Saturday, November 27, 2010

Why Great Teams Create Competitive Advantage

Every business has the ability to create real competitive advantage. All you need are great teams.

I am asked constantly what it takes to create competitive advantage, and not just from clients. Just about everyone I come into contact with is looking for the elusive answer. “How can I set myself apart from my competitors? How can I take business away from them?” The answer is easy: competitive advantage is created by people. Capable people put into strong teams. The internal behaviors of your organization are how companies set themselves apart from the competition. The attitudes, the level of commitment and motivation, and the resulting culture are what create competitive advantage.

I sometimes get blank stares when I give inquirers that answer. It’s not the answer people expect, and often not the answer they want. The “people” answer involves culture, and rah-rah, and touchy-feely, and that makes many managers and business owners uncomfortable. They would rather hear that the answer is buying into new technology, or re-arranging their office or store, or changing vendors. But consider that your competitors all have the same access to technology, the same access to vendors, and the same access to facilities as you do. The only difference-maker is your people, and the team culture, and how well that culture is able to innovate and think creatively. It’s how deeply the teams are committed to push the product envelope, the quality envelope, and the customer-service envelope. It’s how well your teams are positioned to connect with the customers and the markets you compete in.

Great teams create products and services that connect to customers at an emotional level. They create products and services that exceed the expectations of the customers. Great teams will take a customer transaction and turn it into a pleasing buying experience. A customer experience that is positive in every aspect is how the organization develops a relationship with the customer, a relationship based on credibility and trust. That relationship results in a loyal customer, one that recommends your products and services to friends and family. The organization then sees customer growth, revenue growth, and long-term success.

The notion that team cultures provide competitive advantage is not new by any means. Many organizations have created exceptional success this way, such as Johnson & Johnson, Toyota, Disney, Google, McDonalds, and General Electric. These companies have achieved success by creating teams that performed at levels far beyond what is typical. This is also how small companies outgrow their competitors and become world class market leading companies. Every large Fortune 500 organization started out a small business, and created great teams that were committed to the vision and focused on creating excellence.

Are your teams committed and focused?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Good Listeners are Hard to Find

Have you had a conversation recently with someone whose attention appeared to be somewhere else and not really listening to you? Did you ever have a conversation with someone where you really felt like the person you were talking with was engaged in the conversation and was really interested in what you were saying? These are two very different experiences aren’t they?
We know when we are being paid attention to. The other person’s body language, eye contact, and tone of voice are focused and inviting and surrounding distractions seem irrelevant. Every one of us can remember a meaningful conversation and what it felt like to “be heard.” Being heard is something everyone thrives on. We all want to be heard, and we all want our issues to be validated. This is especially so for members of your team or staff. This is double-especially so for customers.
Emails, voice mails, text messages, and the limit of 140 characters on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are the very common forms of today’s communication. Technology has given us the ability to share ideas with anyone, at anytime, and anywhere in the world. Our global environment requires this technology to be successful, and it will foster continued innovation and efficiency.
However, the true essence of business is built around people and the future innovations that people can and will inspire. It seems these days that the technology we’re surrounded by exists for the purpose of inspiring communication and collaboration. Communication and collaboration is what usually needs to efficiency, innovation, and overall success.
While I am quick to admit that the advances to communications and the speed at which we can communicate are necessary, I also see that it often adds to our dysfunction. Our society has become inundated by communication overload, and so we take departures from good manners in trying to absorb and address it all.
Take a step back and evaluate your listening ability and techniques. Do any of the following apply to you?
• Check and answer email while talking on the phone (personally or professionally).

• Respond to texts while in a meeting or at your child’s soccer game.

• Watch your children IM or text while doing homework or at the dinner table.

• Spend time updating your Facebook wall instead of reaching out to someone meaningful and having a real conversation.

• Engage in a conversation with an employee, while you shuffle papers and respond to a receptionist call that Mr. Smith is on line two.

If we are honest with ourselves, we are all guilty of one if not many of these listening infractions. We get caught up in the crazy and scattered pace of life. Let’s take a step back and remind ourselves that good listening is essential to effective communication, and here are some simple habits that can improve our listening ability:

Take time to listen. Stop, take a deep breath to clear your mind, and really listen to an employee sharing ideas or to how your son’s day at school unfolded.

Be attentive. Put the world on hold and pay 100% attention to the person talking with you. They believe what they have to say is important and so should you.

Listen with an open mind. Don’t be judgmental. Listen to everything the person is communicating and before judging the value of the information, ask questions to better understand the scope and depth.

Listen for feelings. People repeat those things that are important to them. Listen to what is said but also to how it is said. Feelings often speak much louder than words.

Listen for retention. While listening, summarize the highlights of the conversation in your mind so you can play it back to the person with whom you are talking. It will help you implement the important details later, and it will send the important message that you were really listening.

Finally, listen to others like you want to be listened to … you will be astounded as to how much more you will get accomplished and learn if you stop and really listen. And, you will be amazed how much you miss if you don’t!


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Creating Personal and Professional Success

All too often, we let ourselves get stuck in a professional or personal position where goals are pre-defined for us. Unfortunately these may become comfort zones for us, and then we are reluctant to challenge those goals. The result is frustration where no one feels fulfilled and the goals often are never reached. However, sometimes developing a successful business does not come easily or in a time frame that is initially envisioned. This is not only frustrating, but often creates self-doubt. Research shows that one of the key factors to achieving success is the commitment to a plan and persistence to see it through.

There are a set of common sense principles, that if followed will provide significant outcomes toward your personal and professional success. These eleven principles will give you some additional direction in creating a balanced, successful life. As you continue to read, challenge yourself to identify which principles if implemented will take your business and life to the next level. Success, accomplishment, and life balance are right around the corner if you choose to do something about it. It is up to you to “carpe diem” – seize the day!

Earn trust by giving it. We live in a cynical world and it is becoming commonplace for people to want to see “it” before they believe “it.” Trust in the business world is critical, and you can build trust by being a person of your word and encouraging people to trust you by trusting them.

Take responsibility for your actions. Do what you say you are going to do! Admit it when you are wrong and take corrective action immediately. Make sure your actions are consistent with your values, and remember actions will always speak louder than words.

Get the facts before making a decision. Take the necessary time to collect the facts in order to make the best-educated decision. However, do not overdo it—too much information can cause paralysis by analysis, which causes inactivity, and inactivity causes failure.

Go the extra mile. Decide to make a difference! Go the extra mile for your customers, your family, and yourself. The little things always matter and they will add up to a stronger business and better relationships.

Put first things first and last things not at all. Use your “must do” and “should do” lists effectively. Focus on the activities that will impact your business and life goals—let the rest go. Simplify your world by knowing what is important to you and prioritize accordingly.

Accentuate the positive. Focusing on the negative will always net negative results as well as make everything seem incredibly challenging. Focusing on the positive will unveil new possibilities and opportunities that will directly link to your goals … and it just feels much better.

Center your life on specific goals. Specific, measurable, attainable, realistically high, and time trackable goals are the key to success and the fulfillment of your purpose.

Devote yourself to lifelong learning. What goals have you established to exercise your brain muscles? If you are unclear about the answer to this question develop those goals now! Develop goals that will force you out of your own comfort zone—it will be a liberating and exhilarating experience.

Discover and follow your calling. We refer to it as discovering and following your passion. Understanding your passion is critical to your success and living a life of balanced fulfillment. Living your passion is not the impossible dream; however, it will always require focused commitment and the desire to be the best you can be.

Concentrate on what you do well. Everyone has been given specific and unique gifts. Determine what yours are and maximize them. Do not try to be somebody else—work on being the best YOU! Listen to others, learn from others, but follow your unique direction.

Pour a solid foundation of hard work. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy. Hard work is essential for a successful business. Hard work is required for success in personal relationships. Hard work is required for any kind of worthwhile goal accomplishment, however, some of the hardest work I have had to do, I enjoyed the most.

So which of the eleven principles did you make a written note to address as it relates to improving your business, your life, and your current level of accomplishment? One of them, half of them, all of them … the number you selected is irrelevant. The commitment to take action is the most important step of all. Success in life is a continuous and evolutionary process. There really is no destination; there are only self-imposed limitations. Every day provides new challenges and if you are looking in the right places, life also provides the necessary solutions.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Building a Successful Team

Everyone in an organization plays an important role in its overall performance. From mail room to board room, every individual must contribute to success.

It’s no longer enough to be good, you must be exceptional. It is no longer enough to have satisfied customers, you must seek to develop a loyal and delighted customer base. It’s no longer enough to maintain. You must be aggressive, responsive, and quick. Your challenge is getting everyone on your team or in your department committed and focused on achieving organizational success. As an effective team leader, your role is to build the best, strongest, most productive team possible. One that can meet and overcome the adversity that surrounds it. Your team or department’s results, or lack thereof, will be a direct function of the cohesiveness of your team.

Creating a winning team begins with creating a culture in which your employees are encouraged to challenge, to question, to create, and to innovate. Surround yourself with the best people the organization has to offer. Don’t limit yourself by focusing only on people with seniority or rank. Bring people into the team as they are needed based upon their expertise or abilities. Beware of hiring your friends or drinking buddies, as this could be a recipe for disaster.

The ideal team should be led by different types of mentalities, so you get a blend of perspectives. For example, some team members will naturally focus on people issues (feelers), while others will focus on short term tasks and objectives (doers), and still others focus on strategy, vision, and long term planning (thinkers).

Create a culture where people are encouraged to be their best and perform their best. As the goals or projects dictate, you may want to involve multiple team members in different aspects of the project as needed. Furthermore, it may not always be necessary to involve everyone from beginning to end. Always be sure; however, the goals are specific and that they are aligned with the vision, values, and strategies of the organization as defined by management. Alignment must also occur between the department’s activities and its outcomes. If continuous improvement is to occur, your team needs to focus on continuous improvement in all areas. Therefore, measurements and expectations must be developed and reviewed regularly. Get team members involved and delegate ownership of processes and challenges which rightfully belong to them.

The momentum of the team keeps a project going so the probability of success is enhanced. A team’s collective power is much greater than that of any one individual. A sound team culture means the whole effort exceeds the sum of its parts!