We’re Growing So That’s OK. Isn’t it?

Simon is CEO of a business operating in the Middle East and Africa and when I met him it was enjoying double-digit growth, significantly outperforming similar organisations in mature European markets. The most recent financial year had seen growth of 12%, something his former colleagues in the UK could only dream of.

So why wasn’t I impressed?

“What’s the potential in this region?” I asked.

“Around 40%,” he replied.

“So you’re underperforming by quite a long way,” I said.

He was quiet. For a moment I thought I’d overstepped the mark.

Then he admitted, “I’d never thought of it like that.”

I hadn’t been trying to undermine his achievement, merely open his mind to what was possible and shift his focus to the 28% that was up for grabs.

This led us to get his team together and explore the potential.  We brought his country managers together.  As is typical with these workshops, there was a lot of ground to cover.

Isolating the interference

We started with a venting session, designed to get out all the issues that hold us back. We label this interference. It could be real, imagined or perceived – anything that gets in our way and occupies thinking time or activity.

The team shared over 80 things that bothered them. These were the 80 things that were preventing them from hitting their €1bn target.  

Putting the barriers in boxes

We categorised every item on the issue list – all 80 of them – into three boxes.

  • Bothered
  • Not bothered (at all or right now)
  • Givens (things we can’t change)

At the end of the process we were left with three items in the “bothered” column and we knew that if we addressed those we could unlock €2bn in additional revenues.  Solving them required no magic, no investment and no more headcount.

Think differently

We showed the teams how to take ownership and develop a plan to capitalise on the hidden potential.  Will they unlock all €2bn? Probably not, but they will go beyond their current comfortable level of thinking and increase their productivity significantly.

So ask yourself:

  • What is your real potential?
  • What interference is getting in your way?
  • What are you prepared to do about It?

Why not try the 3  step process for yourself?

  1. Vent – write down all the things holding you back
  2. Categorise
    • Bothered
    • Not bothered
    • Givens
  3. Prioritise – Go to work on your bothered list

Why your current situation isn’t the problem

So you’re facing a bit of a business crisis. It might mean answering to shareholders, investment being put on hold, or even layoffs.

At a lower level, it may be that bonuses aren’t paid, promotions are passed over or individuals are held accountable.

It’s a problem, right?

Wrong.

How can the result be THE problem, when the result comes at the end?

Yes, the result may cause a problem and bring consequences, leading to a different set of decisions.

The real problem came earlier – and it was probably one of these:

  • The Unhelpful Mindset.  Often driven by the size of the target, the quality or price position of the product or service or even how well your people feel supported by their manager, colleagues or other departments will reduce performance.
  • Reward Strategies.  It could be the way you manage your people. Do they feel valued and appreciated? If there is a perception that others are valued more, then this ‘treatment’ will lead to a sense of unfairness and unhappiness and lower productivity – or worse.
  • Systems and Processes that make it hard for people to do their job can be immensely frustrating.  Whether I am trying to win business, serve customers or support the internal teams I want to feel like I have the tools to do my job well.  ‘Fighting the internal systems and processes is frustrating and reduces productivity. Worse still, you’ll lose your good people.
  • Measurement.  When you measure the wrong things, you not only drive the wrong behaviours and limit your performance, you seriously p*** off your people.  They don’t get it and you end up creating value destroying processes just to report on the wrong things.

Facing one of these issues is bad enough, but more than one and you’re in big trouble!

Ask yourself – to what extent …

… is your peoples’ mindset focused on ‘how to’?

… is the way you reward and acknowledge their contribution motivating them?

… are your systems and processes enablers for your people?

… do you measure the things that add the most significant value to your business?

Thinking Focus specialises in transforming business performance by unlocking potential in people.  Why not give us a call to discuss your current situation and how we can help? You can also tune in to our podcast series – ‘The Question is…’ available now on iTunes.

 

5 fears that WILL lose you the sale

More often than not, it isn’t what we say that loses us the sale – it’s how we think.

Sales, more than any other profession, plays with our minds and at certain critical moments during the sales process we are particularly vulnerable to talking ourselves out of a sale. Subconsciously, fear can distort our thinking during these decisive stages which is why having an awareness of how our minds work can make the difference between success and failure.

Be honest, have you ever caught yourself thinking any of the following?

  • I’ve got a new lead but what if it’s a waste of time?
  • I’m about to become one of those irritating sales calls but hey, it’s another appointment to add to the log.
  • Our product isn’t the best on the market and it probably won’t be what they’re looking for.
  • They’ve gone quiet – we must have been too expensive …
  • … or maybe they’re talking to someone else?

As sales people we are great story tellers. This is how we convince our prospects that we can solve their problems. It’s also how we talk ourselves out of a sale. Whenever we’re persuading ourselves or someone else of our point of view we go looking for evidence to back it up. What really matters is where we look for that evidence.

Our minds are powerful and use all our senses to store multiple experiences on the hard drive that is our subconscious.   Our subconscious is incredibly complex and I do not pretend to understand the inner workings but if you want to learn more get a copy of Incognito by David Eagleman, he knows his stuff. For the purposes of this argument, we simply need to be aware that the subconscious stores experiences and emotions associated with those experiences.  Within the subconscious filing system are ‘folders’ where we store habits, beliefs, cultures and biases.

Although we store our take on reality, it is not necessary the truth, although we will be convinced that it is exactly as we remember. When faced with a new, scary or challenging situation, the way we’re feeling at the time will influence which subconscious files and folders our conscious mind chooses to access.

Conversely, these files and folders will inform how we feel going into a sales situation.  Contained within them will be the culture of our company and sales team, our biases relating to prospects, products and services, past sales experiences and beliefs about our capability and ability to deliver what the prospect wants.

So what can we do about it?

As we’ve already acknowledged, a seller’s mindset can be their best asset, but it can also be their undoing.

Developing a winning mindset relies on us revisiting the way we think at critical moments in the sales process.

Listen to the voice in your head

Is it being helpful or unhelpful? What many of us don’t realise is that we can choose how we think – in other words, what our inner voice is telling us.

If you start thinking about the negative reaction you might get when you make a call, you’re not going to have the right mindset to maximise the impact of your sales message during the conversation. When it comes to discussing price, the wrong mindset can leave you wide open to cost challenges and a lack of conviction. Assuming you’ve managed to seal a deal, the way you think will influence your ability to ask for referrals. Are you being a bit cheeky or do you feel you’ve done a great job and have earned it?

Changing your thinking takes time and the first step is simply being aware of how you think in different situations. By taking control of your thinking,  you can develop a winning sales mindset.

 

 

So Why is Great Service So Hard to Come By?

Today I had two experiences that made me want to let off steam about customer service. Or rather, the lack of it. I feel I may have reached that age, the age where one turns into a grumpy old man. Some may argue that ship sailed long ago.

Please don’t tell my wife, but I visited a well known fast food chain for my breakfast, my weakness the sausage and egg McMuffin. I used the drive through and when I came to pay the server  was bright, bubbly and smiling. Wow, I thought.  She’s enjoying her day. Two seconds later I approach the main event, the bit where I get my snap. This server was the polar opposite. Efficient, yes, but very dour.

Later the same day, I have the misfortune of talking to my business bankers, an experience to behold. I interacted with a call centre, my online account and the online chat.

Let’s start with the online chat. I went through the entire process only to be told I would have to start again as this chat was not secure. That meant I had no option but to contact the call centre. Including the 15 minute wait to be connected this whole process took up an hour of my time.  All because they cannot communicate swiftly and efficiently. This gross inefficiency (or incompetence) is causing them and more importantly their customers to waste valuable time. All because they have failed to design their systems and processes with their customer at the heart.

To add insult to injury, I decided to give some constructive feedback (see paragraph one, grumpy old man). I presented my facts in four clear bullets only to be thrown off the page because I failed to complete my mobile number in the way they wanted. The contact form deleted everything on the page and forced me to start again, or abandon. So now, if transacting with them was not hard enough, complaining was even harder.

Now, banks will hide behind a load of rules and regulations. I know, I used to work in one, and that was over 20 years ago. I see nothing has changed.

Service is a lottery, and yet it is the one thing that all organisations have in their gift.

I put it down to two things:

1. The systems and processes make it impossible for the decent people in the service industry to deliver the service they can. The system disempowers them.

2. The engagement of their people is so poor that they have failed to communicate their vision and purpose in a way that their people can connect. If they don’t get why service is so important to the customer, then businesses are putting more than that customer at risk, the brand, future revenues and a lot more besides.

Of course, individuals can take ownership for how they behave but businesses, please stack the deck in your people’s favour and give them the tools to deliver, both they and your customers will thank you for it.

Is your CI Team the problem with your CI programme?

A UK food manufacturer was looking at investing in a formal Lean and Six Sigma programme, as they believed that they had done everything they could to optimise their plant. Across the business, there was evidence of people operating in silos, and a fragmented attitude towards Continuous Improvement with a perception that CI was purely for the manufacturing process.   The business driver was to continually find year on year savings.  The challenge was that they believed no further savings were possible.

Why is having a dedicated CI team such a problem?

Typically, businesses invest huge amounts in business improvement methodologies. They create a CI team to drive the improvement agenda seeking to save money on their production and processes. The trouble with that is that the rest of the business sees them as the owners of CI.

By having a team dedicated to CI, you inadvertently create abdication amongst the rest of your business. Your people look to your CI team to solve problems, own the reporting and expect them to take the heat when the benefits of CI do not materialise as expected. After all, you created the CI team to ensure your CI investment pays off. CI is cultural, adopted at all levels of the business. Everything you do needs a CI lens to look at process optimisation, waste reduction and process improvement. You need an environment where everyone can and are encouraged to get involved in the improvement agenda.

What are their limits? 

The CI team have limited reach. When they intervene, they are dependent on the individual or team adopting the revised approach. Much will depend on how they manage the change process. The CI team have the process knowledge but do they have the change skills to take people with them? Are the CI team fighting the culture, the business mindset? Your CI team become frustrated at a lack of support, perceived or real. The overall impact means the business loses out on many levels. You do not realise efficiencies and savings; waste is created by people not being engaged effectively and leaders go looking in the wrong place for reasons.

Back to the food manufacturer

Let’s get back to that food manufacturer. The issue was that their culture was not one where CI was central to everyone’s role.

How did they solve it? They developed a programme which brought together cross-functional teams to tackle seven business projects. The leadership team sponsored the key projects and the project groups were equipped with mental models and tools and then challenged them to apply them to the business. They created an environment where people felt able to have a go.

The impact was a real cultural shift. 

The CI team became enablers, not owners of CI. They provided expertise but didn’t own the problem. In just 90-days they have not only identified over £500k of savings across the business, but improved engagement, streamlined processes, and freed up almost 30 hours a week by removing duplication.

 

Are you getting the bang for your CI buck? If not, I recommend you look at how your CI team operate. A CI team who act as enablers in a culture where the whole business owns CI will unlock huge productivity gains and better still your people will own it! A CI team who own the CI agenda will never realise the potential that exists in your business.

Should the R in SMART be Realistic or Relevant?

Have you noticed how some people use realistic, while others use relevant?

So which is the right one, does it even matter?

Rob and Rich discuss the merits of both.  Maybe they might change your mind about which one to use.

It’s fair to say the acronym that gives us a guide to setting goals and objectives, SMART, has been around for some time. In our podcast, we explore how you get better value if you consider the R stands for relevant.

Rob and Rich begin their discussion by reminding listeners what SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic/Relevant and Time-bound. Many people use realistic because that’s what they know but Rob is a big fan of applying the term relevant instead. He maps out how if you have a list of tasks to achieve on a day, we can always choose something that’s realistic. Just as an example, we could easily set ourselves the limiting goal of running 100 metres in 14 hours.

It becomes a different question if we ask how relevant is the goal? We should be looking at the relevance of achieving our tasks rather than just asking can I achieve them. By applying this technique, we can reach a meaningful goal.

Ricky adds that we bring into play questions and thoughts for the person writing the goal about their motivation if we use the term relevant.

Both agree that realistic and achievable can almost be interchangeable when considering the SMART framework. Substituting the R for relevant can help us to prioritise and consider our motivation therefore adding more value to the whole process.

There really are no right or wrong answers but using relevance in their expert opinion will add more depth and value when it comes to achieving our goals.

Why we dread difficult conversations

The ‘difficult conversation’ is something that, as managers, we all have to face up to at times in our careers. Whether it is having to tell someone that their performance is not up to scratch, having to share changes to the structure, process or work environment or let someone go, it can be a daunting prospect whatever your level of experience.

Why do we find it daunting? The answer lies in how you talk to yourself.

Your self-talk is the voices in your head; we all have them. You ask questions and say things about people, about the situation or yourself. These voices will either be helpful or unhelpful.

Is your self-talk working for you or against you? 

We are great imagineers; we play out given situations in our mind. We search our memory banks looking for examples from the past; we look to the future playing out the conversation with the person.

You imagine their reaction. You can almost see them vividly kicking off, crying, shouting or arguing. You remember similar situations and how others may have behaved/reacted to this type of news. This imagined future will create emotions and will position our state of mind.  Do we see this in a calm, rational way or how most of us see it: as difficult, challenging or potentially confrontational? Our imagination creates the story, the narrative of how we see the conversation going. It is this story that informs how we prepare. If we have imagined a difficult conversation, we are likely to go into it with a level of emotion, expectation and tension. Hardly the best preparation!

What can we do to prepare ourselves for these types of situations?

The great thing about your self-talk is that you can control it. You just need to programme it in the right way. If you find yourself in an unhelpful mindset, the simplest way to change that mindset is to ask yourself three questions:

1.     What could you say that might be more helpful?

2.     What memories could you recall that might be more helpful?

3.     What future could you imagine that might be more helpful?

These questions are part of the Thinking Focus Self-Talk Model, a mental model designed to help you to find ‘ingredients’ to create a more helpful mindset. You can harness the helpful mindset to prepare yourself better for the conversation you need to have.

 

We believe that individuals, teams and business units underperform. Not because they want to, not because they intend to, but because they can’t get out of their own way.

This may not be down to them; it could be the culture or work environment. Our experiences shape our mindset and work habits, often causing people to get stuck.

 

What’s the best tool to use for writing a goal?

 

Is there just one way to write a goal, or are their different techniques?

In this episode, Rob and Richard discuss how to select the most appropriate approach making defining your goal easy.

How many ways can you write a goal and what methods are best? In our podcast, Rob and Richard discuss the most appropriate approach to make defining your goal easy.

When it comes to the best approaches for writing down goals, there are a few elements to consider. In the podcast, Rob and Richard discuss how it all depends on what the goal is about.

Among the questions to ask ourselves are: is the goal specific or big picture? Rob explains that SMART is a useful technique if the goal is quantitative and you want to achieve it in a certain amount time. This acronym stands for specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time related. On the other hand, if the goal is around feelings, a benchmarking technique is a better approach.

Richard goes onto examine how aspirational goals are another matter and you can break these down into different parts by using a ‘chunking’ strategy. For example, if the goal is to run your own company before you retire, this can be broken down into chunks so it becomes achievable.

Goals set around feelings are more difficult to measure but Rob explains benchmarking can be a useful technique. We can ask ourselves questions about where we are now, where we want to be in the future and look at closing the gap.

The pair summarise the discussion by focusing on the approaches they have examined including SMART and benchmarking. They explore how it’s important to be able to describe and measure the goal in some way. This gives us greater clarity as to whether we buy into the goal or not.

The Thinking Focus: The Question Is podcast series is available to download on ITunes.

How does your leadership cocktail taste?

We’ve all met leaders who are driven. They have a particular mindset; one of constant improvement, of never wanting to stand still. They are relentless in their quest to deliver. They blend key ingredients to unlock that perfect flavour of performance.

When was the last time you tasted the ideal blend of leadership? How did it taste?

When it comes to inspiring team to perform, there are some key ingredients and some leaders are driven to find the perfect balance of flavours to inspire their team to achieve their goals.

So when you think back to the last time you saw strong leadership, ask yourself what key drivers informed that cocktail. Was it driven by the need to be more productive, maybe increase efficiency, be more innovative and creative? As leaders, we have to find the ideal mix of ingredients to get our teams to perform. What is your ideal ‘taste’? What is the blend you need to achieve your objectives?

The test of leadership is to get the ingredients right. To blend those ingredients in perfect measure and most importantly to maintain the right mix to ensure sustainable performance.

It is my view that leaders are responsible for blending three (not so secret) ingredients; to provide clarity and purpose for their organisation, to create an environment where their people can and (more importantly), want to perform, and finally, to equip their people with the capability to deliver. This seems to be a complex cocktail. Getting it right will have huge benefits. Get the right blend, and you instantly recognise it and the taste is amazing.

What happens when the flavours don’t work? 

If the mix is slightly off, the imbalance leads to a plethora of issues. Amongst other things; disengagement, missed opportunities and worst of all a dissatisfied end customer. All of which have a cost and, like a dripping tap, will have dripped away before you even realise.

People are your greatest asset; they are key to your business achieving its strategic aims. Business invests heavily in kit, inventory and machinery, they protect it, service and maintain it. They look after it to best optimise it. Do you approach your people in the same way? Do you invest in them the way you do your systems and machinery? After all, they are the ones who can make or break a process, optimise a machine and delight your customers.

A major bank I worked with embarked on a development programme to get their ‘mix’ right. They involved the people and outlined the aims of the programme. They created an environment where their people could own a challenge of their choosing. They could approach it in any way they chose. Before they started, they equipped their people with tools to help them. The impact was huge.

The bank found that their people picked things that bothered them the most, they challenged assumptions and broke down cross-functional barriers. They reduced call wait times by two-thirds. They saw 30% reduction in calls into their contact centre by increasing the quality of customer communication and through challenging their processes they reduced operating costs by 25%. Their single biggest win was to challenge the perception that the IT team were too busy and together they fixed a long-standing technical issue that released capacity they valued at nearly £4m.

They achieved a perfect blend for them. People had clarity and were invited to take the challenge. They understood how they could make an impact and received development with the tools and an environment in which they could perform. And, perform they did, beyond the expectations of anyone!

My challenge to you as a leader is to ask yourself and your teams:

  • How clear are you about what you want and what is compelling about it that your people should come with you on your journey?
  • What environment do you have, is it conducive to delivering your strategy?
  • How effective are you at optimising the capability of your people, with tools, systems and process?
  • What impact would the perfect cocktail have on your business or team?

 

 

We believe that individuals, teams and business units underperform. Not because they want to, not because they intend to, but because they can’t get out of their own way.

This may not be down to them; it could be the culture or work environment. Our experiences shape our mindset and work habits, often causing people to get stuck. 

We create mindsets that unlock productivity and realise potential.  

Why can’t goal writing be easy?

Goal writing sometimes seems like a mystic art form, limited to a very few highly trained experts.  Are goals really that difficult?

Richard and Paul discuss how to make goal writing really simple.

Goal writing sometimes feels like a complex task that requires specific training to get right. In our podcast, Richard and Paul discuss how to make goal writing really simple.

There are times in the workplace when we’re asked to focus on writing down goals but for many of us it’s not always a straightforward process.

In the podcast, Richard and Paul talk about how we may never have been shown how to put goals to paper before starting work. Sometimes people talk about goals as though there is a magical way of writing them but in reality, if you have a decent structure, the entire process can be simplified.

The easiest way to begin is to set out what you are trying to achieve. Crucially pick a date and then focus on the positive ‘I will have.’ Richard and Paul explore how there can be a nervousness around choosing a specific date but once we commit it allows us to start focusing and really working on the goal.

They go onto examine how many of us play it safe when it comes to writing down goals keeping them vague. But goals need to be sharp: we need ‘picture, perfect, clarity’ and a real point of time in the future by which the goal will be achieved. Sometimes if we feel unsure about a written down goal, it’s because we haven’t given it enough thought.

Richard and Paul conclude their discussion looking at the issue of accountability. If we share a goal, we are more likely to achieve it. Essentially, they say writing down goals is about having a go. Keep it simple: what do I want to achieve and when do I want to achieve it by?

The Thinking Focus: The Question Is podcast series is available to download on ITunes.