Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Crucial Communication is about first managing Crucial Conversations

It is very apparent that in America and in most places around the world today, we have purposefully trashed both civilities in our conversations and any effectiveness in even discussing alternative views in our daily communication. Most critically it is nearly impossible to arrive at a productive or positive consensus on just about any matter. It almost as if the challenge for finding a compelling “media sound-bite” or offering a truncated Twitter message, has left us incapable of real conversation.

So why is that the acceptable and resulting state of our personal and political existence? It’s quite apparent when you look around at any of a number of illustrations from the Dallas County Court system deterioration, to arguments between the NFL Owners and their Players' Union, or just finger pointing and accusations in our everyday politics in general. It might be simplistic but you can easily point to the level of personal commitment as represented in the age-old advice to never engage in talking about “politics” or “religion”, that is if you want any outcome other than an outright war. But I believe there is much more to this than just the participants or the topics themselves, it’s really about “how” we talk with one another.

It is crucial in successful organizations, and in every important relationship, to be able to communicate and converse within differing viewpoints. Indeed it is imperative to be able to conduct and participate in conversations with a wide variety of opinions and even differing levels of fervor. How we all manage and successfully handle the free flow of ideas becomes crucial to the success or failure of any business, individual department much less our personal relationships.
So what can we do to become better at our communication skills? First we have to face up to wanting to first identify and then secondly handle crucial conversations in a productive way. It’s not so important to have always formulated a hard and fast position or even to be able to fire back logical supporting facts or even counter objections, but it is important to be civil and respectful in the exchange of ideas. In very successful companies it is ultimately reflected in all of their critical issues; things like safety, productivity, diversity, quality, innovation, teamwork and change management. In relationships it is even more important to grow by how you handle basic disputes or differences of opinions.

Meanings are in people and when you are capable of understanding that the words can frequently get in the way it becomes critical to master meaningful conversations without injecting a level of meanness, prejudice or avarice.
In summary there are lots of ways to allow a crucial conversation to implode. But the fair exchange of ideas and suggestions should offer greater benefit if all of us would take a step back from the human emotions. There are truly ways to offer a win-win scenario if all of us would only take a less aggressive look at one another. We are not scored by the level of sarcasm for a personal zinger, nor are we graded by providing a great oratorical display, and especially not for making someone feel incompetent or uninformed. Rather success in Crucial Conversations is all about sharing each others' ideas, proposing new methods or productive processes or just identifying areas or considerations that we should be aware of. It is frequently not about identifying an immediate solution but more about talking about implications or impacts from differing points of view. Be the “go to” person by being the person that people want to engage as an active listener and positive possibility thinker.

To be effective at any type of communication we all need practical ideas and practice. One of several great resource books on understanding successful communication is a book like Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. Another important aspect is to appreciate that we all look at things differently whether by gender as illustrated in Men are from Mars, Women from Venus or even by culture as described in Building Cross-Culture Competence. The basic refresher here is to appreciate that other people come with different points of view and from different perspectives and an appreciation for both goes a long way to understanding other ideas and your own biases. Great ideas are nurtured from wide perspective, genuine appreciation and true empathy.

The Performance Detective

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


In today’s business climate everyone is looking for an edge to validate business efficiency and productivity. That search might be in any of the areas of our product or service development, production, sales/marketing or fulfillment. So what do we rely on in this era of better efficiencies? Frankly we look at just about everything… from materials or product costs to quality initiatives, and from product demand projections to logistics streamlining for purchase and delivery. But our highest costs are most frequently associated with our people and where they perform all or part of the product or service we offer.

So how is that managed? The critical performance elements for all of our companies is how do we maintain a smooth running operation that is both effective and consistent. The ability to maintain a tactical edge is all about having a strategy that allows us to maintain our value offering and also to improve. That ability to share and communicate what works best and what doesn’t work is paramount to a reliable business operation. It is vital to communicate and share best practices to both new employees and to the seasoned team.

Companies have begun to examine and appreciate the value of not only having an effective Training Program for educating new employees about the basics but also to help communicate new process improvement to all members of our existing team.

Good training regimes used to be limited to the mechanical production lines or repetitive operations where processes and procedures were obvious. The era of cycle time improvement and quality initiatives has taken it to a new level. Now it might also include sales, marketing, advertising, customer service and even product development. More importantly we have found out that identifying and communicating change initiatives or insuring deployment of new best practices requires a system which allows this to happen in an interactive way.

In the last 30 years “Training Methodology” has come under the microscope of best practices as well. We not only need the training to be effective but we quickly found that there must also be a way to measure what it is we are doing, how effectively we are doing it and ultimate to understand why it continues to be a good idea.

The original “Four Levels” of Training Evaluation as early 1975 by people like Donald Kirkpatrick have become a staple for what needs to be measured in training on a regular basis. So on the front-end the training needs 1) a reactive participation and 2) a learning environment, then followed by 3) an actual application of new job process and hopefully 4) a realized new business impact. But that entire training process is only effective if someone can show management (the stakeholders) what ROI was actually received by the programs. Thus the ideas of Phillips and Stone (in 2006) to carefully evaluate, quantify and measure the overall impact throughout the process ,as well as a tangible ROI at the end, becomes critical to measuring success in an effective training deployment.

I was fortunate to be involved in analyzing the effectiveness of annual training programs and it requires a commitment to involve people from the top down in understanding the real value to this as a vital continuous improvement tool and not only as a front-end learning system. There needs to be methodology in place for contributions to a knowledge management library and also the ability to share that “learning information” effectively with all of your employees. It’s crucial to set up base metrics, measure the current state of company, identify the current areas of need, develop a plan for addressing the most pressing areas, implement the training plan and then measure the results from tangible to intangible. It is ultimately critical to engage your whole business team in the training process.

Let’s talk if you are struggling with any issue of training or change management or process improvement because there is methodology to insure both implementation strategies and develop measurable effectiveness.

The Performance Detective

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

TQM ... Total Quality Management by any Name

What is the best current business quality process? Which business expert represents the strongest variation for quality adjustment? What can really be derived from a new quality strategy? What makes an approach popular for a while and then fall out of favor? Can it be determined what the very best approach is for my business? What makes a product or service truly “excellent”? This analysis of Quality Management is meant to expand the basic notion that quality improvement is mainly for a manufacturing application. The fundamental quality process improvement should be even more critical in a non manufacturing application because of the influence on your People, your Process and your bottom line Performance.

The most expansive business theories have evolved over time with new people putting a slightly different twist or a new spin to make these practices more appealing and ultimately more productive. As you will appreciate, regardless of the tactics, it is strategically more important for all of your people to first understand the basics of "Who, What, When, Where, Why and How” then to jump in and immediately try and implement quality improvements. A pragmatic approach is all about achieving measurable results and eventually maintaining vital change in a permanent way and realize new team impetus for the entire organization.

As a short history… earliest records show that the ancient Greeks and early Chinese recorded the quality concept of Continuous Improvement. The roots of today’s Quality Management can be tracked to the early production ideas of the20’s and later concepts pioneered in Japan in the 40’s by Americans; Deming, Drucker, Feigenbum and Juran. Later Japanese quality experts like Shingo and Taguchi expanded the original models along with newer American quality initiatives extensively written about in the 70’s 80’s and 90’s.

The roots of Quality Assessment and Total Quality Management (TQM)go back to early efforts for uncovering and optimizing the best of breed practices. In TQM organizations the customer holds a dynamic position and the quality organization measures their progress from the customer perspective. But quality focused companies know that the commitment of the entire organization (the “Total” of TQM) creates an even stronger and more impactful benefit. The four key targets of the quality approach insures that your product/service be consistent, meet your customer needs, be delivered on a timely basis and is offered at a fair price. Committed TQM organizations also know that the task of staying competitive is ongoing and also demands continuous monitoring and a strong mechanism for ongoing process improvement.

The overarching success or failure of any Quality initiative is comprehensive participation and purposeful commitment to the entire quality effort. This approach requires and “all in commitment” from top management, supervisors, and all of your team. It demands that the process and your people commit to an action that is vital, precisely understood, properly trained for, continually engaged in and vitally encouraged to act upon. This also means that you nurture an environment that demonstrate to all of your people that they are valued for their input and empowered to learn about the entire process within the cross functional quality teams you will establish.

So what is the main difference between TQM (Deming) and the popular Six Sigma? A quick assessment of the two quality programs is offers that TQM improves quality by adhering to internal requirements and Six Sigma focuses on improving quality and by reducing defects. In today’s world the current popular quality efforts also blends together “Lean and Six Sigma” which adds the critical elements of low cost and increased productivity. The drive for Business Excellence is a secondary advantage here but potentially more important as the company realizes an empowered work environment and a new sense of the possible with a higher level of personal achievement and product awareness.

A quick assessment of the Six Sigma action program allows for five core steps in implementing the quality changes following the “DMAIC” process; Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control. The hidden component of the entire program is the emphasis to effectively and regularly communicate your progress. This communication reaffirms both the needed action for the implemented changes and also critical interaction with all of the stakeholders. The last critical element to maintain these changes, is effectively utilizing some form of Kaizen, which means enacting a strong Continuous Improvement program to insure the recording and implementation of the vital changes you have identified.

I was fortunate to be involved with a world class organization that conducted quality efforts throughout the organization. That attitude started with the smallest self-evaluation of all processes, identifying key elements for critical procedures and pursuing a goal of Business Excellence long before it was popular as a business philosophy. For a final overview let’s take a pragmatic view of business excellence, one that companies should regularly strive to achieve. Businesses usually define profitability by the volume of sales, the perceived value that the product/service possesses, and the efficiency with which the product is produced. To cut-to-the-chase many people simply refer to it as “How fast, how good, and how cheap”.

For Business Excellence each area requires attention and an understanding of techniques needed to manage them. “How Fast” is a combination of quality manufacturing techniques and cycle time improvement. “How Good” is enhanced by setting a high level of quality and continuous improvement. Finally “How Cheap” is a variety of Rational Management Processes which include cycle time improvement, waste reduction and lean elements as well as a strong commitment to a total value process like Kepner-Tregoe.

In summary this circles back to our original set of questions and ultimately… What does it take to successfully drive a “Quality Management” implementation? We suggest that no matter what else is technically included within a quality program, the fundamentals of any implementation must have:

1) A fulltime quality leader who oversees a formal process moving forward.
2) From the top down the organization must be committed and involved in the effort.
3) Identify the new vision for why and what it is to be accomplished.
4) The entire business team should be involved, acknowledged and encouraged to contribute.
5) A system of measurement and metrics is necessary at multiple points in the process.
6) A dynamic and interactive knowledge management system for improvements and training.
7) Develop a regular schedule for updates, challenges and new ideas.
8) Establish your customers as the driver for identifying the areas of effective improvement and the ultimate measure of realized success.
9) Make the entire process challenging and contagious for all team members as their motivated involvement is an ultimate and lasting benefit in and of itself.

We can address the essential elements of Quality… so take the initial steps and discuss the challenges that you may face. First you must identify the fundamental challenge you wish to resolve and secondly you must understand if you already have in place the team necessary to move forward with a new commitment to real Quality Excellence.

The Performance Detective

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Change ... but not just for the sake of change!

Perhaps the current political landscape has put a new connotation or even a shroud over the positive aspects of either attempting or managing productive "change" in a business environment. We've heard the cliches that change is good and healthy, or on the other side we've also heard the old expression that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". So where is the truth about what we should be doing.

In 2005 a wonderful book was published which took the topic and put it in a storyline or "Fairy Tale" type of approach. The book is called Our Iceberg is Melting by John Kotter. The interesting thing is that it tackles change from many perspectives and exposes the faces of resistance and skepticism or justified caution and even unreasonable denial. The book's approach is that in any consideration of change, we should take an all inclusive and carefully thought out plan to first evaluate all of the possibilities.

On the very front end one of the most important aspects should be that we take an intuitive and subjective look at analyzing the facts before we even proceed with offering a suggestion or recommendation for a change initiative.

Once that evaluation has been made, it is important to follow a path that is described as an 8 step process for successful change. They actually break down the eight steps into four definable areas of actions which include; setting the stage, deciding what to do, making it happen and finally making it stick.

The steps for a successful change environment include first creating a sense of urgency and then pulling together the team that is necessary to guide the process. The actual "what?" is critical for both identifying the vision and implementing the strategy of what needs to be done. Making it happen is the biggest challenge and includes a high degree of communicating an understanding of the change and to get real buy-in to insure that other will others will act on the change process. During the length of the process it is critical to identify short term wins as you don't want to loose enthusiasm before the process is complete. And lastly the importance of insuring that the change is accepted and part of a new culture or new way of thinking.

One of the last elements, that is the sine qua non of the entire process, is the intergrated role of thinking and feeling, in the larger impact for the success that you seek to attain. A simplistic way, to sum up the Kotter methodology for a successful implementation, is that providing logical examples and experiences of "why" can help change people's feelings, it will then stimulate a change in their thinking, and ultimately will directly lead to a change in ongoing behavior.

The book gives a quick read that helps people appreciate all sorts of perspectives that we all see daily in our workplaces. Perhaps this Antarctic Fairy Tale opens some minds that are always closed and frees up others that need dramatic proof before they will even consider looking into change. Remember "change" is something unknown and the results potentially scary and therefore easily resisted by all sorts of people and personalities.

You may need some help managing this comprehensive approach, but that is why we are here. So don't be afraid to Go for the Gold ... but be sure to "Set the stage for a Successful Change"!

The Performance Detective

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Leadership... Style or Substance?

What is true Leadership? I have had the good fortune to be around several influential and successful people over the years. I would say they represented themselves as great leaders in their areas of expertise and all for a variety of reasons and at different moments in time. But what is the definition of leadership that encompassed their actions or their impact on us. If we go to a dictionary we would probably find something like…

Leadership is an interpersonal influence directed toward the achievement of a goal or goals.

We can always look for a formal description for a word, an action or even measuring the resultant effect. But the ultimate definition of real leadership , or our impression of a true leader, goes well beyond just a notion of some sort of influence. We would necessarily want to discuss attributes of Leaders that we all have known or have learned about. We would probably want people to know or understand how those people have impacted us individually and collectively. We may talk about not only their influence at a particular time, place or moment, but their ongoing impact in our own approach to people and circumstances. Greater still… the ongoing impression that we have about a memorable leader probably has a lasting influence on how we would wish ourselves to rise up and act during a challenging event.

It is also right to consider multiple aspects as far as the situation or circumstance that the leader found themselves in and how we also perceived the breadth of those challenges. We often speak about how circumstance dictate not only the leader’s actions but the response from the group or team that the leader is part of. Winston Churchill was by most estimations a great leader at a pivotal time in history. When you actually research the history before and after his most influential leadership moments, you also begin to see why it is important to consider all aspects of circumstance as well as the actual words or actions that a leader has been credited with. He was very popular as a wartime leader but quite ineffective both before and after because of a wide variety of conditions.

So if we understand that the popularity of memorable leadership takes into account a set of conditions as well as actions we begin to understand the broader context of being a good leader. My contention is that truly great leaders have basic personal character traits that transcend just the decision making moment. The leaders or heroes that we should actually emulate understand character is not a sometimes thing. They practice and live these qualities of “who you are” and ultimately “what you are” on a daily basis.

I believe that these Character Traits include an approach that practices:
• Confidence carried lightly
• Leadership that engenders trust
• Passion that’s contagious
• Humor without derision
• Integrity without guile
• Character that commits
• Loyalty that holds on
• Desire that dreams
• Interest that increases knowledge

I’ve borrowed these descriptions from Robert Beaudine’s, The Power of Who, because he aptly characterizes not only the trait but also the real action and delivery attitude that accompanies that admirable leadership trait.

The next time that you see a leader or a leadership action defined as being stellar… see if they have brought that level of commitment to their action or their suggested business strategy. This is the true measure of great leadership.

The Performance Detective

Thursday, October 29, 2009

KISS Theory Goodbye ... if you know how?

… Action Ways to Accomplish Results

We hear and read a lot about what it takes to run your business successfully. But many times we are drowned in the theory and don’t know the action items or examples of what it takes to… “Just do it”

I had the distinct opportunity to work and to contribute daily in an organization that defined both the benefit of great preparation and planning, and in the value of implementing continuous improvement, quality control and maintaining best practices long before they were fashionable business theories. Indeed we went well beyond just having a solid “game-plan” alone and focused more on the regular implementation and practical attention to detail in each area.

In Kiss Theory Goodbye, Bob Prosen initially establishes the importance of knowing what your top three objectives are; requiring that they are quantifiable, insuring that they are concisely stated and you are tracking them at all times... and with vigilance.

His Five Attributes of Highly Profitable Companies are critically important. They include a relentless pursuit of your vision and results, developing sales effectiveness by highlighting the right goals, operational excellence throughout, the importance of the right financial information and finally gaining a high level of real customer loyalty. As in any practice the devil is in the details but Bob’s illustrations give a good assortment of specific lessons and action items that we all need to take be aware of.

Throughout the book there is an underlying strength in any business that begins with the effectiveness of your business communication, and at the very core, your personal communication skills. This may indeed be ”Communications 101” in that the lesson is to; be thorough, be frank, be concise,and be effective. The Seven Steps for everyday, both illustrate this communication and give a nice overview of how to act; 1)give clear directives, 2)require accountability, 3)never rationalize poor performance, 4)avoid over planning, 5)embrace change, 6)help every team member win, and at the end of each day ask 7)are we closer to meeting our objectives?

Finally an overriding theme is to inspire the loyalty and trust of all your people by consistently being loyal and trustworthy with all of your people. Do this and you will build an effective team and will ultimately build real sustainable performance.

The Performance Detective

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Selling Selling Selling ... How? What? Who? When?

In today’s crazy business marketplace, the pressure continues to fall on the “Sales Department”. Why aren’t they selling products faster? Why aren’t they selling higher quantities? Why aren’t they getting more new customers? Why can’t they get the commitments sooner? What exactly are they promising our customers?

With all of the questions in regards to “Sales” it is critical to know just what drives a productive sales team and ultimately a great salesman. The traditional idea is that salesman are born and not developed. There is also the old school way of looking at the number of contacts made vs. number of actual sales. In the bigger scheme of things there are many business issues surrounding how a business sells its products or services and why. I would like to zero in on the actual sales person and their unique approach. Ultimately you need to be very effective in your sales effort and here is some of the how and some of the why....

If you go back to some of the basic lessons forwarded by a Zig Ziglar, you can talk about attitude and altitude or taking a positive and persistent approach to the selling style itself. But I would also say that many people have talked about “selling” over the years like Brian Tracy's enthusiasm or even Stephen Schiffman with his updated version of 25 Sales Habits of the Highly Successful Sales Person (plus his bonus 5 Habits which incidentally ends up with “keep your sense of humor”).

More recently Jeffrey Gitomer with his columns, websites and speaking engagements; has also fashioned his new Little Red Book of Selling that offers a “take with you” fresh approach in both his presentation style and in what it takes to become an effective salesman. This includes your own continuous improvement and just plain working at it with gusto and smarts. He pontificates that establishing new business relationships by having a thorough understanding of your product offering is critical to establishing trust within your clients. He actively talks about being creative and about taking the risk out of the buying, but more importantly he places a high value on integrity and reliability. In its 18th printing since 2004 he outlines a combination of what it takes to be a Zig Ziglar and a Stephen Schiffman and to combine those ideas and finally get the results you would dream about.

One other very important consideration in today’s marketplace, Jeff Koser has recently assembled a new book published in 2008 and titled Selling to Zebras. The crux of his Sales approach is that in the traditional sales world, we are used to salesman getting a 15% close rate from their sales activities. In a nutshell he brings up the vital emphasis for today’s effective sales approach that you focus or hone-in on your “targeted or qualified” customer prospects and become more productive with your time and eventually your sales close-rates. The emphasis here is why it is important for the specific customer to buy, when it is critical for them to place the order and not get caught up in simply a discussion of the "features and benefits" of your product or service.

Ultimately there is also another discussion on how the business itself must actually support an entirely value-laden product or service offering and then deliver on a customer-for-life experience. That is a topic for another session about how the entire organization must work together to deliver on the entire sales promise. Good hunting and great sales!

The Performance Detective