I am sitting in my hotel room in San Diego taking in the view from the 16th floor. I’ve just delivered my last speech of the year, it was on advanced sales, teamwork and the future of work. This year I had the opportunity to work with clients in six countries, dozens of different industries, from small startups to the Fortune 10. Here are a few big trends that stuck out to me as I look back over 2016.
Communications: I have not worked for a company in my entire career that did not have some sort of communication challenges, but this year they seem to be even more prevalent. In business after business I encountered organizations which had trouble clearly communicating their vision and strategy for growth, their purpose and core values, and the critical information needed to keep their employees engaged and aligned.
The key to successfully overcoming this ever challenging issue is simply to over communicate using every channel available; one-on-one meetings, town halls, weekly meetings, email, social media, video… any way you can think of to share important information with your employees, vendors and customers. When you think you will get sick if you talk about the vision and strategy one more time, the lowest person in your organization just heard it for the very first time.
Execution: The lack of disciplined execution is the single biggest problem I see in companies around the world. I meet a lot of very smart people who develop unique and compelling strategic plans that would surely give them a strong competitive advantage, only to see them struggle mightily in taking their plans and turning them into results in the marketplace.
The key to successfully overcoming this challenge is to make sure you spend as much time building your execution plan as you do on creating the strategic plan. Your plan must have clear, specific, measurable and binary goals. As I often say: Ambiguity Breeds Mediocrity. For a strategic plan to be successful it MUST have extremely clear expectations of what is required, who is responsible, how the work is to be done and when it is due. Then, you have to have the discipline to consistently work the plan and make sure it stays at the forefront of everyone’s mind. I promise you this, if you could increase the effective execution of your strategy by just 10%, it would have a massive positive impact on the success of your organization. This was a major focus of my work for clients this year and I anticipate it will be again next year because even the best strategy in the world is useless without superb execution.
Technology: For the last several years people have been talking about the, “hyper-speed of technological change,” but I don’t think they really understood just how fast technology is actually changing and the mind-boggling impact is going to have on every business in just the next few years. A number of my clients have asked me to deliver speeches on the future of leadership and business, which has forced me to invest a large amount of my time into studying the various trends in emerging technologies. To name just a few; robotics, artificial intelligence, big data, Internet of Things, genetic decoding and recoding, synthetic medicine, virtual reality and augmented reality are all accelerating at a pace that will leave many, many companies and people completely unable to keep up. Even though I have devoured all of the information I can get my hands on, it is still exceedingly difficult for me to comprehend just how monumental the changes to our lives, businesses, communities, and the world will be in just the next decade.
The key to successfully dealing with this change is to dedicate a minimum of 10% of your time to studying all of the technologies that will potentially impact your business. I currently work with several clients who are directly connected to the auto industry and have challenged them that unless they become “experts” on autonomous cars and other forms of transportation technologies their business might not exist in 5 years. Let me make this Awesomely Simple: Learn or Die.
Talent: For many, (if not most) businesses, two of the only sustainable competitive advantages left are the quality of the people they can get, grow and keep on their team – and the relationships they create with their customers. This means that talent acquisition, talent development and talent retention should be a major strategic objective. However, I still see many companies tolerate mediocrity, do not invest sufficiently in training and development and have difficulty retaining their very best employees (the bad employees don’t want to leave because they know they can’t get a job anyplace else). The success of your business is directly determined by the talent on your team and creating a culture of engagement, customer focus, collaboration, accountability and disciplined execution.
The key to successfully overcoming this challenge is to make getting and keeping wildly talented people as a major focus of your business. Build a talent pipeline to ensure a steady stream of quality recruits, implement a focused and consistent interviewing process, create a robust onboarding system, develop a focused and intensive training program to take great people and make them even better, and have a career pathing program with mentoring, assessment, feedback and coaching to keep your top performers engaged and thinking long-term about their role in the company.
Sales Effectiveness: Nothing happens until somebody sells something. Let’s face it, all of the other stuff I’ve mentioned is useless if at the end of the day nobody buys anything from your company. Sales are the lifeblood of every business, or as Peter Drucker famously said, “The purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer.” Unfortunately, the vast majority of salespeople that I meet are NOT prepared for success. They have not had enough good quality training, they don’t have the right attitude, they don’t spend enough time investing in their own development, they don’t do their homework on their products and services and they don’t spend enough time asking superb questions and being an intense listener when they are in front of their customer. In other words, they waste their customers time, which is the single biggest complaint that executives have about dealing with salespeople.
The key to successfully overcoming this challenge is to be highly selective and targeted in who you hire as a salesperson and then ensure they get all of the training, support and resources they need to be successful in the field. Set clear and specific sales targets, coach and mentor for them for success, over-train them on both sales skills and product knowledge, and align their compensation plan to strongly encourage their full engagement and a strong desire to be successful in their sales efforts.
Leadership Development: I have been teaching leadership skills for nearly 25 years and I can say with great confidence that in the last few years the requirements for being an effective leader have actually changed quite a bit. Theory X, command-and-control and “do as I say not as I do” has not worked in a long time, yet I still see people trying to “lead” this way. Currently just over 50% of the workforce is made up of millennials with this number growing every day, and millennials definitely have a different way they want to be led. If you agree with me that talent is a critical element in building a successful company, then it is important to remember the single biggest reason millennials leave a company is poor leadership. Several research studies also show up to 50% of lost revenues are a direct result of ineffective leadership. Those numbers should be eye-opening to you.
The key to successfully overcoming this challenge is to understand everyone in your organization needs to be a leader. That begins with treating them like a leader, training them, supporting them and rewarding them for superior leadership skills. It also means having the courage to remove people from the team who are ineffective in leading in your organization. I’ve also stumbled across a new idea this year that I think is an important complement to creating great leaders: helping people to learn how to be great followers. Although everyone in your organization needs to be a great leader, they won’t be leading all the time, actually they are typically “following” a good amount of the time as well. So it is also essential to help people understand the importance of being a supportive, encouraging and productive follower.
There are other issues I came across during the last 12 months, but these are the major ones my clients specifically hired me to help them with. I hope my recommendations above will help you if any of these sound familiar.
I look forward to your feedback and comments, what have you been seeing?