Wednesday, October 12, 2011

360° Executive Reviews; faqs

1. What benefits do executive 360° reviews provide?

The biggest benefit to the CEO is more productive executives who work more collaboratively. When an executive exhibits difficult behavior, that behavior is often unknown to him or her because it is a problem in self-awareness. The main point of a 360° is to increase self-awareness.
Beyond that, creation and initiation of ongoing executive performance review is shown to have the most marked effect on company morale and productivity. It outranks any other kind of leadership or organizational development as it shows an atmosphere of employee accountability at the highest level and targets the leadership areas which most need improvement in the executives.
In the book Talent Masters: Why Smart Leaders Put People Before Numbers by Bill Conaty and Ram Charan, a study of executives showed that those who created an atmosphere of accountability with regular performance review and leadership development programs were found to be more successful than their colleagues who sought business results to the exclusion of development. Conaty and Charan reason that these executives found it easier to attract and retain the most talented people by giving them opportunities to grow rather than just to work toward a number. Talented executives want to be challenged and stretched while they deliver excellent business results.
In fact, in a recent study performed by Korn Ferry International, it was discovered that an amazing 94% of executives want more feedback than they currently receive. Combine this with the Lominger study which proves that leaders who have low self-awareness are most likely to be fired, and you can see why executive 360s are now considered a large part of total benefits packages at some of the most cutting edge companies in the world, such as Cisco, Zappos and NetApp. These companies routinely top the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For, in part due to their commitment to leadership development through executive review. The vast majority of executives want continuous learning opportunities that many companies simply do not provide. Without these learning opportunities, their careers can grow stagnant and they look elsewhere. Given the high cost of executive recruitment and retention, this is not a mistake businesses today can afford to make.

2. How does the 360° feedback process work?

When we perform your 360° reviews, the time expenditure for you is quite minimal. Our job is to make the process easy on you so you can continue to produce amazing business results while we develop the reports.
The following steps are the usual process:
a. Question development: First, we do a short research program to determine the correct competencies to address for each executive. We have an enormous database of information on roles, responsibilities, job descriptions and competencies for each unique role. We customize this to your culture and finalize the list of questions to be asked with the CEO and the HR executive.
b. Interviews: When we have your list of 360° contributors, we interview each person individually, including the executive himself, to obtain the most detailed and rich content on the competency, examples for each competency and suggestions for change, if applicable. We ensure confidentiality by cleaning each comment thoroughly for identifiable remarks. In the interviews we are looking for areas of strength as well as areas of development.
c. Customized reports: We then create a customized report for each executive. This report can be up to 40 pages long depending on the number of contributors. An average length is 15-20 pages. The report contains five major parts—the standard assessment results (if applicable), the summary, the graph, the verbatim comments and development materials. Samples of the summary, the graph and the verbatim comments are attached to this document. The executive receives the report in a three- or four-hour session where each part of the report is discussed thoroughly with the coach.
d. Development plans and coaching: After the report delivery phase, we immediately craft a development and coaching plan. If the executive is receiving coaching with the 360° review, we create a coaching plan with deliverables and timelines that match the development plan. At times, it is appropriate for the HR executive to take over the development plan at this point. This is customized for each person.
e. Ongoing review: The first 360° review is intended to be a baseline for the executive and should be updated every 12 to 18 months with a new 360° review.

3. Can our Human Resources department perform the reviews?

As the executives set the tone for the entire company, developing a continuous learning and feedback environment at the leadership team level is of the utmost importance. Having an external company perform this work gives an objective view of performance and allows for a larger measure of confidentiality for those contributing information via interview. It also allows for an unbiased review of the human resources executives in the same process as the rest of the team. Another benefit is that when tempers flare or emotions run high, as they inevitably do with reviews, the internal Human Resources function is shielded from these difficulties which are handled by our team. Our team is intimately familiar with executive problems and challenges and we easily and smoothly handle these issues for you.
Executive performance review must be distinct from other performance reviews in the company. Executive level expectations are higher and contain a long list of competencies, as many as 114 separate competencies. Executive responsibility is extremely high and must be treated as such. It is quite difficult for an HR professional who sits as a peer to another executive to deliver these types of performance reviews.
4. What do 360° reviews cost?

The cost for 360°reviews varies widely but the normal range is from $7,000 to $15,000 per executive. Most companies currently pay approximately $10,000 per executive, however, top executives like Bill Gates and Michael Dell pay upwards of $100,000 per report for their reviews which can run as long as 100 or more pages. Costs are determined by the size of the executive team, the list of competencies and numbers of reviewers. Coaching packages are an additional cost which can be cut down substantially by the quality of the 360° review itself. As an example, one CMO who recently received a review from our company was able to make the necessary changes within two months rather than the original six-month estimate on his development plan. He credited this to the ability to pin-point the correct issues. Our reports focus with laser-like precision on development areas and this precision can often make development steps obvious and rapid, saving the company money in coaching and education costs. A benefit of using our company is that we are so experienced with 360° reviews that we can save you time on the development plan as well as on the process itself.

5. Do executives enjoy receiving the reviews?

The overwhelming majority of participants enjoy receiving reviews. 94% of our clients have found the process challenging and intellectually stimulating. Less than 3% found it unsatisfying or too difficult. The level of satisfaction with the process correlates with the positivity of the report, however, we have universally discovered that executives do indeed desire more feedback. As mentioned above, 94% of executives want more feedback.

6. What do executives say about receiving the 360s and coaching?

Below are a few excerpts from the success stories of executives who have received their reviews from us:

“I took my relationship with my CTO to an entirely new level in two weeks after my review. I literally would never have believed this could happen so quickly.”

--C-level executive

“I was surprised how focused this review was. There was nothing in the report that was extraneous and we didn’t try to fix what wasn’t broken. That was a relief.”

--SVP executive

“I had a prior 360° with another company and I could not decipher the results. This 360° was easy to understand and made creating the development plan a breeze. My development plan was completed in three months and I was ready for a new set of challenges. Our business went up 18% during my development plan.”

--C-level executive

“Applying the techniques I learned made me more organized and crisp. Most importantly, I learned how to quantify my unique value and stop making excuses. During the coaching, I was able to drive bottom-line results in less than 60 days.”

--SVP executive

7. What do 360° reports look like?

Below are sample excerpts of the 360° documents to show how the information is presented in the report.
a. The Executive Summary: The summary is intended to bring out the main strengths and development areas for the executive. The summary is also presented to the executive’s manager in a separate meeting and is used to create the slide show where the executive presents his 360° (if applicable). Below are partial sample excerpts. The summaries are usually one page for strengths and one for development areas.

b. The Chart:
The chart shows a visual summary of the verbatim feedback by color coding the comments into strengths and development areas. A person with very mixed review comments would have a chart similar to the one shown below. In the example below, the Openness to Learning and Technical Acumen categories are largely positive while the Managing Upward category is more negative.

c. The Verbatim Comments: This example shows a few comments from the Openness to Learning category. Each category contains a set of verbatim comments matching the chart and aligning with the summary.

8. Are there any best practices for 360° reviews?

Absolutely. The following are the summary guidelines for implementing a 360° review process.

a. Give 360° reviews to the whole team rather than a few team members. The process works best when the entire team gets used to giving and receiving feedback. This creates a cultural change which allows for more rapid adjustment of non-optimum performance and behavior. It also creates a sense of fairness and camaraderie on the team. If one executive is performing poorly, the other executives are usually contributing in some way to the behavior, even if only by tacit consent.
b. Respect the confidentiality of the process. The CEO and HR Executive should assist the team members to uphold the confidentiality of the reports. The CEO is a role model for receiving the report and summarizing the feedback to the group. Her attitude will be closely watched and imitated by other executives.
c. Grant the executives the importance of having separate and distinct reviews. Do not use the same type of feedback process at the executive level that is used at the lower levels of the organization. Executive responsibility and standards are much higher and should be treated as such. If you have a poor performer on the executive team, this situation must be remedied rapidly as the consequences hold much more importance to the company.

In short, the 360° process is a unique and time-tested approach for delivering a high quality learning and development experience for the executive team.
Years after receiving a review and three months of coaching, one executive left this message on our voice mail:

“ . . . I wanted to call and update you on my progress since our 360 process three years ago. I not only completely changed my approach to work, but I have been promoted twice and am now the Board’s choice for the new CEO of our company! I credit this entirely to the 360 process. I cannot thank you enough for the deep and lasting impact this process had on my career. I called my HR person to thank her as well for bringing this into the company. Of course, as the CEO, I will continue the process.”

Friday, September 30, 2011

Shoot the Messenger

Recently, I got a puzzling call from one of my favorite HR directors asking me what he should do with this group of engineers who just could not get along. The company’s product was behind because the engineers were arguing so much that they could not get any work done. One of the engineers worked from home because he refused to come in to the office. He was considering a “hostile workplace” claim. I dug into the situation and asked a lot of questions, but a particular question was incredibly revealing: “Who tells you about all the problems between the engineers?”

We all have to pass on bad news now and then. Most of us do not enjoy it. But a few people thrive on it. Call them drama queens or gossip-mongers, but no matter the name, they tend to follow the same pattern. The pattern, from your perspective, will look like this:

A person enters your office or cubicle and mentions some bad news. Possibly even asks you to check it out.
You go to investigate the scene or take it up with the other party.
You find the other party just as upset as you are and it certainly looks like something went wrong. You note that this is a dysfunctional person or group. You may even develop a slight headache.
What happened behind the scenes was your so-called “messenger” went to the other party first and told him something equally horrifying. Now you are all trying to figure out a situation sown with lies and exaggerations. Confusion, conflict and upset are the goals of the messenger.

It is possible you do not want to believe such "messengers of doom” exist. But they do. Here are a few ways to detect those who quietly stir the pot:

The “messengers of doom” show no remorse in telling you how bad people or situations are. The vast majority of people do not like to mention that something or someone is bad, but these messengers do not hesitate to pass on the bad news. The usual lines are that someone is (or you are) in trouble or in danger.

Such people also love gossip, critical remarks and any statement which reduces the reputation of others. “Mary said you were the worst bookkeeper she’s ever worked with. Can you believe she said that?” The criticisms often come in streams and can be about multiple people. The favorite tactic is to spread what others supposedly said about you. Note that it is very likely untrue.

These messengers often stir up conflict between two people intentionally. If you see two people fighting relentlessly, ask each person who else has told them bad things about the other. You might find both people have heard from the messenger.
Usually, the "messengers of doom" go about their business quietly. They do not shout from the rooftops; they slink casually into offices, close the door and gossip. Or they slide up to you while you type and say, “Did you hear that . . .”

"Messengers of doom" can be intelligent or dull, in high or low places. When in executive roles, they will often gravitate toward the most productive or creative areas and try to create conflict there.

Why do the "messengers of doom" behave this way? Basically, there are two impulses in any person. One impulse is to do well and succeed. The other impulse is to give up or give in or destroy things. The “messengers of doom” have stronger negative impulses than they do positive ones. While this is a subject of great curiosity, the more important point is to recognize it when you see it. The easiest way to start your investigation for "messengers of doom" in your office is to ask yourself who brings you the most bad news and criticism. Then, before you do anything else, watch for a time and look for other patterns of gossip and criticism from that person. Just pay attention, ask questions and observe. The next step is to go to HR or someone who can help with the situation.

Back to our engineers. As it happens, the "messenger of doom" was one of the engineers who was planting gossip about the other engineers all over the group. He was so busy at it that his own work was suffering. Once he was detected and watched, it became quite obvious that he was creating conflicts between the other engineers. He was fired a week later and now the group harmoniously codes away. The engineer who worked from home comes in four days a week.

If your office has too much conflict or you get stressed or tired from dealing with others in your group, start to look for an "MD". Maybe you need to shoot the messenger*.

*Warning: “shoot” is a figurative term!


It all began in a blustery autumn about 8 years ago. I was coaching attorneys, doctors and other executives, and I was interested in understanding the traits of leadership. I had some natural leaders in the bunch and I was watching them and their behavior to see how they ran their offices and lives. I watched them give feedback, make project plans, and push for results. I did not use the scientific method, admittedly, but I started to shape some ideas about what made certain leaders stand out.

I formulated a hypothesis that good leaders were tough, meaning they were tenacious, hard-edged, persistent, and definitely on the unsympathetic side. Natural leaders who could get work done were hard on their people.

There was a leadership study released about the same time which showed that a “drive for results” was the most important determining factor in executive success. Drive is the operative word, right? I was getting somewhere. These are the “doers” in life, and if they have to take a few people out along the way, so be it. These natural leaders knew how to rant, stomp their feet, jump up and down, and GET RESULTS! Some of them were underhanded, sly, even a bit vicious, but I could never argue with those results.

I kept this viewpoint for a long time, coaching many people to be tough, to give difficult feedback with pitiless precision, to attack weak points in the organization with ardor. It worked to a great degree. Tough executives made names for themselves and sent their companies’ results into the stratosphere.

In the spring of 2009, after the economy was in full collapse, I noticed something that shook my stable data about executive competencies. These drivers, these “tough” executives were uniformly looking for work. Nearly all of them had been let go in the downturn. Interestingly, some others who had not taken the “toughness” route and had worked on other competencies were still around. I realized it might be time to reinvent my coaching style.

I started to take a different look at executives at that time. I dug into an objective look at the executives who survived the downturn, and I want to announce a new hypothesis. Executives who are tough with results but kind with people succeed longer and more often. Yes, I said it. Kindness matters.

A recent example gives us window into this. A CEO of a mid-sized company was down-sizing through all of 2009 and 2010, and he started to lose his hair rather rapidly. I asked him one day what was stressing him out so badly and he commented that firing people took an enormous toll. He never did stop thinking about how it affected the families and lives of those who had left. He was having trouble sleeping, and had seen his doctor for several stress tests. There was nothing physically wrong with him, but he looked and felt old and tired.

I decided to do an experiment with him and asked him to take several kind actions per week as his work allowed. I had him make a list of small kindnesses he could do that would have an impact on his workplace morale. One of his items was to institute a bagel breakfast for the administrative staff every other Friday. He paid for the bagels personally to keep the company budget stable. Then he made a point of complimenting the good work of his assistant on a more frequent basis. He listed 15 separate kind actions he could take over the coming months. Curiously, his hair stopped falling out. Even more curiously, his company started doing better too. A statistician could argue that the correlation is meaningless. That is fine by me. This is not a mathematical argument so much as a statement from the heart. Our experiment in kindness made a difference for everyone involved. Even me.

Perhaps you know an executive who is suffering personally for his own lack of kindness. He is not only hurting himself, but he is hurting his company. Being too “tough”, not having enough kindness, is no sign of strength. It is just a contributor to stress. The times we suffer most are the times we could have been just a bit nicer and we forever wonder why were weren’t.

After all, the last few years were not easy on anyone. We all had it rough. Consider this the next time you have a choice to make: what is the kind thing to do? The kind choice might just bring a smile to your face as well as the face of the person on the other end. After all, what are we doing here in this world anyway? Are we here to make it a miserable experience for others? Must we be hectic, texting-and-driving maniacs who only care about the next dollar? Are 10 more pallets delivered more important than the life and dignity of our fellow colleagues? It is about time we got our priorities straight in this country. Get results, certainly. Push hard for them. Hold high standards for your people. But hold them with kindness too. You might find it gets you further than you think.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Recently, I attended a seminar on leadership development and a burly COO asserted to the group that “executives are born, not made”. I realized, as I sat there shocked at his assertion, that without the idea that people can learn, grow and change, then it is true that not much can be done to “make” an executive. But people can learn, grow and change.

In this article are some of the key areas a person has to perfect to become a GREAT executive (one who executes). Anyone who learns these simple areas well can become a great executive, beloved by her team and company.

If you ask the average person whether they would rather be an executive or an individual contributor, most will say “executive” because the pay is better. But what really makes an executive earn his or her pay? Why does he deserve the big bucks?

Below is a list of our non-negotiable attributes you have to have to take on an executive nameplate:

1. Risk-taking
2. Delegation
3. Strategic Thinking
4. Certainty
5. Organization
6. Inspiration and Motivation

Risk-taking. Where risk-taking is concerned, most executives will tell you it has been a bumpy road whether they own their own business or run a division of a company. Being responsible means being responsible, period. There isn’t anyone else to blame and it means your reputation, money and resources are on the line, every minute of every day. In case you haven’t seen the news in the past decade, some CEOs have even gone to jail for decisions their employees made. That’s no small risk.

Delegation. Probably the one attribute I see most new executives fail in is delegation. There are two things that stand in the way of good delegation. The first is the idea that it is “mean” to control someone else or ask them to do something and to follow up with them. This is just false information. Most people expect an executive to get things done and they respect the ones who make them work hard and get things done. The second barrier is not knowing what to delegate and therefore doing it all yourself. The solution to this is to write down all the things you do in an average week, group them into categories by similarity and then figure out how to delegate 50% of them and to whom. You might be surprised at the number of things you do in a week and how much more you could get done by delegating. If you think you can’t afford someone to delegate to, consider how long one of the small tasks takes you. Multiply it by your hourly rate. Now imagine someone else at a lower hourly rate was doing that task. That’s how much money you can save the company per hour. Find what you can most easily delegate and try it. You will never grow and expand if you don’t!

Strategic Thinking. You probably would never guess that strategic thinking is related to delegation, but it IS! Strategy comes from the Greek word for “general” and meant the person who decided which battles to fight. You have to do this in your business or division. Decide which battles to fight with the main purpose of overcoming your competitor! This means you have to have a big picture view. You will never have this if you aren’t delegating some of the detail work to someone else. So the delegation and strategic thinking are like peas in a pod. If you need help thinking strategically, read 60-minute Strategic Plan by John Johnson.

Certainty. No one likes a wishy-washy executive. Really. Decide what you are going to do and either do it or educate yourself more on how to and THEN do it! Be certain. Maybes are the stuff of which hell is made!

Organization. Remember, organization is knowing how tasks fit together to make a whole product and arranging them to increase flows and eliminate slows. Organized executives get more DONE. Period. Executives = those who execute. Read R U ORGNZED? on Biznik for more information.

Inspiration and Motivation. This is another area of downfall for new executives. Most people want to be inspired, to have purpose and interest in what they are doing. You, as the leader, have to provide a vision of where you are going and then use stories to make it interesting and fun. Throw in a sense of humor too. Not inspired yourself? Then start with you. As they say in sales, “The first close is you.” So sell yourself on how exciting your company is, and then communicate that to your team. Get them excited.

Inspire your team with certainty, a grand, strategic vision, then organize them and delegate to accomplish work and you have it! This is the winning formula for an executive who GETS THINGS DONE! Now go forth and execute.

Friday, July 22, 2011

R U Organized?

I walked into a start-up company the other day and no one even looked up when I came in the door. I went to the nearest desk and asked where James was. James was the person I was supposed to meet about a consulting project. The employee just shrugged and said he didn’t know. I asked the next person I could find who pointed to a table across the large, open room. I went over to the table where three people sat in a row with headphones on, not looking up at me at all. I got the attention of one of them and asked which person was James. He pointed to the guy on his left who looked up, finally, at that moment and stood up to shake my hand.

Later, I asked the CEO of this same company if he thought his company was organized. The question took him by surprise, and he stared at me for more than a few seconds. Finally, he spluttered out an answer something along the lines of “I guess so, but the thought had never honestly occurred to me.” He later added, “ I know we are pretty fast, and we have good people. I didn’t ever ask myself the question about whether we were organized. I guess I never really had that as a priority.”

Take the flip side of the coin, a VP of Operations I knew whose entire office space was pristine. I walked into his office, was greeted swiftly by his receptionist, routed to wait for him with coffee in my hand, and escorted in to see him within minutes of my on-time arrival. This guy knew how to control an environment. He also ran one of the most profitable operations in his field and had recently been featured in an article on efficient management.

Which example sounds more like your business? The disorganized mess? Or the pristine, orderly environment?

Why is organization so important for a business? Truthfully, it is because you will lose more revenue in what you SHOULD have produced than in problems with what you DID produce. Re-read that last line. The biggest source of lost revenue for a business is CAPACITY not used! And organization is the tool that makes it possible to utilize all of your resources effectively. The examples of above show two ends of the spectrum of organization in just one simple area, the greeting of incoming visitors.

Imagine if you could more effectively organize your entire business. Imagine the production you might be able to increase in the meantime. How much more could you achieve?

Let’s take an assessment of your business in a few key areas and see how organized you really are. To begin, let’s look at the definition of organization as it relates to a business. An organization is defined as an ORDERED whole. To BE organized is to arrange things into groups, sequences or types to increase flows and eliminate slows. So an organized business is one which is orderly and through which all types of people, communications and materials flow smoothly and rapidly.


Rank the following areas of your business on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being completely, perfectly organized:

Quality Control
Office Space

Add any additional areas as you see fit. How did you do? Which is your lowest area? Your highest?

This week, as you plan out your to-do list, add an hour or two to get more organized. Spend some time in your weakest area and get it a little more arranged. Get help if you need it. If you are in a small business and cannot afford much help, the very least thing you can do is get an organizing expert to help you. These professionals are not usually very expensive and can make a huge difference in your outlook on your business and your desk!

If you can't do anything else, organize your time better. Commit to being on time for every meeting for a week. End on time as well. See how your productivity compares to the week prior.

Make a commitment to organize as you grow. Organization is an investment that pays off in greater productivity. If you don’t believe me, read this from a famous organizing expert:

"When it comes to organizing a workspace, relaxation and comfort aren't the primary goals. Work is about efficiency and productivity. The more neat and logically organized your workspace is, the better you will be at your job." — Peter Walsh


Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Sword of Influence

Perhaps you would like to wield some influence in your organization. You want someone to believe you, follow your plan, take your suggestion, promote you. You want someone else TO DO something! You have to convince that person that you are right, that he should listen to you. The first thing you need to know is how he is going to react to you.

There is one fundamental human reaction to all attempts to persuade, influence or sell. It is FEAR.

Why does the person experience fear in reaction to your persuasion? He is afraid of failing or making a mistake or buying the wrong product, getting ripped off, or getting blamed for messing up. He has been burned before and vowed not to do it again. The more experienced the person, the more likely you are to encounter these fear reactions. You are dealing with an intelligent person who intends to make good decisions, and he has promised himself not to make poor decisions. So, as you start to persuade, he develops anxiety, agitation and apprehension about the pitch. He wraps himself in a “brick coat” to defend himself. The coat is made up of all the arguments you must overcome to persuade him.

The Stages of Fear

1. When you first approach the person, the truth is he has no idea what you are approaching about. The first brick in his coat, therefore, is fear of the unknown. What do you want? What are you asking? What might you make him do? You will notice the person, especially if you approach enthusiastically, will instinctively back off until he knows what you are talking about. Even after that, he might not move toward you or join your enthusiasm for quite some time.

2. As soon as you have described your purpose in talking to him, the next set of reactions are called prevention or inhibition reactions. These reactions add time, prevent or prohibit your actions from happening. He is trying to hold you off, stop you, prevent you. “Let’s talk next week.” “I need to check with my wife.” “I’m not sure I have enough information; I’ll have my associate start some due diligence for us.” These are all prevention reactions. The most common of these is the “delay” reaction. As the persuader, you need to know that the biggest enemy you have is time. The more time he adds, the more likely he is to say no. Just know that these delay tactics are simply irrational fears and proceed with the conversation. Do not allow the person to “think about it” (thinking doesn’t take any time) or to take time off from the conversation. Just keep pushing ahead. While he wants time to work against you, you need to make it work for you by staying interested.

3. The next fear reaction is a bit tougher to take: enforcement. If you push through the delay tactic, he might even get a bit angry or frustrated that you called his bluff. He might (in extreme cases) yell or call you names. Don’t worry; you have simply arrived at the third (and final) fear stage. Congratulate yourself (silently) and proceed. Despite all the reasons, objections and arguments and doubts he expresses, just know they are all based in fear.

Confidently and calmly, continue to reassure him of you and your idea or plan. Stay upbeat and positive and INTEREST him in it by being interested in him and his ideas. If you can push through these fear reactions, he will eventually move through the fear and doubts and upsets. Your confidence and positive energy and INTEREST will win the day and he will agree with you. The best part is that you have both won. You used your impeccable influence skills and he made the right choice. It’s a win-win situation.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

No Close, No Money

So you want your business to generate revenue? Money? Be cash positive? Join the club. Your business won't get very far without an excellent sales strategy. Below are some basic tips on setting up and closing deals.

The Three Functions of a Sales Department

Every sales department (or even a lone salesperson) has at least three main functions. The first is to contact new leads (create the funnel), the second is to move the prospects through their objections, and the third is to close prospects. The deliverable of the sales department is, of course, closed sales.

Although closing is 10% of the sales cycle, it delivers 100% of your revenue, and therefore its importance cannot be overstated.

Most sophisticated sales departments use a blue sheet to analyze the sales cycle for each customer. You can search the internet for "blue sheet sales strategy" for a template. These are an excellent tool for setting up and examining the sales funnel and keeping the funnel flowing towards the close.

A good blue sheet should include an analysis of the main objections each prospect has and the handlings for each, as well as a strategy for closing. The key to the funnel is MOVEMENT. The funnel must be active and constantly worked to achieve qualified prospects and convert them to customers by closing.

The Importance of the Close

Closing strategies are a separate and voluminous subject. The main point of agreement about closing strategies is that planning and coordination on handling the objections is key. Every objection must be qualified for accuracy. This qualification step basically involves checking with the prospect whether, if the objection were handled, would he proceed with the process. If he says yes, the objection is real, but if he states some other objection, this objection must now be checked.

When the full list of objections is coordinated amongst the sales team, the objections must be systematically handled by a sales “battle plan”, a strategy for overcoming all of the relevant objections to the degree possible. If some objections cannot be overcome, a different strategy can be formulated depending on the importance of the objection. Only about 10% of objections are insurmountable. Remember that the prospect would not have continued communication with you if he did not have some level of interest.

A closer must be a courageous soul indeed, for he must confront and handle all objections, despite any emotion and reaction on the part of the prospect. He must also tolerate the possible “no” which, with further communication, will turn into a yes. This is not for the faint of heart. The key to closing is continual motion, continual communication, and continual interest. The closer is never discouraged. He is persistent, upbeat, truthful and highly communicative, but not unreal, disingenuous (not genuine) or rude. The best closers are skillful communicators, not overbearing brutes.

Planning for Success

Planning out the sales cycle from lead through close is the key tool for making the revenue your company needs. The sales division may just be the most valuable division in your company, so do not shortchange them with weak or non-existent planning.

When they win, you all win!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Up and to the Right

Take a moment and tally up how many people work in and for your business. What if every one of those people were suddenly 25% better at their jobs? What if they were each 50% better? How would this impact your business? Leadership studies have shown that a “feedback culture” improves team member performance faster than any other organizational change. Don’t miss out on what could be your chance to have a high-performing team.

It’s long been a part of business culture to have regular performance reviews and the purpose has, supposedly, been the improvement of the employees and, therefore, the improvement of the business. The idea is that if you give someone a review of his performance, he can improve it. Sounds simple. Unfortunately, few times of the year are less productive and more stressful for managers than “performance review” time. Perhaps you too have dreaded the performance review of your employees, knowing it might be contentious or upsetting, or, at the worst, a nightmare of legal vulnerability. Sometimes the reviews are a surprise. Other times they are a boring, repetitive exercise in paperwork.

A new trend has been sweeping American companies over the last few years that is intended to end this once-a-year feedback-fest which is usually littered with half-baked opinions and squishy goals. Many companies are now working to create “feedback cultures”, cultures where open communication about job performance occur on a daily or weekly basis, sometimes even minute-to-minute, to increase awareness of strengths and weaknesses and to take the pressure off of the yearly performance review.

If you have decided that you want to up-level your team in a hurry, nothing is better than creating an instant feedback loop for your team. Follow these simple steps to get started.

Creating a Feedback Culture:

1. Set expectations for the entire team. Have a meeting to let your team know that you intend to improve performance by trying new feedback methods. Tell them not to roll their eyes yet. Explain the feedback method will include metrics as well as individual feedback to each person. The idea is to get everyone used to feedback so when it comes along, it isn’t so bothersome.

2. Get agreement. Get the team’s agreement that feedback is not only a good idea, but that it will be accepted routinely. Next, have each person work out one major metric that measures his job performance and graph it on a line graph. For example, if the person is a receptionist, have him track the number of incoming calls, packages or visitors that are correctly routed. Make it a game to get this number higher and higher. The game is UP and TO THE RIGHT on his graph. Next, work on "soft skills" such as tighter communications, better grammar, a more pleasant tone of voice. Make it a game to improve these things, rather than focusing on them being "poor" right now.

3. Educate about feedback. Help the team distinguish between performance feedback and useless or harmful opinions. Example: “You need to be more organized. I suggest a schedule including each client, time of appointment and outcome” [performance feedback] VERSUS “You are so disorganized!” [useless/harmful opinion]. Good feedback is specific and actionable. Make sure all your feedback meets these criteria. Realize you may need to give a piece of feedback in several ways, over several conversations. Also educate the team about metrics, how to track them and how often you will be reviewing them. Start with weekly metrics and review them at a short, end-of-week meeting. Push everyone for an "up and to the right" graph.

4. Practice. Start right in the first meeting to give on-the-spot feedback. Get the team members used to it. The only way to do that is to practice. Remember to balance positive feedback and “improvement” feedback.

5. Prepare for reactions. The most important thing to do is to be committed to your feedback process. Don’t change simply because you hear some grumbling. Those who are good performers will like the new feedback because their graphs and their feedback will set them apart. The winners will be very obvious. You can call them the “up and to the right” crew.

If you are already skeptical about whether this can work for your organization, consider the story of a small team at a major technology company that decided to jump headfirst into trying this new method of feedback. The first thing that happened was a bunch of noise. “I don’t like it. It’s cruel.” “Is this what they call ‘thickening our skins’?” “Seems like an excuse to be mean.” Yes, the adjustment was rough at first. After a week or two, the whole crew was used to sporting graphs for every team meeting, looking for “up and to the right” curves. They started making feedback, the specific and actionable kind, a part of the daily routine. The team became a study in high performance with some of their best-performing members being promoted within the year. This same team was responsible for creating the laptop on which you might be typing your email.

And of course, you can always remember the words that came from the same person who threw away his performance review: “All that matters is graphs that go up and to the right.”

And, in the end, it’s true isn’t it?

Monday, January 31, 2011

No Excuses EVER

What IS the most important characteristic of a leader? Read any leadership book and you will find tens of possible answers: character, strength, a genius IQ. Our research led us to this answer: no excuses. The technical term for this might be “accountability” or “responsibility” but we like “no excuses” because it conveys the real, raw truth of the matter.

The real, raw truth is that a fantastic executive is able to make things happen and she never makes excuses when she can’t do it.

Take the stories of these two real-life executives. One, the CEO of a technology start-up, ran into trouble with her company. The idea of her company was a unique and ingenious one, but she just couldn’t get any traction in the market. A fantastic executive herself, she ordered an immediate review of herself, with interviews from all of her investors and a harsh but truthful look at her executive skills. She found several deficiencies in herself such as a weak financial background and some difficulties in PR and marketing. She instantly hired a consultant to help her with her PR and marketing, and she found a part-time CFO to fill in her financial gap. She started really kicking the market in the teeth and got on the cover of a major magazine.

Another CEO, head of a $35 million technology company that was in the transition phase from startup to mid-size found himself losing the buy-in of his executive team. He lost his VP of Sales and his Chief Engineer before he called us. Then, when we arrived, he went on and on for hours about how the problem was the founder of the business. The only problem with his excuse was that the founder had been around long before the exodus had begun. It just didn’t add up. This CEO was completely unable to look at his own contribution to the recent problems.

The difference between these two types of leaders is a simple one. The first CEO was a no excuses CEO! She was able to face up to her weaknesses and charge ahead with solutions, unfazed by any critical or difficult feedback she might have gotten. The success of the company was more important to her than her personal pride. The other CEO, unfortunately, was so involved in finding who to blame that he couldn’t even see beyond his own nose.

A “no excuses” executive does not judge his company or his team by whether everything is perfect. That would be the wrong standard. The question is whether he can look at his company or team and, despite everything that is wrong, still make things turn out right. In the process, such an executive might even find that he or she has much to learn or many changes to make before all is well. Despite these difficulties, a no excuses executive charges ahead.

If you aren’t sure if you are a “no excuses” leader, take this short quiz:

1. When something goes wrong, do you usually search for who is to blame?

2. First thing in the morning, do you look at the day ahead and see only problems?

3. Do positive people annoy you?

4. Do you wonder why everyone around you is so much dumber or lazier than you?

5. Do you blame any recent career or job failures on the “bad economy”?

If you answered “yes” to more than three of these questions, you are having a tough time being a “no excuses” leader. You may need to take a longer leadership assessment test to determine why you have a tough time taking responsibility.

We are the first to admit that being a “no excuses” leader is not easy. On rough days or around tax time, we all might wish for a good scapegoat. The hard, unfriendly truth of the matter is that those who have the most success are the ones who can look at any situation and determine how they caused it.

So if you are looking at a financial disaster in your company, or a human resources nightmare, or any of the myriad problems that can occur, pull yourself up by the bootstraps and consider this:

1. Just because you are “no excuses” does not mean you should engage in self-pity or blame. Just acknowledge the situation and get moving on a solution.

2. A good analysis of how the problem occurred goes a long way toward solving it. If you can’t figure it out, get a professional in the area to help you.

3. Don’t get distracted. Just because something is unpleasant does not mean you should avoid it. Put on your riot gear and attack!

4. There’s nothing better than getting it DONE! So take that big, hairy problem, tackle it, get it done and move ahead!

Finally, remember this brilliant quote from Thomas Edison: “We are continually faced by great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.”

So go find some opportunities! No excuses!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Is He Coachable?

We have all worked with the guy we avoid at company Christmas parties and functions, the one who gossips about everyone, or steals others’ ideas and passes them off as his own and pretends he doesn’t. As he exits his yearly performance review, we watch carefully, hoping he has somehow come out a changed man. Over and over, we are disappointed. Why is that?

Let’s start with some basic data about leadership development. A person develops certain habits or patterns that he or she thinks help him to survive in the workplace. Those patterns are engrained early on because at some point, they worked.

Example: Joe steals some presentation data from a co-worker and gives the best presentation of his life. He gets promoted as a result. Now, he has found a reason to keep stealing data, hasn’t he? Four or five jobs later, he is still stealing others’ ideas even though it no longer works and others shun him. This is an ethical problem for him.

What can we do for this workplace problem child? How can we help him?

Remember this: In the absence of ethical behavior, no leadership development can be done. Ethical problems shut off the ability to learn. So if you have your eye on someone who “just doesn’t get it” or never changes, you have your eye on someone who needs an ethics tune-up. He just is not coachable yet.

If we drew a pyramid of important items necessary to career development, it would have a base labeled "ethics" and the upper part of the pyramid would contain all the various parts of leadership development.

A strong ethical foundation is necessary to truly develop a leader. A person who has to lead others cannot do so unless he has others’ best interests in mind. A person who has ethical trouble thinks only about himself and pits himself against everyone else. The easiest way to spot a person with ethics problems is that he chooses himself over everyone else. It’s what you are really complaining about when you complain he “doesn’t get it”.

The good news is that ethical troubles can be fixed! Please do not waste your time trying to develop a leader when his ethics are all a mess, though. Handle the ethical problems first.

Tips for handling ethical problems:

1. Don't go it alone. If you approach someone complaining about his self-centered attitude, you will end up on the wrong end of the battle and you could be the one in trouble. Instead, start documenting the problem behavior with very specific examples. Write the examples down and submit them to your HR person. If you do not have an HR person, see the article entitled "The Real Purpose of HR" (in my section on Biznik) and give a copy to the person in charge of hiring.

2. Keep help in mind. Remember that a person with ethical problems is going to be very defensive, so tread lightly and keep your intentions good. Expect to be seen as a troublemaker, at least at first.

If you have trouble or your first encounter is like taming a dragon, call on a professional coach or HR person who can dig in deep and get to the root of the matter in a helpful and thoughtful way. Then, when the person is really ready, give him a development plan that will allow him to soar.

Monday, January 3, 2011

You Want It, You Got It

Influence is the power to affect people or events, the capacity to be compelling. With influence, you can achieve your goals and win in your business. Without it, you will be frustrated and upset, tired and apathetic about how the world affects you. In short, influence is the bridge between where you are now and the life of your dreams.

Think for a moment about something you got that you had wanted for a long time. Think of another example of something you achieved that you had wanted for a long time. What do these two things have in common? You had to communicate and influence to get them. None of us can achieve anything in life without communication and influence.

Think now of something that you would like to have. Why haven’t you gotten it yet? What if you knew the right person or event to influence? What if you knew the key to influencing any person to achieve any outcome you wanted? How valuable would this information be to you? Read on to discover the factors of influence.

First, let’s start with some basics of communication. As much as you might not like to hear it, other people are different from you. Their perceptions are not the same as yours. As a result, you have to make a concerted effort to understand them and their points of view. Without this basic knowledge, you will get nowhere in influencing others. Others know if you are spending the time and effort to understand them. Take the time. Make the effort. This is the most basic first step of influence.

If you are uncertain about how to do this, try first by asking some basic questions of the person in the area you are discussing. For example, if you are attempting to influence your boss to give you a promotion, ask some questions about the budget and the future outlook of the company. Find out what he thinks about the company and the outlook for the next year. With this step, simply try to achieve understanding. Do not ask for anything yet.

After you have taken some time to understand the person you are trying to influence, try next to develop some admiration for the person. Find something you can like about him or her. Expand on that as much as possible. If your boss loves the same type of music you do, get the idea that you really agree on this topic and expand on it as much as possible. A quick warning: you will occasionally run across someone who does not respond well to admiration. Although this is more difficult, it can be overcome with some customized help. If you have encountered this situation, get some help from HR or a coach.

Keep in mind that the development of admiration starts first with you. It has to be genuine and you have to develop it yourself. If you find that you have a hard time creating admiration for others, you may also have a hard time influencing others. If this is the case for you, seek out some help for your critical nature. This cynicism could be your downfall. If on the other hand, you find it easy to create admiration for others, you are well on your way to getting whatever you want.

Your next step is to achieve certainty about what you want. Again, this is an internal step. Set your mind about what you want. Any doubt you have will show up in your communication to others. Root it out. Once your mind is set, start getting agreement from others about what you want. Say it is true. Explain how it can be true. Remind yourself and others daily that it is true. Spread the word about it. If you are going for a promotion, start acting as though you already have that position. Yes, you should use some caution on this that you don’t step on any toes. The most important part is the mental step of internal certainty. If you can follow this with a skillful use of communication to get others to subtly see you as already in possession of what you want, you are home free.

To sum it up, influence starts with you and your mental state. How much do you like others? Can you listen to them? Can you understand other viewpoints? Can you make up your own mind that you will achieve something? If so, you are well on your way to influencing others. Start close to home and you will find it easier and easier to expand your sphere of influence.