Archives for July 2013

Steve Simpson and his Unwritten Ground Rules on Meetings

If you’re leading an organization through a complex change you don’t have time for ineffective meetings. If you’re like me you’ve sat through any number of meetings where the majority of the participants are “praying to the blackberry gods” (i.e. hands in lap, frantically typing and head bowed to read messages the entire time). How can you tighten up the focus and read the undercurrents of what’s going on in the room at the same time?

Steve Simpson of Australia has provided some great tips in his series of videos on the Unwritten Ground Rules and specifically how they relate to business meetings. He addresses what you can read into a corporate culture just by observing their meetings, and also gives some key pointers on how to make meetings more effective, while taking an organization’s hidden culture into account.

Enjoy! (hey, if you’re reading this in a cube, put the headphones on BEFORE clicking!)

What’s the most effective strategy you’ve seen for holding effective meetings? How do you keep important meetings on track so that you’ve got something accomplished at the end? Please share in the comments box!

book by Jeanne Goldie

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If you’d like to learn more about reading YOUR organizations culture, get our free guide “Reading the Terrain” by subscribing in the box at right. This guide will provide you with some great questions to ask yourself about multiple aspects of the organizations structure and may show some key details you’re overlooking.  Also check out our 10 Rules to consider before beginning any turnaround plan.

Humiliation, Rat Poison and a Freight Train

Getting your point across and a few things to do and NOT DO if you’re following the Fulton County Rat Poison lady and a freight train rolls through…

Never Follow the Fulton County Rat Poison Lady

Never Follow the Fulton County Rat Poison Lady

Nearly fifteen years ago I was in charge of the launch of an ambitious, somewhat controversial, government funded housing program.  The program was designed to revitalize several Atlanta neighborhoods that had struggled long after forced “urban revitalization” had been inflicted upon them (via a major superhighway or two driven right through their homes).   We were doing multiple presentations each evening, and this was the fourth of the night. The dog and pony roadshows would continue for nearly two months, five shows a night at audiences around the city, held in community centers, schools and libraries. Most of the audiences were not delighted to see my team, suspecting that we, too, might be about to ram a superhighway through their homes.  My team and I held our breath before each meeting, never knowing what we’d encounter.

When I got to the meeting, I was informed I had only 3 minutes to deliver the entire message.  Checking the agenda, I realized that I was following a representative from the Fulton County Health department.  Her topic, which was eagerly followed by all present, was on how to get rid of rats that had been invading the neighborhood after a recent sewer problem.  As an added incentive, she had brought free samples of rat poison with her and would be distributing them at the end of the meeting.

As an animal lover, I wasn’t too keen on the whole “poison the rats” bit but hey, my opinion didn’t matter. My job was to be as non-confrontational as possible in all of my interactions with the public.  So I didn’t mention that I had kept mice as pets all through junior high and stood up to begin my speech.

As I took the stage I was once again reminded that I only had three minutes. I opened my mouth to begin the semi-reassuring spiel we had perfected when faced with hostile audiences. No sooner had I introduced myself than an incredibly loud freight train came roaring through.  Endlessly.  Complete with multiple horn blasts as it crossed two nearby intersections.

I glanced over at the time moderator. She pointed to her watch. Panicking, I promptly stuck foot in mouth. I mentioned I had grown up in NY (a BIG “no-no” in the Deep South), raised my voice and plowed through with my presentation, over the noise of the train. It was a close contest on decibel level but ultimately, I won. (We grow ‘em loud in NY!)

To say it went over like a lead balloon is an understatement. Out of the corner of my eye, as I was nearly trampled by the crowd eagerly pushing past me to get their rat poison samples, I saw a member of our board who had been in the audience gently shaking her head.  I knew I had failed.  Best of all, I had to climb back into my Geo Tracker and drive onto one more presentation. One more shot at disaster.

By 7 a.m. my boss had a voice mail from the board member who had been in the audience. Fortunately my message explaining what had gone wrong was lobbed in at 11:57 the night before.  And after a short, red-faced discussion with my boss, (who fortunately had been to many similar meetings before and probably had an epic failure or two under his belt) I was able to carry on. The project launch was very successful, and the board member and I are now close friends, and can now laugh about it. Since that evening I have given presentations in front of crowds greater than 1000, containing furious stakeholders and investigative reporters all without a hitch. None has ever been as scary as driving back from my encounter with the Rat Poison Queen.

But what should I have done?

  1. I should have stood my ground quietly, and silently, while the freight train passed.
  2. Once it was through, should have looked sweetly at the time keeper and in my best adopted Southern drawl assure her that I would now keep to three minutes.
  3. Retaken control of the audience by standing silently and then beginning fresh.
  4. Delivered my presentation for the three minutes allotted.
  5. Stood back and let the crowd at the Rat Poison.  Don’t ever stand between a crowd and the main event.
  6. Later, in the privacy of the trusty  Geo Tracker, sung “New York, New York” in my best Ed Koch imitation as I drove to the next presentation. (Okay, maybe should skip that part but it did occur to me as I shook and trembled the whole way to the final presentation of the evening, knowing I needed to put in a very unpleasant call to my boss. Bravado is a New Yorker’s middle name.)

Have you ever blown a presentation?  What do YOU do when your planned presentation has a mishap? Or when your 20 minute presentation is being condensed to 5 minutes on 30 seconds notice? Have any strong feelings on the pros or cons of rat poison? Feel free to share in the comments section.

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

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Five For Friday! Business Development Expert Julie Fleming

The Building Blocks of Business Development

The Building Blocks of Business Development

Ever landed your dream job and then found you had to raise the funds to get yourself paid? Some of us are natural entrepreneurs; while others may have had business development added their job responsibilities along the way.   Julie Fleming coaches lawyers  (many of whom entered law school never fully understanding the “rainmaking” aspect of attaining partnership level) to new heights of business development. I asked her to share some of her thoughts on business development best practices for this week’s Five for Friday!

1. What are the key activities of a great rainmaker?

To bring in new business, you should focus your time on four key activities:

    • Client or customer service is your top priority, because great service can get you repeat business and referrals… Plus it keeps your customer base happy.
    • Lead generation calls on you to identify the kinds of people you want to meet and where they spend time, and then spend time in those meetings or places regularly.
    • Developing your professional reputation will give you the credibility you need to demonstrate that you can solve your client’s or customer’s problem.
    • Building relationships is the activity that links the other four. No matter what else you’re doing, ask how you can use the opportunity to initiate or deepen a relationship.

2.  What are the most common mistakes?

I see two common mistakes: lack of persistence and mistaking luck for success. It takes time to build relationships, and visiting a networking event once is unlikely to pay dividends. Select your activities strategically, and stick with them long enough to see results—usually three to six months at a minimum. Random actions lead to random results, not repeatable success. Don’t give up too soon, and don’t judge overall success based on one or two lucky breaks.

3. How should someone prioritize their targets?

First, divide your contact list into A, B, and C priorities. Who’s most likely to deliver business to you, either directly or by referral? Those are your A-list contacts, the ones you should be courting most regularly, with contacts every 4-6 weeks at a minimum. Your B list merits contact about once a quarter, and your C list gets contact twice a year, usually through holiday cards and one other touch. (Note that having a content-rich newsletter or blog allows you to stay in front of all of your contacts on a frequent basis by delivering useful information.) As you meet new contacts, categorize them in the same way. Make sure that your A list doesn’t get too large for you to keep those contacts’ specific needs and interests in mind as you craft your follow-up communications. Most people max out around 12-15 “A” list contacts.

4.  Why do people resist taking on the responsibility of business development?

Most of us receive no training on business development. We know what to do, but we don’t really know how to find the clients or customers. Some people worry that great rainmakers are born with some secret skill or attribute. No one wants to fail (and many take any setback as a sign that they’re missing the golden touch), and resistance is natural until you discover that sales and marketing are a personalized combination of a finite group of skills, not a golden touch. There’s also a negative connotation to sales, and no one wants to be perceived as manipulative or unscrupulous. Both of these short-circuit and stop would-be rainmakers in their tracks.

5.   What are some great resources to learn about rainmaking very quickly?

One of my current favorite books is Daniel Pink’s To Sell Is Human. It dispels the myths I mention in point 4 and offers easy-to-implement steps toward making a sales, whether you’re selling products or services. I also like Harry Beckwith’s Selling the Invisible for professional services sales.  Most importantly, find a successful rainmaker (preferably more than one!) and ask how they succeeded, then get a mentor to help you put your unique strengths to work.

Julie Fleming

Julie Fleming

Julie A. Fleming, principal of Lex Innova Consulting, teaches lawyers and other professional services providers to use innovative and effective measures to build a strong book of business and a lucrative practice. A former patent litigator, she is the author of The Reluctant Rainmaker: A Guide for Lawyers Who Hate Selling and Seven Foundations of Time Mastery for Attorneys, as well as numerous articles focusing on topics such as business development, practice management, work/life balance, and leadership development.  Before launching her consulting business, Julie practiced law for over a decade in firms of 3 to more than 2100 attorneys, specializing in patent litigation. A graduate of the Emory University School of Law, Vanderbilt University (B.A.) and Georgia State University (B.S.), Julie is a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation and currently serves as Vice Chair of the ABA Section of Science and Technology Law. Her website is at www.lexinnovaconsulting.com

What’s your biggest challenge around business development? Share in the comments box!

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What Dieters can Teach us about Creating Organizational Change:

hit with the boomerang

Is your organization “boomeranging” right back to where it started?

Any dieter will gladly tell you about the body’s “set points.” For those of you who have been spared the joys of lifelong dieting, a quick synopsis is that our bodies have a “set point” a body weight or status that it will try to return to, despite behavioral changes. It is basically a “comfort zone” that uses the body’s tendency towards homeostasis to drive itself towards a certain functioning model. Think of it as a rubber band that has been stretched, snapping back into its original shape.

The question is; do businesses have a set point? Is there a “comfort zone” business model that most businesses, despite the outward flurry of change activities or new mission statements, will attempt to return to time and again?

Years ago I worked with a non-profit who had built itself around a key volunteer activity. Long after that activity ceased to return results as it had in the past, it was kept, a “sacred cow” due to the history of the organization. Which is fine if it is a conscious choice, but rather than acknowledge that the time had passed and keep the activity as a “nice to have” rather than a key income driver, endless attempts were made over and over again to revitalize that activity to bring it back to the center of the revenue plan.

Another example is an individual employee.  When they first start their employment they may learn a particular task they had not known how to do before. Or they are given the responsibility for a section of the P&L, a marketing activity, or a key account.  Ten years later, they will still have a particular bias towards that activity or account. This can be a great thing, where the depth of knowledge around the topic can be beneficial, or a blind spot, when they give undue weight to that item at the expense of the big picture.

For every “we tried that back in 2005” that a change agent gets (complete with the implied “and it didn’t work you imbecile”), it is worth considering that the audience is trying hard to return to a model or activity that is in their set point.  No one could possibly sell 200 widgets a day until someone does.  The problem is, once someone sells 200 widgets, it puts everyone who can’t sell 200 widgets on notice and possibly, makes them obsolete.  This is when you’ll see the accusations of “cheating” or “undue advantage”. Sometimes they’re right.   Sometimes they’re 100% right.   And other times, they’re just headed back for the comfort zone.

Have you noticed a “return to set point” in your attempts at organizational change?

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Thinking about making a move? Size up your Corporate Landscape or any other company you may be thinking of moving to by using our free guide, Reading the Terrain. Get your copy today by putting your email address in the subscription box. And no, we won’t spam you, you’ll just get our weekly update of articles.

Turnaround Rule #10.5 Know When to Go.

 

Know when to exit a turnaround situation

The dirty secret of completing a turnaround is knowing when to leave.

One of the dirty little secrets of being a change agent is that sometimes it’s time to go once your best work is done.  It’s good to go out on top.  The part no one talks about is that sometimes you have to create such a shakeup, there will be those with their knives out waiting for your first misstep the second your triumph becomes public.

Classic example.  I was a senior director at a large government services agency where the entire management team had been brought in to create an amazing turnaround. The executive director had taken on a complex, politically fraught (and, given the environment, often life-threatening) job, and executed an amazing turnaround. She was feted first in the industrial journals, then more publicly. The majority of the turnaround took three years culminating in national recognition. The agency, previously rated at a 33, was given a perfect 100 score by its regulator. There was talk of a Cabinet appointment. The director demurred, feeling there was more work to do.

A few more years went by. A different political party took office for the next 8 years. No more Cabinet appointment-speak…but still some acclaim. And slowly but surely, those whose apple cart she had upset were waiting with knives drawn.  Suddenly there were whispers about her salary, two of her contract arrangements, and talk of having her removed. By the time the next “friendly” national  administration was in place, the damage was done.

Was she perfect? No. As a matter of fact, I didn’t care for one of those contracts and felt a better deal could be negotiated locally.  But she took one of the single most daunting tasks of cleaning up a notoriously corrupt agency and turned it around.  In record time.  Which everyone conveniently forgot about 8 years later.  They forgot what it was like when the post office decided not to deliver to one of the facilities because the hail of bullets were so bad. That area that now hosts national golf tournaments, a model community and a fantastic magnet school.

Go out on top. Go out when the work is 99% done. There is nothing over 100%, no awards that equal A+++. If you’re good at this, you need to move on to the next challenge.  I am in no way advocating a “band aid” cure as a permanent fix but get out while the next opportunities are flying in the door. Otherwise you’ll forever be talking about your triumphs in past tense, because once you have everything thriving, the world collectively forgets what it took to get there all too quickly.

Have you ever overstayed after a project was done? Share in the comments box!

Did you miss rules 1-10? Get them here.

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Thinking about making a move? Size up your Corporate Landscape or any other company you may be thinking of moving to by using our free guide, Reading the Terrain. Get your copy today by putting your email address in the subscription box at right. And no, we won’t spam you, you’ll just get our weekly update of articles.

Rule #10: Celebrate the Victories, even the Small Ones

Victory Celebrations

It’s okay to celebrate “4 out of 5” of our solutions worked today!

When you’re leading a significant project, especially one that may not generate instant results, it’s important to celebrate your victories along the way. When you first create your plan, put in some milestones to celebrate, and rejoice at some of the milestones you couldn’t predict.

Celebrate when the computer coding finally works the correct way. Celebrate when half of the employees fill out the new form. Recognize those who “got with the program” and did something to support the plan.

Let the whole team know when any progress is made, was there an uptick in sales? Did the supplies bill go down by 10% last month? Did 5% of the donors give more than they usually do? Client cancellations decrease? Chart it; use one of those old fashioned thermometer posters if the workplace has a central gathering place. Post your scorecards. Show the progress in some tangible way.

It’s rare to get dramatic results overnight. Some days a victory may even consist of “At least Joe in Accounting only rolled his eyes three times when we were presenting.” (Those victories are best celebrated privately by your working team, don’t post them on the scorecard!).

Momentum comes with motivation. As the leader, it’s your job to keep the momentum going.

Next up: The Super Duper, Top Secret Rule You need to Know from the Very Beginning.

What’s the best Victory Celebration you’ve been a part of? Share in the comments below:

Did you miss the first nine Rule of Beginning a Turnaround? Find them here.

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Rule # 9: Change Does Not Occur in a Vacuum

Shadows of change

Great Strategists understand they operate in the shadows of the history that came before.

Seth Godin said this so much more eloquently than I can; he calls it “The People Who Came Before You.”  When you begin to share your strategic plan with your team or your organization, you are standing in the shadow of all the ghosts who enacted change, or attempted to, with the same group. You are standing in the shadow of their experiences in other workplaces, at home and in past relationships.

If cost reduction strategies have always started with massive layoffs in the past, regardless of your words, the team will only hear “layoffs.”  If revenue growth meant giant sales goals that bore no relationship to reality, your “increase sales with our new strategy” will be reinterpreted as “We’re going to get some new scripting to take to the field and then they’ll raise our goal numbers.” Did the last strategic planning session feature a boring four day retreat followed by a zippy new mission statement and a binder that was shelved for all eternity the day after the retreat? Well, your call for a new focus on strategic planning will likely be met with some new mission statement suggestions and a request to vet the hotel location so everyone can set their tee times up front.

Ghosts take a heavy toll on team progress, especially when they are confronting change. Respect that the people you are asking to make that leap are carrying the baggage of many past adventures, the good, the bad, the awful and hopefully, the fantastic.  Having the right team in place before your unleash your plan is an important step. Asking that team about what has happened in the past, will help you unroll your plan to the larger audience in a way that can help people trust you enough to make the leap.

Want to get all 10 Rules for Beginning a Turnaround? Click HERE

What Baggage have you had to address when rolling out new plans? How did you handle it? Please share in the comments below!

P.S. Think you covered all of that and your project still isn’t getting any love? Try here.

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Some great questions to ask yourself and your team about your group’s previous adventures in change are in our Free guide: Reading the Terrain – A Short Field Guide to Understanding the Organizational Landscape. You can get it just for subscribing in the box at right. We don’t share your contact info with anyone else, and you’ll get free updates when this site adds new content.

Rule #8: Understand the Art, Science and Use of Duct Tape

box covered in messy duct tape

There is a time for elegance, and there is a time for Duct Tape

There is a time for elegant fixes. Breathtaking strategies that will be the subject of Wharton case studies for generations to come.  And then, there are times when only duct tape will do.

A duct tape fix can be many things. A temporary patch used while working on the elegant solution which will take time and money.  It can also take the shape of a workaround, a set of processes that mimic the structure of a true fix, but are a temporary substitute until you can find the resources for a permanent fix.  It can also be a compromise, when the opportunity cost of a true fix is simply too high.

It’s important to be clear when you are implementing a duct tape fix, to know the rationale behind choosing this option, and how long the tape can hold before rotting away or springing a leak. The danger comes when the duct tape fix becomes permanent, and really can’t do the job.

Just to be clear, duct tape is not a “smoke and mirrors” fix. It’s not meant to fool anyone, just a necessary evil at times. Use your duct tape fixes wisely and selectively.

P.S. Somehow I imagine this book was written by a change agent who decided to toss in the towel on “duct tape” fixes and expand their horizons!

What’s the most creative “duct tape” fix you’ve had to utilize? Share in the comments below!

Want to see all 10 Rules for Beginning a Turnaround? Start here.

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Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

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Rule #7: Locate the Elephants

How do you navigate operational change when there's an elephant in the room?

How do you navigate operational change when there’s an elephant in the room?

Almost every business has an elephant or two; the problem everyone pretends isn’t there. How do you successfully create change without the elephant crushing your plans?

Elephants can take many forms. They can be a troubled department that creates a permanent roadblock, or a dysfunctional team.  Sometimes they can be a poor technology choice, where the cost was so great replacement is prohibitive but functionality is far less than optimal. Other times the elephant is the ghost of past decisions, a bad outsourcing decision, or a poor acquisition.  In a smaller firm it might be a ledger full of “accounts payable” where the elephant is that those accounts are likely to never pay, but no one takes them off the books because the reality would just be too bleak if they were removed.

In many workplace cultures, pointing out the elephant is actively discouraged.  In some rare cases, it’s career suicide. Pointing out problems can be viewed as negative, or whining, so sometimes it’s best to figure out what the elephants are, and how you’ll work around them in your strategy rather than charge the elephant head on.

Creating a strategy that derives results that may allow the group to put the elephant to rest is a win-win. If you do decide to “tackle the elephant” head on, it’s critical that you have strong supporters, a great plan and a reasonable timeline. When you create your strategy you may not name the elephant in your plan, but you need to absolutely account for it in your design.

Have you ever had to work around the elephant in the room? How did you conquer it? Share in the comments below…

Want to see all 10 Rules for Beginning a Turnaround? Start here.

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Our Guide: Reading the Terrain: A Short Field Guide to Understanding the Corporate Landscape, will give you some great observational questions to help you identify the obvious and not so obvious elephants.  Get it free when you subscribe to our site! Simply put your email in the box at right. We will send you site updates and will not share your address with anyone.

 

Rule# 6: Build a Measuring Stick.

Find a way to measure the benefit of your plan, bonus points if you can tie it to costs or revenues!

Find a way to measure the benefit of your plan, bonus points if you can tie it to reducing costs or increasing revenues!

I was raised to be “of service” to others. My mother is the first to volunteer for any task that needs doing and we all developed a strong sense of duty towards others.  Most likely that is why I spent much of my early career in government and non-profit work before turning to the corporate world.

I was very effective in getting financial and executive support for my projects because I had a secret weapon. I majored in accounting in college, and it gave me a firm grasp of the numeric value of any activity and the importance in being able to attribute activities to the revenue or expense ledger. At a non-profit or government agency I was always the person trying to measure our results, determine the activity’s value relative to costs or expense and then find someone who would be willing to pay for it.  We were famous for having all of our employees able to recite chapter and verse how many people we had helped at what cost and with what results, preferably tied to a monetary measurement. Later, when I worked for an insurance company and had to evaluate non-profits for partnership opportunities, an instant mental “No” was rendered when they couldn’t reasonably demonstrate some quantifiable results or outcomes, and the “No” was doubly reinforced if the staff gave me significantly different answers than the director or development director.

It’s not easy to measure things, some defy easy quantitative measurement.  If I keep fifteen teenagers in an after-care program that keeps them from going home alone in the afternoon and possibly getting into mischief, how do you quantify it? Graduates of your program may not have made it to college yet, so you don’t have a warm fuzzy story for the fundraising brochure (but as soon as one of them does, put that kid in a college t-shirt, on campus, holding a bunch of textbooks and get that picture! Sells ’em every time).

In for-profit businesses there are initiatives that can also defy easy quantification. What does “deliver better customer service” translate into in dollars and cents? What about community outreach or sponsorships?  What exactly does reducing customer response time yield that will make a dent in earnings season?

Find a way to measure it. There is almost always a way.  Talk to people in similar arenas, and talk to some not in the industry.  Talk to your Human Calculator, give them all the approaches you came up with and have them get creative.

If you can measure the value it adds or the costs it saves, and if you chart incremental progress, you can demonstrate success, which keeps enthusiasm high for your project, even if there is a bobble along the way.

So how DO you measure the Teenager After-Care example?

One approach:

Studies show that kids between 13 and 15 are X times as likely to get pregnant  and Y times as likely to get into trouble that will do Z to their criminal record when they go home alone after school.

A pregnant  teenager costs the American taxpayer (or county taxpayer or city taxpayer) $___, while a juvenile arrest costs the taxpayer $____.  By funding aftercare for these 15 teenagers we are greatly reducing the odds of these things happening, and saving taxpayers $(all of the above multiplied by the results expected if the 15 kids weren’t in care) which is ten times (or hopefully some other ridiculously high number) the cost of providing funds for the program. So we save our community 9 times every dollar we spend!

How have you found ways to quantify things that defy easy measurement? Share in the comments below, you’ll be helping everyone!

By the way one of my favorite Albert Einstein quotes is “Everything that can be
counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily
be counted.” Very, very true. But to sell your idea, you need to try to count it!

Want to see all 10 Rules for Beginning a Turnaround? Start here.

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