Friday, 5 August 2016

Leadership and the Art of Beating Your Opponent

Often, business and sport can be highly adversarial. We think in terms of fights, battles, winning, losing. Our marketing departments invest in competitor analysis, with only a couple of bullet points in the SWOT powerpoint to suggest that they might have any advantage over us. We trivialise our weaknesses to hide our real fear that, actually, our weaknesses would be deadly if such information fell into the wrong hands. If they only knew that we can't meet our shipment targets. If they only knew that our reference customers are all fake. If they only knew that our new product is an empty box.

We're so busy assuming that our competitors have got it together that we forget the most obvious truth, that their business is as much of a shambles as yours is. However, we know the truth about our own businesses, and we buy the marketing hype pushed out by our competitors, even though we know it really is just hype. After all, it's what our customers are reading too. However, your competitors, your industry regulators, these are not your opponents.

Take a look in a mirror. Do it now. Not just a glance. Not a cursory check to see if your hair is how you imagined it. Take a good, long, hard, careful look.

You are looking at your opponent.

By the laws of physics, the reflection you see is already in the past. Your self image is even more out of date. And your reputation? Well, that precedes you, as you know.

An international sports professional who I won't name said to me, "I used to love hurting other people, so the less I hurt, the more they hurt, the more chance I've got of winning the game. There's only one place in the world that bullying is acceptable, and that's on a sports field. Ultimately, that's what you're doing. You're two clans, you're two sides, you're two – it doesn't matter what you call it, you are trying to beat the opposition.

By trying to beat the opposition, you've got to get one over them, you've got to be bigger, you've got to be stronger, you've got to be angrier, you've got to get in that mindset. That's why when you play a game it takes 24 hours, I think, to prepare yourself to play a game.

That 24-hour process is actually allowing you to turn into somebody else to do something if you did on a street, you'd go down for. When you cross that white line, you can't instantly turn it on at game time. Training you can, you can just turn it on, but in a game, because you've got guys who want to hurt you as bad as you want to hurt them, you've got to become somebody else."

When you look in the mirror, who do you see? Is it you, or someone else who you see staring back at you?

Where does this mask come from? Your 'game face' that you put on when you walk into a meeting with a client or supplier. You don't want to show them your weakness, because you don't want them to see how to take advantage of you. Your raise your shields and fix your resolve, believing that you are now unassailable. And that, right there, is your problem.
The sports professional went on to say, "It's wrong thinking that fear is Jekyll and Hyde because fear you can use as a catalyst to something which is brilliant. It inspires you, pulls your chest out, you breathe the fire, feel absolutely fantastic, or you could be a shrinking violet. You can become this absolute monster, or you can just go home and hide. People use fear in different ways. People will use fear. It's about the mindset. Your mind is the most powerful tool that you've got in any of your armoury. If you don't believe you can win, you ain't going to win."

As soon as you raise a shield, you show your opponent precisely where you believe yourself to be vulnerable.

Therefore, to gain true strength, you have to do what you fear most - you have to show your weaknesses, your vulnerabilities, and by seeing your true reflection in the mirror realise the ironic truth. You are the only person who can see your weaknesses, so stop advertising them with your defensive posture.

Show your opponents that you have nothing to hide, nothing to fear and you realise the greatest insight of all - that this is actually true.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Don't Train - Evaluate

Companies buy training. We know that. But why do they buy training?

I would suggest that, usually, it's to fill a skills gap, to educate, to teach people how to do new things.

I would further suggest that there is a far more important reason for training people - to create a performance baseline.

Once someone has learned a skill, and demonstrated competence in applying that skill, they do not forget it. If someone fails to operate at an assessed level of competency then this is unlikely to be a training issue, this becomes a performance management issue. That person is choosing to perform below their demonstrated level of competency. The person who arrives late for work knows exactly what their contracted working hours are. The person who blocks a fire exit knows exactly what their health and safety responsibilities are.

We need to take the focus off training and put it onto evaluation, because evaluating and assessing a person's performance both gives us a baseline for development and a point of reference for everything that flows from accountability - high standards, engagement and retention.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Perfectionists Just Can't Measure Up

I’m sure you can think of someone you know who you would describe as a perfectionist.

While that person may justify or rationalise their behaviour by saying that they want “the best” or they want everything to be “right”, what they’re actually experiencing is a fear of failure, or more likely, a fear of being judged as a failure by a significant person in their lives, usually a parent, sometimes a teacher.
People learn to be perfectionists when their parents show disappointment, so as a child, the perfectionist learns that whatever they do, it’s not enough, or it’s not good enough.

The problem is that the child has no idea what would be good enough, so the child learns to keep trying in the hope that, one day, they will hear those magic words... “Well done”.

Those words never come, and they never will come. As the child becomes an adult, they internalise the sense of disappointment and the need to do more, to do better. If anyone else says, “Well done”, it doesn’t satisfy the need because it’s not coming from the significant person, and if the significant person says, “Well done”, then it doesn’t count because they’re only saying it, they don’t really mean it, and in any case, the perfectionist made them say it, so it wasn’t genuine.
For the rest of their life, the perfectionist is trapped in a constant cycle of trying to prove that they’re good enough to people who didn’t ask and don’t care, as a substitute for praise from the one person who matters most.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Stop Using Coaching Models

A coaching model is not a coaching session. GROW, or whatever else you might use, is not a substitute for a coaching interaction any more than scaffolding is a substitute for a building.

Scaffolding provides a safe structure within which the building can be constructed, but once the building can stand on its own foundations, the scaffolding is taken away. It’s only put back when the building needs major work or expansion.

You are that building. The scaffolding is your coaching model.
The purpose of the coaching model is to teach you how to coach in a particular way. You’re not supposed to carry on using the model. You’re supposed to learn an approach and then forget the approach.

If you carry on using a coaching model, you are not paying attention to your client. Your primary focus is on your model, and fitting your client into it.
This isn’t what the creators of coaching models intended, but for most clients and most coaches, it’s good enough, so why change it?

Friday, 1 April 2016

You've Had a Bad Month? Tough...

So you've had a tough month? Or a bad quarter?

Awwww. Shame. Terrible state of the economy. Customers not signing their contracts on time. Not paying their invoices. Your best salesperson left.

How sad. Get over it.

Here's the bad news for you:


It's not just you. Everyone screwed up. But that's no excuse for you to make the same mistake as they will inevitably make.

Their mistake will be that they fail to learn from it, and here's why.

We're so obsessed with success that we become fixated on winning. We have to hit sales targets, close deals, sign contracts. And when we do, what happens?


Nothing happens because success was what you expected. And it's what you got. Big deal.

You learn nothing from success. Hitting your target only shows you that you were right. And we would all rather be right than be happy. We would rather be right about the terrible state of the world than be happy by changing it.

And because you are so focused on success, when you're faced with failure, your natural inclination is to make excuses. It wasn't your fault. It's a tough time. The economy. China. Steel. The EU referendum. The Presidential election.

As K said in the film Men in Black, "There's always an Arquillian Battle Cruiser, or a Corillian Death Ray, or an intergalactic plague that is about to wipe out all life on this miserable little planet, and the only way these people can get on with their happy lives is that they DO NOT KNOW ABOUT IT! "

Missing your target is tough. But scrabbling around for 'low hanging fruit' means that you're actually at greater risk. Where do you think your competitors are looking? Where do you think the greatest threat is? And why do you think the fruit is 'low hanging'?

You're in this situation for one reason only: Because six months ago, you weren't prospecting enough. That's all there is to it. You can't recover from that by scratching around in the dirt. You have to start prospecting and tighten your belt for the next six months.

You will only learn from failure. When you step back from your desperation and realise what you're doing, you might learn enough to not repeat your mistakes next time.

Instead, you'll make a whole new bunch of as yet undiscovered mistakes.

Which is great news. More learning.

The Service Chain

I mentioned in a previous post that sales performance is not a measure of sales behaviour, it is a measure of customer service behaviour, however it is not a direct measure, because of the Service Chain.

Research from the Association for Consumer Research on “Market Orientation and Customer Service” found a very strong connection between five links in the chain of events that connect service to profit, as illustrated above.

However, other studies have found no significant connection between service and profit!
The answer to this might be found in another research study from the University of Maryland, entitled, “Linkages between customer service, customer satisfaction and performance in the airline industry”

This research found that the connection between service and profit is ‘non-linear’, in other words, it’s not a direct connection, where more customer service = more profit.

Better service leads to increased profits up to a certain point, and then it doesn’t matter how much better your service is, your profits decline because the customer doesn’t care and that extra service costs money.

Can you think of instances where a supplier did something that they thought was good for customer service, but which made absolutely no difference to you? Perhaps you were offered a discount when you didn’t ask for one? Or you were given free drinks in a restaurant because of a delay in serving you, when you were actually glad of not being rushed? Of course, you’re happy to take the discounts and free drinks, but they didn’t make you a more loyal customer.

Research in 2013 from the Miller Heiman Research Institute found that companies that measured customer-focused behaviours had an average increase in profitability of 13% compared with other companies.

This performance gap increased to 25% when combined with measurements of best practices in selling and sales management.

Examples of the customer-focused behaviours measured include:

  • We consistently use a formal process for measuring customer satisfaction and loyalty
  • Our salespeople have a solid understanding of our customers' business needs
  • We clearly understand our customers' issues before we propose a solution
  • We have relationships at the highest levels with all our most important accounts
  • In an average week, our sales force definitely spends sufficient time with customers

It’s very important to note that this is relative to the customer’s expectations of service. The ‘optimum service level’ depends on the company’s brand image which in turn creates those customer expectations. Clearly, Harrods’ customers expect something different than Lidl’s customers, but the same trade-off applies to both; once that optimum level is achieved, doing more for your customers adds no value at all, and may even be counter-productive on top of being a waste of time and money.

This connection between expectation and delivery could perhaps be summed up with:

Your customers are happiest when you do what you say you’re going to do

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Clients are Liars

There are many schools of coaching, many coaching models and many styles of coach. All, apparently, serve the same purpose, to “free up the client’s resources” and “enable growth”. In short, all coaches help the client to achieve the things that they want in their lives.

But why are there so many different styles of coaching? At one end of the spectrum, we have a person centred approach, akin to counselling, and at the other end we have a goal focused approach which is concerned primarily with the end result that the client desires.

I believe in simplicity and elegance as an operating principle. Even that regularly quoted genius, Albert Einstein, said, “Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler”. Machines are at their most efficient when their motion is at its most simple. In the arts, we admire grace and elegance. In product design, we admire multifunctional objects which conserve energy and resources. And in the field of personal change, I personally admire simplicity.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Rituals and Incantations

When people have goals which are outside of their personal control, they often engage in rituals and incantations to restore a sense of control. Organisations turn these rituals and incantations into operating procedures, sales scripts and training programs. However, they are generally ineffective.

A ritual is a set of behaviours and an incantation is a script, both intended to lead to a result. For example, saying, “Would you like an apple pie with that?” does not, in itself, guarantee increased sales in a fast food outlet. A high performer changes what they do and say from one customer to the next, but with a ritual and incantation we pretend that the actions and words have magic in themselves, and the skill or creativity of the employee is irrelevant. The opposite is actually true.

I do a bit of mystery shopping in my spare time. I have to check that restaurant staff make me feel personally connected with by asking if I'm having a good day. Wow. I feel sooooo valued.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Coaching as a Performance Art

Can a business book be a work of art?

We might say that great works of fiction are works of art, but what about throwaway airport romantic fiction, where the publisher churns out the same book every year with different names and a new cover? Is that art?

A design can have artistic merit, but if we mass produce that design, is the resulting product a work of art?

Art must be unique, and it must arise from a moment in time where ability, resource and inspiration come together. No artist can create by sitting in a dark room, thinking long and hard about what they will sculpt or paint or write next. Artists go out into the world and wait for the moment of inspiration to come to them.

I propose that a business book can be a work of art, and each copy of that book can be like a print you might buy from an art gallery. Not limited edition, but nonetheless a reproduction of the artistic process.

Performance arts include dance, theatre, music and more. Can we consider coaching as a performance art?

It's a performance, usually with an audience of one. If we extend the idea to training as a performance art, then I'm sure we've all seen trainers who are primarily performing for the audience, to impress them, to win their approval. But like a ham actor who knowingly looks at the audience while waiting for that dramatic ....................................... pause, the trainer who plays to the audience is not a performer at all.

Actors talk about the 'fourth wall' which separates the actors from the audience. The actors are engaged in their scenario, oblivious to the voyeurs who watch from the cheap seats.

A trainer might give a demonstration at the front of the class, and forget that the audience is watching. Personally I like the style of performers/characters such as Groucho Marx or Deadpool who break the fourth wall and speak directly to the audience, as if sharing a secret that the other characters don't have access to.

When I perform a demonstration of a coaching process, for example, I frequently stop to tell the audience what I'm doing, so that they can pay attention to the most important points for their learning. If I simply perform the entire coaching process or technique, the audience doesn't know what to look for and they don't know what to practice, so their learning is impaired.

But this is a different, and more obvious kind of performance.

During a coaching session, is the client the audience? Or is there an imaginary audience, watching from the sidelines?

This is my proposal to you: The client is not paying for your time. They are not paying to be processed. They are not paying for your coaching model. They are not paying for your education. They are not even paying for results.

Your client is paying for a performance.

The techniques of coaching are irrelevant. If you think that the coaching model or the 6 step whatever are where the magic happens then consider an operation such as McDonalds. Would you like an apple pie with that? Their system is not designed to deliver excellence, it is designed to deliver conformity, consistency. The questions that you ask and the steps you take the client through to explore their goals are irrelevant. They are the baseline, the means, the props, the backdrop, the script.

The performance is what you add, over and above that script, and it is unique to you, crafted from your personality and, most importantly, unique to that moment and that client.

The client provides the fleeting moment of inspiration which transforms, transcends your work into an art form.

Learn to see yourself, not as a facilitator but as a performer.

I'll be running a Coaching Masterclass in Mumbai, 30 April to 3 May 2016, and that will be the first time that I'll be teaching you the art of performance in coaching. Beyond that, I'll be including it in NLP Trainer Training from late 2016 onwards, and in other Masterclasses.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Looking for a Stress-Free Life?

I bet you are. Stress is a nasty thing. It has been shown to shorten the 'telomeres' that protect the DNA in every cell in your body, leading to a measurable reduction in your body's cells ability to reproduce. That means an early death. Stress will kill you.

But how can you reduce stress, when it's not your fault? It's because of the economy, or your nasty boss, or your family, or your bank manager, or some other external pressure. Nothing you can do but grin and bear it.

Well, here's the bad news.

Stress is your fault.

Here's why. You're lying to yourself, and your lies create stress.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Coaching Masterclass

Coaching models are great, but they don't really tell you how to coach. If you stick to the model, you risk processing the client through a coaching process, instead of engaging with the client and letting the process inform the next step in the conversation. Therefore, coaching models and coaching training that is tied to a particular model is only part of what a coach needs to really excel and deliver genuine, permanent and satisfying change for a client. Some people say that coaching doesn't necessarily require change; of course it does. Progress is change.

I'm running a masterclass on this in Mumbai, India at the end of April, and I'm currently writing the workbook, which I am going to publish as a book.

My question to you is: What title do you suggest for the book?

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Let Go

Throughout your career, you have been rewarded for certain behaviours. Maybe you were a technical expert. Maybe you hit every target that you were given. Maybe you knew how to push other people to get them to comply. Maybe you let people walk all over you, as you laboured long into the night while they went home to their families. Whatever it was, you were repeatedly rewarded for it. Sometimes, you were rewarded explicitly with bonuses and certificates. Usually, and more importantly, you were rewarded implicitly, with vague nods of approval and acceptance by the boss. You felt part of the gang. You belonged.

The very behaviours, and we could equally use the word skills or capabilities, which got you to where you are right now, sitting there, reading this article, are now precisely the behaviours which hold you back, which tie you to that chair, those working hours, that lifestyle. If you see your colleagues being promoted ahead of you, you can be sure you're stuck behind the second glass ceiling.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Counter Intuitive Talents

I recently applied for a visa to visit India, and made my 6th trip to the consulate offices in Birmingham.

At the office is a man, I don't really know his role and I don't know his name. He seems to be a combined receptionist, security guard and document checker, and he is remarkable.

Every day, he faces hundreds of people with the same questions and I have never seen him lose patience, even when answering the exact same question individually to three people who were standing next to each other at the desk.

On my 5th visit, I waited my turn at the counter. As he looked at me, he seemed to pause for a moment, then his face exploded into a smile. "Hello mate!", he exclaimed, as if greeting a long lost friend, "Is it that time of year again?"

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

To Learn, We Must Be Prepared to Fail

Someone shared this image on LinkedIn recently, with the quote by Robert Schaeffer of FairTest:

"Believing we can improve schooling with more tests is like believing you can make yourself grow taller by measuring your height."

It's catchy, but it's not quite true.

The problem is that testing produces feedback which is used to modify the educational approach. No-one wants to be responsible for a generation that failed, so no-one is willing to experiment, instead they try to do what will 'work' and what will 'improve' results, when in reality we can't predict what will work.

Testing is part of the scientific method, and an equally important part of that method is a willingness to fail in the pursuit of knowledge.