Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

The Big Trends From 2016

shutterstock_150443150I 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?

For Your Convenience

Screaming into telephone.Whenever you see the phrase, “For your convenience,” you know it’s going to be anything but convenient. I’ve been on the road for about two weeks and during my trip here are just a few of the things that people so kindly did for my convenience…

“For your convenience, rubber mats for the shower are available upon request, simply call the operator and we will have one brought your room.” Not very convenient when I’m standing in the slippery shower and realize I need a shower mat to keep from falling and killing myself.

“For your convenience, we have added a daily $10 charge to your room for cleaning services.” I guess if I refuse the charge they will leave my room dirty?

“For your convenience, the café opens at 7 AM.” Unfortunately, I have a 7:30 meeting on the other side of the hotel, not very convenient to have to skip breakfast.

And finally, my favorite one, yesterday morning I ordered a taxi cab at 8:30 AM so I could make the 6-mile drive to my client’s building and arrive on time for my 9:00 AM meeting. I called down to the desk at 7:00 AM to order the cab, and 30 minutes later they called and said the cab was out front waiting for me. I mentioned to the operator I was not expecting the cab for another hour, the reply was that the cab driver thought it would be more “convenient” because there’s often a lot of traffic at this time of the morning.  “Really,” I inquired, “I need an hour and a half to go 6 miles?” She told me the cab driver said it would likely take that long. So I rushed like crazy to get dressed, packed and down to the cab as fast as possible.

While riding in the cab on the way to my appointment, the cab driver mentioned he just happened to be across the street when the call came in for an 8:30 ride and thought it would be much more “convenient” to pick me up at 7:30. Convenient for who? By the way, it took 11 minutes to get to the building where my meeting was and I had to sit in the lobby for an hour before going up to my client’s office.

My point in all this? What might your company be doing for your customer’s “convenience” that is not actually convenient for them at all? Where are you causing frustrations, disappointments and unhappy customers because it is more “convenient” for you and your staff? How can you remove or replace any procedure that is not truly convenient for the people you serve?

I wrote this article, “For your convenience,” I hope you found it helpful.

Signed With a Handshake: How Trust Builds Good Companies

Recently I rehandshakecommend a great book from Bernie Swain called “What Made Me Who I Am.” I was very impressed with Bernie and his approach to business so I asked him if he would share a guest blog for my readers (that’s you). I really love what he sent, and I think you will too, it is a great testament to how important it is to build honest and real trust with your customers. Here is his article…

When you start your first business, it is hard work. The odds are against you. When you start your first business in an industry you know nothing about (other than what you read in a magazine), it is virtually impossible to succeed. And yet, that is exactly what my wife, my business partner and I did more than 35 years ago, when we hung out our shingle as the Washington Speakers Bureau.

No matter how you start, you will quickly learn some important lessons about finances, products, customer service, marketing, and, if you are like us, the need for a business plan. These are the fundamentals of any business. You also learn about the intangibles necessary to succeed, such as leadership, passion, focus, integrity and trust. You often learn these through trial and error. But I learned one of them, trust, by mistake and it became a defining moment in our company.

In our first year, we represented no one. We made no money. Then after 14 months, we signed our first speaker, Steve Bell, the news anchor for ABC’s Good Morning America. Actually, all we did was shake hands. While the practice in our industry was to sign speakers to one- or two-year written contracts, we were too excited to do any paperwork.

This meant that Steve could walk away from us at any time. Loving that idea, he told some of his friends, a group of Washington journalists, that we didn’t require signed contracts and if they went with us, they, too, could walk away.

This mistake attracted our first stable of speakers, all on a handshake. It did one other thing, totally unanticipated. It established an atmosphere of trust. We knew that we had to work hard to keep our new speakers happy or they would walk. But in turn, our hard work showed our clients how much we cared. Instead of being a mistake, our handshake agreements built a deep intimacy and a bond on which we began to rely on each other. That is the basis of trust, and it was a critical turning point for our company, where we continue to “sign” every speaker with a handshake.

We went on to become the biggest speaking bureau in the business, representing many of the world’s leading figures in government, business, sports and the arts, in addition to the media. In talking to many of our clients about the challenges they faced in their careers, I realized that we were in good company. They, too, had benefited from turning points—some intentional and some by way of happenstance—that made the difference at crucial junctures in their lives.

To be sure, not every business agreement can depend on a handshake—employee contracts and vendor agreements, for example, almost always have to be far more formal.

But every company can find ways to foster trust—by delegating responsibility, say, or establishing a compensation system that gives each employee a stake in the organization’s future. The company benefits, the employees benefit and, most important, the customers benefit.

For us, the trust we have with our speakers has spread to all personal and professional relationships in our company. “Can I trust you?” is not a question we ask, but rather, “Is this the right thing to do?”

Trust builds good organizations, just like it builds good families. By contrast, “distrust is very expensive,” as Ralph Waldo Emerson put it. It tears everything apart.

Whether you discover this truth by mistake or by design, you’ll find that trust is fundamental to the success of any group of people you bring together or lead.

Let’s shake on that.

** By the way, I also do this with many of my clients. No contract, just show up, try to help them as much as I humanly can, and they send me a check. I really like doing business that way.

A Lesson About Team Culture

636103432294773262-0925-kcsp-utfl-068-asbThis is not a sports story, but it does revolve around a story about sports. I live in Gainesville, Florida which means it is mandatory for me to be a Florida Gators football fan. Last weekend we played the Tennessee Volunteers, they have not beat us in 11 years, the smartphone did not exist the last time Tennessee actually beat the Gators! However, this weekend they beat us… no, they crushed us. The final score of Tennessee 38 – Florida 28 does not come close to representing the thrashing our team took. The funny thing is, we were winning 28-3 at halftime, then Tennessee scored 35 unanswered points. By the middle of the third quarter the Gators had completely given up, they were walking with their heads down or sitting on the bench. There was an opportunity for us to come back and win in the fourth quarter, but the Gators had already decided they were going to lose. On the other side of the field, the Volunteers, even though they came into the second half needing at least five touchdowns to win, were motivated, focused and playing like a real team.

The big lesson for me came at the end of the game when Tennessee broke their decade-long losing streak and won a huge game for their school. The players had every right to dance around the field and celebrate, pumping their fists and mugging for the cameras, but instead they ran over to jump in the stands and celebrate with the other students. The head coach ran over to the sideline, climbed up on a ladder next to the conductor of the school band, and led the musicians in playing the Tennessee fight song. The attitude and conduct of the two teams during the second half of the game, and after the game, highlighted a big lesson about organizational and team culture and how, in a very large way, the leader sets the tone. One team quits halfway through the game and mopes off the field humiliated, the other team stays optimistic, cohesive, determined and then celebrates the win for everyone in the school, not just themselves.

So the question I have for you: How does the team at your company play?

 

*** If you are interested in learning more about how to build and sustain a winning culture, I have written a short and very focused e-book that outlines my very best ideas and tools. Here is a link so you can take a look: Winning Culture eBook

 

Leaders Are Readers

First Class Customer Service???

kelly-server-thousand-oaks-restaurantI have made a commitment to never use my blog to just complain. So I’m going to outline a few service failures as a lesson to all of us who understand the importance of delivering superior customer service is essential to business success.

I recently had a trip to New Zealand on business, on the way there my wife and I flew First Class with Air New Zealand and had an absolutely spectacular experience. The staff was extremely friendly, the food was excellent, great wine, laydown bed, everything you could possibly ask for on a 14-hour flight to the other side of the world. On the way back, we flew First Class on American Airlines. Once on board we noticed they were serving champagne to other folks in First Class cabin and when we asked for some they apologized and said they had just run out, catering had not put enough on board for everyone in First Class. Several hours later, I was getting ready to go to sleep and needed to take some medication so I asked the flight attendant for a bottle of water, to which she replied, “No, only one bottle of water per person, 36 people in First Class, 36 bottles of water.” I spent well over $10,000 for the ticket and American Airlines was kind enough to let me know I only got one bottle of water for the entire flight across the Pacific Ocean. Not what I would call “First Class” customer service.

During a recent trip to Idaho, I went out each morning for breakfast and had an extremely hard time finding a restaurant with any waiters or waitresses. Place after place I walked into were beautiful, well-appointed, upscale locations with signs directing you where to order, then wait to pick up your food and carry it to your table on your own. There was also a sign on my table explaining I had to clean up after myself so I could leave the table clean for the next patron. Perhaps this is a backlash from trying to set higher minimum wages, or simply a way to increase the profit of the restaurant by not having any servers, however, I will tell you every time I walked in one of those restaurants, I walked right back out to look for someplace I could sit down, get an actual live server and enjoy a relaxing breakfast while I read the news. I didn’t want self-service, I wanted First Class service.

The reason I tell you these stories is as a warning. Company after company will readily insist that delighting their customers is essential to growing and sustaining the success of their business, and yet I experience horrifically bad customer service all too often. So, before complaining about how bad the service is at other businesses, take a long hard look in the mirror and make sure you are NOT making some of the same mistakes with your customers.

Create a Customer Service Credo, develop a specific plan and set of processes for consistently exceeding your customer’s expectations, train your people like crazy to follow those processes and focus on the customer, reward employees who do a great job and remove employees that don’t. It’s just this simple, but apparently the businesses I mentioned above did not think it was important.

AWESOME Sales Book

IMG_4929During a cross-country flight today I read a REALLY good book. I got an advance copy of Anthony Iannarino’s “The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need” and I loved it. If you want to be a good salesperson, no need to read this book… however, if you want to be an awesome salesperson this should be your new sales Bible.

It doesn’t focus on a bunch of tricks or techniques, instead what Anthony does is lay out very specifically exactly what it takes to be a high-level consultative salesperson who is seen as a trusted adviser and has the ability to generate lots of prospects and close big deals. Anthony is one of the top sales trainers in the world and I would consider this among the best sales books I’ve ever read, and I have read hundreds.

Here are a few chapter titles to give you a flavor for what he covers in the book:

  • Mindset: the beliefs and behaviors of sales success
  • Self-discipline: the art of “me management”
  • Persistence: breaking through resistance
  • Communication: listening and connecting
  • Accountability: owning the outcomes you sell
  • Closing: asking for and obtaining commitments
  • Business acumen: understanding business and creating value

These are only a few of the many key sales topics that Anthony explains in a simple, straightforward and brutally honest way. Believe me, he does not pull any punches. If you really want to be the very best you can be as a salesperson, I highly recommend this book.

The book does not come out until October, but if you pre-order it Anthony is offering several deals.

*** By the way, I do NOT get any money for promoting the book or if you buy a copy – I am simply writing this review because I think it is a super valuable book.

Click HERE to learn more

 

 

Professional Listeners?

shutterstock_254737258During my recent trip to New Zealand I gave a number of talks on how technology is going to dramatically disrupt every type of business. Part of my presentation focused on advanced robotics and how many jobs will be eliminated by robots and algorithms. Here is a question that I just received from one of the folks that attended a session I delivered to a group of New Zealand entrepreneurs.

Hi John,

I didn’t get a chance to talk to you after your presentation, but I was really curious about the balance between EQ and robotics. You mentioned a bar where the bartender was replaced by robots and how many other service jobs will be. How will this feed into our EQ? Many people go to bars etc. to talk to the bartender about how horrible their boss is. Do you think that as technology progresses more humans will turn to the virtual world for emotional conversations rather than the real world?

Take hotels for example, many can differentiate on price because of the quality of service they provide and the personalized touch they give. I think empathy is one of the key qualities needed to provide customer satisfaction. If a lot of these employees are replaced by robots for the sake of efficiency, how will user experience and emotions play into this?

I would really appreciate it if you could expand on this a bit.

My reply:

 

Wow, really great questions, with complex answers.

It is my opinion that many jobs such as bartenders and hotel receptionists will be replaced by robots, it is already happening. However, I completely agree with you that these are positions that traditionally act as service providers that directly connect with customers. I do not believe that computers, even with highly advanced AI, will be able to make a true “human connection.” So perhaps there will be new jobs for people that do nothing but sit and talk with other people about how horrible their boss is, politics, religion and other topics that people like to discuss. They will be trained not to push their own opinion, but to simply be there to listen to the other person, connect with them and show empathy. Actually, I just thought of this idea while I was writing you this note and it is something I’m going to look into with a lot more focus, service jobs being replaced with “professional listener” as a new career. Interesting?

 

Leader of the Future = EQ + Technology

How-to-Become-a-Better-Leader-730x493I have just returned from two weeks of working with clients in New Zealand and while I was there I was asked to give lectures at the University of Auckland and the University of Canterbury. The topic they asked me to address was, “Leading in a Time of Disruptive Change.” This is a topic I know pretty well, but I decided it would be nice to get some additional opinions to add more depth and credibility to my comments, so I sent a note asking for input to some of my friends including Marshall Goldsmith, Guy Kawasaki, Seth Godin, Tim Sanders, Jim Kouzes, Tom Morris, Joe Calloway and several other top thought leaders, asking what they would share around this topic.

Everything they offered revolved around two key ideas: EQ + Technology

 

EQ = Emotional Quotient

The next 10 years will mark one of the most explosive eras of technological advances in the history of humankind. It is hard to believe that the smart phone was invented just 10 years ago and in that time span people around the world have downloaded more than 2 billion apps. Connection by computers is increasing at a dizzying rate, whereas connection between people seems to be decreasing at an equally alarming rate. A successful leader of the future must be superb at collaboration, personal connection, empathy and interpersonal communications. They need to be effective at bringing people together, creating high-performance teams, developing deep levels of trust and building real relationships with the people they lead. For some people EQ comes naturally, they are great at working well with other people and showing genuine concern, caring and empathy. For others of us (me included) EQ is just not something we were born with, however, through study and practice I have been able to increase my level of EQ significantly and so can you. Either way, natural or learned, the skills necessary to display EQ are essential for tomorrow’s leaders.

Technology

I mentioned it briefly above, but it bears repeating, in the next 10 years we will go through a truly overwhelming influx of new technologies that will be highly disruptive to every business (and person) in the world. That might sound like hyperbole, but I assure you it is not. Last year I attended the Abundance 360 Conference (an offshoot of Singularity University) where some of the world’s top technology experts outlined the eight major areas of technological change that would have the most impact on the human race in the next decade.

  1. Computer speed / deep learning
  2. Artificial intelligence (AI)
  3. The Internet of Things (IOT)
  4. Advanced robotics
  5. Augmented reality
  6. Virtual reality
  7. Synthetic medicine
  8. Genetic decoding/recovery

As just one example, the director of the business school at the University of Canterbury explained that in 2026 you will be able to buy a laptop for $1,000 that surpasses the brainpower of a single human, and by 2046 you will be able to buy a laptop (if they even exist anymore) that will exceed the brainpower of the entire human race. When you apply this computing power to the areas I have listed above, the impact is literally unfathomable. Therefore, to be effective, future leaders don’t need to embrace change, or even revel in change, they need to DRIVE change. They will need to be visionary in their ability to predict how these seismic technological shifts will impact their industry, their individual businesses and their customers. As another example, a good friend of mine who is the president of a prominent university here in the US lamented to me, “We are training students today for jobs that don’t exist on equipment that has not yet been invented, which means we are going to have to completely change the way we educate our youth.” Now if that isn’t a disruption, I don’t know what is – and the same thing is going to happen to you.

Leader of the Future = EQ + Technology

What do you think?

 

*** Also, I am very pleased to announce that my blog has been named one of the Top Small Business Blogs to Follow in 2016.
To check out the other winners and their superb blogs click HERE

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