Blog

Critical Communication Skills – Version 2020 – Part 2

Reaching Skill Mastery: Lesson from a World Championship Little League Coach by Linda Richardson

So how do you go about mastering the skills we talk about in the previous blog? I think we can take a lesson from the Tokyo Kitasuna Little League baseball team that once again has advanced to the Little League World Series in Williamsport Pa., where they recently faced Mexico and were victorious. Koyhi Ohno, coach of the Musashi Fuchu team, winner of two previous World Series, attributes his and the Kitasuna’s teams’ success to “the Japanese way of doing things.”

He makes a point that their teams have no star players.  Their team players are often dwarfed by opponents 6’3’’ and 6’4”. What is their secret to the mastery that has led to success after success? He is clear: It is repetition and discipline. It is a matter of honing skills by working on one thing at a time until it is instinctive. Brain studies tell us again and again that repetition leads to mastery, because repeat attention tells the brain it is important.

The key to mastering communication skills starts with awareness.  Where do you excel?  Where are you weak?  Who can give you feedback?

As your think about your skill in branding yourself, making connections, asking smart questions, delivering a compelling message, and checking-in across customer channels to know where you stand, focus on one skill at a time. The Internet has abbreviated all of our attention spans, but by really working on one skill for several days you can gain control and achieve mastery.

The best self-critique is balanced.  Start with the skill in which you excel to take it to the next level.   After that, ask yourself where the big gap is in your skill set and focus on that.  Then alternate focusing on a strength, then a weakness. Self-critiquing is powerful, but you also need an outside view.  Ask for feedback from a trusted, valued colleague. Make the skills your own.  Make them instinctive.

Coach Omae mentioned a few other ingredients for mastery that also play well in sales:  good manners, teamwork, humility – and a prayer.

If you missed Part One of this post, you will find it HERE

September 29th, 2015|0 Comments|

Critical Communication Skills – Version 2020

I had lunch recently with a longtime client, a CEO whose sales force had cut its teeth years ago on six critical skills (Presence, Relating, Questioning, Listening, Positioning, and Checking) that they learned in one of my courses. He and I agreed that, despite all the changes in how customers buy, the six critical skills are still valid.

On the other hand, we agreed that the application of the skills is another matter entirely. The essence of the skills has not changed, but the world has. How can we apply the critical skills today—or five years from now?

When I founded Richardson, I used the six skills as the dialogue thread that connected all of our programs. But that was then and this is now. It’s time for the rebranding of the skills.

The challenge, for many salespeople, is how to execute the skills for success in the new sales environment – today and in the future. The good news is that effective execution of the skills at the highest level is not just for the sales stars. Mastery is there for all for the effort.

Let’s look at the skills rebranded:

Presence – Presence is a way to engender confidence in your buyers through how you position yourself in person, on the phone, or online. But today it has the dimension of branding. Presence is still communicated through things such as demeanor and body language, but now it includes creating an online presence, which is quite a different thing… It requires demonstrating the executive presence needed to deliver insights and change the status quo.

Relating – Today it is necessary to form connections – not only with multiple decision makers and influencers in a department, but across channels. And not only through personal and business shared interests, but with a message of transparency. It is a first step toward gaining customers’ trust and giving them yours. Connecting goes beyond face to face and telephone rapport – it includes things such as the empathy you show in social media, the relationships you foster on LinkedIn, and the friends you have on Facebook.

Questioning – Questioning, in the past, was a matter of deep probing to gain information and insight. Questioning is more important than ever, but it is very different. Today, smart questioning is in part education to share insights as you elicit information. It is your ability to ask smart questions that reflects a real understanding of your customer’s world, that signals if customers answer you will bring value to them, and that lets you uncover the information you need to deliver priority business outcomes. The availability of more information online narrows the scope of the questions it makes sense to ask, and raises the quality of the questions you ask.

Positioning – What you position has changed. Positioning has to do with Messaging today that shows you understand what your customers value. It includes research, insights, ideas, knowledge, success stories, your point of view, and what you’ve learned from your probing, as well as product characteristics.  The big change is that in the “old” days, positioning was customizing your product story to the customers’ needs. Now the message you is all about the business outcome produced by your customized solution and validating the need for change…

Listening – Listening has always been important. Think about listening today as close listening. It is your ability to be mindful in the moment, so that you can demonstrate attention and gain full comprehension of what your customer has shared with you. One of the best ways to get close to anyone is to listen to him or her. Today you need to “listen” – not only in real time dialogue, in person or on the phone, but to “listen” to things such as the voices your customers are listening to on social networks, and listening to text messages for what is shared between the lines.

Checking – Checking is the ability to ask for feedback, on what you have said in a sales call, to gauge how your customer(s) is responding. The advent of social media makes it necessary to check-in – not just in-person conversations and phone calls, but in dialogues that occur on multiple social platforms and with many more stakeholders across divisions. The challenge is to maintain some channel for one-on-one communication, as well as on-line channels, to understand where you stand.

With adaptation, these skills can be yours. In my next blog, I will take a deeper dive into skill mastery.

September 22nd, 2015|0 Comments|

Overconfidence: The Gender Gap

I’ve taught at the Wharton School’s Center for Entrepreneurial Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania for 16 years and been privy to important research.  The latest research by Wharton’s Ethan Mollick with Shankar Vendantam, University of North Carolina, alarmed me as I thought about the possible implications for women in sales and business.

From past research, we know that only 1 in 4 businesses is run by a woman and women businesses grow more slowly.  But we also know that women-owned businesses are growing faster than all business in U.S.  Yet entrepreneurs globally are overwhelmingly men. Sales has long been considered the most entrepreneurial among careers because of the pay for performance aspect of the job.  Women continue to prove themselves as highly capable in sales.  So why are most entrepreneurs men?

Professors Mollick and Vendantam researched one aspect of entrepreneurship to answer this question. They studied 90,000 projects on Kickstarter, the largest platform for crowdfunding.   They found striking differences between men and women when these would-be entrepreneurs asked for money and failed.

They examined how likely people were to launch a second project if the first project failed.  When men failed, they mostly saw the failure as a “blip” and, for the most part, tried “again and again and again” and, with enough attempts, finally succeeded.  But women tend to take a failure as a stop sign and give up.

In fact, failing the first time is a strong predictor of the likelihood of failing the next time.  Therefore, women are more rational in their decision.  After all, being over-confident means ignoring the results, ignoring objective evaluation and pushing forward.  We know there is a down side to being overconfident, but what about the upside?

To add to the problem, when women succeed they tend to be more humble and to attribute their success to luck and having lots of friends.  When men succeed, they tend to attribute their success to the “market recognizing their genius”.

Does this mean women should be more overconfident?  The answer may be yes. The research showed that when women are launch a second project, their success increases by a third. This does not mean losing humility. I believe that it is possible to be humble about success, but also confident about what it took to achieve it.  It is a matter of how success is handled and not confusing luck and being liked with competence, creativity, and smarts.

What is the implication of this lack of hubris and humility for women in sales?  As an entrepreneur, a woman in sales, and coach and trainer to many women in sales, I have observed and experienced the plus and minus of humility.  Certainly overconfidence can cause a salesperson to miss important signals.  But this research shows that overconfidence also feeds drive and creates the ability to keep going when the desired results are not forthcoming, and still believe in yourself in the face of failure.  I think the winning formula is having the overconfidence to try again, the humility to look at all the factors that led to the success or failure, and the wisdom to learn something from the experience.

When things don’t go as planned, how good are you at bouncing back and looking at the miss as a “blip”, not a warning sign?

September 11th, 2015|1 Comment|

No Such Thing As a Sustainable Competitive Advantage

A&P, the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, did not keep up with the times.  The Wall Street Journal reported that A&P’s recent bankruptcy filing may indicate its demise.  With roots back to 1859, it was the first real supermarket. Its 1,700 stores dwindled to 400, and now stores will be sold off or closed.

Some attribute the fall to expanding too slowly from the city to the suburbs. Others, to a lack of leadership after its founders passed on and their heirs’ lack of interest and investment caused a stagnation from which the business couldn’t recover. And certainly there was the steep competition with companies like Whole Foods and Target.  Growing up in Philadelphia, A&P was my family’s local store and it is sad to witness its collapse.  But whatever the reason, A&P’s story is a clear warning: innovate or, at least, keep up.

Now compare that with Zappos, where change and innovation are a way of life.  In its effort to maintain a small firm culture, Zappos has announced Holacracy – it’s a flat management system in which, as I understand it, there are no managers and no titles.   Team members set their own agendas, make their own decisions about returns or sending flowers, and circle groups vet problems.  Days start with Zappo Stage in which morning news is shared.

Today, there seems to be no such thing as a sustainable competitive advantage (unless maybe if the business is highly regulated). Innovation and creativity (think Airbib and Uber helping create the sharing economy), strategy, process, a portfolio of projects, and empathy are the watchwords of our times.

Looking at companies, it is so easy to see the difference between those that innovate, those that keep up, and those that haven’t moved fast enough.  But I think it is so much harder to detect stagnation on an individual level.  My friend and colleague, Marc Bassin  (I interviewed him for Top Sales Magazine for leadership and change management), when we worked together, often ended workshops asking managers to commit to three changes, one of which had to be bold.  What Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos (does he keep his title?), has done qualifies in my book as the boldest.  It is a change we all will be watching. It did get me thinking about what bold change I can make?  What about you?

July 27th, 2015|0 Comments|

Body Language Myth Busted? A Lesson from Google

Have your heard the adage that it is not what you say, but how you say it?  This thinking was advanced by a study conducted in 1967 that held that how you communicate is 7% the words you choose, but 93% your body language and tone (38% tone of voice and 55% body language).

When this study was done, it had a major impact on communication training.  The study, however, had nothing to do with how people process information.  It focused on what was conveyed in a single word, which is much different from processing.

The study assigned only 7% to the actual words a person spoke, ranking words as the lease important.  But today brain studies show that it is much more complicated than that and words, not non-verbals, dominate.  This is a far cry from 7%.  Research continues, but studies show that listeners process words not only for content, but for the feelings the words evoke.

Of course, body language and tone remain powerful elements in communication. But especially because so much communication takes place on-line, where body language and tone don’t really play a role, the specific words you choose – not just the relevant ideas you present – whether on-line or in person-to-person conversations, are the major factor in success or failure.  Chade-Meng Tan’s story drives home the power of the specific words you choose, on how your customers react and how willing they are to make a change.

Chade-Meng Tan, a softwear engineer at Google, is a speaker and author. He was the 107th engineer hired by Google . As one of the early hires when Google went public, it was no longer necessary for Ming to work. Google offered him, and the other early hires, the opportunity to continue to work.   They could choose what they would do, provided it advanced Google’s mission.

Meng had a very difficult time early in his life and, because meditation had helped him, he believed that integrating meditation into the business world was something that would be meaningful at Google – he thought it would help people be more creative and enable them to bring their whole selves into work.

His idea for a meditation program was accepted, but when he posted his course not one person at Google signed up…. Not knowing what to do, he contacted Mirabui Bush, founder of Illuminations and meditation expert, to help him understand why there has been no interest and what he could do about it.  Ms. Bush did some research and because Google employees are mostly very young and very smart, hailing from schools like MIT and Stanford, and have been in front of screens their entire lives, she suggested offering the same course content but framing it differently to speak to his audience. Taking her advice, the big search company came up with a smart new name for the course.

Meng searched for the right language, gained senior support and, most importantly, reframed his course with a new name. Within 4 hours of posting, 140 Google team members signed up for Search Inside Yourself.  To date, the number of participants exceed 2000 globally! Meng’s title at Google is ‘Jolly Good Fellow’.

What’s the lesson here? There are many.  It may be time to put a long-standing myth about the dominance of body language to bed. Find a champion in your organization and your customer’s organization.  Seek expertise when you hit a wall.  Change a perspective from how you see something to how the customer can relate to it.  Frame information using specific tightly focused language.  To help you do this, profile your customer and find language the customer relates to.  For example, my friend was struggling to rename his business and mentioned this to me.  So we put Ms. Bush’s thinking to work by looking at his customers…  The customers that buy the kind of things he sells are mostly tourists.  They are educated, readers, art lovers, offbeat, international and an average age of 40.  His shop is located sub street level and a kind of an emporium.  We came up with the name The Underground Collector.  When he changed his perspective, he moved from his passions to his customers.

Search and listen to your customers.  Understand their world, and the language they can identify with, to capture their interests and influence and sell to them.   Your customers hear what you say two ways: how they comprehend it (be clear) and how they feel about it (have empathy).  I assume most customers understand what you say.  Take a hard look at the key words you use whether in your proposals, emails, voice mails, or conversations and ask, “How will the way I am articulating this make my customer feel?”

July 22nd, 2015|1 Comment|

To Kill a Sale

Today, the eagerly anticipated second novel, Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee will be released.  Originally written in the 1950’s, but only recently discovered, this novel was written before her best selling, Pulitzer Prize-winning book To Kill a Mockingbird.   In Go Set a Watchman we again meet the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, including Atticus Finch who is now 72 and suffering.

Harper Lee has said over the years she wrote one good novel and that was enough. She assumed Go Set a Watchman had been lost.  But this blog is not about this historic literary event.

What caught my attention and astounded me is that the many biographers, scholars, researchers, and even her brilliant and dedicated editor, despite numerous references to Go Set a Watchman, assumed it was an early version or alternate title of To Kill a Mockingbird, not a complete rewrite and separate novel.

If a circle of professionals, who dedicate time and expertise to contribute and enrich a body of knowledge around a subject, can fall into the assumption trap, how easy is it for people in sales, pressured and rushed, to make assumptions which can kill a sale.

We make assumptions every day. They are necessary to moving forward.  They are based on what we value, observe, think, and know.  We couldn’t exist without assumptions.  The problem isn’t in making assumptions.  It is in not recognizing assumptions as such and failing to take steps to confirm them.   The antidote to the assumption trap is curiosity, patience, and reflection.  It is understanding that we take for granted what fits with our perceptions or what seems so obvious.

The list of common sales assumptions that lead to lost business is almost infinite:

No one can’t beat the incumbent.  As the incumbent, we can’t lose.  It will close by the end of the month. My customer won’t tolerate an increase in price.  Price is the key thing for this customer.  My customer likes me and she’ll get this through.  We’ll keep the business, because changing is too expensive.  They would let me know if there was a problem.  We lost because of price. They will never leave their current provider. We’re not known for x, so why compete… 

Problems with assumptions really surface in forecasting, when deals that are predicted to close don’t.  Assumptions can be so convincing, but also so wrong.

Especially with the ability to conduct research and get information with a click, the risk of falling into the trap is even greater. Certainly that doesn’t mean not being as prepared as possible, but it does mean taking measures to check out what we believe we know.

We make assumptions when we think other people think as we do.  To avoid making assumptions:

  • Recognize you make assumptions. As a part of your sales strategy, make a list of your assumptions, things for which you do not have factual evidence, and then set about to influence, confirm, or disprove them.
  • Ask questions that drill down (I understand you are… How are you going about that? or I’d like to understand. Why is that?). Most of the time, customers provide partial information – intentionally or not.
  • Probe what you don’t understand (How does that work?). There is no such thing as a dumb question – unless it is something you could/should have researched…
  • When you share an idea or information ask, what do you think? How might that fit here?
  • Be the one to summarize and then check if your customer agrees.

If you are wondering why Harper Lee never raised the subject of her earlier book to scholars, biographers, researchers, journalists, or her editor, that may never be known, but it seems no one ever asked her…  What salesperson hasn’t had a sale derailed because he or she learned critical information too late and wondered why the customer hadn’t revealed it—or he or she hadn’t uncovered it…?

To Set a Watchman is the most pre-ordered book in the history of Harper Collins. What promises to be a major literary work might have been lost because of an assumption.  The bottom line is, assumptions that go unrecognized and unchecked can be very costly…

July 14th, 2015|0 Comments|

Have You Been Ghosted?

“Ghosted” is a relatively new term.  It is also know as the slow fade.  Ghosting is the ending a relationship by simply disappearing without an explanation.  It is now a part of the lexicon of the dating world.

Research suggests that technology and on-line contact is making it easier for people to ghost because of a lessening of  “human” engagement.  Polls show that between 11% and 25% of Americans have ghosted.  Of course, not responding without an explanation has been around from the earliest conversations, but the fact that it has been labeled and entered into the world of polling shows that it is more acceptable and growing.  It seems to me that this trend and acceptance in the social world, where relationships have some level of intimacy, does not bode well for the business world and especially for sales.

Every salesperson has experienced the ultimate silent treatment of a prospect, and sometimes even a customer, who had been highly responsive and positive, go quiet.  Research into the ghosting phenomena can provide some insights into why ghosting happens: lack of feeling accountable or responsible, fear, immaturity, not knowing how to extricate from a situation or deal with it, not wanting to feel like the bad guy/gal, not wanting to disappoint, easier than having the conversation, a way to avoid confrontation. I think it is also important for them to consider what they might have done or not done to cause ghosting, but certainly not to over analyze or hold on to a fragment of hope too long. None of the reasons are eye opening.

But what is new is the attention ghosting is getting in newspapers such as the New York Times, articles and blogs, etc. The question is if ghosting increases in sales situations, what can you do to forestall or change it?

Most salespeople who have been ghosted say things like, “I don’t get it.  He/she was so interested.”  Most say that there were no signs.  But in my experience, when prospects go dark, there usually have been signs that were not recognized, or there were signs that could have been recognized with the right questions, or other contacts could have been established to tap into.

The way to help avoid being ghosted is to do things such as observe, ask the hard questions, nail down next steps, and look for signs such as an uneven pattern of communication, lack of sharing of information, evasive answers…  Test the waters with anti-acting ghosting questions such as Why are you focused on/opened to looking at this now?  If you thought this were of benefit, what obstacles might arise to prevent this from going forward? What other priorities are there? Who in your organization would be impacted by this? What would the outcome mean to your organization/you? What is your evaluation process?

It has never been more important to add to what prospects know, to prove value in financial terms, and connect personally to keep them engaged and keep the conversations moving to the close.  It is up to you to be alert and make it hard for your prospects to break up with you silently or out loud.  One salesperson shared with me that when his prospects go quiet, and after multiple and varied attempts to reach them, he leaves a voice mail in which he apologizes in the event he has done anything wrong and offers to be available to discuss.  He says it is rare that his message of apology does not prompt a quick call back.

It is worth noting that prospects aren’t the only ones who ghost. 50% of prospects, who engage in conversations and express interest at trade shows, never hear from the sales organization or salesperson.  Technology has radically changed sales, but knowledge, follow-up, persistence—and courtesy are still vital elements of sales success.

While you don’t have full control, there is much you can do to prevent your prospects from going quiet and if they do, do not be surprised if they vanish…

July 9th, 2015|3 Comments|

Women in Sales—Predict Your Future by Creating It

Dr. Sharon Peck asked me how I thought women compared to men in sales roles. I’ve been asked this question many times.  For decades, I have observed salesmen and saleswomen in the field, in seminars, and for 35 years in my own company. A broad sweeping assessment would have me say that women in sales were better at discerning the needs of their customers and attending to details and men were more focused on closing.

But that does not tell the full story.  In the ideal world we would not think male or female, but only salespeople.  Success in selling is success. Yet experience shows most of us that women and men bring diverse perspectives and therefore different approaches to sales.

I believe in general women and men are equally endowed with the skill, aptitude, and the drive it takes to be successful in sales.  Yet women much less frequently make it to the ranks of sales leadership.  This should not surprise us.  Historically, men have an educational and social advantage.  Women, as a force in B2B sales, are relatively new starting in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.  But sales is a place, when other factors are relatively equal, where performance should speak for itself—but often the obstacles for women are subtle.

Most of us are familiar with the comparisons between the sexes in Men Are from Mars (god of war, aggressiveness) and Women from Venus (goddess of love and fertility). The latest survey from the American Management Association points to being pushy as the number one objection that customers have to salespeople.  This and the shift in selling to a collaborative teaching model seems to bode well for the “feminine characteristics “, but the need for the hunter instinct in sales will always remain strong too. It really takes a balance.

As I worked with students at Wharton and Drexel, I could not help noticing that the gender gap seems to be closing.  My first six sales courses at Wharton were all male and gradually, over the next decade, percentages moved to about 60% men/40% women. This narrowing of the gap should impact corporate cultures down the road and continue to broaden opportunities for women, as well as women who move up the ranks in organizations.  But until then the onus is on women, organizations, and men (in that order) to create work environments in which there is room for diversity, and women and men are charged up to do their best work every day.

For women today that seems to be a more difficult charge. But they must take the lead.   In sales roles, the glass ceiling for women is fairly well fractured, but the doors to management for the most part remain closed.  My advice for women is know that you can succeed in whichever role you aspire to and go for it.  Know your strengths and use them to the hilt.  Know your weaknesses and tap into every resource available to you to learn and each day strive to make it better than the day before.

I am reminded of my women student at Wharton, when an upscale fashion house for women and men sponsored a business wardrobe day for my 3rd year graduate students.  The executive greeted the men with handshakes and a robust introduction and all but ignored the women.  When the women complained to me the next day, I asked why they did not approach the executive with a handshake and make their presence known.  We all learned a good lesson that day.  In the words of Abraham Lincoln,  “The best way to predict you future is to create it.”

For both women and men, end the day with the questions what did I learn and what did I contribute and where can I go to learn more? Give first, because you will get in return.  Keep a balance in life and work—they are not the same, but they can enrich each other when you maintain a balance.

June 22nd, 2015|0 Comments|

Be Pushy?

A new survey of 1100 buyers from the American Management Association tells us that of the behaviors and tactics that are most offensive to customers, being too pushy ranked as number one. Almost invariably, the number one reason I hear why people say they would never go into sales is they don’t want to be pushy.  Certainly there is the stereotypical image of the pushy salesperson.

But it has been my observation that, far from being too pushy, most salespeople don’t push far enough.  By that I don’t mean push customers but, in an effort not to be pushy, many salespeople don’t push themselves hard enough to reach prospects and customers.

When I was president of Richardson, one of our longer termed salespeople was put on a performance plan because she missed target repeatedly.    She called me to ask for advice about what I thought she could do to turn the situation around. I asked her for an example of a situation where she was facing an obstacle.  She described a high profile, interested prospect whom she met at a trade show, but who had not returned her calls.

What did her outreach effort look like?  She described how she had called the prospect twice, with a week in between each call.   Twice?   I suggested a more active plan, which clearly made her uncomfortable.  Her concern: she did not want to be too pushy.

I asked her what pushy would look like.  She described a salesperson that no customer would want to deal with.  We strategized how to be more assertive, but not obnoxious.  After an email and four more calls, she secured a meeting.  After several months, she closed a major sale.  Her comment to me said it all.  Her customer, who was barraged by salespeople, called her back because he said he respected her persistence and preparation.

There is a difference between aggressive and assertive.  Certainly there are don’ts, such as criticizing customers for not responding, or trying to make customers feel guilty, or hounding customers, that make it clear they are not interested (but I must say I know of more than a few examples of salespeople who persisted, despite customers’ directives not to continue contact, because they truly believed they had the best solution and were able to build strong and profitable relationships). Of course, it is important to know when to move on.   But there are many things salespeople can do to push themselves to reach prospects before moving on.

Salespeople can’t make a prospect respond, but what salespeople can and must do is make the effort, and do so with a feeling of joy based on preparation and the belief that they have something that can bring real value to the customer.  They can maximize tools, such as LinkedIn, to get referrals and interact with industry groups and respond to blogs to connect.  They can ask customers for referrals. They can use search, customer profiling, creativity, and insights.  They can be prepared for voice mail and leverage both email and voice mail. They can ask questions to understand the customers’ thinking and what the obstacles are.

I say “joy” because I have found when a person approaches something with a feeling of joy the outcome is almost always more successful.  Pushing yourself is not high pressure.  It is not being aggressive.  It is not giving up too soon.   But it is finding the joy in stretching to make things happen.    I think Maya Angelou said it all,  “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated.  In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can come out of it.”

Think about your attitude and how you follow-up on leads.  Do you stop at two attempts, three…?  There is no magic number.  The answer is based on how you assess the prospect opportunity.  If you have done your homework and believe you have something of value, push yourself further than you might ordinarily go.  You will be amazed with the results.

June 15th, 2015|0 Comments|

American Pharoah, Welcome to Greatness

But what is greatness?  At Belmont Park, on June 6, the answer was clear.  American Pharoah was the first racehorse to win the Triple Crown since 1978.  But in understanding our own work, the difference between good and great is not that easy to discern.  Often it is feedback from customers we rely on.  Is that enough? Not always. The lens we use to assess our own work, and the prisms we use to define it, makes all the difference.

Emil, a colleague from the past called me on Sunday morning.  It had been about 16 years since we last spoke.  He was leadership consultant at Richardson and someone I remember as an exceptional person and performer, loved by clients and team members alike.

In the course of our conversation he asked me, why is there so much satisfaction with mediocrity and why is it getting worse?

If I had to settle on one key answer I think it is EGO.  Ego gets in the way and causes too many people to feel they already know all they need to know.   When there is a lack of humility, openness to feedback diminishes, and the chances of seeing the difference between good and great diminishes too.  To have humility helps us see our own blind spots.

When I read Jim Collins’ now classic management book, Good to Great, while there was so much to learn, my reaction was the big step was missing as far as individuals were concerned. In his book, Collins looked at criteria such as performance on a corporate scale.

But how can a person go from good to great in his or her own work?  I have found the greatest obstacle for people in making the leap is the inability to even see the difference between good and great. If you cannot see it, you cannot strive for it. Being able to see the difference in ones work product is the first step to produce great work.  How to even know the difference could be the prequel to the book Good to Great, just as Good to Great is the prequel to Collins’ book Built to Last. 

Being able to spot the difference between good and great is not easy, or commonplace. I have found that most people who do average work really do not distinguish the difference.  Of course the concept of great is subjective, but without question good is not the same as great.

Great is not perfection, but it is 95% to 98% that is achievable.  It is knowing that one area in your work is outstanding.  Striving for greatness in work means recognizing there is no absolute finished product.   But sometimes, it is just a matter of a few percentage points – not a doubling of effort. Steve Jobs shows it is the little extra that creates greatness, and that at the same time “Genius always ships.”

If ego is one of the obstacles, then the antidote is humility – the humility to know we have a blind spot, there is something more to learn, and someone or somewhere to learn it.

Whether you are a leader or a team member, how do you look at your work?  Is it to find what is strong?  Certainly it is vital to recognize and celebrate successes, but we must be as diligent and positive about how our work can be better.  We must ask ourselves what can I improve?  Is this the best I can do?

I think the most important development question to ask is where can I go to learn more?  That question keeps the ego in check. It helps us look at our work as “rounds” – round 1, round 2 … and see failures or missteps as steps to greatness.   It acknowledges that next levels exist and feeds on feedback.  Most importantly, we learn to see the difference between good and great.  Without the lens of humility to see our work, we are destined to be stuck with mediocrity.

Whether Seattle Slew, Secretariat, or American Pharoah, great is truly great!

What do you do to move your work from good to great?  Please share your comments here or email me at linda@lindarichardson.com.

June 8th, 2015|1 Comment|