Monday, August 21, 2017

Seeking "engagement" is a fool's errand

I have finally pinpointed why I really dislike the word “Engagement.” It is a false word.

In linguistic terms, it is a nominalization.  It is a word that pretends to be a noun. But it does not exist. You cannot find an “engagement” and pick it up. As NLP-ers often say, you cannot put “engagement” into a wheelbarrow. No one ever wakes up in the morning and says, “I want more ‘engagement’ today.”

The only correct response to someone seeking “engagement” is to ask: “Who is engaged in what?” And therein we see the real problem. Too many organizations are seeking to improve “engagement” when they should be asking, “What is it we want people to be engaged in?”  Seeking “engagement” is a fool’s errand, a journey into Alice’s Wonderland.

I see many organizations wasting funds on Engagement Projects. They send surveys to determine if people are engaged. Why aren’t they asking, “What did you do last week to improve (insert priority here)?”

There is a famous story of the porter in a NASA facility in the ‘60’s who was asked, “What is your job?” He responded, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.” This man was engaged. He knew the mission of the organization. He knew what was important, and he knew he was contributing.

How simple is that? When you can connect what you do with the primary purpose of the organization, you are engaged.  This means people have to know what is really important in your organization. What is the primary purpose? What is the #1 goal that supersedes everything else?

So skip the surveys. Look at the individuals and front-line supervisors in your organization. Do they know the purpose…the primary goal…of your organization? Tell them! They cannot be engaged if they do not know the primary goal, because they cannot know how or if they are contributing toward that goal. What are they engaged in? Do they think about how it connects to the primary purpose of the organization? Is continuous improvement toward that purpose or goal part of the culture? Does anyone ever ask?

Some businesses want to win awards. Baldridge Awards. Top 100 designations. Some even announce that such recognition is one of their key priorities. How does a Baldridge Award connect to what a line supervisor or painter or welder is doing? It doesn’t. Awards and designations are measurements, but they should never be a goal. Instead, announce that “Customer service is our #1 priority” and live it. Or “Patient Satisfaction is Goal #1” and live it. Ask, “What did you do this week to improve our patient satisfaction?” “What process needs to be changed to improve our customer service?” “How do YOU contribute to our goal of outstanding patient satisfaction?” These are the questions to ask. When someone…everyone…can answer those questions, you will have an engaged workforce.

How do you achieve this goal? It starts at the top. What are senior managers saying to middle managers (and everyone else)? What are middle managers saying to supervisors? What are supervisors saying to line workers? If you must hire temporary workers, do they understand the goal? How can they contribute toward it?

If the goal is “We need to improve ‘engagement’”, you are wasting your time. But if the message is constantly communicating the real purpose, e.g., “customer service, patient satisfaction”, then the question becomes “How are you contributing to our primary goal/purpose?” And restate that primary purpose. Constantly. In every message. When people know why their job matters, they will be engaged. An engaged workforce achieves goals. A goal of “engagement” achieves nothing.

Dr. Lakin is a consulting psychologist and author of "The Unfair Advantage: Sell with NLP!" and "Ten Ways Top Sales Reps are Different".

Friday, October 28, 2016

Time to make a call?

I recently got a phone call from an old colleague. In the course of our conversation, he made the statement, “Every sale begins with a phone call.”

Now in my world of NLP, this would make sense that he would say this, because he is what we call an Auditory…his preferred mode of communication and thinking is vocal…auditory, sound, words.

But then I started thinking. One challenge of getting new business or securing a referral is to be able to DIFFERENTIATE yourself. You want to get someone to see you as different. And maybe this guy was on to something.

How many emails do you get a day?

How many calls…not telemarketing calls, but calls from someone to talk…do you get a day?

I think the ratio has tipped enormously in the past five years, especially now that we all have smart phones and can compulsively check constantly. Many of us probably get at least 100 emails a day. But I don’t get many calls.

Maybe a phone call to someone has become a differentiator!

I hate making calls. I am NOT auditory and I am a very fast typist. I like to write emails and I like that I can choose the time when I do it.

But the key to business communication is NOT to do what I like, but to do what makes a difference to someone else.

SO…for the next month, I am going to start making phone calls. I am going to respond to inquiries and referrals with a phone call. I am going to call old clients instead of sending them emails or newsletters. When I meet someone at a networking event, I am going to call them, not send an email. I want to see if it makes a difference.

Remind me to tell you what happens. And maybe you’d like to conduct the same experiment. If you do, CALL ME and tell me about it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Beware "common knowledge"

I’m sure you have all heard that you only remember 10% of what you read, 20% of what you see, 30%  of what you hear, etc. It is common knowledge in the world of training and instruction.
Too bad it is not true.
 Some say the source of this was a professor in Texas. But no one can find such a study. It seems to have been first mentioned in the 1920’s, but no research was mentioned and no credit was given to anyone for these findings. It is common practice, unfortunately, to quote someone else quoting some "fact" or statistic. Strangely,  a well-respected US training institution is reported to have claimed at one time that they did the research producing such statistics. But no one can find the original study. What is even more amusing or shocking is how the numbers have changed depending on the point the writer was trying to make.
 Understanding the “languages” of NLP…visual, auditory, kinesthetic…should make anyone suspicious of such numerical claims. If a person is a Visual, it is likely he/she will learn more by reading and watching than an Auditory. Claiming people only remember 10% of what they read begs the question: What people? Kinesthetics? Perhaps. Visuals? Highly unlikely, since reading and seeing are their key sources of information.
Be a critical thinker. And beware of quotes that keep appearing and re-appearing. As I once read, someone said, “A sucker is born every minute.” Or was it every twenty seconds? Can’t recall exactly. I'm sure I read it somewhere.
Duane Lakin, Ph.D.
Author: "The Unfair Advantage: Sell with NLP!" and "Ten Ways Top Sales Reps are Different."

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

You are hired. Now what should I do?

It is important to hire the right person for the job and the setting. But what happens after you hire someone? How can you help the new hire adapt and lay a course to be successful?

I have often been asked to coach a new hire for the first six months when an environment is particularly challenging. For instance, I was recently asked to coach a newly hired manager, because the day that she started, the company announced it was being sold and her hiring executive would be retiring shortly. And you wonder why she might have been a bit stressed?

Any new hire is going to be concentrating on two things initially. First, learning the job and demonstrating competence are key drivers. This is the “See, you hired the right person” motivation. Often, they are driven to make changes and prove their abilities quickly—a normal behavior for new hires but often a problematic behavior, especially if they have not learned the job or environment well enough to create meaningful change. Still, most new hires try to do this. They are like the seller who tries to close without learning what the customer really wants.

Second, new hires want to fit in with the others in the work environment. They want to find someone with whom they can bond and build a positive relationship. Obviously, introverts have the greatest struggle with this aspect of onboarding. Also, if the environment includes conflict directed toward the new hire, problems will arise.

Therefore, integration is often tough for many new hires. They frequently experience what psychologists call social anxiety. Typical integration conflicts that can result in social anxiety include:
An overlooked incumbent may be resentful
the new hire’s charge to change things may cause ripples
the new hire may be unable to get the information that is needed to do the new job
the new hire’s role may be encroaching on the responsibilities that once belonged to someone else
a supervisor may lack good skills with everyone, including the new hire
The new hire feels excluded, judged, and/or passively resisted

The biggest cost of such anxiety is a tendency for the new hire to withdraw and avoid asking questions. Reluctance to ask questions is a natural reaction to resistance, because someone new does not want to highlight his/her ignorance about the new job or the organization. Yet, the new hire, to be successful, must gain information and learn quickly. Anything that reduces a willingness to ask questions also reduces successful integration. If a new hire feels he/she must guess rather than gain clarity through questions, there is an increased chance of failure during the onboarding period.

So how can you help reduce this stress and increase the chances of a successful integration into your company?

The best solution to such a situation rests with the supervisor. A new hire suffering social anxiety needs a positive relationship with the supervisor. Through that relationship, a safe route to asking questions and gaining information can be found.

The focus of that relationship, however, needs to be twofold. First, it needs to create an environment where the new hire feels unthreatened and is, therefore, willing to ask questions. Second, the relationship should be focused primarily on ensuring that the new hire ultimately gains the information he/she needs to do his/her job effectively. It is a purposeful relationship with limits suggested by common sense and organizational realities. If that relationship is not bound by strict limits, it is likely to be seen, questioned and resented by others, and the relationship can easily contribute to even more exclusion and resentment toward the new hire.

Help the new hire learn how to get things done in your organization. Keep in mind that often the “needed” information is not processes and procedures but, rather, who holds the tribal knowledge and who can actually get things done in the organization. Once things start getting done, the culture will begin to adapt to the new hire and relationships within the work group will resolve themselves or become an indicator for further changes in the work group.

It should also be mentioned that, just as new hires get social anxiety, the introduction of a new person into an existing work group creates anxiety for members of that work group, too. Sometimes referred to as the “impact network”, research suggests that a new midlevel manager, for instance, has a potential negative performance impact on an average of 12 or more people! Helping a newly hired manager build relationships with direct reports, bosses, and peers is critical to both his or her success and the productivity of others. A new hire needs help learning about his/her network, and those in that network need to learn to adjust and adapt to the new person. A supervisor or boss needs to be alert and proactive in addressing such feelings and work to alleviate whatever myths or realities are present that are creating the anxiety. Role clarity and focus on shared outcomes can often help with this process. Inviting senior team members to play a role in helping the new hire learn and connect is also a way to reduce problems.

Outside coaching for a new employee can often help the person navigate the dangerous waters of onboarding. Such coaching typically needs to include coaching the supervisor, because the relationship between the new hire and the supervisor will largely determine if the new hire is successful (assuming the new hire is a good hire).

(Thanks to Drs. Nifadkar and Bauer for your recent article in the Journal of Applied Psychology for providing the research basis for much of this blog.)

Dr. Duane Lakin is author of Ten Ways Top Sellers are Different and The Unfair Advantage: Sell with NLP!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Interview Tip: Beware of first impressions and your "gut" reaction

As a professional interviewer, I am always amazed that I still see managers and executives who say to me, “My gut tells me if someone is a good choice.”

Your “gut” is your unconscious making a decision for you. If you don’t use discipline, such as that found in a structured interview, you are falling victim to a known psychological fact: Your unconscious decides in less than three minutes if you like someone. If you are a seller, this is a critical insight. Sell yourself in the first three minutes. If you are the hiring manager, you need to pay close conscious attention to this 3-minute phenomenon.

What do YOU do in that first three minutes of an interview?

Average interviewers spend the initial interaction in “small talk”.  They rationalize this by saying they are trying to put the candidate at ease. I am always a bit skeptical about who is putting whom at ease, but the behaviors are the same. Small talk. Friendly banter. Ease into the interview.

Unfortunately, by the time you and the candidate are ready to “ease into the interview,” your unconscious has probably made a decision. From then on, the average interviewer is asking questions to give him/her a reason to justify hiring the person. The “gut” has already spoken…”I like (or don’t) like her.” I have seen some managers who say they only need to interview for about five minutes to know if the person is the right one or not. In reality, those managers indeed know if they like the candidate, but they have no idea if the candidate is the right one to hire.

Is it any wonder that I tell my clients, “My job is to find a reason that you should not hire the candidate.” I am trying to overcome their “gut” bias.

Go ahead and “ease into the interview.” Be gracious and friendly. But don’t make a hiring decision during this time. Fight to overcome your unconscious. Move from small talk into a structured interview with planned behavioral questions to introduce analysis, judgment, and discipline into the interview process. Overcome your “gut.” And, yes, this takes more than three minutes.

Dr. Duane Lakin is an industrial psychologist, professional interviewer and author of “Ten Ways Top Sellers are Different” as well as “The Unfair Advantage: Sell with NLP!”

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Sales Tip: Partnering vs. Challenging

When you have an opportunity to make a sales pitch, there is a reason you have been invited. The prospect wants some help.
But the situation is not a blank slate. Prospects and customers are already equipped with ideas that they think are great. They know what their problem is, and they have decided what they think they need. At the point in time that you are making your initial sales pitch, they don’t really want your ideas. They want to know if you are the person who can help them with their ideas.
You only have a few minutes to convince someone that you would be a good “partner” in solving their problem. You must demonstrate that you can be trusted. Every prospect is consciously or unconsciously asking, “Do I want to work with this person?” If you forget this fact and initially try to impress your audience with your ideas and your solution, you are likely to fail . You may prove that you are capable and smart, but who cares? Your three minutes are up.
To make a successful sales pitch, you must be prepared to focus on their outcome and their solution, even if you see problems and pitfalls. Forgive the sports metaphor, but sometimes you must be willing to play their game plan, not yours. If you want to demonstrate how smart you are or challenge the prospect in order to “enlighten” or consult, you are going to be in trouble.
Not being the smartest person in the room can be tough for some sellers, because sales professionals are typically knowledge experts. They often think they know the customer's problems better than the customer. They have great ideas, and in a sales presentation, it is temping to jump right into sharing those great ideas. They want to TELL their ideas instead of SELL themselves. It becomes a critical cart/horse scenario. The horse must be in front. And in terms of time, it is a very short race. Sell yourself quickly or you are out of the race.
“Selling” means partnering. You can’t just deliver a great box. It has to fit the space.
Work with the customer to improve service to the customer’s client, help the customer be more successful, cut the customer’s costs, reduce manufacturing delays, or whatever the customer’s issue may be. And frequently, selling means compromising. What you wanted to sell when you walked into the room may not be what the customer wants. The sale will go to the person with the most flexibility.
We often hear about the writer who stuck to her (or his) guns and finally wrote the best-seller she always wanted to write, even though hundreds of publishers turned her down. (For instance, Agatha Christie or J.K. Rowling, to name just a couple.) What you don’t hear about are the thousands of books that were rejected and never published or even completed when the author refused to make some compromises. And you also rarely hear about the books that were published and were better than the original draft due to incorporating some editor’s suggestions.
Stubborn is not smart. It is just stubborn.
If you want to sell something, be prepared to fit your idea into the buyer’s frame. Don’t compete. Be the person who helps the customer get something accomplished that was not possible without your help. And sometimes, you may discover the end product is better than if you had done it exclusively your way.
As a sales professional, be prepared to say, “If that is what you want, let us look at how I can help make that happen for you.” Flexibility is needed. Help find a way to achieve their outcome and incorporate their thinking. You must be prepared to fit into a solution that the prospect already is seeing in his/her mind.
If someone asks me for a team-development workshop, something I am resistant to do, I am likely to help clarify the real desired outcome, talk about the benefits of the proposed approach, some different ways to look at how such a workshop might be implemented in their organization, and I may be able to influence the thinking of the customer to consider different (non-workshop) ways to help the team. But only after I have sold me. Only after they have decided they want to work with me to solve their problem. Only after they trust me. And a workshop will always be an option, because it is the solution they initially wanted. The difference is how we define it and how we implement it. It is still THEIR solution but my refinements as we work together. We. Not me. And if I can’t sell me as someone they can trust, there will be no we to work on ideas together.
Customers want solutions, and they already have some in mind. Listen to those ideas. Look for ways to incorporate your ideas and use your expertise, but remember: Customers already have a solution and are trying to decide if you are the person who can help them achieve their goal. Don’t compete. Don’t quiz about “pain.” Don’t challenge. Don’t think you know best. Be flexible and be helpful. Sell yourself as a good “partner” and you will be invited to help them solve their problem.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Sellers: Stop looking for pain

For decades, sales trainers have told us about the need to find a prospect’s “pain.” What is hurting? What is it costing? What is the cost of ignoring that pain? Who do we see is hurting the most? What is it worth to find a solution to that pain? Follow the long path to “pain”, and you will be successful, they have said.

They are wrong.

It’s time to stop wasting the customer’s time. Stop looking for “pain.” Look for ways to help instead.

Today, people do not have time to invite you to make a presentation and endure a series of “pain” questions. When you get an invitation to sell to a prospect, you should know how the prospect sees the problem before you show up. You don’t need to probe to find what’s causing the pain or whose pain it is or whether it is a financial pain or a personal pain. Clarify the issues and know the desired outcome before you go to the meeting. Learn what you need to know without seeking out “pain.” Stop wasting everyone’s time. Prospects want to focus on their idea and how to solve their problem. And they don’t want the meeting to last very long.

I occasionally get invited to propose a “team-building” workshop. I generally don’t do team-building workshops any more. When someone asks for one because his or her team is not working well, I often shoot myself in the foot by stating that, in my experience, most requests for such action are due to one person being a problem. I ask, “Any chance that might be the case here? If so, why don’t we look at how to help that person and not waste the time of the whole team?” In nearly every case, the prospect appreciates the insight. I hear a response such as, “That’s a really intriguing idea. I think you might be right. Let me think about it for a bit.” And that is the end of it. There is no more discussion with me about team building. Or about coaching the problem person. I didn’t fit THEIR solution. Shame on me.

Prospects are not interested in being “challenged”or probed about their “pain.”

In most cases, prospects have a good idea as to what they want. They are not interested in being “challenged” or probed about their “pain.” They simply don’t have the time or the patience. They are interested, instead, in learning if they feel they can work with you and get their desired outcome. They want to see if you are a good fit and can work with them.

Sell YOU as someone who can help implement their solution

This leads to a major adjustment in how sellers must sell. First, remember you have been invited to allow the prospects to decide if they want to work with you. Can there be a relationship? In short, the presentation must sell YOU as someone with whom they can partner and help implement a solution, a solution that is may or may not be well defined. If you try to sell YOUR solution before you sell YOU, you will fail. Connect on both a conscious and unconscious level. Become someone the prospect will trust before you even talk about what you want to sell. (If you don’t know how to do this, read “The Unfair Advantage: Sell with NLP!”)

Can you avoid focusing on your solution and focus, instead, on theirs? How quickly can you stop presenting and actually engage your prospect? If you did your homework, you will know what the prospect is trying to accomplish. Get him/her to talk about that. Listen for what is wanted and look for how you can help. Talk about outcomes rather than pain.

Duane Lakin, Ph.D., is the author of “The Unfair Advantage: Sell with NLP!” and a new book, “Ten Ways Top Sales Reps are Different.”