Retention Through Strong Leadership

Post-Covid, we’ve all experienced a commercial talent drain. With so many options provided by the new remote-workforce culture, people are now unwilling to remain in a position where they are not shaped and groomed.  I don’t blame them.

Our job as leaders is to create a culture of curiosity, skill-building, and empowerment. However, at least once a  week I hear this lament from clients:

“I’ll just finish this work myself; my direct reports can’t do it right.”

And each time I hear it, I blame the leader. Our job, responsibility, calling, is to contribute to people not to marginalize them. But too often, fiscal pressure to hit goals takes a back seat to growing an inspired, eager, motivated workforce that aligns with those goals. Therefore, taking over a project or task yourself is penny-wise but dollar foolish. Not only have you not shown your directs the method you prefer for accomplishing goals but, you have diminished their sense of responsibility by signaling you don’t trust their abilities. Stop doing that!

People Are Inspired by the Inspiring

It is important for leaders to lose the concern over status and transform it to our teams. A large part of your job as a team leader is to make work enjoyable and affirmational after this awful two-year Covid hibernation that stifled people, their talent, and their inspiration to contribute to the world.

That inspiration to contribute must be lit by you. You must foster this environment. You accomplish this by linking each team member’s work to the attainment of their professional development goals.

To do that, it will require a frank conversation where you both acknowledge road blacks, determine how best to overcome them, and then offer constructive feedback for future growth.

Ask Yourself…

To help you determine your role in retaining talent, here are some questions I encourage my clients to ask themselves:

  • Am I inspiring my team?
  • Have I shared MY vision?
  • What have I commercially declared that has moved me and my team?
  • What can my team count on me for?
  • Have I manifested it?
  • As I look back each week, did I actively contribute to each team member accomplishing their goals?

So many times I hear leaders blame losing employees to some force outside of their control:

“They were never going to make it here.”
“This work wasn’t right for them.”
“They never had the drive to succeed.”
“Nothing I could do…they wanted to move to [fill in the city or company here].”

That line of thinking is disempowering for YOU. Consider that they left due to a lack of inspiration and motivation. And then, hard as it might be to accept, realize you could have provided that inspiration and motivation. Once you take that on, you can see how your actions, attitude, and leadership are what is really needed to retain your teams.

So, how did you do answering the questions above? Let me know. -SG

Video: Working on Employee Retention Skills

2021 Reflections/2022 Direction

With Broadway shows closing, sports games being canceled/delayed, and a worrisome spike in Covid cases, it feels like I‘m writing this as though it were the end of 2020. But of course, I’m not. Things are different.

As a community of business professionals, it’s essential we keep this pandemic in perspective and realize we are demonstrably smarter and more responsible than a year ago.

Learn from 2021

Personally, I’m also more grateful to you, my clients, than I’ve ever been. I’m blessed by being in business with the opportunity to help others accomplish endeavors they couldn’t without my commercial recommendations. I cherish the relationships I’ve built and revel in the success I’ve seen so many of you achieve this year!

As I reflect on 2021, we need to be proud of our efforts in maintaining a relationship with our clientele. We were challenged, weren’t we? Relying on virtual contact or seeing our fleeting in-person contact coming to a second pause again, the challenges are still very real.

The overarching realization though is that we’re still here and gearing up for 2022. BE GRATEFUL FOR THIS.

Define YOUR 2022

As you look towards 2022, define your goals and vision with these points in mind:

  • Know how your clients will forward their company’s goals and their culture
  • Fully and comprehensively understand their challenges
  • Don’t race to solve all their challenges at once, rather be methodical in your solutioning
  • Make every recommendation meaningful
  • Be committed to being creative with all your recommendations

Years ago a client let me know how he defined the overarching culture goal for his firm. As we worked together, I never lost sight of this vision. It was, and still is, to be relational with every client interaction and decision his firm made. I’ve passed that along to every executive of that firm that I’ve coached with great results. I encourage you to adopt this manner of engaging with your clients and employees.

My 2022 wish for you is that you prove to all your clients that you listen first, fix second, and have ample time to understand their challenges. Through this action, you honor people and affirm their work. If you relate first, the business will come.

My Best for a safe, healthy, prosperous New Year!

 

 

Whitespace Is the Right Space

First, I hope you all enjoyed a festive, fun, and fulfilling Thanksgiving!

As we enter the last month of the year, it is important to realize that between now and December 19th (because after that, it’s off for Holiday time) is a season of opportunity. Right now, we have the opportunity to pick up share by meeting with clients and reminding them of the accomplishments you achieved together. And, you can present your case for building on that momentum through a discussion of goals that were NOT fully realized yet and new endeavors they are planning for 2022.

Find the Whitespace Gap

To really have an impactful conversation, you’ll need to live in the “whitespace” for a bit. Let me explain…

Whitespace selling means discovering the gap between what your clients need and the services you offer that they are not taking advantage of yet. This requires a careful study of the past engagements your company has taken on and knowledge of your clients’ new goals. Through this study, research and engagement, you may also discover new entities within their organization that could benefit from what your company offers…they just don’t know it yet!

It was said best by Idris Mooteee, CEO of Idea Couture, Inc., “Whitespace is a tool that lets you look at the commercial landscape up and down the value chain with a new lens. It identifies new untouched opportunities. These are profit opportunities where incremental innovation is possible.”

Initiating a Whitespace Review

Right now is the perfect time to engage in a whitespace discovery. Here are a few things you will need to have:

  • Knowledge of a client’s needs/challenges/threats and how to make their day-to-day tasks more efficient
  • An understanding of what’s most important to them
  • A set of clear value propositions that illustrate innovative accretive solutions
  • A desire to relationally hunt for areas to contribute to your customer’s commercial success

To action this process with your team, ask these questions:

  • How well served is this client or has it been underserved?
  • What would be our ideal relationship with this client?
  • Where are our gaps?
  • What core assumptions of our difference in business can we declare?
  • How do our products/services shape our industry?
  • Try it and let me know or call me to facilitate your discussion on it.

It’s important as you set YOUR goals for 2022 that you discover the whitespace for all your clients. The new business opportunities you will uncover should set you up well for a successful and prosperous new year! Let me know how it goes.

Small Talk vs. Business Talk

Recently, I was coaching a lawyer who would soon have a meeting with an organization to potentially perform legal work. As we discussed the meeting, he let me know that his intention was to start by asking directly about the case.

My instinct felt the opposite. He needed to employ some strategic small talk first, then get into business talk. We needed a plan for the first few minutes of this meeting.

Upon further examination, we realized this was a sensitive matter that involved other executives and other circumstances that needed to be vetted. Adding to the complexity, he was brought into the case by a close friend connected to the matter.

Taking all this into account I recommended we outline some initial small talk questions that he ask before discussing the case. Not idle chit-chat but also, not diving headfirst into the case details without setting a tone for the meeting. If you’ve worked with me, you know that I always recommend that you get your “audience” talking first. Give them an opportunity to say what’s on their mind right at that moment. So, that’s what we set out to do.

Small Talk with a Purpose

Small talk is magic when it’s done for a reason. Always think about your small talk before saying it. As in the example below, the people my client was meeting were strangers to him. Can you imagine if all he did at the start of the conversation is credential himself or go straight to the legal matter they wanted to interview him about?

You got it…WAY too abrupt and way too selfish. It’s like meeting someone at a cocktail party and ONLY talking about yourself.

In our session, we engineered some key questions that would help him shape the conversation while also establishing a rapport up front that would help him gain their trust throughout the rest of the meeting. Here is what we outlined:

Thank you for this consideration. I’m excited to speak about it today. 

How did you come to meet Bob (the friend who set the meeting)?

What did Bob say about how I might help?

What’s important to YOU with this matter?

How has it affected you and your organization?

What has been its impact?

How was the matter discovered?

How long ago was this?

What’s important to you with the type of relationship that might ensue with us?

What do you look for in a legal partner?

Small Talk Leads to Perspective

My client paused once we completed our session and commented that he would never have choreographed the meeting this way had we not spoken about it. He commented that small talk was not his forte.

I said that it was important for him to understand the case from each person’s perspective. Each of them was likely impacted by it differently and he needed to discover what those impacts were.

This initial small talk I put forth would credential him as someone who was approachable and someone who was able to affirm the people he was doing business with from his relational approach.

As he discussed the outcome of the call, he was quite gratified by the approach we crafted and shared that the case looks very good for him.

The moral of the story is that small talk is as important as business talk if you use it situationally to illustrate your ability to be adaptive and receptive before you solve anything. Again, it’s the magic of getting the client to talk about themselves first! Once they have given you a clear picture of their goals, they feel affirmed through your conversation. Then and ONLY then can you delve into the matter and make your recommendations.

Leaders…Map to YOUR Destination

Theodore Roosevelt once said:

“In a moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing to do, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

Welcome to the new world of leadership, post-COVID!

Above all else as a leader, you must be positive, confident, and decisive. It’s time to show that you are in command. This is NOT done by running into the engine room of your ship and tinkering with the controls, obsessing over the number of degrees to turn left or right by month’s end.

Set the Ideal Destination and Course

Rather, you need to be inventive and innovative with your direction setting. Pretend that you are mapping a course that will bring you to your most desired destination. You get to define what that destination is and the best route for getting there.

There is nothing more transformational and self-actualizing than this.

What I’m recommending is that you commercially and responsibly create your dream organization. (Hint: you were put in this position to do this).

The next step in this process is to ask yourself:

  • What are the headwinds relative to the transformation I want?
  • Is my organization capable of neutralizing these headwinds?
  • Is what I’m inventing correct?
  • Can I defend it and sell it to my leadership team?
  • Are my initiatives accretive enough?
  • Will they get me to the place I want?
  • Do I have the right team in place?
  • Will my leadership team jump into the engagement of these initiatives as I have?

When you get the answers to these questions, you are ready to impart your plan to your team. Now is the time to get them “rowing in the same direction.” You’ll experience some diversions along the way but my wish is that you NEVER give up the initiatives that excite you and lead to your destination.

So…if you find yourself dawdling in the engine room, call me. I will get you out of it and back to the Captain’s bridge!

People Want to Talk…and Be Heard!

I believe that most people, through their work and personal lives, want to contribute to the growth and self-actualization of others. Now is the time to make it your first AND second priority. It makes a difference, something of which I was recently reminded.

I was about to initiate a coaching session with a CEO recently and heeding my own advice to make it personal now, I asked my client how he and his family were and how they were coping with COVID. My intention was to show him my desire to know him and his family, THEN his business. He lit up and thanked me even before sharing with me that he’d just come from his family physician where his daughter was diagnosed with strep throat but thankfully not COVID.

From then on, I’ve made my conversations during these times personal, then business.

Use Empathy to Check-In

Knowing how a client, teammate, direct report, or even superior is doing is paramount now. Whether they respond or not, you’ve credentialed yourself as someone who understands the mental strain the virus has cast upon us all. You show people you care and have time for them. This is critical now that the interpersonal chemistry of in-person meetings has been stripped away from us. Replace it with your desire to empathetically check-in. The more you do this, the more others will. “How are you and your family doing during these times?” works to cleanse the commercial conversation you’re about to have. You also get a heads up on the person’s level of engagement, which will help you guide your business conversation.

People Want to Be Heard

As I learned by talking to my client about his family, people want to share things that are on their minds. That’s true in their business dealing, too. When conducting a meeting, encourage an atmosphere of open debate and demonstrate the patience for an argument. Let people share their insights. It makes people feel alive and vital. It says to direct reports and peers that no one person has the definitive answer. You are forging an inquiry that gets everyone talking, that’s the beauty of it. By the time the debate winds down, everyone has been heard and everyone has been a part of the resolution. You’ve also illustrated your concern and commitment to understanding everyone’s side.

Essentially, you’ve honored everyone in this process. You’ve shown you can learn from people. That’s being a strong leader!

 

Smart But Silent Doesn’t Work

“Steve, so many times I know she is the smartest person in the room, she’s just not showing it.”

That was the feedback I got from a client who was frustrated that one of his managers was not developing the trust of her team. “I’m worried that if she doesn’t start speaking up, the window of trust will close.”

So why would someone who clearly has the confidence of her supervisor not take the necessary steps to establish herself as someone with the knowledge, experience and insight to lead here team?  Based on my experience with so many people in similar situations, here are four reasons.

Overthinking

When I spoke with this individual, she understood right away that she tended to overthink things. She gave an example. “Just this week, I thought of a possible solution to an issue our group was discussing. But instead of voicing my initial idea, I kept thinking about it, determining next steps, figuring out ways to overcome obstacles, and looking at all possible outcomes. While I was thinking of all of this, ten minutes passed and then someone else voiced the same idea. My overthinking kept me silent while my colleague got credit.”

The lesson here is that if you what you believe to be a good idea, voice it! You can have the debate about its merits with the whole group but you’ve at least show initiative and leadership.

Doubt

Naturally, no one wants to be embarrassed by voicing a bad idea. But you’re in the position you are because people are counting on you to come up with ideas and solutions. Holding back because it might not be the “best” solution is not the stuff of leadership. It demonstrates a lack of faith in yourself so, how can you except others to follow you? You can’t so, speak up!

Choking on the Words

Even in a small group, most people don’t like public speaking even when they have prepared what they are going to say. The stress of this rises when you are about to deliver an “of the moment” thought based on the current conversation. With this client, she was prone to choking on her words and not delivering them as well as she would have liked. I worked with her to calm herself down, take a pause for a breath and give herself some time. One trick is to acknowledge what the last person speaking said to buy some time. “As Dave just said, the important element here is….” Now you can deliver what you want to say within the context of the current conversation, giving it relevance while you’ve also started speaking so you can more comfortable deliver your intended message.

Missing the Moment

Patience is a virtue. Yes, it is. But sometimes we are so patient, we miss the moment. With this client, she was so respectful of everyone else, she was prone to letting everyone else speak until it was her “turn.” But many times, she would miss the moment when her comments were going to be most relevant. What this shows is a lack of leadership, taking a “first position” in a meeting and establishing her ideas as a basis for discussion. My client said, “They want to hear from her more…and first! But she waits too long to voice her insight. The moment has passed and many times, they don’t know that she has some really good ideas.” Repeated scenarios like this lead to teams losing faith in their leaders. My advice to her was that she must capitalize on the moment, taking control of the conversation so that her ideas can be heard. Ideas from other may follow but she established her leadership tone by being the first to jump in!

You may be the smartest person in the room. But if no one hears from you, does it matter? Work this week to establish your leadership by avoiding these four pitfalls. Let me know how it goes in the comments below. – sg

Want Business from Existing Clients? Ask for It!

As companies plan for the coming budget year, one question I get a lot from leaders and sales teams is, “How can I get more business from our existing customers?” I have a simple answer: “Ask for it!”

Ok…it is a bit more complex than that. But not much!

Customers Are Like a Village

When you think about a client’s business, I want you to think of it as a village into which you just parachuted. At first, you are in unfamiliar territory and don’t know anyone. But then someone greets you and is genuinely interested in what you are doing there. You are genuinely interested in the village, its inhabitants and what they do there. You establish a relationship with the person you initially met, building a trusted reputation. You are in!

However, for many people, that’s where it ends. They maintain a connection with their initial contact and the amount of business coming from that client plateaus. What many people do NOT do is meet other “villagers,” people in other departments who could benefit from their services or products.

So, how do you make inroads into other areas in the company? You ask about them!

Be Curious and Engaged

“Terry…I’m curious…based on the work we’ve done together, I get a sense that there may be other areas in the company that could benefit from the same type of results. Do you agree?”

It really can be that simple. You’ve now established a dialogue that allows you to learn more about the company and possible opportunities that could exist for you. From this, you could get a recommendation from your contact regarding who you could contact next. That’s gold!

“Terry…that’s great and it does seem like we could help them like we’ve done for you. Could you make an introduction for me?”

Now you are rolling. You’ve asked your contact to advocate for you…without really asking. The act of introducing you to another contact in their company is, in essence, them endorsing you internally. You’ve just had a door opened for you….walk in!

Make Them Look Good

And why would your client contact want to introduce you to others in the company? To look good, of course! Again, a simple answer that merits more explanation.

When they introduce you, they are as much as saying, “Look how smart I am to have hired this firm to advance our company’s goals.” That, in turn, creates a situation where others want what your contact has. It’s a herd mentality…they will flock to you if you’ve proven you can deliver results.

Your responsibility now that you will meet with other “villagers” is to conduct yourself well, ask probing questions, learn as much as you can, and make your current contact proud by delivering exceptional service.

And all of this comes your way because you had the desire and curiosity to ask about other areas of the company. See? Simple!

What is stopping you from asking about other opportunities at your client’s business? Let me know in the comments or send an email.

 

Find Your Client’s Motivation First, Not Yours

Solution.

Problem.

Motivation.

Many times, I see people frame their “ask” of clients in this order. Right out of the gate, they speak about a great service or product they’ve come to discuss. They move next to saying that the solution will fix a problem the client has. And lastly, they will relate that solution to something they believe will motivate the client to say, “Yes…I’m in.”

This is all backwards, as a client of mine found out recently.

He asked me for some help in framing an “ask.” He was worried his client would take it as a condemnation of how things were being handle by him, and his team. He knew he had a good solution but, it would involve a new process that dealt with a serious shortcoming. Product….then solution.

The issue here is that you are telling a client they are doing something wrong or, they are wrong for not knowing something could be done better. That’s not a strong motivator for anyone. And there’s the key focus…motivation. That’s really what you are there to do, right? Persuade your audience so that they are motivated to accept your solution?

In business we’re often pressed to produce a result or fix an issue with no time to design our “ask.” Try asking yourself, “What’s the motivator for the person I’m presenting my ask?”
Here’s a hint, 9 out of 10 times their motivator is NOT yours.

By declaring your “ask” too frequently you risk getting the reputation of “its his/her way or the highway/she’s difficult to work with”, or worse “she’s quite selfish”…etc.

Its better to to pause/think and ask yourself, what’s the motivator for my listener?

I did this with my client and he suddenly had a revelation…by instituting the process he was recommending, his client’s head of sales would actually sell more product at the best margin. “That’s how you initiate the conversation,” I said to him. And we crafted his ask by starting with, “I’ve got an idea on how to increase sales with the best margin.” Now they are on the same wavelength.

 

Try re-ordering your next presentation with motivation as the lead. Let me know how your communication goes!

Timing a Sales Call

Many factors come into play at a sales meeting, and it’s impossible to control them all. But, one you CAN control is the timing of the agenda. By stating clearly at the beginning of the meeting exactly what you intend to do and how long the process will take, and then getting agreement to it, you command the situation and stay in charge of the meeting.

However, like many things…this says easy, does hard. Clients aren’t always amenable to your agenda and timing. Here are a few tips to make that easier to handle.

Ask for the Time

We’ve all done it….run out of time. This is especially disturbing when you don’t get to the “close” of a presentation. A lot of factors contribute to that happening but, I’ve found the biggest is when people don’t stick to their own timing.

Critical to this is asking, up front, how much time your client has, especially when you are greeted with “I don’t have much time today.” I recommend you probe further about this to eliminate the guesswork. “I’m sorry you are rushed today. How much time do you have for us to discuss your [fill in their critical need here].” At this point, you have gotten a commitment of time. That’s a start.

But how do you break up that time so that you accomplish your mission?

Set the Timing

Below is a chart with my recommended timing for a one-hour sales call:


Starting with your Opening Comments, everything has a time limit. Yes, the “chit-chat” at the start of the meeting always happens and it is a time to break the ice but, you have to know it is eating into your opening volley. Take up four minutes with introductions and you’ll have just one left to introduce your intended purpose.

Use this guide when putting together your agenda. Each element is critical because it has either your client or you delivering important information. That’s right….your presentation is not just about YOU talking. You’ll see that I dedicate 10 minutes right at the beginning to “Probing and Listening.” You might have entered the meeting thinking you’ve nailed your recommendations but, this is the time to find out new information and adjust your recommendations so that your information is relevant to their current situation.

Stick to the Timing

Each element in this presentation guide is critical so, don’t bypass one just to get to the other. Believe me, that’s easy to do. So many times, I’ve seen even veteran salespeople skip the last step…the closing! Many times it’s because they’ve run out of time. That’s a cardinal sin in my book. You are in charge of the time! Be sure you give yourself the space at the end to ask for what you came there for or, you risk the meeting being a waste of everyone’s time.

“Yes, but my client wanted to discuss some other stuff and that messed up the agenda.” It happens…a client wants to go on and on about issues that may, or may not, be relevant to your presentation. Again, you have to take control here. “I understand that these are important issues and I’m happy to address them. However, given the time you’ve allotted us today, can we either extend our time or, focus on [critical issue] today and I can return to discuss those issues?” Either way, you’ve just regained control.

“But Steve…what if they don’t give me a full hour?” Sure….60 minutes is a good bit of time and clients may not give it to you. So, once you find out (hopefully well in advance of the meeting) how much time they do have, scale the timing to fit it. But keep the proportions the same so that you can be effective delivering your presentation and reserve time at the end for questions and the closing.

You may get only one shot at this meeting so, stay in control of it by organizing and adhering to your agenda.

Using this timing chart as a guide, let me know how your next meeting goes with a reply below. Thanks! -sg