The first question: What do you really want? (What is compelling you to act?)

Line of ForceI was frustrated.

Over several meetings, we had come to a detailed understanding of the learning outcomes the client hoped to achieve in a series of workshops on relationship building skills.

I had been able to draw strong lines between the pains they were feeling and the workshop designs.  We had talked in depth about how the programs would improve the outcomes her sales force was achieving.

As we wrapped the last meeting, the client seemed poised to close the engagement, and just asked for some time to review the proposal with the VP of HR.

And that was the end of the road….

Several months later, despite multiple attempts to revive it, the discussion had gone cold.  The client wasn’t responding.  The opportunity was dead.  Stone. Cold. Dead.

What had I missed?

One of the gifts we give our business colleagues (note that I didn’t say “prospect”?  See note below.)  is clarity about what they want, a realistic sense of where they are, and well their current actions are working for them to close that gap.  The transition of this opportunity from live and engaged to cold and dead, made me question if we had been as clear about the opportunity, and whether the benefits were as compelling as I had thought.

Question One:  “What change do you truly want?”

“What will be different?  How will you know?  How will the firm’s position be different?  How will your stature and success be different?”  Probe around every dimension of their future vision that you can think of.  Probe around the emotions:  “How will it feel to be in this future vision?”  (See my earlier blog article around empathy and emotion.)

Question Two:  “How well is your current approach working for you?”

This simple, open question lets them tell you in their own words, what their current state is.  If you have done your homework, you already have a working hypothesis of their business issues.  This hypothesis will serve you later as you probe around their initial answer.  But what you don’t know now is the inside story, the business impact and the emotional impact on them and other key stakeholders.

Question One minus Question Two equals The Gap

That gap between desired future state and their current state and current efforts provides the business case and emotional energy (think compelling event) for what they must do to bring the change to life.  Without that emotional energy, they won’t have the courage and the will to win (or even engage) the internal battle for funding, project priority, etc.

Salesmen, beware!

When we are helping clients articulate their future vision, it is too soon to reveal the future you hope for them, and your recommended path to get there. Once you assert your value proposition and unwrap your solution, you have ended the discovery discussion.

In my situation, I began to question whether I had moved to the close too quickly.  Or perhaps I had failed to accommodate the visions of other individuals who had to agree with the need and the value proposed.

True advisors have the patience and discipline to divorce themselves from their favored outcome and path at this point in the discovery.  They must trust the client to envision the outcome that’s going to work the best for them.  Further, they must trust themselves and their solution enough to believe that, at the right time, they can describe a realistic path that will be simple and compelling.

Epilogue:

As advisors, we use questions and dialogue to help our clients develop greater clarity on both current state and future state.   By doing so, we earn their trust.  That trust gives us permission, later, to help them inform, or even challenge, their vision.  Once the vision is clear, then we can help them evaluate a number of possible paths forward, including that offered by our solution.

By framing our prospect as a colleague, more than a potential buyer of our stuff, we are less likely to trigger the emotional resistance we all have, to being sold something.

This is much easier to say, than to do.  Credibility as a colleague means that we really do understand their business – lots (probably years!) of experience and personal homework on their industry.  Hard as it is to come by, that core business acumen is at the foundation of our power as advisors.

I never said this was easy.

Posted in Active Listening, Business Development, Client Relationships, Feedback, Self Confidence | Leave a comment

Reframing – Deliver Your Feedback with a Twist!

manhattan-with-a-twist_600There is a traditional Taoist story of an old farmer who owned a horse, which he used for transportation and for working his fields. His neighbors thought him quite wealthy because he owned a horse.

One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “Maybe”, the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “Maybe,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses. He was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “Maybe,” said the farmer.

At each turn of the story, the wise old farmer knew that whether the new event was good or bad depended entirely on a future context of what would happen next.

Imagine a situation where client brings you an issue or an opportunity. Through your feedback and questions, you help them pick it up, turn it over, look underneath it, look behind it, and help them develop a complete picture of the opportunity, and to gain a variety of perspectives on how best to approach it.

Great advisors do just that by assisting their clients in evaluating their existing context and envisioning new perspectives that could dramatically change how they might interpret and act on future events.

This act of helping clients conceive such a new context is called “reframing“. It literally means helping the client create a new frame of reference which will enable them to create a new set of possibilities for action. It is the ability to put a commonplace event in a new frame that is more useful, effective, or enjoyable.   Why is this so important?

Reframing can be the pivotal element in the creative process.

When an advisor incorporates reframing into a client discussion, the advisor is helping the client see their own experience and resources from a new perspective. That new language enables a new solution. That is vastly more valuable to them than being handed a solution based solely on the consultant’s experience. Because the new frame is a refinement or extension of the client’s earlier work and insight, they will be much more motivated to embrace it and implement it.

So, then, what do great advisors need to deliver a successful reframe? What might we hear to gauge our level of success?

We need the depth of experience, knowledge and insight to help them explore what different frames might exist and how the available options might be different under those new frames. “This consultant had a broad understanding of my industry, and our challenges. His questions and responses reflected that depth.”

We need self-awareness of our own frames, biases, perspectives, and favored approaches. With that clear, we need to check our biases at the door. We need the patience to engage with our client in a process of curiosity, dialogue and discovery, before we drive straight to our preferred frame.  “I did not feel this consultant was being honest with me. From the moment she walked in here, she was pushing for her solution.”

We need to be able to ask powerful questions that enable our client to see their existing frames and assess how well those frames are working for them. “She asks lots of really provocative, relevant questions.”

We need the active listening skills to reflect back what we see and we hear in a way that helps the client become aware of their own existing frames. “When he feeds back what he heard, I see my questions and ideas in a new light. His feedback always produces more thought.”

Epilogue: In his outstanding book, Clients for Life, Jagdish Sheth sums up the power of framing this way:

“Framing is the essence of synthesis. It organizes and explains complex phenomena by reducing them to a few simple dimensions. A good frame (or framework) highlights the most relevant aspects of the issue or problem shows how they interrelate and then connects to your overarching purpose or goal.”

Wouldn’t you like to give that gift to your clients?

Posted in Client Relationships, Feedback, Reframing | Leave a comment

Bullet-Proof Your Self-Confidence by Noticing Your Self Talk

SelfConfidence_600I had just been promoted to my first sales manager position. Among my competitors for the job was a salesperson with an impeccable sales record, and who prior to selling, had been the field support engineer for our manufacturing division. On paper, he was entirely better qualified than I was. To make matters worse, he now reported to me. He was clearly having a problem with the decision, and the tension was palpable. It was getting in the way of our mutual success.

We had very different styles, and to be honest, I found his entirely annoying. (As I was to find out later, so did the manager that promoted me.)   Yet, even as the victor, I would imagine arguments of every sort with him, in which I would create the position I thought he would take, and then mentally argue energetically against it. I would find myself being quite distracted by the back-and-forth of these imaginary arguments, and I could feel my own tension build.

Who was the loser in these imaginary debates?

Clearly, me. I was wasting my intellectual and emotional energy fighting an argument that only existed in my mind.

Here are some ideas that will help you become an astute observer of yourself, and to turn the observations and conclusions you make about yourself into ones that build up your self-confidence, not tear it down.

First step: Learn to have an “out of body experience” with yourself.

As you are out of your own body, notice yourself, your feelings and interactions. Take on the role of a third party consultant. Don’t make judgments. Just observe. Pay attention to what is happening around you, and notice how you react. Notice whether certain external factors are triggers for repeatable feelings or reactions.

Second step: Look for events that trigger a drop in your mood or self-confidence.

In my example, my teammate would often refer to his “extensive experience” and how that drove his proposal for any given situation. I realize now, that when he made those assertions, he would trigger me into having one of those self – generated “arguments” and I would go into my head to engage.

Third step: Ask yourself if you see any beliefs you are holding that would cause the feeling you experience when the trigger event occurs.

Looking back on it, I believe that when my colleague asserted his greater level of experience, it triggered a belief on my part that I really did not fully have the necessary experience and skills to effectively lead my team. That belief in turn put me “into my head” and I would start the debate.

Fourth step: Have an open debate with yourself as to whether or not the belief is accurate.

While my colleague did have a deeper technical background and more years of direct selling experience, his relating skills were weak, and it diminished the quality of his interactions with both his internal team and customers.

I was far stronger in that area.  I later came to understand that my relational skills were what earned me the promotion. If I had been able to have that clarity at the time, I would have been much less likely to get in my head every time he made those assertions. My self-confidence would have been stronger and of course that would have driven higher performance.

Fifth and final step: Once you have established the link between the trigger event and the limiting belief, ask yourself: “What new belief might drive a more productive reaction to that trigger?”

Once you devise a better belief and a more powerful response, you can train yourself to be aware of the trigger, and intentionally choose the better response.  Like any skill, that will take awareness and practice, but it will eventually become automatic.

Epilogue: What I needed at the time was the ability to “just notice” and not go straight to a judgment.

Research has shown that self-judgments are more likely to be negative than positive. By “just noticing” and delaying judgment, we give ourselves a better opportunity to illuminate and debate self-limiting beliefs and to create alternative beliefs that serve us better and enable our success.

Posted in Emotional Intelligence, Self Confidence | Leave a comment

Five Months From Disaster to Distinction: Ten Markers of High Performing Teams

Train_wreck_at_Montparnasse_1895It was January of 1997 and I was the new commander of an Air Force deployable communications unit.  We were about five months away from a major evaluation of our operational capability.  I was still getting to know my team, our capabilities and our issues.

We were clearly not ready.  Had the evaluation occurred at that time, we would surely have failed. The implications of a failure were huge.  These evaluations were serious business, and our existence as a unit would have been seriously threatened if we failed.

Over the next several months we went from being woefully unprepared, to being conscious of our issues, to being very committed to a positive outcome, and to resolving our major deficits.  At the end of the evaluation, we had demonstrated that we were fully mission capable, and just shy of an exemplary rating.   We had passed by a substantial margin.

Thinking back to those 5 months, I watched things happen within our team that took us from being sure losers to very capable winners.

In this month’s post, we’ll I’ll review what research tells us about ten markers of highly effective teamsten things you can assess and improve as you work with your own teams.

I’ll use our near-catastrophe experience to list the ten markers and describe how they factored into our ultimate success.

1. The team understands and commits to its purpose

 Understanding our mission was easy.  These evaluations were crystal clear around the mission and performance standards.

Building the commitment to attack and overcome our myriad organizational issues was much more difficult and it didn’t happen over night.  Over a span of several months, focus, reinforcement, and some early successes helped us develop this and then take advantage of it.

2. Team members respect and trust each other

Most of my fondest memories come from this one.  As our confidence grew, people saw each other stepping up to challenges, and they took pride in each others’ stretch achievements.  90 pound females were throwing 200 pound males on their back and hauling them to medical care in emergency drills.  The more we stretched, the more confident all of us got.

3. No individual is more important than the team

As we gained confidence, there was less need for traditional military rank structure to drive decisions.  The command team had largely “checked their rank at the door”.  Communications within the team were direct and unfiltered. When external communication was necessary, we considered who we were communicating with, and we put the best person forward to handle that.

4. Leadership of the team shifts from time to time, as appropriate to drive results

Because we were making decisions at speed, we began asking the question, “Who on our team is closest to this issue?”  Their input became the first one we sought, and often the only one.  Some decisions did require more consideration and debate, but in most cases, the person most suited made the call and the rest of us moved on it.

5. Communications are frank and open, within as as well outside the team

One of our problems starting out was that there had some serious silos in place.  People were addressing their own organization’s goals first.  We broke down most of the misalignments between our sections’ goals and our unit goals.  People stopped protecting their turf and began figuring out ways to work together and get the job done.

6. The team focuses on and holds itself accountable to the targeted business results

Our leaders helped every one see the implications of failure and the reward of success down to the individual airman.  The downside was pretty scary and that provided plenty of motivation.

On balance, though, I think more people responded to their personal pride and their innate desire to succeed.  Once we began to move in a positive direction, that motivation fed on itself and the drive to ace this evaluation went through the roof.

 7. Everyone knows what is expected of them, and they carry their weight

The leadership function of a combat unit is executed by a small and dynamic team.  Roles must be clear, as there is no time for duplicated effort or unclear roles.  We defined our individual roles and expectation and practiced them at speed.

An interesting thing happened.  The one person best positioned organizationally to be our single point of communication with our remote elements had a devastating stutter.  We considered filling his role with another team member, but no one had the integrated view of our dispersed teams that he had.   He was the person we needed in that role and we all agreed he should play it.  He stepped up to the task, knowing that we as a team had affirmed that this role was his.  Much to our delight, under the pressure of the combat simulation, he completely lost the stutter and played the role flawlessly.  That was critical to our success!

 8. Disagreement is seen as positive, energizing

During our final field rehearsal, we had several days of continuous severe thunderstorms moving through our location.  We were constantly pulling our people out of the field for safety reasons, and moving them back to our quarters.  As disruptive as that was, it had the unintended consequence that we were able to use the down time to go over the last field situation, debug it, and rehearse it.  We had the urgency of our situation motivating us, but we also were feeling the team coming together.  We enjoyed the back and forth, even when it was contentious.  It gave us the chance to think and practice.  The team was gelling.

Our time sequestered waiting for the current storm cell to pass was the perfect stage for rehearsal.  We were getting fast and smooth.

9. Teams make decisions quickly and appropriately

The pressure of the combat situation would not permit us to over-analyze.  We got better at making the best possible decision quickly and then executing.  If it was wrong, we made a quick course correction.  Yet, most of our gut decisions were right, and we steadily gained confidence in our ability to make them.

 10.  Once a decision is made, the team falls in line behind it, and commits

 In the early going, we realized that after every meeting, there was a second (or, third, or fourth… ) meeting to discuss and reinterpret the decision.  We were wasting huge amounts of effort and creating serious confusion.  Because there was a lack of trust in some senior leaders, we couldn’t hold a course of action. After two or three of us noticed it and validated that this was consistent behavior by one leader, we made the difficult decision to pull him off the team.  Things settled down.

Epilogue:

This experience was a great case study of the key elements of high performing teams.  More importantly to me personally, it was at the heart of the most satisfying professional year of my life.

 

Posted in Leadership, Team Development | Leave a comment

Business Development: How much is enough?

SellingWhen I speak with consulting colleagues who are solo’s or small companies, one of the topics that comes up a lot is,  “how do we balance our workload between generating new business and delivering the business that we have already sold?”

When we’re in delivery mode, we often become totally consumed, and we just don’t get around to doing the routine business development activities such as keeping in touch with former clients and approaching new ones. We wind up paying the piper for that when our current work is finished and we’re on the bench until we can generate more. With sales cycles getting longer, that means lost opportunities, and big swings in our revenue production.

But how much business development is enough?

To answer that, let’s begin by considering a simple case study:

Let’s say that we offer a one-day business planning workshop and we charge $5,000 for customization and delivery. We would like to sell an additional 12 workshops each year (one a month) for a revenue increase of $60,000. How much additional selling activity should we plan for, to meet this goal?

First we need to look at our buying and selling process:

Situation: The buyer has realized they have a problem with business planning and they would like to provide some training to help their people improve.

Activity: They begin to look out through all the marketing and information sources that are available to them. They find us! They do some preliminary evaluation, most likely from our web site. That goes well, and we look like a good fit.

Positive Decision: They decide to hold an initial exploratory meeting

Activity: At the first meeting, we mutually share information about the need and our capabilities. They’re considering capability, value for money, and our ability to implement. We’re considering our solution fit, whether they have access to enough budget to pay us, and whether there is adequate urgency to the business need that we think they will make a timely decision.

Positive Decision: We mutually agree to a complete evaluation of the need and our solution. (Sales people would say we have qualified the opportunity.)

Activity: Over a number of meetings, the buyer makes a detailed assessment of our capability, pricing, and ability to implement. As the seller, we are continuing to test whether our earlier decision to quality the opportunity remains valid, i.e. solution fit, availability of budget, and likelihood of a timely decision. We know from experience this activity requires about a month.

Positive decisions: 1) The prospect chooses us. 2) We continue to believe that this is good business. 3) We execute a contract.

Disclaimer: Very few buying and selling processes are this simple or this linear. But this simple model is still useful to answer the question, “How much activity is enough”. Bear with me…

That’s nice, but how much incremental business development activity do we need?

Answer: We need to design our marketing campaign to result in six initial meetings every month.

How’d we get that?

Let’s say that we know from experience that we win about half of the opportunities that go through a detailed evaluation. That’s a probability of 1 in 2.

Let’s also say that we know that about one out of every three initial meetings results in a detailed evaluation. That’s a probability of 1 in 3.

We got the estimate of six meetings by multiplying the two probabilities from the two steps and then inverting. 1/3 time 1/2 equals 1/6. That gives us the probability of a single initial meeting turning into a contract being 1 in 6. To get one contract, we need to hold six initial meetings.

Because real world situations are messier than this example, you should probably “round up” your estimate of the initial meetings you need. Keep track of your experience and refine your goals accordingly.

And here’s the hard part!

Plans are great but we have to execute. We need to hold ourselves accountable to creating those six meetings, and monitor how well we are progressing them through decisions to evaluate, and decisions to engage.

Month after month…

Want to know more?

The smartest guy on the planet on this topic is Martyn Lewis, president of Market-Partners. If you’re interested in a deeper dive, check out his informative white paper, written from his 20 years of experience consulting on this topic: Managing the Business of Sales

Register below for our free webinar to ask your questions in a live meeting of your colleaues and share your knowledge and experience with them.

Net-net: Never, never, never stop selling. Benches have splinters…

Posted in Business Development | Leave a comment

Manage Conflict! (or it will manage you)

Met-the-enemyConflict is a fact of life for most people. In a 2008 study, CPP found that 85% of workers in the US experience conflict to some degree and 29% report that they experience it “always” or “frequently”. (CPP 2008)

Constructive conflict is well accepted as a key indicator of high performing teams. In a comparative study of five globally accepted team effectiveness models, Korn Ferry, a leading authority on leadership and talent, found that four of the five frameworks featured conflict management as a key issue for effective teamwork. (Michael Lombardo 2001)

CPP found that when employees are trained how to manage conflict, over 95% of those people say that it helped them in some way. A quarter (27%) say it made them more comfortable and confident in managing disputes and 58% of those who had received training said they now look for win–win outcomes from conflict.

41% of employees think older people handle conflict most effectively. Seven out of ten employees (70%) see managing conflict as a “very” or “critically” important leadership skill, while 54% of employees think managers could handle disputes better by addressing underlying tensions before things go wrong.

But, when it goes bad, it goes bad in a hurry.

In the same research, 27% of employees reported that unmanaged conflict led to personal attacks, and 25% of them saw it result in sickness or absence.  Almost ten percent saw it lead to a project failure.

Hmmm…..

What can consulting leaders do to model and teach this critical skill within their teams?

Here are five steps you can take now to help your teams benefit from constructive conflict and avoid the negative results of poorly managed conflict

1.  First, assess where you and your teams stand. Consider these questions and discuss them with your teams:

  • How passionate and unguarded are team members able to be in discussing issues?
  • On a scale from “exciting” to “boring”, how do team members experience their meetings?
  • Do team members prioritize the toughest issues for attention, or avoid them?
  • How comfortable are team members in challenging one another about conclusions, plans, and approaches?

2.  Communicate! Make it clear in what you say and how you act, that conflict is normal and necessary, but unmanaged conflict is costly in many ways.

3.  Teach your team to communicate. Establish rules of engagement that help teams manage conflicts in a productive way. Focus on asking great questions, and getting everyone involved in formulating the answers. Encourage the shy ones to speak up and tell the aggressive ones to pipe down. Help your team develop emotional intelligence and relationship skills. Pay particular attention to empathy and assertiveness.

4.  Focus on issues and not people. When conflicts turn personal, turn them around to return to the issues that count. Teach your teams the analysis skills that enable the root cause analysis skills to identify the most important issues.

5.  Ferret out the “elephants in the room”. Chris Argyris calls an elephant an “undiscussable”.  Undiscussable topics become that way in order to “avoid surprise, embarrassment, or threat.”  In other words, a taboo. When elephants are running free in the room, the credibility of the organization and that of any leaders within sight are at significant risk.

Help your people stop avoiding conflict and become world-class at it.  In doing so, you and your clients will get their best, and they will develop a skill that will differentiate them (and you) for the rest of their careers.

End Notes:

Argyris, C. (1988). Managing with People in Mind, Harvard Business Review Press.

CPP, I. (2008). CPP Global Human Capital Report: Workplace Conflict And How Businesses Can Harness It To Thrive.

Michael Lombardo, R. E., Cara Capretta, Victoria Swisher (2001). FYI for Teams. Minneapolis, MN, Lominger International.

 

Posted in Client Relationships, Critical Thinking, Emotional Intelligence, Motivation, Organizational Culture, Organizational Teamwork, Team Development | Leave a comment

Take a Walk on the Dark Side

dark-side_500It was 1998. The prospect was a three-letter giant (TLG) in the telecom segment. The opportunity was a very large desktop upgrade project, where the prospect was proposing to replace their existing desktop services infrastructure. The value of the project was multiple millions of dollars in servers, PC’s, software and professional services.

Hewlett-Packard was the incumbent provider of servers for TLG. Unfortunately, their relationship with TLG’s desktop infrastructure team had been slipping for years. The current VP of desktop operations had been developing an increasingly close relationship with Compaq. The HP team saw this opportunity as a chance to turn the tables on Compaq and win a major piece of business.

The HP global account manager called a Hail-Mary play, and lobbied hard with the HP consulting organization to fund an extensive pilot of the proposed server implementation. He hoped to win back favor with the prospect and level the field on the relationship front.

Six months and several hundred thousand dollars of HP-funded consulting later, the prospect had awarded the total hardware, software, and implementation project to Compaq. Compaq, of course, was quite happy to accept the zero-cost validation of their architecture, funded by HP.

The HP team were scratching their heads:

“Where had our strategy gone wrong?”

“How could we have avoided investing all that time and effort into this flawed plan?

The answers were painful, but simple.

1) We assumed that a technology investment would result in a relationship improvement.

2) We hadn’t properly understood the risks in our approach.

As consultants trying to advance a decision, we often let our objectivity slip when we are enchanted by the upside, the best case, the wonderful outcome, without doing proper due diligence about what could go wrong.

When we are considering a major decision, it often helps to let our imaginations run wild, in a negative way. Said another way, we need to let the teams brainstorm every possible way this initiative could fail, prioritize the risks, and then put plans in place to neutralize or mitigate the biggest of them.

Every team has some mix of optimists, pessimists, and realists.   Often times, the optimists have the most assertive personalities, and tend to dominate the decision meetings. The realists and pessimists in the group are reluctant to voice their concerns for fear of seeming negative, and allow themselves to be shouted down by the optimists.

Teams can benefit from a process, which enables the more conservative teammates to safely share their doubts and concerns, and encourages the overall team to deal with those concerns in a comprehensive way. Enter, the Black Hat Decision Review process.

The black hat decision review process is an important way to make sure that all facts, opinions, insights, and projected impacts are thoroughly considered and vetted.

Giving the pessimists and realists a forum to share their views in an overt and safe way helps teams avoid costly mistakes for the small price of some additional time and process in their deliberation of the decision. (See the previous article, “How to run a black hat decision review”)

Beyond the obvious advantage of making a well-considered decision, using this approach signals to the entire team that everyone’s opinion is valuable and will be taken into account.

Beyond the advantage of clear thinking, this technique improves the level of trust and commitment that each member holds toward the team as a whole, and their individual teammates.

Bottom line: The more investment, effort, and potential return there is in a particular decision, the more important it is to invest fully in the understanding and mitigation of risk.

When you are considering your next major decision, take the time, involve your entire team, and get all the perspectives on the table.

Take a walk on the dark side. Try out the black hat review, and see if it doesn’t yield clearer decisions, better-managed risk, and enhanced buy-in from your team. (And oh, by the way, improved probability of winning more often!)

Posted in Critical Thinking, Team Development | Leave a comment

How to Conduct a Black Hat Decision Review

black-hat-500A Black Hat Decision Review is a great way to get all the perspectives, pro and con, on the table and to enable your team to make the best possible decision, with your most important risks considered and mitigated.  (By the way, “your team” can include you and your customer.  That’s the best way to become an “advisor”.)

This process is based on the notion of parallel thinking, popularized by Edward DeBono, in his book, Six Thinking Hats. A brief description of DeBono’s ideas follows below.

Here are the steps in a Black Hat Decision Review:

  1. The proponent for a decision presents the case for moving forward. Chances are they will present a logical and optimistic case, include the new thinking involved, and highlight the emotional side of a positive outcome.
  2. All but one member of the reviewing team then meet separately and brainstorm every possible risk they see that would inhibit success. They meet for about 10-15 minutes, and focus on defining the risks, represented by DeBono’s black hat.
  3. The proponent and one additional team member meet separately and also consider all the possible risks.
  4. The whole team comes back together. The proponent and partner present all of the risks they saw. The remaining team members present their decision killers, one at a time, taking turns, one issue at a time.
  5. The team rank orders the risks from greatest risk to lowest risk.
  6. The teams split up again, this time considering the actions they recommend to mitigate the most significant risks they discovered in the first phase of the exercise.
  7. After 10-15 minutes, the teams reconvene. The proponent and partner present their action plans first. The remaining team members present their actions next.
  8. With all risks visible, and lots of input on ways to mitigate the risks, the entire team decides whether or not to move forward with the proposal, and what detailed actions they must take to optimize the probability of success.

Here’s why it works:

DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats model discusses six “thinking hats”: White (facts and figures), Yellow (optimism), Red (emotion), Black (risks of failure), Green (innovation) and Blue (planning) hats.

Instead of ping-ponging around between facts, optimism, pessimism, emotion, logic, and planning aspects of a decision, the team synchronizes their thinking to consider one perspective, or “hat” at a time, until all perspectives have been examined and all team members’ inputs have been considered. The approach makes it much safer for all concerned to name the risks and deal with them, instead of sweeping them under the rug under the onslaught of optimism.  The Black Hat Decision Review shortens the due diligence process by focusing primarily on the Black Hat, or risk.

Why just focus on Black?

Advocates for a particular decision, will instinctively focus on the positive aspects and the path forward. Because they are advocating, they may often short change or ignore entirely the topic of risks and probability of failure.   The black hat focus makes it easier for team members to feel safe in expressing critical or contrarian ideas, and thus allows for more complete “due diligence” and a better, more-informed decision.

Credit where credit is due!

Thanks to Brad Milner, Managing Partner at TechCXO LLC, for allowing to me adapt his Black Hat Deal Review for a broader audience.  Brad wows consultative sales teams with this approach, and invariably they are excited about its power and relevance to their success.

Posted in Client Relationships, Critical Thinking, Team Development | Leave a comment

Cease Fire: Part 3: Collaborate to create an integrated set of metrics

Cease-Fire-4Hi, this is Jim Cooper and welcome back to “It’s not just about the numbers!”

This is the third post in our series on increasing alignment between sales and marketing.  In part 1 of this series, Susan Tormollen and Jim laid out five initiatives that you could establish to tighten the alignment between sales and marketing:

I have lost my wing-man, as Susan is in the middle of a job change and a city change. But I’ll continue the series in a text copy of the dialogue Susan and I had as we were building this piece of the series.   Here goes:

Jim:

Our second initiative involves the marketing and sales executives collaborating to create an integrated set of metrics

By bringing sales and marketing together to create metrics, it ensures both organizations are laser-focused on the same goals and marching to the same drummer. But, building these metrics requires three things:

1) agreement and alignment on the objectives, both short and long term, 2), a common language, and finally 3) shared service level agreements to be very clear what we will do for each other

Susan:

The days of sales being only focused on short-term revenue goals and marketing being focused on long-term branding are gone, thank goodness. Yet, there are still many short term realities. The most immediate goal for both sides is the need for sales teams to meet quota. Looking longer term, sales and marketing must take the broader perspective, to map and support the full customer experience with our product or service.

Jim:

Once the sales and marketing leaders are aligned, they can begin to develop the metrics needed to ensure that all objectives are aligned and metrics are in place for measuring success. Examples of shared metrics include: short term revenue growth; new logo goals, and lead generation,hand-over, and qualification metrics.

Susan:

To ensure success, both teams need to use a consistent language for the sales process. When one team speaks of “opportunities”, the other team must know precisely what that means. For example, does everyone understand precisely what an MQL  (Marketing qualified lead) is? What criteria are required for that lead to become an SQL (Sales qualified lead)? What does “nurture” mean and who owns which parts of it?

Jim:

Which brings us to Service Level Agreements, or SLAs. Sales and marketing must be precise in understanding the process in which leads, and feedback, go through the system. For example, marketing must get a lead into sales’ hand within 24 hours. Sales must follow up on the lead within 24 hours.

Along with an agreement of when and how hand-offs occur, building accountability and governance in to the process is essential for long-term success.

Susan, what do you think are the critical actions at this point?

Susan:

Take the time to be very clear on roles and responsibilities. Beyond the metrics and agreements, sales and marketing must work together to clearly articulate each organization’s responsibilities and then build individual performance measurements based on these responsibilities.

Most importantly, sales and marketing executives must sit down to evaluate how both sides are performing against their performance and service level goals.

As we all know, performance objectives strongly influence behavior.

Jim:

So here are the five questions we invite you consider and discuss, when creating an integrated set of metrics: [supporting images for each question]

  1. Have you identified which objectives should be shared between sales and marketing?
  2. Have you established a common language?
  3. Are SLAs in place?
  4. Do you need training materials and communications habits (e.g. coffee talks) to ensure new team members understand the common language, SLAs and processes?
  5. How will you drive acceptance and commitment?

That’s it for this post! We hope you’ll continue the discussion with responses to the post.

In our next post, we’ll explore the second strategic initiative, which deals with creating an integrated set of metrics for the strategic alliance between marketing and sales.

So this is Jim and Susan signing off, and reminding you, that…. It’s not just about the numbers!

Posted in Equity, Leadership, Organizational Teamwork, Sales-Marketing Collaboration | Leave a comment

Lead with Empathy

empathyFamous marketing executive Bruce Turkel tells the story about a magnificent piece of business that was won, and then lost, in the space of an hour. It was a really, really, big opportunity ….

And it was lost because of a key question they failed to ask.

The presentation of the conceptual proposal was perfect. The client was thrilled with the advertising concepts. They gushed on and on about how well they liked the assigned account managers and the creative team. The customer was leading the discussion about next steps and asking how quickly the contracts could be signed and the work begun.

As high fives were being exchanged all around, the president of the client firm complimented Turkel and his team on their level of competence and commitment. And then it happened….

In a moment of self-effacing humor, Turkel minimized his role on the team, saying that the team was so strong, there was practically nothing for him to do. (Cue the sound of a ship crashing on the rocks…) The deal died on the spot.

What Turkel and the team had missed was that this client had recently completed a project where the consulting firm they chose completely failed in executing their vision. In the client’s eyes, the consulting executives had not provided the committed hands-on leadership the project required. It foundered and ultimately failed miserably.

What Turkel and team failed to understand that the client’s team had been emotionally devastated by the previous failure. His single ill-considered remark brought all those ugly emotions back, in high definition and Dolby sound.

Said another way, they failed to understand the emotional issue and show empathy to the client.

They hadn’t made the critical connection because they had not asked enough questions and uncovered what the client felt, where they were emotionally. Instead Turkel’s team went to their own comfort zone, by emphasizing the technical details of their proposal, impressive as they were.

The rational side of the client was very impressed. But, on the emotional side, Turkel’s remark inflamed them. And that was the deal breaker.

What could have turned this sad story into a success story?

Emotional intelligence expert Steven Stein defines empathy as the “ability to be aware of, understand, and appreciate the feelings and thoughts of others.”

Empathetic consultants are able to read others’ emotions and describe them accurately from an objective, non-judgmental perspective…   even if they personally don’t agree with the emotions. As a result, the client knows their emotions have been heard and understood.

Here are five tips to help you lead with empathy and get the back-story you need to gain your client’s trust:

1.  Remember that most major decisions are driven by emotions and not the facts of the matter.

I watched a military service make a $25 million bad vendor selection because the decision board had an emotionally charged fear of software risk. The wrong company won because they had understood that fear and they played to it. Game over.

2.  Respect the rider, but convince the elephant. 

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt describes a model that argues that humans have two sides:  1) An emotional/automatic/irrational side (the elephant), and 2) An analytical/controlled/rational side (its rider). Authors Chip and Dan Heath, in their book, “Switch”, build on Haidt’s theory and describe it this way: “Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader.  But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant.  Anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose.  He’s completely overmatched. “

3.  Ask “excavating questions”

Turkel’s team might have asked questions about previous successful and unsuccessful projects. How did the project leadership make a difference in the success or failure of the project? That question alone would have probably prevented the disastrous outcome they experienced.

4.  Talk about you and your advantages only after you have talked about the client, their needs, their dreams, and their fears.

Of course, they need to know about what you bring to the table. But usually the “elephant” (emotions) will run away with the “rider” (logic and facts) because it is so big and powerful.

5.  Put your own emotions and beliefs on hold.

Our own emotional reactions have a huge impact on what we see, how we use our beliefs to acknowledge and interpret it, and the conclusions that we form. It’s hard to get into our clients’ shoes, if all of our inputs are so heavily filtered by what we feel and believe.

Don’t make it about you!  Keep the focus on the client, and what they care deeply about.

Lead with empathy!

 

 

 

 

Posted in Emotional Intelligence, Personal Connection | 1 Comment