Thursday, July 20, 2017

How to Rapidly Resolve Crises in Your Business

Guest post from Nat Greene:

You can probably remember a dozen times just like this: you’re at the head of a conference table with a haggard, tired team sitting about you. They’re anxious, but eager to take action. You’ve assembled them because a new crisis has arisen in the business: it might be a risk to your best customer, a production shutdown, or a new product release gone terribly awry.

All eyes are locked on you to lead them. What’s your first step?

In my experience, most leaders in this situation begin soliciting ideas from their team on how to resolve the crisis. This is certainly a better step than many take, which is to try to play the hero and dictate what ideas will be implemented. And it’s a very natural reaction: in the middle of a crisis, most people want action, and they want it now. Every minute spent sitting around talking is another minute that the crisis continues and the fortunes of the business decline. And nobody wants a long, drawn-out meeting where no action comes forth.

But this approach of soliciting ideas has a fatal flaw: all of these “ideas” are in fact guesses. You’ve assembled smart, experienced people in the room, and their experience can fool us into believing that one or more of their guesses is likely to be an effective solution to the crisis. And guessing can resolve some easy problems. However, truly difficult crises are caused by hard problems. Guesses, even by experienced people in the business, are unlikely to come up with the winning solution.

To solve the hard problem at the root of your crisis, you need to take a different approach. It involves a strategic sort of patience. You need to do the work to understand the root cause behind your crisis in order to solve it effectively. To find the root cause, you need to stop guessing and use a different set of behaviors.

Know what problem you’re solving. Most crisis response efforts attempt to solve the problem without having defined it well in the first place. Often, problem definitions contain assumptions about the cause of the problem, causing your team to work on the wrong problem altogether. “Our supplier is sending us low quality materials,” or “our core assets are too old” are both problem definitions that assume you already know what’s wrong. Take a step back and define the problem based on what you can observe directly.

Smell the problem. Your first step during the crisis shouldn’t be to try implementing a guessed solution; it should be quickly getting out of the conference room and getting close to the problem to understand it. Pull up data that describes the pattern of the problem, or go to the site of the problem and get familiar with it. If you have unhappy customers, listen in depth to what they’re saying. If you have a supply chain problem, go to the site and record in detail what’s going on.

Stay on target. As you explore the problem, seek to quickly eliminate possible culprits. Investigate it like Sherlock Holmes: instead of trying to confirm a hunch about a suspect, look for evidence that eliminates the possibility that a suspect is the criminal. When you have eliminated all suspects but one, you’ve found your culprit. This relentlessness to eliminate possible root causes will quickly move you towards the true root cause.

When you’ve found the root cause to your crisis, the most effective and efficient solution will become readily apparent. You’ll be able to implement it with greater speed, confidence, and consensus than if you were trying out the best idea that bubbled up in your conference room. To rapidly resolve the crisis in your business, focus your resources on understanding the problem, rather than wasting them trying out guesses that may or may not work.

Learn what skills your team brings to the table in crisis resolution with our free online quiz.

Nathaniel Greene is the co-founder and current CEO of Stroud International, and author of Stop Guessing: The 9 Behaviors of Great Problem-Solvers. Nat has a Masters of Engineering from Oxford University and studied design, manufacturing and management at Cambridge University, in addition to executive education coursework in Harvard Business School's Owner/President Management program.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

How to Create a Rising Tide of Talent Within Your Organization

Guest post from Scott Wintrip:

Great leaders lift up the people around them. They help employees harness their natural abilities, guide the development of their skills, and support them along an internal career path. Nurturing your organization’s team members has many payoffs. Staff member stay dedicated to the company and its mission; employee retention remains high; and in time, the organization gains its next generation of leaders.

Unfortunately, the persistent talent shortage across the globe is undermining these efforts. There continue to be more jobs than qualified people to fill them. Further, this talent shortage is delaying promotions, which keeps people stuck in their current jobs because they’re the only ones who can do that job. Even when there’s a career path for them, talented employees can’t advance in their own company; they can’t step up because there’s simply no one available to take their place.

You can solve this problem by creating a rising tide of talent available to your organization. Instead of focusing on succession plans that fail for lack of qualified successors, developing a continuous influx of top talent expedites advancement and elevates careers at all levels in your organization.

How can you create a rising tide of talent? By ensuring your organization maintains a wealth of quality people.
Determining Your Current Talent Wealth

Talented employees who do outstanding work are the secret ingredients that make a company great. Sustaining a full complement of good employees fuels succession plans and helps you maintain a competitive advantage.

Just as there are levels of personal wealth, so too are there levels of talent wealth within all companies. The departments in your organization are either talent rich, talent poor, or hover somewhere in between. Understanding your current level of talent wealth is important. Read the following descriptions and share them with your organization’s department heads and HR. Work together to determine which description best describes the current ranking of each department.

1. Talent Rich Departments
Talent rich departments employ mostly above average people, many of who are top talent in their fields of expertise. These people consistently do high quality work, often exceeding expectations and beating deadlines. Numerous advancement opportunities are almost always filled from within, creating new job opportunities. These jobs are filled quickly from a pipeline filled with high quality job candidates.

2. Talent Strong Departments
Talent strong departments employ people who are at least average at what they do. Some of these employees are top talent in their fields of expertise. They do quality work that meets expectations and deadlines. Advancement opportunities are frequently filled from within, creating new job opportunities. Some open jobs are filled quickly from a pipeline of talent. Other jobs take longer to fill, delaying promotions until new employees are found.

3. Talent Stable Departments
Talent stable departments have a mixture of average and below average performers. Just a few, if any, employees would be designated as top talent. The performance of these employees is typically adequate, although they can struggle to meet expectations and deadlines. Advancement opportunities, when they occur, are sometimes filled from within. When jobs become open, it usually takes days to fill some of them, weeks or months to fill the rest. Promotions are often delayed or even cancelled when backfilling a role takes too long.

4. Talent Poor Departments
Talent poor departments employ a significant number of below average performers, along with a handful of people who could be considered average in their roles. Rarely is there anyone on the team who could be considered top talent. Job performance is usually mediocre at best. Deadlines are often missed and expectations are rarely exceeded. Advancement opportunities are rare, prompting people to leave for other positions. When jobs open, it takes weeks or months to fill them.

Shaping the Future of Your Organization’s Talent

Talent rich businesses thrive while others struggle. Make maintaining high talent wealth throughout your company a top priority to ensure its success. Require that each department improve their ranking (or maintain their talent rich level if that’s already been achieved). Support department heads in filling open jobs and replacing subpar performers with quality hires. Work together with each department to set a goal and a deadline for this improvement, such as raising their current ranking one level or more by the end of the next business quarter. If you need help drawing in quality job candidates and conducting an efficient hiring process, my new book will show you how.

The flow of talent in your organization will determine its future, lifting careers or sinking them, including your own. Hire exceptional people. Help them to be the best versions of themselves. Offer them a path that elevates their careers and yours. Build and maintain a wealth of talent that makes your organization an unstoppable force in the marketplace.

Scott Wintrip has changed how thousands of companies across the globe find and select employees, helping design and implement a process to hire top talent in less than an hour. He is the author of the bestselling new book High Velocity Hiring: How to Hire Top Talent in an Instant (McGraw-Hill, April 2017). Over the past 18 years, he built the Wintrip Consulting Group, a thriving global consultancy. For five consecutive years, Staffing Industry Analysts, a Crain Communications company, awarded Scott a place on the “Staffing 100,” a list of the world’s 100 most influential leaders. He’s also a member of the Million Dollar Consultant Hall of Fame and was recently inducted into the Staffing 100 Hall of Fame.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Playing by the Brain’s Rules to Make Communications Stick

Guest post from Tim Pollard:

Despite the fact that the stakes of business communications are often high, it’s sad reality that most are really not very good.  Survey after survey reveals that only about one quarter of internal business presentations are rated as good or better by their audiences, while 75 percent languish as mediocre, poor, or terrible.

And for those critical sales presentations that companies make to customers, the score is no better. Data we’ve gathered shows that while companies self-assess the quality of their solutions on average at 8.1 out of 10 (where 10 is excellent), those same companies self-assess the quality of their solutions messaging at only 3.9/10. It’s little short of tragic to battle to finally get that elusive customer meeting, only to deliver a 3.9/10 presentation.

Which raises a fascinating question. Given that communication is such a high-stakes affair, why are we so poor?

We have all been subjected to some mind-numbing PowerPoint deck where the speaker toiled through an endless series of slides, and in our gut we know that this can’t be the right way to do it. But while it’s tempting to simply blame PowerPoint, that is missing the point completely. The real problem is far more interesting than the poor use of a software tool. It’s all about the poor use of an audience’s brain.

Here’s the real problem: the human brain is wired in very particular ways in how it wants and needs to take in information. When communication aligns with how the brain wants to consume information, incredible, breakthrough effectiveness is possible. But when you misalign with the brain, you are guaranteed to fail. It is certainly true that dense, excessive, poorly sequenced PowerPoint slides are doomed to fail, but the reason is how badly that approach misaligns with the way the brain works. The key isn’t prettier slides. The key is understanding what the brain really wants.

For example, at a cocktail party you are introduced to a random stranger. Three minutes later you’ve completely forgotten his name.  The reason this happens tells us something critical about how the brain stores information.

The brain stores information contextually. When presented with new information the brain looks for context – for something to attach that information to. If it can find it, the information can be stored. But if no context is found, it can’t be stored. We call information like this an “intellectual orphan.”

Why does this matter to communicators? When you create any argument that simply moves from point to point – “That was point 3, let’s look at point 4” – but where there’s no logical flow BETWEEN those points, you are presenting intellectual orphans and your argument is destined to be forgotten within minutes.  And it’s what most presenters do most of the time.

So what’s the solution to this particular problem? You need to take the substance of the argument and create a logical sequential narrative, because sequence creates the context that the brain needs.  When you read a book, chapter 6 makes perfect sense because of chapter 5. But if you read the chapters out of sequence it won’t make any sense at all, even though it’s exactly the same content. It’s the context that creates comprehension.

This is just one example of the relationship between brain wiring and communication, and it’s the reason why most people communicate badly - because they have no idea what the brain’s rules are.

Based on 15 years work and research, I’ve identified six critical brain violations that show up in almost all communication, and a six-step process for message design that solves for these. And when communication is built using this model, whether it’s a sales pitch, a TED talk or a CEO message to the troops, impact and effectiveness skyrocket. (One client saw a sales conversion rate for one solution jump from 15% to about 90%, simply because they finally learned how to tell this complex story in a much simpler way.)

So, in the spirit of giving you a really valuable and practical takeaway, let me share the biggest lesson, and the most valuable thing you will ever learn about the way your audience’s brain works.

Your brain and mine operate at the level of ideas. If you were to sit through a long presentation, even a great one, and afterwards, I asked you “what was that all about?”… automatically, without even knowing you were doing it, you would reduce that hour to one or two big ideas. It’s how our brains work. They are reductionist. They traffic in ideas. They do NOT traffic at the level of facts and data (especially lots of fact and data).

Do you immediately see the problem? The overwhelming majority of communicators take an approach that is thoroughly at odds with this reality. We bombard our audiences with as much fact and data as we can, usually thinking that we are making the best case we can, when in fact we are likely making the worst.

In the famous OJ Simpson trial of 1993, the prosecution presented a mind-numbing seven months’ worth of fact and data. And yet, history clearly suggests that this was all undone by ONE simple idea of eight words…. “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit”… and the fact that most of you reading immediately recognized the phrase (even after a quarter of a century) is huge testimony to the incredible brain-stickiness of an idea.

In almost any presentation I see, the big ideas are murky at best, or completely hidden at worst. Indeed, in most “decks” you can’t find the ideas at all. Next time you are building any communication, go and apply this principle by asking this question: “What are my 2-3 big ideas?” Then build around them. Make them clear, prove them with your best data, not the most data you can, and strip away everything else that’s secondary.

And watch what happens.

Tim Pollard, author of The Compelling Communicator: Mastering the Art and Science of Exceptional Presentation Design (Conder House Press, 2016), is the founder and CEO of Oratium, a communications firm helping organizations from Fortune 500 companies to law offices hone their presentation and messaging skills.