Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Elephant in the Room

In our weekly sales meetings we always finish with a safari hunt.  It's kind of our humorous way of learning what are the elephants in the room.  You know the phrase.  These are the thoughts, gossip and hard feelings unspoken. 

Usually nothing comes up but occasionally something will.  I'm glad to be a part of a team that clears the air regularly. If someone is uncomfortable speaking in front of the group they are welcome to meet privately.  That includes me, as the team leader.

Recently I posted a blog item, and a blog, by it's very definition is amateur and opinion-based (at least mine is), but it stirred a sleeping elephant that had gone unspoken.  The topic of the post involved something I hadn't had the courage to confront at the time.

My exposed feelings were quickly responded to, and while I didn't like it, it did reveal the real problem facing any team.  Gossip.

Some elephants are harder to take down than others.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Brown Bagging It

I enjoy sitting down and enjoying lunch with the team.  I'm amazed at the number of people on our team who do.

I think it's the reason we're successful.
  • No one is left behind.  We wouldn't dream of not welcoming any member of the team to the table.
  • Most of us are forward thinkers.  We take the time to prepare a lunch, and sometimes bring a little extra to share (like Matt's wife's cookies...delicious)
  • There's teasing and laughter and no consideration for title or status, at least until lunch is over.
  • It's hard to hold a grudge when the person is sitting down at the table beside you.  I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but not very often and not for long.
In these days when so many families have lost the practice of sitting down together for a meal, the work family I belong to hasn't. 

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Stoicism and a Stiff Upper Lip

I took the opportunity to participate in an English university study on stoicism these last few weeks.  Read about the study here:

It's not quite what modern usage of the word had lead me to believe, which was all about stiff upper lips and emotionless detachment.  That said, these negative qualities would certainly come in handy if one was committed to the stoic way of life; such important qualities as not carrying what others think of you, not caring about the outcome by simply focusing on the intention, and other uncomfortable ways of detaching from the world.  Click here for a Wikipedia definition:

If at First you Don't Succeed...
As part of the study I published a blog post without regard to how it might be received.  I was deliberately provocative, truthful and somewhat unambiguous without naming names.  At the same time it was cathartic, and a painful moment in an otherwise pretty good working relationship was addressed, and immediately denounced.  (People actually read this crap?)

It takes a tremendous amount of stoicism, more than I have, to soldier on knowing your reputation with at least one person is that of a thief and a liar.  Stoicism suggests that your reputation is beyond your control.  I have come to learn there is truth to that, particularly in this age of anonymity.

Moving on...The Exercise
Simply, and early into the one week exercise, it became reminiscent of the eighties style "little engine that could" self-motivation that was all the rage at the time.  "If you can believe it, you can achieve it..." and other horseshit of that nature.  In this case the daily meditations enocuraged a detachment from the world, a shrug of one's shoulders at circumstance past, a resigned sigh when bad things happen, and an eschewing of pleasure simply for the sake of pleasure.  I kind of half agree with that until it was suggested that one should enjoy food simply because it brings nourishment, and for no other reason.  It isn't such a leap to imagine a Stoic might feel the same about wine, or sex.  There goes my Friday night.

Where is God in All of This?
Stoics may argue they don't need it, but what I felt was missing more than anything was a sense of the other.  An acknowledgement of forces greater than ourselves, of controlling mind in the Universe, of a higher purpose beyond self-mastery; of God.

Well into the thrice daily meditative exercises and readings there had still been no mention of love, in fact it took until day five of seven.  One can't get very far into a Christian prayer without stumbling all over the concept.  It is central to Christianity.  Daily meditations of the stoic "screw you" type are anathema to my daily prayer for my friends and enemies alike.  The stoic pretends he has no enemies.  The Christian acknowledges, prays for and forgives even those whose very skin crawls when he walks into the room.

The Result
Stoicism lacks the element of surrender, of risking it all emotionally, of confession and of forgiveness.  It lacks the risk of rejection, and the pain that goes along with it.  It preempts disappointment with an anticipatory worst-case outcome. 

In walking the straight and narrow line between the highs and lows of emotion, in avoiding personal pain, the Stoic by avoiding sadness is missing joy. He'll never know gratitude.

Worst of all, he'll never know peace.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Top Gun

A few years ago when I was a member of a small team I won a sales contest.  That didn't go over well with my team mates and when my name was announced the silence around the boardroom table was humiliating.  No applause.  I felt bad for my Director of Sales; I know she expected better from her team.  I will never know why it bothered anyone that I won not only the first leg, but the overall contest.

I have often wondered if it was because they believed they should have a chance at winning the contest without changing the 9-5 behaviour that was generating the lacklustre results that necessitated a contest in the first place.

When the contest was announced I made it my personal goal to win, for three reasons:
  1. In support of the boss.  It was her idea.  If the contest flopped and failed to generate the sales results she hoped for, she'd look bad in front of her boss.  Our job is to make the boss look good, I think. Certainly life is better for everyone when we do. 
  2. Because the reward was huge.  In fact, in that first month I won a gift certificate large enough that I planned to take the entire team out for lunch.  In the end I did take one sales manager, the one who shook my hand and congratulated me (albeit surreptitiously).  The grand prize was a Best Buy gift certificate that got me a nice camera, amongst other electronic cool things.  I don' mind admitting I'm motivated by more than altruism and teamism.  Teamishness.  Whatever.
  3. I knew that if this contest produced the desired effect we would be in a position to crush the competition, finish the fiscal year in good shape, and the whole team would make bonus.
The reason I won was simple, and my friend and Top Gun Honda salesguy Erin, a man after my own heart, summed it up when he was telling me why he is the #1 sales guy 3 months in a row at his dealership and I suspect along that street of auto dealerships.  Erin said this:

"It is possible to beat me.  You just have to get to work before me, stay later than me, and work harder than I do."

I'll add one thing.  You have to want to.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Quantum Career Leaps

My wife and I used to love watching Scott Bakula leap every week when we watched Quantum Leap together.  I'm not sure it was for the same reason.

I loved how he'd often find himself painted into a corner, and at exactly the right time, be extricated (leap) whole and mostly unscathed.  Deus ex machina!  A time honoured Greek theatre tradition.

My best career leaps have happened because in real life I didn't get to exit at exactly the opportune moment.  Sometimes we have to stick around to clean up our own mess - in fact I highly recommend that to the young manager who knows everything.  Stick around and find out how wrong (and sometimes right) you were.

Looking back over 3 decades of promotions, terminations, lateral moves and taking the odd step backwards; of ego boosting and ego crushing outcomes; of fearlessness and anxiety - I'm kind of glad I'm not Scott Bakula.

My wife, I understand, may occasionally feel otherwise.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Name and Shame

The revelations in the Rob Ford scandal (disgraced Mayor of Toronto) show that there remains still a need for a vibrant newspaper industry in our democracy.  These blogs we write cannot replace professionals.

At best, what bloggers write is opinion.  At worst it is uninformed opinion.  The slide from best to worst begins when we believe that anyone (besides ourselves) really cares about what we think.  Face it folks, this is an online diary, a rant, a huff and a puff.  If we're lucky, very lucky, it is of value to someone.

I was dismayed to see a colleague present her well informed and respected opinion on the sales practices of our peers in a decidedly negative fashion in her blog.  I was  horrified to see that she named the offenders by company and individual.

I've never been a fan of that. 

Look, we all have opinions on how others in our industry could do it better.  Joyfully, albeit rarely, we are thrilled to be in the company of individuals who inspire us by their excellence.  We can learn from the good and bad alike.

All I'm saying is, let's celebrate the superstars, but don't name and shame the underperformers.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

I'll Motivate Myself, Thanks (and other tips for professional speakers)

One of my sales tricks is to follow professional speakers on Twitter.  Inevitably they will tweet where they were, are or to where they're going.  They will retweet complimentary tweets from audience members, complete with hashtags.

That's all I need to know who is where, and when.  I'll take the rest from there.

It's a chore hanging in with some of these folks.  These types of speakers are twits:
  • They incessantly tweet motivational quotes not their own
  • They garner a substantial following based on their profession, then tweet about their personal lives (gimme a break - are everyone's kids on Facebook and Twitter shattering world records in cuteness, athletics and precociousness?)
  • They write blogs critical of others without having ever walked their mile, so to speak  (pardon me as I pause for some introspective thought.....and we're done.)
And if I may offer some advice to live "motivational / inspirational keynote speakers?
  • I get it.  You make us laugh, then you make us cry, then you bring it home.  Could you be a little less obvious?  Hint - disabled people and slow piano music in the backround is kind of a giveaway.  And surely to God the disabled must take umbrage at being nothing but an object of empathy to you people, to say nothing of the dimwitted pianists!
  • PLEASE stop giving keynotes dependant on other people's YouTube videos (which we've all seen before and by the time you give this canned presentation to us again we'll all have seen too much).  
  • PLEASE stop being so damned smug because you use Apple products and your presentation can do all sorts of cool things Microsoft's can't.
  • Unless you're being roasted, (not toasted), it ain't about you.  EVER.  We don't care about your kid, so don't let the women cooing "awwwwww" fool you.  They don't care about your kid either, but they can't help themselves.  Might be genetic.  Not sure.
Your call.  Govern yourselves accordingly.  And keep tweeting!

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Correct a Little

Mixing faith and business...

There is a belief that a Catholic should not bring his or her faith into the workplace.


Pope Francis recently quoted Pope John XXIII and if I hadn't been purposely reading a Catholic magazine there's no way I would have found this in the mainstream secular media.  It jumped out of the page.  He said,

"See everything; turn a blind eye to much; correct a little." 

I could have used this advice when I first started in management, and John XXIII expresed this Christian sentiment many years before that.  Had I been reading up on my faith as diligently as I was all those motivational books there might be far fewer apologies owed to those who reported to me over the last three decades.

See everythingA manager's job is to see everything.  We either know what is or what was going on, or we ought to have known.  No excuses.  No avoiding responsibility by deliberately not knowing.

Turn a blind eye too much:  Here's my personal failing, while we're in the corporate confessional.  I have felt compelled to comment, correct and coerce obsessively all in the name of developing my direct reports.  In fact, I've been holding them back.  People need the opportunity to venture, discover, be right and be wrong.

Correct a little:  This is when we don't, or can't turn a blind eye for the good of the individual, the good of the company, and for our career.

I suspect the need to correct a subordinate is far less often than we think; certainly far less than I've felt necessary, to be truthful.

This quote from Pope John XXIII is radically different from almost every accepted management practice and wasn't specifically targeted to the workplace, rather to the church (the people of faith) to bring it into their families, communities and businesses.  Is there a place for a strong, practical, practicing Catholic faith in the workplace?

We can't afford there not to be.

(Sorry about that foul language up at the top.  There wasn't a better word.)

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Thunderbeast! no More

A little over a month ago I bade farewell to Thunderbeast!, my 1996 Ford Thunderbird.  I knew it wouldn't handle the pace of 1000 kilometres a week forever, but I had hoped for 52 more weeks, plus or minus.

Truth is I could have put another couple of hundred bucks into it, after all it had been at least a month since the last repair, and again a month since the one before it.

Truth is, my ego aside, I owe it to my employer to drive a reliable vehicle that gets me to work on time.

And now the fuel economy of my Honda Civic is paying for the bi-weekly payments of ownership.  I am no more money out of pocket weekly than I was when I drove a gas thirsty beater.  Now I have air conditioning that works, a door that closes and windows that open.

And finally, FINALLY I am driving a Canadian made car.

Monday, 12 August 2013

A Few Good Managers

I just returned from a conference in Atlanta, during which time I stayed in a nice hotel that had a small cafe that served a pretty decent breakfast every day.  Since the trend of starving conference attendees seems to be in full upswing this summer, I ate breakfast there every morning.  It was pretty decent.

The first two mornings I noticed the food was good, and the service was good.  The music was techno-bamboo (my term, you won't find that as an option on iTunes) and that struck me as decidedly unbreakfasty (my word, you won't find that in the Mirriam-Webster).  I think they just forgot to change the channel after the late night drinks crowd went up to their rooms.

On my final morning the presence of a manager was obvious.  The energy level in the breakfast cafe was high, the smiles and greetings were genuine,and the overhead music had, get this, a beginning, middle and end.  The manager was "hopping and bopping" around, a style of management my first boss demanded. 

You can't overstate the value of a good manager. You may not even notice when he's not there, but you sure can tell the difference when he is. 

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Sales Fail x 2

I'm currently working with a real estate agent.  OK, here's the truth.  I'm working with two different real estate agents.  I'm not trying to play one against the other, but I am trying to decide which one really understands my needs, knows her stuff, knows the market, and is willing to sell me what I need (which may not necessarily be the same as what I think I want).

It's hard to decide. 
  • Should I go with the one who plugged in my stats into a database after I wandered into her open house and now I get an email every time there's a listing that matches my criteria? 
  • Or should I go with the one the bank recommended who did the exact same thing and sends me the exact same emails?
Should I go with the one I've actually met?  Or the one who might meet me next Tuesday but that's not really a good day for her because she doesn't like to work on Tuesdays?

Here's what I thought would happen:
  • Agent would arrange a meeting with me, perhaps over coffee.  I'd gladly pay.
  • Agent would learn about me - my personal situation, my work situation, my family life, where I see myself in a few years, kids at home, how long to retirement, work hours, etc.
  • Agent would learn my budget
  • Agent would ask a whole lot of questions and learn what's important to me in a home
  • Agent would suggest a few places, we'd go look at them,
  • The Agent would negotiate on my behalf, fill me in on stuff I don't know, be the expert, etc.
You know, like on TV.  I never thought it would be over in 30 minutes, but it's been a month and I still have never met one of the agents and had only one evening of viewing from the other.  I bet if you asked either how business is, and they'd tell you nobody's buying. 

It seems to me that nobody's selling.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Nothing But the Truth

When I sold Saab vehicles years ago, we had an agreement between salespeople.  Since no one could reasonably expect to work 12 hours a day, six days a week, there would be times when we would have to cover for each other.

On one occasion a client to whom I had shown no fewer than 5 vehicles finally came in, ready to buy.  On previous occasions when he would walk in, my sales partner would look up and say "Jeremy, you're guy is here."  However on this, my evening off, he came in and she sold him a very nice car, kept the commission and took credit for the sale.  Her explanation?  He didn't ask for me.

When I approached the dealer principal, he told me it was my problem.  "No," I said. "It's yours.  If she's stealing from my family, she's stealing from you."  Several months later she was fired from the Saab dealership for dishonesty and misuse of company property.

I'm pretty keen on sales people telling the truth.  If they'll lie to a customer, they'll lie to their employer. 

If a salesperson is too embarrassed by the truth - either of their own lack of ability or of the shortcomings of the product they sell, they need to find new employment and maybe even a new career.

And that's the truth.