Archive for June, 2011

Until You’re Perfect, It’s Not Redundant!

Monday, June 27th, 2011

While managing salespeople I would occasionally hear a complaint from team members that sounded like this:

We’re going to train on the steps to the sale again? This is getting redundant!

While helping to run a six-dealership automotive group, I would sometimes hear a complaint from members of the management team that expressed the following:

Our training this month is on how to hire and interview…again? This is getting redundant.

As a speaker and trainer who produces monthly training dvds, and gives one thousand training sessions for clients each decade, I have from time to time heard this complaint from a customer:

What have you got that’s new? Topics like holding people accountable, casting vision for your organization, developing your leadership skills, setting the right expectations, learning how to interview and the like is getting a bit redundant.

To fully understand how inane these laments are, try to imagine the following conversations ever taking place: 

Tiger Woods to his coach: I have to hit ten buckets of balls again today? This is getting redundant!

Tom Brady to Coach Bill Belichick: We have to practice the same six pass routes gain today? This is getting redundant!

 Cy Young Award winner, Roy Halladay, whining to his manager, I have to practice the same five pitches again today? This is getting redundant!

Every serious professional in any endeavor knows, embraces, and applies this important performance rule: Until you’re perfect, it’s not redundant!

The reason I continue to speak, write and expand upon leadership themes like character, discipline, hiring, accountability and vision, is because so many of the leaders I know still fail miserably in these endeavors and their organizations suffer substantial consequences. And this is exactly why you must relentlessly hammer certain non-negotiable training topics throughout your organization. After all, it’s not the brilliance of your plan, but the consistency of right actions that creates performance breakthroughs. Here are some thoughts to help you inculcate this mindset into your culture.

1. The “It’s gotten redundant” excuse is normally whined out by lazy, arrogant, overrated employees who overestimate their ability while you underestimate what they’re costing you with their “been there, done that, I have arrived,” mentality. Tell them that once they’re perfect, they can stop practicing, but until that day they’re going to keep working at the essential disciplines you deem as non-negotiable. You’re not offering them “multiple choices,” but a condition of employment.

 2. No one on your team has to do anything extraordinary to reach the next performance level, but they will need to do the ordinary things extraordinarily well, and that comes only through practice and repetition.

 3. Lack of knowledge is not what is holding you or your team members back from better results. For the most part you know full well what to do but you’re still not doing it! Until you discipline yourself to close the gap between knowing and doing you’ll fail to reach your fullest potential.

4. Consistency of execution is what separates the good from the great. Anyone can be brilliant in the basics occasionally. That’s not special or worthy of acclaim. To be the best you must consistently do more of what you know to do and do so even when you don’t feel like it; on the bad days, when it’s not easy, cheap, popular or convenient. 

5. If you are the leader, and you accept the “this is getting redundant” excuses from your sniveling team members, then you are the problem. Sadly, you’ve attracted whiners and wannabes in your own image, and your attempts to correct their errors will be considered as hypocritical and ineffective. You’ll need to step up and pay the price personally before you can raise the bar for your team.

6. The level of your practice determines your level of play. If your performance isn’t what is should be, it indicts and convicts your practice ethic.

7. Stop letting “good enough” get in the way of becoming great. Some of your team members have reached a level that they—and you—consider as “good enough.” This plateau has removed any pressure, urgency or incentive from continuing to stretch, learn, and train in order to become great.

Here are three of my favorite quotes on preparation and paying the price for success. You may find it useful to post them in your conference room and point to them when the perennial pretenders on your team complain about your efforts to improve them:

Successful people have made the habit of doing things that failures don’t like to do. Successful people don’t like to do these things either. But they subordinate their dislike to the strength of their purpose.  The strength of their purpose propels the successful to their dreams, forcing them to do the things they don’t really want to do so they can obtain the things they deeply want to achieve. E. M. Gray

You can put together a fight plan or a life plan, but when the action starts, you’re down to your reflexes. That’s when your practice shows. And if you cheated on your practice in the dark of the morning, you’ll be found out under the bright light of the competition. Joe Frazier

A champion doesn’t become a champion in the ring; he is merely recognized in the ring. The “becoming” happens during his daily routine. Joe Louis

The Truth about Potential!

Monday, June 13th, 2011

A top reason an under-performer is kept on a payroll despite failing to realize results is because his or her manager touts the person’s “high potential.” This is notwithstanding the fact that the employee has accomplished little or nothing of significance in their job up to that point.

While it is important to have employees with high potential, continually touting someone’s potential is normally an indication that the person hasn’t actually done much yet. The dictionary’s definition of potential bears this out: a latent excellence or ability that may or may not be developed; possible, as opposed to actual. To fully appreciate the implications of this definition, it’s also helpful to grasp how latent is defined: potentially existing but not presently evident or realized.

Have you or your managers been hiding behind “potential” as a means to rationalize keeping someone who does not presently add value to your team? Consider the following four thoughts in this regard:

1. Potential is common. In fact, it can be confidently stated that everyone has potential at something.

2. Unfulfilled potential is nearly as common as potential itself. The world abounds with those who, on their deathbed, are haunted by personal confessions like, “I could have,” “I should have,” “if only I would have.” Calvin Coolidge nailed it when he said: “The most common commodity in this country is unrealized potential.”

3. Continually falling short of one’s potential may indicate serious flaws within an individual: lack of drive, passion, character, discipline, focus, work ethic, energy, or persistence. Someone who cannot develop or control these aspects of their lives will normally require enormous amounts of management time and energy as their leaders beg, threaten, and regularly pump up a laggard with “potential” in order to get them to do their jobs. To once again quote Coolidge: Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race. As author Liane Cordes observed, “Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.”

4. You are expected to work with someone according to their potential for a period of time, but eventually you must work with them in accordance with their performance. In other words, there comes a day when people with potential must stop belching out the baloney and bring home the bacon. How long should you work with someone according to their potential depends upon several factors. Common sense is more useful here than a cut and dry, pre-established cut-off date. Here are three guidelines:

A. Even if the person is not growing as fast as you’d like, do you see measurable progress in reasonable periods of time. and without “one step forward and two steps back” regressions? If so, continue investing in the employee.

B. What is holding them back: teachable or unteachable deficiencies? Both knowledge and skills related to job competence can be developed through training. But if they lack “inside” traits related to their character, drive or attitude, there is little you can do to influence these factors in a meaningful way. You should cut your losses and redirect your energies into finding and developing people who possess those vital critical success factors.

C. Has your management team done its job to create a culture conducive to developing the potential of others? An employee may have a bag filled with fertile seed, but the seed in their bag won’t produce a harvest unless there is fertile ground in which to sow. Creating this environment includes duties like setting clear expectations, ongoing training and coaching, and a value system that rewards results over tenure, experience, and best efforts. It is the responsibility of your leadership team to: select employees with the “right stuff” in the first place, and then draw out those assets in order to make up the difference between where someone is currently and where they have the potential to grow. In the absence of fulfilling these responsibilities, discarding someone for failing to perform is reckless and unfair.

The Nike slogan, “Just do it” never resonated with me, because it smacked of procrastination. “Just do it” indicates that you haven’t done anything yet. In order for each of us to move forward in our jobs and in life, we must move from “just do it’ to “just did it.” The same holds true for the underachieving high potentials that remain on your team. It’s on your watch that they continue to waste resources and opportunities, relegating you more of an enabler than a leader as you preside over their mediocrity and abet the diminishment of your enterprise.

Does Your Organization Sell Experiences?

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

I recently wrote a magazine article entitled, “You Can’t Build a Great Organization Around Satisfied Customers.” In that piece I explained how, by definition, a satisfied customer has merely had their expectations met. Period. He is not wowed or impressed. Because of this, satisfied customers are not loyal; they are indifferent and apathetic. According to data published by Service Management Group, who surveyed millions of customers across multiple industries, less than 50% of satisfied customers return to do business with you and fewer than 30% recommend your business to others. Thus if your goal is to simply “satisfy the customer,” you may win some battles but will lose the war.

On the other hand, customers who have been wowed or impressed during the purchase experience rose into the ranks classified as highly satisfied. These customers are loyal, they support you and want to see you become more successful. As compared to satisfied customers, twice as many in this group return to do business again, and three times the number refer others to you. This begs the question: how do you move a customer from being satisfied—having their expectation met—to becoming loyal, wowed and impressed? The answer is found largely in the experience you provide for the customer during and following the purchase. As companies like Ritz Carlton can attest, as well as consumers who fly upper class on Virgin Atlantic Airlines, people pay more for great experiences, and are very likely to return for more of the same.

Sadly, most organizations create uninspired, stressful and underwhelming buying experiences. They install processes, people and policies that facilitate transactions, but fail to favorably raise a customer’s eyebrows throughout any aspect of the encounter. In fact, many consumers have given up looking for great car buying experiences and settle instead for those they believe will be less bad.

What’s atrocious is that while 79% of surveyed customers rated their buying experience as average or below, 80% of the companies providing said experiences acclaimed the service they provided as superior! In other words, denial rules!

How about you? Does your business merely facilitate transactions or do you wow and impress customers throughout their relationship with you? Following are questions that will help you determine the real answer:

1. How often does the leadership of your organization speak in terms of creating a great customer experience? If you focus strictly on “getting the deal done,” and moving on to the next one, you are transaction focused. This enslaves you to high ad budgets designed to help you purchase new customers to replace those you are unable to retain. The only time that you’re likely to wow or impress a customer is when they drive past your enterprise and notice that you’re still in business.

2. Do you hire people who genuinely appreciate value and care about other people? These traits are normally rooted in an individual’s character. Disney is famously fussy about whom they allow on their team to care for their customers. Walt Disney was once asked why everyone working at Disneyland was so happy. His reply, “We don’t hire grumpy people.” If your staffing strategy is to hire whoever is cheap, available or easy, don’t be surprised when the experiences they create for customers elicit smirks, yawns or curses.

3. Do you hire people with competence, and train them to become even more so? While having employees with great attitudes is essential, attitude isn’t a substitute for competence. How tragic that so many organizations defend and retain loveable losers; those nice folks who haven’t a clue how to consistently perform their job with excellence, much less the skills or talent to do so. If you hire recklessly and then regard training as an expense versus an investment, it’s safe to say that your team is creating plenty of customer apathy towards your operation, and a steady stream of prospects for your competition.

4. Do you hire people with the character to keep commitments, tell the truth and the humility to joyfully serve both customers and teammates? If not, it’s quite likely that you don’t even have a team per se, but a band of mercenaries proficient at creating mundane and miserable experiences for co-workers and consumers alike.

5. Have you created a sales and service environment worthy of your product’s price tag? If your people dress like That 70’s Show, speak like street thugs, and your offices mimic thrift store horns of plenty? Your underwhelmed customers will buy solely on price since they see no value in paying more for a relationship with a company run more like a circus than a business.

6. Do you have customer-friendly processes that demonstrate a high regard for your customer’s time? It is impossible to create impressive experiences when you waste a customer’s time through process inefficiencies, employee incompetence or the failure to engage and occupy them during prolonged periods of waiting for the next step in your antiquated process.

7. Do you have thorough and personalized sales and service processes that help your business extend an initial sale into a long-term relationship? Is your personnel held accountable for using the CRM assets you provide for them? Have you installed internal flagging protocols to identify your best sales and service customers so that you can relate to them and reward their loyalty in a more meaningful way? Is your employee retention high enough to enable you to retain a substantial percentage of your customers? Frankly, if you’re not creating valuable long-term experiences for the customers you already have, why should your place of business be blessed with additional customers to abuse?

8. Do you consistently execute these points and others like them that contribute to the customer experience? Your goal must be to remove variation from the customer experience. This can only be accomplished when you hire right, and install strong processes and policies that align with your goal of wowing and impressing customers in order to move them from the uninspiring rank of “satisfied” to the loftier objective of highly satisfied.

Incidentally, the underlying key to creating a great customer experience is to first create a great employee experience, because only highly satisfied employees can earn highly satisfied customers.

My books, columns and articles in dozens of publications over the past 12 years have provided ample ammo to help you achieve this end. Thus, the question is not whether you know what to do in this regard, but whether or not you do it. And before you get smug and believe that because you rarely hear a customer complaint that you are God’s gift to your customer you should consider that statistically, only 6% of customers complain. Thus, silence doesn’t imply delight! Nor should you allow the CSI scores that you coach, cajole, or otherwise bribe customers to complete in your favor are a fair reflection of your ability to create great customer experiences.

The truest way to measure the quality of the experiences you create for customers is found in your ability to do three things:

1. Retain significant percentages of your customers and earn their referrals.

2. Have margins that testify to the fact that customers see significant value in the sales and service experience you create, and are willing to pay more to do it.

3. Your ability to consistently spend less on advertising than your competitors, since your wowed customers serve as your unpaid sales force.