Hey, She’s All In with Orange Peels

February 23rd, 2015

Every now and then I just have to share when I come across orange peels in the world. Over my morning coffee, I was happy to read this gem. Lots of orange peels in there! Particularly love that bottom line…People like doing business with people they like!

Shared with you from the Kansas City Star, by Diane Stafford, posted 2/12/15.


Street smarts can beat book smarts

Once upon a time, you may have thrived in the workplace by being smart. But I.Q. smart may not be enough any more.

Furthermore, what you already know may not count as much as your willingness to acknowledge what you don’t know and your willingness to learn more.

Edward Hess, a professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, has done some interesting research into the need to be an “adaptive learner,” a person who honestly sees his or her shortcomings and asks the right questions.

I wrote Hess to ask if he’d found generational differences in the tendency to be more afraid of “looking dumb” by asking questions. (Conversely, is there an age group that tends to be false know-it-alls?)

Hess dodged any generational schism by answering that he hasn’t researched demographic differences. Rather, he wrote back, “Emotional defensiveness is part of our ‘human nature’— we all are insecure and fearful — it is just a matter of degree (how much) and how we manage it.”

Briefly, here are Hess’s seven main prescriptions for the learning skills needed in most workplaces today:

  1. Admit you’re not as smart as you think you are. Focus on continuous learning and develop your critical thinking skills.
  2. Listen and collaborate. Don’t get defensive when challenged. And don’t just look for information that confirms your existing thinking.
  3. Learn because you want to. In a world that requires innovation, you need to be driven by curiosity and love of learning, not by external requirements or rewards.
  4. Don’t fear mistakes. Mistakes help you learn. They’re good “stress tests” for your beliefs.
  5. Be willing to try. Believe you can succeed. That builds “self-efficacy,” or confidence that you can handle something well.
  6. Seek out feedback. Negative feedback can be constructive — and hard to get in some organizations.

This last bullet point deals with “emotional intelligence.” Scads of books address the topic. You can read more in Hess’s “Learn or Die” book or in those by Daniel Goleman, a pioneering thinker and author in the field.

Most workplace consultants will tell you that emotional intelligence can be as important as business location, financing, market need and innovation. Emotional intelligence is how leaders get followers, and how followers rise in the ranks.

“Today,” Hess said, “the 21st century learning skills require one to be good at thinking critically and innovatively and listening, collaborating and emotionally engaging with others.”

It’s a reminder that the human touch — rather than the next-generation software — sometimes makes the difference in getting the next client or contract or keeping the ones you have.

The truism no matter the industry or occupation: People like doing business with people they like.


To reach Diane Stafford, call 816-234-4359 or send email to stafford@kcstar.com. Follow her online at kansascity.com/workplace and @kcstarstafford.

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/news/business/workplace/article9810434.html#storylink=cpy

The Mediocre Death Sentence

January 28th, 2015

me·di·o·cre (mēdēˈōkər), adj, of only moderate quality; not very good.

Synonyms: Ordinary, average, middling, middle-of-the-road, uninspired, undistinguished, indifferent, unexceptional, unexciting, unremarkable, run-of-the-mill, lackluster, forgettable, amateur, ok, so-so.

Have you ever looked up mediocre in the dictionary? If not, I’ve saved you the trouble. Does any of that sound appealing? Like a recipe for success? I didn’t think so. No, I don’t think so at all, yet so many managers, entrepreneurs, and organizations in general find themselves exactly there. Why is that?

This indeed deserves exploring because mediocrity will kill a company without them even knowing it.

As a startup or a small company without a lot of resources, owners or managers are often desperate to attract resources. They probably don’t have the highest salary to offer nor the best benefits, if any. They may ask people to wear multiple hats and they most likely don’t have all the tools with bells and whistles so many people have come to expect, and almost can’t imagine how they could possibly be successful without them. They need help and find themselves either thrilled to have some interest, or having to settle for what they think they can afford. This is a mindset more easily understood because there may be underlying truth in the lesser tangibles offered and there is higher risk involved. Those who have been there understand greater reward too. What these companies really need to understand is how to sell their value proposition better. How to truly identify the talents they need and help strategizing how to acquire them. What they DON’T need is mediocre. Better to go without.

The situation for very large organizations (big red-tape organizations, as you’ve often heard me call them) is quite a bit different. They typically have the salaries and benefits, and the bells and whistles to do your job…sometimes too many of them so they turn into red tape and become more of a hindrance than helpful. These organizations have a collection of things going on.

Some of their management has been promoted based on length of service or perhaps individual contributions. These things are terrific and may very well spell out a valuable employee, but they don’t necessarily equate to effective management or leadership (two different things, but a topic for another day). They often lack in training or understanding of how to hire the best resources for their team, mentor and develop team members, or worse yet, they inherit…now what?

Sometimes it’s a matter of size. It can become pretty easy to “hide” within a company of 1000s of employees. It can also nearly require an act of congress to terminate an employee in this environment. The “solution” often becomes transferring resources (whether team members or managers) from team to team, or department to department. A little shuffling action. Or, they simply are not noticed at all and carry on. Surrounded by non-mediocre employees, these people may remain right where they are, however they are a sense of constant frustration and dissatisfaction for their team members, a waste of money, and negatively impact the bottom line.

And then there are those middle sized companies that are really in the best position. They’re big enough to have the attractions and small enough to still have some nimbleness. And if they don’t, my bet is you will uncover mediocrity before too long.

We all know the companies that just kind of “hang around.” They show up here and there, but certainly not everywhere they ought to be. You hear from their people from time to time. You might get an update on occasion. They are chugging along but certainly not going anywhere fast.

When you take a bit of a closer look, the similarities in these companies are predictable. Their website and materials are dated, perhaps even with errors that have gone unnoticed for some time. “News” might be from 3 or 6 months ago. Often they are competing more often on price than anything else and might even be heading toward commoditization or a smaller and smaller target audience.

Often these organizations are content to remain flat, or grow by 1 or 2% per year, or even dip a bit. They accept deals with less margin and much longer break even points. They aren’t coming up with anything new. When you encounter their people, it’s the same lackluster impression.

These organizations are mediocre. The organization is mediocre and the employees are typically exactly the same. Management is more about the day to day; they are often uninspired and there is no one to develop or focus on strategy. These organizations trudge along, but are overlooked in the common industry consolidations. These organizations struggle to grow their valuation and do not become targets in M&A activities.

Mediocre is such a difficult thing to overcome. As an early stage company, you MUST avoid mediocrity at all costs. If it does rear its ugly head, you must eradicate it immediately. Unfortunately this is not typically the case, it is far more often a very long, painful and damaging process. If it’s a mediocre employee, it’s tough to fire people. That task is never fun. Many people will go to great lengths to avoid it. Shift a person from role to role to see if it gets better. Try to manage and mentor them along. Change roles again. Cut extra slack. Justify that the level of effort provided is better than not having anyone at all…

If it’s other assets or resources such as marketing, presence, collateral, you must understand there’s a time and a place to save a dollar and not to. That doesn’t mean blowing the budget either, it means allocating and managing it appropriately. Your public, customer-facing resources, be they people or materials, is NOT the place to do so. Better to hire fewer, high quality team members that go the extra mile and deliver tremendous value to the organization and represent it well than to hire more resources who present a mediocre face to your company.

I have been fortunate enough to mostly avoid mediocre companies. I experienced one or two mediocre employees in my early days as an entrepreneur, fell into the typical traps, and had to learn the lessons the hard way. Once you learn them, you never forget! While eliminating mediocrity is difficult, once you do, the sense of relief is immediate. You ask yourself why you didn’t do so long ago. You also now recognize mediocre and avoid it at all costs.

I also found myself with a client once that was all encompassing, mediocre. I know, you want to ask how? You thought I learned to recognize it. I did. To be clear, I inherited the client through an acquisition process. After continuing to work with them for several months, and much frustration I assure you, I extricated myself. What a relief! It was astounding to me, there was not a single person who worked for that company that I ever would have hired. Not one! It makes sense why they are where they are, and will never be anywhere else.

Of only moderate quality. Not very good. Middling. Uninspired. Undistinguished. Unexceptional. Forgettable. So-so.

Do those sound like great attributes to you? Do you want to do business with them? People buy from people they like.

Be alert for mediocrity. Expunge it.


December 16th, 2014

It’s an age old question, yet unbelievable how many people still get them confused, or don’t understand the value, or think they’re the same skill set, or just need to hire some decent sales people to get the job done….

So many red flags there, I’m not even sure where to begin.

If I had $100 for each time I’ve encountered this situation in the past month, my Christmas shopping would be free! Somehow this catches me by surprise, but it shouldn’t because it’s something I see and hear on a regular basis, even by seasoned business people. Sometimes I think every business executive ought to understand this, but they don’t.

I often hear clients express they “just need to hire some good sales people,” “how do they find them,” can I help them with that? Many times they have tried and it has not worked out, often there have been multiple hires (and exits) in a short amount of time….Step one, we need to have a conversation, and like it or not, I’ve got to broach the above subject. One everyone thinks they know the answer to, but clearly, many do not.

I like to approach it like this. I have rarely known a great salesperson to hit the door running at 5:00 with a hot new deal or one ready to close left hanging. In fact, you may still see them at midnight, or get the 3:00 a.m. email. Ask that same salesperson to stay late and make a few cold calls and you’ll get a different response. In fact, a few months from now, you may not see that salesperson at all. I let them ponder for a moment, then I ask them…“would you want to?”

The responses vary then, but most people end up tongue-tied. They go something like this…”no, well yes, well…somebody has to make cold calls, and it’s their job, right?” And they end up mostly confused in their own musings. I believe this is because they really KNOW the answer somewhere inside, but they THINK when you need to get some/more money coming in the door, you hire sales people, right?

My answer to the “would you want them to” question is not so squeamish. It is unequivocally, NO. I want my sales star closing deals. (Everyone agrees with this.) That is most definitely the number one priority for my sales people, and my #1 priority is to ensure the salespeople have everything they need to make that happen. And this begins with marketing. This means my sales star is only dealing with warm to hot leads. This means I’m accelerating the “sales” process somewhere. This means my sales star is not making cold calls.

Bringing in the right talent to solve this problem begins with marketing. It may not be a reinvention of the wheel in marketing, or analysis paralysis, or “oh my goodness, if I have to rehash the website or the messaging one more time, I’m going to die,” but it is going to begin with a 360 degree look at the go to market strategy. Sometimes this happens in just a few hours and we’re ready to roll, many times we uncover the source of having gone through multiple sales people in a short period of time and we have some fixes to make.

Let’s start with understanding the product or service, intended audience, and ensuring those are a match. Then let’s identify the brand persona and check that it is a match for the product and audience. For example, if an organization has a product targeted to high end financial markets and they want to come at it from a casual, tie dye, we got this approach, that’s probably not going to work out so well in a conservative, starched white shirt and suit type environment. The opposite is also true. The language, the tone, the colors, the taglines…these all need to match. Inevitably the question arises, “how critical are all those things?” Remember, first impression only comes once. If your fabulous sales people are pitching one thing, and all your materials say something else or a mixture of things, this is not supporting the sales efforts. In fact, it’s likely damaging them. People can only buy what they understand, and a confusing message does not achieve this.

Now let’s be sure we are showing not telling (more orange peels!). Making it very clear what VALUE your product or service delivers to your customer is critical. Most businesses are not making big investments to buy nice-to-haves. However, they are making significant investments in things that produce value for their business, that increase their revenues, reduce their costs, increase their customer satisfaction and therefore purchasing/renewal level. It’s that pesky ROI thing again, and the more often you show how you deliver it before even being asked, the better position you are in. Your go to market strategy should ensure that you demonstrate this value again and again.

And finally, now that we’ve covered the product/audience match, the brand persona, the value message…what are we doing with it? How are we taking this to market? What is the strategy? Many organizations believe if we build it, they will come. So a website and some social media outlets, and we’re good, right? That is akin to sitting in your office and waiting for the phone to ring with someone wanting to buy on the other end. You must go out to seek and meet the audience where they are. If you’ve completed your task above with identifying the audience, part of building that profile should be identifying where the audience is and how to find them. So you develop your value content, not a sales pitch, and engage in the conversation of your target audience, where they are located, always with the invitation to come see you, where you are. And now that your website and all your messaging match and show the value proposition, you have accelerated your sales process. Done well and done right, and with consistent and appropriate frequency, your sales people are not making cold calls, they’re closing deals!

Getting the right marketing talent at the right time is a critical step in your success.