In our previous blog on how management creates value through innovation, we mentioned working with 3M as they researched customers' opinions of their products versus those of competitors. To limit biased responses, participants weren't told who was sponsoring the research – yet to our surprise, most of them indicated at some point that they believed 3M was behind the study!

From the perspective of the research, this was quite disconcerting because these correct hunches likely skewed customers' responses in 3M's favor. But from another perspective, consider how encouraging a sign this was for their reputation in the market! Clearly, people had a high level of respect for the company because of its perceived commitment to producing quality products.

I was reminded of this story the other day as I read this interview with James Kouzes on the challenge of leadership. In multiple points throughout the piece, Kouzes stresses the importance for leaders to constantly solicit feedback from their people: "It's an area in which people consistently score the lowest, both in their own opinions and in the opinion of others. And yet the most fundamental way to improve performance is by getting feedback on how we're doing."

Kouzes goes on to discredit the notion that leaders are born and not made: "The assumption that leadership is a gift holds us back from learning. Leadership is a set of skills and abilities. If you have the desire, which is really critical, and the proper training, coaching, and the personal will to work hard and practice, you can significantly improve your ability to lead over time."

There are two interesting takeaways from this interview and the 3M story. First, when it comes to improving our leadership ability, at a personal and management team level, the process doesn't look much different to how we improve our product propositions: Just as 3M and other businesses research and learn how they can improve, so too can leaders seek feedback to learn how they can improve themselves.

And second, people deeply appreciate people and companies that make a concerted and continuous effort to improve. So just as the participants in 3M's research had added appreciation for the company because they knew of its commitment to self-improvement, so too will people appreciate you.

Do you ask people for regular feedback... or at all? Don't wait for your next annual or bi-annual review – have a meaningful conversation today!

Posted: 3/22/2011 7:27:55 PM by Andy Klein | with 0 comments
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Development Dimensions International (DDI) has released a new study, Finding the First Rung, that paints a very sobering picture of how businesses today are developing their leaders. The main takeaway? They're not developing their people at all: prior to the promotion, at the time of promotion or after promotion.

Newly promoted leaders aren't helping either, as they're generally accepting promotions for the wrong reasons: Half say they took the role because of the increase in compensation and only 23% say it was because they actually wanted to lead others.

Perhaps of most concern to us, although not surprising, is that more than half of people learned without any management support through trial and error. So it should come as no surprise that the few who did receive that support were twice as likely to want to continue in their position.

We hope that none of you are in such a position. But if you are, send us an inquiry and let's talk.

Posted: 3/21/2011 6:06:47 PM by Andy Klein | with 0 comments
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We've been talking a lot recently about how to create value for customers, with a key underlying principle being the critical importance of solidifying the relationship with the customer. The depth of knowledge salespeople gain in doing so – including the customer's business pain and frustrations as well as their aspirations – allows them to tailor how they present their product or service so that the customer is able to 'picture' exactly how it will meet their needs. If they can't 'see it' they won't buy it!

We've covered this from just about every perspective for a salesperson. But today we'd like to discuss value creation before the sales team takes the product to market, that is, from the perspective of management and marketing. In fact, the process of creating value is as or more critical for management to practice. But rarely does management refer to the process as creating value – instead, it's referred to as some variant of innovation.

For some the concept of innovation can have sort of mystical qualities, that to be labeled "innovation", you must produce the next Apple or Google. But innovation does not need to be groundbreaking in that sense; it can (and does) happen in businesses every day. It also isn't constrained to creating or improving products or services but extends to improvements in processes, work environment or even communication protocols and beyond.

Some past work we did alongside a division of 3M is a good example of "regular" innovation – in other words, not groundbreaking or revolutionary, more evolutionary. It's generally well-known that 3M places a huge emphasis on innovation, and we saw this firsthand as the division conducted extensive research: on the market, the customer, their business challenges, what they were trying to achieve in their businesses, the products they used at the time, what was good or bad about them, what features/functionality were missing from products, and on and on. Each question had a purpose, to help 3M define the end user and their requirements, and that knowledge was directly applied to the development of future (and quite successful) products.

You may have noted that this process has close parallels with the salesperson's objectives when creating value for customers: Just as salespeople must develop a relationship with the customer in the process of creating value, management and marketing must do the same through every innovation initiative. At its heart, the purpose of every business is to solve human problems and meet human needs, a reality sometimes lost when the urgent is driving out the important!

Of course, by operating from a different perspective to that of salespeople, value creation by management and marketing will also bring have a different 'touch', and that's exactly why good salespeople and an effective sales process are indispensable. Through their role in creating value, management and marketing help bring products to market with value propositions that are much more apparent to customers, giving sales teams more tools to work with and better enabling the role of the salesperson.

Does your business currently run innovation initiatives? Do you think your management and marketing team could help create more value? If so send us an inquiry. We'd be happy to discuss your situation and how to accelerate building an innovative environment.

Posted: 3/16/2011 5:56:41 PM by Andy Klein | with 0 comments
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There's a saying, originally in reference to family businesses, that one generation plants trees and the next generation enjoys the shade. Or put another way, the first generation has a vision and pumps their blood, sweat and tears into making the dream a reality. Too often, the next generation lives off of the founding generation's achievements without materially contributing to them – they don't share the same vision or passion as their predecessors. This complacency can manifest itself throughout a business, and by the time it's passed on to the third generation, it's in disarray.

It's called the 'make it, milk it, lose it' syndrome, and it's deadly! As a recurring business phenomenon, it is also now occurring with frightening regularity in Chinese businesses, in which significant wealth has been generated over the last 30 to 40 years but where an 'indulged' second generation very often lives off the fruits of this wealth while making little or no contribution to sustaining it.

We recently conducted a series of workshops with a client management team, in part with the aim of preempting just such a scenario. This is a highly successful, very well-managed company whose growth has always been driven by its founding owner. But the owner realizes that he can't (and shouldn't) be the only person defining and advocating the vision, that to enjoy ongoing success, he and the management team must live out the vision to ensure that employees at every level buy into it. To carry the analogy forward: future generations of managers can't just enjoy the shade that has been created but must also tend to the tree so that it continues to grow for the generations to come. This is why the ultimate purpose of effective leadership and management is to provide for the healthy continuation of the business!

Of course most of us aren't the primary champion for our company's vision – so how is this relevant to you?

If you manage or oversee a team of any size, this construct is equally as applicable. Every team within a business works towards a larger goal that in turn helps to fulfill the vision. So as a leader, it's up to you to ensure your people appreciate this bigger picture, and the role they play in it. Because when they understand and embrace their contribution to the vision, there's less room for indifference and 'no-growth' comfort zones to set in. Instead, one common tangible goal has the capacity to get your people focused on achieving that will drive the business forward.

Posted: 3/8/2011 5:15:29 PM by Andy Klein | with 0 comments
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Our latest edition of the Fortune Roundup comes with a full assortment of training and development topics – certainly something for everyone.

Lower & Lower Training Budgets, But Higher & Higher Expectations – It Just Won't Work!
By Jonathan Farrington
In making the case for why ongoing reinforcement of training is so crucial to the continued success of salespeople (and this can just as easily be applied to managers), Jonathan draws analogies to other professions: "Does an athletic champion stop training as soon as they win their first medal? In music, does a concert pianist stop rehearsing as soon as they have given their first recital? In art, does the artist stop improving after they have enjoyed the first exhibition of their work?" In each of these cases it's assumed that the professional will continue developing, and we must support sales and leadership professionals to do the same.

Building Belief – A Key Job of Sales Management
By Ken Thoreson of Your Sales Management Guru
Recently, we've talked a lot about how building belief is the only way to increase staff motivation. Ken concurs: "Salespeople have to be emotionally invested in their work with a burning desire to achieve. They must also believe that the company they represent is the best and the solutions or services they sell are of the highest quality. That belief must be genuine." Ken goes on to provide examples for how managers can help foster that level of belief amongst their people.

Time to Take out the 360-Degree Trash
By Art Petty of Management Excellence
Once upon a time, 360-degree evaluations were created with the best of intentions. Unfortunately, many have come to discourage (or even prevent) managers from providing good feedback. With a little complacency, it's easy to "fall into the trap of letting internal systems and programs do your work as a developer of talent." To help managers make the best of "one of these turkey", Art offers four suggestions.

Leadership – It's About The People
By Mike Myatt of N2Growth Blog
A concise and single-minded take on what makes a good leader: it's all about the people. Make them feel important, build a trusting relationship and get out of the way. Remember, in your role as a leader, "Being right isn't the goal – accomplishing the mission is."

Onboarding: A Driving Force for Employee Engagement
By Ruth Kustoff of Training Industry
With more and more focus on increasing employee engagement seemingly every day, this article looks at how a properly structured onboarding process can help contribute to engagement levels from the earliest days of employment – even during the recruitment process. The article specifically looks at the negative effects that discomfort – a regular occurrence when anyone starts in a new job – can have on engagement, saying, "Discomfort in a new job stems from a lack of knowledge about the job and its expectations. Having little or no understanding of how work gets down in the organization, or what the organizational culture is, makes it difficult to 'hit the ground running.'" A recent blog of ours on how to onboard new employees takes on this exact issue.

Finally, we're honored to be included in the March 2011 Leadership Development Carnival, hosted by Dan McCarthy at Great Leadership, this time for our post on how managers can demotivate employees. If you missed it, be sure to check it out!

Posted: 3/7/2011 6:32:03 PM by Nick Morris | with 0 comments
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