Thursday, 19 July 2018

Are We Lucky Or Are We Good?

I have been working with a client this month who has a very experienced sales team. Their challenge is that they have delivered their sales target only 3 times in 12 months. That’s not a level of performance that any sales leader would accept, and in a traditional family run business, and thin margin industry, this clearly cannot continue. What has been so fascinating for me as a coach is exploring the skills and mindset of both the sales team and those who manage and lead this team. There is a question that my first boss used to ask me repeatedly when I started my career as a na├»ve pharmaceutical sales representative selling ethical medicine to doctors back in the early nineties…… are we lucky or are we good?

This question is built on a simple premise: good sales people are consistent with performance even when faced with challenging economic conditions and client setbacks. They are curious about their success, keen to learn, willing to ask for help and readily admit their mistakes. Sales professionals who are lucky are the ones where they have good months and bad; where one quarter they are on target and the next they are off target…… and the reasons why are always outside of their control. All too often we start to hear “yes, but…..” coming into their language and outlook on different situations.

Part of our challenge as leaders is getting the balance right between challenge and support so that our teams deliver consistent performance over time and this starts with scrutinising mindset. Henry Ford said “whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right”. Now, it’s not as simple as saying that we need to just think and we’ll be successful; but rather that this is our starting point. Hard work, taking risks, developing skills, reflection and learning are all critical to succeed of course… and mindset sits at the heart of it.

Leaders with Executive Presence know that their role is to inspire, stretch, support, challenge, motivate, enthuse and encourage their teams to achieve… and to do so in an environment rich with change, challenge and complexity. This means imbuing in others the belief based on the research of Julian Rotter in 1966 around the ‘locus of control’. Quite simply, more effective individuals operate from a mindset of belief that says we can influence more than we think, and “if it’s going to be; it’s down to me” thinking. Everything starts with mindset. We are wired to look for evidence that proves what we believe…. what we believe is what we seek and if we can’t find it; we create it ourselves.

So the next time, as a leader, you are reflecting on either your own performance or that of you team… take the time to ask yourself: “are we lucky or are we good?”

Until next time…..

Thursday, 28 June 2018

How Honest Are We?

I have been working with senior executives this month in the healthcare, telco, oil and gas sectors talking about feedback. Our conversations explored the challenge around candour. An executive shared with me his frustration around what might be termed one of his ‘rock star’ sales professionals who had lost a multi-million dollar account. During the course of my subsequent discussions with the sales executive, what was absolutely apparent was the reality that he had not had candid feedback about his behaviour and shortcomings that had led to the loss of the account. He was in denial and - according to him - it was simply a set of extraordinary circumstances that were beyond his control which had led to the loss.

This got me thinking……….

As leaders, just how honest are we? Especially when we are working with high potential talent, senior managers running large organisations and people we want to keep engaged, enthused and excited about coming to work? We all like to believe that we are honest in our approach, and yet how often do we hold back? What are we afraid of? I am struck by the misconception that candid feedback means only negative consequences – such as demotivation, demoralisation, turmoil within the team, significant emotional upset and ultimately – losing great people. I suspect this fear has arisen because the culture created around feedback has been so dire to date.

Leaders and managers who continually deliver outstanding results in difficult times are able to ignite their people around the cause, build strong relationships and get the balance of challenge and support right and are able to give honest, uncluttered, candid feedback. And their teams love it. In fact, they crave it. Kim Scott from FaceBook coined a phrase and an approach called ‘radical candour’ - which I love.

So, if we want to be more honest as leaders – which we need to be – if we are going to do more with less, manage the uncertainty, complexity and challenge of our times, then practical steps we can take now are: 
  • Talk about the importance of high impact, candid feedback – regularly. Remember, what we talk about is what our teams will care about. If we care about feedback as part of a high performance culture, then we need to talk about it – and challenge our teams to be providing it regularly, as well as doing so ourselves. 
  • Make the time to give high impact, candid feedback. Use simple models to structure our comments, avoid lengthy preamble, keep it short, allow the audience time to reflect, make sure it’s evidential (so it’s objective) and explore how the gap can be filled. 
  • Give more feedback, appreciate progress and effort and always remain candid if the result isn’t yet where it needs to be. 
  • Ensure we catch people doing things right; and use the same approach. A lazy, casual ‘great job!’ won’t cut it. 
Until next time…..

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Setting The Scene

Here are a few questions to kick us off this month……

How many conference calls or telepresence meetings do you attend in a week? And what about the number of face-to-face meetings? And how often do you find yourself wondering whether or not this call or meeting might be a monumental waste of your time? Here’s the reality for all of us. When we first get together with our colleagues virtually, what unfolds is exactly the same as that which happens when we meet face to face, namely social tension is at its highest and rapport is at its lowest. Even when meeting with people that we know well, every occasion is a new dynamic, a new day with a new energy. It is our base survival instinct that demands to understand what exactly is going on in this particular situation and to determine whether or not everything will be fine. Therefore, when it’s our meeting, we need to immediately and effectively exert influence, reduce tension and increase rapport.

I have been working with clients this month to do precisely that, particularly in a remote environment, and I call the technique ‘setting the scene’. This technique is a highly effective, persuasive and impactful way to engage our audience right from the start. Quite simply it involves conveying three key messages at the top of a call or meeting which I call the three ‘P’s - namely 'Purpose, Process, Payoff’.

Purpose: What’s the goal of this conversation? What do we want to achieve by having it? Think outcomes and do not confuse it with an agenda. An agenda is not a goal. What’s the point of working through the agenda? Is it to make a decision? Agree actions? Provide commitments? (In terms of time, money, people etc.)

Process: How is this meeting going to unfold? What are the different elements to it? For example “I have thee slides to share, then I’m really keen to get your thoughts on what the data I am about to share reveals”. We all need to understand how we are expected to contribute and be involved, so let’s make it clear to the audience right from the start.

Payoff: This is simply ‘WIFM’. What’s In It For Me? If we don’t articulate the value to the audience of being truly present in the meeting, then the allure of devices to start cranking out emails or drifting off in their minds will become too great.

If we don’t make this clear, our audience have to work it out for themselves and all too often they simply will not. Setting the scene is a powerful tool to convey presence and influence whether it is a face-to-face or remote environment. So, my final question is simply this: how soon would you like to start using it?

Until next time……

Thursday, 15 March 2018

How to get my attention

We live in an attention deficit economy, where most of us aren’t listening most of the time. So, what makes you pay attention? When someone starts speaking – be it on a conference call or in a meeting, what makes you think ‘I’m in; I want to really pay attention to what they have to say’? My focus this month has been coaching my clients to do precisely this – especially given the fast paced, remote working, global village, horizontal leadership team world in which we all live.
I believe that we have about 6 -10 seconds (at most) to ‘hook’ our audience, convey presence and demonstrate impact through our contribution. We have this small window during which we need to entice, attract, intrigue, compel, appease, enthuse and motivate the listener to do just that – keep listening. If we don’t; we are lost to our audience, who become increasingly frustrated with our failure to make any kind of sense. Our presence and ability to influence evaporates and the message we wanted to communicate is sunk.

I remain astonished at the number of people who simply don’t ‘get it’. “But my message is so important!” “I’ve got great information” “No-one ever listens to what I say” are the cries (amongst others). The fact is that if we haven’t got the hook right, then no one cares about our great information because they stopped listening a while ago.
So what can we do? Well, I work with my clients to become better at the power of the ‘hook’ and here are three examples:

(a) Speak To My Priorities

If we are able to immediately speak to what is top of the agenda for the listener, then surprise, surprise, our audience will remain attentive. For example, if we are pitching to a sales leader who is focused on increasing profit from the existing client base, a simple example of a hook might be: “I have an idea that will help drive profit from one of our biggest clients”. Or, “We have a great example to share of how we increased margin by 20% on our last deal”. You get the point. Speak to what is uppermost in my mind and I will be (at least in the short term), hooked.

 (b) Appeal To My Communication Style

If we are effective at ‘reading the room’ or ‘reading people’, then our hook can be one that appeals to the emotional state or preference of the other person. If we know that the other person likes analogy, metaphor, colloquialism, a sound-bite etc. then we should start with one ourselves. Remember, it can’t be too long. If, on the other hand, we are talking to a data, facts, figures person then clearly the strategy has to be the opposite. Provide me with a memorable fact, give me a statistic I will like or offer a piece of data that will standout. Again, we’re all the way in with our attention. Our challenge is to be behaviourally flexible with our approach.

(c) Be Contentious

This isn’t as aggressive or argumentative as it sounds. In other words the purpose of the hook here is to create attention through challenge. I hear a lot in business today of the need for leaders to be ‘more disruptive’. The intent behind this wish is to shake things up, challenge convention, think outside of the norms. When we publicly dissent or question a viewpoint we are in effect questioning those in the audience who hold that opinion. The notion of ‘social proofing’ – so validating each other through public recognition – is scrutinized. Our contribution doesn’t have to be theatrical; a simple statement such as ‘I disagree’ is an assertive but not aggressive way to gain the attention of others, not least because they want to understand why.

There are undoubtedly other strategies to ‘hook’ our audience but I will pause for now. Why? Because the next challenge once we’ve got the attention of our audience is to keep it and leave them wanting more.

Until next time……

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Elevating Our Conversations Out Of The Detail

February is the shortest month of the year and this has prompted me to talk about a common challenge in relation to high impact communication.
All too often I see (and hear) professionals talking for too long; saying too much and getting mired in detail. This happens precisely when they need to be persuasive, engaging and influential. This month, an organisation that I have the pleasure of partnering with has asked me to work with technical experts where their challenge is their expertise. Yes, their expertise. They are super bright, extremely knowledgeable and technically proficient, and that’s where the issue lies. They need to elevate their conversation out of the detail. In fairness, my client is amongst friends as there is all too often in business a tendency to rely on our knowledge and a lot of information as the cornerstone of our communication. However, the reality for our colleagues and clients alike is that they haven’t got the time or the interest for all of the detail. What they need is the big picture, a clear story and a simple ‘ask’. Do we want a decision, an action or a commitment of some kind?
In order to be crisp, concise and compelling we need to:  
  • Split our message into three parts
  • Have a clear ‘hook’ at the beginning to gain our attention
  • Structure ‘headline’ messages that summarise the detail, using language that is clear and precise
One of the best pieces of advice I ever had was in 2001 when a prospective client asked me (right before a pitch) to ‘be brief, be brilliant and be done’ and it is in that spirit that, for this month, so am I.
Until next time……

Friday, 19 January 2018

Why Does What We Wear Matter?

Happy New Year! For my first topic of 2018 I am going to return to an ‘old’ question, but one that has nevertheless come into sharp focus recently, with three different examples to illustrate the point.

My first is drawn from the entertainment industry, which is currently engulfed in a sexual harassment scandal that has revealed decades of an abusive and sexist culture against women. At the time of writing this post, the 2018 Golden Globes have just been held in Hollywood and in act of solidarity and support, there was only one colour on display by all of the attendees - black. Why black as a colour choice? Because it is associated with power, strength, authority and prestige, and also because it’s a colour that symbolises grief and things that are negative. Every actor, director, producer and creative artist in attendance wanted to be seen as showing solidarity for the ‘Time’s Up’ movement. No-one deviated from the colour because to do so would have sent the wrong message about what they believed and where their sympathies and loyalties lay.

My second example comes from a UK retailer who has sparked criticism for the labelling of a line of womenswear called ‘modest clothing’. The original intent of this line was to offer fashionable yet ‘conservative’ clothing for women who wanted to keep most of their bodies covered for religious, personal or practical reasons. However, the criticism is because of the inference towards women who chose not to wear such garments. The problem with the labelling is that it can imply that those women who don’t wish to wear these clothes are therefore not modest. I call this an example of the law of unintended consequences. Whilst attempting to offer respectful and fashionable clothing choices, the retailer got it wrong in the values they wanted to convey to their global market, and have upset some of their customers as a result.

My final example is another global retailer who got an advertising campaign hideously wrong with their choice of a child model to wear a sweatshirt with the logo ‘cheekiest little monkey in the jungle’. It betrayed a profound unconscious racial bias which was so staggering that it is extraordinary the picture successfully made it on to their print and online media campaign. Never mind the fact that it was even taken in the first place. What on earth were they trying to say? 

Since all of these examples have had massive media in the past few days, I am prompted once again to reflect on the following question: as leaders, why does what we wear matter? 

My view is that in 2018, the reason why our choice of clothing is so important is because now more than ever it reflects our values - what we believe, what’s important to us, what we stand for. As far back as 2010, the Harvard Business Review published an article entitled ‘Twenty First Century Leadership: It’s All About Values’, indicating that “as global interdependence deepens in the decades ahead, the forces that compel humanity to work together will become even stronger.”

For the purpose of clarity, I’m not saying that conveying our values is ONLY about what we wear. Of course not. If what we say and what we do doesn’t align with our values as well, then our messages are confused and our audience doesn’t ‘get it’. As a result, we will fail to build trust. What I am saying is that leadership is a relationship business and a communication business, and what we wear is part of the toolkit we need to use to convey our values to the rest of the world. Trust me, now more than ever, the world is paying close attention.    

Until next time.......

Thursday, 14 December 2017

The F Word In Leadership

For this final post of 2017, I want to talk about the ‘F’ word in leadership. Feedback. I have spent my time in the past four weeks with global brands, organisations that work in the public sector, the third sector and also with SMEs and much of our discussions have landed here. Why is it so hard to give great feedback? Most of us are filled with dread when we hear the expression “I’d like to give you some feedback” because we believe ‘oh, this won’t be good.’ How have we got to such a place? What is it that we’re so afraid of? My view is that because it is so heavily associated with bad news (and we all know how much of that there is in the world), it’s either avoided or offered in such a way that either the person on the receiving end doesn’t ‘get it’, and/or is left with feelings of hurt, disappointment and resentment. Feedback should be a rhythm of our communication that is as natural, regular, sincere and effective as asking great questions and listening deeply. As you read this, how many of you are thinking as a professional that you are simply replete with the amount of positive, effective feedback you’ve received in your role? In fact, if you receive one more piece of positive feedback then quite frankly, you will burst?

Exactly. I thought not.

So, here’s my question: why would you think that your teams feel any different?

Praise is great – but that’s not feedback. Appreciation is lovely – but that’s not feedback either. Great feedback should leave the receiver in no doubt of the specific behaviour that was observed, the impact of it and what you want them to either continue to do (or consider doing differently). If our feedback is critical or developmental, then it should leave the receiver of it feeling helped and not harmed. My heartfelt belief is that we should investigate, appreciate and explore success with far greater curiosity than we do failure. All too often what I see is a ferocious examination of failure and a cursory glance at success with a simple ‘pat on the back’ to do yet more. Of course, there are many brilliant models or frameworks for feedback, all of which are just terrific. I use AID (Action, Impact, Desired Outcome), LCS (Likes, Concerns, Suggestions), EEC (Example, Effect, Change/Continue) and, of course, there are many others that work just as well.

Leaders who have Executive Presence use the ‘F’ word in leadership a lot. Feedback is a habit of their leadership and their communication. That’s how they encourage, inspire and enthuse those around them to develop themselves and deliver great performance. So, who in your team (whether they are a direct report or a colleague in your horizontal leadership group) is overdue feedback? And why not focus on something positive? Why not make your gift this festive season one of thoughtful, clear, positive feedback that engages, enthuses and delights those around you?

Until 2018…