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Archive for September, 2011

Coincidences – scary!

Coincidence:  During a breakfast meeting with a group of very experienced and successful executives Friday, I was chatting with a fellow I enjoy listening to (and learning from).  He was discussing a technology idea he is working on – when the conversation moved to the Internet and Cloud Computing.  The company I work for is a leader in the Cloud Computing space, so I was particularly interested in hearing his perspective. 

“The Internet is an unsecure environment that will never be safe for business applications”, he said, and he went on to cite that SAP and General Electric have both gone on record stating they will “never” move to the Cloud.  The “context” was so striking that it reminded me of the 1980s when IBM went on record stating that the personal computer was a nice little device and all, but it would “never” be a business computer.  (Although I didn’t bring this up – my friend is a retired executive from IBM and I saw no reason to take our pleasant conversation down the path of an historical debate.) 

“Context” and “never” – Coincidently, later that morning I finished reading the book Strengths Finder 2.0.  Check it out: 

http://www.strengthsfinder.com/home.aspx  

The author is a Gallop researcher that studies actual data before deriving conclusions (now there’s a concept!).  One of my strengths according to Strengths Finder is “context” – I use past experiences to better understand current circumstances.  Hence, the above comparisons relating to the PC; Cloud Computing; and the word “never”. 

Coincidentally, that same day, I was discussing the topic of compensation plans with my colleague at work.  It seems that our company believes the only “carrot” that motivates employees is money.  Anything else would “never” work.  My colleague found this You Tube link based on, you guessed it – actual research: 

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc&feature=player_embedded 

And coincidentally, on the exact same day my company took all of the employees to an afternoon matinee to see “Money Ball” starring Brad Pitt.  It’s a movie based on the real-life experiences of Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland Athletics baseball team who applied a new and different way of thinking to compete in the early 2000s.  The traditionalists of baseball said that his approach would “never” work.  Of course, until it did: 

            Everything looks like a failure in the middle. 

                                  Price Pritchett 

In the business world there are all kinds of opportunities for breakthroughs; new ideas; and failed attempts, too (do you remember Apple’s Newton?).  The best way I know of to deal with clarifying and understanding what’s going on today is to seek some degree of “context” from my past.  It’s not a fool proof approach, but it seems to work for me.  And when I hear that word “never”, in the “context” of a corporate setting, I often wonder exactly how long is “never”?  Is it 2 or 3 consecutive, down quarters or market share losses for companies like IBM, GE, and SAP?  

By way of “context”; the 2004 Boston Red Sox applied Billy Beane’s concepts to help them win their first World Series in 86 years.  And, earlier this year SAP re-released SAP by Design, a Cloud Computing implementation of their business software.  Guess “never” came to an end for them both; one sooner – the other took a little longer. 

And coincidentally, I’m getting a new compensation plan today.  But the variable-incentive portion will “never” be based on the research of what motivates employees.  Will it? 

GAP 

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Leading from the rear…

Memo To:       All employees 

From:               Mr. Big Cheese – The Overseer of the Year 

RE:                    Untethered Initiative and Productivity 

It has come to my attention that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of incidents of employees taking the initiative to address customer requests, improve internal teamwork, and solve key business issues without management oversight. 

The Executive Team has put specific business systems and procedures in place that must be followed.  Individual initiative and deviation from internal processes should be kept to a minimum.  Remember; always check with your manager first.  

Let me re-emphasize the business system processes we have adopted at our company based on the writing of Arthur Black: 

      The Stages of Systems Development:

1. Wild enthusiasm

2. Disillusionment

3. Total confusion

4. Search for the guilty

5. Punishment of the innocent

6. Promotion of the non-participants 

I expect everyone to continue to follow this protocol. 

                                                                  BC 

Ever feel like this memo was distributed at your company?  What stage is your department operating in?  Have you ever “taken the bull by the horns” and solved a problem on your own without first “running it by” your manager?  And if you did, what happened?  If your initiative succeeded, did it go unrecognized?  And if you made a mistake, were you told, “Gary, that’s just not how we do things around here.”? 

If this has happened to you, then CONGRATULATIONS! You have just been transferred to the Department of Unintended Consequences.  We are the doers; we see a need and address it; and we do so because of our ability and our personal pride in a job well done.  Interestingly enough, we are typically the “followers” in our company, too. There is great honor (and great responsibility) in being a follower. 

I’ve commented often about the perils of waiting for Executives to lead us.  Yes, our managers, supervisors, and overseers mean well.  But by the time they get around to overseeing the efforts of their followers, we can have the work completed, true?    As a follower, we know what needs to be done; how to do it; and many times we just take the initiative and do it, no matter the consequences that sometimes back fire on us, don’t we.  We take pride in our work – and we take action, regardless of what Harrison says: 

            Harrison’s Postulate:

For every action, there is an equal and opposite criticism.

                             Unknown Sage 

It’s the followers who are on the front line – dealing with the customer; operating the machinery; posting the transactions.  Yes, we need the knowledge, experience and support of our leaders, but they see the business results through our eyes and our efforts, true?   Good leaders are usually boosted up by great followers. 

If you are a great follower then you see the end results first.  You are leading from the rear.  And, if in today’s business setting followers are actually leading from the rear, then what, you might ask, are our leaders up front doing? 

“Is there any reason you could not serve as a juror on this case?” the judge asked the junior executive called for jury duty.  “I don’t want to be away from my job that long”, answered the prospective juror.  “Can’t they do without you?” the judge probed.  “Sure”, said the up-and-comer.  “But I don’t want them to know that.

                                  Unknown Sage 

OK, let’s get back to work now.  Our company is counting on us. 

GAP 

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Dates…

9/11/11 has come and gone, but some dates are never forgotten.  

In the beginning of the novel  A Tale of Two Cities  is the contrast, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…” within the context of both occurring at the same time.  For Americans, September 11, 2001 seems like a demarcation point between the best of times before that morning and the worst of times since, true?  When terrorism collided into freedom, our lifestyles were forever changed. 

Do you remember where you were when news of the planes crashing into the World Trade Centers in New York was broadcast?  I always will.  

It’s amazing what we can accomplish during the best of times; and what we can endure during the worst of times, don’t you think?  9/11 was the worst experience for many of us as a national society since April 20, 1999 – Never Forgotten.  That was the worst of times for my home town; although truly, we are all Columbine. 

At a most personal level, how many bests and worsts have you had?  The bad times help us appreciate and enjoy the good times even more, do you agree?  Here’s what Ernest Hemingway said: 

Life breaks us.  And when we heal, we’re stronger on the broken parts. 

My local community is stronger following the Columbine killings; and I believe America is stronger following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. 

Our ability to gain strength from adversity should come as no surprise, though.  Our ancestry is made of up generations who had to overcome adversity.  And much of today’s adversity pales in comparison to theirs, doesn’t it?  

For many of us who did not suffer a direct loss of loved ones from these tragic events, many of our hardships now come in the form of inconvenience and economics.  We work harder today to keep up than we did before; travel has become more difficult; guns are all too prevalent in our society (and in our schools!); and our 401(k) balances are struggling to regain their original performance. 

Things we once dreamed of seem further from our reach.  And we have extended our resources close to the breaking point in defense of our country and our way of life.   For America, that’s nothing new.  Our country has been on the brink; had parts broken; and healed back stronger for as long as we have been a country.  Were the hardships of the Revolution, the Civil War, the Great Depression, the Viet Nam War, or any other national, local, personal, or family crisis less hard? 

We are up to facing today’s challenges.  We are strong because we come from generations of strong families who struggled to make this country, their families, and themselves the best of times.  Like past generations, Americans today have the opportunity to earn and enjoy the better things in life.  And we know that they’re the better things: 

To really enjoy the better things in life, one must first have experienced the things they are better than.

                                  Oscar Holmolka 

So this month we reflect on that life-changing event now known as 9/11.  Like the day an American walked on the moon, or the night the USA Olympic hockey team won the gold medal to Al Michaels’ famous words broadcast around the world, “Do you believe in miracles?”,  let’s turn to that favorite, Unknown Sage once again for this reminder: 

           The First Rule of Life: 

The best things in life aren’t things.                                                     

                                                                 GAP 

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August 6, 2011…

It was an event one dreams about, and: 

Who wants a dream that’s near-fetched?

                                  Howard Schultz 

Memories of this day will last a lifetime – my son and daughter-in-law’s wedding.  And their wedding day was definitely not near-fetched. 

An August wedding; hot; in the mid-90s; nothing exceptional about that.  An outdoor ceremony at Boettcher Mansion on Lookout Mountain; for the Denver area, that was not unusual.  The reception was at our house (as you might already know from my earlier posts about our home landscaping project of the decade.)  Pretty near-fetched, so far. 

The bachelor’s party was a little different, I suppose.  We bought a shopping cart of ammunition at Wal-Mart and twelve of us went to shoot in the national forest for the day.  Although it was far from my personal comfort zone (I’m not really a “gun-guy”) it was a lot of fun for my son, and after all, it was his bachelor’s party.  

The morning of the wedding had scenes played out like most weddings.  The bride was up before dawn to get ready; photographer on hand to capture the moments.  Her hairdresser arrived at 6 a.m.; she had to wake her family and friends – guests at her house (many hung over from the rehearsal dinner the night before.)  You know – all the usual stuff. 

My son?  When we roused him and his hung-over groomsmen (who had slept over) they headed back to Wal-Mart to buy T-Shirts.  (A far-fetched, wedding tradition?)  A second photographer was on hand, – but let’s say their immodesty was not a great fit for their future family wedding album.  Boys will be boys, but again, still near-fetched, yes? 

Their wedding was an Irish-Cowboy kind of theme – kilts for the wedding party; and a cowboy hat for the preacher.  My son is 1/4th Irish (with rumor of a Scottish horse thief in his ancestry) and I’m 0/4th’s (but look pretty good in a kilt).  They had a bag piper perform at the ceremony; while the gazebo was decorated with beautiful green and white flowers coupled with their cowboy hats; ropes; and chaps – leaving the realm of near-fetched. 

Before pronouncing the couple wedded, the bag piper added in a quake; ever hear of that?  Me either.  It’s a 2-handed, triple-sized “shot”, filled with Irish whiskey, that the bride and groom took turns downing and then holding the quake upside down over their heads as a sign that they properly completed their vows.  And the preacher?  He is also the hay hauler my daughter-in-law uses for the equestrian center she manages.   (You can’t make this stuff up!) 

Immediately after the ceremony, it was lunch at the A&W in Golden.  We stopped in Golden so the wedding party could walk through the monthly antique car show.  (Doesn’t everybody?)  

Arriving at our house for an afternoon/evening reception – it wasn’t actually in our house.  The only building large enough for 100 guests is our riding arena, which provided welcome shade from the afternoon sun.  Our horses hung their heads over the gate to join us (naturally).  

Of course, this Irish-Scottish-Cowboy-Car Show wedding was catered by – who else?  – the Giggling Greek.  And dessert was provided by their friends who baked an “elk cake”; chocolate frosting on the outside; blood-red cake on the inside; just like any other wedding. 

Yes, the details of their occasion were a bit far-fetched – just like the kind of dreams that a lifetime are made of. 

GAP 

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The Money Flinch…

“So, how much does something like this cost”? 

A straight forward question, don’t you agree?  If we were buying pretzels, we wouldn’t give it another thought.  If we worked in the federal government, we seemingly wouldn’t give this a thought either: 

A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon it adds up to real money.

                                  Senator Everett Dirksen 

But in the B2B, sales person’s world, the money question is enough to make one flinch.  And when we flinch, we can inadvertently spook the buyer, and it’s hard to sell to a spooked buyer, yes? 

We’ve all been there.  We work so hard cold-calling our target account; and, finally, our prospect agrees to an initial meeting.  We are totally prepared – read their web site; message from their president; trends in their industry; client success studies of ours that are similar to them; the works.  The conversation starts out well.   Then it hits – the “money question” – “Gary, how much does your product cost?”  Do I flinch? 

What would you do?  Are you in the camp of, “… Oh, before I could answer that Mr. Prospect, we would have to do a thorough analysis to better understand your needs; blah, blah, blah…”  That’s what I like to refer to as the non-answer, answer.  And buyers hate non-answer, answers from sellers.  It can needlessly make our offering seem complicated (and expensive!).  Even though it’s true – we do need to do an analysis – I mean, we’re not just selling pretzels; but the prospect wants a direct answer to their direct question, nonetheless. 

Are you in the camp of, “… Well, the list price is X, but we can work with you to insure we fit within your budget…”  That’s what I like to refer to as pre-mature discounting.  Of course, once you make an offer (or even imply you will discount) you can’t take it away.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not too proud to discount.  However, in today’s economic climate, it’s easy to get trapped in price-based selling vs. value-based selling, isn’t it.  

The money question is an indication of whether we believe in the value of what we’re selling to begin with.  Whatever our price point is, the prospective customer almost always thinks it’s too much, don’t they?  (Unless they’re buying pretzels, perhaps.)  When faced with the money question, we don’t flinch; we smoothly move into value-based selling mode and only go to a discounting tactic when we absolutely have to, true? 

I’m not sure how we got into this price and discount position in the first place.  The economy is often cited as the culprit.  However, the harder it is to sell somebody something should actually activate our value-based selling skills – unless we’re selling pretzels:

It seems that there was a pretzel stand in front of an office building in New York City.  One day a man came out of the building, plunked down a quarter, and then went on his way without taking a pretzel.  This happened every day for three weeks.  Finally, the old lady running the stand spoke up, “Sir, excuse me.  May I have a word with you?”  The fellow answered,I know what you’re going to say.  You’re going to ask me why I give you a quarter every day and don’t take a pretzel.” The woman replied, “Not at all.  I just wanted to tell you that the price is now 35 cents.”

                                  William Schreyer 

                                  GAP 

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4%? Sounds good …

Compensation – now there’s a topic to test our sense of humor today.  Seems like my “income” isn’t keeping up with my “out-go”.  How about you?  According to the naysayers, if we were the federal government, this wouldn’t matter.  However, we’re not; so it does; yes?  (But I digress…) 

I really shouldn’t complain about money; financially, I have been truly blessed.  Especially when compared to the very first job I had after graduating college (last century, nonetheless!).  When I think of how my wife and I started out back then, well they should be printing a happy face on my pay check stub today.  I can even chuckle when those naysayers start to complain, citing our favorite, Unknown Sage again: 

When I first started working I used to dream of the day when I might be earning the salary I’m starving on now. 

“Starving” might be a bit over-stated; but we would all welcome a little more “take” in our “take-home”; a bit more “net” in our net; I mean, a little more on the “bottom line” is our bottom line, true?  It can be hard to make ends meet today.  Careful about those “ends”, though: 

About the time we can make ends meet, somebody moves the ends.

                                  Herbert Hoover 

(Was Hoover a naysayer?)  

Thankfully, in the sales profession we enjoy a variable component to our compensation.  Call it commissions, bonuses, spiffs, whatever, the great part about being a sales professional is one’s ability to give oneself a pay raise.  

Now figuring out how to calculate those commissions – well that’s a different story.  Let’s just say it would be nice if our employers were a little less creative in designing our compensation plans, yes?  I was looking at my month-end, incentive compensation statement last week.  Talk about “new math”!  I’m always amazed at how some managers can dream up the most imaginative goals for their people.  Then they turn it over to accounting to try and figure out how to make the calculations.  Thank God for super computers! (Or would an abacus be better?) 

How our executives come up with the basis of our incentive can be a bit of a circus, too.  I worked for a painting company once and the owner literally counted the number of railroad cars while waiting for a freight train to decide the number of jobs I had to complete to earn my bonus.   It was a long train, too. 

As you know, the challenge of paycheck accuracy isn’t limited to sales people, either.  Just ask Paul Dickson: 

An angry worker goes into her company’s payroll office to complain that her paycheck is $50 short.  The payroll supervisor checks the books and says, “I see here that last week you were overpaid by $50.  I can’t recall your complaining about that.”  “Well, I’m willing to overlook an occasional error, but this is two in a row.”                                 

There is good new on the horizon, though.  According to a recent business report, employers are planning to offer their employees an average of a 4% pay raise in 2012.  A raise, any raise, would be great!  

Yet, those naysayers will cite our Unknown Sage again, I’m sure: 

The Salary Axiom:

The pay raise is just large enough to increase your taxes and just small enough to have no effect on your take-home pay.                   

 Nonetheless, I’ll take the 4% if offered in 2012, and be grateful for it.  You? 

GAP 

Did you like this little ditty?  You might enjoy my book, too:  The Peace & Power of a Positive Perspective©  Please check it out Subscribe.