Archive | Harvard Business Review RSS feed for this section

Dreaming and Doing

5 Jan

Maybe Mikey has it right….

There was an interesting blog over at HBR this week; Instead of Making Resolutions, Dream.  It puts forth the idea that, perhaps rather than working on “what’s wrong” and making New Years resolutions to exercise, lose weight, perhaps you should look at what your objective is?  What is your dream?

Why?

“While resolutions are about “shoulds,” dreaming is about hope — and who we may become.Dreaming is at the heart of disruption — it is only when we dream that we can hope to create something truly new, something that will overtake old habits, old customs, and old ways of thinking and being. And we all know by now that a disruptive path leads to a greater measure of success.”

Which brings me back to Mike.  Mike is my 23 year-old son.  He has a dream.  He just graduated college with degrees in Computer Science and Music Performance, and, like many in his generation, a load of college loan debt.  He would love to try his hand a the music profession, but has enough sense (from his Mom, I think) to know that paying off his loans comes first.  Luckily he also really enjoys computer science and has an excellent job at a local software company.

This past fall, he came home with a new tattoo on his right arm…  we had a tongue-in-cheek text session on the subject:

Mike: “I told you once before [about the tatoo].  You may have thought I wasn’t serious though – haha”

Me: “Insert lecture on best use of your money here”

Mike: “Insert my personal beliefs/artistry here”

When I read the blog “Instead of Making Resolutions, Dream“, I immediately thought of Mike.  He wanted that reminder, telling him several times a day what he wants to be.

As I head to the gym in the morning and fight the crowds that will be non-existent a month from now, as I go back to counting points via the iPhone Weightwatchers app, I realize that Mike was right.  It’s not about resolving to make improvements yet again … It’s about striving toward that goal, that objective.

The tattoo reads “DREAM ON”

– RTR

We Are All Permanent Beta… or we SHOULD be

5 Oct

Back in May, we hired a new Client Support Specialist.  He is a very bright individual, but new to our technology and our line of business.  Now, four months later, he and I were having a discussion about a few customer issues, and I was struck by how, well, comfortable, he looked.

I commented on this, and he told me that while he is more comfortable, he considers himself “Permanent Beta”.  I had never heard that term before (a phrase I believe coined by Reid Hoffman earlier this year).  I love the term, much more high tech than ‘work in progress’

I did a bit of googling and found numerous references to ‘Permanent Beta’.  Ironically, this term has both positive and negative connotations.  The positives being continuous improvement, self improvement, etc.  The negatives were in articles about products that are never finished (example: Google Apps End Their State of Permanent Beta).

Frankly, I like the idea!  Is ‘never finished’ a bad thing?

When I joined the iPhone set, I thought it was really cool that Apps are updated continuously, with no requirement for me to go somewhere to get the update.

I am happy to see technology that brings me along.  I don’t have time to look for version 5.1.3.2.55 or whatever.

So, who would complain about ‘Permanent Beta’?

– People and organizations that are rigid.

– People and organizations using products or technology that require ‘big-bang’ implementations.

– People and organizations that want things ‘the way they used to be’

Not me, I’m loving this idea.

I just joined the local rec center, I’m there every morning, huffing and puffing on the treadmill, lifting embarrassingly small amounts of weight on the machines.  No matter.  I feel better, I have more energy.  I’m permanent beta.

Let’s talk eProcurement.  A year ago I didn’t know what it was.  today I’m creating punch-out supplier connections, loading local catalogs.  I’m permanent beta.

Y’all better get on this band wagon.  The Permanent Beta train is leaving the station and it NEVER STOPS.

The alternative?  You get left behind.

– RTR

 

The Customer Is What?

15 Aug

Just don’t have ANY TIME for blogging lately.  Too busy, too busy, TOO BUSY!!

So, by way of apology, this blog is commenting on a two-week old blog from Harvard Business Review, with the grabber title “If the Customer is Always Right, You’re in Trouble”.  Being in the Client Support Biz, I had to check it out, because, well, my customers ARE always right, aren’t they?

Turns out, the blog is not about customer service at all, it is about “the death of Solution Selling”.  Well, having spent the better part of 20 years selling (if you can call that better) I not only have had Solution Selling training, but also smatterings of Gitomer, Sandler, and, of course, both learning and teaching Dale Carnegie Sales Advantage.  NOW you’ve got my attention, HBR!

So what is this “death of Solution Selling” all about?  This blog describes, in gory detail, how the tenets of Solution Selling just don’t apply anymore:

“Across the last five years, however, we’ve observed both in our data and our conversations with sales leaders around the world a dramatic drop in the efficacy of this [solution selling] approach. In a survey of several thousand B2B customers conducted by our company, CEB, we found that B2B customers were nearly 60% of the way through a typical purchase before they reached out to a sales rep for input. More often than not, the hard reality is that customers have begun the buying long before suppliers have begun the selling. So by the time a supplier is called in, there’s no need to discover needs at all. By and large, customers (believe they) have figured everything out…

… For most companies, the biggest competitor today isn’t the competition, it’s customers’ ability to learn on their own.”

So, what is the answer?

According to HBR, there are two questions that most suppliers overlook:

“First, where do your customers learn? Is it on the Internet? In online communities? From third parties (and if so, where do those third parties themselves learn)?

Second, do you teach customers something new and important about their business that they cannot learn on their own? Because if your biggest competitor is the customer’s ability to learn, then that’s what you’ll need to do to win.”

So there you have it.  It’s not good enough to ask the right questions and get to the ‘C’ suite.  If you are not a Subject Matter Expert that can, in fact, become a Trusted Advisor and “teach your customer something new and important”, you may as well  just sharpen your pencil, because in the sea of look-alikes, it always comes down to price.

– RTR

Commenting on “The Art of Letting Go”, Kenny Rogers and Don Draper

7 Jun

My new favorite blogger, Tony Schwartz, has done it again.  His blog “The Art of Letting Go” is a great piece for that sale, that venture, that relationship that you just can’t give up on.  It reminds me of that classic greeting card a friend once sent me:

They said it couldn’t be done….  How did they know?

Tony talks about how tough it is to go against the grain, how we are predisposed to fight the good fight, persevere against all odds.  The fact that this perseverance does exact an emotional toll.

I recall many instances in my sales career where the handwriting was Sharpied indelibly on the wall.  Without question the deal was dead, but we spent additional time, energy and effort to change the mind of someone who’s mind was already made up.  This is a chronic entrperneurial disease.  It is hard to walk away when you are small, trying to rapidly make the Big Time.

Tony ends the piece with a simple set of four questions:

1. Do I have a feeling in my gut that this dog just won’t hunt?
2. How important will this seem to me in six months?
3. How important will this seem to me in two years?
4. Is there a more enjoyable and productive way I could be investing my time and energy right now?

If the answer to 1 and 4 are “yes,” or the answers to 2 and 3 are “not much,” it’s time to let go.

Which brings to mind the timeless wisdom of Kenny Rogers….

“You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run”

OK, that was way too obvious.

I have a better quote…  Here’s where the connection was made and the fuse blew, and I started writing…

The phrase that came like a bolt out of the blue  into my consciousness came from Sunday’s episode of “Mad Men”, when Don Draper (Jon Hamm)  asked Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) to resign after he was caught embezzling.  I so wanted to get this right, I actually paid and downloaded the episode from iTunes to transcribe it accurately.  Lane sobbed “What do I tell my wife?  What do I tell my son?”…

Don Draper’s words are all the more riveting, considering how the episode played out:

“Tell them that it didn’t work out, because it didn’t

Tell them the next thing will be better, because it always is …

I’ve started over a lot, Lane.  This is the worst part.”

– RTR

The Magnificent Seven

1 Jun

Another great blog from HBR. The blog, “Seven “Non-Negotiables” to Prevent a Bad Hire”, is required reading!  What are the seven?

Respect, Belief, Loyalty, Commitment, Trust, Courage and Gratitude

I have been in industry since the stone age, and have worked for dozens of managers and with hundreds of co-workers.  Many of these people were technologically brilliant, hard working, intense individuals.  However, the ones I remember, the ones I would go to battle with, can be singled out based on the magnificent seven above.

This is especially true in the last few decades, where I have spent my time in small (<50) person organizations.  To elaborate:

Respect – The fastest way to lose a ‘subordinate’ is to treat them like a subordinate.  I don’t know why this happens, I suspect insecurity in the management ranks….

Belief – Nothing will deflate a team faster than a non-believer.  Naysayers drag everyone down.  I have had extremely talented people in an organization that were POISON.  There has never been a situation where one of them has left and things got worse.  They have always improved!

Loyalty – Loyalty to the organization AND loyalty to the individual.  I have worked in companies where organization trumps individual.  This is the ultimate demotivator.  Management sometimes forgets that the organization IS a collection of individuals.

Commitment – Commitment isn’t “I’ll try”, or “I’ll give it my best shot”.  Commitment is “I’ll get it done”.  One of my coworkers here is fond of saying.  “It’s a problem, let’s fix it”

Trust – I had a job once where, when my wife met one of the executives, she said “He wouldn’t look me in the eye, I don’t trust him”.  She was right.  Unfortunately, I didn’t catch on for quite some time.  If a team member is not trusted, respect belief, loyalty, commitment won’t be possible.

Courage – I remember a poster that said something like “If you can keep your head at times like these, perhaps you don’t understand the situation”.  From the outside, this is not always recognized as courage, but that’s what it is.  I’ve had coworkers in the past say, “The boss just doesn’t get it”.  The truth of the matter typically is, the boss DOES get it,  but the boss has to have the courage to push it aside.

Gratitude – I’m not stupid.  I know the difference between gratitude and pandering.  We ALL do.

Great blog HBR!

– RTR

Chief Energy Officer…Commenting on Tony Schwartz

18 Apr

Has anyone in leadership ever said to you, “Oh, it’s nothing to worry about” and your instant response was to worry about it?  Welcome to the club!   That’s why Tony Schwartz‘ latest blog over at the Harvard Business Review caught my eye: “Embracing What’s Wrong to Get to What’s Right”.  In it, Tony talks of how fast growing, entrepreneurial organizations are rife with stress and overload.

I’ve seen it as well, and I applaud Tony’s approach.  One of my early stumbles here was directly related to me not taking this approach.  Tony’s five key points

1. Because human beings have a strong “negativity bias,” we pay more attention to our bad feelings than to our good ones.

I am as Pollyanna as they come.  I’ve always been puzzled by the folks that would say “If you can keep your head at times like these, perhaps you don’t understand the situation”.   Some have accused me of not caring, taking things too lightly, joking at inappropriate times.  I’m sure it’s a defense mechanism on my part.   When it comes to problems, my initial reaction may be negative, but I push past it quickly, leaving puzzled friends, family and coworkers in my wake.

I’ve always considered it an asset, not letting things get to me, keeping a positive attitude.  I’ve begun to realize that this only helps me, it doesn’t necessarily help anyone I interact with…  especially when whatever it was that was bothering me does come back to the surface (where did THAT come from?)

2. Negative emotions do feed on themselves, but the solution — especially for a leader — is not to squelch or downplay them.

Here is the key skill.  This is something that they don’t teach you in MBA school (and certainly not in engineering school).  If you can shine a big spotlight on the negative emotions they will eventually wither and die.  Try to bury them?  Not a good idea, they just continue to grow and get stronger, manifest themselves in different ways.

3. Since we all feel negative emotions at times, especially under high demand, it’s important to provide forums at work in which they can be shared openly and without fear.

The key words here? openly and without fear.   If there is any fear of  ‘retribution’ the openly part ain’t ever gonna happen.  The thing that I struggle with is, how long can I bite my tongue when the bitch session goes on endlessly.  The example that Tony used in his blog is so elegant, and it worked so well.  It reminds me of watching the Food Network, or DIY.  Boy that souffle (or cabinet) looks so easy to make.  How come when I do it, it tastes/looks like crap?

4. Because emotions are so contagious, all leaders are effectively Chief Energy Officers.

When I think of the best leaders I’ve met, this is the key element.  I recall meeting George Bush (the first one) when he was VP.  There was an aura, an energy that the TV cameras missed.   He was always portrayed as a somewhat weak character (think of the Dana Carvey impressions).   His presence/energy t took me by surprise (at that time in my life, I was not what you’d call a Reaganite).  There was a quality there that was unmistakable.  The same can be said for many other leaders that I have had the pleasure of interacting with.   It’s something I admire, I have a LONG way to go…

5. The highest skill — whatever your role — is the willingness to embrace opposite feelings without choosing up sides. 

I do like the word choice here.  There is a technique that is taught in the Dale Carnegie Sales Advantage training class for ‘smoking out objections’.  While the end goal is to work through sales objections, at the basic level the idea is to allow people the space, and the grace, to voice their objections.  You are taught to listen, to question, to dive deep into the detail of the situation without agreeing or disagreeing.   If you can master this, I believe the rest is easy,  we all just want to be heard.

The final step is to allow the team to turn the emotion positive.

I’ve really enjoyed the new set of advertisements that GE has put out, where their employees go plane-side/track-side to see their jet engines/locomotives in action.  People cheer, there’s an occasional tear wiped away.

Back in the dark ages, as a fresh-out-of-school engineer, I witnessed this first hand.  My employer, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, was celebrating their 50th anniversary.  The flew in an example of nearly every type of aircraft equipped with PWA engines for a weekend celebration.  Not much work was done the week before and the day after, as we all stood at the edge of the airfield and watch vintage and not-so vintage aircraft arrive and leave.

On the Monday after the show, a group of us stood in awe as an F16 pilot kicked in the afterburner of his F100 equipped fighter jet directly in front of us.  The sound was deafening.  He stood that jet up on its tail like a rocket ship a flew straight up into the stratosphere until he was completely out of sight.   It was a sight none of us would ever forget.  There WERE lumps in the throat.  There WERE tears of pride.  Office morale was unbelievable for the next few weeks.

THIS IS NOT PHONY.  People crave an emotional connection to their career.  If you can’t take time, put the emotion aside, and honestly say, “what I do here really matters”, then perhaps you are in the wrong place.

– RTR

It’s What You Do NEXT That Counts …

6 Apr

Bill Lee over at the Harvard Business Review blog presented another angle on the value of customer referrals.  It got me thinking…

The blog is entitled “The Things Customers Can Do Better Than You”.  The title threw me off a bit, but the real meaning behind the blog is that there is no substitute for customer referrals.  This is an opportunity and a challenge to businesses, B2B and B2C.

Bill’s points:

  • Customers know more about each other than you know about them. 
  • Customers are more credible than you are.
  • Customers are more persuasive than you are.
  • Customers often understand buyer needs better than you do.
  • Prospects in your market would rather affiliate with their peers (your customers) than with you.

These are all good points as far as why referral business is important.  However, from the supplier side,  there is a bigger issue at play here…

In the B2C world, I don’t need to even leave my own home to see the effect of existing customers on prospective new customers.  When my wife buys something online, the FIRST thing she does is look at customer comments.  I used to wonder why, but now I always do the same.

I’m in the market for a VCR/DVD recorder to take some old family movies and preserve them.  In the past, I would look for a name brand I recognized and a decent price.  Not any more!  I checked out reviews of several models from reputable electronics companies, and found numerous complaints about product quality.  I am reconsidering buying any VCR/DVD combo.

We belong to Angie’s List.  Through that service, we have been introduced to excellent local painters, landscapers, etc.  Word of mouth has now been automated!

This creates an enormous challenge for suppliers.  I’m not saying you can’t make a mistake, everyone does.  The issue is that each mistake is now in the spotlight.  It’s what you do NEXT that counts.  The key to success is HOW YOU REACT.  What do you do to make it right, and how quickly do you do it?

There is a local tire store in Milford, OH that I use religiously.  Do they have the best price?  They’re competitive, I wouldn’t say best.  Do they advertise heavily? Not like some of their competitors.  So why do I go there?

They screwed up.  About 5-6 years ago, I had a problem with their service and it was clear that they were at least partly to blame.  They had been a little ‘over-zealous’ in tightening the lug nuts on my wheels, so much so, that neither I, nor my two teenaged sons, nor the guy from AAA could remove one of the lug nuts when I had a flat (luckily, at home).

What did they do next?

They stepped up, fixed the problem (which was a costly fix, involving many hours of labor and a new alloy wheel by the time they were done) and they did not charge me a cent.  I had no proof that they over-tightened the lugs.  It had been months since I purchased the tires.  No matter, it was a problem with a product/service I purchased from them and they made it right with no questions asked.

They earned my loyalty.  Since that incident, I have been back to them on several occasions, probably have spent $3,000 – $5,000.  When anyone asks me for a recommendation for a tire store, I happily re-tell this story.

The funny thing is, the shoe (tire?) is on the other foot now.  In my new position, I AM the customer service guy…   In the software  business, an industry not known for being great at customer service.

It’s my organization that is in the spotlight.   Here’s the thing;  I know that we will not be perfect, I know that we will make the occasional mistake…

… but in those cases, it’s what we do NEXT that counts!  That’s where we excel.

– RTR