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Earlier this year I was sitting in a restaurant in St. Louis reading an article in the Wall Street Journal and I had an epiphany. This is my 22nd year of traveling around the globe teaching a number of different business workshops including Advanced Leadership and in all that time I have never heard of a single company, nor met a single instructor, that taught a class on followership. How can this be? In order to have effective leaders you need effective followers. And everyone in the company has someone they have to follow, even the CEO has to report to the board of directors. I know that most people love to go to a leadership class because they want to think of themselves as leaders and aspire to be better leaders, but few people would get very excited about going to a followership class, even though being a good follower is a critical steppingstone to becoming a great leader. True to form, I immediately went to Amazon.com and bought every single book I could find on followership and have begun a quest to study this topic deeply so that I can create a program on how to be a superb follower. However, I decided yesterday when working with a fantastic client in Las Vegas, to test my idea. I explained to the audience of about 300 people what I have just explained above to you and heard a giant sigh from the crowd as they too realized they had never been taught how to be highly effective followers. To learn more, I broke the audience up into groups of 5 to 7 people and asked each group to develop a short list of what they felt were the most important things needed to be a great follower. I then asked several of the groups to share their list and here are some of the things they came up with:
This is just a partial list of the feedback I got but it is extremely telling. Although a number of these correspond with the sort of answers I get when I ask about what it takes to be a leader that people would willingly follow, there is a portion of this list that is unique to being an excellent follower. Based on this feedback I am extremely excited to be building a new class on the elements of effective followership, and I would highly value any feedback or ideas you want to share with me as I research this topic and begin to build the new program.
What do you think it takes to be a great follower? I very much look forward to your ideas.
I am doing a strategic planning retreat for a multi-billion dollar company tomorrow and another similar retreat next week. In 2015 I facilitated perhaps a dozen such meetings and here are four key things that I have seen companies struggle with time and time again as they looked at their current performance and began planning for their future success.
Lack of Focus: This has got to be one of the major issues that many businesses have a hard time with, trying to do too many projects, working in too many markets and trying to serve too many different types of customers with too many different types of products. Here is a phrase I just learned that sums up my thinking on this issue, “Simplicity Now – Fancy Later.” Heck, I wrote a book on this topic so it’s pretty clear I believe it is hugely important to keep the focus of your business Awesomely Simple. Another way to put this powerfully is:
Deciding what NOT to do is just as important in a strategy as figuring out what to do.
Lack of Execution: This is a problem I have been tracking for the last 15 years, and in the last five years it has become the leading issue in almost every company I work with. There is no shortage of cool, innovative, bold strategies, but there is a massive shortage of organizations that can take those strategies and execute them with discipline.
Lack of Agility: Let’s face it, the marketplace has never moved faster and it is not going to slow down anytime soon. When I began leading strategic planning retreats more than 20 years ago it was not uncommon for us to work on a 10 year planning horizon, today I rarely work with a business that looks out more than three years. Wildly volatile economics, changing customer expectations, nontraditional competitors, global competition and the incredible velocity of technological change are just a few of the factors that demand companies be agile, nimble and highly innovative – just to stay in business.
Another factor around agility is the failure to make decisions quickly. Too much hierarchy, aversion to risk, resistance to change and the need to get consensus on every major (and sometimes minor) decision is an all too common obstacle for many organizations.
Lack of Talent: It is one of the key themes in all my work, “The future success of your business is directly proportional to the quality of the people that you can get, grow and keep on your team.” However, I run into far too few companies that take this idea seriously and actually look at talent acquisition, talent development and talent retention as a strategic objective. Although it is essential to have a deep bench of talent in order to run a sustainably successful business, I have had too many clients tell me something like, “We are being held hostage by our worst employees, they know that we don’t have anybody to replace them with, so they feel secure that no matter how poor their performances is they won’t get fired.” It almost makes me cry.
So in working with dozens of companies all over the world those are the four major issues I see companies grappling with when attempting to create a thoughtful strategy that has a high potential for success. My advice to you? Make sure that you have a strategic plan that addresses these issues and makes them a strength in your business that creates opportunities not a weakness that exposes you to competitive threats.
Last week I posted a blog that got a lot of comments, it was called: On The Intolerance Of Mediocrity. One of the folks that shared some feedback indicated that he was struggling with employees that were, shall we say, less than extremely motivated. I was beginning to write out a reply to him and realized it was probably best to post it as a blog so that everyone could see my ideas and comment as well. Here are my suggestions for dealing with lackadaisical employees.
Ask yourself these questions:
These are just 10 questions to get you thinking, but if you’ve got employees who are not delivering the required results, I would look over this list and see if there is any place where you have not given them what they need to succeed. It’s one of the things I learned a long time ago as a young manager, if one of my people is not performing the way I want them to, it is my fault. Either I hired the wrong person, did not train them well enough, did not explain what I really wanted, didn’t give them the tools or support they needed… it was always something that I did wrong and I simply had to take accountability and ownership for fixing the situation. If you do the same, I’m confident you will get a positive resolution, one way or the other.
I hope you found this helpful in a very much look forward to your comments – John
I have literally just walked off the stage from my last presentation/workshop for 2015. It’s been an extremely busy year with more than 200 days on the road, zigzagging across the United States and Canada and delivering programs in Australia, New Zealand and most recently Poland. As I look back over the year here are a few big takeaways that I think you might find of interest.
I delivered this program for a number of companies whose industries were undergoing massive change and were challenged to get their employees not just to embrace change, but to drive change.
Many of my clients requested that I help their organizations learn more about how to create higher levels of engagement, commitment, teamwork and collaboration – what I have come to call creating and “ownership mentality” throughout the organization.
I spent a good bit of time this year helping companies take a hard look at their current operations, benchmark against best practices and fine-tune their strategies to be successful in the future.
Although I started my career doing high-level sales training, I stepped away from it for a few years, but now many of my clients are asking me to help their entire organization become a sales organization focused on being trusted advisers to their customers.
My recommendation would be to look closely at your organization and make sure that none of these are areas that you are neglecting.
So those are some of the major things I noticed about 2015, which means they will probably continue to be big issues in 2016. Are you seeing anything different?
I very much look forward to your thoughts – John
I have spent the last 20 years of my career studying excellence. I have read dozens if not hundreds of books on the topic, interviewed CEOs, Olympic gold medalists, artists, musicians and other people who have achieved preeminence in their field. I especially enjoy spending time with world-class chefs who are insanely focused on producing only the finest dishes they can humanly make. Recently I read an article from one of the top chefs in the world that discussed how he built his restaurant into one of the most revered eateries on the face of the earth.
His simple four-step formula for excellence?
I read that list and thought to myself that you could pretty much copy it, change number four a little bit, and it would apply to being excellent in nearly any business. But I have one big problem, its number two, something I believe in very strongly, but can cause a tremendous amount of stress in your life.
For those of us who want to be highly regarded at what we do, I believe it takes a complete intolerance of mediocrity, both in yourself and in those you work with. However, taking on that attitude means that you will often be frustrated and sometimes be seen as too aggressive or even a bully. I have been mentoring a young man that wants to be one of the top 10 chefs in the world and during a recent breakfast he asked me, “If I become one of the best chefs in the world, will any of the people that work for me like me?” And I quickly answered, “No, they will think you’re an asshole.” I know it sounds harsh, but it’s the truth. In order for him to demand near perfection and be completely intolerant of anything less than excellent, he will have to step on a lot of toes and bruise a lot of egos.
I struggle mightily with this idea. I coach all my clients to stop tolerating mediocrity and to remove anyone on their team that is not a solid contributor to the success of the organization. According to a recent test I took, I literally broke the scale on self-competitiveness, so I obviously have no problem (or perhaps it is a problem) in pushing myself very hard to achieve excellent results. But I will say that my focus on making myself and my company absolutely the best I possibly can does make it extremely hard on the people that work with me and the vendors we do business with. I am accused by many of being too harsh, unrealistic and overly demanding – which part of me takes is a great compliment and the other part of me feels almost embarrassed about because I know how difficult it can be to work with me.
In the end though, I know that to achieve a high level of success I must be unwilling to settle for mediocrity. On the other hand I am coming to the realization that the distance between “Mediocrity – Good – Great – World-Class” has a lot of room for delivering fantastic work, without having to be constantly stressed and frustrated over not delivering world-class work. I understand now that driving for near perfection can often times drive people into the ground, yet if I challenge them to deliver the best they possibly can a level that I can accept as really, really great work – then I don’t have to be an ass. It’s a tough lesson to learn, but one that I’m working on.
*** By the way, I have written a short and focused e-book with my best ideas and tools to help you build and sustain a winning culture in your organization. It sells for just $4.99. If you’d like to learn more about the book here is a link: Winning Culture e-book
I was recently asked by one of my clients to put together some statistics on the cost of bad leadership and the upside of excellent leadership. He needed this information so that he could help support an investment in hiring me to do an advanced leadership training workshop for his organization. I think that intuitively, most people understand that subpar leaders/managers obviously have a negative impact on the organization. However, when you look at how big the cost of poor leadership really is, then you begin to re-examine the importance of leadership development within the company. In order to review the high cost of poor leadership, I am sharing the information I sent to my client:
Poor leadership practices cost companies millions of dollars each year by negatively impacting employee retention, customer satisfaction, and overall employee productivity.
According to research from the Blanchard Company:
From other sources:
Quite simply, the better the leader, the more engaged the staff. Take, for example, results from a recent study we did on the effectiveness of 2,865 leaders in a large financial services company.
You can see a straight-line correlation here between levels of employee engagement and our measure of the overall effectiveness of their supervisors (as judged not just by the employees themselves but also by their bosses, colleagues, and other associates on 360 assessments). So, as you can see at the low end, the satisfaction, engagement, and commitment levels of employees toiling under the worst leaders (those at or below the 10th percentile) reached only the 4th percentile. (That means 96% of the company’s employees were more committed than those mumbling, grumbling, unhappy souls.) At the other end, the best leaders (those in the 90th percentile) were supervising the happiest, most engaged, and most committed employees — those happier than more than 92% of their colleagues.
*By Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman
It would be easy to deliver another twenty pages of statistics showing both the negative and positive impact of leadership. Even if some of these numbers are skewed, the impact of the high cost of poor leadership is still so significant that it warrants serious attention. I would suggest that for most companies today, a focus on improving leadership skills and creating a winning culture that engages employees is likely the single greatest area for organizational improvement, and the fastest way to decrease costs and increase profitability. The high cost of poor leadership cannot be ignored.
Recently I’ve had several friends who own small businesses ask me how to get more customers. Since this is an issue that nearly every small business owner struggles with I decided to grab an article I wrote several years ago about “How to Win in a Local Market,” and updated with some new ideas and suggestions.
1. Figure out exactly who your key target customers are – the part of the market you want to own. The best way to do this is to look at your current customer base and identify the customers that you absolutely love, the ones that are easy to deal with, really like your products and services a lot, see value what you offer, are glad to pay the full price – the ones you wish you had lots and lots of more customers exactly like them. Then take the time to write down everything you can possibly think of that clearly identifies this specific target group or groups of customers. What is their age range? What kind of car do they drive? What do they buy from you now? What is their education level? Where do they get their information – magazines, TV shows, social media platforms, and websites? What groups do they belong to? What are their hobbies? Do they have kids? What sort of jobs do they have? (if you run a B2B company you’d want to learn everything you can about their business, who there customers are, how they are positioning their business in the market and who are their top competitors).The more you can understand about your specific target market and what motivates them – the better job you can do of serving them and capturing more customers just like them.
2. Another great way to understand what motivates your target audience – is to ask them! Again, identify a group of your very best current customers then send them a brief survey with these questions:
• What, specifically, are the top three or four reasons you chose to do business with us?
• How did you find out about our business?
• Is there anything we could do to improve your experience in doing business with our company?
You might want to add a few other questions, but the goal is to look over all of the replies and see if there is a clear pattern. If there is (and there almost always is), the answer to question number one is your brand. Your customers have just told you exactly why they buy from you, which is likely the reason that other customers like them would buy from you too, so make this the main focus of all of your advertising and marketing. The answer to question number two tells you where to invest your advertising and marketing dollars – these are the places where your target customers are looking to find out about businesses like yours. Question number three tells you exactly what you need to go back and fix right away to increase the loyalty and engagement of your current and future customers. This is extremely powerful information and unfortunately very few businesses ever take the time to actually ask their best current customers why they are customers and what they could do to increase their loyalty. It is always been one of my top business mantras: Whoever owns the voice of the customer owns the marketplace. Take this to heart!
3. Once you get all this information back, create a very detailed “Ideal Customer Profile” to help you understand and stay focused on the people who will make your business successful. Clearly describe exactly who your target customers are, why they do business with you, how they found out about you, and what you can do to continuously delight and surprise them – and then make sure everybody in your company understands that critical information and uses it to guide their daily actions and behaviors when interacting with your customers — and you use it to build your business and branding strategies.
4. Determine who your top competitors will be for those specific target customers, who is already servicing them right now? Then study those top competitors to deeply understand how they position themselves – what services they offer – what promises they make – what sort of value proposition they are currently bringing to the marketplace that is, for some important reason, winning over the customers that you want to win way from them!
5. Figure out how to clearly differentiate yourself from your competitors in a way that will raise the bar and recalibrate the customer’s expectations, and be sure that the way you differentiate yourself is of true value to your customer, as defined by the customer, not by you. Understand this: All effective strategy is just Valued Differentiation multiplied by Disciplined Execution. In other words, to win in the marketplace you must offer something that is unique, exciting and compelling – that is differentiated from all of your competitor’s offerings, hopefully in a way that is defendable so it is not easy to copy – that your customers truly value and are willing to pay money for… and then you must execute on that flawlessly each and every day for each and every customer. It’s a fairly simple and straightforward idea that is exceedingly hard to do successfully. This will be one of your biggest challenges in gaining new customers and running a sustainably successful business.
6. Create strategic alliances with people who, by the nature of the business they are in, can become wonderful sources of referrals to you. You want to get as many people like this on your team as possible… but you especially want to identify the top four or five “Opinion Leaders” who are the most influential sources of referrals for you so that you can get these very important individuals on your team and creating a constant stream of high-quality, targeted referrals that represent your Ideal Customer Profile. The best way to do this is typically to define the people who have the same general customer base as you and that you feel do an absolutely fantastic job at delivering something to these target customers – that is not in competition with what you do – or even better is a complement to what you do. For example, if you are an expert in building high quality pools, you can easily partner with many of the local builders in your area. If you make custom clothing, partner with your local dry cleaners and high-end shoe dealers. If you own an accounting firm, you want to be connected with the top bankers and financial advisors in your area. If you owned a boat dealership that sells high-end boats – partner with a local Mercedes-Benz dealer. These sort of symbiotic relationships with people who are highly connected to your target customers is priceless.
7. Also determine people that are in your direct area of competition – but that you do not want to compete against, and try to form strategic alliances with them so you can work together and be in co-opition instead of competition. For example, you own a great Italian restaurant but there is a fantastic Chinese restaurant on the other side of town, why not share gift certificates to share customers. No one is going to eat Italian or Chinese every single time they go out, so rather than competing, why not share the top customers and help each other be more successful. This is why you often see five or six furniture shops or restaurants in the same mall, they are all attracting more customers to their “destination” and thereby everybody gets more business. Can you do this with some of your friendly competitors?
8. Identify your key “Moments Of Truth” — the handful of key things that absolutely have to go right in order for you to be able to meet and exceed your customer’s expectation — and create processes to make sure that they are delivered flawlessly — flawlessly – – – every single time. For example, although there are hundreds of interactions every time you go out to have a meal, pretty much every restaurant on the face of the word only has 4 moments of truth:
• Food quality
• Service quality
• Price / value
If a restaurant does lots and lots of other things right but messes up any one of these four items badly, they will go out of business. On the flip side, if they do these four things exceedingly well every single time, customers will overlook failures in a few other minor places. So here is the BIG question: What are the moments of truth for your business? The three, four or five things that you must do exceedingly well in order to create highly satisfied, loyal and engaged customers. Figure out those key moments of truth and make sure that everybody in your company works tirelessly to deliver them perfectly all of the time. (This is one of the most powerful business success ideas I know – if you can determine what your key moments of truth are and deliver them flawlessly you will build a strong foundation for a highly successful and profitable company. Make sure you work on this).
9. Position yourself as an expert, trusted advisor, partner and peer to your customers by continuously delivering them REAL value. If you are in a B2B Sales, add real value and assistance to your customers by helping to make them look really good and delivering massive value to their customers. The key idea here is the only person that can decide what is valuable… is the customer. It does not matter what you think is cool, exciting, fun, unique or valuable – it only matters what the customer thinks. So invest the time and energy necessary to get as close to your customers you possibly can and thoroughly understand exactly why they think that what you offer is special, unique, differentiated and valuable to them.
10. Be sure that every single time you do a superior job – and your customers tell you that you are fantastic – follow up instantly with a request for referrals. If they say “You’re awesome, thank you, thank you, thank you”… tell them that the very best way they can thank you is to tell 10 other people about how fantastic you are and recommend that they do business with you. Positive word-of-mouth referrals, are the single most valuable advertising/marketing vehicle there is on the face of the earth. A significant amount of new research indicates that 43% to 78% (that is basically half to three-quarters) of all purchasing decisions today are made by referral – word-of-mouth, social media, texting, email – people ask their friends and colleagues who they should do business with and basically “crowd source” even major purchasing decisions. You can pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy ads in every magazine in the world – but a handful of strong personal referrals from key opinion leaders will drive much more business than those as ever could. (By the way you still need to market and advertise – but word-of-mouth referrals, especially through social media, is incredibly powerful and will only get more so).
11. Keep close to your best customers. Check in with them regularly – talk with them – ask questions and LISTEN. Learn everything you can about why your best customers are loyal, and make sure you give them what they want, while them, delight them and consistently exceed their expectations (just slightly – you do not want to erode your profit margin by delivering more value than the customer actually wants). Then gently began to ask these fanatical “customer evangelists” to help you spread the word about how great your business is. If they love you and the products and services you deliver, they will be happy to tell their friends, family and colleagues about how awesome your business is. Turning your best customers into your marketing department is an incredibly powerful strategy, because no matter how good your advertising and marketing is, people will immediately believe their friends recommendations far above even your very best ad. Happy customers who tell everyone they know about how great you are can completely change the future of your business. This is another area you should focus on intently.
**I think this is a good place to make important point: For most of you reading this article the future success of your business will depend very, very, very heavily on the quality of the people that you can get, grow and keep on your team. Great products with terrible customer service = bankruptcy. Hire the best talent you can, train them constantly, treat them fairly, pay them fairly (10% above or below what they would make to do the same job at another company) and empower them to go out and take care superb of your customers. Here is an extremely important point: The customer’s experience one never exceed the employee’s experience.
12. Become a student of every other business you interact with. What are they doing well that you can adapt to your business? What are they doing poorly that you want to make sure you’re not doing to your customers? Every time you buy something, go out to dinner, order something online, interact with a vendor – it should be a lesson on things that you can steal and apply in your business – or things to avoid at all costs in your business.
13. Track everything I just told you about. Don’t go on instinct or gut feelings, collect data and facts on what is working and what is not – as measured by customer satisfaction scores, profitability and other key metrics. It does not matter what you “think” is working, it only matters if your target customers think is valuable and are willing to pay money for!
14. Once you figure out what works best for you – what truly leads to gaining real market share and significantly increasing profitability – focus like crazy on that area and get better and better at it every day.
15. Lastly, never stop doing everything on this list. Markets exchange, new competitors enter the market, customer’s requirements change – and you have to be able to change with them. Things move really, really fast so agility, adaptability, continuous improvement and ALWAYS listening to your customers is essential to the long-term success of your business. What makes customer’s super happy today, might very well make them very angry next month – so you have to stay on the very cutting edge by knowing more about your customers and your market than anyone else you compete against. Although extremely difficult to do – this is not optional!
I hope you found some of these ideas helpful and that you will share them with anyone you can think of in your network that you feel would find value in them too.
As always, I look forward to your feedback, ideas, comments and suggestions. Thanks so much — John
Malaysia | April 10-12, 2017