Scott's Blog

Don’t Fall In To These Leadership Traps In 2014

TSE 1 copyake a look at my article, originally published by Forbes, in Switched On Leadership magazine. The publisher presented it really well. The article is also available on this site or by clicking the link in the magazine.

Click here to download PDF of Don’t Fall In To These Leadership Traps In 2014 article…

To access the entire magazine available exclusively on the Apple Newsstand, from your iPhone or iPad click this link, and use Subscription Bonus Code “LeadersAreReaders” (without the quotes) to get a three month free subscription.

Strategic Leadership As A Competitive Advantage

ISE 1 copy’m in good company with Dan Pink and Peter Bregman in Switched On Leadership magazine. The publisher transcribed my podcast of the same title and presented it quite nicely. The podcast is also available on this site or by clicking the link in the magazine.

Click here to download PDF of Strategic Leadership As A Competitive Advantage article…

To access the entire magazine available exclusively on the Apple Newsstand, from your iPhone or iPad click this link, and use Subscription Bonus Code “LeadersAreReaders” (without the quotes) to get a three month free subscription.

For Leaders, Relationships Trump Expertise

As you advance in an organization, technical skills become less important, and leadership skills become more important. It’s an inverse relationship because, as a leader progresses and rises to new positions of authority, they need to rely more on leadership ability and getting results through others, than their specific area of expertise.

Now before you get annoyed, I’ll highlight that I am not suggesting technical or functional knowledge and skill is unimportant. They absolutely are. Yet the more I work with organizations large and small, it is clear that as you climb the company ladder, you will rely far less on your proficiency with the business than your ability to work with people. This is about being a leader first, functional expert second. So if you want to be a leader first, here is where to put your focus.

Inspire and motivate those around you. One of my clients builds very sophisticated capital equipment. It is clear that while knowledge of schematics and detailed manufacturing plans is important, leaders of this organization don’t actually do or personally direct any of the building. Other people do that. They certainly need to understand it, but getting people to perform their assigned jobs and be accountable, is the majority of their work. The leaders in the manufacturing division prioritized bringing positive energy into the plant as a means to bolstering productivity. In the book I coauthored, The Inspiring Leader, we highlighted a study indicating that the better a leader was at inspiring and motivating, the greater the workgroup was rated efficiency and productivity. That includes minimizing wasted effort, and continuous improvement too.

Build depth in relationships. Treat people as people. Not as jobs, tasks, or outputs. Doing so requires you to take an interest in them, ask questions, and listen attentively. When leaders demonstrate an interest in people and their work, it helps to develop mutual commitment to the job at hand. Leaders can do this by providing focused attention, taking time away from the office or the plant to discuss ideas and opinions, having conversations about their suggestions, and being available to your team. Most of us know how to do this, but it is a matter of prioritizing these things in the course of every day interactions. This isn’t additive work. It is the work. And the way you accomplish your objectives.

Coach and develop others ability to create value. Another way to deepen relationships also happens to be a critical responsibility of most leaders. Developing talent. In addition to being an effective way to demonstrate care and concern for someone’s success, this is a powerful mechanism to improve performance and ability to create value for an organization. The better people are at applying their talents and knowledge to solve organizational problems or address opportunities, the greater the value they bring to the enterprise. As a coach, you can directly influence how technical specialists or managers use their skills to carry out your strategic objectives. When leaders create a culture of learning and continual improvement, there are fewer errors, greater flow of information, and less dependency on a few experts to do critical tasks.

Foster teamwork and collaboration and bring people together. Few things are more frustrating than the presence of conflicting objectives and teams that aren’t working. One of my clients admonished his senior team, suggesting that all of the profit dollars needed for the organization to meet its financial objectives was “falling through the cracks between your divisions.” His assertion was that the lack of collaboration and competing agendas of the leaders was causing a loss of tens of millions of dollars in productivity and efficiency. By focusing on teamwork and prioritizing the goals of the organization above any one group, or individual, you’ll go a long way to creating an environment where cooperation thrives.

Develop those communication skills. Sure, developing this competency is ubiquitous when working with leaders, but there is no substitute for being skilled in communication. When considering the importance of being a leader first, the ability to powerfully communicate your strategy or the details of your implementation plans to those you work with is critical. When I review organizational survey data, invariably, one of the issues that emerge is a desire for better communication. Finding the right level of detail for your content and your cadence is up to you, but you need to do the work to communicate in a way that ensures your messages are not only understood, but acted upon.

Whether you are a Sales Vice President, the Director of R&D, or a CFO, remember, your divisional responsibility simply represents your area of content expertise. The main job you have is that of a leader. You are a leader first.

How to develop your leadership strengths

When we identify a need or have a desire to improve performance, our initial reaction is almost always to find a weakness and fix it.

It’s like we have an instinct to look for problems and try to repair them. Instinct does not serve us well when developing leadership ability. The truth is that great leaders are not characterized by the absence of weakness. They are characterized by the presence of strengths.
Take a moment to think about the best leaders you have worked with. Were they perfect? Of course they weren’t. It is very likely that they possessed a few truly outstanding abilities that set them apart and made them excellent leaders.

In my review of data on tens of thousands of leaders, and my experience working with senior executives, I’ve consistently seen that in order to perform at a high level, leaders need to possess just three to five areas of extreme competence. What’s more is that there is no secret recipe for which competencies they have to be, as long as they are important to your business.
That has considerable implications for anyone who is interested in achieving better results through improved leadership. Most leadership development work is aimed at helping people get incrementally better at a laundry list of leadership abilities from communication skills to financial acumen. Instead, the emphasis ought to be at selecting a few critical areas of strength (that we enjoy) and developing them much further.

Now here is the rub. Fixing a weakness is straightforward. That is, you get steady, measurable improvements by learning and practicing the basics. After a while, your performance curve will level off. In the same way, people training for a marathon don’t simply increase their mileage in training.

Getting significant improvement requires you to work on complementary skills — what I refer to as “non-linear development.” Think of it like cross training. The marathoner I just mentioned likely supplements a running regimen with weight training, yoga, maybe even biking or swimming. The same principle applies in developing as a leader because to go from good to excellent you need to involve other competencies. I have seen some leaders over-rely on the use of one area of strength at the expense of others. The most common scenario is a leader who is incredibly good at focusing on results but not great with interpersonal skills. The solution here is not to be less focused on results, but to further develop their people skills.

Sure, when weaknesses are really getting in your way or derailing you from achieving your goals, you have to address them, but I see that far less often in my work. It is your strengths that will carry the day for you as a leader.

Don’t Fall In To These Leadership Traps In 2014

I have been a proponent of the importance of leaders developing strengths as a means to improve toward excellence. After all, the best leaders are characterized by the presence of strengths, not the absence of weakness. That concept is illustrated in the article I coauthored for Harvard Business Review, called Making Yourself Indispensable. While it is clearly the path to developing the traits that allow a leader to stand out as remarkable, there are times when leaders need to address their areas of weakness. Some call these “derailleurs”, others call them “fatal flaws”, and still others, euphemistically, refer to them as “opportunities.” By any name, when those weaknesses overshadow a person’s strength, they have to be dealt with.

In my experience reviewing the data in thousands of 360-degree feedback instruments and consulting with senior leaders, these are the biggest traps that render them ineffective.

1. They are lousy role models. Leaders must be the exemplars of behaviors that are valued by any organization. They need to walk their talk and need to talk their walk. That is, they need to behave consistently with the standards set forth and actively support those standards verbally, combining actions and expressions to reinforce the desired actions.

2. They have poor interpersonal skills. We have all experienced leaders that are brilliant technically, or who possess incredible strategic thinking ability but who are abrasive, rude, and harsh to work with. As a result, they create a negative environment that stifles creativity. In other cases, a leader may simply lack any emotional engagement with others, and have simply transactional relationships. In my executive coaching work, this is by far the most common reason I get called.

3. They neglect the development of bench strength. Coaching, mentoring and developing others are the key areas of competence, when it comes to battling the inevitable attrition that occurs in a majority of organizations. When leaders fail to prioritize staff development, it not only hurts the future of the organization, it creates disengagement among individuals as they feel they are not being invested in.

4. They are closed-minded. These leaders have their way of doing things, (most often the way things have always been done,) and they are not interested in new ideas. In fact, they actively shut down suggestions from others and smother innovation. They reject even exploring new ideas on the basis that they know best.

5. They lack positive energy. Not to mention the harmful influence of negative energy. Even in a neutral state, a leader who is too often phlegmatic can come across as apathetic. No leader can be expected to hold elevated levels of enthusiasm at all times, but at least part of the time, people expect to see passion and even a little fire. The implication of this lack of positive energy is low levels of engagement for those who are lead.

6. They build silos. Collaboration, teamwork, and shared goals are more and more required for success in organizations. One of my clients is fond of saying that the profit dollars for the business “falls through the cracks between the silos.” Leaders who don’t take into account their influence on others, and think only of what their team needs, are too often, not acting in the best interest of the whole organization.

7. They fail to paint a compelling picture of the future. Few employees are motivated by the completion of tasks alone. Most want to understand their part in making the vision of the organization come to life. Providing clear strategy and direction for employees, is one of the critical success factors for leaders. Without it, individuals become mired in tasks and adrift from the mission.

At the end of the day, the saddest part about leaders who routinely exhibit these characteristics is that they are often unaware of them and the impact they are having. These leaders tend to have a very different view of themselves that others do and that gap creates problems for them. I have had to have very direct conversations with clients about the implications of their behaviors and the consequences of not changing. Frequently, that feedback can be a self-correcting mechanism as few leaders show up each day wanting to do a poor job.

Each of us needs to excel by leveraging our natural strengths and abilities. Peter Drucker pointed this out in The Effective Executive over 40 years ago, and that body of work continues to evolve today. But we also need to be mindful of avoiding these leadership traps. Your success will be determined by it!

Get everyone to act like an owner

Mhr-com-podcastsost job descriptions I see are just awful. The reason? They focus on input instead of output. That is, they tend to address all of the things that an employee is responsible for doing, (activities,) and fail to center on what is important—the outcomes they are producing, (results.) The implication of this is that way too many employees view their jobs as taking actions instead of creating results.(The lone exception here is the occasional job description for a sales position that indicates that the seller must “close business,” or “make sales.” Even then it is usually a vague reference.)

Scan job descriptions on the internet, and you’ll find them filled with items like qualifications, requirements, duties, tasks, skills, processes, responsibilities, key actions, and activities—lots of doing sorts of things. But if you want to create an organization where every employee acts like an owner and gives their best effort to bringing the company strategy to life, you have to get a results-focus in your job descriptions.

To ensure a concentration on results, your job description really only needs three elements:

  1. objectives to be achieved—we aren’t talking about things to do here, but tangible business outcomes;
  2. measures of success—how you are going to track progress; and
  3. expectations of performance—complete with rewards and consequences.

Here is an example of activity focus that I pulled straight from a job posting for a call center agent.

  • Obtains client information by answering telephone calls; inter- viewing clients; verifying information.
  • Determines eligibility by comparing client information to requirements.
  • Establishes policies by entering client information and confirm- ing pricing.
  • Informs clients by explaining procedures; answering questions; providing information.

This really provides nothing but a list of tasks and inputs. I can imagine the employee on the phone mindlessly checking the box on these specific chores. If this were a results focused job description it would sound more like this.

  • Creates a positive client experience while effectively qualifying all inbound calls received.
  • Achieves the standard of finishing 80% of client profiles complete with pricing confirmations.
  • Maintains a client conversion rate of 55% of inquiries in order to reach on target compensation.

See the difference. This employee has a much clearer path to out- comes and goals along with established performance expectations. The words are important. They inform behavior and guide action. But too many of you are spending time over-thinking all of the means and not enough time thinking about the ends.

Lower-level staff people can’t do this either. It has to be done by senior leaders of the business who have the responsibility for achieving these results. They are the only ones who can draw the clear line of sight from the job description to the desired business outcomes. Talent Management professionals can create value here by collaborating with those executives in guiding the process.

One common refrain I hear from my clients in companies both large and small, is that they want people in their company to behave in some way differently than they are now. The reasons vary, from a desire for fiscal responsibility, an improved service level, more effective products, or some other improved condition. Of course, it takes more than a job description to drive this change but it makes for a good place to start.

Take a look at the job descriptions for the key roles in your company. Are they outcome focused and results oriented? Or are they task driven with ambiguous objectives? If they are the latter, its time to dedicate effort to redefining your expectations of your people in terms of results—that’s the only way you will get them.

The Metrics Sales Leaders Should Be Tracking

As an executive vice president for sales, I spent countless hours reviewing, examining, and analyzing the sales forecast for my company. I required the managers who reported to me to do the same. And that’s what they asked their reps to do, too.  We weren’t alone. Conversations between sales leaders, sales managers, and sales staff frequently focus only on numbers: Did you make them? Will you fall short? How much do you think you can sell in the next quarter?  The result is an inordinate amount of time spent on inspection and reporting of numbers that are, speaking frankly, out of the control of any sales leader.

In a recent study, the Sales Education Foundation and Vantage Point Performance identified 306 different metrics that sales leaders used in their efforts to manage their business. These metrics fell into three broad categories: sales activities (things like the number of accounts assigned per rep, the number of calls made per rep, and percentage of account plans completed), sales objectives(like the number of new customers acquired, the percentage share of customers’ wallet, and percentage of customers retained) and the subsequent business results (revenue growth, gross profit, customer satisfaction).

Even though managers were spending more than 80% of their time focused, as I had been, on the second two categories, the report found that sales management could affect only the first – the sales activities. The other two couldn’t be directly managed since they’re outcomes, not the process by which the outcomes are gained.

Which sales activities should sales leaders be managing?  In their book, Cracking the Sales Management Code, Jason Jordan and Michelle Vazzana break down sales activities into four discrete categories: call management, opportunity management, account management, and territory management. Different organizations might need to focus on one or another of these more intently, depending on both the nature of what they sell and where their organizational weaknesses laySo depending on the needs of your sales organization or team, here’s a way to map the various sales activity metrics to the challenge at hand:

Sales leaders who need to improve call management — that is, the quality of the interaction between individual salespeople and prospects or clients — should focus on such metrics as call plans completed, coaching calls conducted, or even the number of calls that are critiqued and reviewed. Coaching in the area of call management is particularly valuable when the seller need make only a small number of calls to greatly affect the outcome of a given deal. In selling professional services, for example, the ability to create value in one or two interactions with a senior executive often makes or breaks the deal.

Sales leaders who need to improve opportunity management – the ability of their salespeople to vet, pursue, and close a multistage sale — should focus on the number of opportunity plans (outlining the actions required to move through the stages of the sales cycle) completed or the percentage of early-stage opportunities qualified — that is, fully vetted to confirm you are really reaching the right customers, that these customers have the potential to generate a reasonable amount of business for the effort it will take to gain it, and that they are in fact willing to budget sufficient sums to purchase your offering. Identifying bad deals in this way and getting them out of the way early may be the simplest way to increase your odds of success. Most companies I have worked with don’t want their sales teams pursuing every opportunity possible. Instead, they want to put their maximum effort on the opportunities that match some kind of ideal client profile.

Sales leaders who need to improve account management – the ability to enhance the long-term value of a single client – should focus on working with reps to develop and adjust account plans so that they define an overall strategy for the customer. This is also when it would be fruitful for you to spend time creating and monitoring standards for important client-facing activities like establishing peer meetings between your organization and the customer (by, for instance, arranging meetings between your CEO and the client’s CEO) or getting the customer to sit on your organization’s advisory council to provide feedback to your business. I have a high-tech client that tracks the amount of time executives spend each month with a single account that generates $65 million a year. Account management metrics are vital when a substantial portion of your organization’s revenue is concentrated in small number of key customers.

Sales leaders that need to concentrate on territory management – on how you allocate sales reps’ time among all the customers in a given territory — should focus on metrics like the number of customers per rep, number of sales calls made, and even sales calls to different types of customers. By managing the process of selecting, prioritizing, and meeting with target customers you can maximize the use of your sellers’ most precious resource — time.

Many sales leaders have been inadvertently micromanaging through revenue or profit numbers, which is counterproductive. This is your chance to provide your sales team with a new context to succeed in. By closely managing the things you can control, you will give your organization the best chance for success.

How Strategic Are You?

Few things are more important for a leader than the ability to formulate and implement strategy. Not only is it one of the primary roles of a great leader, it is also one of the critical areas of competence that inspires and motivates people in an organization. We crave direction and a clear sense of purpose for what we do. I spend a lot of time with senior leaders creating strategy and developing execution plans, and this is what I see the best of them do at a practical level.

  • They have a clear understanding of the difference between strategy and tactics. Neil Rackham, has written that if words could sue for defamation of character, strategy would be the first in court. Simply put, strategy is about what to do. What is the essence of strategy, whereas how is the essence of tactics. What versus how. Simple right? Well, kind of. Many a leader gets caught up in vacillating back and forth from strategy to tactics. What to do and how we should do it. I worked with a professional services firm where one of the partners would immediately dive into tactics about how to implement something before the strategy was clear. The best strategic leaders focus on getting the strategy, or the “what” clear, before delving into the tactics, the “how.”
  • They create a line of sight between vision and action. Strategic leaders are able to orchestrate the process by which a vision gets translated into actions taken by everyone in the organization. It is in this way, people in an organization can bring that vision to life.  Developing the clarity between the organizations vision and the behaviors required for each role in the reporting structure are what forms the basis for behaving strategically or otherwise. For instance, if there is a vision for going above and beyond for excellent service, and the phone rings at 5:01 pm of the workday, then that call gets answered. Doing so creates the line of sight between an ideal or vision, and the established standards of conduct for each role in the organization.
  • They don’t allow means to overtake ends. That is, they keep outcomes at the center of all discussions and refuse to allow bureaucracy to get in the way of achieving objectives. This is not to say that they are anti-process. Quite the contrary. They firmly back processes that support desired outcomes, and do everything in their power to implement these processes across an organization. It is when strict adherence to a process stands in the way of the achievement of a stated goal that they intervene. Like rigidly sticking to a revision cycle on a custom project, when it is not necessary to deliver a quality product to the client. Doing this allows them to manage by exception and ensure that the organization is not overdoing process at the expense of quality outcomes. It’s about the ends, not the means.
  • They maintain a strong sense of customer or end-user focus. I have seen too many leaders produce strategies that were the results of endless spreadsheets or detailed financial analyses, but lacked the customer reality. The apothegm goes something like this, “Customers are responsible for 100% of your revenues.” As such, spending time with them, understanding their wants, needs, and definitions of value becomes a vital component of leading with strategic perspective.
  • They don’t think outside the box, they destroy the box. There are few topics more highly touted today than the importance of innovation. I have written on this blog before that the best leaders create a culture where innovation thrives. The bar keeps getting higher and the table stakes larger so for leaders to innovate, they need to develop ideas and practice saying yes. Not blithely, but rather, saying, “yes, how could we do that” or “yes, what would we need in order to make that a reality?” Think of how many ideas never even get a chance to see the light of day because a manager said no, or worse, because someone assumed (based on past experience,) that they would say no, and never even brought the idea forward. The best ideas often come from the front line and strategic leaders need to be the conduit for those ideas.
  • They communicate their strategy with oomph. Oomph, being a technical term, if a leader struggles to communicate strategy in a compelling way it is likely to lie fallow, or worse, misunderstood. People need and want a vivid picture of an organizations strategy and leaders need to paint them in to that picture by communicating with powerful language and imagery. The more this is done in terms of frequency, the better. I have never worked with a leader who received feedback that they communicated too well.

At the core of strategy is leadership. A leader who is effective in doing these things is likely to excel in both creating and implementing strategies for their organization. More and more this is done in real time without the luxury of having months and months to design strategies or implementation plans. Because of that companies need leaders who do this exceptionally well.

A Sales Leader’s Guide To Making Sales Calls

Too many sales leaders fail to leverage the most powerful competence that allows them to grow and scale their business: managing their involvement in sales cycles. A sales leader’s greatest value is to improve the performance of their sellers and build sales capability. But, because most leaders were promoted due to their successful sales careers,  a common error is to simply go on as many sales calls as possible and do all they can to close business. Over time this approach fails, since it does little to help the seller grow and multiply the effect of the manager.

In a previous article about the characteristics of great sales leaders, I highlighted the importance of being clear on your role in the selling process and knowing when and how to get involved. In this post, I’ll go into further detail. There are essentially four ways for leaders to be involved in sales calls. Model—you run the call, Observer—you observe only with an intent to coach following the call, Teammate— you engage in joint selling with clearly defined responsibilities to take on specific topics during the call, and Strategist—you provide pre-call planning guidance and post-call support.

Model: When you are working with new salespeople in particular, there are plenty of reasons why you may choose to run the sales cycle or a sales call entirely. That may be with the intent to illustrate a certain skill set like asking strategic questions, or to demonstrate how to manage a particular kind of client. When you are the model, it is important to discuss prior to the call the specific behaviors you will be modeling, and to have a post-call discussion about how they were used and to what effect. Even with senior sellers, model calls can be effective as a means to show the use of a new skill set or to highlight a subtle change in their technique that would lead to greater effectiveness.

Observer: It is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to be a seller and a coach at the same time. So if you are going to coach, then as much as possible, you ought to be in the observer role and allow your salesperson to manage the entire client interaction- even if that means making some mistakes.  There is nothing harder than watching someone struggle with something that you know how to do, but allowing her to do so will enable her to learn and grow. Of course, I’d never suggest being an observer on a high-profile call with a great deal of business at stake. Do observation calls with low-risk clients or with accounts that don’t represent a significant opportunity.

Teammate: There are appropriate times for joint selling, and that is when you fulfill the role of the teammate. When you are both in selling mode it is crucial to be clear on who is responsible for what topics, what questions each of you will ask, and what issues each of you plan to handle. Team selling is powerful when both members of the team are coordinated, but without the appropriate pre-call planning, you run the risk of stepping on each others’ toes and looking unprofessional in front of potential clients. Think of the kayak with rowers in sync with each other and the velocity they achieve, versus the kayak where both rowers are out of rhythm. The latter can even be counterproductive, so take the time to carefully plan your calls.

Strategist: You can’t go on every call, and you shouldn’t try to. There are times when you are needed to help your sellers by providing strategic input on an account or client situation. In this capacity you provide guidance and coaching before and after client interactions in order to help your team advance opportunities. Helping them plan calls effectively, developing strategies to move prospects through the pipeline, and getting clear on how they intend to create value and uncover needs, are just some of the ways you can help without actually going on the call.

Of course, there will be sales situations in which you must make exceptions, and on appropriate occasions you may be in the role of super-closer. That is when you need to use your judgment. But the majority of time, you should be developing the talent on your team and fulfilling one of these four selling roles. Do that effectively and you will be on your way to building a world class sales team.

Strategic Leadership as a Competitive Advantage

Scott Edinger shares about strategic leadership.