Posts Tagged ‘Dave Anderson’

An Rx for the “Ashamed Generation”

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

An entire chapter in my book, Up Your Business, addressed the dangers of entitlement within organizations and offered remedies for weeding it out. In If You Don’t Make Waves You’ll Drown I presented ten strategies to combat the negative impact political correctness has on high performance business cultures. After watching trending cultural currents in recent months I am presenting additional strategies to explain how to survive and prosper despite the encroachment of a force as atrocious as either entitlement or political correctness: a potent mix of bitterness, envy, and resentment projected against financially prosperous entities by a swelling number of malcontents I’ll classify as the “ashamed generation.” Following are background observations that relay the evolution of this unsettling phenomenon. Afterward, I’ll present tactics to prevent its influence and values from infecting your culture.

  1. Finishing college and entering the workplace over the past years have been the first generation of kids brought up under the farcical “don’t keep score and everyone gets a trophy” philosophy. The intent behind “tell them they’re special, give them a participation trophy, and prohibit punishment for poor behavior because it might hurt their feelings” was designed to engender a higher level of self-esteem in young people. This failed approach has backfired by creating a generation largely marked by entitlement, selfishness, disrespect, and a false sense of their worth to the marketplace.
  2. Upon entering the workplace with an “I’ll be rewarded for showing up versus stepping up and life is obligated to make me happy” arrogance these folks are soon deflated by the realization that life isn’t easy, they aren’t special, and making it big will require work. The false self-worth built through two decades of political correctness quickly fades as they earn below-average wages, in ho-hum jobs, suffer for lack of discipline, weak character, and glean the first clues that despite all the smoke they’ve had blown up their collective backsides, they just might be losers.
  3. As they fail to live up to the hyped expectations created for them, they are shamed, demonstrating the principle that those not prepared for life will be shamed by life. Shame provokes one of two emotions in human beings: get your life together or blame others for your state. Many in this generation choose the latter.
  4. Human nature drives people to seek purpose in their lives and to make a difference in the world. When one begins to feel that making a difference by building something up is too difficult or out of reach, the alternative is to seek purpose and attention by tearing something down; in this case, the prosperous people and companies they’ve come to resent and envy. Sadly, the ashamed generation failed to learn in their PC classroom that throwing rocks at another man’s Bentley won’t get them out of their rusted out Yugo. Ironically, this group’s mindset has infected generations beyond their own, attracting adherents from past eras who struggled, gave up, have been going through the motions, and in defeat decide to latch onto the same blame bandwagon embraced by the ashamed generation.
  5. Thankfully, there are many from the ashamed generations’ era who were raised in a manner that made them understand and appreciate the value of earn and deserve, and discount the whole concept of monuments to mediocrity like the participation trophies, and the unearned praise and weekly allowances their counterparts relied on for affirmation. They learned discipline, respect, hard work, and personal responsibility. They are refreshing exceptions to the huddled mass of their counterparts crowing out their chorus of complaints and demands. Many of these fine young men and women make meaningful contributions to businesses, churches, volunteer organizations, and the armed forces.

To those caught up in the entitled, bitter, and envious mindset that pervades the ashamed generation, I suggest the following:

  1. No one is impressed with the spin your parents and teachers fed you about how special you are. Respect is earned through the consistent demonstration of character, competence, and results. All life owes you is what you’ve earned and deserve.
  2. If you are one of the moochers circulating petitions asking the government to eliminate your share of the one trillion dollars in outstanding student loans, forget about it. When you go to the party and leave with the goods, you pay the tab. 
  3. Gather your worthless participation ribbons, trophies, and other testaments to your mediocrity and toss them. Then borrow a dictionary and look up the words earn and deserve; memorize them and begin to live according to their standards. Here’s a head start: earn is defined as having acquired through merit, or in return for labor or service. Deserve is defined as being worthy of or qualified for.
  4. Shut up and pay up. Many of the hardworking people you’re assailing pay six and seven figures in income taxes annually, you pay squat—and you’re ticked off at them? Don’t cry “pay your fair share” when you pay little or no share at all.
  5. If you’re a Warren Buffet-type, ashamed generation sympathizer, and don’t believe you pay enough in taxes, simply write a check to the IRS to relieve your guilt and leave the rest of us alone.

To those endeavoring to thrive in their business despite the assault of the ashamed driven generation’s mindset and its potential to affect morale at all levels within your organization, consider the following.

  1. Make it extremely difficult to get hired. Dig into an applicant’s life and determine what they’ve done, overcome, and flush out their life philosophy on hard work, success, prosperity, earn and deserve. Don’t give questionable candidates the benefit of the doubt during the interview, and if doubts linger, keep looking.
  2. Don’t reduce your vision or standards to accommodate the comfort zones of others. Rather, stretch your people to reach your expectations and if they don’t measure up remove them.
  3. Require team members to qualify based on past performance for the right to participate in spiff programs, contests, and other perks they now take for granted. If they don’t average producing “X” over the past 90 days, they cannot participate in incentive programs whatsoever. This earn and deserve philosophy will help weed out entitlement and make those who do qualify for your generosity more appreciative.
  4. Require the team to qualify for perks they now take for granted, ranging from donuts on Fridays to lunches on Saturdays. In order to get their free lunch on Saturday, they must collectively produce at least “X” during the week. This simple change in your earn and deserve philosophy will begin to change attitudes toward benefits people now take for granted and evoke more humility and gratitude.
  5. Celebrate excellence in your organization by launching a top performers club where people qualify quarterly. Give the winners the best schedule, office, opportunities and more. When the whiners squawk about how unfair life is simply tell them, “When you do what they’ve done, you can get what they’ve got.”
  6. Install minimum performance standards that cause the laggards to fire themselves faster if they cannot attain them. Letting underachievers stay on a great team is the equivalent of giving them an adult participation trophy.
  7. Replace longevity bonuses with performance bonuses. This eliminates entitlement and sets the standard that tenure, experience, and credentials don’t substitute for results—and in your organization people are rewarded for stepping up, not simply for showing up.

The cultural currents and trends in society surrounding your enterprise will adversely influence and infect your culture unless you take deliberate steps to protect it. If you fail to shape your business culture according to personal values and standards, society’s values and trends will shape it for you—to your great disgust and peril.

The Lost Art of Taking Personal Responsibility

Monday, November 28th, 2011

 For decades, I’ve written extensively about discipline, accountability, focusing on what you can control, and taking personal responsibility rather than blaming. These are principles I have personally embraced and applied in my life to prevail through tough times.

 In the early 80’s I worked in my parents’ restaurant business that failed. It was in the midst of 20+% interest rates, 10% inflation, and unemployment as high as today. I held three jobs to make ends meet, selling products door-to-door for two companies, and in the evenings delivering tortillas to restaurants for 50 cents per case. It wasn’t the work that I wanted or was qualified for, but it was the work that was available, and I felt lucky to have it.

 While living with my wife and daughter in the ugliest trailer, in the least desirable part of town, I changed careers and began to sell cars. In seven years I advanced from salesperson at a dealership in Texas, to the number two man in a successful $300,000,000 dealership group in California. When I declined the pay cut offered me by new owners I was forced out. Despite this misfortune, I chose not to whine, sue, or pitch a tent and “occupy” the dealership in protest. Instead I founded LearnToLead which, by God’s grace, prospers to this day.

 As I pursued my aspiration to write, six dozen publishers rejected my ideas for Selling Above the Crowd and No-Nonsense Leadership. Consequently, I exerted the effort to self-publish, distribute, and publicize both books. Their success attracted into my corner Wiley, the world’s largest business publisher with whom I’ve now published ten books. My publishing experience reaffirmed my belief that if something is important to you, you’ll find a way. If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse.

 I don’t share this history to impress you, but to impress upon you that I’ve been broke, at the bottom, and the chief architect behind numerous failed ideas and ventures. But upon hitting the wall I chose to bounce, not splatter. Like many of you, when things got tough I didn’t opt to whine my way out, wish my way out, wait my way out, or demand someone bail me out. Rather, I took personal responsibility for my life and worked my way out.

 There exists today a dangerous trend that must be blunted—a burgeoning blame game and pity party spreading across continents that vilifies success, demonizes the financially successful, and endeavors to penalize prosperity. This assault has become a convenient and clever diversion for society’s malcontents to shift anger, frustration, and responsibility away from their personal failings, and thrust it upon those who have made productive life choices, or who have found ways to convert stumbling blocks into stepping stones and succeed. Here’s a glimpse at the forces that are fanning the flame:

 Millions are hurting financially in America. But for many, the pain is prolonged by their refusal to accept personal responsibility for poor decisions that have caused or augmented their struggles. Worse, politicians, unions, and the media encourage and enable their “I am helpless” mindset by assuring them that they are blameless in their mediocrity, and that the country’s most financially successful citizens and companies are the culprits. Protestors are “occupying” cities throughout the world, demanding substantial transfers of wealth to help turn their languid lives around.

The fact that things have reached this state should come as no surprise. Most people forty years and older would agree that the trend towards blaming more, entitlement, and undisciplined lifestyles has accelerated in recent decades. Not coincidentally, so has the national poverty rate. But, as convenient as it is to assail others or outside conditions for one’s lack of economic progress, nothing impacts the quality of one’s life more than his or her inside decisions. Those who don’t take responsibility for the consequences of their decisions, and instead blame others for misfortune, surrender control over their own destiny. This folly perpetuates their misery.

 While you’re not likely to read this in most headlines, many people suffer primarily because they’ve made poor life choices that created or compounded their financial hardship: the decision not to work hard or at all; not to self-educate oneself; not to live within one’s means, not to save money, as well as choosing to engage in habits like smoking, drinking, illegal drugs, gambling and a variety of other vices that deplete their limited resources and impair their soul. In reality, if society’s malcontents and protestors could kick the person most responsible for their woes they’d be unable to sit down for weeks. The sad result of this failure to take responsibility is an inability to progress from their current state, because they refuse to acknowledge their role in creating, or prolonging,  it in the first place.

 Following are five tenets that help you recommit to the lost art of taking personal responsibility. They are truths that place you on a path to rise above the masses that go through life assuming the position, thinking, talking, and walking like victims. Please share with those you know who are suffering from any of todays’ fashionable “it’s not my fault” fantasies. These include entitled family members and mediocre employees who went into retirement years ago but remain on your payroll, expecting to be rewarded for showing up versus stepping up.  

 1. Becoming precedes getting. Until you become more than you are in areas like attitude, discipline, character, work ethic, and knowledge, you are unlikely to get much more than you’ve got. When you do get more (usually because it is given to you) without becoming more, you rarely get to keep it for long and won’t have the skill to replace it once it’s gone.

2. Attitude is a choice. While you cannot usually choose what happens to you, you have the power to choose your response to it. The quality of your response will greatly determine the quality of your life. No one and nothing can assault your attitude without your consent.

 3. Discipline is a choice. No one is born disciplined or not. Discipline is developed when you get clear about what you want, decide to pay the price necessary to get it, and resolve to give up what hinders your quest. If you’re undisciplined it’s not genetic, it’s because you’ve chosen to go through life seeking prizes without paying prices.

 4. Growth is a choice. Personal growth isn’t automatic, and it doesn’t come naturally with age. Personal growth must be intentional. In other words, you must choose to read the books, to attend the seminars, to learn and assimilate success principles, to study the lives of life’s giants and decide how you can apply what made them successful in your own life. If you’re not growing, it’s because you have made the decision to not pursue growth.

 5. Character is a choice. Your character is determined by the moral qualities you’ve decided to embrace and live out in your life. If you lack strong character, you can’t blame mom and dad, the government, economy, or your teachers. Ultimately, you get to choose what’s important to you, and what’s not. Your character will develop—or not—in accordance with those convictions.

 Here’s what economic protestors and their critical kinsmen in life’s various arenas must understand: Needy people can’t expect to advance by demanding more of what someone else has earned. Rather, they must advance through education, perspiration & determination. I don’t know anyone who has risen from rags to riches by complaining,  protesting, or clamoring for the government to pick the pockets of those more successful than they and use the proceeds to subsidize their own inadequacy or complacency. While a humane society must support those who can’t help themselves, it owes absolutely nothing to those who won’t help themselves.

 A recent television program featured a contemporary study in personal absolution: a healthy, articulate, unemployed man who assailed “the system” because it had “failed him” and made it “impossible” to find work. In fact, he has quit looking for a job and now lives his life on the sideline cheer-leading the blame game. It is impossible to know how many of the unemployed persist in their parasitic assault on national resources not because they cannot find work, but because they don’t like the work they find. This particular man remains idle despite the fact that 150 million other Americans have found jobs including the physically and mentally challenged, blind, deaf, and mute. In fact, six million Americans work two jobs or more. It would benefit the temporarily unemployed to understand the difference between the system failing them, and making poor decisions that cause them to fail themselves. This particular gentleman has chosen to regress from loser to quitter: a loser being someone who comes up short and tries again, while a quitter simply gives up.  

President Theodore Roosevelt had encouraging words for those who roll up their sleeves to make things happen, rather than critique, complain, demand, or quit. It’s fitting to conclude this piece on personal responsibility with his famous acclaim for the man in the arena:

 It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

 Note: I recently filmed a four minute video on this topic: “Whining is no Substitute for Working!” Click here to view: http://budurl.com/l4tv .

dave@learntolead.com

Don’t Confuse the Scoreboard for the Game!

Monday, August 29th, 2011

Good leaders are students of the numbers. Great leaders are students of behaviors. This is because great leaders know that their own and their people’s behaviors will ultimately determine the numbers, and that by watching them, reinforcing them, and intervening when they’re off track, they can influence outcomes before they’re final. Because many managers spend more time managing “stuff” than leading people, they often confuse the scoreboard for the game. They ponder reports, crunch numbers and get dazed by data, never taking their eyes off the scoreboard as they anticipate what numbers the team is producing. On the other hand, the best and most astute leaders stay in the game. They invest more time in the trenches with their people than in their office with “administrivia,” positively impacting the numbers that show up on the scoreboard.

While spending adequate time with the numbers part of your job is important, you can’t afford to become a passive leader who awaits results versus doing all you can to personally impact them. Many managers who at one time led effectively now simply tweak, tinker, tamper, manage, massage, maintain, administer or preside. While these folks may still have a leadership title, they lead no one and impact nothing. They are ceremonial leaders at best, perfectly content to record history rather than to help make it.

If disappointing numbers catch a manager by surprise, it normally indicates they didn’t spend enough time evaluating, coaching, and redirecting the daily behaviors of their people that created those numbers. Because of their neglect, the ineffective seeds their team members sowed each day inevitably manifested in the form of a lean harvest. There’s no need to let this happen to you. By studying the daily behaviors of your people and acting upon them, you don’t need a crystal ball to predict where a particular department in your enterprise is headed. Just pay more attention to what’s happening today because it becomes the future. Following are two sample behavioral areas to manage daily.

 1. Are people doing enough of what matters? In other words, is activity translating into accomplishment? What’s more important than people staying busy each day is making sure they are busy doing what matters most. By meeting one-on-one with each team member and helping them to structure their day so that they are working within the discipline of priorities, you can ensure that their daily behaviors will stay on track and bear fruit come scoreboard time.

 2. What are people doing with their down time? When traffic and the activity it creates slows down, do your people convert their down time into prime time by practicing, prospecting, planning; and following up, or do they become passive and watch, wish and wait for something to happen? It’s the manager’s responsibility to create daily, structured activities that keep people in motion and engaged with productive tasks in-between customers.

 While the two aforementioned disciplines are basic, they are often overlooked, and require diligence to ensure day-in, day-out execution. If you owned a professional sports team, it would be hard to imagine that you would tolerate a well-paid coach who lounged in an office, paid scant attention to the game, and passively waited to see what numbers appeared on the scoreboard, as he held his breath, crossed his fingers and hoped for the best. No, if you were in the owner’s suite, you’d undoubtedly insist that your coach maintained a positive presence on the field, with the team, observing, analyzing, reinforcing, and redirecting as necessary in order to ensure there was a “W” on the scoreboard at the game’s conclusion. You’d make sure that your coach and team exercised the daily disciplines necessary to win the game. What have you done today to ensure the same level of focus and accountability within your business?

Revisiting “The Calm before the Storm!”

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

Fifteen months ago, in June of 2010, I wrote a magazine column, The Calm before the Storm! In it I suggested that despite the economic upswing, a debt-induced financial crisis loomed and could cause tough times in 2011. I also offered eleven steps one could take to strengthen their business foundation and prepare for a downturn. This may be an appropriate time to revisit the eleven steps, and evaluate which of them you can employ to help bullet-proof your business. While implementing these strategies back when they were first presented would have helped you to better maximize them, it’s certainly better to do so late than never.

 Please read and share with those whom might benefit from the suggested actions. The article link is here: http://budurl.com/q2k3

Excuses, Mediocrity & How to Rise Above Them!

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

A clear sign of leadership maturity is the willingness to take responsibility. One aspect of this virtue is refusing to make excuses for personal failures or for those of others. I readily admit that listening while others blame is one of my pet peeves. Little rubs me rawer than when someone attempts to defend failed actions or inferior results by compromising, sanitizing, or trivializing the truth. Occasionally, I must endure the whininess in person at one of my workshops, as a leader goes to great lengths to defend why he’s keeping “five-car Fred” on the payroll. In other instances, it’s a self-righteous lecture I occasionally receive via email from a reader in denial. I rarely have time to respond to the complainers anymore. Over the years, replying to their reasoning has drained far too much time. I may be a slow learner, but I have picked up on the fact that people who rationalize failure are practically un-coachable and mostly unchangeable.

 Excuses for failure remind me of a quote I heard and embraced years ago: “Excuses are the DNA of underachievers.” This same speaker went on to say that living in denial makes you a prisoner of wrong actions and outdated beliefs since it is impossible to change what you don’t acknowledge. Most would agree that excuses are a prime contributor to mediocrity. When you begin to explain away why you, or others, failed to deliver results, you become quite ordinary and blend into a crowded mass of mediocre souls slogging through life, all the while complaining that they haven’t caught the breaks or are victims of bad press or perceptions. In their sanctimonious minds, they are simply misunderstood. But what they fail to understand is that success, and failures, are not accidents. You either set yourself up for them or you don’t. Successes and failures both result from a series of choices and actions one makes over time, of sowing and reaping. While one may catch a good or bad break occasionally, over the course of a lifetime, you don’t succeed or fail by chance.

Those who become mediocre in their thinking, actions, and results, forego the opportunity to turn their fortunes around by shifting their focus to making better decisions and taking wiser action. Instead, they continue to bemoan conditions and render themselves powerless to affect their own futures. If you look up the dictionary’s definition for “mediocre,” it says: moderate to inferior in quality; ordinary. This definition reflects an accurate picture of what happens when one engages in the blame game.

 If you’ve succumbed to the blaming habit, you’re in grave danger of becoming “moderate to inferior,” if you haven’t descended into that state already. Here are five thoughts concerning mediocrity to help you, or someone you care about, right your course and stay on a path of personal responsibility that elevates your self-worth, the value you bring to others, and to your organization.

  1. Mediocrity begins with “me.” It is not something that someone or something does to you. It is a result of choices you’ve made, conditions you’ve accepted, or wrong actions you’ve taken.
  2. Mediocrity is a personal concession to less than your best. What the mediocre are really saying is, “this is good enough so deal with it.” When you substitute excuses for results, you are boldly making this concession and resigning yourself to living out a career and life that’s “good enough” rather than the best it can be.
  3. You break free from mediocrity by making better decisions, not by waiting for more favorable conditions. This should encourage you, because while you cannot control conditions, you do have control over your decisions.  
  4. Living in denial prolongs your marriage with mediocrity. If you don’t face it, you cannot fix it. The box you’ve put yourself in will one day become a casket. 
  5. Make your break with any mediocre aspect of your life by deciding to do the following:
    • Put away your black belt in blame and accept responsibility for your results. Understand that one of the best days of your life is the day that you renounce excuses, grow up, and become a man or woman of responsibility and accountability. 
    • Stop defending mediocrity in others on your team, and face reality about their skills, talent, discipline, attitude, or character. Only when you first see people as they really are can you help them become what they’re meant to be.
    • Commit to personal development so that you elevate the quality of your thinking, and are able to make better personal choices concerning your own attitude, character choices, application of knowledge, and strengthening of discipline.
    • Get clearer about what you want and then resolve to pay the price to achieve it; deciding up front that you’ll ditch the excuses and hold yourself accountable for results.

 One of the saddest epitaphs for many who choose to lead mediocre lives will be that when they die it will be as though they never lived. But what’s sadder yet is that when the sweat of their death bed wakes them up to the fact that they’ve missed their life, they’ll be haunted by the classic lament of life’s biggest underachievers: “I could have, I should have, if only I would have.”

 Each day you have two choices: performance or excuses. Choose well, it becomes your legacy.

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.

Do You Over-manage & Under-lead?

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

One of the most common mistakes that prevents a manager from reaching his or her potential is to over-manage and under-lead. Many of the managers I’ve met over the years don’t even realize that there is a difference between management and leadership, or that developing a balance of both skill sets is essential if they want to grow their team and maximize results. While I can’t explain as well in a few hundred words what takes me two hours to cover in my workshop, I’ll do my best in this space to outline a handful of key differences between management and leadership. Evaluate your own tendencies, and determine if there are adjustments you should make that will help you to optimize your leadership effectiveness.

Think of management as being about paperwork, while leadership concerns people-work. Management involves systems, controls, budgets, forecasting, scheduling, processes and procedures. On the other hand, the focus of leadership is to attract and develop talent, motivate, create vision and values, and build a team that can succeed in your absence. I explain to the attendees of my workshops that there are two categories of tasks you can engage in every day: “stuff” or people. Frankly, management is the stuff part of your job, and it’s so easy to become consumed by that aspect of your daily responsibilities that you have little or no time left for people. A consequence for building an organization that is over-managed & under-led is that the team is likely to be under-developed & overwhelmed.

Management and leadership are equally important. Don’t get the idea that “management” is a bad word. The problem comes when you over-manage, and spend so much time with stuff that you become isolated, aloof, out of touch, and stop impacting your people. The reason I’ve spent so much time over the years writing about and teaching leadership is that it’s the skill set that most managers have had little training in. They get schooled on how to do the “stuff” part of the job (data entry, inventories, forecasts, budgets, scheduling, reading financial statements, etc.) but don’t have a clue how to recruit, interview, motivate, cast a vision, hold someone accountable, or mentor.  While it is common to over-manage and under-lead, it is also possible to over-lead and under-manage. Think about it this way: management without leadership means that you won’t be able to grow what you keep, whereas leadership without management means you won’t be able to keep what you grow.

Here are three of the twenty key differences between managers and leaders that I discuss in my seminars to help attendees become more aware of what they’re doing well, and where they need to make adjustments in their daily approach to leadership:

1. Managers maintain whereas leaders stretch. Managers are decent at maintaining people, but they’re not great at growing them because they don’t spend enough time with them, and were never trained how to evaluate or develop human capital in the first place. They don’t seem to realize that while you can impress people at a distance (in your fancy office), to impact them you must get up close. Leaders, on the other hand, are committed to leaving followers better than they found them. They stretch them out of their comfort zone, provide the tools and personal touch their team members need to grow to their potential, and hold them accountable for results.

2. Managers lead from the rear, leaders lead from the front. Because they are enamored with “stuff,” managers spend more time in their offices getting dazed by data and numbed by numbers, than they do in the trenches acting as a catalyst and unleashing the potential of their team. As they pencil-whip budgets and count beans in an attempt to turn the numbers around, they fail to develop their human capital—turn the people around—so that their people can turn the numbers around. These folks talk like leaders but act like anchors. On the other hand, leaders spend more time charting the course than they do charting results. They focus on what’s happening in the arena and on the horizon, because they know that the front line determines the bottom line.

3. Managers resist change and defend the status quo; leaders rattle the status quo and change before they have to. Managers who spend a good part of their day roosting in an office, surrounded by stuff, or suffering through hours of death-by-meeting, devolve into a defensive posture where they spend more time plugging holes, doing damage control, and reacting than they do initiating change. However, when they lead in the trenches with their people, they see more clearly what needs to be changed and are quicker to take action. Too many leaders, who were successful at one time because they lead from the front and acted as a change agent, gradually withdrew from their catalyst role and begin presiding and administering from their backside. They regress from active to passive; from “lead,” a verb, to “leadership,” a noun. During this regression, they descend from risk taker, to care taker, to undertaker, eventually presiding over a lifeless enterprise that became comatose on their watch.

If you over-manage and under-lead in areas like the three I’ve presented, don’t beat yourself up. After all, we all get off track. What’s important is that you become a more self-aware leader who makes faster adjustments when you stray from a sound leadership style so that your temporary detour doesn’t lead you into a rut which, if you stay in it long enough, becomes a grave.

Train Wreck: The Danger of Promoting Beyond One’s Competence!

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

John Bell Hood was a Confederate general during the Civil War. He had a reputation for bravery and aggressiveness that sometimes bordered on recklessness, losing the use of his left arm at Gettysburg and having his right leg amputated after victory at Chickamauga.

Reading about Hood’s life while in Nashville recently, the site of his final and resounding defeat in the battle for that city in late 1864, I was struck by how similar his career path is to many managers I’ve seen rise through the ranks in organizations over the decades. These are the men and women who excel at a lower level management position, and then fail when promoted beyond their talent and competence. Apparently, this is what happened to the hard-charging Hood. Wikipedia puts it this way:

One of the best brigade and division commanders in the Confederate States Army, Hood became increasingly ineffective as he was promoted to lead larger, independent commands late in the war, and his career was marred by his decisive defeats leading an army in the Atlanta Campaign and the Franklin-Nashville campaign

Another historical website offers:

A premier example of the Peter Principle is the case of John B. Hood who excelled as a brigade and division leader, was uncooperative as a corps commander, and was an unqualified disaster at the head of an army, which he all but destroyed. . . . Besieging the Union forces in Nashville, he attacked in mid-December 1864 and his army was annihilated. Retreating into the deep South with the fragments of the army he relinquished his command and his temporary commission in January 1865. After the war he settled in New Orleans and was a prosperous merchant until an 1878 financial crisis. He died the next year in a yellow fever epidemic. His memoirs are entitled “Advance and Retreat.” –http://www.civilwarhome.com/hoodbio.htm

When you study the career path of Hood, here are two lessons to learn from and apply in your enterprise:

1. Hire or promote the best, not the “least bad.” When President Jefferson Davis asked General Robert E. Lee’s opinion of promoting Hood to the head of the Army of Tennessee, Lee’s response was lukewarm and noncommittal. General Braxton Bragg, preferred Hood, not because he possessed superior ability, but because he had something personally against the other candidate Davis was considering. Promoting someone for the wrong reasons; someone who is not up to the task but is less offensive than others, is a poor strategy for building excellence within your organization. Actually, it is a recipe for eventual disaster.

2. Prepare your people for the next position before they’re in that position. In war time, mid-level commanders are promoted too quickly because those above them are often killed in battle. You don’t have that excuse in your organization. High potential people should be mentored to develop the skills necessary for their next position, long before they’re in that position.  

Whom are you preparing for advancement within your organization? Do you have a structured training and mentoring career path for your high potentials? Here are a handful of tasks you can do with these team members, depending of course upon the position you’re getting them ready for:

A. Personally mentor them by giving them resources for study and application, and by doing select tasks with them to show them what good performance looks like in areas that go beyond their normal scope of responsibilities.

B. Send the members of your talent pool to seminars and courses that will elevate their skills and broaden their perspective before they’re actually in the position you’re preparing them for.

C. Take high potentials to industry gatherings, conventions and association conferences and debrief them after the meeting to discuss what they learned.

Final reminder: Save yourself months or years of headaches, and a wealth of financial resources by not putting into your talent pool anyone who has the skills and talent, but lacks the character for more responsibility. Character protects talent and without it, the talented but character-deficient team member will eventually self-destruct.

Act Like a Challenger, Even when You’re the Champ!

Friday, May 6th, 2011

It’s common for leaders to speak in terms of building a “team of champions.” While I also endeavor to build a team of champions in my own organization, I don’t want people working in my company who think like champions. Rather, I want to fill my business with team members who have a challenger’s mindset. To use a martial arts term, I want the “red belt” mentality rather than the black belt mindset and here’s why: the most dangerous fighters in karate dojos are the red belts. Red is the rank prior to black, and what makes the reds such tenacious fighters is the fact that they haven’t yet reached the top and still train with intensity and urgency. Black belts, on the other hand, often let up and downshift into a maintenance mode after working so long and hard to earn their elite rank. In fact, it is common for black belts to start packing on pounds soon after reaching their goal, because they spend more time giving advice than they do fighting on the mat.

The still-hungry red belts demonstrate a stronger commitment to improve through a solid work ethic, consistent training habits, and by remaining coachable. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see reds knock out blacks during sparring sessions. They’re sharper because their killer instinct hasn’t been dulled by the belief that they’ve “arrived.” In my own experience, I lost 25 pounds in the ten weeks leading up to my red belt test because of the added hours of sparring.

While black belts can still advance with 2nd, 3rd, and 4th degrees, etc. a common tendency after reaching their goal is to take a break. One friend of mine passed his black belt test and didn’t return to the mat for six months. Parallel analogies in business abound. When business “black belts” with their “champion’s mindset” get to the top of a mountain and become “number one” or have a record year, their tendency is to build a fence around the ground they’ve gained and hold it, rather than seek out higher ground that offers an even bigger prize. They stop changing, risking, deciding, recruiting, innovating, training, and holding others accountable. Prosperity drains their urgency, and they eventually find themselves in a rut.  

 Following are ten contrasts between a challenger’s and champion’s mindset. While there are always exceptions to the rule, the rule normally rules.

  1. Challenger’s mindset: hungry. Champion’s mindset: satisfied.
  2. Challenger’s mindset: humble. Champion’s mindset: arrogant.
  3. Challenger’s mindset: teachable. Champion’s mindset: know-it-all.
  4. Challenger’s mindset: something to prove. Champion’s mindset: “been there, done that.”
  5. Challenger’s mindset: willing to serve. Champion’s mindset: wants to be served.
  6. Challenger’s mindset: tries something new. Champion’s mindset: stuck in their ways.
  7. Challenger’s mindset: works with a sense of urgency. Champion’s mindset:  paces themselves.
  8. Challenger’s mindset: plays to win. Champion’s mindset: plays not to lose.
  9. Challenger’s mindset: rattles the status quo. Champion’s mindset: defends the status quo.
  10. Challenger’s mindset: lives for the present and future. Champion’s mindset: lives in the past.

 There are other differences, but these paint a clear picture of why a challenger’s mindset is necessary in any endeavor where continuing to grow is important. But, don’t misunderstand my point: I’m not saying that I don’t want champions working with me, because I do. What I don’t want are people who think like champions. My goal is to surround myself with champions who maintain the hunger of challengers. In fact, here’s a lesson I’ve taught to top performers for years:

 Act like a challenger even when you’re the champ. Challengers are hungry, humble, and have something to prove. Champs can become lazy, cocky, and complacent.

Here are four suggestions for developing a challenger’s—a red belt’s—state of mind. Use them to shape your personal success philosophy so that you can positively affect and influence those you work with:  

  1. Accept the fact that you’re never as good as you think you are. When you focus less on how “successful” you are and more on closing the gap between your current status and your fullest potential, you’ll create a positive tension that keeps you both humble and hungry.
  2. When you’re doing well, don’t sit on the ball, run up the score. Never settle for your “fair share” of the market, but strive for an unfair share. Don’t make it a goal to create a “level playing field” in your market area. Instead, work hard to make the playing field so un-level that your organization has an insanely unfair advantage over your competition. If you’re not thinking in these terms you’ve probably already regressed from high gear into neutral. All that’s missing from your office is the hammock, pitcher of margaritas, and Panama hat.
  3. Embrace urgency as a core value. Urgency is one of LearnToLead’s five corporate core values, as well as one of my personal values. You must convince yourself that there is power in now, not later. You may never get later. Act now!
  4. Live your life as an “and then some” person. Do what is expected and then some. Pay the price and then some. Do what others aren’t willing to do; go where they’re unwilling to go; try what they’re afraid to try, and one day you’ll find yourself in a category of one.

 Be an example for your team and work with the hunger, discipline, humility, intensity, and teach-ability of a red belt. Set your goal to reach the top, but even once you become a Grand Master, maintain the mindset of a challenger. This disciplined state of mind separates the martial artist from a partial artist, the legitimate champion from a one-hit wonder.