically get the customer into the supermarket and sell them chocolate before they were willing to consider the apple. Chocolate was their primary need. Once they loved our chocolate, we could take them down more isles and sell them more of what they needed.

Stop Trying to Convert the Heathens?

Are you guilty of ignoring the market? This is a common mistake. My client was a great example. They had the perfect product but were so enamored with their complete solution causing them to ignore the market expectations. While they are correct, their product can and will solve bigger, more complex problems, there were too few leaders that were aware and ready to solve them. They were getting ahead of themselves. And, like a good priest or rabbi, they were delivering sermons to inspire and convert the heathens. The problem was that the disciples were not listening. When this occurs, the sermon is white noise. Their best approach was to get the easy win, earn the customer’s trust, and use that as a platform to cross-sell later.

Conclusion – Ask Yourself… and Take Action!

If you are like many leaders, you know that your company can and should be growing much faster. Have you found the right question to answer? Do you know the primary problem? Are you spending enough time facing the brutal facts?


Howard Shore is a business growth expert who works with companies that want to maximize their growth potential by improving strategy, enhancing their knowledge, and improving motivation. To learn more about Howard Shore or the firm, please contact Activate Group or call (305) 722-7216.

Do You Have Meeting Rhythm?

It may be a surprise, but in most organizations there are not enough good meetings. You might be saying there is no time for any more meetings, but when properly executed, good meetings will save you time and will make you more money!

This article focuses on how to develop good meeting rhythm in your organization in order to save you time and money. When you conduct a series of meetings that build upon each other, they allow management to see patterns that will help them to make better and faster decisions. In addition, by communicating in focused, structured, and organized fashion, you cut a lot of the inefficiency out of the organization.

The meetings every organization should have and their purposes should be as follows:

  • Annual Meeting – Discuss progress on last year’s goals, and set and get alignment among your management team around the goals you plan to achieve for the next year.
  • Quarterly Meetings – You measure progress toward your year-end goals and discuss what you need to do in the next 13-week race to stay on track.
  • Monthly Meetings – Focus on monthly learning. These are opportunities for the management team to start developing the next levels in the organization. This should be a two- to four-hour meeting for the extended management team to review progress with everyone, discuss financial results, and to make appropriate adjustments. It is also a great time to do an hour or two of specific training.
  • Weekly Meetings – These are issue-oriented meetings and strategic gatherings. At these meetings you discuss progress toward the top 5 critical initiatives in the organization (you have identified these right?), look at leading key performance indicators, customer and employee feedback, and spend 30 minutes on one single big issue. A big mistake made at weekly meetings is covering everything every week. As a result, weekly meetings tend to be too shallow. It is recommended that the management team pick a focus for the month or quarter to be the priority for your weekly meetings. By moving that one large priority for the month or quarter, you make a big impact on driving your business forward.
  • Daily Huddles – These are 5-15 minute stand-up meetings for everyone in the company, but not necessarily everyone in the same meeting. The purpose of these huddles is to help make sure that everyone is focused on the right activities, identify where people are stuck, create peer pressure to achieve key deliverables, and create daily contact among all team members. Companies that do huddles have found that it has made their days much more efficient and weekly and monthly meetings much more productive.
  • Specific Purpose Meetings – These meetings only include those people necessary to get something done, remove a bottleneck, and/or are designed to make a decision.

We help clients achieve quick, efficient and profitable growth through the easy implementation of proven methods. Contact Howard Shore at [phone link=”true”] or shoreh@activategroupinc.com to find out how a business coach, our consultants and trainers can help you accelerate your success.

How Effective Are Your Meetings?

Do your meetings result in everyone feeling good after they leave? Does very little get done in your meetings? If so, your meetings function like most, and they are probably worthless!

Most often leaders are concerned with there being too many meetings, or meetings being too long, or some other wrong measurement. I would like to suggest that you change your measurement systems. For example, a good leading indicator that something important is being discussed is conflict. Other indicators of good meetings are the number of decisions made and the number of people held accountable for decisions made at the prior meetings. These are real indicators that your meetings are worthwhile. If you have a really good meeting, then everyone leaves feeling uncomfortable because there is so much more to be done, and they have a stake in it!

There are 7 critical factors that when managed correctly result in great meetings and top results for organizations:

  1. Conflict

    Conflict is a necessary part of good meetings. There should be good healthy conflict in every good meeting, and people should feel pressure. When there is a lack of conflict, it is an indication you are not talking about anything that requires any real discussion, failing to emphasize the hard-to-achieve goals and key performance indicators, not holding people accountable, not talking about the “elephants in the room” or the real issues going on the in company. If you are not having this type of regular conflict, you have a problem with your “team,” and I recommend reading “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni. The lack of conflict can be an indication that the foundation of a strong team, trust, is missing. .

  2. Purpose

    Every meeting should have a purpose, and you should define that purpose before you enter the room. By the end of the meeting you should answer the question “Did we achieve our purpose?” For example, if your purpose was to decide whether or not to do an acquisition, you need to determine if a decision was made. If there was no decision at the end of the meeting, you need to determine the specific action steps needed to make that decision, and what alternative decision deadline is acceptable. You need to determine how often your meetings fail to achieve their purpose and why. If this is a regular occurrence, you need to challenge your team to identify whether it is a failure in preparation or some other symptom causing the organization to be ineffective. Do not allow yourselves to get off the hook.

  3. Time

    There are two elements to time. Making sure that you schedule your meeting on a day and at a time when you will get the team’s undivided attention is very important. You want to get as many people physically in the same room as possible. You also want to make sure that you schedule plenty of time to support your agenda. For example, I know of a company that regularly schedules a monthly meeting with an insufficient amount of time to cover the their agenda. As a result, they fail to finalize decisions, think through all the issues going on in the company, and hold people accountable for past decisions. The result is definitely showing up in the income statement, cash flow, and stress level. If you have covered all that you need to, it is okay to end a meeting early. If you did not cover all that you need to, you need to extend your meeting or reschedule the remaining items for a later time so everyone does not feel stressed because you are running over.

  4. Preparation

    All participants should know what is going to be covered in the meeting and what needs to be prepared in advance. This will allow for a more productive meeting.

  5. Interruptions

    Whenever possible, it is recommended that your monthly, quarterly, and annual meetings be done off-site. This will reduce and/or eliminate interruptions as much as possible.

  6. Responsibility

    Make sure that the responsibility stays in the room, and you do not play the blame game. Your meetings need to be about solutions. Leave excuses to the rest of the world.

  7. Accountability

    It is critical to agree on who is the one person that is accountable for each item, and to make sure that person is held accountable. Review key developments, assignments, and deadlines regularly until an assignment is completed.

We help clients achieve quick, efficient and profitable growth through the easy implementation of proven methods. Contact Howard Shore at [phone link=”true”] or shoreh@activategroupinc.com to find out how a business coach, our consultants and trainers can help you accelerate your success.

Making Lofty Goals Realistic

Many organizations set goals that are not realistic and are in the habit of not meeting their objectives. Others achieve some of their goals by accident, and some could achieve a lot more. The first questions is, “Are your goals mandatory, or are they something you set out to try?” If they are mandatory, then I suggest you make sure that you are planning for success instead of failure. Many organizations set their goals without considering the obvious reasons they may not be achievable. By addressing these reasons up front, an organization can dramatically increase the likelihood of success or know that they must adjust them to something more realistic.

Here is a common list of possible circumstances that cause organizations not to achieve their goals:

  • Has consideration been given to the capacity of the target market (growing-shrinking) and what a realistic share of the market can be?
  • If revenue levels were achieved, considering seasonality effects, what is the ability of the organization to deliver the products and services at the optimum level while keeping its brand promises?
  • Can the company finance growth; should it grow faster than its ability to self-fund?
  • What advertising or marketing support will be needed to support the goals, and are there finances in place to support it?
  • How will competition respond to your strategic moves, and are your marketing and sales forces well prepared to properly differentiate the company?
  • What is the performance track record of the people that need to deliver, and will your new goals require a significant increase in performance?
  • Are there enough sales and sales support people based on: the amount of time to make the appropriate amount of sales calls; the number of meetings it will take to close a deal; how many proposals one has to write; the time it takes to process a deal, given the normal sales cycle, based on the average close ratio, the average size of deals closed, and travel time?
  • Will you need to introduce new products, by when, and how much of your sales volume depends on it?

Lofty goals require a regular regimen of adjusting your resources (time, people and money). As an organization answers the above questions, inevitably they should be considering upgrading some people, increasing some resources, moving some around, refocusing time, etc. Significant goals, those that require growth rates and increases in profit margins that are large improvements over prior years, need refinement on a monthly and quarterly basis. As we are trying things, we will make mistakes and/or see more opportunities for growth. The great leaders are the ones that are making these adjustments.

Howard Shore is a business growth expert that works with companies that want to maximize their growth potential by improving strategy, enhancing their knowledge, and improving motivation. To learn more about him or his firm please contact Howard Shore at [phone link=”true”] or shoreh@activategroupinc.com.

Conflict Avoidance Hurts Teamwork

A great way to tell whether you have a strong team is by the amount of regular, healthy conflicts that occur in meetings when decisions are being made and if decisions are really being made at all. It is often said that if everyone agrees than someone is not needed. This may be true but the real issue may be that the team dynamics in the organization has been broken. This breakage may be causing key people that can be contributing to stop contributing.

There are many leadership missteps that may be killing and destroying teamwork and cause conflict avoidance. Here are a few examples of when a leader can destroy the team.

  • Stopped being curious and really does not listen to people when issues are raised in meetings.
  • Intimidating or threatening so subordinates have fear of reprisal so they do not want to speak up.
  • History of judging people in the room (and voicing those judgments) when opinions differ from theirs or are not strong and thus people do not want to be vulnerable.
  • Appears to only be self interested.
  • Tendency to interrupt other team members before their idea may be completed.
  • Makes personal attacks when they are not getting their way.

According to Pat Lencioni’s book Five Dysfunction of Team, “fear of conflict” is one of the five dysfunctions that are critical to teamwork.  The leader has to make sure that this behavior is not tolerated, and that topics focus on the issues that need to be resolved. If everyone is not weighing in and openly debating and disagreeing on important ideas at your meetings, look for passive-aggressive behavior behind the scenes or back-channel attacks. What organizations find is that healthy conflict saves them a lot of time and leads to better decisions. The role of the leader is to practice restraint and to allow for conflict and resolution to occur naturally.

Howard Shore is a business growth expert that works with companies that want to maximize their growth potential by improving strategy, enhancing their knowledge, and improving motivation. To learn more about him or his firm please contact Howard Shore at [phone link=”true”] or shoreh@activategroupinc.com.

Think Before You Communicate

So often verbal communications do not work out the way people want. They cause a completely different outcome from their intended purpose. The challenge is not just the words one uses. It is the tone and body language of the delivery. Research tells us that words make up only 7% of the communication we receive. Body language accounts for 55%, and tone 38%. Meanwhile, people spend the majority of their time thinking about the words they want to use. I would suggest that not enough thought is given to timing and method of delivery.

The more prominent a person’s role in an organization and community, the more important it is for them to be a master communicator. Their prominence results in their communications touching and impacting larger audiences of people. For example, let’s look at Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. His comments after LeBron James announced his decision to go to the Miami Heat will have a profound impact on his organization and his community. In case you missed it, he denounced the player who won MVP in the league for the last 2 seasons and carried his team to the playoffs for the last few seasons, making statements publicly that included the following:

  • Heartless and callous
  • Shocking disloyal
  • Shameful display of selfishness
  • Cowardly betrayal

Mr. Gilbert then went on “to personally guarantee that the Cleveland Cavaliers will win an NBA championship before the self-titled former “King” wins one. You can take it to the bank.”

The consequences of these remarks served little purpose other than to embarrass Dan Gilbert and his organization and to hurt his community. It put the team in a position where LeBron might never consider returning to play in his home town, Cleveland, regardless of what trades they made. Gilbert violated the rule of “never burning bridges.” Had the Miami Heat or Alonzo Mourning done something so foolish back when he had health issues, Alonzo might not have returned to play a critical role in helping the Heat win the NBA title. There are many cases where players have returned to a former team later in their careers and played crucial roles.

In addition, the people in the city also should have thought before they burned their LeBron jerseys. All of these people acted in a shockingly disloyal and selfish manner toward a player who brought them incredible baskeball for the last 6 years and donated a lot of time and money in their community. Many stars continue to support their home towns after leaving for another team. Now these shortsighted people are alienating him. What are the chances that he will want to continue to give back to this community? What purpose is their communication serving?

The lesson here is that one must think before communicating. I would bet that many communications would never happen because they serve no useful purpose. They are often just an outlet for some to free their anger; as above. In the process they hurt themselves and others. There are only two proper purposes for communication: 1) to transfer information, and 2) to encourage others to behave or act a certain way. You know you achieve that goal when the information has been transferred properly or the other people are behaving or acting the way you desired. If this is not the case, you failed in your communications. If your purpose with communication is to hurt someone or to cause anger, it usually acts as a boomerang.

Howard Shore is a business growth expert that works with companies that want to maximize their growth potential by improving strategy, enhancing their knowledge, and improving motivation. To learn more about him or his firm please contact Howard Shore at [phone link=”true”] or shoreh@activategroupinc.com.

Face or Phone Time To Fill Your Sales Pipeline?

Have you noticed that the higher up people move in their organizations or the longer someone has been in a sales role, whether it be in professional services or a traditional sales role, the farther away they move from the daily regimen of outbound prospecting calls to schedule appointments to increase their sales pipeline?

Furthermore, they are typically not in the top 25% of sales volume producers for their industry group, which means they could be producing a lot more but have allowed themselves to get complacent. The only people that do not need to set aside time for daily prospecting calls and potential networking are the people who generate enough of a consistent sales pipeline to put them in the top 25% of all producers in their industry segment. Everyone else has to find a way to develop their pipeline either through networking and making phone calls.

For everyone else, aside from company leads and people calling you unsolicited, there are only two ways to build your pipeline: getting out to network and using your phone. After studying this for some time, I am convinced that people do what is comfortable for them, but not what is best for them. What is comfortable for most people is getting out of the office and meeting people.

It is very common to find people who go to every networking meeting available, hoping to run into a few decision-makers. If they attend an event with 100 people, there may be 10 that would be good client candidates; however, they may or may not meet any of those 10 people. By the end of this event, they are likely to walk away with zero meetings and, best case, perhaps some people who would take a phone call about future meetings. Of these, maybe 1 is a real prospect. Including travel time, attending the event was a 3-hour decision and time commitment. So all you accomplished was marketing your organization, introducing yourself to some new people who now know you exist, and possibly setting one future meeting, if the person you met ever takes your call.

Now let’s take that same 3 hours and use the phone. The average person starting out may not have a very large contact list and may need to do a lot of cold calling. But a seasoned salesperson and partners in a professional services firm should have amassed more than 2,000 contacts willing to take their call. The people being called also know people, and may be willing to give referrals. So, imagine how many people could be called and connected within 3 hours. Whether cold calling or warm calling, it is reasonable to expect a large number of outbound calls. Even if a large percentage of the calls result in leaving messages, all calls can be directed to a decision-maker in a company with which you want to do business. Conservatively, depending on the nature of your business and the level of the person you are calling in the organization, you should achieve 12 phone meetings and 2 to 3 prospect meetings scheduled for new business opportunities. If you are good at pre-qualifying your meetings, at least one of those meetings is likely to result in new business within your sales cycle. This is a much better result than attending the networking meeting above. In essence, you networked, but you did it over the phone. These results can be achieved whether you are calling people you know or cold calling a list of good prospects from a purchased list.

I am not suggesting that people do no networking. I believe that your networks make you powerful. However, I am suggesting that most people are making 2 mistakes with networking.

  1. Too much time is allocated to networking. No more than 10% of a salesperson’s time should be spent on networking. If you are in professional services and have to deliver, it should be no more than 5%, in order to allow enough time to get on the phone to properly fill the pipeline and to attend meetings with prospects.
  2. Too much networking in the wrong places. Do not go to a networking event unless the majority of the people there are the people that you would normally sell your product or service to. Do not go to events consisting of a bunch of salespeople from other companies. An exception is a networking group like Business Networking International (“BNI”), providing that you regularly get referrals from the other people you are meeting with. These relationship-based groups can be valuable if you are surrounded by the right people.

Another distraction of networking is board involvement. While this is can be a rewarding and important activity, it should not be confused with a productive sales activity. When you compare the amount of time it takes to sit and play the role on a board with the number of people on the board, amount of interaction with those people, and the amount of business received, a person would be better served taking the phone call route. So when someone decides to sit on a board, it should be a community involvement decision rather than one to help them make their sales production numbers. Many times I have seen people’s board involvement significantly detract from their production. They will develop business from their involvement, but it is far less than these people would produce had they chosen more productive networking venues and/or called on their rolodex to find business.

The key take-away is use of time. We must be careful not to confuse what makes us feel good with what is best for generating business. Most people do not put the time into making phone calls because they do not view this as an exciting part of their day. Because it does not fit their self-image, they avoid the most effective use of sales time. If everyone put as little as an hour per day, or five hours per week into filling their pipeline with meetings, they would always have a full and productive pipeline and find themselves in the top 25% of their peer group.  Many people have found that they complete the whole sales process without ever leaving their desk.

Howard Shore is a business growth expert that works with companies that want to maximize their growth potential by improving strategy, enhancing their knowledge, and improving motivation.

Is your approach Self-Centered?

Too often managers, mentors and colleagues sound very much like parents talking to children. When you want them do something differently you tell them a story about yourself.  In the business world feedback may sound like this:

“You should have done “X” because that is how I would do it” or “Back in the day this is how we did things.”

This self-centered approach to giving feedback has the same effect as when parents tell their children “when I was your age.”  People shut down. They hear nothing that is said after that. The reason is that they are feeling like a victim as their self esteem is being attacked.  No one likes to feel like they are a bad person, that they are less than anyone else, or to be spoken to like someone who thinks they are better than anyone else. These are all feelings that generate when conversations begin from a self-centered frame of mind.

If you want someone to do, think or act differently it is important to approach them from their perspective. You need to ask questions instead of give directions. Help people think through their solutions rather than think for them. This may take a little longer and require you to be creative but the results will be much better.

Howard Shore is a business growth expert that works with companies that want to maximize their growth potential by improving strategy, enhancing their knowledge, and improving motivation. To learn more about him or his firm please or contact Howard Shore at [phone link=”true”] or shoreh@activategroupinc.com.