People

How to turn a bunch of dysfunctional individuals into a Dream Team

Yesterday, I had a training session with a client of mine. He was struggling with communicating his marketing and sales objectives to his team. Mainly because they are all different, and on their own agendas. Sound familiar…?

It struck me that this topic is very common, so I thought I would share a few key points I use to turn this scenario into an advantage.

Difference equals diversity, and this is a great base for a great team.

In team sport, you can’t have the same type of player across the whole field. Eleven Lionel Messi’s sounds mouth-watering, but who is going to lay the tough tackles, or be the huge presence in goal? What about the emotional side? If you have eleven stars, then how are they all going to get the limelight? They would rip each other apart within the first few weeks of a season!

Whenever I have taken over a team with large diversity, I have seen the disconnects and range of talents as an opportunity rather than a horrible stress.

No matter what the scenario, these same steps can be used to great effect:

1. Start with you, and what you need to do – Before giving direction to any group of people the manager needs to be crystal clear on what they are trying to achieve. An obvious start is with commercial goals, sales targets, and particular brand focuses important to the business in the next six to 12 months. Also, think about the customer experience that your brand is trying to achieve. Or, what you are setting out to achieve in your role over the next 12-24 months? Goals can come in many forms, but before any direction is given to the team, these goals must be set into SMART goal language.

 

2. What is their story? It is common to take employees out for a coffee or lunch and get to know them. Check in on them. Tell them about yourself. This is all very nice, but there are key points to cover here and one must always be prepared with an agenda, even when the tone of the catch-up is largely informal. Key areas to understand with each individual are:

a. What have they done (some info on their past)

b. What do they need and want now (both personally and professionally can be relevant, as well as physical and emotional)

c. What do they want to do/achieve/learn/gain in the next 12 months?

Let the conversation flow. Be curious. Get a full picture of the person.

3. Divide and Conquer – I know it sounds a little over the top, but this is one of the biggest mistakes I see seasoned (and junior) managers make with their team. If any of us try and set out new directives in a team environment with no warning or consultation, there is HUGE risk of Mutiny.

It is not a risk worth taking.

Investing some time into consulting each individual with what we want them to focus on is going to be a very powerful and positive discussion. Give context within the larger project that you want them to contribute to (i.e. set the vision). Highlight how this leverages their strengths, and gives them exposure to the things they want to learn and develop.

Also, be willing to be flexible and listen to any changes the person thinks would make the directive better. There is no need to be stubborn, or to set everything in concrete. In fact, the more that it seems like their idea, the more buy-in you will get to the overall strategy. WIN-WIN! Whatever happens, come to an agreement with each individual. Set the expectation clearly, and get ready to move to the next step.

4. Turn the troops into Lieutenants – No one wants to be a number. A part of the pack. A worker bee. It’s not fun. Turn your beautiful bunch of misfits into leaders. Each one of them will be a specialist, a department manager, an owner of a task or key element of the business. They can have a title. They can have status. They can lead the discussion, or give education, or command a section of the team meetings. It always astounds me how much people step up when given extra responsibility. An opportunity to contribute can be more valuable than cold hard cash to many of us. This is a great strategy for tapping into the wants and needs of the individuals while aligning this with the overall business goals that need to be achieved.

5. Round them up and take off – Now is the time to get the group together and openly talk about the new directives, what everyone’s role is going to be, and how progress is going to be tracked. As there are no surprises because of the individual meetings, the team will be ready to advocate the changes you are discussing. All the processes and systems can be made clear, trained in, and discussed. The initial meeting will provide a platform to gain momentum and buy-in from the group. This is built-on even further, again-and-again in future meetings.

 

I love under-performing, unfashionable, even rebellious retail teams. I love working with them, and turning them into monster success stories. Having said this, I know it’s tough. There are the big characters that aggressively push against your authority. Then there are the unmotivated “clock punchers” that seem impossible to talk to. Or the passive-aggressive’s. Maybe you have the “been there, done that” veterans that aren’t open to change. Or the young-hot-shot-know-it-all that is getting under everyone’s skin. It seems like every team has the hard-working unsung hero too, which can sometimes be harder to manage than it may seem.

Too often, these tough teams become a burden. They can fill us with dread and even despair. I get it – I’ve been there many times before. But, with a good solid plan, some determination, and a sprinkle of patience, these “Motley-Crews” can be turned into teams we love to work with that also deliver.

What are we so scared of?

THE DILEMMA WE PUT OURSELVES IN WHEN WE PERCEIVE THREAT INSTEAD OF POSSIBILITY

It was an important meeting. A meeting that would be the beginning of beautiful and important things. We would hatch fun and creative plans together. We would make an impact on the community. We would grow our businesses. The limits were endless.

We would talk all things of mutual benefit. Quoting big numbers, and breaking them down into practical milestones, and then into bite sized chunks we could then divvy up and assign to each other. Then, we would have further meetings, do work with each other, plan events, continue to build our relationship, and build a new world. A world of laughter. A world of success. A world of joy.

But alas, this is the meeting that never happened. It is the possibly that was shut down within minutes when the fear got in the way.

The fear of people stealing from us. The fear of people using us. The fear of being sold to. The fear of getting the raw deal. The fear of being inferior. The fear of failure. The fear of success.

Maybe it is all of these things, or maybe what has been proposed to us just isn’t interesting. It is not compelling. It is not useful, or of value.

This situation is such a tough one to crack. When working with other businesses (B2B), it astounds me how much push back there is to enthusiasm. When a small business, or a solopreneur approaches another business to do some simple cross-promotion, or to join in a partnership of some description, there seems to be a fear, or a scepticism that is stronger than any other force. But why? What is this fear? Where does it comes from?

The answer to this is probably quite complex. There are perhaps Ted Talks and Harvard Business Review articles proclaiming to tell us the core of this phenomenon. But of interest to me is the sheer volume of people that can’t see a good deal in front of them when they see it. The definition of strong business to me is strong community.

If I can help my next-door neighbour be a stronger business then that is good for me. If I can help my industry be stronger then that is good for me. Isn’t it?

The need to rid our instincts of fear is vital. The only way forward is to be brave. Be bold. Listen to offers. Be willing to be sold to. Be open to doing something new or different. Be ready to put a little extra effort in to try something new out.

This does not mean that the rules are off and a free-for-all is now the norm. No. All business decisions need to be analysed and every opportunity still needs to be deconstructed for fit and purpose. But, instead of rubbishing an idea, or an activity straight up, we need to propose ways we can do something. How about, we ask “how can this work?”

It is amazing where this sort of thinking can take us. It can even take us to a point where we realise that the person sitting opposite us cannot help us at this time, and we cannot help them. By exploring possibility and investigating the up-side, we can even say no, and shake hands with genuine pleasure and friendliness. Yes – it is possible!

We hear of luck in business a lot. We all need a little bit of luck along the way, right? This is countered by the argument that hard work and persistence brings more opportunity and therefore more luck. I feel that this sort of argument is bogged down by semantics. The core of it is that there are multiple opportunities which come to us every day. Opportunities to grow our business. Opportunities to answer our needs and help us smash through our obstacles.

The question is, will you let that fear drive your actions, or will you ask, “how can this work?”

I hope you do. It will most likely open many doors that were not there before. Just like magic. It’s exciting. Join the party.

The Value of Home - Turning Newbies into Leaders

The induction. Talk to any HR Professional and they will advocate a well-structured and comprehensive induction for all new employees. Some of us do it well, some do it poorly, or sometimes not at all depending on resources, circumstance, and our individual business culture. But, what can we do (no matter what) to increase the chances of a new employee becoming a long-term success?

In a time when Culture is King, many are grappling with how to translate culture into practical commercial success that is both meaningful and sustainable. It can quickly turn into a buzzword-centric topic which is forgotten completely in day-to-day interactions with peers and customers a-like.

The answer seems to reside in the value of making people feel safe and “at home” right from the start. This is a powerful trigger every single leader in a business can utilise to gain long term performance and loyalty out of new employees (and seasoned ones too!)

Daniel Coyle details an experiment in his book, The Culture Code. Coyle discusses an Indian Call Centre called WIPRO that was experiencing costly staff attrition rates. They took a group of new recruits and simply spent one-hour talking to them about their individual needs to perform better. They also gave them a WIPRO shirt with their own name on it. They found that the people in this group were 250% more likely to still be at the company seven months later compared to those that did not have the “one-hour chat”.

This demonstrated that people valued being treated as an individual and being heard from the start of their employment. It displayed that a business must show that they are there to “Serve You” just as much as the employee is there to “Serve Us”. The results spoke for themselves with staff serving longer and at a better performance level in a notoriously high-turnover environment.

When we feel at home, we feel safe. And when we feel safe our concentration levels are elevated due to less distraction and wariness. It’s like your first day at kindergarten – it’s a scary day with lots of anxiety. But if the teaching assistant relaxes you with warmth, attention, and care then it can turn out to be the best fun you’ve ever had.

Recently, I was struck by this idea when watching a Friday Night AFL match between Sydney and Hawthorn at the MCG. It was a cold wet night where Sydney won in a very close contest. The story of the night was that of Ben Ronke. In his third game, this little fresh-faced recruit kicked a game winning 7 goals and made 10 tackles – a new all-time record for the league. Not only is it almost unheard of for a small-forward to kick this many goals in a game, but no one had ever statistically done this in the history of the league!

The impressive part was in the post-match interview. Ronke was asked “What is it about this club that keeps producing such great young talent?”

He responded by saying “It comes down to the Leadership group, and even the up-and-coming leaders. You go to the club and you just feel at home straight away. They make you feel like you’re at home. That takes the pressure off of you and makes you feel comfortable, and with the support of the older boys – it goes a long way”

Wow! In a moment of pure honesty, this young athlete summed it up beautifully.

If we don’t invest individual effort into an employee we run the risk that they will merely exist in their role, and there is only a small chance of them becoming long term successful performers. To take this further, when a recruit is made to feel comfortable, but without an individualised approach then performance will ease off very quickly and revert to a relaxation mode. This is not sustainable either.

Leaders that show even the smallest of gestures that the business is there to serve the employee as much as the other way around, create an experience that is both comfortable and inspiring. This becomes a potent combination feeding the feelings of belonging. In turn, this creates performers that not only excel, but do it for a long time to come.

 

Not ready? No problem.

There are many tough aspects to Sales and the act of selling within your business. We can become demotivated due to a lack of progress, continual rejection, and a confusion of how much time and resource should go into sales activities. This can be magnified when you are managing a team of people where Sales is a considerable part of their function within the business. So, how are we expected to keep pushing forward with a positive mindset and a high-energy approach!?! Listening to experts talk about a positive mindset can be the type of talk that sends a business owner over the edge and into bouts of depression, denial, or manic stress.

In my experience building a framework for your sales process is the foundation that all goodness springs from in terms of revenue growth. Having a solid professional approach to your sales cycles will keep you on track and help you keep your actions efficient. But, what about effectiveness? Being effective is the number one target, and in terms of sales our scoreboard is revenue, or number of new clients, or deals completed. So how do we maintain our focus and keep pushing forward when the results are not materialising?

For me, my first experience of manic stress in relation to sales was when I was a Sales Rep for the first time. I felt like I had no idea how I was going to get a meeting, or where I was going to target, or even what I was actually selling at times! No one wanted to see me, take my calls, or listen to the value I could offer. It was a frustrating time, and since I had no experience to draw on, all I could do was take advice from colleagues around me and press on. It was tough. I became mentally and emotionally exhausted, and if it wasn’t for some good support and a few lucky breaks, I don’t think I would have lasted six months.

In the ten or so years since then, I built up my sales capability to the point where I have led sales teams, and now educate in the area. It is amazing to write this article and look back at what the act of sales used to mean to me compared to how I approach it now. There are several ways a sales process can be set up to build a sustainable flow of revenue. However, there is one key mentality which has helped me to push forward with optimism and gain results for my businesses and my clients.

Never register a No

There are many things I have been called in my life (insert joke here…) But, seriously, one thing keeps on popping up, and usually it comes from my prospect partners and prospect clients. Persistent. I love this, as they always mean it in a complimentary way and do not associate my persistence with any form of annoyance or irritability. It is a term of endearment as they are thankful for my persistence. Otherwise we would have never been able to connect and understand how we may be able to help each other. The importance of persistence is beautifully articulated in the book titled Grit – The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth. Here we understand how persistence plays a huge role in determining one’s ability to succeed in any activity we undertake.

Beyond persistence a key learning I developed was that when we are selling a, we tend to refer to our work in black-and-white terms. Did you get the sale? Yes/No. Did you get a meeting? Yes/No. Are they interested? Yes/No. Was it a good call? Yes/No.

Unfortunately, we end up with many more No’s than Yes’s, and this links to the feeling of failure and dejection. My heart sinks thinking about this feeling, and that people are experiencing this daily. The answer for me was to change my perspective. To turn the tables on the whole scenario and to take back control of the scenario.

I started to see that there was a big spectrum between “yes” and “no”. There was more to the situation, and to the relationship building process. No matter how abrasive or abrupt a prospect may be acting, I didn’t automatically write the contact off. I didn’t see it as a flat-out NO. I started to think in terms of “Not Ready”. Please allow me to explain.

The more experience I gained in business the more I begun to understand the importance of timing. It is often the case where the solution you are providing (i.e. the product you are selling) is being offered at the wrong time for a client rather than it being the wrong solution. The contemporary consumer (B2C or B2B) is time poor, usually mentally stressed in some way, and has little patience for information that is not relevant for them now. So, if this consumer is being approached at the wrong time, then it is safe to assume that the approach will be backhanded swiftly and brutally. At this point, I do not accept a “no thank you” response. I do my best to investigate what is happening in the person’s business or life, and ask as many questions as I can without prying or agitating. I also tend to slip in a comment along the lines of “not now? Great, when would be better”. If this is not appropriate, then maybe it is a matter of saying “Great, I’ll drop you a line in six months or so”. By doing this I am keeping the dialogue alive and continuous. There is no “no”, there is only “not ready”.

I have chased contacts for years to finally gain a meeting. This however, is not the truth. I am not chasing anyone, I am simply connecting, re-connecting, and keeping the dialogue alive. Sometimes prospects end up selling to me, or becoming friends, or end up being a valuable part of my network. I know this sounds a little insane, but trust me – when you are doing this with over one hundred prospects all at the same time you start to see results. Not only are you going to get lucky with a few people when your timing is perfect, but you are also building relationships that will give you sales opportunities well into the future.