Category: I’ve Been Thinking

Participation is More Fun

June 20th, 2019

During my recent trip to Sicily, Prague and Belgium, I went on several food tours. I have found food tours can be a fun and interesting way to get to know an area, as well as the food that is unique to the area. So, of course, when in Italy, what better than to have a food tour and make your own pizza! We sort of participated in making limoncello which is always a great taste to include on a tour.  And, we definitely made chocolate treats on a chocolate tour in Brussels.

Each time an activity was included, it added a new twist to the food tour. Isn’t that true with work as well? If you want someone to learn a concept, develop an exercise or a way for him/her to participate. Since returning, I taught a CSCP (certified supply chain professional) class at the Target distribution center and another class with two students at the University of LaVerne/  We had interesting interactive discussions. The students brought up real world examples to participate and relate the concepts to everyday work scenarios and gain immediate advice on a few issues. Bringing concepts to life with active participation is much more memorable than just talking or droning on about a topic. How can you bring concepts to life at work?

One tip to implement this week:
Think about how to build clarity and build participation into your conversations, presentations and discussions. As Jerry Seinfeld says, “I will spend an hour taking an eight word sentence and editing it down to five.” Similarly, I’ve noticed it might take our team at least that long to distill one key concept into a graphic. It is well worth it if the point is clearly communicated and our recommendation is understood and supported. In this case, think about how to engage your team, audience or client to participate in the solution. Not only will they understand it much better but they also will be aligned with it!

There is an art to developing participation exercises that will engage the audience while achieving your end outcome. I find it much harder than it appears. Ask your favorite speakers, educators and leaders how they do it. Take note when someone does it well. How do they introduce the exercise? How do they engage the team? Do they tie the results to the next topic or business need? Little things go a long way. For example, try making your exercise relevant to the audience. When explaining the importance of bills of material for a clay company, we used play dough to make some simple items (thanks to my colleague Diane Garcia for that great idea!). I’d love to hear your ideas for successful participation.

 



Language & Why Quality Is Lost in Translation

June 14th, 2019

I recently returned from a trip to Europe and it highlighted why language and positioning matters. Of course, when visiting Sicily, Sorrento, Prague and Bruges, different languages and dialects were spoken.  However, my comments about language and positioning relate to English. On a day tour in Prague, we had an extremely knowledgeable guide who wanted to tell us everything she knew. We could understand her English.  However, she was opinionated about where we should stand when listening, whether we could stray to take pictures, and whether we could ask questions if she hadn’t told us what she thought we should know. She didn’t position her language in the interests of her customer, so it really wasn’t as enjoyable as other tours where the guides clearly didn’t have the same level of experience and expertise.

I bring this up – because I still was glad I went on the day trip – however, this same topic has arisen multiple times in business in the last several days. In one project update call, the project manager presented important information. Yet, the way he presented it made it seem like the world might be coming to an end, even though it was FAR from reality and not his intention. It could have had drastic unintended consequences if we hadn’t spoken up to re-position.

In another client meeting, the group was talking about relevant details but all the CEO heard was blah, blah, blah because he wanted the bottom line – what those details meant. Of course, he wanted to know that the details were reviewed but the lengthy and wandering explanations made him feel uncomfortable in the conclusion (perhaps we protest too much) instead of confident. The details were intended to provide evidence to support, yet it backfired similarly to the guide’s endless stream of facts instead of focusing on the highlights that were relevant to the customer. Instead, speaking with confidence and conveying that details were considered (without going into detail), highlighting the bottom line result would have done the trick. I can’t tell you how many valuable superstars in clients are overlooked because they don’t know how to use language and convey their ideas successfully!

One tip to implement this week:
As someone who started out horrendously in presenting and positioning, I can tell you with confidence that it is a learned skill. Start wherever you are and make a new effort to improve. Don’t worry about perfection.  It is DEFINITELY overrated. Just strive for improvement on a daily basis. According to my consulting mentor ,Alan Weiss, if you improve by 1% a day, in 70 days you are twice as good. If you think about it, that is really quick!

Start by positioning what you say in the best interest of your audience,not in the light of what you assume is in their best interest. This alone can be revolutionary!

When I was a VP of Operations, I couldn’t understand why a plant manager, who reported to me,  seemed to believe what she said.  It was obviously untrue.  It’s wasn’t until my best friend in an unrelated field explained that people believe their own perceptions and they don’t have to match reality. I was thinking from my point-of-view instead of hers.

How many times have you used arguments to gain approval, funding or resources/support that you would use vs. those that would appeal to your audience? More than we’d like to admit I’d guess!



The Beauty of the World & Why It Relates to Work

June 5th, 2019

This is the Piazza IX Aprile in Taormina, Sicily, which is a square known for the breathtaking view of the azure Ionian Sea and of the Mount Etna. I adored this night view from a nearby rooftop (of course while sipping limoncello, an Italian lemon liquor known in Southern Italy).

I came to Sicily to meet my strategy group.  We had some excellent sessions.  However, that isn’t the tie that I refer to in the title of this blog. Seeing the world absolutely relates to business. Of course, this would be done ideally in person but you can also absorb quite a bit watching TV or by reading magazines. Understanding different cultures, business customs and what’s relevant to a country or area will come in handy. We live in an interconnected world with customers, suppliers and other trusted partners throughout the world. I cannot think of a client that doesn’t have a material that originates in another country somewhere down-the-supply chain or one that sells to other countries at least somewhere up-the-supply chain. Can you?

Understanding what is important to your customers, suppliers, employees (as they also come from around the world or have related interests) or colleagues is quite relevant to bottom line business results.

One tip to implement this week:
Why not ask your top customer, supplier, employee or colleague about what is important? You could ask about materials relevant to your supply base. Undoubtedly, you’ll find out about something relevant or interesting to build a stronger relationship at a minimum. You could ask your customers about where they sell your product or how it is perceived in another country, etc.? Of course, your question will relate to what type of product or service you provide, so you should make it relevant to your business.

And, lastly, why not talk bring the topic up with your employees and colleagues. You might find that they have customs that are important to them or something quite relevant to doing business in that country or area. Just by posting pictures on Facebook, I found quite a few contacts who love Taormina. Who knows what will happen when I ask them about it!



We Are All Salespeople

May 13th, 2019

Do you think of yourself as a salesperson? For most of us, the answer is probably ‘no’; however, every successful executive, manager, professional and person is a salesperson.  

Last week, I participated in a consulting conference, and our Society for the Advancement of Consulting ambassadors (pictured here) filled the role of salesperson to spread the word on the value of SAC. We had a great time and many value-added discussions. I find the key to ‘selling’ is actually providing value; not selling people products and services they do not need!

When I think back, I have always been in sales even though I thought I had no idea whatsoever about sales at the time. The way I got my first job was talking about the value of a senior project and how it was applicable to performing a planning role. I had NO idea that this was actually selling but it is how I successfully landed a great job out of college. Early in my career, I found system settings that would make our Coca-Cola facility’s process better, and I had to sell IT and others on why they should support this change. Later at a plastic injection molder, I had to sell management on why we should focus on certain inventory initiatives.

Lastly, as a VP of Operations of an absorbent products manufacturer, I absolutely spent 90% of my time selling my team on how they were valuable to the vision, suppliers on how they could have a part on creating a win-win, customers on how we could create collaborative vendor management inventory initiatives that would increase their service and profit (which would also improve our revenue growth, inventory and efficiencies), the Board of Directors on why we should focus efforts on material projects to drive profitable growth (even though they wanted me to focus on reducing labor costs instead) and the list goes on. In consulting, 80% of project success (partnering with the client to make sure results occur) relates to selling and positioning. After all, doesn’t it all stem from successfully navigating change?

Think about your career and daily job responsibilities. I bet you are selling every day as well!

One tip to implement this week:

The key to success in sales is to provide value. As I read in a book by my consulting mentor when I decided to start consulting, selling consulting services is simply finding ways to provide value to clients by helping them to increase the value of their businesses. Somehow, increasing the value of businesses sounded FAR simpler to me than selling people on hiring me as a consultant (after all, who budgets to hire a consultant?), and so I went for it (and am celebrating my 14th year anniversary in May).

Of course, it isn’t exactly that simple; however, it is absolutely true. The crux of all sales is in providing value. Think about when you purchase products and services. Why do you purchase? I used to think I was quite logical and not influenced by typical sales techniques; however, it is human nature that logic makes us think and emotions make us act. Although I am never tempted by clothes (except as I know I need to look decent to be successful), I realized I spent quite a bit of money on education to be successful in my consulting practice. Clearly, I saw the value and ‘went for it’. How can you show value more often in your job, your company, and of your products and services?



Boom or Recession? What is the State of the Economy?

May 6th, 2019

In the last few months, I’ve attended sessions on the global, national and regional state of the economy. Every executive, trusted advisor and colleague wants to know: Are we headed for a recession?

The bottom line answer is that there are no signs of a recession in the foreseeable future in terms of the economy. Instead of worrying, it might be just the time to take advantage of the opportunity. As Roy Paulson, president of Paulson Manufacturing said in our 2019 Predictions from Manufacturing & Logistics Executives report, “…expect to see more talk of tariffs, threats and waving of hands, all the while, those of us in exporting will be busy making deals, signing contracts and getting business done.”

Similarly, in manufacturing, there was concern over the worsening ISM (Institute for Supply Management) index even though it remained far above (54.2) the level that indicates expansion (50) yet the index rose significantly in March to 55.3, signaling great growth and stabilization. The largest contributor was from employment which had the biggest gain in 3 years. All cylinders seem to be firing.

Yet many remain concerned for the next shoe to drop due to the volatility and uncertainty of these tumultuous times. Perhaps it is time for us to get comfortable with volatility and pursue new product introductions, technology (automation, AI, IoT) for those that will add value in our businesses and experiment with innovative ideas. What better time will there be to get in front of the curve so that we can pass by the competition if/when a recession hits?

One tip to implement this week:
There are countless studies that prove that those people who remain calm, invest smartly while others panic and stay the course to what they know will add value to their business thrive. Perhaps we should take a page from their book.

Of course, stay up-to-date on the latest trends and don’t hide your head in the sand as issues arise.  Spend the 80/20 of your day looking for opportunities. What new ideas have you had lately? Have you asked your front line employees for ideas? Are you willing to invest in their education and give them the chance to fail?

When I was VP of Operations at PaperPak, I worked with a CEO who was constantly thinking about the ways for us to succeed. Gas prices rose (which we obviously couldn’t control), which had the potential to create pure havoc with our profitability (with a Board that didn’t consider gas prices a reasonable excuse). Instead of panicking, he would consult with key people throughout the organization and create opportunities to get ahead of the issue. We rose from the ashes more times than I can count because we kept focused, thinking of opportunities instead of becoming defeated by some rather significant curve balls.

Give it a try this week at the next sign of volatility and disaster. How can you turn it into an opportunity?