Three Invisible Obstacles to Profitable Growth

Most CEOs I meet run their organizations atop a false assumption that creates a powerful yet almost invisible drag on their performance.  Do you have the same false assumption that they do?

The assumption is that your communication of strategy, tactics, goals, and behaviors through the organization actually works the way you intend.  Yes, you’re the CEO.  Yes, you do communicate with your team – perhaps even very often.  But note well that there is a difference between “telling” and “effectively communicating,” in a manner designed to create and reinforce desired behaviors and results.

During a recent coaching session with the CEO and General Manager of a successful office furniture distributor, both of them were shocked to learn that they were out of alignment on the most fundamental goal for the business.  The CEO’s top priority for the GM: create profitable growth.   The GM, however, believed that her top priority was to protect the CEO’s investment.  More background: The CEO and GM have worked together for years and are also friends away from the office.

Neither could fathom how it was possible – after all they worked together for years and were also friends – to be out of alignment in such a fundamental way.  Yet they were.

Now think about your leadership team and front-line staff, and consider the probability that you’re just not all as in synch as you should be.  My own experience with numerous clients and plenty of independent, credible research suggests that it’s not just highly likely – it’s predictable.

Lack of alignment is predictable when 1 or more of the following 3 conditions – invisible obstacles to profitable growth – exist in your business:

Unclear Vision, Strategy, and Metrics to Measure Progress

The Problem:
If you haven’t clarified your vision (“where” the business is headed) and your strategy (“how” you are going to approach your chosen markets to make the vision a reality), you can’t communicate a sense of direction and guidelines to help your people make decisions in their day-to-day work.  What’s more, the absence of simple, clear metrics to indicate progress reduces accountability and further increases confusion regarding what’s most important.  The acid test: pick 4 people at random in your company and ask them to tell you your vision, your strategy, and the KPIs that are most critical to the business achieving its objectives this year.  At least 3 of them should answer all three elements accurately.

How it Feels:
Like the business is adrift and that you’re constantly reacting to external events.

The Fix:
Gather your senior team and invest the time and energy to create a clear vision and strategy for your business.  A qualified coach or external facilitator with a proven process for this will dramatically improve the quality of your dialogue and the outcome, which must be actionable for it to have value.  Once the strategy is clear, create Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to measure critical numbers for both people and process, which must always remain in balance.

Ineffective Communication

The Problem:
In their book “Made to Stick,” Chip and Dan Heath highlight The Curse of Knowledge as a key contributor to ineffective communication.  The research behind this demonstrates that you routinely communicate from your own frame of reference (i.e. CEO or Business Owner with complete access to all results and records of the business plus your own thoughts about the future).  The Curse of Knowledge causes you to communicate in ways that make it difficult for your team to understand and internalize.  It’s like the Gary Larson cartoon with a man talking to his dog and all the dog hears is “Blah, blah, blah, Fido.  Blah, blah, blah Fido.”  The details are lost in translation!

How it Feels:
You wonder why your front line staff don’t say and do the things that you would say and do if you were in their jobs yourself and why they don’t “get it.”

The Fix:
Be sure that your communications are translated in a way that everyone in the organization – from top to bottom – can clearly understand and act upon them.  Humans are fantastic at pattern recognition – so think about explaining strategies and plans in familiar terms; for example “your tic-tac-toe” strategy” or “this quarter’s Jeopardy theme to ensure that we ask our customers 3 questions on every call.”  You should spend at least as much time figuring out how to translate your strategies and initiatives as you do creating them to ensure understanding and to permanently overcome the Curse of Knowledge.

Lack of Regular Communication Rhythms

The Problem:
Repetition is the mother of all learning.  It’s how you learned your multiplication tables, how to ride a bike, how to eat, and virtually every other behavior and piece of knowledge you’ve mastered.  Unless you have regular communication rhythms – daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annual – established as habitual practices, you are limiting repetition learning, information flow, and “think” time for your senior team.  In full swing, for example, a daily huddle discipline can completely align an organization with hundreds of staff in the span of 30 minutes – with most of the staff attending a single 6-7 minute meeting.

How it Feels:
Like you are disconnected from your front line staff and customer touch points or like the organization isn’t as “tight” as it used to be when it was smaller.

The Fix:
Implement daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual meeting rhythms in your business.  Daily huddles are to synch work units and to create daily top-to-bottom alignment and information flow.  Weekly meetings are for your extended management team to focus on monthly objectives, obstacles, and problem solving.  Monthly meetings are for senior management to focus on quarterly objectives, obstacles, problem solving, team development / learning, and the evolution of your plan.  Quarterly meetings are for executive management to focus on strategy, annual objectives, longer-term goals, team development / learning, and the evolution of your plan.

If any one of these three conditions exist in your business, it is predictable that you have a lack of alignment – which means that your organization is falling victim to an invisible drag on performance and growth.

Clint Eastwood as Cool Hand Luke said “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”  Overcoming your assumptions and naming the right problem is always about 50% of any solution.  The other 50% lies in your ability to implement The Fix – processes and disciplines – required to create a permanent remedy.

Mark Green is a business growth expert who works with companies to help them implement a proven, easy-to-use framework to run and grow the business faster and more profitably, while expending less effort and less time. To learn more about Mark or his firm, visit his website or contact him directly at (888) 720-7337 or

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Five Reasons Your Business Will Underperform in 2011

Are you a Genius or a Genius Maker?  How about your senior team – are they Geniuses or Genius Makers?

If you’re the smartest person in the room you’re a genius.  If you surround yourself with the smartest people in the room and continually strive to help them get even smarter, you’re a genius maker.

According to Liz Wiseman, author of “Multipliers – How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter,” Multipliers are genius makers who bring out intelligence in others and build collective, viral intelligence in organizations. Diminishers, on the other hand, are geniuses.  Absorbed in their own intelligence, they stifle others and deplete the organization of crucial intelligence and capability. 

Diminishers are usually unaware of their behavior and its consequences.  According to Wiseman’s research, Multipliers get TWICE the capability from their people as Diminishers.  That’s like doubling your staff without increasing overhead!  So there is a massive drag on productivity and engagement that Diminishers pay for their actions.

Unfortunately, statistically speaking, most of us are unintentional Diminishers.  This means that you and your management team likely exhibit diminishing behaviors, whether you realize it or not.  This is the first reason that your business is going to underperform in 2011:

1. You and Your Management Team Exhibit Diminishing Behaviors

To overcome this massive drag on productivity, first make sure that your management team is aware of Wiseman’s research and of the consequences of diminishing behavior.  Read the book and discuss it as a team, take the author’s Accidental Diminisher Quiz to better understand your own diminishing tendencies, and begin to call out Genius (diminishing) behaviors you observe in one another.

Here are the other reasons why I believe that your business will underperform next year:

2. You Believe What You Hear

What you believe impacts the results you achieve.  If you pay too much attention to “conventional wisdom,” including media coverage of the economy, your beliefs and expectations from your business will diminish which, in turn, yields underperformance.  I’d be a crazy wealthy man if I had a dime for every time I hear “the economy” excuse from CEOs and Managing Partners to justify their lackluster results.

You, in turn, hear and accept excuses from your team that help them justify your own and their own failures and shortcomings.  “We couldn’t have won this deal anyway based on the competition’s price” – EXCUSE.  “It’s impossible to get the bank to extend our line of credit – nobody’s lending” – EXCUSE.  “We’re glad we stayed flat this year given the economic conditions” – EXCUSE.  Sound familiar?

To overcome beliefs in conventional wisdom and institutional excuse making, first change your surroundings. Because you are a product of those around you and of what you are repetitively exposed to, it might be time to find friends and colleagues who share a more positive “can do” outlook.  A little distance from negative people and excuse makers will go a long way to inoculate you from picking up the bug.  You might also consider doing something I did several years ago – stop consuming general media, which is predominantly negative (good news, after all, doesn’t sell!) and of little practical use to any of us.  Finally, begin to recognize excuse making in yourself and in others – and call it out.

3. You Are Not Actively Combating Commoditization

I heard author and consultant Bob Bloom speak this week at the Gazelles Fortune Growth Summit.  He mentioned that Procter & Gamble is going to begin selling their products – like Tide, Charmin and Head & Shoulders – directly to consumers via the internet.  Memo to grocery distributors and stores: UH OH!

This case of disintermediation is a symptom that illustrates how technology and the increased amount of information available to buyers is speeding commoditization in virtually every industry and profession.  For example, if I need to hire an attorney to review a contract, I believe that there are probably 100 within a 10 mile radius of my office who have the capability to do a good job for me.  Since they all seem the same, all I’m left with is price to determine who I will hire.  This pattern is happening in your industry right now, whether you realize it or not and it is already impacting your ability to generate the results you want.

It is imperative that you actively and doggedly combat commoditization – unless, of course, selling a commodity is part of your business strategy.  Start by defining your ideal and minimally acceptable clients to find a niche where you can provide uncommon amounts of value.  The days of trying to be “all things to all people” – a path littered with razor thin margins and shuttered businesses – are long gone.  Once you have clarity on your niche, stop talking about value added and start finding ways to beat your clients and prospects over the head with a value club – they have to see it clearly and it has to be relevant to them (not to you!).

4. You Lack Discipline and a Plan of Action

As your organization grows more complex, it becomes increasingly difficult to put knowledge and understanding into practice.  It’s not about “what” to do (in most cases you and your senior team know this) – it’s about “how” to get it done through the work of others. Many talk about this; few actually pull it off – because they don’t know how to neutralize the complexity that inevitably creeps into a growing business. An inability to create and stick to a plan of action and instill discipline, habits, and alignment that are conducive to producing predictable results condemns many organizations to mediocrity.

There are four critical decisions that must be evaluated and monitored in every business. They are:

Strategy – How are we going to generate revenue, for what, from whom?

Cash – How are we going to accelerate cash flow in the business?

People – How are we going to attract, develop, and retain “A” players?

Execution – How will we align the organization, create accountability, and manage the flow of information to ensure we stay on track?

Make time to plan for your business and implement a process to continually evaluate these four critical decisions.

5. You Are Underinvesting in Your Leadership Development and Growth

I have yet to encounter an organization where the growth rate of the business exceeds the personal growth rate of the senior team. You and your senior team must grow for your business to grow.  Failing to acknowledge and act on this leads to insular thinking, less innovation, an inability to react to competitive and environmental threats, and an organization that spends most of its time living in the past at the expense of the future. All strengths and weaknesses in your organization can be traced directly back to the leadership team and your levels of trust, competence, discipline, alignment, and respect – each of which requires continual care, planning, and development.


What are you reading?  What industry and general business conferences do you attend?  Name 3 business growth / leadership speakers you’ve heard in the last 12 months. When was the last time you paid someone for business advice?

Set goals, a budget, and time for this! Most high performing growth firms work with a coach who serves as a catalyst to generate leadership growth. You must grow for your business to grow.

Choose Your Next Step

As you begin to contemplate making 2011 the year you want it to be, pick 1 of these 5 reasons for underperformance. Focus on it for the next 90 days with your team – make time, make changes, and implement.  Even with a modest start, you’ll be on your way to a more predictable and sustainable growth trajectory for your business.

Mark Green is a business growth expert who works with companies to help them implement a proven, easy-to-use framework to run and grow the business faster and more profitably, while expending less effort and less time. To learn more about Mark or his firm, visit his website or contact him directly at (888) 720-7337 or

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Are Your Salespeople Order Takers or Professional Influencers?

“Because its purpose is to create a customer, the business has two – and only – two functions, marketing and innovation.  Marketing and innovation produce results, all the rest are costs.” –  Peter Drucker

In all walks of business, there are sales people. There are some sales-phobic folks, however, who believe that the word “sales” is a frightening four-letter word. So they cleverly avoid using the “s” word in job titles, preferring to use more “professional sounding,” euphemistic titles like Business Developer, Account Executive, Loan Officer, Marketing Consultant, Solutions Specialist, Estimator, and many, many others.

Whatever you call them, you have them, so let’s review the importance of their role.

If you can agree with Mr. Drucker’s quote above that creating a customer is a critical function, are there opportunities to improve the results of those who sell?  Today, I’m going to focus on the skill element of selling. Are selling skills more like riding a bicycle where once you learn, you never forget? Or are they like playing as a concert pianist where the skill is never completely mastered and requires constant practice and refinement?

To consider this fully, let’s examine the roles that your sales people might play in the process of creating one of your customers. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll only look at two possible roles: The Order Taker and The Professional Influencer.

The Order Taker

I continue to find that most people who have (or should have) the word sales on their business card fit into the Order Taker category. They’re provided with leads, they connect, they pitch, and then ask for the order. Sometimes they get it. Sometimes they don’t. If they don’t, they tend to follow the shampoo bottle instruction: Repeat if necessary. And sometimes enough lathering and rinsing will get results. But are your Order Takers selling hard or selling smart?

The Professional Influencer

These people are much harder to find than order takers. Their skills and overall approach to selling make them more valuable. Their influencing skills are tuned to the point where objections rarely occur. Professional Influencers understand the buying motives and behaviors of their prospects and the emotional aspects of decision making. What’s more, they actively use this insight to attract more customers, more often. They typically employ a process oriented approach to guide their prospect interactions. They have the ability to help prospects “discover” the right course of action without pitching unwanted products or services. The result is trust, respect, a mutually-beneficial relationship, sustainability, and more business.

Regardless of the title you have for those in your business who are responsible for creating customers, you might wish to consider each of the following questions:

  • Do my sales people behave more like order takers or professional influencers?
  • Have I provided my sales team with the opportunity to take a concert pianist’s approach of continual improvement to developing their influencing skills?
  • If my order takers could embrace a concert pianist’s approach, how many more customers could I create each month?  How many more would I retain each year?
  • Do I have a quantitative tool to evaluate each salesperson’s potential?  Strengths?  Weaknesses?
  • When I devote resources toward creating more customers, do I consider it a cost or an investment?

As either a “sales guy” or a “business development professional” myself, I would be remiss if I didn’t invite you to give me a call to discuss this further – either in general terms, or in terms of potential solutions for your organization in light of the specific challenges you face.

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Are You a Genius or a Genius Maker?

Are you a Genius or a Genius Maker? How about your management team – are they Geniuses or Genius Makers?

If you’re the smartest person in the room you’re a Genius. If you surround yourself with the smartest people in the room, you’re a Genius Maker.

These terms and concepts come from the book “Multipliers – How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter” by Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown, published earlier this year.

Based upon their own research the authors define Multipliers as “Genius Makers” who bring out intelligence in others and build collective, viral intelligence in organizations. Diminishers, on the other hand, are the “Geniuses.” Absorbed in their own intelligence, they stifle others and deplete the organization of crucial intelligence and capability.

The bottom line of their study: By extracting people’s full capability, Multipliers get TWICE the capability from people as do Diminishers. That’s a hugely significant finding in robust economic times, but even more so as businesses continually strive to do more with less. Can you imagine what it would be like if you could get TWICE the capability from your employees?

The bad news is that, statistically speaking, you and your management team are most likely Diminishers, whether you realize it or not. You’re not tyrants, you’re not bad managers, and you’re not hated by those on your team — you’re Accidental Diminishers. You try your best every day to do the right things, but inadvertently create a diminishing environment for your people.

If you’d like to know for sure, and also get a more specific idea about which of your leadership assumptions and behaviors have a diminishing impact, you can take the Accidental Diminisher Quiz created by the authors.

What can you do about it if you’re an Accidental Diminisher? 

First, read the book.  Next find ways to make it ok for you and your leadership team to begin calling out “genius” behaviors.  Finally, consider hiring a qualified coach to help you implement management and leadership practices that will generate consistent, profitable growth.

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Front Line Staff Drive 90% of Your Profit – Stop Ignoring the ROI of Engagement

A new McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy study published by the Harvard Business Review reports that no matter what the size of your business – SURPRISE! – the way you treat employees at the lowest rungs of the company ladder can have a positive impact on your bottom line.

This finding seems to be a direct contradiction to the pattern we see at most companies, where executives and highly skilled people get big bucks and bigger incentives, and Wall Street rewards companies for squeezing and cutting people on the lower rungs of the ladder (even if this practice is proven to be at the expense of long term performance).

The study looked at companies all around the globe, ranging in size from 27 to 126,000 employees, from 2005 through 2009.

Results demonstrated that in most businesses, front-line employees drive 90% of the profits.  By increasing employee engagement you can cut staff turnover, find cost savings, increase productivity, and increase profits.  Here’s how you can do just that – by adopting some or all of the following practices:

  • Provide more training and advancement opportunities for people on the lowest rungs of the ladder, which leads to lower staff turnover, easier recruitment, and increased efficiencies.
  • Invest in the health of people by providing low-cost health insurance, on-site exercise facilities, and a more nutritious company cafeteria menu – which reduces absentee rates and boosts productivity.
  • Promote from within to impact worker happiness and to reduce turnover.
  • Offer employee ownership options, which increase revenue and the value of the stock options themselves.
  • Practice open book management by showing front-line workers the monthly financials and inviting them to find and share in cost-saving initiatives, which increases profitability.
  • Implement flex time for line workers, which allows firms to shift employees into more productive areas through the down times.
  • Give line workers more say in the direction of their work, which motivates workers and leads to cost savings and efficiency increases.

This is yet another study with HARD DATA that increasing employee engagement creates positive outcomes and a return on investment for all concerned. It makes business better for everyone – for you, for your people and for your stakeholders.

Here are three businesses that are doing it right – check them out:

Great Little Box is in an industry—packaging—that was particularly hard hit by the recession. But they’ve been growing and buying out competitors, because the company showed low-level workers its monthly financials and invited them to be part of finding cost-savings.

One If By Land Two If By Sea, a restaurant in New York, offers paid vacation and health care since 1999. Keeping those benefits has become a cause for employees, helping the business weather the downturn after the 9/11 attacks and through the latest recession.  This year, general manager Rosanne Martino was able to enlist employees in a campaign to conserve energy that saved therestaurant $60,000.

PortionPac Chemical, a producer of cleaning fluids, maintains a 20-year tradition that reinforces their “company as a family” values and connects their front office to the manufacturing floor.  Once a year, the entire front office staff – from the receptionist to the CEO – reports to the manufacturing floor to receive their assignments for the day from Mary Jaramillo, the plant supervisor.  Front to Back Day culminates with a massive barbecue.  This tradition, along with a number of other practices that enhance employee engagement, is why PortionPac was recently featured in Inc. Magazine as a “Top Small Company Workplace.”

Do you need more convincing?  Or is it finally time to measure and drive employee engagement in your firm?

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Busting Sales Ghosts to Escape the Growth Trap

I was recently interviewed by marketing guru & serial entrepreneur Eric Keiles for his podcast show.  During the 30 minute interview, we discuss:

1.  The root causes of the “Growth Trap” that severely restrict profitable growth
2.  How to eliminate Sales Ghosts permanently from your organization
3.  How to dramatically improve the effectiveness of your sales hiring process
4.  How to get a free tool to calculate the cost of your organization’s Sales Ghosts

[Click Here to Listen]

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How to Fix Resistance to Change

As a leader, you need to understand why you and the people you work with resist change and cling to the status quo. There are five major reasons why people resist change.

The first is FEAR. Fear is internal; it’s in our head, however it is the great crippler of human potential. Fear can be divided into three basic categories:

  • Fear of Failure – Not trying ensures failure.  A better perspective on failure is to equate it with learning.  When we stop failing, we stop learning.  No mistakes = no action.
  • Fear of Criticism or Rejection – When you don’t get the sales order, it means you didn’t get the order, not that you or your product was rejected.  This can lead to feelings of “I’m not worthy.”  Your worth as an individual isn’t on the line – a business transaction is.
  • Fear of Non-Conformity – This can rob you of your uniqueness.

Ask yourself: What are my fears and how might they be holding me back?

The second reason people resist change is because of EGO. The need to be right is a powerful human need. It’s a common problem with leaders, managers, and business owners who have had a taste of success.

Ask yourself: Is it possible that my need to be right is an obstacle?

The third reason why people resist change is to avoid CONFLICT. Because when you try to do something different and create change, you’ll create and get some conflict. And conflict isn’t fun, so many people just avoid it all together.

Ask yourself: How comfortable am I with conflict?

The fourth reason that people resist change is LACK OF PURPOSE. Without a sense of purpose, people become stagnant and complacent. They also tend to get burnt out.

Ask yourself: Have I created a compelling vision for my business?

The fifth reason people resist change is LACK OF INFORMATION or poor communication.  People deal better with change equipped with information, even if the information is negative.  You cannot lead unless you have a sense of purpose – for yourself and for your team. What’s your vision? Is it something that everyone understands and has a stake in?  How do you continually communicate and reinforce your vision?

Ask yourself: How would my team rate me as a communicator of my vision?

In today’s world, we face more change in a year then our grandparents may have faced in their lifetime.  It can be overwhelming; it can be scary; it can be frustrating, or it can be exhilarating. Regardless of how you view change, the fact remains that it is very real, it won’t go away, and your business’ growth depends on it.  In his book, The Renewal Factor, Robert Waterman says, our “willingness to understand and exploit change is a powerful competitive weapon.”

Ask yourself: How well do I actively seek and exploit change?

The first step is always the most painful. To get your employees to accept and embrace change, you must first lead by example. That means that you must demonstrate your willingness and ability to change before you can expect them to change!

A simple, yet powerful way to accomplish this is to do the following:

  1. Ask your direct reports (and, if applicable, your boss) to list the top three things that you could change to make you a more effective leader. Don’t accept any fewer than three answers, because the third is usually the most important one.
  2. Compile the list of suggestions and share it with your team, then pick 2 or 3 items from the list and make a commitment to change.
  3. Share your progress with your team and ask them to help you hold yourself accountable.
  4. As you progress, it’s time to ask your team to follow in your path and complete the same exercise for themselves.

The fundamental truth is this: As goes the leadership team goes the rest of the firm.  Whatever strengths or weaknesses exist within the organization can be traced right back to the executive team and their levels of cohesion, trust, competence, discipline, and willingness to change and adapt.

Ask yourself:  Am I modeling the thoughts and behaviors I expect from my team?

Your answer to that question might not be comfortable, but it will explain precisely why your organization either is or isn’t performing the way you want.

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The Acceleration Trap

How to Avoid Company Burnout

In the current issue of The Harvard Business Review, authors Heike Bruch and Jochen Menges explore the root causes of “The Acceleration Trap” – never-ending, hard-charging activity and change inside an organization – and offer practical solutions to avoid it.

Although their change and growth strategies often succeed brilliantly for a while, CEOs often try to make frenetic change the new normal. Symptoms of over-accelerated companies, ironically, often yield poor performance: lack of employee motivation, scattershot focus, and deteriorating customer service.

Does your company have an acceleration culture?  Take this quick, 16 question quiz to find out.

Over-accelerated companies exhibit at least one of three distinct patterns of destructive activity:

  • Activity Overload – Employees are overloaded with too many activities and don’t have the time or the resources required to do their jobs.
  • Multiloading – Employees are asked to do too many different kinds of activities, leaving them and the company unfocused, and activities misaligned.
  • Perpetual Loading – Management gets into the habit of creating constant change, depriving workers of any hope to recharge and refresh themselves on the heels of an intense period of work.

In a survey of employees from 600 firms, Bruch and Menges found significant distinctions between trapped and non-trapped businesses.  Here’s what the employees had to say:

  • “I lack resources to get my work done” (60% trapped vs 2% non-trapped)
  • “I work under constantly elevated time pressure” (80% trapped vs. 4% non-trapped)
  • “My company’s priorities frequently change” (75% trapped vs 1% non-trapped)
  • “I see a light at the end of the tunnel” (3% trapped vs. 83% non-trapped)
  • “I regularly get a chance to regenerate” (6% trapped vs. 86% non-trapped)

Ever been there as a staffer?  No, it’s not much fun at all.

If your organization is caught in the acceleration trap, there are four ways to break free: clarify your strategy, stop less important work, create a system to select projects, and declare an end to the current mode of hyper energy operation.  The bottom line: don’t drive your company constantly to its limits.

Over-acceleration – often in the form of aggressive growth and change – leads to loss of focus, too many activities, organizational fatigue, and employee burnout.  To combat it, strive to be aware of the exertion that underlies progress toward your goals, and work on making sure the firm’s energy level is sustainable.  This means being vigilant, even when things are going smoothly, for signs that the company is slipping into the acceleration trap.

Are you wondering if your company has an acceleration culture?  Click here to take our brief, 16 question quiz!

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10 Rules for Salesforce Accountability

As we approach the end of of Q1 2010 it’s time once again to look at the scoreboard to see how your sales team is tracking toward your revenue goal. How are they doing? And how are you doing holding them accountable to deliver?

Here are some thoughts about improving accountability from Dave Kurlan, thought leader in sales effectiveness and salesforce development, and author of Baseline Selling (

A priest was sharing his frustration over parishioners who took shortcuts and left church early. At a parish he was assigned to earlier in his career, parishioners received the host and exited via the side door without returning to their seats for the remainder of the service. He wondered how many of them had simply developed a bad habit and challenged them by saying, “The next time you find yourself leaving early, ask yourself, ‘why am I doing this?’” A lady approached him after the service and felt terrible about all of this. She said that she had been leaving early to tend to her sick husband. The Priest said that this didn’t apply to her, she was already making a sacrifice by attending, and she should care for her husband. She paused and finally said, “but he passed away three years ago!”

This story got me wondering about the widespread misuse of the sales process. There are certain steps that must be executed at specific times to assure a successful outcome. However, undisciplined salespeople are often tempted to skip steps when prospects ask for prices, quotes, proposals, demos, references, and presentations much earlier than the process allows for. Once in a while these salespeople get lucky and get the business. And then they start skipping the steps they’ve been trained to follow because, after all, they are more comfortable and confident at presenting, proposing, quoting and demoing, than they are with listening, questioning, probing and identifying compelling reasons to buy. Like the lady with the sick husband, they take steps that aren’t necessary or desirable, simply out of habit.

Sales Management’s number one priority is to assure that salespeople don’t fall into old habits, take shortcuts, get lazy, or avoid steps in the sales process where they aren’t as skilled or comfortable. Once your customized, optimized, integrated sales process is in place and introduced, my top 10 rules for all sales processes, strategies and tactics are:

1. This isn’t voluntary
2. There are no exceptions
3. We live it and breathe it
4. Hold them (and yourself) accountable to it
5. Coach to it daily
6. Reinforce it
7. Point out what happens when they skip steps
8. Show them what happens when they execute
9. Non compliance has consequences
10. Practice daily

What bad habits have taken hold with your salespeople?  Follow Dave’s 10 steps to strengthen your sales leadership, to reinforce the fundamentals, and to bring out the best in your team.

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Take Back Control of Your Time

How do you spend your time?

This question is painfully simple, yet it plays a major role in the execution of your firm’s vision and priorities. Sadly, many leaders cannot accurately answer it. You may be surprised to find a sizable disconnect between your top priorities and how you actually spend your time.

People take their cues from the leader when it comes to time management. How time is allocated must match both your business priorities and your team’s actual day-to-day activities.  If they don’t match, have a look at your goals and priorities (you DO have goals and priorities, right?).  I’ve found that in most cases, time management issues are merely symptoms of underlying goal and priority issues.

Although time allocations may vary depending on time of year, staffing changes and external factors, time management must become a conscious decision that fits your vision and priorities. In fact, a periodic review of how you invest your time is a vital business habit.

Give yourself the gift of time for the new decade: track your time for 3-5 days.  Have your management team do it too, then review the results together.  Once you see the reality of how your spend your day, you can more realistically and honestly evaluate what needs to change to bring your time allocations back into alignment with your goals and priorities.  Like a fleet small boats bobbing in the ocean – they are bound to drift over time.

Back in the 1920’s, a PR man named Ivy Lee was hired by Charles Schwab – the President of Bethlehem Steel.  Lee gave him an offer he couldn’t refuse. He told Schwab “I can increase your efficiency. Pay me in 3 months whatever you think it’s worth.”

Lee met with Schwab and with each member of the executive team individually for exactly 10 minutes.  In the meeting he told them “Promise me that for the next 90 days, at the end of each day you’ll list the 6 most important priorities you need to accomplish the next day, and number them according to importance.  Then when you come to work the next day, work on them sequentially until they are all completed. Any leftover items get transferred to the next day’s list.”

They all said: “That’s it?”  And then they all agreed to Lee’s rules.

Schwab wrote Ivy Lee a $25,000 check 90 days later and said “This is the best investment I’ve ever made.”  Remember that this was in the 1920’s!

Whether you realize it or not, all your staff’s eyes are trained on you – looking for cues and norms to help them define how they should behave.  If you need THEM to make better choices around how they spend THEIR time, start by setting an example for them to model and follow.

Track your time, analyze the results, and make changes to your allocations. You might also consider taking Ivy Lee’s $25,000 advice to Charles Schwab – often it’s the simplest things that can make the biggest differences.

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Welcome to Socialnomics – Are You Swimming With the Current?

We have all been bombarded with hype and hoopla surrounding the Social Media phenomenon. My clients and other business leaders are asking themselves will my prospects, clients and strategic partners really take the time to be involved with social media? Is this something that I should really embrace?”

Here’s the answer.

Take 4 minutes to watch this video. You’ll see numerous Social Media ROI examples and a number of effective Social Media strategies. I promise it will impact your thinking about social media as a tool of business. In fact, the statistics alone will blow your mind.

Welcome to the world of Socialnomics!  Are you swimming with the current?

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5 Reasons Your Salespeople Will Underperform in 2010

As 2010 looms with continued economic uncertainty in full bloom, it is imperative – now more than ever – to proactively address weaknesses in your selling team. The most serious weak areas, however, are difficult to spot. In fact, they are virtually invisible because they stem from how your salespeople think as opposed to what they do.

Here are 5 (invisible) reasons why your salespeople will underperform in 2010:

1. They have a need for approval
Many people choose sales after being told they have a perfect personality for selling. While that could be true, many of those same people feel complete only when other people like them. Salespeople who are easily liked have a great advantage, but salespeople who need their prospects to like them often make that a priority over getting the business. Salespeople with need for approval have difficulty asking tough questions, have a fear of rejection, and avoid confrontation.

2. They become emotionally involved
Salespeople who think, analyze, create, strategize or otherwise talk to themselves when prospects catch them by surprise become emotionally involved instead of remaining in the moment. When they are emotionally involved, their listening skills tend to be self-focused rather than prospect focused, causing them to miss important points and lose control of their meetings.

3. They rehearse self-limiting beliefs
Every salesperson has as many as 60 beliefs that either support the selling process (“I have the ability to be effective with company presidents”) or sabotage it (”I don’t like making cold calls”). Ineffective salespeople often have 10 or more of these self-limiting records playing over and over in their heads while more effective salespeople have very few.

4. They have a non-supportive buy cycle
The buy cycle refers to the salesperson’s own personal buying habits and how they make major purchases for themselves. Most ineffective salespeople have non-supportive buy cycles: they think it over before making a decision, they comparison shop, they shop for the lowest price, they perform research or perceive that a relatively small amount of money is a lot. When their prospects engage in this very same behavior, the salesperson unconsciously understands (has empathy), and their techniques for handling stalls and put-offs of this kind are either not used at all or are used ineffectively.

5. They are uncomfortable with issues involving money
Many salespeople are uncomfortable escalating a question about budget or whether a prospect can afford the product or service being offered to the next level. Their discomfort prevents them from helping a prospect figure out how to pay or even (more creatively) where the money could possibly come from. When prospects don’t have the budget, can’t envision increasing the budget or don’t know how they can find the money, the salesperson empathizes as opposed to digging deeper, asking questions, and making suggestions to resolve the monetary shortage.

Of the 21 dimensions we use to assess sales effectiveness and develop salespeople, these 5 are the most common and significant inhibitors to sales success. They are also the most challenging to detect and remedy.

You can stack the deck for 2010 in your favor by proactively developing current sales staff in each of these 5 dimensions and by modifying your sales recruiting process to screen for them before you hire. And by the way, if you don’t, the costs associated with an endless recruiting, training, and turnover cycle for your sales team could hurt you even more than the lost revenue!

Want more sales in 2010 and a stable, productive sales team? Then eliminate the 5 (invisible) reasons why your salespeople underperform!

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Out Read Your Competition

This is Tom Peters’ latest video message and it highlights the importance of “out-reading” your competition.  In case you’re wondering who Tom Peters is, publications including Fortune, the Economist, the New Yorker and the Los Angeles Times have said Tom is the “uber-guru” of management and inventor of the enormous “management guru industry,” that “in no small part, what American corporations have become is what Peters has encouraged them to be,” and that Tom is “the father of the post-modern corporation.”

In other words, he’s worth your time!  Take just over 2 minutes (2:04) and get a dose of Tom Peters to spark your thinking.

I recently heard from my colleague Vern Harnish – author of “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits” – that in his 27+ years of educating executives of growth firms the best predictors of success are a voracious thirst for learning and a bias for action – that is, “learn fast, act fast.” It’s why Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, has created a habit of shutting off his Blackberry over the weekend and reading a book or two.

Happy reading!

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What is Your Influence IQ?

Are you an “influence genius?”  Take this short quiz to determine your Influence IQ and to learn about influence and persuasion techniques.

Choose the best answer from the options to discover your Influence Quotient. Dr Robert Cialdini, the leading expert on Influence and Persuasion presents a simple quiz that can help you (and your team) understand your ability to recognize influence and persuasion techniques.

If you don’t have time to take the quiz, but want to learn about the answers, click here.

1. Upon first entering the office of the purchasing manager of a company with whom you would like to do business, you notice a picture of the team mascot of your alma mater on the wall. You should:

  1. Mention that you went to the same university prior to discussing business.
  2. Mention that you went to the same university after discussing business.
  3. Not mention this personal similarity in a business meeting.
  4. Discuss that you went to the same university only if the client brings up the topic.

2. You are attempting to persuade the Board of Directors of your company that it is in your company’s best interest to implement a costly revision to your back-office functions. You know that the Board is very concerned about costs, so you have also formulated two alternate plans that are less costly and less comprehensive. When it comes time for your presentation, which of the following strategies should you use to obtain the optimal results (the greatest degree of change the Board will support)?

  1. Describe the least expensive revision first.
  2. Describe the mid-range revision first, and then ask the Chair if s/he would like to hear the alternate plans.
  3. Describe the most expensive revision first, then the mid-range, and then the least costly plan.
  4. Ask the Chair which plan s/he is most interested in and then describe that plan only.

3. Your company is launching a new product and your boss asks you to make a marketing decision. Your boss is considering two options to generate initial interest from the public: offering a price reduction on the product for a “limited-time” or offering a price reduction for a “limited number” of the product. Which approach should you recommend to get the greatest interest from the public?

  1. “limited-time”
  2. “limited-number”
  3. Either option will produce the same positive results.
  4. Neither option will produce positive results.

4. You have an important meeting with a prospective client later today. You know from your previous discussions that the prospect is impressed with your proposal, but does not believe that implementing your ideas at this particular time is a top priority. Which of the following approaches to the meeting would provide you with the greatest chance of persuading the prospect to approve your proposal in the shortest period of time?

  1. Emphasize what the prospect will lose if he does not implement your ideas at the present time.
  2. Emphasize the positive features and benefits of your proposal.
  3. Ask the prospect to outline his objections to your proposal.
  4. Begin with a request for a commitment and then try to close the sale.

5. Imagine you are the (unlucky) campaign manager of a political candidate who has recently lost the public’s trust. Now imagine that the candidate wants to rebuild his reputation through profiling himself as a touch crime fighter. Even though his opponent has a credible track record in his regard. Of the following choices, which represents the best way for your candidate to start his next ad?

  1. “My opponent has not gone far enough in fighting crime…”
  2. “Many have supported my ability and willingness to fight crime…”
  3. “Although my opponent has a good record of fighting crime…”
  4. “Fighting crime is a critical issue…”

6. Imagine you are a financial advisor, and you believe that a young client of yours is invested too conservatively. In order to persuade her to invest in riskier, high-return investments, you should concentrate on describing:

  1. How others like her have made similar mistakes. (appeal to consensus)
  2. What she stands to gain if she invests in riskier options. (appeal to greed)
  3. What she stands to lose if she does not invest in riskier options. (appeal to loss)
  4. The importance of the two of you working as a team on this issue.

7. You are attempting to sell your professional services to a medium-sized software company. They have never done business with you before and are uncertain as to whether they should select your company. You will increase your persuasiveness the most by:

  1. Providing them with a testimonial from Microsoft, who utilizes your services currently
  2. Providing them with a master list of all your clients
  3. Talking about other clients’ experiences with your company in general ways, without providing any specific testimonials.
  4. Providing them with several testimonials from other medium-sized software companies who are your current clients.

8. If you have a new piece of information, when should you mention that it is new?

  1. Before you present the information.
  2. In the middle of the presentation of the information.
  3. After the presentation of the information.
  4. You should not mention that it is new information.

9. You have responsibility for motivating your company’s sales force to increase its annual performance. You were told by your supervisor to set goals for the sales people and hold them accountable. Which of the following strategies would be the most effective?

  1. Set a goal for each employee based on his or her prior year’s performance and inform each of the goal.
  2. Have each employee set a reasonable private goal for themselves.
  3. Have each employee publicly state a reasonable goal for the year.
  4. Have each employee set an unrealistically high personal goal, and keep it private.

10. You are having difficulty with employee attrition, so you organize a retreat for your office to energize your employees. You want to give each a gift for attending that will enhance the employee’s commitment to give back to the organization. Which one of the following strategies is likely to produce the best results?

  1. Give them all the same, expensive gift with your company’s name engraved on it.
  2. Give them no gifts, but thank them for attending.
  3. Give each employee a personalized gift that is meaningful, even if it is not expensive
  4. Give gifts only to those employees who complete the evaluation forms for the retreat.

Click here for the answers!

Want to learn more?  Dr. Robert Cialdini will be leading his first ever 90 minute LIVE video webcast November 17th from 12:00 — 1:30 pm ET.  As author of one of the Top 100 business books of all time — considered by most critics in the Top 10 — his principles are timeless and continue to drive important decisions around the globe. The webcast is just $199/individual; $495/company license (unlimited computers) — and includes access to the archived program for three months after the live event. Register here.

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Who Are the "Stonys" in Your Business?

I met Stony earlier this month on a flight from Newark to Houston.  He was on his way home to Mobile, Alabama.  I was on my way to deliver a keynote presentation to the Texas General Counsel Forum in San Antonio.

Stony was working in the New York area for 9 days replacing all of the hydraulic lines on the largest dredge on the planet, which was temporarily dry-docked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  Its next assignment: hitch a tow to Central America and then deepen and widen the Panama Canal.

His employer is the largest hydraulic maintenance contractor in the US.  As we conversed during our flight, it became clear to me that Stony was highly experienced, well trained, motivated, and clearly proud of and very good at what he does.  For his organization, Stony represents the “tip of the spear,” or the front line – where the heavy lifting, blocking and tackling, and money of the business is made.

I asked if he had time during his stay to visit Manhattan.  He answered, “No – and it’s too bad, because I’ve never been in the city and I’d really like to see it.  We worked 12-15 hour days, so there wasn’t any time.”

When I followed up and inquired where he stayed while working in Brooklyn, he told me that his team stayed in a hotel in New Jersey approximately 50-60 minutes from the work site.

“Wow,” I said. “You were working 12-15 hour days and had to commute an hour each way? I’m sure there are plenty of reasonable accommodations much closer to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.”

Upon hearing this, Stony paused, thought for a moment, and then through a frustrated smile said: “Well, you know how Corporate works.”

The truth of Stony’s situation is his belief that “Corporate” doesn’t care.  Unfortunately, there is ample evidence to support him.  After all, who in their right mind would put a work crew in a hotel an hour away from a 12-15 hour per day job when there are plenty of closer (and affordable) alternatives?  To his credit, he never complained to me about it; he just shrugged it off as if resigned to his fate.

As our flight touched down smoothly in Houston, I knew that there had to be much more to the story.  I wondered what else Stony knew that none of the people at “Corporate” cared to ask him about – and I wondered what that lack of open communication was costing all of them.

Who are the “Stonys” – the most experienced, most valuable, most dedicated front line employees – in your organization or department?  What can you learn from them?  Do you have mechanisms in place to regularly solicit their input and feedback or does communication in your organization tend to flow only 1-way – from top to bottom?

High performing organizations have deliberate 2-way communication and feedback mechanisms in place to tap the collective wisdom of their front line staff.  Find the Stonys!  Then start asking the right questions to further engage them and learn from them.

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Innovation Lessons from the Wright Brothers

In late August our summer vacation took us to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  If that’s a part of our country you’ve never visited, I suggest that you add it to your destination list – the beaches are beautiful, the environment is quiet and clean, and there is an incredible amount of history to the place.

A significant part of the history comes to us courtesy of a couple of bicycle builders from Dayton, Ohio named Wilbur and Orville Wright.  In fact, there’s a National Park – The Wright Brothers National Memorial – in Kill Devil Hills that commemorates their incredible achievement of controlled, powered flight.  It is an amazing place to visit and learn.

Although one can argue that the events that occurred at Kill Devil Hills on December 17, 1903 changed the course of history, I believe that the events leading up to that day were much more important. As I learned the details of their story on that overcast, windy day this past August, I realized that Wilbur and Orville were teaching me about how to systematize innovation.

You can learn from them too.  Straight from the history books, here are the Wright Brothers’ 5 steps to innovation:

1. Solicit outside help and become a voracious reader.
2. Create customized tools specific to your needs.
3. Plan meticulously and maintain a sharp focus on your goals.
4. Challenge both assumptions and conventional wisdom.
5. Find inspiration in ordinary things.

These 5 simple things can work in your business too.  An easy way to get started is to turn each of them into questions that you can then answer.  For example, your questions might be:

1. Who do I know that could potentially help us?
2. Which of our processes (tools) require redesign?
3. How can we improve at planning and at executing?
4. What assumptions do I have that could be holding us back?
5. Where can I find a fresh perspective on our situation?

The questions and their answers are just a start. What you actually do with them can make all the difference in the world – in fact, it could even change the course of history!

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It's Always Time for Change

It has been a busy, productive, and profitable year for us. More importantly, it has been a busy, productive, and profitable year for our clients!

Typical responses to this news include:

“Productive? Profitable? How do you do that?”

“Amazing – especially in today’s challenging economic environment!”

“With our resources already stretched, it seems like every day there is something new and frustrating to divert our attention from productivity and profitability.”

STOP Reacting
Although – like so many of us – you may have dreamed of becoming a firefighter when you were a child, the last thing that you want to be doing as a business leader is putting out fires and running your organization in a reactive mode. When you are reactive you are always on someone else’s agenda, which isn’t a very good place to be if you want to accomplish your own goals.

START Growing
To escape the crushing financial and opportunity costs of being overly reactive, you and your leadership team – as individuals – must grow and change how you think and what you do.

In the spirit of practicing what I preach (and because I really believe in it), two of the constants in my speaking and consulting practice are change and personal growth. For example, so far this year, I’ve:

1. Rebranded to incorporate the Fire Truck / Firefighter and STOP / START concepts that resonate with our target market – business leaders of growing small and mid-market firms.

2. Researched, identified, and committed to a new affiliation that will supply tools, intellectual capital, and professional development to create additional value for our middle market clients. Stay tuned for a formal announcement in September…

3. Hired a speaking and guerrilla marketing coach.

4. Relaunched and created and launched

5. Created video blog posts right here at (have a peek below – my latest video post is titled “4 Tools to Create Focus & Improve Performance,” and you can even subscribe to receive notices of future blog posts).

6. Invested significantly to develop myself professionally as a speaker

7. Coordinated use of social media including blogging, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook to connect with and bring value to those we serve.

It’s Always Time for Change
How do you need to grow and change personally to lead your organization to accomplish it’s objectives – in ANY economic environment? Standing still simply isn’t an option! If you’re not growing and pursuing change then you lose ground to the competition and in the markets you serve every day!

From my own personal experience, I can tell you that the first step is to look in the mirror, because ALL change starts with YOU.

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3 Tools to Create Focus & Improve Performance

In today’s mile-a-minute, e-connected, global, frenetic, here-today-gone-tomorrow world of commerce, it is no surprise that many of us don’t take enough time to select and focus on our most important business objectives. Whether you employ 4 or 400, crystal clear focus combined with a steady cadence of accountability will dramatically improve your competitive positioning and your performance regardless of economic or market conditions.

How much profit and productivity do you leave on the table in your organization due to misalignment and hazy focus? By implementing these 3 tools, you’ll be well on your way to more productivity and profit from your existing investments and resources.

3 Tools to Create Focus & Improve Performance

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4 Tools to Improve Salesforce Accountability

One of the keys to developing leverage in business is to ensure that revenue is generated as evenly as possible across your selling team. Yet many business owners find their sales results to be lopsided – either generating the lion’s share themselves or having one or two star performers amid a field of mediocrity. Although selection and training certainly play a part, an inability to create and maintain a culture of accountability ultimately costs the most. What price do you pay for the current level of accountability of your salesforce?

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When the Expected Goes Out the Window

How often in your business do things go exactly as you expect? If you have prospects, customers, and employees your answer is most likely “not as often as I’d like.” Humans are imperfect and messy – so how do you and your staff actually behave when the unexpected occurs?

In my first ever video blog, you’ll hear about my friend Val who was well prepared for the unexpected. There are valuable lessons to be learned from her story.

When the Expected Goes Out the Window

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