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Creating the engaged/high performance workforce

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I darted into a restaurant for a quick late lunch this week when I observed something that gave my spirits a boost.  A training class was being conducted for those who interact with the businesses customers, the waiters and waitresses. Each wine the restaurant offers by the glass was lined up, and the servers were provided with a small sample to better understand what they were representing to customers. The waiters and waitresses were provided with an overview of each wine, and later quizzed in regard to potential food pairings and how to best handle customer questions and requests for recommendation. The restaurant had earned my respect and future business before they even took my order.

In our highly commoditized world I often decide to support restaurants or retailers with my repeat business based on the quality of service I experience. Sadly, time and experience have conditioned me to have low expectations. I usually find myself handing hard earned money over to drone like representatives, the face of business, who have little interest in my satisfaction or future patronage. The drones aren’t responsible for the callous divide created, the owners and managers of the business are.

The business model I’ve experienced of late has little concern for the value in long term customer loyalty. The trappings of the digital era may be to blame for what feels like one transactional experience followed by another. Have you ever made what you considered to be a purchase of something worthy of note only to have a cashier process your order, hand you a receipt, and turn away without as much as a “thank you” or request to “please come again”.

I reward businesses that add value in the form of knowledgeable customer service with my loyalty and repeat business.



Excerpt from LeaderLab

More Policies, More Problems

One of the more amusing bits of information hidden within the details of the Enron collapse was that they company had a written code of ethics. Not just any code. This was a 64-page book given to all employees. With so many written ethical policies, what could go wrong?

Gladwell wrote an argument in the New Yorker that often having too much information can be damaging. He uses the example of Enron, whose misdeeds were mostly public and because there was so much information, it was overlooked. I’d argue that the same is true for organizations and ethics. Ciulla (2004) argues that when organizations stress performance, leaders can be tempted to act unethical to meet performance goals. I’d add to that when ethics are written in complex documents, they are even easier to ignore. Compare Enron’s 64 pages to Google’s code: “don’t be evil.”

The presence of complex ethical policies is often an indication that ethical problems might be below the surface.


This short article was posted by the Harvard Business Review. It does a great job in quickly summing up steps companies should take to address challenges they will certainly face in the not so distant future.  In a previous post I mentioned that many companies simply don’t know where to begin in terms of developing a highly engaged workforce. That was while they had they had the upper hand and employees were not as quick to bolt as the economy was in such bad shape.  Smart Managers and Business Owners will will take steps today to define top  performance, and make sure that every hiring, promotional, and development decision they make allows them to better identify, hire, manage, and retain their top performers.

Management Tip: How to Retain Talent in a Recovery http://s.hbr.org/9CEimb


I was surprised by the advice that was offered to small businesses in a recent Wall Street Journal article regarding the best ways to defend against employee theft.  The recommendations; business owners should review employee submitted reimbursement records, make it difficult for outsiders to know when the owner will not be on premises, and to pay attention to employees who have shared that they have had money problems in the past yet appear to be doing okay now.

Although I wouldn’t argue against any prudent steps to protect against employee theft I do challenge the suggestion that they are “The three best ways” as stated in the articles headline. Reviewing reimbursement forms is simply common sense. Preventing employees from knowing when you will be on or off site is impractical.  Small business owners are not omnipresent; they couldn’t possibly execute a strategy that depended on knowing the financial details of each employee’s personal lives. Yes, an employee with a minimum salary showing up in a Ferrari should trigger a question or two, but I doubt most situations are that flagrant.

I read a whitepaper recently which addressed employee fraud. Revelations were startling. On average, frauds go unnoticed for 18 months. The overwhelming majority of those prosecuted and convicted of employee fraud had no previous criminal record or items of concern in their background checks.

Businesses of any size should know that validated tools are available that measure a persons attitudes towards theft in the workplace, and they are very inexpensive. It makes much more sense to fully understand a candidate’s attitude towards theft – including property, data, and time, and to avoid bringing someone onboard that has values inconsistent with those of your business.

Their article can be viewed at http://tinyurl.com/yzmp75l


Some great tips were offered on the topic of battling change resistance by Rosabeth Moss Kanterand published in the Harvard Business Review. When faced with resistors consider:

  1. Cold, hard facts. Use evidence to show that change is necessary and possible. Get your facts from multiple sources and be diligent about details; even a small error can discredit your case for change.
  2. Counter-arguments. Know what your opponents are saying and be prepared to acknowledge their concerns and offer a compelling argument for your case.
  3. Big picture. In the short term, change is uncomfortable. Look at the big picture and explain why the change is the right move for the long term.
  4. Repetition and pressure. Stay on message, repeat your best arguments, and apply the necessary pressure to turn the change-averse around.

In meeting after meeting with Managers and Business Owners there comes a point during the discussion where I see potential clients hit a wall.  Initially the idea of creating a fully engaged workforce at every level and in every position seems like an undertaking that will require a Herculean effort.  It’s doesn’t.  My advice is to avoid the desire to boil the ocean.

I suggest pursuing a systematic approach of identifying the group, department, or even individual Managers with the greatest need for measurable improvement. Begin with the low hanging fruit which affords the promise of the greatest return in the least amount of time.  Often times the starting point is in defining what top performance even looks like in objective terms.  As the initial effort begins attention can then be turned to other areas based on complexity and business readiness.

The first phase will produce discoveries and information that will provide clarity and insight. It might be determined that the employee performing in a certain position is simply the wrong person for the job. Or, it might be discovered that the person is very well suited for the job but working with a Manager that is unaware of how to properly motivate and manage the employee to achieve the highest levels of production. In any event what is borne from the initial discussions and early phases is a roadmap to improvement based on measurable criteria.

Moving forward by taking the first step is the only logical choice a prudent Business Owner or Manager has if they truly desire to achieve significant improvement in the return on the invests made in their people.


Most everyone has heard of, or experienced the 80/20 rule—80% of the sales come from 20% of the salespeople. For businesses with 5 or more salespeople, it is very common to discover that the top producer generates 3 or 4 times the production of the bottom producer, and it’s pretty obvious that it would be desirable to have more top producers! For businesses with only 1 or 2 salespeople, it’s even more critical that these positions be filled with top producers.

While few experienced sales managers doubt the “rule”, equally few know what causes it, or how to fix it. A study begun in 1997 and finished in 1999, then re-validated in 2000 and 2001, attempted to explain this phenomenon, and came to some interesting conclusions. The study’s sample included over 25,000 working salespeople in 160 industries, making it one of the most comprehensive ever attempted in this field.

Conclusion 1: 55% of all working salespeople are not well-suited for sales at all. The process by which most working salespeople end up in those positions is rarely one of choice, seldom includes very much training, and often cannot be explained in any rational fashion, even by the salesperson involved! Our educational system has no well-established path for helping a young person identify sales as a desired career, choosing education to insure success, and graduating into a career in the field. While we can agree that sales is critical to any business success, and recognize that successful salespeople are among the economy’s best compensated and most flexible, we sort of assume that success in sales “just happens.”

Conclusion 2: Of the remaining 45%, over half are selling the wrong thing in the wrong place for them. …which leaves the 20% or so that produce 80% of the sales. A salesperson who enjoys great success selling cars at a dealership in Boston will not necessarily find the same success selling boats in Houston, or furniture in Tucumcari. Actually, he or she may not find the same success selling the same brand of car at a different dealership in Boston! Sales success is highly dependent on conditions that vary with product, structure, management, peer group, customer demographics, and other variables we just do not have a good way to measure.

Thanks to John W. Howard, Ph.D. Performance Resources, Inc. for this item.


I don’t often feel strongly enough about an article to leave a comment. George Anders  Todays Biggest Talent Management Challenges (Harvard Business Review) is an exception.  Mr. Anders does a fine job in capturing the challenges business face in winning the war in Talent Management. Unfortunately his article also demonstrates how poorly companies implement and execute strategies that result in engaged workforces populated with top performers.

I meet with company stakeholders every day, ranging from Business Owners, C Suite Executives, Unit Managers, and Human Resources.  I’m struck by just how often various groups within an organization are out of step with one another at best, or working against one another in the worst cases.  It seems convenient for many to simply do nothing than to take purposeful action. Those that have the most to gain typically tend to focus their attention on the urgent as opposed to the important.  The opportunity to produce measurable improvements in performance for the overall good of the organization is missed.

Another contributor mentioned in their comments on the article, “decision science is here to enable and simplify talent decisions that are informed and support the business strategy”. I couldn’t agree more. The science is simple, inexpensive, immediately implementable, and the ROI is measurable and significant.


I’ve read the articles, blog posts, even a few books that have been written on the topic of Cold Calling and its relevance in today’s sales process. Many profess that the cold call is dead. They claim it’s been replaced with flashy websites, content rich blogs, webinars, and seminars.  I disagree.

I like technology and I use it in my own sales process. Nonetheless, technology hasn’t dethroned the cold call or eliminated its usefulness.  The cold call remains a powerful and practical tool for anyone charged with the responsibility of business development, especially those engaged in business to business sales.  The cold call has a place in today’s high tech sales process.  It can augment and compliment sales approaches that include the use of the previously mentioned sales technologies.  Cold calling, when  aligned with social networking, can yield exponentially positive results.

The Harvard Business Review posted a short article that I enjoyed.  It’s a sales/cold calling 101 refresher. I hope you enjoy it too!   Cold Call Tactics That Increase Sales


A clear shift has taken place in what prospects are thinking.  Are your salespeople aware of this shift to customer focus?  Some good points are made in the linked article appearing in  Sales & Marketing They accurately reflect my observations and experiences culminating from countless numbers of meetings with Business Owners and Sales Managers.

Each day I witness the demonstration of the often used definition of insanity.  Companies attempt to sell their products and services to a customer base that no longer is in the market for their offerings. I challenge business owners by asking them what differentiates their product or service. Although time and time again the response is “we aren’t different”, they express little interest in identifying and pursuing a competitive advantage in the marketplace by adjusting with their customers needs. More times than not they can’t articulate which of the pillars of competition they are presently engaged in; Price, Service, or Innovation. Rather than carefully considering mapping a course including a clear message they insist on sticking to a strategy of simply repeating what hasn’t worked.

I wonder how many Business Owners and Sales Managers consider what it must be like to be on the receiving end of a sales call from one of their account managers.