Criticism is good for competitiveness!

Unfortunately, criticism is still not being totally recognized as a powerful tool on helping people, and companies, being more competitive. In times of tight competition and a world that moves at an incredible fast pace, every single tool that can help people, and companies, becoming better prepared for the challenges ahead should be taken into account. And what I am saying here is that criticism, as part of evaluation, is a tool that due to its easiness of use and low need for investment can be highly interesting to SMEs, but not only. Every company interested in gaining competitiveness should invest in human resources, and evaluation (assess competences, criticism and feedback) is a good way of doing it. Well, I must say that only positive criticism is relevant, and that evaluation should be based on factual aspects and real past events, rather than subjective and judgmental aspects. An evaluating system should be based on face-to-face evaluation and 360º assessments, and can be done through formal and informal mechanisms. I believe that even if you do not have a formal evaluation system put in place but you understand the value of having people evaluated, you should start doing it.

What are the key aspects to pay attention to while evaluating? First, define what to aspects must be evaluated and how; Second, define how many times a year and by whom should the team be evaluated; Third, decide what kind of feedback you want to give, when and by whom (do not skip this step because it is key to the whole process); Lastly, inform people of what is the goal, and coach the evaluators on how they should do it. Criticism and feedback are highly important and should contain the future goals to be achieved by each individual.

Evaluation can act as a positive factor to increase motivation and improve competences!

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Can Team Spirit Be a Competitive Advantage?

In a world that is changing fast and facing amazing challenges, namely a war for talent or globalization, Team Spirit can work as a Competitive Advantage! I am one of those people that believes that having a strong and engaged team can make the difference. So, I prefer to have a team committed to a common goal, and working together, than a group of amazing stars working individually. When choosing your team members, what kind of people would you like to have? I know that a lot of aspects must be equated before going on choosing members for your team. Nevertheless, I believe that to build a real Team, one needs to have people who are able, and willing, to work above their egos, individual agendas, and anything that inhibits a truly open and sharing environment. I am not saying that you should not have the best of the best (stars) in your teams, or that stars are not able to work as truly team members. What I am saying is that having a team it is much more than having a group of stars. And that team spirit can work as a competitive advantage, helping companies being the leaders of their industries or niches.

In order to ignites team spirit it is important to have a corporate culture that enables openness, sharing, cooperation, recognition, and motivation. Although all of these aspects are important, motivation is specially important to create the right environment and conditions, and contrary to what is believed, it is not only about money! Several studies mention that above a certain wage level, motivation is mainly about challenge, recognition, opportunity to master, ability to share, work-life balance, autonomy and responsibility, rather than cash prizes and bonus. Therefore, I believe that team spirit and corporate culture can have also positive effect on motivation levels.

Having the right people it is not enough, a “head” is needed to coordinate and motivate them. Hence, companies must have more than just talented people with team spirit, they must have a leader to shape them into a team. Stir people toward a common goal and to excel it is not easy but is crucial. If companies do not have the right Leader, they are missing a strong source of competitive advantages, team work.

How many times haven’t your boss asked you: “Hmm, this team of yours is not working! How about changing it?”. Only a couple of months after you have started working with them? Too many, right? Practice it is the last ingredient I would like to mention. By practice I mean routine, time working together, and experience. In order to have the best out of a team time is needed, time to experience, to adapt, to learn how members work, think and behave. Like a sports team, a team needs hours working together to reach their best.

Summing up, Team Spirit can be a competitive advantage! In times of war for talent and highly competitive markets companies cannot forget to keep investing on having people working together. and the why is easy, Teams work better and achieve more than individuals. A company with a culture that stimulates team spirit, people performing at their best and to master, to share and cooperate, are much better prepared to face successfully the 21st century. Although Team Work and motivation are linked and must be seen as the two faces of the same coin, it does not suffice. A company needs to have a corporate culture that helps cooperation and openness, and Leaders to ignite the right behaviors. Last, but not least, “practice” must be also present in order to have a team working at their best and creating real competitive advantages! Teams need time to work together and fine tune internal dynamics.

Are You Ready to Fail?

Are you ready to fail? No? Well, even if you have everything the business manuals say you should have to be a success case – an amazing product/service, a flawless business plan, competitive advantages, and qualified resources -, please, be prepared to fail! When I say this I am not being pessimist, I am rather trying to be ready and keep my alertness levels high. I am convinced that by acknowledging that I might fail, I am being proactive toward trends and challenges, and better prepared to anticipate them with innovative and creative solutions, therefore, keeping, or even improving, my competitive advantages. And I believe that this will help companies staying in business longer and in better shape.

Failure is part of life! Today’s “best” companies can be tomorrow’s failures. It is not because a company it is a “strong” one today that it will stay that way in the future, failure can happen in between. A more proactive behavior regarding failure can bring a higher level of readiness and help facing the challenges ahead. Failure should be more present in the business lexicon, and faced as something that happens!

Be ready to fail, it will help you anticipating changes rather than copping with them. Innovating and creating are key to competitiveness in the 21st century market, and failure is part of both.

Don’t Work More, Work Better!

Productivity it is a HOT topic among managers and common people, everybody is talking about produce and create more! Well, I agree! However, increase productivity does not mean, in the majority of the cases, working more but rather working better! Be efficient is key to competitiveness in the 21st century. I am strongly convinced that efficient time management, working better, can and should be faced as a competitive advantage. So, how can productivity be increased by working better and more efficiently? Well, I can say that in the short run a lot of things can be done to quickly improve time management efficiency!

Please find here bellow a list with 20 suggestions of things that one can do to improve time management efficiency and work-life balance. You do not need to use all of them, instead you can chose the ones you feel more comfortable with and stick to them. Later, you can gradually accommodate those suggestions that you believe are adequate but don’t feel comfortable with. Ah, and never forget that creativity and innovation can be powerful ingredients on achieving your goals and working better. Good Luck!

1) Plan your week and month ahead, and do not forget to add achievable objectives to each of your tasks. I suggest that you fill your week-plan on Friday the week before, in order to accommodate on it also those tasks you have not had the time or opportunity to finish for that week. If you have a different work week, Friday should be substituted by the last day before your day-off.

2) Check your accomplishments for the ended week on the last day of work before your day-off (normally Friday). Match your planning with what you have really done. This will help you focus on what have been accomplished, and helps you re-scheduling the tasks you have not had time to finish.

3) Define your week maximum work-load, and avoid passing it with too many appointments and tasks. Why? If you fill your week with stuff you already know that you will not have not time to cope with, you will be be rising your anxiety levels and you feel demotivated.

4) Schedule 1-2 slots of 20 to 45 minutes per day for unexpected tasks (at least one slot of 20 minutes);

5) Use your afternoons to schedule meetings – it helps balancing and copping with your energy levels, normally higher in the morning and lower in the afternoon and evening;

6) Meetings: avoid scheduling long meetings (2-hour, or less, meetings are more efficient); meetings must have a clear agenda with all the topics to be discussed and the time allotted to them; Invite external speakers (1 to 2 maxium) for meetings to present something creative and innovative related, or not, to the main topic; Use and “abuse” of informal meetings (stand-up meetings) by the coffee or vending machine (10-15 minutes); Schedule meeting (suggest: Friday afternoon) to analyse week/month achievements/results in order to monitor the real status against the planing;

7) Have a “to do” list, but not be a slave of it; meaning, check out your list at least to times a day – beginning and end of the day, it will help you understand what you have to do and have done) but do not feel you are obliged to do everything on it; Use the Coach – Delegate – Monitor – Praise/Motivate or Criticize (always positively, when needed) method in order to gain time to do what you have to do yourself and also to motivate and empower your team;

8) Avoid submerge in your emails as a first thing in the morning, avoid also to read an email as soon as they arrive (disable email alerts); Instead, schedule in your plan 3-4 periods of 15-20 minutes a day to read/reply emails and do/reply phone calls. Use subject typology and urgency levels, in order to help you screening through your email. Avoid spending your time reading emails or answering your phone if it is not urgent.

9) Use you morning to do your creative and intellectual tasks – like reading or doing reports.

10) Schedule 1-2 10-minute or 20-minute slots with yourself and do not allow being disturbed during that time – during this time you can re-establish your energy levels (taking a quick nap, meditate,…) or simply think about something that needs your full attention;

11) Go out during your lunch break, at least 30 minutes per day – you can eat out and healthier, go to the gym or simply walk. You can also schedule week periods to do something you have never done, stimulating your creativity and going out of your comfort zone – it will help you with problem solving, innovating and being creative. Not to mention that exercise yourself by walking or going to the gym will help you keeping up with demanding tasks and maintain your energy levels high.

12) Keep always a notebook with you – where you can write your ideas as a way of venting your anxiety or do not forget something.

13) Divide your projects into smaller tasks with an objective, a deliverable, resources needed and a deadline – the objective here is to be able to diminish stress and anxiety, and have quick wins along the project, not to mention the efficiency gains.

14) Control your time spent on doing stuff by using your wrist-watch chronometer, smart-phone and PC applications or any other way you can find. I find Egg Timer an easy way of doing it;

15) Use a dashboard with all your KPIs and deadlines – must be up-dated – in order to control your work/project status and any deviations you may have – helps you avoiding deviations and miss deadlines. Information systems and technologies can be highly helpful on controlling and monitoring your KPIs, and mitigating risks.

16) Schedule time to learn about and keep up with what is happening around you and challenge yourself about new and tough topics.

17) Schedule at least one innovative/creative/networking event per week, something that involves a new challenge or something that can bring anything new for you.

18) Try to schedule brainstorming events (1-2 per month) with your peers and colleagues to discuss and debate new topics and listen to different points of view – helps you keeping your mind open.

19) Do not give on tough tasks, if you could not achieve it today try again tomorrow, or in a week time.

20) Avoid working more than 8-9 hours a day or you will be compromising your working capacity and freshness.

Please do not work more, WORK BETTER! Good Luck!

Share your experiences, opinions and suggestions here. Thank you!

Leading is About Knowing People, And Never Forgetting The Goal!

After writing Do You Want To Be a Leader?, I am coming back to the Leadership topic! I believe that only with a strong Leadership we can unlock [people] talent and creativity to develop the great solutions we need to face the challenges ahead. So, if Leadership is so important, why insisting in the same old and irrelevant question of What is your Leadership style? Instead one should try to find a good answer for, How do you lead your teams?, the real question that deals with behaviors and acts, rather than trying to find a box to put people in. Asking for a style is nothing more nor nothing less then asking for a label, reducing all the Leadership topic to boxes and labels. Like I have mentioned before, in The Bad Habit of Labeling Everything!, I do not like labels! Labels harm creativity, inhibit innovation, and reduces leadership to a style. Instead of labeling Leadership, I would rather learn more about the why a Leader behaves and acts the way she does. The difference between a good and a bad leader, it’s for me related to the way a Leader reads reality, learns about it, and acts accordingly to meet her goals, without defrauding her company’s vision. What kind of information does she take into account to act? How does she adapt? Does she faces the day-to-day situations, and the unusual situations same way? All these question are related to the decision-process, and their answers will all depend on the situation at-hand. Therefore, I believe that each situation needs a strong assessment before going on deciding how to handle it! Like in a chess game when the players read the chessboard before going on defining strategies and tactics, and never forgetting the end goal: reaching check mate. Likewise, a Leader should be able to read the situation at-hand in order to choose the best approach possible also without forgetting her ultimate goal.

So, what are the key variables to be assessed?  I would like to propose 3 main group of variables: team’s maturity (degree of readiness, experience and knowledge), nature of the situation (form a day-to-day routine, to a brand new challenge), and timeline (from a short, to a long deadline)! By learning all this info about her team, a Leader is not only readier to face challenges, but also better able to design a career advancement strategy, and keep a higher level of motivation. The situation and timeline are aspects to be accessed in the moment, and can change in some way the team’s readiness, by leveraging or not on their knowledge and experience. Therefore, knowing one’s team is the halfway through to be a good Leader, the other part (no less important and crucial) is about having the ability of learning the situation and timeline correctly, design a plan, and be able to execute it – by acting and adapting! I would like to highlight the importance of knowing the team well when looking for those among the team who can, regarding experience and knowledge on that specific situation, help designing and executing the plan.

Regarding these aspects, and acting accordingly to the maturity of the team, the Leader’s behavior changes, and evolves*, so if the team’s maturity increases the leader’s behavior should evolve from a) Directing, Guiding; to b) Coaching, Explaining; to c) Supportive, Collaborating; to d) Delegating, Observing. The decision making process evolves also along the process, and from being the leader’s full responsibility in phase a, to being the team member’s full responsibility in phase d. Along this process, the leader encourages and empowers the team members to make decisions, more specifically by coaching in phase b and empowering in phase c.

As one can see it is important to know the team in order to decide which behavior or mix of behaviors to adopt, it is also important to say that there is no fixed style when leading and that will always depend upon team’s maturity, situation and time frame. However, it is important that each leader follows is own way! Leadership is all about people, knowing yourself first, your company and its goals second, and your people last, but never the least. In order to be a Leader and achieve your goals with a  strong and motivated team, one needs to invest in guidance, have the best coaching and training programs available, know when to delegate and support, know their potential and limitations, but never forgetting your mission and goals.

Have your own vision regarding your team and talent management, a vision that enables you to achieve great things and do amazing stuff! Be a Leader! 😉

*Inspired by the “Situational Leadership Model” by Hersey, Blanchard, and Johnson – 1996.

How about having fun while working?

When chatting with friends and business partners, I keep listening the same complain – “Well, I like my job, though it’s not funny anymore”! When asking, why is it? I receive almost always same answer, “to be taken seriously, in my job I need to be focused, and serious all the time!”. And that answer confuses me a lot, because I strongly believe that having fun while working has nothing to do with being focused, or be taken seriously by others. Having fun is one of the reasons why people stay motivated and wanting to excel. Why then corporations and managers try to inhibit employees of having fun while working? I believe that the reason is connected to the idea that it is impossible to have fun and do hard work at same time. What is in my opinion wrong, and a preconception instead! A preconception that it is costing millions to companies in retaining and motivating talent. In a time where uniqueness, innovation are as key as talent management to thrive in the business world, I believe that the ‘how one should work and play her role within a company’ should be rethought in order to better aim 21st century ‘s reality and challenges ahead.

Having fun while working does not imply being less focused or the lack of professionalism. In an environment that privileges ‘milking the cow as soon as possible, and with the higher profits possible’, it is complicated to have companies built to attract and keep talent for more than a couple of years. In my perspective, running a business with a ‘squeeze oranges’ mentality leads only to immediateness, forgetting the medium and long term. Attracting talented people is a key aspect when starting a company, though keeping it in-house, motivated, and willing to excel it is the toughest part of the challenge of starting or managing a company in the 21st century. In order to build a strong company, one needs to a build it as a real challenge, and find the unique ingredients that lead to success. However, to build a strong team for that company, one needs a corporate cultural that stimulates and allows people to do different, creative, and meaningful stuff. And having fun is an ingredient that should be present, and stimulated.

Companies should nurture a culture of meritocracy, where having fun can be positive and bring competitiveness. How? Well, if you are having fun you are probably happier, and therefore you have a higher predisposition to be creativity, inventive, and more productive. The trick part is to build up a corporate culture that allows and stimulates the ‘right’ (right is highly subjective, and depends on the social and cultural aspects of the environment where the company works) positive behaviors that lead to better results.

Being irresponsible, not focused, not productive, or acting as a free-rider are behaviors one can find regardless the corporate culture and that should be condemned but also understood in order to avoid and prevent them! It also happens that sometimes these same condemnable behaviors arise due to a inappropriate corporate culture or unfit leadership.

The ability of having fun while working can definitely be considered as a important factor when analyzing a company for its competitiveness! It is something that some companies can stimulate and other cannot! What kind of company do you want to work for, or start up?

Online Cold Calling – Using e-mail & social networks! [Part 2]

Hello again, hopping you are having a good day. Like I promise on my latest post – Is Cold Calling outdated? No think so! [Part 1] -, I will give you some more tips on how to utilize on online resources and boost your cold calling activities.

Obviously, by now your targets should be already listed and prioritized accordingly to your objectives, and aligned with your business strategy. Only after that one can think about what tactics, and sales techniques one should be using. So, please get this right first before going on cold calling and targeting randomly!

Before continuing further, I would like to share with you that using email or any social network to cold call can be risky. Why? Starting with the idea that it can be seen as spam and immediately deleted, making your time spent doing it unworthy; or that you can spoil your opportunity by using a channel to engage with the prospect that she does not appreciate; Or even, and going a little bit further, and saying that your prospect can see it as annoying, and upsetting, and call the Legal department. So be sure you follow all the legal rules in your prospect’s country. Although, unsolicited is need to sell, please do it right first time!         

In order to use internet cold calling efficiently please follow a two-key-step process to avoid falling in the risky situations mention before – Preparation and Execution.

Preparation

Please do your homework and investigate before sending an unsolicited email or online message. Try to find a way in, a lead on an issue or special need that your company can help with.  After saying that, start by getting the name of the person you want to target, the Decider, who is someone with the power of deciding on spending and budget allocation. However, before you can get in touch with her, you may have to pass by the gatekeeper (normally the Personal Assistant), an Influencer (someone you know within that orgaization with some power in other areas but not in the one you are exploring but can help you with an introduction to your dear Mrs. Decider), or even a Contact you have within the company that can help you indirectly with your mission. Ah, and never forget that your mission is, scheduling an appointment with the Decider. Second, search all the relevant information (all about the company and person you are targeting, its competitors, industry, etc) you need to achieve your goal: schedule an appointment. Third, fill in your CRM with the intelligence in order to keep a record on it.

Execution

What ever is the channel you are using, email or a message through a social network (e.g. Linkedin, Facebook, …), please follow a set of rules to make it more likely that your message is read and that you receive an answer. How to do it: direct the message to a person (your target); tailor-made it to her and company; make it short (3 paragraphs maximum); make it meaningful for the person reading; add an easy way to unsubscribe your emails; and please before sending it do check if you are doing the targeting correctly, and that this is the right person. What information to include: targeted person’s name; quick presentation of you, and some key words describing your company; a few lines pinpointing the benefits of your offer, or solutions for any problem you might have identified in your target (use this opportunity to keep your target’s attention by being creative in your writing); add a referral or at least a success case of a well known client of yours. Don’t add any files on a first email because it can be seen as a threat (viruses, etc…) being the email deleted with being read. Though, you can make a “tailor made” presentation to this specific client and add a safe link to it in your email. End up with a thanks note, and request an appointment. Mention that you will try to follow up by phone and ask for her coordinates (direct contact phone) if you do not have it yet!

Please along the process keep always the eye on the ball! Schedule an appointment first, doing business, next. Ah, and use some creative writing what being not easy can help you out with having your message read, but more than that have it replied with some free slots to schedule an appointment.

Well, good luck with your cold calling and never forget to mix your sales techniques to adequate your sales tactics to your objectives.

Note: If you have any experiences that you would like to share please feel free to comment or send me an email.

More tips on Sales here