Why Rising Executives Don’t Find Their Real Mission

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January 19, 2020

Why is it that some fast-rising corporate professionals get stalled on their path to the top position? Or, why do they fail to fulfill their potential when they assume the top role? The answer: sometimes, they neglect to revoke unproductive ways of being that operate behind the scenes. 

There’s an invisible transition that should occur during an executive’s ascent to their ultimate destination:  the big corner office. They work hard – that’s not in question. However, by mistake, they rely on two weak “skills” for too long

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The Hole in the Fence Theory of Productivity

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January 10, 2020

There are many reasons being given for our lack of economic growth and corporate profitability. I suggest a different one, aptly named by columnist and friend Dennis Chung: “The Hole in the Fence Theory.”

We Jamaicans love a business rebel; the person who finds a hole in the fence to a concert then sneaks in as many friends as possible before discovery. With good reason. Our ancestors used short-term opportunism to survive and thwart the profit-makers who enslaved them.

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On Ways to Persuade Others to Act

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How do you get groups of people to take non-sales related actions? Is it a matter of using a catchy graphic or video to tell them what to do? Or interrupting them while they are doing something else? Or applying pressure with multiple reminders?

Sales and marketing professionals aren’t confused: persuasive messaging is required to sell products and services. However, if you aren’t a salesperson and you need to persuade a group of individuals to take a certain action, what skills should you employ?

Perhaps you even hate to use the word “sales” in reference to what you are trying to accomplish. But the task remains daunting: you must still say or write stuff that causes people to act. Whether they are employees, peers, board members, customers, the public or another stakeholder, where do you start?

In my column of November 17, 2019, I offered a solution. Begin by analyzing the “Unmet Needs” of individuals in the target group you are trying to influence. When their needs aren’t being met, people’s typical response is to co-opt a low-quality substitute into playing a “better-than-nothing” role. 

However, knowing these needs is just the beginning. The fact is, we live in a world of distracting messages and influences. Whether cash payments are involved or not, you must compete against these distractions for your subject’s time. Even your free offerings need to displace Facebook, Netflix and the news in order to be effective, going up against the millions those entities spend to get attention.

If you are willing to win the battle, I suggest a four-step framework from Michel Fortin, the experienced copywriter. For example, let’s assume that you are trying to arrange a Neighborhood Watch meeting for your community.

Step 1 – Enumerate the Features
These are elements that make your event attractive. They are factual: visible to the naked eye, incontrovertible and distinct. Make a list of these features such as: “The meeting is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at 4pm” or “The nice policeman who drops in occasionally will be there.”

Step 2 – Detail the Advantages
Each of the features you listed can do something that makes your product special. In other words, it provides an advantage. To craft them quickly, simply add “so that” to the end of each feature, and then complete the sentence. For example, “We have scheduled the meeting for Sunday afternoon so that everyone can attend.”

Step 3 – Compile the Motives of Your Prospects
These are the deep psychological drivers, motivations inherent in your targets’ minds. As such, they lie dormant even before the prospect is aware of your solution. You may find these within the Unmet Needs, and they should help you understand why they will take action.
For example, your targets may have a “Hassle-Free” motive for the meeting. Therefore, avoiding the busier days of the week should help.
Continue mapping motives to advantages until the list has been exhausted.

Step 4 – Craft Benefits
The final and most important step is to develop benefit statements you can use in your verbal, written or visual messages. These are practical outcomes which occur when features, advantages and motives are combined to produce a meaningful result. I use the phrase “which means” as a prompt.

For example, “The meeting is on Sunday so that everyone can attend, which means that we can finally come together to plan detailed strategies to protect each and every unit from the thieves living across the gully.”

In benefit statements, I often describe what will happen if the action I want fails to be realised. In the example above, I’m trying to imply that those neighbors who miss the meeting are putting their homes at risk.

When these statements are stacked together, the end-product can be quite persuasive. It should be. After all, it began with your prospect’s Unmet Needs.

However, many individuals don’t want to exert the time and effort to do such rigorous thinking. “De people dem fi know dem need fi come a di meeting” is used as a reason to avoid the hard pre-work needed to craft convincing statements. In the minds of those who are already persuaded, all that’s necessary is a nice, simple flyer.

Unfortunately, most flyers include little more than a list of features; hardly enough to produce the desired result. In a world of relentless demands on our time punctuated by rude surprises, that approach won’t do.  Don’t arrogantly assume your targets should know better and complain when they refuse to comply. Instead, plant the seeds of your success from the start by doing the in-depth work required to convert unmet needs into action. 

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To search prior columns on productivity, strategy, engagement and business processes,  send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

How to Reward Your Employees Effectively

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Could you make a mistake and offer the wrong gift to employees during the holiday season? What if it’s based on outdated assumptions that do more harm than good? Here are some findings from recent research to ensure your organization makes the most of the occasion.

The season for giving gifts to staff is fast approaching and, right now, someone in your company is making an important decision. What gifts should workers receive? It may seem like a small-time concern, but take a closer look: it’s tied up with management’s idea about what motivates employees.

In some years, managers get this wrong, thereby amusing or even insulting staff with their choice of gifts. In others they get it perfectly right, and it resonates in a way that lifts morale and engagement. What can you learn about employee motivation that results, at the very least, in doing no harm?

The big finding is that there’s a huge paradox at play:  the story employees tell their managers about gifts just isn’t true. To wit, when surveyed, most staff members say they prefer cash rewards. With regards to money, most respond with a knee-jerk, cultural reaction – of course they “want more of it”, as soon as possible.

 However, when employee performance is measured after the fact, cash turns out to be less effective in changing behavior than verbal praise or other visible rewards.

Why is that?

I believe that, when surveyed, employees are literally reporting what they should want, rather than what actually produces higher performance. This is especially true for complex or creative work which can’t be quantified easily.

In fact, monetary awards undermine intrinsic motivation in these situations in a phenomenon called “crowding out.” It implies that staff becomes distracted by the money, focusing away from the job at hand. This ruins quality and productivity.

Part of the reason this happens is that raw cash, when rewarded, offers only a temporary spark. In no time, it devolves into a commodity to be traded for ordinary goods and services such as JPS, NWC, rent and phone bills.

However, this isn’t true for other kinds of gifts which have more staying power. Here are some examples and the reasons why they perform better than one-time cash rewards.

1. Luxury Items

These are identified as goods and services which the recipient wouldn’t purchase for him/herself. Apparently, the fact that the gift is a luxury allows an additional level of indulgence. After all, once a reward has been given, it cannot be returned. Instead, it must be consumed and enjoyed which prolongs its effective life, even after completion.

In addition, the luxury gift grants permission to the recipient to partake in an “impractical” expenditure which takes them outside habitual behavior. This heightens the experience, usually increasing a sense of gratitude.

However, one-size-doesn’t-fit-all. Each person has their own ideas about what’s special. Choosing the right gift means knowing something about their personality and making a proper match.

2. Hedonic

Another element which augments the effect of a reward is an intention for it to generate positive emotions. In particular, in the workplace it could evoke feelings of being “included, appreciated, invested in and feeling valued.” This is so important that some researchers have attributed 80% of voluntary attrition to a lack of recognition by employers, echoing similar studies performed here in Jamaica.


In this context, sometimes the most meaningful rewards have no real tangible component whatsoever. Instead, they hit other emotional chords which are more powerful. For example, the words spoken when the gift is given should be accurate and specific, focusing on the unique contribution. This increases the impact.

3. Social

Finally, it’s also best if the reward is public, so that others can honor the individual. 
Furthermore, try to choose something that’s perishable, such as a physical object; not a dinner for two.


Such visible rewards keep doing their job long after the event is over and can continue to be a talking point. Its line of sight reminds people of the reason the gift was given and continues to honor the recipient.

Too many companies treat their employees as if they are simpletons who just want more money or food (e.g. Christmas cake and Easter bun). It’s a not-too-subtle form of classism which needs to be traded in.

But don’t stop at changing the gift you give. Examine the underlying theory managers harbor about the motivations of their staff. Challenging this old thinking may avoid a problem this holiday season.

How to Give Effective Rewards

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December 13, 2019

Could you make a mistake and offer the wrong gift to employees during the holiday season? What if it’s based on outdated assumptions that do more harm than good? Here are some findings from recent research to ensure your organization makes the most of the occasion.

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The Power of Innovating on Unmet Needs

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Innovation is hard. What is the hit-rate like for new products and services in your organization? If the track record is poor, then you may need to delve into the hidden drivers of behaviors in your target market.

Most innovation in Jamaica follows the same process. First, someone high enough in the company has a bright idea – a flash of insight. Their intuition tells them that there’s revenue to be made from customers who will willingly pay for a new offering.

Then, the idea is shared, but more often than not, a directive is issued. An employee in a lower position is given the job of evaluating the concept. They return with misgivings but it soon becomes clear that the high-level originator won’t be easily swayed. A final decision is made to proceed.

However, when the product fails in the market, everyone is mystified, except those employees closest to the prospects. They have their pulse on customer behavior, and can see the shortcomings of the idea clearly. However, they lack enough clout to make a difference.

Companies try to compensate for this power imbalance by surveying workers for ideas, but the truth is that lower-level staff often draw a blank when polled for new product suggestions. They just don’t have the skills to speak to the executive suite. Fortunately, there’s a better way.

At the heart of Tony Ulwick’s “Jobs to be Done” theory is the idea that everyone is going about their daily routine trying to get certain tasks executed. Here is a method that links this notion to innovation.

1. Ask for Unmet Needs

An “unmet need” is expressed as a three-part statement: “When I feel/need__________ I want to ____________ so that____________.” In other words, it’s an expression of a psychological state lying deep within the customer’s experience which then leads to action.

While this desire may be weak at the start, if it continues to be unmet it grows until an actionable decision is made. Consider that customers of your company are a walking bundle of unmet needs. Normally, your marketing department would simply assign them to a well-defined segment. Set that approach aside and, instead, start looking for unmet, emotional drivers.

The challenge is that customers cannot be surveyed directly about their deeper, driving feelings. Why? People give unreliable answers in questionnaires, often telling the surveyor the answers they believe the person wants to hear.

Alternately, it’s far better to have a conversation with customers about their actions, then gently probe them for the reasons behind them. Their explanations may be unclear, but their past behaviour offers important clues. Keep asking until a pattern of actions and underlying emotions emerges.

2. Look for Substitutes

Strong unmet needs cause people to take concrete steps, even if it only leads them to partial, temporary substitutes. By definition, the fact that the need persists means that the substitute is doing a poor job. For example, someone who has a feeling for some quick, new ideas to use in their organization may go searching on television, the local bookstore or Facebook. While these substitutes are all readily available and inexpensive, they are time consuming and foreign, so the need never gets fulfilled.

Therefore, your new product or service should be so well-crafted that it displaces the substitutes currently in use. They are, in fact your real enemies.

Take this fortnightly business column as an example. At first blush, you may think that another newspaper represents the competition. However, when I performed the Ulwick analysis I realized that the real competitors are television, books and Facebook.

From a traditional point of view, these conclusions makes no sense. Yet, in the customer’s world, the psychological gap that drives them to these substitutes has its own, perfect logic.

3. Use Benefit Statements

Closing the psychological gap isn’t easy. In fact, innovators often have a difficult time articulating the emotional-filled reasons their new product or service improves the customer’s life.

However, once the unmet needs and substitutes are known, the task becomes easier. For example, one benefit of reading this column regularly might be that “It gives you fresh ideas for your Jamaican organization with a minimum investment of effort, so you don’t have to waste precious time searching the internet.”

Contrast this approach with that taken by traditional marketers who imagine distinct market segments. These are usually formed around demographic data such as “an employed woman between the ages of 30-45 with two children and a bachelor’s degree.” Unfortunately, segments don’t work as well because people are actually individually and psychologically motivated by unmet needs in particular circumstances. Not by generic characteristics.

In summary, use these three insights to dramatically improve your connection with your prospect’s hidden motivators.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2018, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

On Separating Breakthrough Strategic Plans from the Others

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November 7, 2019

Have you ever been presented with a strategy document that appears to be nothing more than a list of projects? If so, the good news is that you aren’t crazy if you thought that something was missing. A sound plan is more than a grab bag – it should bring an intangible hypothesis to life in words and images that staff members can use in their daily activities.

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On Separating Breakthrough Strategic Plans from the Others

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Have you ever been presented with a strategy document that appears to be nothing more than a list of projects? If so, the good news is that you aren’t crazy if you thought that something was missing. A sound plan is more than a grab bag – it should bring an intangible hypothesis to life in words and images that staff members can use in their daily activities.
On an assignment recently, I was asked to look at a strategic plan put together by a public sector organization. Fortunately, it had all the boxes ticked. Every single item was cross-referenced with Vision 2030 Jamaica, United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals plus a number of other guidelines set by esteemed international bodies.
However, there was a gaping hole. The plan lacked any connection between detailed project plans and the reasons they were created in the first place. Apparently, the consultants who assembled these projects left out an important activity, such that employees were forced to take empty steps. With little emotional or logical guidance to the original ideas, they were going through the motions, but missing the point. How can you ensure this never happens to your team?
1. Stick to Breakthrough Goals If your strategic planning team isn’t intent on crafting breakthroughs, then cancel the retreat. Save your North Coast hotel money and just follow business as usual. If the idea of producing breakthroughs sounds daunting, it should. By definition, these stretch targets don’t produce themselves, yet they are the reason leaders are appointed. Even with little explicit training in how to do so, executives are expected to realize the unimaginable and unforeseen.
One method I use to move leadership teams into this zone is logical: I request that they step into and create a specific 15-30 year future. I ask: “What are you willing to create?” and “How does it translate into numbers?”
As they follow the process to sketch out these results by the chosen year, they naturally produce stretch targets which cannot occur by accident.
To find an example of a breakthrough commitment, look no further than Vision 2030 Jamaica: “…the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business”. We can probably all agree that this extraordinary outcome has no chance of being realized by routine actions.
2. Fire-Test and Adjust Breakthrough Commitments The big problem leaders have when sharing such lofty targets is that the first reaction is one of disbelief. People hear the words and immediately dismiss them as fantastical; to be ignored.
A good way to alleviate this pressure is to build a logical bridge between the future to the present. This can be done by back-casting – working one’s way back to the present using the current day facts and future targets as anchors on opposite ends. Unfortunately, teams sometimes discover that such a connection is impossible to build. It could be that the goals, when taken together as a whole, are infeasible.
In this case, they must be readjusted in order to remain credible, a task leaders must undertake to retain their followership. This simple act restores trust: it’s the opposite of the nonsensical “I Don’t Care, Do It Anyway” pressure that some managers try to apply.
3. Preserve the Emotional Connection Perhaps the hardest challenge is to help project teams who are executing each day to retain their link to the original intent of the Breakthrough Goal.
For example, I have met few at the lowest or even mid-levels of the public sector who are inspired by Vision 2030. Even though it articulates our citizens’ deepest commitments, it has gotten lost in mundane business-as-usual execution.
One approach to retain the link is to explain executive reasoning in words, images, videos and interactives. Together, they show how the Breakthrough Goals of the organization were derived in tones which are both logical and emotional, making them easy to understand.
Another way is to give staff the means to translate Breakthrough Goals into personal objectives. This exercise helps them retain the underlying intent, but own the outcome for themselves.
If your organization is looking at a list of projects which don’t add up to more than an empty bunch of activities, consider that your leaders skipped a task along the way. Instead, take actions to restore them. Trust that staff who appear to be merely going through the motions can be inspired. Shift to seeing them as people who are waiting for you and your fellow managers to step up and lead.
Like many solutions of this nature, the best examples are wrought from the very top of the organization. Leaders must tell the truth about their own lack of inspiration if they are to forge the kind of commitment which leads to sacrifices and risk-taking. These are a few of the essential ingredients needed to see a breakthrough goal become a reality.

Are you Cutting Meetings to the Bone

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October 31, 2019

Is it possible to simultaneously cut the total time people spend in meetings while improving their quality? Not only is it possible, but there is a natural link between the two results that your company could exploit to increase its overall productivity.

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Productivity: Are You Cutting Meetings to the Bone?

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  Is it possible to simultaneously cut the total time people spend in meetings while improving their quality? Not only is it possible, but there is a natural link between the two results that your company could exploit to increase its overall productivity.
How many hours do  folks in your organization spend in meetings each year? Usually, this number is a mystery, yet the majority of attendees would agree that it’s too high.
You may know from bitter experience the painful minutes lost in a poorly run meeting. 
Perhaps it took twice as long as it should have. Maybe you would have bolted out the door if there were no social downside for doing so. Here in Jamaica, if the big man/woman doesn’t leave the room, no-one does, regardless of the time being wasted.
Bombarded by thoughts of the things we could be doing instead, we have all had such moments. However, the fact that we care means little. The larger cultural forces at play keep us in check, perpetuating a measurable travesty which costs the best employees’ precious time. After all, meetings tend to attract the most important people. In most organizations this cost is not only hidden from view, but it’s rarely tackled in a forthright way. Complaints may occasionally lead to weak improvement efforts, like putting up posters with tips in conference rooms. But few companies do anything more. 
Often the worst culprits are top managers themselves who don’t encourage dissent, thereby making the problem harder to solve.
But if your company decided to do something one day, what process should it follow so that it can get to a place where no-one can recall a badly run meeting?
1. Measure the impact It’s not hard to make a decent estimate of the total cost of meetings: all that’s needed is careful tracking. Some companies ask their administrative assistants to account for these statistics which are fed into a central database. Sunk costs like those related to the room are ignored: only the total time spent in the meeting by participants is counted.
As you may expect, this cost varies by level of attendee. A meeting of executives is the most expensive because it includes the highest-paid employees.
Expect big numbers. Studies show that some 35% of a middle manager’s time, and 50% of executive time, is spent in meetings. In the US, some 25 million sessions take place each day, of which 67% are considered failures.
2. Analyze meeting issues Collect information on the faults which proliferate in meetings. Do they start late? Is the purpose unclear? Is the agenda a secret? Is there no end time set? Should they never have been called to begin with?
These common mistakes are the reasons why productivity is low in these gatherings. Poll staff to uncover other causes at play which are peculiar to your culture.
3. Create targets Take a conservative estimate of the improvements which can be made if behaviors were to change. Don’t pick the maximum savings. Instead, use a more realistic mid-point as a goal for everyone to head towards.
4. Pilot changes Go through the company and test the changes you want to introduce in small settings. Share the results to show which improvements your culture can withstand, and at what pace.
5. Implement Once you have an improvement plan, implement it using the best change management techniques. You will have to work around the un-productives: those who benefit from bad meetings. Don’t underestimate their willingness to hide their lack of productivity.
6. Measure the Gains At the end, determine how much has been saved in hard numbers, and also gauge the overall experience of your staff. Use both metrics to declare whether or not the targeted improvements have been made.
Look for discrepancies. Staff may point out where a cancelled standing meeting is causing problems, for example. But don’t overreact. You are seeking to reach a place where the number of employees who are asking for more meeting time is equal to those asking for less.
Keep in mind that the hidden cultural forces which drive bad meetings are considerable. They exist at every level, starting with the highest i.e. the board. A company that commits to achieving the same results with fewer meeting hours makes a public commitment to work-life balance. Why?
The sad truth is that there are employees who are coming in early and staying late because they have too many meetings. Act in everyone’s interest by cutting this form of corporate waste to the bone.
Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2018, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com