Friday, December 30, 2011

Merry Christmas

In the spirit of the season, I'd like to share some observations about well wishes at this time of the year.

I have an eclectic collection of friends; they observe a variety of different religions. Years ago when Happy Holidays crept into use, I asked each person if they are offended or feel uncomfortable in any way when I wish them a Merry Christmas – all said NO...unless I would be offended if they wished me Happy Chanukah or Joyous Kwanzaa or other celebration of the season. In the reverse situation, I am honored when a friend says they will include me in their prayers for the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).
In my tribe, Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah wishes abound throughout December, with big smiles and good cheer!

This year I conducted an experiment – in December until the 25th I wished people a Merry Christmas. It was totally indiscriminate – friends, strangers, clerks stocking shelves, people helping to find an item or give directions, letter carriers, the guys on the Trash Truck, and every kid I saw. I offered Christmas wishes to over 250 individuals during the experiment.

Here's my report of this non-scientific project – exception...broke out into a smile and most returned the greeting, with some Happy Chanukah's and Joyous Kwanzaa's sprinkled in. There was no negative reaction – not the slightest indication of any discomfort by anyone. Each person beamed at being acknowledged and offered a positive wish for them.

Ben Stein says it best in a note he wrote about Christmas – being wished a Merry Christmas is inclusionary and a positive expression of celebration, which in no means diminishes or degrades the beliefs and observations of the listener...not by intent and not by practice.

Hope you had a Merry Christmas - here's a wish to you for good health, peace, joy, and success for the coming New Year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 – Observations From the Front Lines

2011 – Observations From the Front Lines

This year's collection of Ah-Ha moments in no particular order.

  1. Doing Leads to Understanding – I designed the software architecture for a project and saw clearly how the pieces related to each other. I made changes to enhance its functionality from this structural knowledge.
  2. Can't Predict What May Move Readers – In a blog post about the New Normal, focusing on poor economic performance and shifting business structures, the readers' comments blossomed into a lively discussion of what is 'normal' and why it's important.
  3. Exponential Focus – When learning something new, initially discovered elements float around independent of each other until critical mass is achieved and BLAM! - these pieces come together for deep understanding and practical application.
  4. Sales Is a Conversation With a YES at the End – Gone is the role of being an information resource (buyer can get that from the Internet); now we listen to the needs and share customer stories of situations where our solution filled their need and benefited the customer.
  5. Develop an On-line Personality for You and Your Business – Google has added to the kit of social media tools with Google Plus and Google Plus Business Pages, which can showcase your activities, offered products and services, posts about topics of interest and value to create your electronic persona. And all of this is findable by anyone with access to the internet.
  6. PowerPoint is NOT Required – Shifting to a value-based handout to guide the presentation creates a more intimate session and leaves useful information (and your contact specifics) in the hands of the attendees.
  7. Business and Education: A Necessary Partnership – Business needs a stream of potential employees with a strong foundation ( including reading, writing, math, critical thinking, problem-solving) to train as workers to produce the company's products and services. The education system is responsible for building this changing foundation.
  8. The World Has Changed While I've Been Working – It's not job change – it's career redevelopment! Individuals in transition are shocked to find that the job they have just left no longer exists in the job market. Suggestion - look for opportunities to acquire new skills while in your current position.
  9. The No Customer Recession – Customers stop buying – businesses cut back (or close) – uncertainty abounds. A mantra of the politicians – create jobs! and they throw money at the problem. When all the smoke and noise has settled, it still comes back to “are the customers buying?”
  10. Technological Confluence – Using computers, telecom, and internet has matured and the promised changes have arrived – it is altering how things get done. 'Doc in the box' changed how many people get routine everyday out-patient care; Amazon, Zappos, eBay has shifted buying and trading patterns; tax, accounting, and legal software substitutes standard elements in lieu of a trained professional for simple needs.
  11. It's the Same – But Different – In the past, selling a better mousetrap was successful by better meeting a need...this still applies today. Now, as before, things that fill a need sell. What is different is the evolution of the solo and small business developing and marketing the solutions. Perfect example: Phone apps: narrow scope; solves a specific issue; sold cheap (99 cents - $5, or free with ads), delivered on-line immediately, and promoted by word-of-mouth or social media.

What was the best thing you learned in 2011?

Best wishes for success in the New Year.

Come join us for The Direct Economy - How Can You Benefit From The Strongest Economy In The History Of The World? At The Association for Information Technology Professionals (AITP) January 12, 6 pm, Chevy Chase RSVP Here

Monday, December 26, 2011

Doing the Impossible – The War Horse Lesson

With the holiday celebration over, the eggnog finished, and dinner a very pleasant memory, we went to see War Horse (liked it).

Early in the movie, the boy and the horse took on the monumental challenge of plowing a field of thick deep-rooted grass and stone for the first time. They succeeded.

What we watched was the accomplishment of a virtually impossible task by sheer will-power, refusing to quit, and learning to work together.

This scene serves as a powerful reminder to leaders that inspiration, focus, and working together can overcome huge obstacles to achieve results.

Kennedy and landing on the moon is another example...can you recall others?

January 10th Sales Lab’s next Rainmaker is Designing Your Work To Take Advantage Of The Internet at the Capital Technology Management Hub on Tuesday, January 10th. The featured CTMH speaker will be Hector Del Castillo on the topic of Why a Product Strategy is Essential to Drive Your Company’s Revenue Growth. More Info

Friday, December 23, 2011

Rainmaker #9 Convey Your Business Personality – Easy, Simple, and Free

 Definition: A Rainmaker creates a significant amount of new business for a company. The Sales Lab Rainmaker Series is one rainmaker technique for technologists during the first 300 seconds (five minutes) of the monthly Capital Technology Management Hub Meeting. This is the handout for our December meeting.
At the beginning of this Rainmaker presentation in December, 3 of the 25 technology professionals indicated they had put up a Google Plus Business Page. At the end of the session, two more planned to put up a Plus Business Page next day – 20% adoption in five weeks of availability.
The handout:

Google released Plus Pages just for business in November. Who cares – I got a website. CARE!
 Be found – show your stuff – give some value – share your knowledge
 ñ Searchable from anywhere on the web
ñ Pictures and videos to showcase your offerings
ñ Live links to pages, website, blog, catalog...the world
ñ Blogs and articles from you, resources from other thought leaders, and your community highlighted (list automatically updated)
ñ Small group video conference ability
ñ Simple, easy set-up and updating – can do it yourself
ñ Cost – free to the individual.
 Face to face meetings - you can do maybe 20 per week. Google does over 121 MILLION searches per day – want to show up more? Google Plus Business Page bumps to top of the pile through Google + search

The previous Rainmakers:
Rainmaker # 7 - Mark Your Territory
Rainmaker # 5 – Start With An Offer
Rainmaker #4 – Time, Talent, and Treasure
Rainmaker #3 – Process to Purchase
Rainmaker #2 – The Nametag
Rainmaker #1 - Gifts

The next Sales Lab’s Rainmaker series for the Capital Technology Management Hub, is Tuesday, January 10th with 300 seconds of Designing Your Work To Take Advantage Of The Internet. The featured CTMH speaker will be Hector Del Castillo on the topic of Why a Product Strategy is Essential to Drive Your Company’s Revenue Growth. Come join us!

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Whine Connoisseur

You know them – always the glass half empty outlook...complaining about the brightness when the sun breaks through the dismal gray February days.

They derail conversations and meetings. When making a contribution, it comes with negative overtones and is diluted by the complaint of the day. They are disruptive to creative sessions and are toxic to an organization over time.

I met a person in transition recently, who said they resigned to take advantage a sweet deal in bonuses and pension supplements. The conversation went on about how unfair it was to be cut loose after 18 years, into a horrible economy, at this time of year, without some rehab training, and with experience that is stale and limited. Next was a question if I could recommend some employment prospects (couldn't think of any).

Make no mistake, these folks are not seeking help to resolve a problem – they revel in their gloom. It is a mistake to take time to try to understand their issue and problem-solve for solutions or alternatives. Waste of time. Waste of effort. Not appreciated or heeded.

When speaking with a whine connoisseur, it is useful to be like a 4-year old child and continue to ask 'Why?' repeatedly – the individual will drift off to rain on another parade fairly soon.

As a leader, you will have these folks in your organization – make use of their skills and contributions, while mitigating their negative impact. Avoid putting them in key results process roles; on project teams or committees, balance them with strong can-do positive personality.

Our staff and managers are a diverse collect of talent and personality – sometimes it take some creativity to make the best use of them. It is worth the effort.

Do you have suggestions for mining the positives from the whine connoisseurs?

January 12th! Join us for The Direct Economy at AITP!
Consider: The future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed.
Did you ever notice, no matter how hard you do the wrong thing, it never quite works?
The Direct Economy will give you a better understanding of what is changing and how you can win at the new game. RSVP Here!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Google Plus for Business – Why Be An Early Adopter?

In November Google released Plus Pages for Business – it is similar to your personal Google Plus Page, but with features to create your electronic business personality.

Whoa! – you say you work for a large organization or an agency and can't put up a page for your day job...the Plus Business Pages works well for a community association, a swim team, or a social group where disbursed information, schedules, and news are valuable to the group.

Establish your brand on-line in a highly flexible (and easy to use) environment and be visible to everyone on the web through the search box. They can find you by your organization name or by a full text search of your content.

I just did a presentation about Google Plus Business Pages at the Capital Technology Management Hub meeting and asked the 25 technology professionals how many had put up a Plus Business Page – three had.

Why Not? – I asked. They are trying to figure out how Plus Business fits with the other outreach vehicles.

Here's how I use the stack:

  • The website is a fairly static resource with info about the organization, services/products, and other useful material;
  • Twitter and Facebook can be used to alert the readers about what's happening – like events and blog posts;
  • LinkedIn is your professional history and it also has a broad range of discussion forums to exchange ideas, but LI is restricted to just other LI members;
  • Blogs provide an outlet for sharing thoughts and discovered information, but distribution can be a challenge;
  • Plus Business Pages tie all of the above together – it can spotlight current activities and posts, display a detailed description of your organization, show pictures of your products or activities, provide direct access to your videos, and even hook up video conference of up to 10 connections.

Why be an early adopter? Naming the Plus Business Page is on a first come basis – getting in early offers the greatest selection. Based on the experience with Twitter, early adopters enjoy a sustained higher level of activity – worth leading the charge if history repeats itself.

As a Plus Page, Google search provides a useful filter to seek out the plus pages and display at the top of the pile of results – a significant advantage if you want to be found.

Google Plus Business Pages – it's easy, simple, and free – and integrates with all the other Google features. Why not lead your community by putting up a Plus Business Page? Of the 25 technology professionals mentioned at the beginning, two more put up their Plus Business Page the next day (20% now).

Please share your thoughts.

January 12th! Join us for The Direct Economy at AITP!
Consider: The future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed.
Did you ever notice, no matter how hard you do the wrong thing, it never quite works?
The Direct Economy will give you a better understanding of what is changing and how you can win at the new game. RSVP Here!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Last Chapter

The last chapter of the book on our life has not been written yet.

We may feel that it won't be turning out as we had hoped or expected.

While we were working – the world changed!

  • The Internet has evolved and many roles which were staffed before are on-line now;
  • Processes which had required labor now use technology and fewer people with lesser skill and experience levels;
  • Vast amounts of data, research, information, and content are available by simple searching through the browser;
  • Entire professions have been radically changed by an 'in-the-box' approach – e.g., basic accounting, legal documents, family physician.

What do we do now, having seen the significant changes that have evolved?

One action not to take is 'wait it out' in hopes of a return to 1985 – won't happen! Holding on to this point of view is like retiring in place and not telling anyone.

Things have changed – now it's your turn:

  • Learn new skills and techniques with application in the new economy – become a doer to get greater depth in what you are learning. Building a website teaches more about planning, design, layout, functionality, and connectivity than it does about writing code;
  • Explore the new normal – going beyond the local newspaper or evening news. Read blogs and articles by a variety of writers with differing viewpoints – go to events and listen to the comments by the audience for a richer experience...develop your own assessment of 'what is' and 'what's possible;'
  • Be open to a new approach – whether as a provider or a recipient – does the change provide benefit...value...efficiency...access? An example – you don't have two-hours for dinner at your favorite restaurant, so you order solo catering on-line and drop by to pick up your dinner (and all the trimmings) – hot and ready to eat at a restauranteur or a diner, you win using a new approach;
  • Find out what is needed and figure out how to provide it – do this as an employee and you may be on the way to redefining your job in a World 2.0 model; as a provider, offering what is needed is an evergreen business goal and a possible new line of service for you.
Even more so with the rapid pace of change today – we do not live in a stagnant environment. Change is dynamic. It is not practical to be in a dynamic setting, trying to remain static (unchanged) – imagine how much energy you would expend in a rowboat at the mouth of Niagara Falls, trying to maintain your position. We must continue to evolve in a dynamic setting – or go over the Falls.

The good news is – our last chapter has yet to be written and, by being engaged, we can greatly influence the story.

Got some stories to further the discussion? Please share.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Experiential Listening

Communication is an imprecise process – no matter how much effort and innovation we may put into choice of words, method of delivery, and focus on key points. Try as we will, the full transfer of knowledge from our mind to the listener happens only in the Vulcan Mind Meld. Typically a just a portion of what is said is actually received by the listener and a fraction of that is retained.

An analogy of how the mind processes new information that I like is of a mail sorting station full of pigeonholes for similarly addressed letters. When new information is received, the mind looks for bins of similar items to authenticate and store it. No bin of similar information but holds some interest – the mind retains it for a period of time as a data point; no interest: no processing. As additional data points are received, the mind may assign a bin for the topic. If not, the data points will be pushed aside for other active thoughts and ideas.

To illustrate - think back to the 1990's and the Y2K issue – when the issue was first mentioned there was little reaction or interest. Over time, with repeated mention and additional interpretation of the impact, it became a significant element of the coming of the millennium. To the mind it went from a data point to an issue.

As we listen, we are processing the information based on what we have been exposed to earlier – through reading, conversation, events, observation, and doing. When we actually do a task or project, we learn on several levels, including how skill and experience can influence an outcome. When I wanted to play tennis, I read a number of books about basics, strategy, and tips from the pros – but truly learned about the game once I stepped on the court to play.

When we listen through the amplification of our own experience, we deepen our understanding of the topic and benefit from the experience of the speaker as conveyed by their story.

Building a website, writing an article, making a table, or trimming a shrub provides valuable 'doer' experience to add to the current body of knowledge. Doing will broaden your perspective on a topic and will make you a more effective listener and learner.

While you may speak from experience, the listener who hears through their experience gets a richer benefit from the information.

Doesn't it make sense to seek projects and activities that expose us to new experiences – to keep current and to learn new things? Learning by doing is a requirement for the New Normal.

How has experiential listening helped you master a topic?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Surface Thinking

Not enough time is spent to develop critical thinking today. We are faced with a tsunami of data each day from 500 channel 24x7 cable and the virtual infinity of the internet. How to sift through or filter all this input remains a constant challengetrying to make sense from it all.

When there is a speech on television, first you get word-by-word coverage, then a commentator says what the speaker just said. People often will simply recite the commentator's points, rather than thoughts of their own. This is Surface Thinking – Listen (the speech); Hear (commentator’s remarks); Repeat (tell others); Adopt (what they have been repeating).

Surface Thinking is not just about current events – academics can slip into it as well. Years ago I taught a course about employee training and development at the University of Maryland. The textbook gave statistics about companies investing in training and the authors stated that larger organizations invest more in training than smaller ones. Sounds logical – except the stats showed companies with: 100 – 500 employees averaged $467 per employee; 500 – 1,000 employees averaged $317; and 10,000+ employees averaged $446.

When I asked my classes if they agreed with the authors, only a few disagreed – unfortunately most just accepted what the authors said, regardless of what the data showed.

There's a huge difference between surface and critical thinking – here's an illustration (from pre-word processor days): A lawyer types 120 wpm and the Administrative Assistant types 60 wpm – who should type the brief?

Surface Thinkers look at the 60wpm vs. 120wpm and choose the lawyer since speed is twice as fast and therefore more efficient; Critical Thinkers choose the Assistant because only the lawyer can write the brief.

From a leader's perspective, what is the effect of Surface Thinking?

Surface Thinking is fleeting – new idea, new mantra. Communication about the mission, vision, and goals must be frequent and from many sources in the organization;

Listen more carefully to the Critical Thinkers for input and ideas – tap into new thoughts and insight for contributions to the results;

Broaden the development of Critical Thinking skills – use stories, internal case studies, and recognition as developmental tools

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Your Business Personality – How to Convey It Easily, Simply, and Free

Early November Google released a new tool in their arsenal: – Plus pages just for business.

Why do we care? Because it's a place, a means, and a mechanism to develop and share our business personality – an electronic business persona that's a media substitute for a face-to-face pre-sales conversation establishing your credibility and why the prospect should listen to you.

What you put on your page is up to you, but what you can do with it is pretty sophisticated.

  • It is searchable (full text and the evolving Google + preference) from anywhere on the web
  • Flexible formatting, including embedded links, graphics, pictures, client testimonials and recommendations
  • Pictures and Video collections – like product highlights, and page access directly to YouTube
  • Link to additional pages, website, blog, catalog...the world
  • Blogs and articles from you, other thought leaders, and your community highlighted (list automatically updated)
  • Small group video conference ability
  • Simple, easy set-up and updating – can do it yourself
  • Cost – free to the individual.
Anything more? Yes - Your Business Personality page can track who's viewing your pages and give you statistics using Google Analytics, so you can tinker and make the pages better. You can even see a graphic of where your posts are being resent – videos and topics go viral on the internet all the time – now you can see how your material is being distributed by others in Ripples.

With a company website, personal blog, my profile, and other on-line material, will I benefit from Google + Business pages - take a look and decide... Click here to see the Muppets Google + Business page

What's it take to set up a Business Personality page? If you have a personal Google Plus site, it is minutes to stand up a Business Personality page – I had one up in under 10 minutes and a robust page after about 90 minutes.

Face-to-face meetings are the most effective in growing a relationship, but can be impossible in an virtual world – Google + Business pages offer you a virtual alternative. Ready to go? Start at:

How can this help you get more business?

SalesLabs next Rainmaker, (Number 9!) is Your Business Personality – How to Convey It Easily, Simply, and Free! - the first 300 seconds of the Capital Technology Management Hub, at 6 pm, Tuesday, December 13th.

Friday, November 11, 2011

And The Winner Is...You!

We participated this week with seven other entrepreneurs in the 2011 CapitalManagement Technology Hub and George Mason's School of Management Technology Startup Challenge to introduce our cloud-based community and supporting tools: MyLeadershipPractice. What a top notch event and great learning experience! Plenty of innovative solutions to specific needs were presented.

2011 Capital Startup Challenge

The competition was an experiential lab for evaluating a new service or product. Here's what came from competing:
  • Makes us think about how to use the service in much greater detail
  • Preparing the presentation begins a dialog about the service:
    • defining features and benefits
    • sharpening descriptions of key elements and what's unique or superior
    • translating thoughts, ideas, concepts, and concepts into words
    • choosing statements which are the most precise and compelling in delivering the message
  • Questions from the judges show:
    • areas they feel are most important:
    • ones that need additional clarification
    • specifics comments about elements that may need further development (new thoughts or just a different priority?)
  • Feedback from the audience indicates the reception of the presentation or topic:
    • non-verbal – are they listening or tuning out
    • verbal – if interactive, did they respond; did they raise questions during or after the presentation
  • You can observe other entrepreneurs:
    • what they identified as a need and how they developed a solution
    • how they communicate about their service or product, deliver presentations, and persuade the judges
  • Pre- and post-competition publicity gives your new service visibility
  • You now have a significant group of people who know about your new service and by competing, they know you are legitimate, not just a dreamer.

In addition to gleaning this priceless information, you have now practiced selling the service in front of 100 people. How easy will it be to present 1-on-1 or to a smaller group now?

With this rich input to work with, you can quickly refine the service, better highlight the benefits of the service, and refine the message you present to the customer – as needed.

I found that presenting at this entrepreneur competition got the juices flowing and raised the level of passion for creating a successful service, valued by the customer.

Why wouldn't someone just jump at an opportunity to compete in an event like this? Only upside gain.

Have you been in a service or product competition? How did it helps your project?

Looking to improve your blog? Our next presentation is BlogLab - Improve Your Blogs! Thursday December 8, 8:30 am - 1 pm. Learn more at

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Project Management by Henry Ford

Imagine the situation as Henry Ford was planning production of the Model T : over 5,000 parts; multiple manufacturing vendors; skilled to semi-skilled production processes; and growing demand.

He addressed part of the production process by determining an optimal assembly sequence and moving the vehicle along to workstations which have the required parts, tools, and trained workers to do the next step in the process.

Contrast Ford's approach to the projects today: many parts or inputs; multiple vendors or suppliers; wide range of skills needed to deliver results – all still apply; and - a twist that Ford did not have to consider – multiple collaborating organizations, locations, time zones, and perhaps languages. The assembly line won't work here. As technology, communications, software, and economic conditions changed, managing projects has evolved in complexity and offered tools.

What has remained virtually unchanged is the need for rapid updates about significant elements of the project – about progress on the schedule, needed or excess resources, identified conflicts or barriers, and project against budget analysis. The changing reality is there are less resources available to process this information and less time available for operations resources to report it.

In this New Normal tools are being developed and refined to respond to the changes: meetings are being replaced by asynchronous communications; reports are changing to email, text message updates and video documentation; needed information is being targeted only to those who need it or want it instead of blanketing everyone (did you hear the one about a new president of the board who decreed all emails will be sent to all board members; killed all communication).

Are we getting better than Henry Ford?

What do you see?

Are you taking full advantage of your blog? Come to BlogLab - Improve Your Blogs! Thursday December 8, 8:30 am - 1 pm. Learn more at

Thursday, November 3, 2011

There's Talk, and There's Communication

Peter Drucker said '60% of all management problems are the result of poor communication.'

Why is this true?

Communications break down when losing focus on three areas:
  • clarity of what's expected
  • accuracy of what's completed, and
  • timeliness of what's needed.

Clarity of What's Expected – Projects which do not have clear goals, vision, and mission set out in specific and measurable terms cause confusion and fall short of desired results. Keeping the goals in front of team members helps to focus on outcomes.

Accuracy of What's Completed – Detailed, appropriate input from team members about what is completed and the status of in-progress activities is necessary to manage project completion – appropriate data verses extensive data is the key here.

Timeliness of What's Needed – Timely reporting of appropriate data permits effective allocation of resources and contingency planning, when necessary, to make use of idle resources or target resources to correct delays..

How would you approach improving these three related areas?

Weekly status meetings for the team was popular when everyone was in the same facility. As the team expanded beyond the immediate area video, audio, and computer-aided technology added, but did not appreciably change the result. A weekly one-hour meeting of eight people 'invests' one person day (8 hours) per week during which 88% of the time is waiting to present your information. Getting the data without the meeting seems may be an alternative.

Weekly reports don't require simultaneous attendance, but do need preparation and production time to compile the information in the prescribed format and distribute it to the project leader. Week old information, no matter how quickly distributed is still old information when received.

As project teams evolved to teams from several organizations, locations around the world, and perhaps different languages, communications have become more complex and critical to successfully completing a project. Project software is intended to communicate data to the project leaders and staff in an organization. Does this solve the needs?

An example - for a membership project, I received a report from a software system which was a ½ inch thick sheaf of paper with tasks, priorities, and benchmarks – and a person with a full time role of keeping it up to date and complete. Although detailed, it did little for clarity, accuracy, and timeliness needed to improve project success.

How do we get the needed information, to the right people, in real time, wherever they are located, in a simple, straightforward fashion, and also have a means of sharing with others what the team members have learned working toward the results?

What's needed in your organization to simplifying prompt, accurate complete communications to make projects get more successful results?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Learn By Doing

When talking about leadership, Dick Davies said “leadership can not be taught – it can only be learned.” It caught me by surprise at the time, but has stayed with me as a fundamental in developing leaders. Learn by doing.

In my youth, I wanted to learn to play tennis and read several books about the basics, strategy, and techniques offered by the luminaries of the sport. When I got to the court I found that my tennis education was just beginning – you can not learn tennis from a must 'DO' tennis on the court to learn to play.

This applies to leadership as well – books and stories help us understand aspects of leadership in a non-dynamic way. This is useful data – but is not usable information if we are not in a situation to apply it...let's call that the real world.

Leadership is learned by doing. The first step is to start with your own personal skills. Presidents Washington and Lincoln did not have a Dummies Guide to learn to be leaders – they taught themselves by developing their personal activities to
support accomplishment and results.

First lesson is – make commitments and keep them. This means you must remember what you have committed to and plan for the delivery as promised. “If it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist.”

Good beginning. How to you approach this task? Write on 3x5 cards each day what is UP – Pending – In Process. Or use your computer, smartphone, or sticky notes to record this information. Are you consistent in writing things down and have a system to assure delivering as promised?

Hopefully it's obvious that you would use your system for your professional commitments – but do you also include your social, family, community, and other commitments on the daily 3x5 system? Keeping commitments for a leader is not just for the day-time job.

When I learn something I like to tell someone what I've learned. Why? By articulating what I've discovered and the resulting benefits, I find it deepen the lesson – something about putting it into words and declaring it to another that makes it real and memorable. In addition, hearing it as a story is useful to the other person – they are exposed to the new-found information as well as the process used to obtain it. Sharing this experience is a gift.

Story goes, there were two woodsmen in the forest chopping down trees – a big strapping new woodsman and an older, seasoned woodsman. They started cutting first light and the young guy was chopping away with great vigor hour after hour, while the older guy would stop every half hour for a few minutes. As the day wore on the older woodsman's pile was getting higher than the young woodsman's – which drove the younger guy to chop faster and swing harder.

At the end of the day, the older woodsman had a huge pile of wood - the younger guy had a significantly smaller pile and was exhausted. Out of breath he said to the older guy – I've been working constantly all day, while you were always taking breaks, but in the end you chopped more wood than I did – HOW? The older woodsman said I sharpen my ax every so often – it cuts better that way.

Learn by doing. Communicate what you've learned to others on the team to help them know more and improve.

Sound like leading?

Do you have a story to share to help us learn more?

More about learning and leading and a tool for doing, communicating, learning:
The Capital Technology Management Hub StartupChallenge is Tuesday, November 8, 6pm at GMU. At this event, audience rules! We need audience, startups, interested parties. Come investigate Sales Lab’s new business! See the future up close and personal.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Customer Service – Is It An Attitude?

I recently took a road trip to the tip of Florida and stopped at several restaurants and stores along the way. It struck me how differently these retail organizations approached customer service.

At Cracker Barrel, there was always one of the staff in proximity to the front door who welcomed the visitors warmly; the hostess inquired about our trip and introduced the server; the server offered suggestions about the menu, was prompt and attentive to our needs, including delivering the check immediately when we were finished the meal; in parting the cashier addressed us by name wishing us a good trip.

At Publix Food Store there is a staffer just in front of the checkout stations who asks if we found everything during our visit, and walked us to the location of the item we could not find, thanked us for shopping with them, and guided us back to the fasted line for checkout; the clerk was equally as friendly and efficient while scanning the order.

At a roadside stripmall, when we entered a variety store, the cashier hollered “HI - HOW ARE YA!” from her fortress in the center of the store and then promptly ignored us for the remainder of the visit, including talking on her cell phone while ringing up the order - slowly.

In each instance, the staff was following an established customer service procedure of how to welcome and assist customers. In the first two examples, it yielded a positive reaction, in the last one a negative feeling.

The key ingredient in each is the attitude of the staff member – warm and welcoming, helpful and engaged, or loud and detached.

Good customer service is a sales tool, but is effectively delivered when sincere, with the intention of addressing the customer's immediate needs – like realizing wasted time is stressful for travelers. Good customer service in integrated into the business process, not hung on at the end for complaints – like offering a warm and sincere welcome. Good customer service is asking if the customer wants help - like the 'personal guide' into the labyrinth of grocery isles. From my experience, it is successful when the staff actively participates, embraces its goals, and has the right attitude.

Would I go back to Cracker Barrel and Publix? Absolutely! Did their customer service accomplish the goal – it won my future patronage.

Sales is a conversation which ends in a Yes. Customer service is sales. Good customer service is embodied in staff attitude. Attitude is non-verbal communication. This makes a complete circle – each element supporting the others!

What's your experience with customer service making a positive difference?

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Are Businesses Run By Idealists or Crooks?

Neither, with a few exceptions.

Businesses are run to meet buyers' needs and to make a profit. How they behave is subject to the urgency of the buyer's need and the value the buyer places on satisfying that need.

To illustrate, let's look at two ice water stands set up by some neighborhood kids.

Scene1: The local marathon finish line is in the neighborhood and the two ice water stands are set up by the finish line. Stand One is at the finish line – ice water is 25¢ per glass, and Stand Two is 20 yards past the line – ice water is15¢ per glass.

Which stand gets the runners business? Stand One get the business because the buyers urgency is to satisfy the thirst not shop for a 40% discount.

Scene 2: The popular local park attracts a lot of visitors and the main park trail ends in the neighborhood. Stand One is at Trail's End – still charging 25¢, and Stand Two is 20 yards further – charging 15¢.

Which stand gets the park visitors business? The urgency of satisfying the thirst is significantly less for the visitors than the marathoners, consequently, the value of a glass of ice water is lower and a majority of visitors will seek out the lower priced water of Stand Two.

Scene 3: The local road cuts through the neighborhood with few cars per hour. Stand One is located at the speed bump and Stand Two is 20 years further up the street – no change in the pricing by either stand.

Which stand gets the drivers business? Probably neither since there is no urgency of need and many other alternatives the driver can seek beyond the two local stands.

Is Ice Water Stand One being mercenary for charging a high premium because of its prime location in Scene 1?

Is Ice Water Stand Two being predatory for discounting prices significantly in Scene 2?

Probably not – the stands are responding with their approach to meeting the buyers' need-value proposition and to market competition.

While Stand Two may have set prices based on a “fair profit” as an idealist, the more likely reason is the discount is an attempt to influence the buyers' need-value mix to attract sales. Similarly, the premium charged by Stand One is recognition of the urgency of the buyer to satisfy the need while recognizing the buyer has a competitive choice is value takes precedent over urgency.

Do these principals scale to other businesses? Yes, and they become more complicated as new variables are added which affect cost, output, and regulatory or social restrictions.

Buyers won't buy unless they believe the need will be addressed by the seller's solution and the price is compatible with the perceived value.

Is this why organizations with money in the coffers but few customer sales are not interested in buying services to improve operations or upgrade technology – and won't invest in improving the sales process?

What are you seeing?

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