First Responders Memorial Day

May 15th, 2018 was Officers Memorial Day.  It’s a tribute to the first responders who have given their lives in protecting and serving their communities.  Our small town has been fortunate.  We have not lost an officer, firefighter, or EMS person on the job.  But our Chief of Police leads a service recognizing those who have given their lives.

It’s a simple program.  They start with raising the flag, then lowering it to half-mast.  The honor guard is very impressive, led by a marine who is now an officer in our city.  We then had a brief statement by the Chief and his counterpart from the city next to ours.  Then the Chaplin held a prayer, then a moment of silence.  Finally, a gentleman started playing the bagpipes.  He played Amazing Grace.  As he came to the end of the first verse, he started walking away, representing the loss of the first responders.  You could see how moving it was in the small gathering of first responders and civilians. 

One of the things that has burned into my brain, is the video of the officers in Dallas when an unhinged person opened fire on them during a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest march.  The officers were being shot at but ran to protect the people in the march.  They ran into a place that we would have run away from.    

I respect the discipline they displayed.  The commitment to the community they work in every day.  I respect the fact that they are willing to put their lives in the line of fire to protect ours.  I don’t believe there is any higher order of sacrifice than the willingness to protect others.

The city I live in is a peaceful, quiet community, and most feel the police job here is not too dangerous.  This year we have had several incidences that would prove that incorrect.  Not from people in the community, but from people who drive through.  We are at the junction of three major highways.  We have over 50,000 cars a day pass through here, and not all of them are here for fun.

I respect our first responders.  I know most of the police force personally and they all have families that need them to come home safely every night.  I wanted to recognize their efforts and of those that work around the country.  Thanks for what you do!

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Great companies push to get better

Last week I spent time with a group of “A” players in a mature industry.  While they will quickly point out that the company is not perfect, they are not perfect, and there is room for improvement, as someone who works with multiple companies, theirs is one of the best. 

When I initially worked with them I interviewed around 30 people in all disciplines of the business.  I was struck by how talented they were and how diverse the organization was.  I was also baffled by how limiting they were.  They would not risk anything, individually.  They had been beaten up for mistakes.  Mercilessly challenged for something that even looked like a mistake.  That was four years ago.  Today is a different day.

The individual that brought us into the organization came to the company in an executive role.  He had owned and led a competitor, that this company acquired.  He worked for them for a few years after the purchase, and he ended up leaving the company to pursue other opportunities.  He is a talented executive that took a president role with another company, that was run by a controlling CEO.  Decisions were made from corporate office and pushed down to the operating companies.  It was not a match for his talents.  He left the company and came back to the company I’m working with as the president.  Three years ago he was named the CEO and the change in culture is significant. 

The company has three divisions that have separate sales leaders.  All are very strong.  I began working with one division on a project around their CRM and our 12-week project turned into 8 months.  Not because they weren’t smart, but because the CRM was that challenging to work with.  After 8 months they made multiple changes to the CRM to support their sales teams, the sales leaders, and a sales process we developed together.  We were ready to present it to their sales team, and it grew to all three divisions. 

I was the initial presenter and then we turned it over to the head of sales for the initial division we worked with.  I’ve worked with several VP’s and they all have strengths and challenges, as we all do.  This sales leader was amazing.  He understood the CRM in a detail few have.  The adjustments his team had made were so well thought out that the entire team of sellers praised the benefits.  He has a young seller who helped design and build the process and he is outstanding.  He has an IT person who listens and develops.  They created this without the outsource IT consultants and saved $50k in the process.

The companies I work with all have challenges.  The way this company addressed them is remarkable.  In industrial companies there is a problem in attracting young talent, but this company recruits young talent and gives them strong roles within the company.  In this case the inside seller was testing and making recommendations on the CRM as he worked through his daily responsibilities.  The end offering was much better because of it.  The resulting changes to the CRM were not sold as final changes.  Therefore, the entire company had the opportunity to have input into the changes and make tweaks as needed.  The group had lively debates.  There was no fear of hurting someone’s feelings or fear of making a mistake.  They were focused on building the best process they could.  What could have been described as “heated” discussions were not taken personally, and better results followed. 

The company is a dominant player in their market, and they continue to work to get better.  The saying “Good is the enemy of great” kept playing in my mind.  They were/are not satisfied with good enough.  I share this with great respect for the CEO who has changed the culture, and the team who has acted on it and executed.  What we do for companies is expose them to best practices.  How they deal with it is up to them.  This company is a great company that I will now use as a measuring device for other companies we work with.

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As an observer of humanity

As an observer of humanity, I’m fascinated by some things I see.  I’m not judging here.  It’s just an observation as another human being.  This week was exceptional. 

  1. I worked with 3 different types of companies.  One software company, one service company, and one manufacturer.  I was struck by how similar the people are, even though the industries were very different.  They all are open to trying new things.  They are successful but want to get better.  The ages were a wide range, but not the way you might guess.  Each company had a wide range of ages in their teams.  It was nice to see companies working to solve the Baby Boomer retirement tsunami.
  2. Back packs on airplanes are dangerous.  I like to sit in the aisle.  I’m a little claustrophobic and sitting anywhere but the aisle causes me anxiety.  However, sitting on the aisle is challenging when most travelers are wearing backpacks instead of carrying a briefcase.  Backpacks are much easier to carry on, but when you are wearing one, and you put your suitcase in the overhead, the natural thing to do is turn your body.  That makes the backpack a weapon.  I’ve learned to lean into the middle and make friends with the individual in the center seat.  I’ve always wanted to write about this but couldn’t find the business connection, until today.  It’s focus.  People are so focused on finding a seat and storing their bag in an overhead, that they lose focus that they are beating people up with their other bags.  I can’t be upset.  I like the focus.
  3. I was driving down Lakeshore Drive in Chicago today in heavy traffic.  We were stopped at a stoplight, and I heard someone near me tapping their horn.  I looked over the lady in the car next to me motioned for me to roll down my window.  When I did, she asked if her car was on fire.  I shared that I didn’t think so.  She then asked if I saw smoke.  I assured her that I did not.  I found it humorous, and terribly unusual to get that question at a stoplight.  Have you ever had a question come out of nowhere and have it stop you on the spot when you are in a business meeting?  I’m sure I have, but nothing like that one.  It made me smile.
  4. I’m having issues with my iPhone.  The battery is apparently getting old and not lasting too long.  I was driving from my meeting to a hotel in a part of the suburbs that I had never been to.  I lost over 40 percentage points of battery on the way to the hotel and was in danger of having it shut off, therefore no GPS.  After a moment of panic, I skimmed the steps of the directions on the phone, memorized them and then shut the GPS down.  I was hopeful that if I needed the GPS to get through the final steps, I could save enough battery to get there.  It struck me how dependent I’ve become on the GPS and the phone.  Before GPS, I could find my way around.  Why would I panic when I lost it?  I did find the hotel.  It helped that is was 5 stories and nothing around it was that tall.  I need to buy another phone.  Keep calm and preplan.  My new mantra.
  5. I’m Preferred with my car rental company, that I use.  When I landed in Chicago, I received three separate texts telling me what space the car was in.  When I took the elevator to the level where my car was, the big board had my name and the same space listed.  When I jumped in the car and drove to the guard to check me out she informed me that I didn’t have the right car.  I assured her I did.  She shared that in fact, I did not.  When I returned to the rental counter, nobody was there to help.  After about 5 minutes of internal cursing the rental car company, someone showed up.  In fairness, it was not her fault.  I had the right space, but the runner had put the wrong vehicle in the space.  It was corrected, and I went on my way.  I had been in meetings all day and had not eaten since late morning.  Apparently, I burn calories.  It was 10:00 pm and I just wanted to get to the hotel.  I had an early start to the next morning.  Preplanning is a great idea.  It lowers our stress level.  But plans and reality sometimes works differently than what we had planned.  I’m not suggesting we don’t plan, but I’m suggesting we be flexible.  I still made it to my hotel and had a good night’s sleep.  It just wasn’t what I had planned, but it still worked fine. 

All in all, it was a very successful week, with a few interesting glitches.  In the past the glitches might have knocked me off course for the week.  But this time it did not.  I believe stepping back from the situation and viewing it as an observer, rather than taking it personally, allowed me to lower the stress it could have caused.  Maybe I’m maturing gracefully…  I’m still learning.

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Fear is a limiter

This morning as I was reading the news on a social media site, it occurred to me that fear sells.  No matter where you look, whether it’s marketing, or news in any form, it plays to our fears.  It captures our attention.

Fear is a limiter.  It keeps us from taking on new opportunities.  It holds us back from reaching out to others.  We see it everywhere.  The left can’t stand the right and vice versa.  We look for prejudice and find it.  Not because of a special bias, but out of fear.  We all try to be unique and different, yet we read the news that confirms our bias.  We hang out with people who think like we do.  We are fearful of those differences.

In our company we have worked with a multitude of people.  We work with them to find the right fit.  We work with them to understand their preferences and motivators.  When we debrief, we find a large percentage fear being exposed.  They feel they are not good enough to be doing what they are doing.  The fear limits them.  My goal is always to share with them that there is no right or wrong answers.  There is a match or a better match somewhere else.  This is not a way to get people out of the company.

I worked with a client recently that had a low opinion of their brethren in another function of the company.  The first question I asked them is “Do you feel like he is doing that on purpose?”  The answer was “No”.  The second question was “Why do you think he is doing this?”  The questions were designed for the team I was working with, to see the person they were disappointed in, as a human being.  It was designed for them to take ownership in the process and determine what they could do to help the situation.  The idea was to take the fear out and own the situation.

I believe that our personal fear gets reflected in our view of other’s actions.  We see their performance through our filters.  We see their actions, and we take it personally.  We see how it limits us.  “I can’t sell because our engineers don’t meet our requirements!”

I have my clients build plans with the caveat that they are based on this year, and what they can control.  Once the plans are built, they own it.

Just because I’m aware, doesn’t mean I don’t have fears of my own, that color my opinions.  I’m not immune to fear, but I’m working to be more aware and catch when I start to feel the fear.  I’m still learning…

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