Saturday, June 30, 2007

Quote: Chances

Use the formulae P=40 to 70, in which P stands for the possibility of success and the numbers indicate the percentage of information acquired. Once the information is in the 40 to 70 range, go with your gut.
—General Colin Powell, U.S. Army (Retired), Former United States Secretary of State

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Chief Executive, the Leader

In the latter half of the 1990s an issue that would often enter conversation in larger circles was the compensation gap between members of the military and their civilian counterparts. At this time, for instance, anyone that worked with information technology was making next to nothing in the military compared to their counterparts in the civilian world. Those in career fields such as infantry, however, it was rumored, often had problems finding jobs in the private sector outside of police or security: Not a lot of demand for advancing on an enemy and holding ground in the free market. Something that arose from this discussion was the compensation of the Army’s top general: The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff earned somewhere in the neighborhood of $100,000 to $150,000 after benefits as opposed to a chief executive officer of a private corporation of equivalent size for, conservatively, $1.5 million.

This was during the same time when my military career was progressing from its earliest phases of learning the ropes of a private to determining that I did, in fact, wish to train to become the general on the cover of the Army magazine that had General Dennis Reimer’s picture on it. I began to develop a mental list of skill sets of leaders of organizations—mostly larger ones, like the Army and major commands that I belonged to—and work on finding application of them in daily life.

· Selecting a team: It is about the people. People are the key in any organization; no matter how much the leader is a superman or superwoman, you need to have people to “do the stuff” of the organization. Things like character and ethics is nearly impossible to teach; when bringing people onto your team ensure that their ideals fall in line with your expectations and the culture of the organization. Skills can be learned, character cannot.

It has been shown, from the smallest start-ups to the largest multi-national corporations, that no product or service is of more value than the people that produce it or the people that receive the service or purchase the good. Employees are everywhere, but good employees are worth their weight in gold. On the same token, while customers are important…any decent demographic analysis ensures sustainability in said demographic: Good and/or loyal customers are worth their weight in platinum.

· The ability to make immediate decisions, often without “perfect” information or not enough of it. Leaders are constantly being called upon to make decisions about the direction of their organization. Sometimes you will be right and others you will be wrong: An imperfect decision (or plan, for that matter) today is better than a perfect one tomorrow: People can always adapt and conquer tasks along the way in regards to the goals of the mission, especially for those mindful of the first tip.

· Develop a skilled team. As leaders rise on the organizational chart they’ll find their role shifting from technical or artisan to mentor and administrator. As a leader of an organizational unit, you understand the requirements for your team, what it must do, what the end result must be. Understanding where you are right now, the dynamics of your team, and the goal where you and your team must reach allows you to develop the skills and talents of those on your team and enhance their dynamics. If you’ve chosen your people well enough this will be much easier and much more fruitful. This can often be the most dynamic, most important, and most rewarding role that a leader undertakes.

· Awareness. Aside from the general awareness of your organization, the people in your charge, and the markets and industry in which you operate, being able to shift your focus between critical matters, strategic opportunities for success, or some other action step is essential in the skill set of the chief executive officer or other organizational leader. This awareness extends, also, to the financial situations such as cash flows and financial reports. Awareness makes a leader and a lack of it is the quickest way to becoming a loser.

· Communication. Each of the stakeholders in your organization—employees, stockholders, creditors, suppliers, and customers—rely on proper communication to ensure peak efficiency of operations. Regular, accurate, and effective communication strategies need to be established by leaders of any organization of any size.

· Handling success, handling failure. If something fails to succeed along the path to your organization’s goals you need to be able to adequately deal with that failure: If that means something as simple as getting back up, dusting yourself off, and continue running or acquiring proper bankruptcy counsel handling this failure is critical. Handling success, though, is also critical. Success changes the entire paradigm of your team: It can cause “growing pains” or change individual perspectives of your team members to change. You must be there to set the culture and the direction for the good times and the bad.

· Back up opinions with facts. Everyone has an opinion about something, but many people are apt to simply regurgitate information without giving it much thoughtful consideration; like the gray matter between their ears is simply a sieve whereas information, whichever quality it is, leaves the same way it arrives. When you hear something, do not believe it unless it either is congruent with your thoughts, beliefs, and ideologies as they stand or you have done adequate research and believe what is said to be true. Most people, see, are content issuing opinions without the requisite facts with which to corroborate or substantiate them: It takes a higher class of intellect to back up that which you say with facts.

· Handling change. Everything changes; if it hasn’t, it will. Change can be a destructive thing in which there are losers, winners, enablers, and detractors. As a leader you will be expected to see the change through to its inevitable conclusion with your head held high. Things might be good, things might not be as good as you had planned—but people will look to you either way.

· Walk the talk. For one reason or another you are a leader and you have either gained that station because of traits that you have or in spite of them. When you are charged with the professional well-being of employees or adding value to the organization you will constantly be looked at by subordinates, peers, superiors, and anyone looking in from the outside to show integrity, honesty, and other values that you should reflect belonging to your organization’s core belief structure. People will expect you to walk the talk and live true to those things which you say. If you say, for instance, that you have an open door policy and you do not live up to it, people will see that. A story is told of Wal-Mart CEO H. Lee Scott tells of a Wal-Mart employee that needed to speak with Mr. Scott. Calling his residence, though, Mrs. Scott informed the individual that Mr. Scott was out of town on business, and gave the person the information with which to contact the CEO. Although Mr. Scott had been traveling all day he made time to talk on the phone with the gentleman having issues. The quickest way to gain respect is to make promises and keep them; the quickest way to lose it is to not stay true to your word.

· Will the real leader please stand up? The persona of many leaders is one who joins all the right clubs, knows the right people, and attends highly visible community functions. However, this veneer is something that can be peeled off, the real person beneath the persona can be any sort of person; sometimes those highly successful individuals are completely different people: Their persona is someone that you like to know, someone that you like to be around. Their person, on the other hand, is someone that you would normally shy away from in your group of friends.

These are just a slice of the “soft” leadership skills necessary for any successful chief executive officer. By far, the larger base of skills necessary for the role of chief of an organization is something that many people strive for and only a few people achieve.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Sales and Marketing in Everyday Life

Leaders, in my worldview, are those that practice the same ideals and principles in and out of the boardroom. They also practice economies of scope in such a fashion as to gain efficiencies in their daily lives:

[Economics of scope is] the condition where fewer inputs such as effort and time are needed to produce a greater variety of outputs. Greater business value is achieved by jointly producing different outputs. Producing each output independently fails to leverage commonalities that affect costs. Economies of scope occur when it is less costly to combine two or more products in one production system than to produce them separately.

To this end, I often find that applying business principles to daily life. Sales and marketing is a great field to derive principles in showing the people in your life the value which you have in the world around you. These principles can supplement your deeds in showing others perceived value.

1. Offer of yourself. Make promises, and be certain to keep them. By offering of yourself, you open yourself up to be offered to, as it is said in The Bible: ““Give, and it shall be given to you. For whatever measure you deal out to others, it will be dealt to you in return.

2. Seek first to understand. A “Covey Classic,” this principle goes to the emphatic understanding of what you’re being told. Instead of giving someone your autobiography then seeking to bring them to your point of view, try looking at the world from their point of view by thoroughly seeing to their concerns then seeking for your own to be understood. This will help assure that a working communication is developed.

How can you expect a man who's warm to understand one who's cold?
Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn

3. Adapt your message. Each person sees the world how they want to see it, through myriad filters and perceptions, in accordance with their worldview. Because of this, you need to be able to speak in terms of the other person’s perceptions, try to see the world through their eyes and adapt what you are saying to how they see the world. Just as a typical basketball player wouldn’t much understand the technical jargon of physics, people will have a tendency of listening with intent to respond rather than listening to absorb if we choose the wrong way to send our message.

The wise adapt themselves to circumstances, as water moulds itself to the pitcher.

—Chinese Proverb

4. You are a product providing a service to the world; make yourself great. People look up to others who with traits that they hold in high regard; while the specifics will vary between individuals, there are culturally-held and universally held traits that can be displayed which can influence others to see you as great.

5. Up-sell. One of the times that I was in college I was not your typical college student, just traipsing from class to class, taking tests, and moving on. Instead, I decided to go above and beyond (something forged from my military experience): This became my trademark. Everything that I would do, I would take it one step further, going above and beyond a person’s expectations of me in that situation.

6. Closing. When you’ve gone through the steps and wish to “close the deal” on influencing someone to do something, it is most effective to close in a fashion that matches the situation’s requirements most closely.

7. Audience targeting. Although there are supposedly people out there that can do it, why would you want to sell ice to an Eskimo? You end up putting more effort into something to an audience that doesn’t need it. Why would you offer something to someone that doesn’t need it?

The odds of hitting your target go up dramatically when you aim at it.
—Mal Pancoast

8. Be persistent about being persistent. Everyone does things that fail, just as we all do things that occasionally work. History has shown over and over again that the victory doesn’t necessarily go to the superiorly skilled or equipped, but rather the most persistent.

Success is almost totally dependent upon drive and persistence. The extra energy required to make another effort or try another approach is the secret of winning.
Denis Waitley

9. You, the Brand. The image which you present to the world is your brand. Everything you put into yourself, your actions, and the world around you is noticed. If you make due on your word, people will add more repute to your brand; just as the opposite is true.

Your premium brand had better be delivering something special, or it's not going to get the business.
Warren Buffett

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Sales, Marketing, and the Exotic Dancer

In my constant search for information around the Internet, I occasionally stumble on something that is as equally profound as it is strange. 10 Sales and Marketing Tips I learned from Strippers” looks at the intricacies of good sales and marketing—two business disciplines that go hand-in-hand—from the eyes of a man that frequents gentlemen’s clubs and, just as frequently, leaves with an empty wallet. He posits that this phenomenon has its core in the greater dynamic of commerce and not merely in the fact that there were scantily-clad or nude women performing for aroused men.

1. Something for nothing. An exotic dancer begins the exchange, the transaction if you will, by flirting with you; doing something to raise your excitement level. This free sample, just like the product demonstrator at Sam’s Club or Wal-Mart, entices you to purchase their good or service. The exotic dancer attains buy-in; your desire to purchase the good increases from a probability to a distinct possibility. If the sample is good enough, your likelihood of patronizing the product or service increases because you perceived utility and outcome are positive.

2. Customer understanding. A good salesperson learns their customers through questions and observations; allowing them to adapt their “sales pitch” and build a better rapport with their customer. The “sales soldiers” in the thickest of sale-and-marketing combat are the used car salespeople of the world: They instantly are working towards building a rapport with you in order to feel out your needs and desires for purchasing a car—that is something that is a bit more than a convenience purchase for most of us.

3. Adapt the sales pitch. The sales pitch is something that can make a potential customer into a paying one. If one sales pitch does not work, then the salesperson will try another one. The right sales pitch is the one that gets the person to reach buy-in; achieved by applying the knowledge of the questions and observations the salesperson translates into likes and dislikes of the person to which he or she is trying to sell.

4. Have a great product or service. Chances are that whatever you are selling can be had somewhere else; in all but a minority of situations there is a substitution product or service—in other words, if what you’re selling doesn’t stand out in some fashion, there is a good chance that the person you’re trying to sell will patronize the product or service from a substitute that offers an advantage to the product or service better than you can. This uniqueness of product or service that you have to offer better than other competitors is called your differential advantage. Certainly, if something is unappealing to you, and the salesperson is unable or unwilling to make it more appealing, then an impasse is often arrived at.

5. Good customer service. Once you are “in the zone” and servicing the customer, it is the duty of the good salesperson to provide good customer service so the patron will offer repeat business opportunities for the salesperson. The more satisfaction, happiness, or euphoria, the better because the stronger emotional attachment will be built into the mind of the person being sold. Good customer service also allows the salesperson an opportunity to up-sell.

6. The up-sell. Standard customer services are where “bread-and-butter” is at—or simply “just making it.” Real profitability relies upon going past the ordinary and into the extraordinary services that you can offer as a salesperson to your client. In the analogy of the exotic dancer, they will sell you the initial lap dance and work towards up-selling you on a trip to the “champagne room” where they have the opportunity to sell you a premium service from her repertoire.

7. Close, close, close. In classic Zig Ziglar fashion, the good salesperson knows how to “close the salewith different techniques. The analogy of the exotic dancer shows that they like to use the complimentary close (most likely via flirting) and the companion close (by getting your friends to help push you into making the sale).

8. Target the right audience. Salespeople sell things to people who are in need or desire their service. The salesperson is always “pre-qualifying the buyer” by gathering information from those in their environment to find people who are more likely to purchase their goods or services than the average person. Good marketing consists of determining, as detailed and accurately as possible, the traits of your target audience.

9. Persistence, persistence, persistence. No matter how qualified an audience is, rejections will always happen. The good salesperson can either overcome rejections or overcome the fear of them and move on to another qualified buyer. An application of the Law of Large Numbers is that the more people you ask, the likelihood of making a sale is also increased.

10. Branding. When you think of waffles, you probably think of Eggo or Bisquick; when you think of personal media players, you probably think iPod; when you think of purchasing a personal computer, you probably think of Dell or Gateway. The emotional or logical connection that you make between these names, their images, and their place in your categorical view of the world is the essence of branding:

In marketing, a brand is the symbolic embodiment of all the information connected with a product or service. A brand typically includes a name, logo, and other visual elements such as images or symbols. It also encompasses the set of expectations associated with a product or service which typicaly arise in the minds of people. Such people include employees of the brand owner, people involved with distribution, sale or supply of the product or service, and ultimate [sic] consumers.

In a future post I will take the above principles and illustrate how we can apply them in everyday life ala authentic assessment.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Quote: Leadership

Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science says is possible.
Oren Harari, author, talking about retired U.S. Army General Colin Powell

What to Do With the Communications Model

With the understanding how the communication model fundamentally works…let’s explore some of the uses of it. Long the field of interrogators and intelligence agents, the art of lie detection is a relatively simple thing with all but the most trained in telling them. Being a leader means getting the right information, at the right time. The “right information” is often the truth; and when you need the truth, you look for patterns in a person’s behavior to determine whether he or she is telling it to you.

1. Are they sweating? Are they fidgeting? Can they make eye contact? Obvious physical, behavioral cues like this offer the most correlative insight that the teller of the lie might be less than truthful at that moment. Changes in posture, distancing themselves from you, becoming belligerent, overly apologetic, pleasant, or defensive—in such that they deviate from a baseline behavior—are all signs of a liar.

2. The devil is in the details. The idiom aside, real events require real details. When you’re being told something that your instincts tell you might be too vague…be wary. If you are uncertain, try asking the potential liar about details. If the details they can or cannot muster can’t pass the reasonable person test, then you’re probably being swindled.

3. An inconvenient attitude. Liars can be the whiners and complainers that are less cooperative than the reasonable person that is telling the truth might be. Liars will also have a tendency to protest and use such ironic phrases as “to be honest.” This sort of thing cracks me up. Unnatural silences and repetition of questions—either by themselves or asking the person they are confronting to do so—are also things to look for. Verbal-vocal cues, however, have a lower correlation with lying than the other behavioral traits.

4. Human lie detection. Lie detectors essentially work by picking out abnormal fluctuations in metrics that can be read of the human body such as pulse rate and pupil dilation because psychologists have found that both increase when a person is lying. They might also experience an increased pitch in voice or pauses in their monologue to come up with details at a moment’s notice, indicating their untruthful nature. Our own personal biases might enter into the equation, too: How many times have you seen people hear what they want to hear; they are not being honest with themselves about what they really want and instead can be lied to more easily. Don’t be one of them. Vocal cues, again, are less likely to in and of themselves be the sign of a liar: Instead they need to be analyzed alongside behavioral cues to make an accurate determination.

5. The world is full of dumb liars. A police interrogation trick, as we’ve all seen in the movies and on television, is to have the perpetrator repeat their story multiple times. In this case you are looking for the person to have inconsistencies. More intelligent individuals can offer stories that keep their consistencies, but the less intelligent liars have trouble doing so. I find this as an interesting quandary: People who are intelligent enough should understand that lying is a situation that might offer short-term gain, rarely offers solid long-term gains while those who are not intelligent enough will look for the easy way out, rationalize excuses on why they tell lies, but have more difficulty keeping up the appearance of propriety when they are not actually practicing it.

Anyone teaching the art of lie detection will offer a couple caveats: All of these behavioral traits work in patterns and we need to have an understanding of the baseline psychology of the individual in which we’re trying to determine this behavior. Lying is a deviation from the norm for all people short of the psychopathic sort, but that’s an entirely different subject completely. Once you’ve determined these two things we need to refine our theories through observation of the individual until we’re ready to make our decision about their truthful nature—or lack of it.

Quote: Defeat

Once we have a war there is only one thing to do. It must be won. For defeat brings worse things than any that can ever happen in war.
—Ernest Hemmingway, Author

Monday, June 25, 2007

Quote: Listening

When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.
Ernest Hemingway

Communications Model

Have you ever walked into a room and talked to someone, only to walk away and not certain if you got your point across? Communication is more than just the words that are said between two people: It is an intricate dance of verbal and non-verbal communication between the sender and receiver in the environment in which it is taking place. Few people understand the true mechanics of communication, even though it is likely the most important thing that we do on a daily basis.

1. In normal circumstances, less than 35 percent of communication is verbal. We’ve all heard this before: What you say is not as important as how you say it. In many languages, what a person says isn’t necessarily what they mean. Take the hundreds of expressions in the English language alone that have an entirely different meaning than that which they say—or idioms.
Fit as a fiddle,” for instance. Are you referring to a violin-like instrument that is well-tuned, or does it just mean that you’re as healthy as you could possibly be?

2. Vocal communication can comprise more than a third of the meaning of the message. In the movie “Ferris Bueller's Day Off” Ben Stein plays the character of the monotone teacher renowned for his famous “Bueller…Bueller…Bueller” line. Or, take Gary Busey who is known to put too much tone into normal interactions. When I was in the call center business the common catch-phrase was “tone and demeanor:” Anyone that was routinely on the phones knew that tone and demeanor, regardless of what was said, could make or break the call. Voice quality, pitch, and inflection are all factors in proper tone and demeanor.

3. Nonverbal communication is where most of the message lies.

This one makes for a deeper discussion: The importance of non-verbal cues in communication is imperative to communications. First, however, the “basic model for communications:”

Source à Encoding à Message à Medium àDecoding à Receiver

As the source of something you want to get across to another person you craft a message by taking ideas and concepts and fitting it into language that is appropriate for the situation in which you find yourself.

The message then passes through whatever medium—from simple, short sentences to PowerPoint presentations—you choose. The medium also includes your non-verbal and vocal components of this model.

At the receiver’s end, they translate the message you have delivered to them through the medium which you have. The most important things to remember about this end of the communication spectrum, so to speak, is that the receiver receives the message through “noise” that can be found in the environment and the decoding process of the receiver passing it through their “filters” of personal biases.

Keep in mind that any communication exchange is an extremely complex thing: People speak about 75 to 100 words each minute and short-term, sensory memory of the other person can take in about 7 bits of information (give or take 2) before needing to commit it to long-term memory all the while there is the background noise of your situation and the receiver is likely listening with the intent to respond rather than solidly take in the information.

Monkey Mondays: Maryland Woman 'Miserable' After Pet Monkey Seized By State

Wouldn't you be miserable too?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Quote: Plans

"The greatest enemy of a good plan is the dream of a perfect plan."
-- Karl von Clauswitz, Prussian General

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The Truth

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.
Marcus Aurelius