Archive for December, 2010

Sales Management is Plate Spinning

Yesterday I was talking to a friend of mine who leads a sales team about his plans for the coming year. He outlined significant change for his team and quoted targets, market penetration and corporate expectations to cope with the difficuties that will befall all sales teams in 2011 with great ease and I will admit to being very impressed.

After a short time it seemed to me, however, that he was talking about the “Sales Team” as if it was one unit instead of a group of individuals with different attitudes, work expectations and personal goals. When I asked how the individuals in his team would react to the plans I was surprised by the answer. “Some won’t like it but there will be no choice”.

He was forgetting that a team isn’t like a machine with a series of machine cogs that when turned on rotate at the same pace and produce what’s required. Instead it’s ensuring that a group of spinning plates keep turning on their sticks and impress the audience at the dexterity of the man in charge. some of the plates will turn faster than others and possibly a couple will be in danger of falling off their sticks.

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How will students demonstrate their power effectively?

Yesterday I was talking to four university students majoring in Engineering. An essential skill if the UK is to pull itself out of the downturn we are entering. No, I did say entering because I believe that with future bank and national failures things are going to get worse for students finding a job after gaining their degree rather than better. But that’s another discussion!

The four comoplained to me that their three-year degree course could be reduced to two because the first year was so basic that they had covered most topics during their last year as secondary school. They also questioned the value of having just two lectures a week available to attend and no tutorials. They were obviously unhappy about the quality of the course.

I can understand that if education is free then one might be reluctant to complain about the frequency of lectures and tutorials but if I were paying £9000 a year then I would battering the doors down for better quality lecturers, more frequency of attention to my future. I might make myself unpopular but then I would hope that “he who pays the piper…”

How in future will students demonstrate their financial power to make their courses more effective to source the best jobs? And how long will it take univerities to listen?

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Invoicing for Contract Proposal!

The is one business commodity that’s in short supply and it’s time. Over the past few weeks I’ve come accross a number of teams that have been spending hours and days slaving over business proposals for work from potential clients in 2011.

I will admit to not having made too many business proposals for work. For the most part I seem to have been the only person in the frame and the largest discussion has been around my availability and fee so I don’t count myself as an expert in this area. However, from my point of view, the process seems to be one-sided and to the complete benefit of the recipient as opposed to the author.

The proposal details of what needs to be done, how it will be done, who will deliver the work as well as the costs and the benefits to the client and all illustrated with as many charts and graphs as the “Egyptian Book of the Dead” and can often run into many pages. When done they are then emailed out and possibly posted with a flourish, self-congratulation from the authors and often into oblivion.

There follows a period of ignored phone messages and emails to the potential client to see if the work has been received, read and what the “next step”. Often the paper is used as fodder to negotiate price or other aspects of the contract with “preferred suppliers” or as “proof” that the correct “best practice” procedures have been completed when awarding contractual work.

I wonder that as such applications are used as a “negotiation tool” by a potential clients that it is, in fact, a business benefit to them that it would  be fair to invoice for the time taken in producing them. Then they could be honestly used to negotiate prices down with other suppliers, used to justify “best practice” and so on.

In the unlikely event that the contract was awarded then the invoice could then be discounted against the eventual bill. I might try this idea out to see if it works.

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How to keep up with business language?

I must admit to being fed up of attending a business meeting and to have to listen to a pimply faced executive that is out to impress colleagues whilst saying nothing that he can be blamed for.

For the most part the use of such phrases are pompous and meaningless. Examples that I’ve heard in this last week include: “Targeted cost initiatives”, “Client care identification programme” and “Positioned service excellence programme”.

Coupled with this is the language from the internet such as HMU (Hit me up) meaning text me or email me that Facebook has revealed is the most used terms alongside “World Cup” and the only person in the top ten list “Justin Beiber(for the benefit of my older readers and those without young kids he’s a Canadian teen pop idol).

Actually I tend not to keep up with the language and just pretend to be stupid. At the end of the talk I raise my hand and ask for an explanation of how the “Service excellence programme” will work and how, exactly, it will be positioned” and what “data” was used to identify the need in the first place.

Generally the individual is so confused by the request that the information is repeated using clear, everyday language that everyone can understand.

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The not so delicate art of firing people

Lucy Kellaway’s brilliant article in yesterday’s Financial Times on “The not so delicate art of firing people” where she analysed two emails giving staff bad news. Her conclusion that “using an upbeat tone is a cowardly attempt to hoodwink staff into thinking something good will happen”, was spot on!

It reminded me of an email that was given to me by a friend that was designed to be motivational, and I guess was in a funny sort of way as it had the effect of binding the team even harder against their team leader. This is what the IT team found in their email inbox when the team leader had just departed for a weeks holiday.

“I am sending you this email because whilst I’m away I don’t want you to feel leaderless. I view my job like being the leader of a flock of geese. I have the responsibility to guide the flock to new feeding pastures.

Sometimes I don’t know where the best feeding grounds might be and will fly round in circles until I can locate them. Then I must fly to it in the shortest possible route. Now and again I might have to make adjustments in our flight path to ensure that the flock finds the best feeding ground.

Generally I will take the lead so that weaker geese can fly in my slipstream but sometimes I will allow another goose to take the lead to provide experience of leading the flock. Whilst I’m away I hope that some of you will take the opportunity to take the lead until I return to guide you once more

On receipt an email was sent to the rest of the team by someone who said ” I hadn’t realised that for the last six months I’ve been flying round in circles to God knows where whilst looking up a Ducks arse”

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Change Failure. Could It Be How You Explain it?

Yesterday I had a very interesting telephone call from a friend who outlined some changes he was making to his work team. After an hour of listening to his proposals and the reasons why he was changing people’s work objectives and targets I couldn’t fault his logic.

The research for the “need to change” had taken six months and loads of statistics analysed and, as a result, the proposed alterations in people’s jobs and deliverables were both logical and led by market expectations.

I then asked “So what’s the next step?”
I’ve called a meeting of the team at the start of January and I’m going to tell them”.
“And what do you think their reaction will be?” I asked
“Some will agree and some will hate it…but they’ll just have to do it!

It took me some time to explain to my friend that whilst he had spent six months of research into generating his ideas he was proposing to give those affected just a few hours to understand the logic and accept it. In fact he was hoping for universal acclamation and presumably “thanks” for his hard work and his proposals.

Too often those that plan team restructure have lived with their thoughts for many months. Their thought have gone through the process of  rejecting some ideas and accepting others to create a logical outcome. When introducing change there needs to be an understanding that those affected will move through similar thought processes and need time to do so.

This is because resistance to change is built into the very structure of most companies.

So any change or new initiative that threatens the existing organization (in whole or in part) will likely encounter opposition. Don’t be surprised if nobody is aware of this dynamic. It’s  an entirely unconscious reaction, like an auto-immune system response.

Some help could come from a technique called the Kirton Adaption – Innovation Theory (KAI). Dr Kirton’s concept is that all humans are problem solvers, so therefore all humans are creative. But change skills range from Adapative to Innovative. Innovators relish breakthroughs and welcome radical change, whereas Adaptive people tend to prefer structure and moderate incremental change.

Many of the petty conflicts that arise during a change process can be attributed to the different thinking styles of Adaptive and Innovative personalities, so it’s useful to be aware of them and learn the techniques for embracing both inputs.

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