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The Blind Pass: Teamwork in action

The Blind Pass: Teamwork in action

Watching the English Premier League (EPL) this season has been fantastic. New records have been set and others soon to be broken. The exhibition of play and teamwork has been outstanding especially by the teams in the top four including Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool. One record that may fall by the end of the season is the most goals scored in a single season. Luis Suarez of Liverpool FC has already scored 22 goals in just 16 appearances. The reason? He is well supported by his team with unselfish play and Luis can be counted on to play his position.

When a player is moving the ball down field, he may be challenged by a number of defenders at one time. To keep the ball in play, the player may need to blindly pass the ball to where his team mate is expected to be. This has happened time and again with the Liverpool club when players such as Steven Gerrard or Phillippe Coutinho are moving the ball forward. They can count on players like Luis Suarez or Daniel Sturridge to be in their position, blindly pass the ball to them, allowing them to take a shot on goal. Of course, the players receiving the ball need to be counted on to fulfill their role and they have done so exceedingly well. Hence, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge are currently 2 of the top 3 scorers in the EPL.

Most organizations today are global. Complementary personnel needed to finish a critical deliverable may not be in the same office, but rather, in different locations across different time zones. There are instances when a blind pass is critical in order expedite the expected deliverables.

There was one instance when a sales person needed a data sheet on one of our products. The existing one was horribly outdated. The sales person was in Europe and the key subject matter experts were located in various regions with one in Asia, one in Europe, and other in the United States. In order to expedite getting the product data sheet completed in time for the presentation, it was going to require a tremendous amount teamwork including communication and cooperation.

I proposed that I create a new draft of the data sheet, have each of the SME’s review it and provide comments and feedback by following the sun. This is exactly what happened. I completed an initial draft and performed a “blind pass” to my colleague in Asia. They provided their comments and feedback and sent it to our colleague in Europe. They incorporated their feedback and sent it to the colleague in Chicago. By the time it got to me, it required some tuning but we were able to get it produced into a final format that day and over to the sales person in time for their presentation. The net result? The sales person had a successful meeting and was well positioned to submit a proposal to the customer.

What makes teams great is the ability of individuals to apply their own unique skill sets while fully supporting the other members of the team. In this case, there was an excellent combination of skills that included technical depth as well as the ability to define and articulate essential value propositions. The team members also showed great flexibility through a temporary adjustment of their priorities to support the needs of the business. With personnel scattered across different locations, it is essential for companies to leverage the “virtual” team.

Corner Office Wisdom:
As individuals face challenges in meeting customer demands, they should be able to count on the support of their team members and their expertise. Critical to that effort, each individual will need to be flexible to adjust their priorities in support of the overall goals of the organization.

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My First Job: Learning the value of customer references

The lesson of great customer references

When I was 11 years old, my father gave me the assignment of cutting the lawn once a week through the summer. The lawns in our neighborhood were about ¼ an acre so it took some effort – especially after a lot of rain. As part of the assignment, he wanted me to make sure the lawn was cut following straight lines, the cuttings were bagged for trash pick-up and the edges were trimmed. He wanted our lawn to represent the neighborhood well and he showed me how to make that happen by paying close attention to details and keeping a regular service schedule.

Our neighbor, however, was struggling to keep up with his lawn. If he let it grow for longer than a week without cutting it, it would look like a jungle compared to our lawn. I talked to my father for permission to use our lawnmower to cut the neighbor’s lawn for a fee. He agreed.

I spoke to the neighbor about cutting the lawn once a week and we settled on the price of $10.00 each week. It wasn’t long until his lawn started to look good like ours. I decided to go through the neighborhood to see if there were others that needed their lawn regularly serviced. As a result, I found another neighbor willing to let me care for his lawn.

Then, one weekend in mid-summer, something interesting happened. Someone walking by while I was servicing one of the lawns asked if I would do his lawn as well. He had spoken to the homeowner of the lawn I was servicing and they were impressed by the:

  1. Regularity and reliability of the service
  2. Quality of the service and attention to detail

This happened more than once and by the next summer, I had accrued 10 different customers. By the time I was 13 years old, I was making over $100 per week. This wasn’t a result of me soliciting additional business, but it was a result of great customer references.

As a result of this early training by my father, I learned the value of providing a reliable service with high quality. By applying that training, I learned the additional lesson of the value of great customer references. Through great customer references, I was able to dramatically increase my income. I have carried these values with me throughout my career.

Corner Office Wisdom:
There is no substitute for a great customer reference. They will help you grow your business. To get great customer references, one needs to focus on high quality and reliability.

Skills Training: A sound personal investment

Training can improve skills and value

Aristotle is attributed with the expression “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation.” This is demonstrated every week in the sporting community. The best athletes in the world will tell you that they are always training in order to stay in top form.

This same thought is true for those that want to excel in the workplace. To achieve specific goals, each person needs to focus on their own personal development of the needed skills to be successful. How can this be accomplished? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Check the resources made available by your company. Many companies offer training courses to assist in employee development. Often, these courses are overlooked or even unknown.
  2. Outside resources may also be available through the company. Check with the HR department to understand the available options for tuition reimbursement.
  3. Express your interests to your management. Based on their experience, they may be able to recommend specific courses that can directly benefit you in achieving your goals.

Once you have a clear understanding of what is available to you, design a personal training plan that will take advantage of those resources and execute on that plan to enhance your skill-set.

I have always had excellent coaches and mentors that provided me sound advice, guidance and support. They have always allowed me to enroll in training courses that would improve my personal performance, enhance the team environment and increase my value as an asset to the company. Some of these training courses have covered topics such as:

  • Continuous Improvement
  • Leadership Effectiveness
  • High performance teamwork
  • Public speaking

Topics such as these have provided benefits to all of the various roles I have taken in my career as a manager and as an individual contributor. Before I could register for any courses, my management always wanted me to make sure there was enough room in the budget to cover the costs.

It should be noted, however, that most managers are focused on achieving quarterly goals and milestones. It is very possible that employee development may not be at the top of their priority list. In my own experience, while I knew my management continued to support me, I found that I needed to be willing to take the initiative in my own training. Thus, it is important that each individual proactively pursue their own personal development.

Corner Office Wisdom:
Be proactive in pursuing the development of your skills. Create a plan, review the resources available to fulfill that plan and execute on it to manage your personal development.

Are you running out of time?

Demands on time come from multiple directions

Everyone in business has multiple demands on their time. Everyone has a high-priority issue that needs to be resolved immediately and cannot wait any longer. Jim Rohn, a successful entrepreneur, had the expression: “Either you run the day or the day runs you.”

As a person who has been involved in multiple complex projects, prioritization of these demands is essential. For example, in my role as product manager, there were many departments, groups and individuals that I needed to communicate, coach and collaborate with on the direction of the product strategy. Groups that were associated with the product release process included:

• The Executive Team
• Marketing
• Sales/Sales Support
• Systems Engineering
• Product Development/Engineering
• Program Management
• Contracts
• Finance
• Professional Services
• Training
• Customer Service

As the “CEO” of the product, it is easy to see how these groups would want your time and attention. Therefore, a critical skill to be successful is being able to organize your work tasks and prioritize them so that ongoing efforts to product GA are completed.

Everyone has different ways to organize their day but one of my coaches early in my career told me his method and it as has worked well. It was his TTD, or “Things-To-Do” list. It sounds simple but it works. The key was his ability to prioritize his list by asking key questions about each task and ranking the tasks accordingly. Some of the questions included:

1. Is the task directly tied to revenue?
2. When is the item due?
3. Who is it for?
4. What is the level of importance?
5. What is the estimated effort?

The list of questions above is certainly not a complete list. To use this method effectively, each person will need to make their own set of questions to assess their TTD list. Once the questions are completed and the list is prioritized, it is recommended to review the list each morning and/or at the end of each day. This is because there may be new information to influence the order of ranking, or more likely, there are new items to add and prioritize.

The reason this method works for me is that it gives me a clear focus on the highest priority items that need to be accomplished.

Corner Office Wisdom:
Each person is different and needs to determine what methods will work to make them successful. Using a TTD list has been a simple and effective tool that has aided my success.

Cross-training: A lesson from the World Cup

Cross-training facilitates teamwork!


Watching the World Cup qualifying tournaments has been really enjoyable. It is always great to see individual talents performing at the highest levels. But what was even more enjoyable was seeing the teamwork demonstrated by the players. The teams that gelled the best were the ones that were the least selfish and supported their team mates.

There are many times in the momentum of play that the player with the ball has an opportunity to take the ball down field. As he does so, he will need to temporarily “switch” positions with another player. For example, if the player is a defender or a mid-fielder moving the ball down field, he might suddenly occupy the space of a different player, perhaps a winger. The winger will need to switch positions and pull back to cover for the midfielder. To do this successfully requires great communication, cooperation and common skills between players. If the winger does not fall back, the result will be too many players bunched up in an area of the field. This will leave gaping holes in the defense should the momentum of play shift and go the opposite way.

In one of my roles, I was leading a software development team. It consisted of a Sr. Engineer under contract, a tester, a student-intern, and me, also a Sr. Engineer. We had a tremendous amount of work to do to get our delivery completed. Each of us had individual roles and assignments. After working an extensive amount of overtime, we completed the delivery. Then my group was combined with a second group. It also included a mix of Sr. engineers, testers, as well as a person who handled the massive amount of process paperwork required by the customer.

In our first meeting together as a team, we compared notes and realized the new group had worked even more overtime than my original group. They were really tired and on the verge of burn-out. Looking at the dark circles around everyone’s eyes, we determined there had to be a better way.

We decided to review the process used to get things done. We determined that there were a number of bottlenecks in the way each task was accomplished. The biggest issue was that people were so focused on their own role and assignment that they did not know what the others persons did. We discussed how we can tear down some of the walls between roles in the team and focus on how we can work together better. The results included:

1. Cross-training and developing skills among some of the team members to expand their abilities.
2. Allow them to grow and take on additional, more expanded roles.

As a result, we were able to “switch” individuals between roles and directly assist one another when needed. With the combined adjustments of increasing the skills of the team, increasing communication and cooperation, we met our deadlines with very high-quality, high-morale and minimal overtime.

Corner Office Wisdom:
There are times when process improvement also requires skills improvement including cross-training of individuals in the organization. By improving the skills of the team as a whole and encouraging cooperation, the team will operate with greater efficiency and higher quality in completing their deliverables.

Do you multitask? Not very well!

A colleague of mine thinks they are the ultimate multitasker. Because of their well-honed skills at multitasking, they also believe they are extremely productive. One day, I walked into their office and I saw it in action. My colleague had:

1. A webinar going on their laptop about a new set of use cases for telecommunications.
2. At least two different email reply’s open and “in progress”.
3. Four different instant messaging panels open and blinking waiting for the response from my colleague.
4. A speaker phone dialed in to a conference call. The phone was on mute.
5. A mobile phone with an ear-bud stuck in their ear while responding to a call.

Were they really at the peak of productivity? Or were they deceptively sacrificing quality for quantity?

Since the 1990’s, experimental psychologists have examined the idea of human multitasking to identify our capabilities and impacts. In summary, what has been determined is that our brain’s working memory capacity does not allow us to multitask successfully – in spite of the confidence we have in our own abilities.

Because the brain cannot fully focus when multitasking, people take longer to actually complete a given task and they are more error-prone. The impact to business? Employees are less efficient and quality suffers. Overall productivity is diminished.

Here are some interesting studies highlighting some results:
• A study by the American Psychological Association indicates that we lose as much as 40% productivity when we attempt to multitask.
• A study by the University of Utah in 2013 showed that people who multitask the most tend to be impulsive, sensation-seeking, overconfident of their multitasking abilities – and tend to be less capable of doing it.
• A 2008 study by the University of Utah showed that drivers talking on the cellphone missed their exits and turns more often that those talking with a passenger.
• A different study by Stanford University found that even trying to talk on the phone, send an instant message and read email can impair your cognitive control.
• A 2012 study by the University of Illinois at Chicago indicates that multitasking works against the processes that generate the “a-ha” moments of creativity and limits problem-solving.

With so many available channels of communication, we have an over-developed expectation of immediate response. We feel the need to immediately respond to others and we expect an immediate response from them. The result is we respond to the volume of communication but sacrifice value. Our brains are maxed out and we diminish our ability to solve problems and lose creativity.

And my colleague? Were they really successful in multitasking? Not very well!
1. The webinar was recorded so they could listen to the replay later. They likely didn’t get anything out of it the first time.
2. Having been the recipient of a few responses, the email replies were likely sparse and incomplete. The instant message responses were unintelligible and some of the replies were directed to the wrong person.
3. When they heard their name on the conference call, they had to unmute the phone and ask for the question to be repeated. It was later they heard about any action items.
4. The mobile phone call was the only real task that was completed with success.

The idea of multitasking is a great one. We just need to be more serial about it and focus on task-switching. By task-switching, we are able to get the task that needs to be done completed with high-quality, efficiency and minimal rework. This will make us more productive and more successful.

Corner Office Wisdom:
To do a task and do it well needs focus and concentration. Take just a few seconds to get your mind centered on what needs to be done. You will find you get more accomplished in a shorter period of time with higher quality. Quality is more important than quantity with errors.

Opportunities are like buses

Opportunities are like buses

…if you miss one, another one will come along. How are you going to make sure that you don’t miss it?

Businesses with strong discipline in their sales process will conduct a Win/Loss Analysis with their sales funnel. The goal is to determine why a deal was won and why a different one was lost. The focus is to achieve continuous improvement in the overall sales process. There are usually many factors that contribute to the win or loss of a sale, but three major areas are:
1. Relationship
2. Product or Solution
3. Offer

Relationship
People are more comfortable purchasing from people they know and trust. For opportunities that are won, chances are there are strong relationships all the way up and down the organization that made the buying decision. For opportunities lost, were all of the decision makers and influencers known or identified? Were their requirements understood? I have seen many opportunities missed where the key decision makers were not clearly determined. For the ones that were known, what was the relationship like? What was done to strengthen it? What improvements can be made?

A true litmus test on the relationship is: how did the opportunity become known? Was it through a request for proposal or quote (RFP/RFQ)? Does it use terms common with another competitor’s products? Often companies will get “assistance” in writing the requirements from a particular vendor. If you didn’t help write it, then your competitor probably has a closer relationship. Work needs to be done to get a stronger relationship with the customer and get between the customer and the competitor and get more of the customers mindshare.

Product or Solution
How do you know if you have the right product or solution for the customer requirements? Just review the responses to the RFP/RFQ. If a significant number of responses are answered “Roadmap Item” or “Requires Development”, then you are trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Too many of those and the probability of winning will drop significantly.

The results from the Win/Loss Analysis can be a great source of feedback to the product managers and development teams highlighting key gaps in the product and to shape its direction.

Offer
When people hear the term “offer”, price is the first thing that comes to mind. For a deal that is won, was too much money left on the table? For the deals that were lost, price is the first to blame. I have seen opportunities won where our offer was the highest price on the short list of competitors and we still won. Conversely, I have also seen opportunities lost where we were at a lower price than our competitors.

An offer is more than just price. It also includes the perceived value that the customer expects to receive from the package such as a quantifiable return on investment (ROI) and total cost of ownership (TCO). It also includes their comfort level on product support vs. “hidden costs” and even the health of the business. Are you, the vendor, going to be around long enough to support the product? Engaging marketing teams in the Win/Loss Analysis can provide focus on strengthening and further articulating the value propositions.

The goal of the Win/Loss Analysis is to identify areas of continuous improvement in the sales process, product and support teams and can be extremely useful across multiple organizations.

Corner Office Wisdom:
Opportunities are like buses. Performing a Win/Loss Analysis will make sure you don’t miss the next one.

Swing Hard!!

Swing Hard!!

Swing Hard!!

That was one of first words of advice I ever heard. They came from my father. For my inaugural post to this blog, it is certainly more than appropriate that it comes from him.

Dad always wanted my brother and me to always do the best we could in any activity whether it was learning a musical instrument or playing a sport. He would always work with us to help us with our technique. We would review the fundamentals and look for ways to improve. He would make sure we had time to practice getting those fundamentals down so at game time, we were ready to perform and perform well.

After each practice and game, we would talk about what improvements we might make and how we can become better players. Then we would hit the practice field and work on those adjustments until they came natural. He knew the better we performed, the more success and fun we would have.

Even today, when facing business or personal challenges, he still continues to be a great coach and mentor. His advice:
1. Review the fundamentals
2. Look for areas to improve
3. “Swing hard!!”

Perform your best and enjoy the success!