Think About It… Week of 2/13/11

“Any fool can make something complex; it takes a genius to make something simple.” – – Woody Guthrie

This theme of simplify surfaces quite frequently. Think about that!

Think About It… Week of 1/23/11

“Many of the great achievements of the world were accomplished by tired and discouraged men who kept on working”   – – Unknowns

Yet another perspective on the power of persistence!

Think About It… Week of 1/9/11

“The shortest distance between two points is under construction.”   – –   Noelie Altito

OK, so I’m not really that cynical, but…

Think About It… – Week of 12/5/10

“Really great people make you feel that you, too, can become great.”   —  Mark Twain

Serve others.  Always serve others.  That “Golden Rule” stuff is for real!

Think About It – Week of 11/28/10

“Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”  —  William Faulkner

I agree! You can’t make any excuse when you “lose” to yourself.

Think About It – Week of 9/12/10

“The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning, and does not stop until you get to the office.”  Robert Frost

Think Big

There’s something exhilarating about tackling a really big problem or pursuing a really big goal.  It somehow puts so many things in a different perspective.  Lucky for me, I’ve experienced the excitement quite a few times in my business career, and now I’m in the middle of another biggie in the community service arena.

As a board member of the Cobb Symphony Orchestra, I’ve seen first hand what happens to donations to non-profits when the economy in general goes south.  Personal giving is way down, and corporate gifts have virtually disappeared for two consecutive years.  If that’s not scary enough, the cash crash happened on the heels of a major expansion of our role and services to our community.  (We added a Jazz ensemble, a private lessons program, GYSOC, the Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra & Chorus that in just four years has grown to 400+ kids and is now the largest in the Southeast, a chorus for the flagship orchestra and expanded the number of professional musicians.)

Oh, then our Executive Director, Brian Hermanson got and accepted an incredible offer with the San Luis Obispo Symphony and John Concklin, our Creative Director and the GYSOC maestro/mastermind, got accepted into the Cleveland Institute of Music, literally the top program of its kind in the world.  We’re really, really proud of these guys.  They’re our alums forever.  Our plan has always been to be a career launching pad for up and comers.  Watch these two young men, by the way.  They’ll both have a major impact on the classical music world over the next few decades.  We’re proud all right, and mightily happy for you, but guys…  Your timing was atrocious!

I don’t have to tell you what happens when major new investments run into a significant revenue downturn coupled with turnover of key employees.  Yikes!  We had several very painful board meetings through the spring and summer; discussing things like canceling performances and closing down one or more of the newer programs.  It was awful.  Awful until Michael Alexander, our musical leader and conscience, turned the discussion around to a “grow or die” motif.

I’ll never forget the moment.  It was just four of us; Michael, John, Susan Stensland, Operations Director extraordinaire, and me.  It was painfully somber.  An awesome candidate to be our new Executive Director had just turned us down.  That’s when Mike suggested hiring a Development Director (aka fundraiser) instead of an Executive Director and bringing Grant Harville on board to head up GYSOC.  (He’s the next guy staged for the CSO launching pad.)

Bzzzzzzzttttttt!!!

THINK BIG took over.  Instantly.  And things started happening.  Fast.  Forty five days later:

  • Fran Day joined us as Development Director (On the one hand I feel bad that she’s so new that we have no link to her bio.  On the other hand, the list of her accomplishments as a non-profit fundraiser would triple the length of this post!)
  • Bob Sanna joined us as Executive Director (A stunningly strong stroke of good fortune.  Seriously, follow Bob’s link and read his bio.  We maybe just lassoed the best symphony ED in the country!)
  • The team is energized BIG time (the Board, the 100+ Friends of the CSO, the musicians, the staff, everybody!)
  • Yet another (too-soon-to-be-announced) great-leap-forward is in the offing
  • We made the short list for a $50,000 grant from the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund

That last item (fingers crossed!) will keep us whole until Fran’s put-together-in-less-than-two-weeks fundraising plan kicks in, and Bob’s unbelievable marketing/advertising skills and contacts get traction.

It’s gonna’ work.  It’s gonna’ happen.  It’s like the dog above with the Apatosaurus bone.  It can’t be done, but it will be done.  And the best part is, I get ride the rocket.

Grow or die.  Is there really any other way to go?

So You Learned Something. So What?

About fifteen years ago, I ran across a paper written by Arie De Geuss, then chief of corporate planning for Royal Dutch Shell. In it, he made one of those pithy observations that really capture the essence of sustained excellent performance. Insightful as he was at the time, it’s just not enough any more.

“The only sustainable competitive advantage is the ability to learn faster than your competitors.”

There is no doubt that this 20th century insight from Mr. de Geuss still has great value for sales reps. It builds on Isaac Newton’s 18th century, “If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants” and Francis Bacon’s 16th century, “Knowledge is power.” Their core idea as applied to sales is to become the source of essential information and know-how that our customers need to solve their most pressing problems.

That concept certainly makes sense. So much so that maybe we ought to think about “standing on its shoulders.” Even if we already continuously and aggressively learn and acquire new knowledge, so what? How can we take it to the proverbial next level?

Consider learning in terms of building capabilities and then linking capabilities. Every time you learn something new – whatever it may be – focus on finding a way to apply that knowledge and therefore to also create a new capability. Take a classic selling scenario. You just learned a more efficient way to identify bottlenecks in manufacturing processes. By applying that new knowledge to one of your customers, you exercise your new bottleneck-spotting capability. By linking this new capability to your existing product application capability, your customer learns about a new way to extend his capability. Then take it to the next level…

Teach customer personnel (for a fee, of course) your new bottleneck spotting technique. Passing on the knowledge helps your customers learn and therefore create yet another new capability within their organization. With more people to spot bottlenecks, more opportunities to improve the process are identified along with more potential uses for your products and services. Then take it to the next level…

Take one of the improvement opportunities that is not currently addressable by your company. Think “link” instead of ignoring it. Even though you have no relevant offering, you probably do know – or could quickly learn about – someone else’s knowledge or capability that is relevant. Link your customer up with the source of that knowledge or capability. Then take it to the next level…

Learn about what your customer and that third party learned about each others’ capabilities. Learn about how they combined their mutual knowledge and capabilities to create yet more capabilities. Did the third party reach out to a forth party? Learn about how their knowledge and capability contributed to capability creation. Learn about how all parties involved enhanced their overall capabilities and applied them elsewhere.

Pause now, and visualize how you could learn about the value of this ever-expanding daisy-chain of knowledge and capabilities; how you could leverage the increasing number of linked capabilities to create knowledge about an ever-expanding set of new capabilities for yourself and for your customers.

Visualize how this could super-charge your value proposition. Your real value could be – should be – orchestrating the complexity involved with learning, capability building and capability linking on behalf of your customers.

Consider the fact that maybe the only sustainable competitive advantage is the ability to orchestrate capability building faster than your competitor.

Think about it…

Think About It… Week of 8/22/10

Wisdom from a race care driver:  “If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.”  Mario Andretti

Forget One & You Fall Down

It’s quite instructive to examine the nature of offerings from the hordes of sales consulting and training firms.  The overwhelming majority of them are focused on developing sales skills.  Clearly, what sales managers are demanding is precisely that.

All well and good.  I’m the first to violently agree that selling skills are fundamentally and critically important.  Ya’ gotta’ have ‘em.  Without ‘em, you’re dead meat.

What concerns me is the near total lack of training regarding sales process and metrics.

Every business school known to mankind and virtually every consulting/training firm for other business functions  teaches with a three-legged stool philosophy.  It’s skills, it’s process and it’s metrics.  Tools supplement and help with the coordination of the three essential legs.

Lets’ say you make your living managing a baseball team.  Let’s also say you have the world’s greatest living all-around athlete signed to a 10-year, no-way-out contract.  Now let’s say that athlete takes the field and does all the things required to win a basketball game.  In other words executes a basketball process.  Let’s measure the athlete’s performance in the context of what wins basketball games; by counting rebounds, percentage of shots made and defensive steals.  Goofy to even consider, right?  That awesome set of skills is so badly misapplied, that it’s totally useless.

Let’s say you make your living building cars.  Let’s also say you have the world’s greatest living plant manager signed to a 10-year, no-way-out contract.  Now let’s say that plant manager goes into the factory and does all the things required to build laptop computers.  In other words executes a laptop manufacturing process.  Let’s measure the plant manager’s performance in the context of profitably building laptops; by counting percentage of hard drives correctly installed, number of copies of Windows sold and number of machines built with more than 2 USB ports.  Goofy to even consider, right?  That awesome set of skills is so badly misapplied, that it’s totally useless.

Let’s say you make your living selling stuff.  Let’s also say you have the world’s greatest living all-around sales rep signed to a 10-year, no-way-out contract.  You want that rep selling your stuff right?  Not doing the things that make a great baseball player or get a bunch of high quality cars built.  You want that rep executing a sales process; your sales process.  Not a basketball process or a laptop production process.  And you want to measure performance in the context of revenue generation; things like sell cycle, close rate and average deal size.

Time to state the obvious.  A sales rep – even the greatest in the world – cannot execute a sales process that doesn’t exist.  And, by the way, if the process is not written down, agreed to and executed by the entire sales team it does not exist.  And if the process does not exist it cannot be measured.

Please do me a favor.  Promise yourself to be totally objective, hard-nosed and honest, and re-read the previous paragraph.  Are you solidly based on a three-legged stool?  Or are you more like The Great Wallenda, balancing precariously on the skill leg only?