Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sales Train Like an Athlete

An interesting observation that I've made about sales training and goal setting is that we're always trying to set goals as a percentage of what we did before. We take a look at how many units we did last month or quarter and decide we're going to do 10% more this time. Athletes take a much more aggregate approach, they still want an improvement of the final result, but they're not as concerned with the steps to get there.

Here are some things I can guarantee you are not said during athlete training sessions:

  • "Jim, this report says you hit 34 home runs last year. I crunched some numbers and I'm going to need you to hit 37 this year."
  • "Greg, you are still taking 7,398 steps on average during your races. If we don't cut that down below 7,200 I'm going to have to write you up."
  • "Lisa, your clubhead speed is up 5% from last season, great work, I think you could get another 5% out of it yet."
And lastly

  • "Carson, you've got a great arm, we have the best wide receivers in the league, but this week we're blitzing field goals, so every time you get down in the Red Zone, I'm pulling you for the Field Goal Unit."
I understand that there are fundamental differences between the way sports and business is scored, but sometimes I wonder if we really need to think all that differently.

Take the home run statement for example. Many managers have said the same thing to a salesperson about units sold. That's where the similarities stop though, because the baseball manager then turns to the hitters swing. They work on strength in the gym, hand speed, take batting practice, and so on. In sales, managers often just suggest making more phone calls. That's akin to telling a hitter to get more at-bats.

We need to help sales people focus on their fundamentals. We need to turn to role playing, observations, and coaching. Through these types of "practice" we can help our players tweak their sales fundamentals and produce more results. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

App Review: Evernote

I'll start with a softball. I hope everyone knows about Evernote.

Grade: A

Quick Pitch: Evernote is a note taking application that allows you to take notes in the form of text, photo, or audio (or all three) and organize those notes into Notebooks. It comes with 60 MB of free storage space and is possibly the most consistent experience across devices available. Notes can be shared for collaboration.

Full Story: I certainly don't use Evernote for everything it can do, which is more a testament to it's full power than anything else. If you wanted to go all in with Evernote you really could manage most parts of your life with it. From a business sense, the best part about Evernote for me is being able to take quick notes on the go. Most of the time that means snapping a quick picture of a document or leaving an audio note to myself, but I frequently make text notes as well. I have set up several folders for different business needs and when making a note it's easy to choose which notebook I want to place it in, or just drop into my default folder for later.

  • Widget - I use the 4x1 widget on my phone which allows me to jump straight to text, camera, or microphone to start a note. It also opens the app or a search. The larger widget will show snippets of recent notes, I use this on my tablet.
  • Multi-device - I take most of my notes during the work day on my phone, but I often access them at night via my tablet or desktop. The syncing is seamless and unlike other apps I've tried I never worry about any workarounds to make accessing my data the same.
  • Free - Hard to beat that right? You can upgrade to premium storage, and eventually I will probably have to do that. However, if you're mostly using it for business purposes, many of your notes have a short shelf-life so you shouldn't have to worry about that 60 MB limit for a while.
  • Frequent updates - Evernote is still innovating and making this product even better.
  • Google Docs integration - admittedly they overlap a little so I understand the separation, but I'll also admit that Google Docs is better for professional documents. It would be nice to integrate my notes into my favorite cloud document platform.
  • Space limit - I can understand why they have one, but 60 MB seems quite small for a society where gigabytes are the norm. While I haven't hit the threshold yet two things are true, I'm stingy about the photo/audio notes I leave there, and I won't like the day I suddenly hit my cap and have to decide to either clear stuff out or pay up. I'm happy to pay for premium features, but size is always an awkward one.
You can download it from the market here.

Expanding Like-em

It's only week three and we're already expanding. Well, I'm expanding... the number of posts I write... and the topics I'm covering.

I'm having fun spending more time writing already this year (I've done more than you've seen), and I'm going to expand into another area of interest for me. I haven't picked a regular day yet... might be Fridays... but I will be writing reviews of Android apps for business use. I've spent a lot of time over the last twelve months searching for a good source of reviews for these apps and having found none, I decided to do it myself.

I'll be posting my first review right behind this, but here's a little bit about just how geeky I am.

I switched from Blackberry to Android almost a year ago. My main reasons for switching was a desire for an OS that provided me with better integration with the plethora of Google services I use, integration across the apps themselves, and a larger app market. I found all of those with Android. I know the highly customizeable style and unpolished apps aren't for everyone, but I'm someone who gets excited by trying things early, even if that means I have to have a little patience for any bugs.

Today, I have 135 apps on my phone. I wish I had kept track of all the apps I decided not to keep, but I'll wager that I've downloaded more than 200. I use my phone for many parts of my life from social media, fitness, and gaming, to organizing, music, and business. That's not to say that you'll never see my without my phone against my palm though, part of the grade that I give an app is for it's ability to help automate my busy life.

What I'm looking for is to build the perfect set of apps for business - the set that automates schedules, tasks, contacts, calls, notes, and everything else. I hope that we can start conversations here about these apps and find that perfect mix. It may not be the same for everyone, but the core likely can be.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Flat Hierarchy Pt 2

Last week I introduced the idea of a flat hierarchy. I talked about a few of the main reasons why I feel it's important to keep a team as flat as possible. Today, I want to talk about a few tactics that I feel management and staff can utilize to help create that environment.


Perhaps the biggest thing a manager can do is show they are a part of the team rather than apart from the team. As a leader, you are saddled with a truckload of responsibilities, they take up your time and stress you out. They are also important, after all, they're your responsibilities. When you become consumed by them however, you appear to be detached from your team. You give off the, "I can't help you today" vibe. Build time into your day, every day, to spend time helping your team with their tasks. That might not mean doing the tasks for them, it might mean entertaining customers while staff catches up on the volume, answering a few phone calls on the main line, making copies of a log or fax cover sheet when you notice the supply is low, handling a task that you already delegated to them but they haven't yet completed, or a host of other things. When you show your staff that you are willing to help pick up the slack in the most basic of team tasks you show that you hold yourself accountable to the completion of those tasks the same way you hold them accountable.

Another big opportunity for leaders is to show your human side. No, you don't have to cross the professional-personal barrier. Simply talking about a project you are working on, or some light venting about a deadline you have to meet for a report shows them that you're part of the system too (I'm not meaning only corporations, but all systems where a team is working towards a goal). I feel a lot of leaders fear they will appear weak in front of employees when they do this, but sharing your feelings helps employees identify the fact that you have a job to do too. When they make that realization, they'll cut you a little more slack when you spend time doing it.


I'm not going to find the right way to word this, but I'm open to any discussion that leads to better understanding of viewpoints. The most important thing that a staff member can do is to accept that management is part of the system. Again, not related only to corporations, but to the process of completing the tasks. Management may progressively have more power and authority the higher up the hierarchy you get, but they relationship can still be flat. This begins by holding managers accountable to their responsibilities and involvement with the team. I am not condoning documented coaching of your manager, but rather keeping your expectations in focus in a professional manner.

When teams enact more of these attitudes within their daily activities they'll begin to work more closely together. This can open up better communication which helps teams work towards their vision.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Flat Hierarchy

Since I'm still getting this idea off the ground I want to stick with more personal theory/fundamental posts to help establish my point of view.

This week I'm writing about my ideas for the need of flat hierarchy in the workplace. My definition for a flat hierarchy is a workplace where there is minimal difference in the way management and staff are viewed. Each "side" maintained defined roles they fill on the team, but importance of those roles is brought to equality.

This is an idea that came to me naturally before I actually identified it. My core values for team involve not valuing any one part of the team over another. While it's true that some parts of a team might require more experience and knowledge, it's also true that the team cannot function with any piece missing. The key is understanding that management tasks are simply a set of tasks completed by the team member assigned to them. Certainly, some of those tasks are "power" tasks like decision making, hiring, and firing, but they are still tasks that are essential to the team and assigned to a team member.

I believe that the best teams understand this. They operate with the understanding that everyone has a defined role that integral to the success of the team and they hold team members accountable throughout the chain of command. When separated into management and staff, both sides need to accept this.

Management needs to stay personable. They need to be visible in showing their hard work to staff and connecting those efforts to the success of the team. Some of the most dysfunctional teams have a significant disconnect wherein staff members feel that management doesn't contribute enough to the daily activities of the team. Managers can dispel these feelings by better communicating their activities, challenges, and successes with staff. By viewing management activity as a part of the team's job and not an omniscient position, management can stay a part of the team.

The staff needs to avoid fear of management. To some degree that environment needs to be delivered by the manager, but staff can create it by showing management that they expect them to be a part of the team, not simply the boss.

I'll stick with this topic next week and discuss some activities that teams can partake in to implement flat hierarchies.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mutual Agreement

I recently met with a friend who works in a customer service position for another industry. She was talking about a challenge that she was facing at work in which she felt like management was "feeding the team canned statements to use with customers." She said that offices in another part of the country had this idea, received higher customer service scores, and now it was being informally rolled out in her area. The problem was that her and her peers felt awkward and corny with many of the new lyrics and, as a result, the process wasn't being used in most cases.

Now, I purposely left out the specifics. They don't matter as most of us have seen this same scenario in our workplaces - one person/office/region tries something and gets results and suddenly it's the hottest thing to have a meeting about. Mostly, it makes sense. Good companies should spread the good news when a new method produces better results. Another thing that good companies should do is understand team mentality.

My friend used words like "feeding" and "canned". Those aren't very positive words to use when describing her perception of the implementation of the new lyrics. With no offense meant, I might guess they are indicative of her success with them as well. The problem isn't with the staff here though, it's with the delivery method.

A team will stand together against canned change almost without fail. It can be different when training a new employee, but experienced employees know their business. In this case, they know the customers coming into the office, they know the local culture, they "know" a lot of things about their office that they are pretty sure some colleague across the country cannot know. For this reason, a leader needs to be prepared to have a conversation that facilitates healthy conflict around the topic. The key is to understand that the person/office/region that made it work, made it work because of a shared vision and agreement to make changes to deliver a new consistent approach to the task.

If the challenge is achieving better results for customer service scores, then you start the conversation about customer service rather than success stories from a far off land. As a leader you share current results, suggest that you feel the team can do better, and share the story of the person/office/region as evidence that there are solutions to your challenges. Once the conversation starts, let it happen - let it blossom. If your team already feels comfortable speaking openly, you'll likely find that they agree that they can achieve better results.

Now you can turn the conversation back to the new method being used elsewhere. You will likely meet resistance, but don't set out to copy the lyrics of the other person/office/region, rather copy their mentality. To make a process their own, a team has to air out all of their feelings, they need to play "devil's advocate" and challenge the idea. Inevitably, someone will introduce reason back into the conversation, heads will nod, and progress will start to flow back in the direction of the original proposal. This conversation of healthy conflict is a crucial step to getting everyone to buy into the idea. When it gets skipped, challenges are unanswered and remain barriers to implementation for those individuals. By helping your team agree on a vision of what (in this case) better customer service scores should look like, you are on the road to getting participation from the team towards achieving that vision.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Opening Comments

I've started a few blogs in my time and I always feel the need to state my intentions with an initial post. Maybe it's just because I need to see it in type myself, but I'll share it with you anyway.

The reason that I chose to start this blog was to create a platform where I can share my experiences and thoughts surrounding team development and leadership. My hope is that I will open some conversation and we will all be able to tackle the many challenges that teams face together as a focused group. During the course of my career I have had the opportunity, as have all of you, to work on a number of teams. Some of these teams were great, others needed work, and they all affected the final results. Whether you're the leader or not, we all have a vested interest in keeping the team moving forward.

In leading teams, I have developed a set of activities that I try to keep in daily focus. They are:

  • Development - I believe that we should always be learning, growing, and becoming experts in our field.
  • Awesomeness - I believe in leveraging our strengths to be great at something. I'm talking about true strength here, not just "I'm good at selling XYZ Product," but "I'm good at communicating and use that to explain benefits of XYZ Product when I'm selling."
  • Vision - I believe that part of the definition of team is unified vision. Everyone involved needs to know where they want to be as a unit by X date and what they're willing (and needing) to do to get there.
  • Effort - I believe that we only control one real thing. Quarterly targets, daily challenges, frustrated customers and colleagues are all external realities that exist in every environment. When teams hone in on maximizing their effort they're meeting real potential.
These aren't exhaustive of the things that teams need to be aware of, but they are the most important to me and the ones that I fall back on when making decisions about daily activity. I'll touch back on these regularly as I cover different topics and experiences. Oh, and yes, I did chose "Awesomeness" over "Strengths" because it got me the "A" to complete my acronym - during a busy day, sometimes the only thing you can remember is your own name.

I am looking forward to creating a community here by publishing fresh content weekly. So if you like what you see please bookmark the blog, or simply follow me on Google + for regular updates.