Being present in the moment

We are living in a condo while we build our house.  It’s the final house we will build.  Of course I say that every time, my wife reminds me.  There are several things that I really enjoy about our current housing situations and a few that I don’t enjoy.  

Our dog is a mix of a Blue Heeler and a Black Lab.  He weighs about 90 pounds and it’s all muscle.  He needs to be walked a few times each day.  I don’t mind the “interruption”, but the challenge is that he is aggressive with other animals when he is on his leash.  Not because he’s an alpha male.  It’s because he is afraid.  I know this because when he is off his leash and around other dogs he is fine.  In fact, he lays down and surrenders his power a lot.  He is kind of a wimp, but his bark/growl makes him kind of scary if you don’t know him.  

One of my commitments in life is to be in the moment.  By this I mean I need to be mindful, alert, and ardent.  I actually work on this daily.  When I walk my dog, I’ve learned that he has this little mumble/growl when he is smelling or seeing what he feels is dangerous.  The hair on his back raises.  Literally.  I am really alert when this happens, because I need to be able to control the situation. Except for yesterday.

My head is in the clouds when I get on a creative kick.  Yesterday was one of those days.  I was thinking about a million other things and not really paying attention to my dog.  When we walked out of the complex, I saw two dogs on a trail about a quarter of a mile away.  I was thinking through a scenario of meeting these dogs on the way back into the building.  I was not, however, paying attention to the patio of the condo that we walk by every time.  

The people that live in that condo are very nice people and they normally are very good to my dog.  He is usually very friendly to them as well, but not this time.  I was looking away and Bo jumped up on their bushes to bark at their two cats.  I was able to calm him quickly, and I apologized to the lady sitting on the patio.  She graciously accepted and on we went.  

The real breakdown for me was when I returned to the building and for some reason, walked right back past the cats on the patio. Bo let out another low growl and scared the cats.  The lady reacted by asking me, in a stern voice, to walk him further away.  I said “sure” and pulled him away.  

I felt a slight bit of anger for the way she spoke to me.  Perhaps a little indignation.  But as I evaluated my feelings, I realized it was my mistake, not hers.  She was upset and probably a little frightened.  Bo has that scary low growl.  I was not aware, or I would have walked him away from them.  My feeling/response was driven by past experiences that put the blame on others.  I had to understand that it was my negligence that caused the situation.  It was my fault that I was oblivious to what I was doing when I walked back to the building.

My life commitment is to develop internal qualities of heart and mind, and help others with the same.  I want to be the person who doesn’t just wander through a wasted life, who just reacts versus thinking.  I failed in this case, but I learned from it and I evaluated my feelings and understood why and how I can improve.  

In business I’ve had the same feelings.  Early in my career, I took a delay or a no, very personally and I would get angry.  It really didn’t do anything for me but cause more stress.  No value came from that.  It only made things worse.  As I learned to evaluate the real reasons why there were delays, or no’s, then I became more focused on working on the next opportunity, not stressing over situations that I couldn’t affect.  I became more proactive in thinking my way through challenges and not holding on to them.  

I’m not perfect, as I proved with something as simple of walking my dog.  But I’m continuing to work on it daily.  I journal my skillful and unskillful actions to determine patterns that I can see and feel.  I’m still learning.

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Why you aren’t getting the results you expect (part 3 of 3)

In part 1, we looked at the say-do gap, what we say and what we do aren’t always aligned. In part 2, a dive into confirmation bias, the quick definition is that we have a tendency to seek out and believe data that support our preconceived notions.

But the question is, so what? The reason to read on is that these two things are connected, and they are affecting your bottom line. Think of this, you say something, it’s fair to presume that you believe what you say. You then recall that corporate training that told you to “speak with data”, so you go out to collect information, low and behold you were right the whole time! Yet a view of the monthly figures keeps coming up empty, nothing is moving! Time for a re-org, or a new initiative, or fire some people, anything other than questioning the method in the first place.

Say-do gap applies to your customers as well, just because they say something is most important to them (like price) doesn’t mean that’s how they actually behave!

A side note, if you want to see a great display of confirmation bias treat yourself to College Humor “If Google Was A Guy (part 3)” (at 45 seconds you’ll see a textbook display of this bias).

What can we start with to combat the say-do gap?

Faster planning cycles. In part 1 I mentioned the planning fallacy, which is to say that we are poor estimators of how much time something will really take. This does not make planning a bad idea, but stop the weeks or months worth of getting the plan just right and mark some major milestone, an end point, and start moving!

Data, in a scientific manner. Don’t forget you have a confirmation bias to combat. Just having numbers doesn’t mean you are automatically better off. Data is there to answer a question, know what the question is, then go get the data. Here’s some tips on a way to collect:

Statistics call for TRUE randomization. Don’t call selecting your top 10 customers as “random”. There is a simple formula in excel “=RANDBETWEEN” that can generate a random number between any range. Anyone in your company can take a set of data in excel, assign a number from 1 to whatever in column A and use this to select a random set. The key here is that every piece of data has the proper and likely chance of being selected.

How about that pesky confirmation bias?

As you may recall in part 2,

No matter how many times you see it, the bottom line will always look longer than the top (although it truly isn’t). The fix to your bias isn’t in awareness, the fix is what you do about it. Question your gut instinct, it’s incorrect more often than you’d like

The null hypothesis (default in statistical analysis) says that there is no statistical significance between two variables. Don’t blink out yet! The importance of this is that statistical analysis is setup to start with believing the researcher or experimenter is WRONG! As most of what you will go out to prove or test, if you truly start with this in mind, the data you go to seek should disprove your theory, be your own devil’s advocate. When you can’t, the alternate must be true.

Don’t underestimate the combination of the say-do gap and confirmation bias being root cause to lacking results at your firm. All of us are affected by these to some degree, knowing their out there and staying curious about change can make all the difference.

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Opportunities, even in failure

In the past eleven years, my business has evolved through three separate iterations.  The first phase was the “me” stage of a sole proprietor.  I was trying to figure out what my value was to others and focused on surviving.  The second phase was purely a survival mode.  It started in 2009 when the world participated in the Great Recession.  I lived on savings for a year and then, after burning through lots of cash, I took on a partner.  The third phase was the rejuvenation of my initial company, but with additional people and solutions. We launched in 2013, after my partner and I decided to shut down our company.  

Each phase had challenges and wins.  I learned at each stage of the company.  I’ve been very fortunate to create strong relationships along the way.  

When we had the partnership, there were challenges.  It was not a well thought out partnership and we ran it as two separate companies, smashed together.  I know that because Camilla told me.  And she was right.

Camilla is Danish and she and her husband moved to Austin after a stint in Singapore.  She is a young mother of two great children and she wanted to be there for the kids, but also be involved in the business world as well.  She is very talented, very well educated, with strong experience.  She was a perfect fit.  We never could have hired her if she didn’t want to have the flexibility to work part time.

We hired her to support my partner’s side of the business, which was focused on customer analysis.  Camilla is very detailed and can relentlessly dig through data and analyze it.  She did amazing work.  She was in the office almost every day, but I traveled a great deal and didn’t get to know her until after we shut down the partnership and she joined my new phase of the company.  

I shared with her that the company was closing and asked her for feedback on me.  She shared that she didn’t know me well.  We had run the company as two separate companies.  I knew we would do well from that point forward.  She was honest and she cared.  

Over the next several years, we not only built a great business relationship, we also became good friends.  She knew my strengths and weaknesses and she called me out on my screw ups, and filled in the gaps when there were things I was missing.

Camilla’s kids are now both in school and she had a need to work full time, so she moved into a new role with a new company over the summer.  But that hasn’t hurt our friendship or her strong desire to do things right.  We have one more commitment to a client for the final survey under a contract.  It’s something that I can’t do well and she recognized it.  She has worked tirelessly on her day job, and tirelessly on helping me finish the commitment to our client at night.  She is superwoman.

The message here is simple. Even in a failed situation (the partnership), there is always good that comes from it.  Opportunities that appear.  The best that came from the failed partnership was getting to know an outstanding person, in Camilla.  I will always enjoy her.

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Dulling the Symptoms

I recently went to a private physician and nutritionist to inquire about a holistic approach to wellness.  In our conversation she told of her history as an Emergency Room doctor and the cycle of returning patients.  She said she had saved thousands of lives, but was really disturbed by the fact that several of her patients returned multiple times as their health deteriorated, even with the medication she prescribed.  Her observation was that the medications dulled the symptoms, but never cured the illness.

The most common symptoms we hear of in conversations in business are revenue and profit challenges.  These also have a tendency to repeat.  Most companies tend to treat these symptoms with the trendy new sales process or marketing fad.  Some may stem the challenge for a short time, but they typically return; sometimes worse than before the treatment.

Do you cut corners when it comes to addressing the challenges you face in your business?  It’s hard to work at your business when you are working in your business.  It’s much easier to address a symptom than to find the root cause and fix it.  It takes less time and it may give you a short term fix.  That does not build in a sustainable, predictable revenue stream.  

Revenue issues are not always based on the sales team’s ability to sell.  Perhaps your customer’s buying needs have changed in the years of the great recession.  Perhaps your competition has reacted and adapted their methodology better than you have.  Maybe your products don’t provide the ideal solution for your customers any more.  

A deep analysis of your customer base and the marketplace is the starting place to get at the root cause of the symptom of revenue and profit decay.  It allows you to follow the flow of value creation from the customer needs, through your marketing message, from your team of people who deliver the message, through the processes they use to create action with the customer.

I can lower my blood pressure through medication but I will always be tethered to the pills if I don’t address the root cause.  Your revenue stream will always be at risk if you don’t address the root cause. Take the time today to look at your business through a different lens.  Is your solution relevant to your customer base?

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Stronger Voice

In the past I’ve not been a fan of gaining a great deal of input from others.  I apparently have an ego that tells me that I must be in control.  I must believe I’m good in making my own decisions.  I don’t enjoy being told I’m wrong.  I’m not a fan of business books in general.  They tell me what to think, as if they are the only source of enlightenment and I see that as telling me I’m wrong.  I’ve had a hard time understanding why.  I believe these things are related.

Over the past few months, I’ve worked to change my way of thinking.  I’m reading a business book on singular focus.  The first chapter pretty much summed up the contents of the whole book, and I believe I got the message I needed, but I’m soldiering on through the book and gaining perspective from it.  I’m reaching out to others to gain their input on better messaging for our company offerings.  I’m looking for input.  That has not really happened in the past, in an organized and constructive way. This is a positive step for me.  I’m learning new things.  That may sound ridiculous to most of you, but for me, it’s a breakthrough.

I’ve been very fortunate to have been able to put our offering into the hands of several people who are friends of mine.  People who are knowledgeable and trustworthy.  They are giving me feedback that has changed the way I am building the offering.  Those opportunities have come to me without me searching them out.  I don’t believe in coincidence, so I believe they have come to me as I needed them.  

As I’ve read the book on focus, it reminded me of a saying I heard some time in my past.  “Your success happens when the strength of your inner voice is stronger than the strength of the outside voices.”  In other words, your belief in yourself is stronger than those of others telling you that you can’t do it.

The challenge is to counterbalance the feedback with your inner beliefs.  I believe the key is trust.  It’s the bedrock of all relationships.  If you have trust in the people you are working with, then you can decipher the good advice from the bad.  If you have trust in your processes, you follow through and enjoy the results.

The people who are helping me are generous.  They expect nothing for their input. They like what we are trying to accomplish, and they are willing to give their insights to help us be successful.  I’ve narrowed the focus and changed the messaging and simplified what we offer.  We have brought clarity, so the it is more easily understood.  

We are targeting the new offering for Q1 2018.  I’ve been vague on the offering, because that is not the purpose of this blog.  This is about balancing the inner beliefs with the outside feedback.  It’s about listening to both and counterbalancing the need to be in control with the need for input; positive and negative.

Where do you get your insights?  Are you focused on your own experiences?  Do you listen to others?  Are you discerning in who you listen to, and who you deem as just noise?  Do you balance the inner drive with the outer insights?  Is it intentional?

For me the past few months have been a whirlwind of activity that I can look back on and see a clear path of how I’ve benefited from that balance.  Only time will tell if it is valued in the marketplace, but the process has been exhilarating and I’ve learned something about myself in the process. I’m working on it…

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Nobody expected us to be good…

Nobody expected us to be good.  We were picked for 4th place in a league with 7 teams.  Yet we were good.  In fact, we won the league, and were ranked 2nd in the state of Kansas.  Our season ended in sub-state when a talented team beat us.  We had split the regular season with them, but lost on our home court to them in the finals.  

When I was growing up, I was driven to compete.  I played every sport available and, while not nearly the most athletically gifted, I was driven to win.  I loved the competition. I loved the physicality of competition.  

Growing up on a rural community, we played our games against the same teams and the same group of people year after year.  It didn’t matter what the sport was, we competed against the same group of athletes.  

We were a part of a very large school district.  It covered much of the county I lived in and all the rural elementary schools fed into the junior high and high school in Chapman.  All the schools except for one.  Talmage.  Talmage is a small town in Kansas, that was the last of the elementary schools to bus their 7th and 8th graders to Chapman.  Part of the driving factor for keeping the school in tact was the talent level of their basketball team.  They had great athletes, and they wanted to keep them together.  

We had a strong basketball team as well at Chapman.  We never played Talmage, but we knew them all from our baseball games.  Both teams were on a collision course when we all started high school together, as freshman.  It was a great problem to have as a coach.  We ended up keeping more kids on the freshman team than ever before, or probably ever since.  We had 3 full teams.  Fifteen freshman basketball players, plus.  

By the time we were sophomores, the team started to seek its levels.  Some of us played sophomore basketball, some played junior varsity, and one played a little varsity.  We all took on our roles.  We all had different strengths and weaknesses.  

My best friend was the one sophomore who played varsity.  I was the scrub who played sophomore games and sat on the bench, occasionally, for JV games.  I was disappointed in myself and wanting to do more.  I wanted to play with Toby on varsity.  That spring he and I had a shared P.E. class that let us play basketball every day.  We played against coaches.  We improved.  

By the start of our junior year, I could play varsity with Toby.  He and I were the starting guards.  Before the second game of the year, I was hurt in a car accident and the season was delayed for several weeks for me.  I played the last three games of the season at about half speed.  

There were still several talented athletes in my class that wanted to play basketball our senior year.  It’s standard practice for a coach to keep a nucleus of talent from each class so that they can keep experienced players for every season.  Our coach, John Sanborn, didn’t follow the norm that year.  He kept 8 seniors.  The entire rotation was made up of seniors.  It was a risk for Coach Sanborn, but he made an exception.  And here we were, picked 4th in the league.  

We started our season at 3 wins, 3 losses, and we were not impressing anyone.  We weren’t much of a team.  We had our roles, but there was also some misunderstanding of the roles, and some team dissention.  I was a part of the problem.  I had gone from starting as a junior, until the injury, to a undefined role as a senior.  I wanted to play, but my performance didn’t earn time on the floor.

Coach Sanborn was patient, but firm with us.  He allowed us to find our fit.  We had a bunch of guards and only two players who played inside, so he changed our offense and defense.  We became a running team.  He changed our defenses so that when we scored, we pressed, and fell back into a zone defense.  When we didn’t score, we played an aggressive man to man.  It confused the other teams and kept them off balance.  They never knew what offense they wanted to run.  We had great shooters who shot, great defenders who defended with quick feet and quick hands.  We had great ball handlers who could see the entire floor and make great passes.  We leveraged our talent and we started winning.  We all fit into our roles, and we knew what to expect from our teammates.  We trusted each other and we were accountable to each other.  We won 11 straight games before the defeat in the sub state finals.  

Were we the most talented team?  Certainly not.  We were a team though.  From two schools with highly competitive basketball programs, our coaches worked with us and took risks with us to culminate in a highly successful senior season.  They were aware of our different talents, including mental talents as well physical talents.  They helped us fit well together.  They adapted the normal process to fit our strengths.  And we won because of it.  

Reflecting on it now, I realize the power of great coaching and I’m grateful.  While I didn’t recognize it at the time, it is a piece of my past that has helped me throughout my career.   It has helped me consciously build strong teams based on diverse talent.  I’ve changed my processes based on type of talent available.  I’ve hired talent that has filled gaps in our team.  I’ve made assignments based on the best fit for the role, based on talents.  The seed was planted at Chapman High School through a great set of coaches, led by Coach John Sanborn.  

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Are you an expense or an investment?

I had a conversation with a client a few weeks ago about the work I’m proposing to do with them.  I have a great relationship with the client.  I consider him a good friend, so our conversation was not personal.  It was business.  They are having limited success this year and their revenue and profit reflects it.  There are many reasons that we can identify, but nothing specific.  No silver bullet.  They haven’t had the impact expected.  

I pointed out to him that I had not been actively involved with them for several months.  The same amount of time that they have had a lag in sales.  He likes it when I challenge him.  I said that with a bit of humor in it.  I have expertise in selling, but I’m not quite that vain.  

He shared that they needed revenue to grow so their budgets would free up. They could then hire my team to work with them again.  It led me to a realization.  They see us as an expense, not an investment.  It also made me think.  How often do we do that in our businesses?

Do we recognize the difference between a cost and an investment?  Is hiring help with strategy and execution of plans an investment or a cost?  How do we know?

I’ve found that the difference is in the results we earn.  If we are truly an investment, then we should offer a return on that investment.  Otherwise we are just a cost.  

In baseball the most common statistics for hitters are RBI’s, Average, and Home Runs.  This makes up the Triple Crown.  

For anyone who watches baseball, you will recognize that the sport is data driven.  There are many other things measured to get to the three most common stats of the Triple Crown.  

Data is used to determine what type of pitch is most likely to be thrown in a certain count or situation. Data is used to position fielders and make shifts. Data is used to determine match ups in pitching. Data is used to improve the odds of winning.

Hitters are measured for On Base Percentage (OBP) and Slugging Percentage (total bases divided by at bats).  Pitchers are measured on WHIP (walks, hits, per innings pitched) and BABIP (batting average on balls in play).  All players are measured by WAR (wins against replacement).

They measure the actions that drive the results

In business the most common items measured are Revenue and Profit.

There are many other activities that can be measured to get to the two most common statistics of revenue and profit.

Data can be used to determine what actions are most likely to be successful in a certain situation.  We can measure sales cycle, close rate, funnel dwell times, and average order size.  We can measure coaching skills, and planning activities.

Data can be used to build to the final numbers, to improve the odds of winning.

Most businesses measure the results, but not the activities that drive the results.  

 

I’ve found the biggest challenge to becoming an expense instead of an investment is taking the sales leaders out of the day to day and focusing them on learning, and coaching a sales process.  Gaining adoption of a successful process is difficult.  It’s additional work, and I’ve not done a great job of explaining how they benefit from that work.  

I was fortunate to join Black & Decker.  They were a “Top 100” training company.  They started with defining our role as sales leaders.  Our role was to develop the sales team.  That development led to success in reaching sales goals.  Our role was to teach, and coach.  Teach how to plan and execute a sales call.  Coach through observing the sales person in front of the customer and coaching them on successes and improvements, in the car, post sales call.  

Our drive is to develop sales professionals.  To do that we must train professional sales leaders as well.  If we don’t capture the data on the activities that lead to success, for both the sales leaders and the sales team, we can’t show a return on the investment.  

Are you focused on the activities that make you an investment instead of an expense for your company?  

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