The Peace & Power of a Positive Perspective


Posts Tagged ‘Committees’


Happy Halloween everyone!  Here’s a little horror story repeated often in Corporate America – courtesy of not so paranormal, always electronic, cross-departmental communications.  Trick or treat?

The story begins innocently …it was just another day … I didn’t notice when it appeared … nestled innocuously in my in box … seemingly harmless … and then I clicked on it.  Boo!  The rude email lurched out!  Ouch!

I had cc’ed managers in three other departments about one of my upcoming meetings.  My meeting constituents asked me to address a few topics that pertained to their departments vs. mine.  Thinking it a business courtesy, I emailed these department managers with the proverbial “heads up” and asked if they preferred to address the subject matter in question.

Two managers ignored my email.  OK.  That happens to all of us every day, too.  The third manager seemed possessed.  The demeaning tone of his reply was exceeded only by the length of his electronic lecture.  Proud of his supreme, worldwide program authority, he did not bother running spell check.  He even cc’ed my boss’, boss’, boss.  Ouch – again!

I knew this manager had supreme, worldwide program authority; he told me so in a phone meeting held three months ago.  He was essentially replacing me with others as I was being reassigned to a new role.  The purpose of the phone call was to insure I knew he was now in charge.  OK. That also happens to all of us – perhaps not every day, but it happens.

The reason for my cc’s in the first place was to defer to these three managers.  I knew it was better for them to answer my constituents’ questions about their departments.  Trying to avoid a zombie like appearance I even ran spell check.  No avail.

He started his electronic diatribe with “I guess I’m confused…” and then proceeded to spew reason after reason why my constituents should not even be asking me these questions.  He said they should already know he is the supreme, worldwide program authority.  As proof he pasted not one, but two of his organization charts.  He emphasized that he heads a steering committee which my VP, and theirs, are members.

Ahhh – the “committee”…

Kirby’s Comment on Committees:

A committee is the only life form with 12 stomachs and no brain. 

Unknown Sage 


No supreme, worldwide program authority worth his weight in salt can be so without a committee, true?  Here’s Kelly Johnson’s opinion about committees:

We’re into the era where a committee designs airplanes.  You never do anything totally stupid, you never do anything totally bright.  You get an average, wrong answer. 

I’m thinking if he was providing answers in his steering committee meetings, my constituents would not be asking me questions.  Clairvoyant!

Committees frequently withhold answers to our questions. Mysterious!

Returning to my not-so-spooky story of the condescending email…  I have learned over the years not to execute knee-jerk responses to such in box demons.  Of course, I have learned that lesson the hard way – by executing knee-jerk responses!  I suppose we’ve all been that evil spirit.  Stephen R. Covey offers:

Quality of life depends on what happens in the space between stimulus and response. 

Thankfully, I did not have to respond at all.  My VP sent a very professionally written email to address his “I’m confused” positioning.  Poof!  The supreme, worldwide program authority disappeared from our story.

We returned to our Halloween trick or treating and all lived happily ever after.  The end.


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The right person…

Have you ever noticed how many times the topic of selling to the “right person” comes up?  If you’re a sales leader, have you noticed how often you ask the question, “Who is the decision maker?” in your forecast meetings?

If you’re a Human Resources Manager, or a Controller, or an IT Director, have you ever noticed how many times sales reps you meet with ask, “Now in addition to yourself, who else at your company will be involved in this very important decision?”

If you’re a sales rep, have you ever noticed how many times the prospect tells you, “I’ve been designated the point person at our company for this evaluation”?  Stymied!

WOW!  I’m not sure who this mystical person known as “the right person” is that everyone seems to be seeking.  There is so much being said and so much being written about the “right person” that it makes me wonder why everyone else we meet with is considered “the wrong person”?

Do we believe that if we just get through to the right person we will win the business?  Can it actually be that simple?  Probably not; LoL!  What are we afraid of, a little conflict; some dissent?

Alfred Sloan, Chairman and CEO of General Motors for years was in a Board meeting about to make an important decision.  He said, “I take it that everyone is in basic agreement with this decision.”  Everyone nodded.  Sloan looked at the group and said, “Then I suggest we postpone the decision.  Until we have disagreement, we don’t understand the problem.”

IMHO finding the “right person” is a fantasy.  In business, there are not “right people” or “wrong people” – there are just people.  And to run a business today, it takes a village, yes?  Sometimes the prospect’s people want to interact with us to help facilitate their purchase decision.  Truth be told, most decisions in Corporate America today are made by committee, true?

I mean, according to our favorite, Unknown Sage the mythical “Decision Maker” is a rare sighting:

A decision is what people make when they can’t find anyone to serve on a committee.

Though we still insist on seeking that mythical “Decision Maker”, how professional do we go about our search?  Remember this old adage, “People buy from people they like.”  How likable can we be when while continuously seeking the “right person” we imply everyone else we come across must be the “wrong person”?

It reminds me of the sales reps that called my wife to follow up her inquiry on buying an indoor riding arena for her and her horses.  Only a few sales reps agreed to meet with her without her husband participating.  They must have assumed I was the “right person”.  I wasn’t.  Only the firms that met with her ultimately had a chance to win the contract.

For sales professionals today, sometimes our role is simply to help the prospect complete their purchase transaction – nothing more.  No relationship; no consultation; no joy; just the transaction.  In fact, if the “right person” at our prospect could download an app on their phone vs. dealing with us to begin with, they probably would.

And as it turns out, the “right person” is the company (and committee) that transacts; with their own buying process; that may or may not match our preferred sales cycle; and that we may or may not even be invited to participate in.

Hmmm, from the prospect’s perspective I wonder, “Are we the right person?”


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Web meetings:  “strangers” meeting with “strangers”, discussing strategy – can you relate?  You’re invited to a meeting; log in on time; then wait for the key participants to appear – with the usual excuse, “Sorry, my previous meeting ran over.”

Starting without introductions, agenda, or objective, one of the meeting speakers launches in to a campaign speech about the strategic importance of x, y, or z.  We patiently listen – not knowing exactly why we’re there; unprepared to contribute; we start wondering what’s going on in our email in box – so we open up a second window.  Let the web-meeting-multi-tasking commence!

As we run over the allotted time (making that key person late for his next meeting), things are hastily concluded with a battle cry, “Let’s take the hill!” and we adjourn; leaving the meeting without assigning tasks; next steps; roles; or responsibilities.

Today’s virtual, web meetings remind me of Arthur Black’s perspective on systems development:

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

The other day I attended 3 web meetings like this.  Yep, it was a three-fer!

The first meeting started the usual way:  no introductions; sans-agenda; absent objectives.  We were gathered to discuss, “the most unique and important, new opportunity we have ever pursued!”  Tim started the meeting; Jim hijacked the talking stick for a 30 minute, self-serving campaign speech on the strategic work he has completed so far; the path he will lead us all on; and how we must break down our internal, departmental boundaries so he can lead us to a new-new world.

A few others added their hoorahs and the meeting ended without assigning tasks; timeframes; roles; or responsibilities.   I never did find out who Jim was.  So I thought about Norman R. Augustine’s perspective:

Another mystery commonly observed by committee pathologists is that the time consumed in debate is dominated by those with the least to offer.

Reeling from the question, “Why was I there?” I was called into another, ideation meeting.  There were no introductions, no clear agenda, but there was a nice campaign speech.  I offered the first idea (mistakenly thinking that’s what one does at an ideation meeting) and was immediately shot down.  No one else spoke up after that.  I don’t remember much more (but I did catch up on email).

That afternoon – the trifecta.  Bypassing introductions (honoring our new ritual of strangers meeting with strangers) we actually had 5 agenda items; of course, only time for 1, so we ran 30 minutes over; and ended with clean in boxes and without tasks; timeframes; roles; or responsibilities.

The main discussion was around improving an existing program that is getting rave reviews from our clients.  In fact, the senior executive in the meeting stated the feedback he receives has been nothing less than this program is “the best our clients have ever participated in”!

Since it is working so well – we decided to improve it.  Reminds me of John M. Capozzi’s perspective:

In all my years in business, I have found that people in meetings tend to agree on decisions that as individuals, they know are dumb.

I think that’s also called Stage 3 on Arthur Black’s list.  Running off to our next meetings (late), we departed without assigning tasks, but took a moment to salute the battle cry, “Let’s take the hill”!


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The Approval-Process…

Do you have any external proposals or internal initiatives/ideas that are waiting for an approval?  What exactly is the process to get to an approval anyway?  Does it still involve a rubber stamp?

rubber stamp

In business, a lot has been said and a lot has been written about decision making; there seems to be less thought leadership available on the Approval-Process.

(“Thought Leadership”, now there’s a catchy phrase in vogue today, yes?  I never thought, “Thought Leadership” would make it into one of my little ditties.  What is “Thought Leadership”, anyway?  I wonder – does the Approval-Process get waylaid with random thoughts like this?  But I digress.) 

Is the approver in the Approval-Process also the “Decision-Maker”; the “Economic-Buyer”; “VITO”?  Is a decision even required to finalize an approval?  What does an approver do to make the approval, anyway?  And what do they do when they don’t approve? 

            Not to decide is to decide.

Harvey Cox 

I was speaking with an Executive at our company the other day that I interact with from time-to-time.  I had an idea that could enhance the work I do with his team.  My boss thought it was a good idea, but since it would impact another department, we wanted that department Executive’s approval before proceeding. 

I wrote a synopsis including the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed idea; emailed it to the Executive and received this response, “Sounds good at first blush; let me chew on it a bit.”  “Chew on it a bit”, does the Approval-Process simulate one’s appetite?  Maybe that’s what the approvers do – they go out to eat.  And how long is, “a bit” anyway? 

To be fair to our approvers, I’m sure they need to weigh advantages and disadvantages of approving our recommendations.  I bet they keep a close eye out for the “Department of Unintended Consequences”, too.  I was thinking about that department while at a ball game last weekend.  It started with, “Why am I paying $8.00 for a beer?”  I thought the team owners were gouging the fans with high prices (which, of course, they are). 

But by the time we reached the 7th inning and I had a group of rowdy, drunken, profanity-laced  fans a few rows in front of me, I realized that if beer were any cheaper, I’d likely be totally surrounded by rowdy, drunken, profanity-laced fans by the 2nd inning!  Yep – the Department of Unintended Consequences even exists at the ball park. 

Maybe approvers take our proposals to the “committee”: 

A decision is what people make when they can’t find anyone to serve on a committee. 

Unknown Sage 

And in the sales profession, we all face the challenges of decision by committee, true? 

We’re into the era where a committee designs airplanes.  You never do anything totally stupid; you never do anything totally bright.  You get an average, wrong answer.

Kelly Johnson 

Is that what happened to the battery design in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner? 

Well, my Executive who I turned to for an Approval-Process and who wanted to “chew on it a bit”, still hasn’t let me know whether to punt or proceed.  It’s no big deal, really; it was just a process-improvement idea.  Not every idea is a good idea; and not every good idea can be implemented.  But I’m still not sure how long, “a bit” is. 

I suspect he has decided not to make a decision, which of course, is a decision. 


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Another Business Meeting took place…

An American business meeting occurred – hooray! 

The best advice I ever received about sales meetings came from one of my clients.  (I couldn’t tell at the time if he was coaching me; complimenting me; or correcting me.) 

            The 3 B’s of Sales: 

          Be Brief

              Be Bright

                   Be Gone

                                  Jeff Blauvelt 

Recently, I attended a client management review meeting with one of our strategic partners.  They flew 14 people in for the meeting; there were 6 from our company.  My role was “support”.  

There are many American business meetings that take place like this between sales team & client; or internal meetings involving the dreaded “committee”: 

We’re into the era where a committee designs airplanes.  You never do anything totally stupid, you never do anything totally bright.  You get an average, wrong answer. 

Kelly Johnson 

I bet you attend these types of meetings, too. While observing the interactions at this American business meeting, here are some examples of, “little things that make a difference”; recognize any? 

  • The meeting was scheduled to start at 11:00 am; I arrived at 10:55; the meeting had already started.  My colleague running the meeting told me afterward, “They arrived early and since you didn’t have a big part we decided to start without you…”  Actually, I didn’t have any part at all.  Made me wonder; why I was invited to begin with?  Ever attend a meeting and wonder, “Why am I here?”
  • The meeting started at 11:00 am; our Vice President strolled in at 11:15 – “Sorry, I was in another meeting.” was offered.  I wondered:  How many minutes late is it these days before the late-comers realize they are late? 

Punctuality is the politeness of kings.                                 

Louis XVIII 

  • To her credit, our lead sales rep had an agenda – how many American business meetings do you attend that have no agenda?  Unfortunately, she had 2-hours of content for a 1-hour agenda.  Sound familiar?
  • Much of the discussion was dominated by three of the participants whose arguments were mostly self-promoting vs. applicable to the agenda.  Everyone else sat back and observed the debate – been there, done that?  

The amount of time devoted to the debate of a subject is inversely proportional to the importance of the outcome. 

Norman R. Augustine 

  • While the arguments droned on, 4 of my colleagues were texting from their cell phones.  They kept the phones below table level – perhaps thinking we wouldn’t notice.   Well, if we didn’t notice the devices, it was hard to miss the bowed heads.  Looked like they were napping.  Question: would napping vs. texting have been better or worse?
  • Our lead sales rep proposed a Call-to-Action and our strategic partner responded, “No”.  Undaunted, she re-phrased her request three different ways; three different times.  To which our partner re-stated, “No; No; and still No”.  Ever attend a meeting where the asker asked – but she was actually trying to tell and not really asking? 

Their highest ranking Vice President (and our late-coming VP), got up to leave 15 minutes early, “Have to catch a flight” was offered.  “But please continue the discussion”, we were instructed.  In other words, we could stay to chat, but the decision makers were leaving – so no further decisions would be made that day.  

Come late; leave early; self-promotion; casual chat; decision avoidance.  Yep, another successful American business meeting took place.  

Oops – gotta go – I’m late to my next meeting! 


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I want…

Recently I commented about sales reps using the “if” word as an excuse when they failed to meet or exceed their quota – see:

That little ditty was inspired by conversations I had with three of my clients on the last day of the first quarter – they were rationalizing why things were not going well. 

I often hear a companion to “if” these days – “I want”.  You see, I typically interact with 4 or 5 sales reps per day (sometimes more).  And competing for business has been challenging in recent times, true?  So, as I work with sales reps on tactics and techniques to “hunt” for business, I’ve picked up on this companion theme of, “I want“. 

It’s not actually new, I suppose; probably has existed since the beginning of sales quotas.  It goes like this:  “Gary, I want more leads.”  You want more leads?  Really?  What a concept!  Reminds me of the 1950’s TV show: 

All I’ve ever wanted was an honest, week’s pay for an honest day’s work.

Sergeant Bilko 

Oh, and it’s not limited to leads:  “I want a lower quota; I want a bigger territory; I want better Sales Engineers; I want more competitive pricing…”  There seems to be no end to what we sales reps “want”, yes? 

But wait – it’s not just sales reps.  I was speaking with an executive of one of my clients who is in the process of recruiting a sales rep.  “Gary, I want a hard worker; I want someone bright.  I want to pay them an entry-level comp plan; but I want them to produce quickly.  I want them to have industry experience and I want them to be able to prospect…”  Really?  Anything else?  Are wants like that reality? 


Having the world’s best idea will do you no good unless you act on it.  People who want milk shouldn’t sit on a stool in the middle of a field in hopes that a cow will back up to them.

                                 Curtis Grant 

And then there are our prospects.  We’ve heard it a million times:  “I want a low price, but I also want advanced functionality.  I want to delay placing my order, but I want to be up and running quickly…”  H.L. Hunt offers this sage advice to our prospects: 

Decide what you want, decide what you are willing to exchange for it.  Establish your priorities and go for it.                                 

Unfortunately, the idea of “exchanging” more money for what they “want” doesn’t seem to be what they want, true? 

You see, it’s nice to want things.  And then reality sets in.  Often, “want” is a mental exercise we go through combining all of the best attributes related to a topic and excluding any of the bad attributes.  It’s one thing to daydream; but when we expect these fantasies to appear in our real world, that’s something different.  Thankfully, our Unknown Sage comes to our rescue: 

If you haven’t got all the things you want, be grateful for the things you don’t have that you didn’t want.                                 

Yes, it’s nice to want things – I want a house on the beach!  That might make me feel successful.  Careful what you ask for though – a beach house in Denver?  Here’s you know who: 

Success is getting what you want; happiness is wanting what you get. 

I guess I should simply be happy with what I have and heed these words from my favorite Unknown Sage. 


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Selling to committees, oh my!

Have you ever sold to or tried to persuade a committee?  Do you “dance with the stars”?  Will you share one of your favorite dances with us?  Perhaps even educate us on how to dance this most difficult dance of selling to a committee? 

John F. Kennedy once described a committee this way: 

                        A committee is twelve men doing the work of one. 

Selling to the twelve to get a decision from the one; committee-based projects can be quite the challenge, yes?  It’s a business dance that at the end of the night can bring a disappointing ending for all save one, lucky sales rep.  But as sales professionals, we must face this dance because we dance for a living – while committees, well they don’t seem to get out much.  

In Corporate America today collaborative, decision-making processes are often preferred by business executives.  You know – get the team involved; gain buy-in; empowerment; leverage group-think; use all of these factors to obtain a better decision for their company.  Yep – form a committee! 

On the sales side?  We’re not as thrilled.  It isn’t the added effort needed to sell to a committee.  Rather, it’s the difficulty in working through a maze like a mouse when the members of the committee have different (sometimes conflicting) needs.  Makes it hard to find the cheese.  And the outcome to the company when committee members disagree on their needs?  Norman Augustine said: 

            A camel is a horse designed by a committee. 

The tempo of the dance can be different, too.  Sales people are sometimes surprised to learn how quickly the “psychological” buying decision of a committee is made; often very early in the sales process vs. at the end, after the committee has considered all of the competing vendors’ proposals.  Of course, the sales reps don’t learn of the decision early – we’ve just started to dance. 

Besides, winning a psychological decision is not the same as placing the order.  Many bad things can and do happen to the sales rep after “winning” the hearts and minds of the committee early.  Seems backwards so far?  Well committees have their reasons.  

First, committees like to use the ensuing evaluation activities to validate their initial decision; make sure they haven’t overlooked anything; CYA.  Second, the committee needs to find out if their executives were just being courteous about this project or truly sincere about actually spending the money and making changes.  Remember: 

            Not to decide is to decide.

                                                                            Harvey Cox 

Additionally, it’s at this stage of the evaluation process where “Sales Rep Stupidity” may enter the dance floor.  Sales reps in the lead might lose their position; become too aggressive; over confident; complacent; even lazy.  Or, the leading sales rep can panic and start to discount their deal prematurely; throw in added items; make additional offers; lose their tempo.  If they do something stupid, either the committee gains benefit or the competitor does, all at the expense of the leading rep. 

The trailing sales reps?  Well, there seems to be no end to the imaginative ways they try to change the mind of the committee – usually quite entertaining. 

At the end of the dance, only one lucky sales rep wins and the rest of us all tie for last.  We all get voted off – this dance is over.   Then it’s on to the next committee; on to the next dance.  


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