Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Reasons to be thankful

 A short pre-Thanksgiving post., before I don my apron.

I am thankful for many things, mostly non-material, e.g., health family, friends.  I am also thankful to be living now, and in this country, where despite our many all-too-real difficulties, we have much to be grateful for, and to look forward to.  

Despite the gloom, and the real differences among us, we do keep advancing, making life better for most of our citizens.

Focusing only on the positive, I think of what did not exist (either literally or in the public consciousness) 10 years ago, when we were giving thanks in the aftermath of 9/11.  Among the advances which have had a profound impact on dissolving the limitations of time and distance and thus brought us closer by allowing us to share more of ourselves (whether profound or trivial) are:  social networks like Facebook; smartphones; blogging; YouTube; wireless networks; broadband internet; i-pads, pods, phones; internet activism. 

I do believe that the best is yet to come.  It may take some time yet, but we’re working on it for sure.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thinking Small

Everyone loves small business these days:

Isn't it nice to be smothered with love?  Small business big-brotherhood is better than a Tiger Mom, I suppose, but will these grasstop, macro efforts impact the "mom-and-pop" operations that make up most of the employment base of this country?

Color me doubtful.  For a very simple reason:  We think too big.  We are a nation of ideas.  Ideas are not in short-supply; they are like opinions -- everyone has one, at the very least.  Big honking ideas.  And, sadly, big ideas are a dime-a-dozen.

Small business owners certainly don't lack ideas, or the optimism, desire or drive to improve their business.  What they lack are the resources to get their ideas out of their heads and into play in their operations.   They lack the nuts and bolts process to put them into practice.   And they lack the ability to focus on fewer, rather than more, things.  (Funding plays a part, of course, but that's the subject for another post.)  

How does one decide which ideas are worth pursuing and which are non-starters?  How does a business owner decide what his/her priorities should be?

Let's get small:  
  • Start with one clean sheet of paper.
  • Ask yourself, "what is the one factor that is most critical to the success of my business in the next 12 months, that I can directly control?"  Write down the answer.
  • Ask yourself, "What are the 3-5 actions I need to take to achieve that goal?" Write down the answer.
  • Ask yourself, "What do I do that does not contribute to achieving that goal?" Write down the answer. (This may be the longest answer by far.)
  • Ask yourself: "Who can I bounce my ideas and plans off of?" Write down the answer.
You may find that this simple exercise helps you focus your thinking on your true priorities, eliminating the unproductive tasks that distract you from putting our ideas into action, and identifying the resources that you must add to succeed.

The devil, as they say, is in the details.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sticks and stones and carrots

I know a number of businesses that are looking for sales help.  By this I mean outside sales -- the "hunters" -- not the inbound sales reps that field incoming inquiries or walk-ins: the "gatherers."

Hunters are hard to find.  One of my colleagues (a sales training expert) posits that less than 10% of sales people have all of the skills and attributes to be successful hunters.  Hunters are also notoriously hard to compensate and motivate.  The conventional wisdom is that if you do not restrict ability to earn, the best will come knocking on your door.  Conversely, if the best you can compensate an outside salesperson is $50,000, then that's the level of professional you will get.

In other words, the standard industry practice is that the best sales pros are motivated solely by money...if you build a compensation system that allows salespeople to earn up to the limits of their ability, it should be a "win-win" for salesman and business owner.

But is that true?

Daniel Pink, in his best-selling book Drive, argues that "the secret to high performance and satisfaction—at work, at school, and at home—is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world."

Pink's conclusion is that commission-based sales systems are counterproductive; that the old carrot-and-stick, punishment-reward system of corporate motivation systems run counter to what the science shows.

There are a number of videos of Pink speaking on the subject, the best (in my opinion) can be found here.

Pretty mind-bending, but then again, most game-changing ideas are. So, how will you manage and motivate your stars -- the ones your business depends upon?