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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Create Some Daylight

Last year I was working on my Unified Field Theory. After Einstein defined relativity, he spent the rest of his career trying to unify the four gravitational forces. Never did, kept happily plugging til he died.  

My Unified Field Theory consists of balancing Sales ActivitiesSocial Media Activities, and Reporting.

I’ve been tussling with Reporting for over a decade.  I have never seen a useful model. Then I realized I was looking through the wrong end of the telescope, from the bottom up. Let’s look top down.

First symptom - Normally I’ll spend 40 minutes building a report of my last 50 hours. My boss will often say, “Nope, not what I want,” (looking through the peephole), or worse, “that sounds interesting. Let’s discuss.” There goes an unplanned hour.  

Ed Aiken is my favorite Project Manager penalty killer. He was sent into a full disaster at The Party Agency when none of the developers would even come to the weekly meetings. He walked into each person’s office wearing his cowboy boots, sat down and asked them, since he was the new guy, to educate him as to what they were doing. When they told him, he would make notes, and as he was leaving, ask if he could put their stories into the project plan.

After ten days, his reports had information that was valuable to the people working the project, so many started updating to help their co-workers, which led to identifying and solving problems and hitting milestones. No bravado, just “please help me, make me smart.”

What if, “If you want information, get it yerself.” That way you stand a better chance of understanding what you get.

Second symptom - I was talking to my buddy Ben when he said he felt his manager was struggling to add value to their relationship. Ben or any other first class producer is going to do all the obvious things early and well. It would take some real skill to improve that. Skilled workers are hard for managers to improve with trivial suggestions.  

Third symptom – “And if you don’t improve, I’ll find someone who can!” Threatening Bambi and Thumper is kinda pointless. Especially since the mechanics couldn’t care less. There is always work for good mechanics. (“Mechanic” is a term from the construction trades for one who knows his trade. Charles Bronson made a movie, The Mechanic about an expert bombmaker.)

Bill Van Dyke says this type of sales manager's life is in Covey's Third Quadrant, Urgent/Not Important.

Here’s the alternative
What if the manager set a goal of increasing productivity tenfold in the next year to eighteen months, with the same crew (Lifeboat Rule – Changing people is not an option. Don’t waste your time thinking about it), and then took personal responsibility, all by hisself, for achieving it?

I have done this with several organizations, increasing sales, improving product design, increasing throughput. When I take the responsibility, I need help from the rest of the team. I am not demanding anything. I have to earn their assistance. This changes my relationship with the governed.

I don’t win every time, but lifetime I’m better than two out of three. And I’ve never had the solution in mind when I start.

The manager should set the goal of achieving a Big, Hairy, Audacious, (Team) Goal, and then take sole responsibility for making that happen. That changes the relationship with the governed, and gets everyone looking for (and capturing) large improvements.

What can happen? Supposed you miss your goal by half and only improve five-fold?

I remember a customer where we publicized that we would double their rate of sales every 90 days in every city where we installed our program. Cities where I was going started doubling in anticipation. I called my boss for guidance. He said, “They paid for the magic show, give it to them.”

I don’t have to be smart. In every case, innovation and improvement comes from listening to your customers and their customers and capturing exactly what they say. Paraphrasing gets in the way.

I was training carrier reps, who were supposed to enlighten dealer reps. The dealer reps wouldn’t listen, laughed at the soft carrier reps.

I asked, “What do the dealer reps want?” They just wanted sales.

I asked, “How hard would it be to go to every meeting bringing a buyer. Just walk in and say the meeting will be delayed while we take care of this customer. Start with your mom and work outward.” 

The next step became how close could they park to the meeting and still bring a new sale in with them. It was the beginning of awesome power and confidence from our superhero carrier reps.

This is not sales, this is management. It is what effective producers and directors do in the entertainment business. It is what good general contractors and subcontractors do in the construction business. Create an opportunity for your people to excel.

When I had my construction company, I used to tell the estimators to price out the cost of the jobs and also to figure out how the competition would price it. Then I would go to the on-site supervisors and explain that if they couldn’t beat the estimators cost, we didn’t need them. 

The end result was that we got deadly accurate at figuring out maximum winning price and getting the jobs we wanted, and then consistently beat our estimated margins on the installations.

Are you creating enough daylight for your people to succeed?
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