Tuesday, 8 December 2020

The Need To Appreciate

What a year it’s been for us all. No-one could have predicted how, as we approach the end of 2020, our lives would be (and continue to be), turned upside down by the physical, emotional, economic, social, practical and psychological effects of this global health crisis. Governments around the world have - and in many countries continue - to place restrictions on our lives, the likes of which we have never, ever experienced before. So, it is against this backdrop that my last newsletter of 2020 is much more personal in nature.

When Covid19 hit, my life was well set. A diary full of business, bursting with travel, clients, learning, laughter, fun and happy times. Good health combined with joyful friends to see, sport to enjoy, a book to finish and lots of interesting and rewarding work.

And then everything changed. My diary emptied, travel stopped, I pivoted my business entirely, put my head on the desk more than once, lost amazing people to the disease and slogged through an eye watering amount of work and professional challenge to get the business back on track.

Some individuals and organisations have been desperately shoddy and disappointing; the vast majority have been amazingly supportive and kind, and as the year draws to a close, I am reminded yet again of what being a spectacular person, as well as a spectacular leader is all about.

My clients, my team and my colleagues have shown me that:

  1. It’s a relationship business above all else.
  2. Step away from the keyboard more often.
  3. It’s good to talk.
  4. Stay positive - and scream later if necessary.
  5. Listen, listen, listen - and then work on listening more.
  6. Go above and beyond.
  7. Sometimes we just have to laugh.
  8. Listen to the needs of our body and mind.
  9. Celebrate every win - no matter how small.
  10. Make appreciation a habit - we feel better as a result.

So, it is to every single one of those individuals and businesses who has worked with me, shown their brilliance to me and been unforgettably kind over the last year that I send my heartfelt thanks.

As the year draws to a close, I hope you all get the time to rest, regroup and be with those who matter.

Here’s to a far more joyful 2021.

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Forced Fun Fatigue


I’ve been talking with my clients this month about virtual socialising. Back in the long since forgotten pre-COVID days, we were regularly with our clients, going for drinks, having lunch or dinner together as part of the rhythm of getting to know them and being part of their business. Now everything has stopped as we work from home both for now and the foreseeable future. The challenge is real when it comes to how we continue to strengthen our social connection to our customers whilst not being able to spend time with them in person.

I decided to conduct my own research with my clients and can report that activities undertaken in the last seven months to socialise at a distance include virtual drinks parties, silly hat meetings, ‘bring your worst holiday souvenir’ team meeting, a séance, cooking classes, a court jester, a mime artist, virtual coffees (sent to their clients), amongst others. I thoroughly enjoyed the research and both giggled at and admired the creativity for these ideas in equal measure.

However, the novelty appears now worn to have off and many clients reported real difficulty in maintaining momentum around these sorts of activities, and are genuinely worried about the quality of their relationships with their clients if they can’t socialise with them. So…..it got me thinking…..

Just listening to the list of things we’re doing to try to have fun with our customers sounded exhausting……and as we in England move into a second national lockdown, I wonder: is it me, or are we all starting to experience what I call ‘forced fun fatigue’? Now to be clear, personally, I miss all the activities that made life joyful: seeing friends, long and leisurely lunches, holidays, restaurants, live sport, theatre, galleries, drinks parties amongst many, many other glorious activities. But is it now the case that we need to revise what we’re trying to do as part of connecting with our customers in our professional lives?

I think so. The novelty has worn off when it comes to fun at a distance. What was originally quite exciting to do a drinks party on Zoom….most people would run screaming in the opposite direction from yet another remote meeting. We’re trying to handle resurgence of Covid-19 once again, the nights drawing in and there’s an exhausting weariness combined with a daily ‘what fresh hell is this?’ when we tune into any news programme or podcast.

So why not focus less on the forced fun element, and much more on the how we can bring disruptive insights, critical thinking, useful connections to our customers? Yes, we’ll need to work harder – but in a different way - to utilise our creativity and resourcefulness to get a share of headspace from our clients and strengthen our relationship with them in an entirely different, memorable and more long lasting way.

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Pitching In A Virtual World

Who doesn’t have ‘Zoom’ (other platforms are available and used regularly) fatigue? How many of us have sat through presentations and conversations online over the past few months whilst all the while thinking: “I don’t care about this”?

My time this month has been spent focusing on helping sales teams pitch more effectively in the virtual world. They - like us all - have lost the ability to be onsite and in the physical presence with their clients and colleagues. Floor walking rights have gone, water cooler conversations have disappeared and the real and present danger is that relationships are becoming more irregular, more distant, more disconnected and more challenging. We can’t wait until things ‘go back to normal’ (whatever that is), because it could be a very long time before that happens. So, what do we do if - and when - we can get on the calendar of our clients, and are desperate to show them some fabulous new information about our propositions?

Here are 6 rules to get us started:

Rule Number 1: Make it a positive experience. We’re all tired, we’re all distracted, and ‘more of the same’ won’t cut it. Our goal is to engage our audience to make it a memorable, positive experience and if we do, they’ll remember it far more positively as a result.

Rule Number 2: Don’t bring the same decks that we’d bring to a face-to-face meeting. Why? Because our clients don’t care. We haven’t got the same capacity to engage and involve the audience in quite the same way that we would if we’re all in the same room face-to-face. We don’t have the same time and we don’t have the same communication tools at our disposal. If we don’t plan to change the deck and story deliberately for the virtual sales environment, then we will absolutely and certainly fail.

Rule Number 3: Plan interaction often and do it early on in the pitch. Our audience can (and do) hide behind cameras which are turned off and microphones that are on mute. So they are an invisible and silent audience. We have no idea what they’re up to. As a result, we have to get them involved to enthuse, connect and enjoy the conversation, and keep it up throughout our pitch in a commercially relevant and enjoyable way.

Rule Number 4: Ditch data density. Our clients really don’t want to see endless, overly burdened slides with font size 7 and an eye watering number of visual stimuli. Clean them up, strip them back and tell a simple story.

Rule Number 5: Leverage the technology. Use chat functions, polls, whiteboards, breakout rooms to create an experience that is enjoyable, engaging and interactive.

Rule Number 6: End on a high. Our cognitive bias will look back more fondly on the interaction if we do. Crashing through slides, overrunning, rushing, chaos at the end of a pitch is deeply, deeply unsatisfying.

Are there more rules? Yes. But that’s for another day. So what can your sales teams do now to create more engaging pitches for the virtual environment?

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

How Do We Build Relationships In The Remote Environment?

My thoughts have turned this month to the challenge of building relationships in the remote environment. A global brand with whom I am working is worried about their sales teams. Big hitters, delivering big numbers and representing a big brand. They have built a great profile with the client and earned ‘floor walking’ rights through the quality of the relationships they have, and the value of their solutions to their clients’ businesses.

So what’s the problem?

Well, first and foremost, these big hitters can’t go to their client’s offices because no-one is there…. and many businesses have indicated that no-one is returning to the workplace anytime soon. There’s a vertical drop in high quality conversations with a common theme when of ‘when things get back to normal, I’ll be back in their offices’ from the sales teams, combined with a ‘we’ll reconnect once things have calmed down’ from the clients, and a general ‘we’re keeping in touch via email’, and ‘it’s all fine’ theme to the overall perspective on the situation.

If this was your sales organisation, would you worry?

My hand goes straight up and I am particularly worried about how we can support sales teams such as the one I’ve just described to be able to build their relationships if they are not physically and regularly present with their clients. How can we find out what’s going on through planned and ad hoc interactions? How do we gauge the mood, be spontaneous, smooth ruffled feathers, make connections, ask great questions, gather powerful client intelligence and identify possible future opportunities……….. if we’re not there in person?

Just talk to the client I hear you say.

The client is busy, distracted and challenged on a number of fronts, so the first stumbling block is getting their attention, securing their willingness to commit time to a conversation and then showing up as planned. After that we just need to ensure it is useful for them (not just us), and create momentum to keep talking.

You see? Not easy. And by the way, this challenge is one for any and all of us who need to influence others in order to get things done.

This is without question a rich, expansive topic, so for starters, let’s ensure that:

  1. We recognise that relationships don’t get built without planning. This means identifying SMART goals to inch forward progress in the quality of the connections we have. The quality of our relationships with others is represented by their willingness to make time to talk us, sharing useful information, and being willing to connect us with others inside or outside of their organisation.
  2. We do our homework to identify how a conversation might appeal to them. Brainstorm ideas with colleagues, talk to people in their team who are easier to get on the phone, think about sources of value for our audience that we could offer (and no I don’t mean bribe them!)
  3. We sell the value of having a meeting…for them – not us, and avoid the trap which sales professionals all to easily fall into of talking about their propositions. It’s too soon!
  4. We plan our questions. All too often we don’t; and then waste time flailing about. What we want to know can be discovered; what we need to do is plan to ask about it.
  5. Deliver a valuable conversation to build trust and credibility in the eyes of our audience.
Much more to say; but that’s for next time…..

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

Why We Must Focus On Our Remote Presence

It is this month - August 2020 - in which I will finally publish my third book. After four years research, countless interviews and more than 70,000 edited words later, the topic of ‘Remote Presence - A Practical Guide To Communicating Effectively In The Remote Environment’ comes to life and it is this month that I am focusing on the ‘why’.

Why is ‘remote presence’ so critical now? Why should all professionals focus on developing it? And why has it never been harder to achieve?

Let’s start with the first question. Why is remote presence so critical now? Harvard Business Review published fascinating research which showed that trust reduces remotely across teams, scepticism increases remotely and that it is more challenging to influence remotely. Quite simply we are harder to convince, we are less likely to believe and we are more likely to disagree when working together at a distance. Communicating remotely isn’t something we do periodically - it is now - and for the foreseeable future - our sole means by which to build relationships, increase our reach within customers, drive our priorities both internally and externally, change the view of others and get support for what is important to us all requires remote presence. It’s not easy and quite simply we all need to up our game.

Why should all professionals focus on developing it? Because everything has changed now that we need to persuade at a distance. We’re not in the same room, we’re two dimensional not three, we’re about 5% of our normal size and we are at the behest of our internet connection when it comes to how others experience us. All of this impacts our ability to reach, engage and influence colleagues and clients alike.

Why has it never been harder to achieve? Because our normal working environment now is what I call the ‘distraction’ environment. We’re often trying to convince an invisible audience and a silent audience who can readily be absorbed by something else entirely, and no-one will have any idea to the contrary. It has never been easier for our audience to think ‘I don’t care, I’m not listening and I’m not going to engage with this.’ In addition, it’s never been easier for them to get away with it.

If our role means selling, coaching, managing, leading, engaging, delivering, driving, serving, supporting, motivating, persuading and challenging colleagues or customers in order to be successful, then we need to show up remotely like never before and we need to get really, really good at it.

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

3 Words With Which All Leaders Need To Get Comfortable

Currently, governments and countries around the globe are either closing down or slowly opening up to experience that endlessly repeated and not at all understood phrase of ’the new normal’.

Businesses are adjusting at lightning speed, executive boards are making eye watering decisions and wherever possible, all companies are trying to entice customers back into the habit of spending money with them.

In addition, employees are returning to work (whilst wherever possible this is being done at home), and in so doing, there is still the requirement of schooling their children, taking care of loved ones and staying healthy and hopeful.

’Normal’ this most certainly is not. ’New’ it most definitely is.

So, what does all this mean for our communication as leaders who need to engage their people, drive results through others, keep teams focused on what they can control and build a culture of trust, connection and optimism? If the global pandemic that is Covid19 has taught us anything, it is that no team, no manager and no business had a pre-prepared playbook to successfully navigate the health and economic crisis that is sweeping around the world. This reality sits utterly at odds with the theory of what great leadership looks like. We have read and been told countless times that leadership is about conveying confidence, certainty, authority and leveraging our talent to find and secure the answers we need. We are trained to take the long term view, see around corners and be certain. However, the reality of our new Covid world, is that if our communication is to resonate, reach and reassure our people, we need to get comfortable with saying 3 words much more often that we have been used to doing in the past.

'I don’t know.’

Those are the 3 words which leaders need to embrace: 'I don’t know.’

Why?

Because we’re far more likely to build trust and respect if we show up as someone who doesn’t have all the answers, all of the time. Absolutely no-one does - anywhere - and to act in a way that suggests otherwise is naïve at best and dangerously delusional at worst. Saying these 3 words reveals our vulnerability as leaders, and it is in that space that we create connection with others. Our style and tone matter. This is not a simpering, unnecessarily apologetic ‘mea culpa’. Rather it is a statement of confident fact. Being immediate, crisp, positive and action oriented must combine with being reassuring, optimistic and calm.

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

The 3 Strengths All Great Leaders Need To Develop Now

What times we live in. As the global pandemic unfolds around the world, we continue to hold on, take care of ourselves and those we love and do our best at work given the circumstances we face. If the global economy is to recover, then it will be historic. Nothing on this scale has been attempted before, and undoubtedly there will be both success and failure, good days and bad ones, challenge and opportunity as we look ahead and look beyond this time of crisis.

But for here and now, during this period of lockdown in the United Kingdom, I have been talking with a lot of clients about leadership today versus the world pre-covid19 and ‘post-covid19’ (whatever that will be), and exploring the skills and strategies that great leaders need to harness in the coming days, weeks and months. What does being a great leader really mean now? What skills do leaders need to focus on strengthening moving forward? Where do we start when faced with rapidly changing and unpredictable government mandates, fragile supply chains, a decimated sales pipeline and an anxious workforce who are slowly returning to work? A long list is easily created to answer these questions; however I am reminded of a powerful, yet simple expression in which to group my response: great leaders lead with their head, their heart and their hands.

Leading with our head: means being skilled to see what a future could look like and what it will take to get there. This is not a naively optimistic perspective, but an informed and measured view which combines the art of the possible, with an ability to look around corners and have the courage to take decisions despite eye-watering levels of uncertainty. It’s not easy, but seeing a vision of something better, finding the wins now and believing that in the end, it will be all be worth it, is what leading with our head really means.

Leading with our heart: means being able to deeply and warmly engage a frightened and anxious team as they return to (a very different) way of working. Genuine care, empathy and making proper time for our people is what is needed to reach them. Being able to let go of control and build a culture based on transparency, openness, optimisim and trust is where engagement lives. It’s the ability to inspire our people to do more - willingly - for our customers than anyone thought possible.

Leading with our hands: means being able to empower others to take responsibility for delivering performance, being agile to transform entrenched processes and ways of working so that we can be more responsive, more efficient and more distinctive in creating a safe, customer centric environment and get things done. Taking away the barriers, leading by example and being visible is what leading with our hands really means.

Sounds like a lot to go at? Of course it is, but what underpins each strength is communication skills. Leadership is a relationship business and that means we are all in the business of communication. Any successful relationship is built on communicating clearly, listening wholeheartedly and influencing readily. Just because we learnt a language (or more than one), when we were younger, it doesn’t mean others understand us now. We have a lot to say, a lot of ways in which to say it and a lot of different needs, priorities and emotions to address. Oh, and by the way, we need to most of that remotely. It’s not easy but it’s not an option. So, as we all continue to learn and change and grow: which leadership strength do you want to work on strengthening now?