Tag Archive | Continuous Improvement

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.

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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.

Supply and Demand: Price too high?

Supply and Demand

A challenge with managing any product or service is determining how to price the offer. There are many methods to determine price such as comparing with the competition, evaluating willingness to pay as well as assessing supply and demand. What if there was little supply and a lot of demand?

My grandfather told a story that provided a good lesson about supply and demand. In his later years of life, he refurbished wooden antiques and sold them throughout the midwest United States. At one antique show, he had a number of antique tools on display. They were priced at $14.00. One morning, he noticed a man stop by and give his tools a thorough examination. Then, the man walked away. The man came back again about an hour later and re-examined the tools. He walked away again. He came back a third time and had a very short conversation with my grandfather:

Man: “There is a store in town that had these tools for $7.00”

Grandfather: “Do they have anymore?”

Man: “No”

Grandfather: “Well – if I didn’t have any, I would sell them for $7.00 as well. But I have these and they are $14.00”

He always had a dry sense of humor. Was he priced too high? He had a supply. Was there demand?

I told you that story so I could tell you this one. At one time, I worked for a Sr. VP of Operations for a small software company. He decided to give me a new assignment. There was a group of application developers that were eating up a lot of salary but their efforts weren’t tied to any revenue stream. My assignment: Recommend what needs to be done with them to eliminate the costs.

I met with the team and found they were working on a stack of customer requests to modify custom applications on legacy systems. These modifications included significant design changes to the applications as well as complex interface updates to billing and CRM systems – all at no charge.

After my discussions, here were my observations:

1. They were providing a value-added service to existing customers. Without a billing/CRM system interface the application would not function and not be able to fulfill its purpose.

2. They had no process or organization to the work. They were receiving work orders from multiple directions including customer service, sales and the customers themselves. The work orders were not tracked, quantified or scheduled.

3. Customers being served were on legacy systems that needed to be upgraded.

4. They had no means or methodology in place of showing their value.

Their efforts were essential to maintaining a satisfied customer base. My recommendation to the Sr. VP of Operations was to define a standardized process for the work and to charge customers for the value provided. There was plenty of demand and this group was the only supplier for the service. He agreed to move forward with the recommendation.

As a team, we defined a standardized process for receiving, tracking and completing the work orders including customer sign-off. Since there was a consistency in the type of work being completed, we also defined a standard pricing catalog for various requests being made.

This is when things got interesting. The head of customer service went through roof thinking that she and her staff would be inundated with complaints about being charged for programming modifications. The head of sales felt that existing sales relationships would be put in jeopardy and that they would not be able to upgrade those customers to the next-generation systems being deployed. There was a lot of pressure being applied to not make any changes to the way things were being done.

Within the first 30-days of implementing the new process and pricing for value-added services, contrary to the fears of customer service and sales, the feedback we received from customers was: “I’m surprised you didn’t do this earlier!” The demand was there. The customers appreciated the value of the service being provided and were willing to pay for it.

Over the next set of quarters, the team successfully tracked, reported and recognized revenue to not only cover their salaries but also add some margin to the company’s bottom line. Customer service never received the high volume of complaints. Sales maintained their relationships and successfully upgraded those customers to the next-generation systems.

And as for my grandfather was his price too high? He didn’t need to drop his price by 50%. He knew the value of his products, the demand was there and he had no trouble selling them.

Corner Office Wisdom:

If there is demand for a product or service that you can supply, don’t sell yourself short. There is a willingness to pay. Price it in such a way that allows customers to appreciate the value of your offer.

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.