Try Reading a NEW Language

Boring presentation. Group of young business people in smart casual wear looking bored while sitting together at the table and looking awayRecently I attended a conference in the Northeast.  I was speaking in the afternoon so I got there early to do some prep work and networking.  During the lunch break, a few speakers came up to do some announcements.  Now a big reason people attend conferences (myself included) is to network.  With over 300 attendees, there was a lot of networking going around at all the tables.  People then began to leave and with about 20 minutes left of lunch break, only 1/3 of the room was full.

The featured lunch speaker was from the national chapter of the association and she was going to talk about trends in the industry and how the national chapter would help.  She was very enthusiastic and full of energy.  Unfortunately, those who actually listened to her numbered about 10 and they were up front.  The rest of the room ignored her.  Seemingly oblivious to this, she talked on and on from her prepared script.  It was a bit sad.  She seemed to have no clue that she was talking to nobody.  The paltry applause she got at the end from the remaining audience had to alarm her but she smiled and walked off the stage.  Either she pushed on professionally and then went into the Ladies Room and had a meltdown or she was simply clueless.  I felt very uncomfortable for her but it reminded me of the importance of reading an audience.  Learning the communication that body language provides us. Then, reading in that language.

Back in the 1960s, a researcher named Albert Mehrabian did a number of studies on communication, particularly which form of communication could influence the most effectively.  Although his data was coopted and inaccurately compared (this is the common statement that 55% of communication is from body language, 38% from tone of voice, and 7% from the words themselves) it’s pretty clear that body language talks. Loudly.  You have to be observant!

So if you find yourself getting the opportunity to speak to a large group or you have to speak to a smaller group to maybe make your case for a new idea, be mindful of the following:

  1. Empathize with Your Audience.  If it’s near lunchtime or the end of the day, be brief.  Nobody will complain if you end early.  If it’s late afternoon or midmorning, the audience may be tired.  Acknowledge all of this verbally. “Because it’s late in the day, I’ll make my remarks quickly so we can all get out of here sooner.”  Trust me, you’ll win big fans!
  2. Speak a Language the Audience Speaks.  Use their jargon, not yours.  Use examples that relate to them, not you.  If you use audio or video examples, use ones that relate to this particular audience.  Tie the unfamiliar to the familiar (again, familiar to them) and you’ll transfer your knowledge to them.
  3. Tell a Story.  Nothing communicates like a good story.  Told correctly, it will capture your audience and hold them to the end.  But you need to practice the story.  It should also be YOUR story.  No more “Starfish on the Beach” or “The Commanding Officer of the Battleship Arguing with the Lighthouse” stories.  If you want to look like a complete amateur, just use tired speaker-stories like these.  Be original and be YOU!
  4. Watch the Body Language of Your Audience.  This is where the lunch speaker failed.  If she had noticed people leaving or ignoring her, she should have stopped going from the script and tried something different.  Maybe even stopping to just tell a story.

Even if you dread it, there is no better way to connect, convince, or control a group of people than to speak in front of them.  Don’t waste the opportunity by failing to connect.  You always connect better if you read their body language and engage them on their level.  When you connect, you can convince.

How Well Do You Sell?

Above view of consultant shaking hands with customerIf you’re anything like me, you probably hate selling.

Most of us get our hate for selling from early childhood experiences like selling Christmas cards door to door or worse, having to sell Girl Scout cookies outside of a store to total strangers.

Then of course we deal with salespeople as adults which can put us off even more.  The car salesperson who we just know is dishonest and wants to screw us over.  The cold caller who pesters us to switch from Dish Network to DirectTV.

As someone who actually has to sell in order to get more clients, I’ve seen both extremes in the world of sales.  On one hand, there is the salesperson at the booth at a trade show who is too afraid to look at your when you walk by, instead peering intently into their smartphone.  Then there is the other extreme.

On a recent vacation to Cancun, Mexico I walked into the crowded flea market next to the Senor Frog’s to buy some souvenirs for family and friends.  I was about 10 feet from the entrance when I was immediately swarmed by vendors selling anything from t-shirts to plaster skeletons to spoon holders with Our Lady of Guadalupe on them.

“Where are you from?” they asked.

“Tennessee” I replied.

“Ah Tennessee Titans” (they pronounced it “Thennessee Thitans”) and proceeded to show me a plaster skull wearing a Titans football helmet.  They offered me a beer, probably to relax me and intoxicate me enough to suddenly develop an obsession for turtles sculpted out of abalone shells.  As it happens, I walked out of that market with a lot of stuff I really didn’t need nor intended to buy.  At least I was able to negotiate with them which meant I was only a little ripped off buying Mexican stuff that was probably made in China.

But it taught me a sales lesson:  There is a balanced approach to selling something to someone.

And just to be clear, all of us are salespeople.  We may not all sell products or services but all of us have to sell our ideas or opinions, or even ourselves to a hiring manager.  What is the best way?

  1. Build a genuine rapport. One of the T-shirt vendors in Cancun asked me where I was from originally which of course was California.  He said he was from there and lived there 6 months out of the year.  He referenced places only a Californian would know so we hit it off.  After buying stuff from him, I asked which vendor he trusted to give me the best deal on some plaster jewelry boxes.  He walked me over a couple of booths and introduced me to a guy who I then bought from.  When we went back for more t-shirts a couple days later, I went right back to his booth and we bought from him.  Rapport builds trust.  We buy from people we trust.
  1. Be Assertive, but Not Aggressive. Assertive means asking for the sale.  Aggressive means insisting on the sale.  I recently purchased a new Mazda CX-7 in Clarksville, TN.  The salesman spent about an hour demonstrating the features and benefits of the car.  At no point did he pressure me.  Finally though he asked, “What will it take for you to purchase this car from me today?”  Assertive?  Yes. Aggressive?  No.  Had he asked me that in the first 10 minutes it would have caused me to walk away.  But after an hour of conversation, it was an appropriate question.  After some haggling, I bought the car from him.
  1. Ask for the Sale. That’s the point of selling isn’t it?  Don’t expect the customer to just open up their wallets to you and ask you to reach inside.  This means you have to do the hard work to build rapport and explain the features and benefits of your product, service, proposal, or SELF.  Then, when it’s time, ask for the sale.

Selling is difficult and scary but by practicing the techniques and then putting yourself into that assertive mindset, you’ll be able to do it.  Trust me, I do a whole lot of selling in my business and even though it doesn’t come naturally to me, I’m getting better all the time.

All of us need to sell.  The question is:  How well will you sell?

The Wrong Way to Solve a Problem

remoteWhen faced with a problem, what do you do?

Some people rise to the occasion.  They are at their best when chaos reigns and solutions seem elusive.  They don’t show emotion, think and act rationally, and have a knack for making a tough situation seem rather ordinary.  We admire people like that.

And then there is everyone else…

One of the biggest challenges for my mom was learning new technology.  It seemed to grow in prominence in her life even as she aged.  My dad described her method of problem-solving a misbehaving computer or a confusing remote was “push every button until you figure it out.”  That of course never worked.  Their DVD player played every one of their movies in French until my son was able to fix it for them.

Sadly, that’s how most of us solve a problem.  We don’t really know what the root issue is so we go after the surface solution and try multiple attempts without documenting or testing anything which results in the occasional fix, but most often, a more complicated situation.

What’s the best way to solve a problem?  Try this approach:

Step #1:  Specifically define the problem.  This means name the problem.  Rather than “The TV’s broke” say “I can’t seem to figure out how to change the language from French back to English.”

Step #2:  Get out all documentation and manuals you have.  Intuition works occasionally but why reinvent the wheel when you can refer to some documentation.

Step #3:  Work systematically while testing and documenting each step.  Take a step.  Test the result.  Write down what the result was.  When you get a step correct, take the next step.  Stop, document, and move on.  Then, when the problem is solved…

Step #4:  Document everything you did.    This way you have more data to use when you need Step 2 in a similar problem.

This is the standard way to solve a technology problem but it can certainly work in other areas.

  • “John is a terrible employee”  (Vague, subjective, and not very specific)
  • “John is unreliable”  (Better, but still not specific.  What makes him unreliable?”
  • “John never seems to be here when we need him” (Still better, but more specific please?)
  • “John has been late 5 times in the past 2 weeks.”  (Now we have something to work with!!!)

Work through the steps using documentation from time and attendance, the HR handbook, and of course any previous performance documentation.  Then sit him down and figure out why he’s been late and get him to fix it.  Rather than trying a bunch of solutions to motivate John, be sure to go through this methodically.

Our organizational value is quantified by how well we solve or prevent problems.  Try these four steps next time you get challenged by a problem.

 

 

Is the World Ready for Your Big Idea?

bbbLately I’ve been watching a unique cooking show on the Cooking Channel called Big Bad BBQ Brawl.  It involves two brothers, Shannon and Big Rich Ambrosio who own a successful BBQ food truck in Brooklyn, New York, traveling the country competing with local chefs in a fun competition.

On a recent episode, the Ambrosio brothers entered a full BBQ competition in Florida.  This meant that they competed against real Pitmasters in three types of meat: brisket, ribs, and chicken.  Wanting to dazzle the judges who were used to traditional sweet southern flavors, they opted for Italian style brisket, Vietnamese-flavored ribs, and non-traditional chicken.

They didn’t place in any category.  And they were very disappointed.

Here’s the lesson:  While the food was good, the Florida judges weren’t ready for it.  A good idea at the wrong place at the wrong time.

We’ve probably experienced that too haven’t we?  We have a great plan in our heads for a new process and the boss shoots it down.  We come up with a new product or service we KNOW our customers will love and they simply blow it off.  We try to impress our partner or spouse with a new restaurant or gift and they don’t react the way we hoped they would.

In ALL cases, we approach the idea from OUR point of view rather than from that of our intended audience.

I know, it’s that Golden Rule thing:  Do unto others and YOU would have done unto YOU.  Unfortunately, most people don’t really care what YOU want done unto you, they simply want what they want done unto THEM.

If that’s the case, maybe we should approach anything new with a little market research or at a minimum, careful observation.  And innovation, while very cool, is a risky business.  The world might not be ready for what you have right now.

It takes patience and lots of careful research.

So this week, before you unleash your new idea on the world or even your relationship, ask the following questions:

  1. Is there a need for this right now?
  1. Is there a need for this EVER?
  1. Do I think it’s a great idea without even testing it?
  1. What will I do if the idea is rejected?

I don’t intend to discourage you.  Just wanting you to maximize success!

Why Simple is Often Better

I have a love/hate relationship with McDonalds.  On one hand I love the fact that I can stop off on any long car trip in the morning and get a decent (albeit unhealthy) breakfast with pretty good coffee.  But as an organization, I hate that they can’t seem to embrace what they really are:  cheap, unhealthy comfort food.  Their latest gimmick is artisan sandwiches that are supposed to help them compete with Panera (sort of like a Smart Car competing with a Chevy Tahoe in the heavy hauling vehicle category).  Nothing new here.  In the past we’ve seen offerings with salads, all-day breakfast, fancy coffee, and wraps.

But in olden days, McDonalds owned what they were.  I found a photo of an old menu.  Take a look:

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First of all, the pricing dates this.  But notice the simplicity.  And, since it’s so simple, the menu can add helpful descriptors that make me want to purchase.  Yeah I know McDonalds makes money hand over fist but I wonder if they stuck to simple then maybe their operations costs would lower enough to match today’s profits.  Sometimes simple is just better.

 

Which brings us to my lesson today.  Sometimes simple plans with clear communications give us a great chance for success.  Military planners, known for their complex plans that don’t translate well into an actual battle made this mistake in the ill-fated Operation Eagle Claw hostage rescue attempt back in 1980.  The complexity and overplanning of this operation resulted in multiple aircraft lost and eight servicemen killed…all without ever confronting the Iranians.  Simple, yet not simplistic strategies with significant training to run that simple plan might have led to success.

 

So what about you.  What about your business?  Is the presentation you’re planning to make full of jargon, complicated figures, and wordiness that’s sure to put an audience to sleep?  Is your customer acquisition strategies so complex that it requires the lining up of the planets to make it work?

It may seem counterintuitive, but I’m convinced making your plans, presentations, strategies, and initiatives simple and uncomplicated eliminates confusion and results in a better chance for long term success.  Maybe McDonalds should ditch trying to be cool and trendy and on a par with Panera and Chipotle and go back to what they really are.  Cheap, unhealthy comfort food.  I might even become a raving fan then.

What do you think?

Are You Aware of Your Bias?

Unconscious BiasAre you biased?  If you say no, you’re just not human.  If you’re reading this, trust me, you’re human.

Recently I put together a short seminar on dealing with unconscious bias.  In researching the topic, I found some interesting information.

First, we are all biased.  It simply means we tend to sort out information and give preference to one piece of data to solve a particular problem.  Also, we as human beings sort out data as we see it.  For example, when we enter a room, the first thing we do is scan up and down and side to side.  Then we notice people.  The first thing we notice is their skin color followed quickly by their gender.  Up to this point, there are no problems.

Unfortunately, when it comes to that sorting and bias, if we’re not careful we can start giving preference unfairly when we’re not aware of our thinking process.  That’s where the conscious bias (what we’re aware of) can be influenced by our unconscious bias (what’s inside us and often has free run of our brains without ever being questioned).

My first wife hated fish.  She had the privilege of visiting some amazing places like Hawaii and Australia and had access to some of the best fish on the planet.  As long as I knew her, I never saw her take a bite of fish, and yet she always told me how much she hated fish.  Our daughter grew up hating fish.  She never took a bite of fish (as far as I could remember).  When she was in her early 20’s, she moved in with us for a couple of years.  I convinced her to try fish.  She loved it.  Her fiancé (and now husband) cooked lots of fish and she ate it.  She even ate calamari, not just the cylinder-shaped ones but the ones with all the tentacles.  An unconscious bias against fish (from her mom) led to a conscious one (from her) until it was challenged and overcome (by me and Chris).

But enough about fish.  Could a host of early experiences be lurking in our subconscious and affect our decision-making?  Absolutely.  Here’s how it works:

Think about your most trusted circle of advisors.  Don’t count family members in this group.  These folks are the ones you can rely on, can relate to, and can be counted upon to never let you down.  Do you have your list?

Now take a good look at them.  I’m willing to bet that most, if not all of them look like you (gender/race/age), think like you (political leaning/religious affiliation), and act like you (sexual orientation/marital status).  If that’s your trusted inner circle, you might be tempted to use them as your yardstick when measuring others.  If they “fit” you, then you trust them, if not, then you discount.  You do this unconsciously.  It’s normal.  Just pay attention to it.

It becomes a problem then when we select only those people or people like them for special projects, promotions, or favors.  We discount those we don’t know and don’t even give them a chance because on the surface we can’t really trust them.

Many years ago, a dentist that I assisted looked past the obvious (an enlisted kid with no motivation) and took the time to push me to attend college and dream bigger.  It’s the reason I have the career I do today.  The dentists I worked for before him and after him saw just the surface and treated me like crap. Had I never met Greg Nelson, I would not be successful today. Don’t let an unconscious bias derail the potential in others around you.

Bias is normal.  It’s the lack of reflection and honesty that makes it dangerous.  This week, make it a point to expand your circle of trust and begin to draw from the wealth and wisdom of others you may have previously ignored.  Everyone wins if that happens!

Why Being FIRST Sometimes Makes You Best

copyHollywood seems to be in full-bore reboot and sequel mode.  Where Summer and Thanksgiving used to be the launch of the big blockbusters, now they seem to be nothing more than a couple of new ideas but many more sequels and more recently, the reboot – a remake of a remake…of sometimes another remake.

Up until just about 10 years ago, there was the Batman movies which built on the original TV series from the 1960s with Adam West (with several different actors) and the Superman movies (with Christopher Reeve).  Then came The Hulk and Spiderman.  Then nothing.  Then of course came the multiple other superhero movies and then the phenomena of multiple Hulk movies (reboots) and to date, two more Spiderman reboots, another Batman reboot, and then of course Batman vs. Superman.

It’s not just superheroes.  Since the original Jaws movie in 1975, there have been four sequels and several other killer (really insane killer) sharks in movies.  Just when you think it’s safe to go back into the water…

What does this all have to do with you?  Well, how original are you?  How groundbreaking are your ideas?

There is a risk with being first and with being original.  You could of course be wildly successful.  That’s what happened with the original Jaws movie.  Even though the shark looked fake, the terror kept people in real life off the beach.  Sequels tried to recapture that same magic but aside from more realistic sharks and bloodier human feedings, they just didn’t have the same effect.  There was always a comparison to the original.

On the other hand, you might fail.  It’s possible.  But here’s the thing.  Even if it failed, you were the first to try.  Even if someone builds and perfects your idea, they still keep YOU in the conversation.  Someone else is trying to improve what YOU started.  YOU started.  You’re still memorable.

Hollywood seems to have lost its creativity.  And the more it happens, the more we think about and miss Adam West, Christopher Reeve, and the robotic fake shark Bruce.  The more you copy the original, the more the original shines.

What new idea have you been thinking about proposing?  What new direction have you been contemplating in your current career path?  Instead of waiting for affirmation from what’s already been tried, why not be the pioneer that will be remembered for no other reason maybe than it was simply the first…

 

 

Unleash Your Inner Ninja Warrior

ninjatrainingThe other night while flipping channels on the TV, I happened to come across the American Ninja Warrior TV show. If you’ve not seen it before it involves some very physically fit individuals who run on a timed obstacle course. The course requires balance, stamina, and most of all upper body strength. I was amazed at watching some of these people and then even a 65-year-old who managed to finish several of the obstacles before falling off and losing his dentures in the water. I thought about what it would be like to be on this program but at my age and with my hip replacements and bad back, just bending over to tie my shoe is enough of a warrior challenge.

For all of us who are not athletes, I believe there still are some Ninja challenges we can do when it comes to our professional development.  It’s easy to admire of those in our field who are committed to excellence, who managed to give great presentations, do amazing analytical work, or solve complicated problems. The good news is that all of us have the potential to be in that class. It simply involves your commitment to personal and professional development.

I don’t know what these Ninja athletes do but I can imagine it involves several types of training, many of which are not directly related to the obstacles they must overcome in the challenge. What that means is that not only do they need to know how to climb on parallel bars, they need to develop the upper body strength and the hand strength to hold their grip. It doesn’t always involve just cardio as we might think about it via long distance running, it might be short interval sprints. This means that transferable physical strength and agility must be made to be the focus competitive strength and agility.  In other words, you have to train for more than just the actual competition.

We need to do the same in our professional lives too. While we might be really good at our jobs, there are some ancillary skills we might not be good at. I must admit I’m pretty good at what I do in organizational and management development consulting, but where I come up very short as in sales. That may not seem like a logical business skill for me to have but if I can’t sell what I do then I won’t be able to do it. With that in mind I’ve spent much of the last year and a half reading and studying everything I can get my hands on about sales. That is an additional skill that will help me be more successful.

But what about you? Right now are there other skills that would help you be more successful? You might be good at making a presentation but how are you and navigating the politics of your organization? You might be great at solving a complicated problem but how good are you at actually preventing that problem in the first place? All of us have a responsibility to be the best in our field. Since only a few of us can be an elite athlete, why not be excellent in the everyday playing field that is our professional lives?

 

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

Child wearing grown up hospital scrubs, glasses and a stethoscopeWhen I was a kid, I told my parents I wanted to be the guy at the garbage dump that pointed you where to park and unload.

I’m not sure how they felt about that at the time.  After all, most kids my age wanted to be doctors or athletes or something significant.  The guy at the dump probably made minimum wage which, back in 1972 was probably miniscule.

For me, the job looked like a lot of fun.  I love digging through trash looking for treasure.  But what I really thought was cool was the stick he carried and used to direct traffic.  Of course my dream career never happened.

Recently I was contracted to teach a workshop on career development.  One question I always ask in the introductions is what each attendee wanted to be when they grew up.  The client was uncomfortable with that question so I was forced to explain.  The explanation is useful for all of us.

As adults, we are bound by a sense of duty, responsibility, and conformance.  For most of us, we have constraints around us that require us to follow the path in life that is usually chosen for us.  In a sense, our destiny is chosen for us.  We rarely choose.

But that isn’t often the case when we’re kids.  Which is why we look at careers that don’t often make sense financially or are even achievable.  The key though is to identify, with our adult eyes and minds, what drew us to that career choice all those years ago.

For me, it was being able to hunt for treasure and tell people what to do.  The treasure part might make a good hobby now, but the need for power has never gone away.  For the first eight years of my Navy career, I was not in a supervisory role.  I was told what to do and how to do it.  That wasn’t a good fit.  Even from year nine to 15, I still had people above me dictating how to supervise.  When I got out and went to work at my first few jobs, that problem was still there, even though by then I had two college degrees.  So in 2004 I quit bosses altogether and started out my own.  In retrospect, it’s probably the need for power that’s driving me.

But that’s me.  What about you?  What were your aspirations as a child?  Can you now, with the benefit of time, see what your motivators were?  If so, do they still exist today, maybe hidden and yet still impacting you?  If you had the need for power back then do you still have that sense of rebellion?  If it was to be seen as the smartest kid in the world, do you find yourself frustrated when someone challenges your judgement?

Career happiness is a right, but a right that needs to be earned.  The earning starts when you identify those underlying motives.  This week, revisit that inner 7-year-old you still carry around.  Are you living the life you wanted back then?  If not, why not take some steps to find it?

The Simple Secret to Providing a Great Customer Experience

eyesI always find it interesting that when I drive my truck down the two-lane back roads near my house and a vehicle passes me, 99% of the time that driver raises a pointed index (index, not middle!) finger off the steering wheel in simple acknowledgement. It took a while for me to get used to it, but now I do the same thing.

Satisfying customers is a never-ending task that seems to be focused on an ever-moving target. I’ve created and facilitated programs for multiple industries and they are all different and special in their own way. However there is ONE THING you can do that guarantees a better customer experience for your customers. Do this ONE THING and the rest of the experience will be much better. What’s the ONE THING? Read on…

Recently I went to a pool and spa store to buy some chemicals and test strips. The counter was busy with clerks running around, bumping into each other. Customers were waiting in line and the scene was pretty chaotic. Finally I was next in line. I put the products on the counter and waited. And waited.  And waited some more. Until I got tired of waiting and walked out of the store, pulled up my Amazon app and ordered the same chemicals and test strips at a slightly higher price with free shipping and drove off. The problem? Nobody acknowledged I was standing there at the counter. For 10 minutes!

Now before you call me an arrogant, entitled SOB, keep in mind I didn’t yell at anyone. I stood there patiently waiting. Nobody looked at me and said, “We’ll be with you in just a moment.” That’s what I was looking for. Just SEE me.

So, fresh off that experience I drove down to our dry cleaners to pick up my daughter’s bed spread. When I walked in, I saw the clerk was doing a fitting on a customer. I was in a hurry and figured this was going to be another long wait. THEN, the Korean guy who was ironing in the back of the shop saw me and ran, RAN up to the counter to tell me they would be right with me. I waited maybe 3 minutes and then the clerk handed me the bed spread and I was on my way, ironically to teach a customer service workshop at a local health care organization.

In my experience, what separates great organizations like Southwest Airlines, National Car Rental, Hilton Hotels, and the local dry cleaner in Clarksville, TN from losers like United Airlines, Enterprise Car Rental, and the DMV is the simple act of acknowledging the customer. Everything else springs from that event. Whether you can or can’t help the customer, that initial acknowledgement sets the tone for what happens next.

Just like that simple raising of the index finger on the steering wheel, acknowledging someone lets them know that you, at a minimum, value them as a fellow member of the human race. Imagine if you went out of your way to make that customer feel like they’ve been SEEN?

This week, make an effort to acknowledge your fellow humans, especially the ones you call your customers. I know it will make a difference.