Are you still convinced to be selling just products?

There is a continuous increase of information available nowadays and internet is contributing dramatically in giving a viable and easy access to every kind of information to almost everybody. This fact have an important influence in the consumer behavior and in our customer relationships. Especially in the B2B (Business to Business) environment the relationships are more complex than in the past. This is to say that despite general way of thinking I’m seriously convinced that more and more customers are not buying anymore products but services and expectations in B2B and B2C (Business to Consumer) segments. This is even more true if we are just selling products, objects, goods.

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To confirm the statement let’s try do it using proof by contradiction. And let’s do it thinking about our behavior. Will you buy a product if you know that there is no service, no assistance, no manuals and not a real firm supporting it? The answer is yes for some kind of products, in general this is the approach to “low cost products” probably manufactured in the far east, in other words commodities. But for many other products the consumer approach is quite different. For example, will you buy an iPhone (at today price) if you know that this is going to be the last model of iPhone and there won’t be any evolution of the model or new products available from the same supplier in the future? Probably not, or at least not with the same determination. Will you choose as you future product supplier a company that has stopped to innovate on their products or that is not developing anything new? Probably not. Will you choose a supplier that is not giving you any assistance or is not giving support in the development and system integration of the products or that strategically is not considering you as an important customer? I think not. Will you buy an operative system that you know for sure will not have any further development or improvement? Probably you will try to choose another one.

The value of the products that we are going to buy (sell) is composed by several things. One is the product itself but this is only a part, and in many of the transactions mentioned we are going to pay an extra added value for all the rest: services, goodwill, brand loyalty, intangible things, etc… So as I said we are not selling just products but services and expectations. And in a society where the technology is  taken for granted and evolving so fast the focus is more and more on the future expectations of the product (and the company) that we are choosing. We cannot say anymore that we are just selling a product.

This fact have outstanding implications. This means that the today choices in terms of strategy, business plans, investment in R&D, in marketing and so on that a company makes today have an important role in determining the value of the current products! Not only, even in the value of the already sold products and of course in the ones that we will develop in the future. We are in an era where we do not just make products, we are developing, creating and selling products, services and most important expectations. People (and not only stock markets) are giving a significant value to the services connected with a product and an increasing value to the expectations that these products represents.

The human resources skills involved in all these processes are inevitably part of the package and this means that with the products we are selling also employees potentials at all levels, from the workers and employers directly involved with the product to the top managers, shareholders, R&D, support, back-office and so on.

Stop thinking that you are just producing and selling products because the truth is that you are selling a full package of services and expectations and that the human factor involved in this process is one of the main factors determining the value of your products.

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Weekly achievements

I work in the technical department. One of the biggest problems of my department is that people inside the company in general have not a real understanding of what we are doing and on the problems we are facing. The exception is when something is not working or there is a problem that requires a technical solution. In that case everybody is looking at us waiting for the solution. Of course they do not have a clue on what the solution is but they understand clearly what are the implications of not having yet this solution, simply because it’s their problem and someone as to fix it as soon as possible.

The implications of all of this is that the point of contact between technical department and our customer (the rest of the company) is only in moments of crisis, pressure and in bad moments in general. Moreover, the same is happening inside the department. If you do your job and you are doing it well nobody is focusing on you and what you are doing. If you are doing the job in a sufficient way or with outstanding solutions is something that very few colleagues will realize, not even your boss. Of course when later a problem comes out because of a poor performance there is an ex-post evaluation of all your previous works (obviously with a bad attitude).

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So, the problem is – how to have a good perception of what is going on in your department focusing more on the positive results than in the problems?

I have got an idea about this and I ask to everybody reading this post to share it, if you believe it is worth spreading it.

The idea is very simple, I have asked to the people working in my department to send me every Friday afternoon an e-mail with the subject “weekly achievements” (so will be easy to filter on your e-mail client). The content of the e-mail should be just few bullet points focused on the achievements that everybody has done during the week.

The results of this practice have been impressive in the results. The wonderful thing is that now people tells me why they are satisfied and for what reason. Basically I have understood much more about their capabilities, their problems, their concerns with the weekly achievements than asking directly what you are doing and how is going. The principle is very easy, everybody of us have a different perception of what it’s easy and what it’s difficult and according to that the sense of satisfaction is very dependent on the progress made and the results achieved more than on the final outcome itself. These facts have profound implications in terms of managing people. Not only you understand better your peers perspective on the task, but you could easily guess their difficulties, their preferences and their skills. It is true even the opposite. If there are no achievements to underline or they do not propose any convincing task to be satisfied of, probably it means that the job assigned it’s not stimulating at all and that the tasks to be performed are just routine jobs and the sense of initiative and satisfaction is really low (and probably final outcome will be just acceptable in the best case). Knowing exactly all these situations allows you as a manager to leverage on the people’s potential, you can better motivate them and at the same time you could help them to improve and to target new challenges with the right help at the right moment. You could adapt the tasks to the right people, you could assign the jobs stimulating the initiative of your employees and even make them improve the most boring tasks creating the right process of involvement and leveraging on their own creativity.

If you think that this is good idea, spread it, try to apply it and share your findings on this blog and on the web. I’m looking forward to know the potential improvements that a similar approach has on your particular situation.

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ACT don’t react!

Are all the things going as expected? Is your strategy under control? Are you able to apply the plan-B that you carefully designed? If the answer to all these questions is “no”, then probably you have a very bad period. The result is that you feel frustrated and that you have not anymore the control of what’s happening! Moreover you feel that you are not in control of your life and the direction that is taking.

frustrationSo what to do? Well the answer is not easy, or better, there is not an answer or a solution. But there are some suggestions on the process. And the best way to manage the process is very simple like the title of this post: “ACT don’t react”. When the things don’t go as expected we start thinking on a counter move, on a way to oppose to the problem, basically we are reacting. We are just trying to counter balance someone else behavior or someone else decisions. Our space for options is limited and is basically reduced to a “reaction” to what is happening. Moreover there are serious and deep implications on the timing. We are not more deciding and keeping the pace of what we are doing but the pace is dictated by the external events. Frustration is natural, energy goes down, the number of possibilities and available options is reduced and the feeling sooner or later became of impotence and ineffectiveness.

The way forward is to change perspective. It is time to ACT. Action has a different approach. The next move is not dictated by an external event but is your decision. So don’t wait for something to happen. Just do it, make your next step. Keep going, adapt your strategy to the coming events, but don’t let the events to block the actions. Should be the opposite – your actions are the one influencing events. You, your knowledge, your willingness is the asset that allows you to plan your future, to plan the events. Use your positive energy and your positive approach to make the things happen. You are the protagonist of your future and your are the only one who should take control of it. Be focused, be committed, be persistent and will see that you will enjoy the process of creating your own future and sooner or later things will happen exactly as you have planned them to be, because you ACT not because you react!

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How to restore lost trust

To build trust it could take years, to destroy it you need just few seconds.

The trust is like a plant, you need to take care of it, you need to feed it, to give water and minerals and so on. But when a plant is suffering it takes a lot of time to restore it to the original splendor.

The same is valid with our relationships and the trust that we create with them.

Here is an hit parade of how to restore a lost trust (from position 10 to 1):

10. Set an example,every single day

9. Be competent, committed and act with integrity in your business

8. Be aware of stakeholders’ requirements

7. Make your own position clear: “walk the talk”

6. Build and cultivate long-term relations

5. Accept and admit mistakes

4. Have consideration for and respect partners, competitors, stakeholders

3. Accept controlling and feedback as necessary control mechanisms

2. Say what you think and do what you say

1. Treat others as you would like to be treated or better treat others as they would like to be treated

 

 

This post is based on a presentation that I have assisted few weeks ago made by Emilio Galli Zugaro, head of Group Communications in Allianz.

 

The most valuable asset that you have: your opinion

When I ask to give me a summary report to the people who works for me I always ask to have their opinion on the subject. The reason is simple: I give you this task because I believe you are competent for the task assigned and I expect from you a professional result. And if you have to give me back a professional result, then you have to be professional in a complete and competent way – basically in this moment you are a consultant who is paid for giving back a service. When you pay a consultant, you are not paying him only for the service, you are paying him for his reputation, for his capabilities, for his history of achievements and so on. When I ask you a report I’m asking you the same. I want you to be my consultant.

When you are offering your service to someone, you have to try to give your best and you have to put on the table all your capabilities and all your experience in order to demonstrate that you are competent and to maximize the return that you can get from the service offered. And one the most important assets that you have is your experience, your capabilities and your reputation. And according to that you have all the rights to express your opinion. Moreover, because your opinion is the synthesis of your past experience, of your knowledge and your expertise, your opinion is very valuable and probably is the most valuable asset that you have because it represents the sinthesis of your knowledge. So you have to use that asset.

This is valid at all level of the organizations. For managers, for employees and also for manual and repetitive jobs. The opinion of the worker in the assembly line is very valuable because he’s the most involved in the manufacturing process and could see things that a lot of managers are not even able to guess.

So remember, your opinion is very important and very valuable,  it is the expression of your brand and it is a very important asset that requires investments (improvement and knowledge development) but that must used in order to create profits and maximize your return on investments that in this case is your unique life experience.

The challenges of growing companies

I have started working for a brief period of time in a medium-big company. Then I moved to a micro organization (actually I was the first employee).

When in you work in a very small company there are a lot of difficult things but there are also a lot of opportunities. You have to be flexible and be able to do everything, but at the same time you can take decisions very quickly. You cannot rely on specialized teamwork, but you could easily have an overview of everything that is happening around the company. You have to deal with a lot of day by day problems, but at the same time you have the opportunity to explore all the subjects and problems that a normal business faces.

It is clear that because there is a leakage of specialization, the general efficiency of the company is very low especially from the structural point of view, but at the same time, if you are competitive (and you have to be in order to survive) you can create big opportunities leveraging on the flexibility and your ability to respond to niche market needs.

And then the company grows. And everything changes. And everything has to change. Moreover, a lot of people working in the company feels the need for a change.

The change from a small company to a medium one is really difficult. From one side there is the need of more structure, the need of clear directions, the need to be better organized. On the other side there is the risk to lose flexibility, to feel the pressure of strict rules or to be less involved and informed about what’s going on.

Unfortunately during this transition the growth of the company generally absorbs a lot of cash and resources in general, so the situation is even more challenging.

The growth of the company is a difficult moment at all levels of the company, for the workers, for the employees, for the managers and for the top executives too. The workers are less and less involved in the interaction with managers and employees but in general their work tends to be more organized and structured (at least in the long run). The employees are required to be more specialized and to focus more in some skills and at the same time to interact with more people and more departments within the company. Managers have less freedom but at the same time they are less involved in the work itself and more responsible for the organization of the work environment and for creating the right synergies between the different departments.

For the top managers and for the executive there should be a transition too. This last one is very important because is the main driver for the change of the company. Without it, the company will be in trouble. The company needs more structure and the flow of information have to be more clear, more easy to be understood at all levels.

A company could decide to remain small, and in some industries this could be a good strategy. But in most cases the growth of a company is the only way to be very competitive in today challenging world. The transition from a small to a medium and then to a big company is not easy at all and involves all the levels of the organization. But at the same time it could be a good opportunity. Managing it in the best way could create solid basis for a leading company of the future competitive globalized world.

What is the main motivation driver

I have this feeling from a long time but I have never been able to make up my mind and to really understand it clearly. Then I read this HBR article on how to “Increase your team motivation” and everything seems so clear now.

When we manage a team of people we always think about what is the main driver to improve team performances, to increase reliability, to make people feel more satisfied about their own work,  how to reach objectives in the most effective way (effective for the people and for the objective). And we always think about the balance of the two “classical methods” the stick and the carrot. At the end of the day they are just two metaphors for two different approaches to the management of people – Push or Pull.

Push is much more “pushing” people when they need to be guided trough a new project, when they need assistance. An example of this is the fixing of milestones, scheduled meetings, planning of step by step targets, checking progress day by day and so on.

A pull strategy is much more leaving the people reach the target without interfering too much, giving them the picture of the objective and trusting on their own experience and skills in order to reach the target, checking only the final result.

Of course both approaches are useful and they have to be used very carefully and in the appropriate moment (Situational Leadership II model).

To these two basic approaches I would like to add a third one, maybe is just an extension of the Pull strategy, but I prefer to think of it as a separate approach. And this sounds like “let the people decide for themselves”. As the HBR article says when we choose for ourselves we are more committed to the outcome by a factor of 5 to 1.

This is a very important factor that a lot of managers forget. If the people is involved in the decisions or better is making their decisions according to the picture given, then the result is five times more efficient than without this self choice. Of course this approach is not easy at all because it means to share more information, to discuss more the projects before starting them and also to receive a lot of feedback on what’s going on (and feedback sometimes is not easy to be managed, especially for “Push” manager). But nevertheless this is the most effective approach and it is clearly demonstrated by results.

In nowadays competitive society, being able to leverage on people skills and let them be part of the decision process, to let them find the time to be part of decision itself is not an easy task at all but if managed in a good way could be the thing which makes the difference between an average organization and an outstanding one.

Information within organizations

I have always looked at the information concept from an Engineering point of view. In particularly in my mind the concept of information is correlated with the telecomunication concept of “bit”. As it is indicated in Wikipedia – A bit (a contraction of binary digit) is the basic unit of information in computing and telecommunications; it is the amount of information stored by a digital device or other physical system that exists in one of two possible distinct states.
In particular in telecommunication the most important goal to achieve is to trasfer the maximum quantity of information with the minimum occupied bandwidth or in other words to limit as much as possible the use of the channel or the media necessary for transfering the information.
I think that in our social life we do almost the same, basically we try to transfer the maximum possible information with the minimum effort and the minimum amount of energy. Of course there are a lot of us who enjoy to speak and to interact with other people but in that cases the interaction is mainly driven by the pleasure that this social interaction is giving to us more than the necessary efforts to trasfer the information.

I think that this concept is applicable also to the organizations where the exchange of information between the members is the key point for creating succesful business organizations.

The biggest problems that organization are facing is the effectiveness of the exchange of information between the employees, with customers, with suppliers and with everybody in general.

Everybody when is in the process of exchanging information is more focused in what has been sent, more than in what is received from the opposite site. For example when I meet someone I’m more focused in saying my name than in listening the name that has been told to me. And probably nobody is focused in checking if the listener have really listened, understood or remembered correctly our name. People is more focused on delivering the necessary quantity of information than on the verification of correct reception from the other side.

It is matter of perspective that is absolutely essential in order to improve our relations with others. If you start thinking in this way, then probably you will also realize that sending an e-mail does not necessary mean that the information has reached the target (Don’t send an e-mail, get the job done). You will realize that telling things to the people does not necessary means that they have understood the meaning of what has been told. You will realize also that a huge amount of information could saturate the channel (the listener attention) and result in a not efficient transfer of information.

How many times the people says -“I have told him to do this” or “I have sent him an e-mail, he is not answering me” or “I have clearly expressed the concept to my colleagues” and so on. But the we must change our perspective and sometimes I’ll try to push people to change perspective so I made the following questions – “Are you sure that he has understood what you told him?” or “Are you sure he read your e-mail and understood clearly your point of view?” or “yes, you have expressed your point of view, but is it agreed by your colleagues, is it clear to them?” Sometimes with that questions people looks a little bit displaced, as if the new point of view is new and unusual. Probably it means that I reached my objective – force to check the information from the receiver point of view.

This concept could seem obvious but I believe that a good leader should keep this in mind and repeat to itself continuously that it is absolutely important to look at the transfer of information from the listener perspective more than the transmitter of the information.

Investing time in the process of improving the exchange of information within organizations is a key point for the success of the organizations themselves. I think that with the global competition, with the increase of media channels for communications and with the expanding of the customers base around the world, the efficient transfer of information will be the key point for the success of future leading companies.

Are you trustable?

The title of this post is not new, is something that is bouncing in my head from some weeks ago. I remember that I read an article about that (“Do your people trust you?“) and what I clearly remember is the most important question that every manager should ask themselves: “Are you trustable?” The answer could seem easy or maybe silly, but probably could be not so easy if made like this: “Do your employees define you as a trustable person?” The answer probably in this case is not so easy and could sound like “I don’t know” or even worst “I don’t care”.

But let’s start from the beginning. What do I mean when I say trust? Well, trust for me is a very deep and important form of relationship. Trust means that you “believe” in someone else’s words, in its motivations and that despite a possible disagreement his words have a great value and impact on your behavior (in the positive sense). When you trust someone you are going to do things that you normally don’t do by yourself. That you are going to consider way of thinkings, aspect of your life and so on in a different way, only because you trust him! When you trust someone is because you believe that he owns your respect. Been trustable for me it means that I put something of myself, thoughts, expectations, williness, energy, professionalism, in your hands because I think that this is an investment. And this investment is paying back for the “trust” that I have invested on you. So “trust” is kind of investment, probably the most important and risky investment that we have at our disposal.

Coming back to the first question “Do your employees define you as a trustable person?” Because if the answer is not, then how could you pretend they believe in you and that they do what has been told them to do? And if the answer is “I don’t know” then I think you have to hurry up and start to “know”. It is not something that you could analyze later. It is absolutely fundamental for yourself, for your career and for the relationship with the others. Sometimes we are too much focused in our own improvement that we do not realize that the key point of our improvement is the relationships that we have with our colleagues, with our employees, with our customers.

If you want to have the maximum from the people working for you, you have to give them the maximum of yourself. And that maximum is to be trustable! Is something that you have to be, despite the difficulties, despite the changed situations, despite any kind of challenge that you are facing or obstacles to overcome. Been trustable is the most important investment that you could make in your life.

Do you really believe to not have enough creativity?

The title of this post is a kind of provocation. As my friend said in his post “importance of creativity”, creativity is fundamental in today competitive world.

I’m pretty sure that a lot of people if put in front of the question “are you a creative person?” would probably answer “no, not at all” or I can imagine a lot of persons who shares my background (electronic engineering) that probably will answer “of course not I’m a concrete person and I look at facts, formulas and numbers…”.

Well, probably few months ago my answer would have been the same, but after some months spent during my MBA the answer is a little different.

So what is it creativity? Well the answer is not easy and I’m not pretending to give you a complete and exhaustive definition, I just want to illustrate my point of view.

The word “creativity” comes from “to create”, so we can say that a creative person is someone able to create something. But in order to create something you need to have a base, a background, something to start from. We can imagine that creativity is very similar to the drawings that kids make. What they do is to try to represent the world according to what they know and according to the stimulus that they have received in their life. And it is impressive how the quality of the drawings improves the more they practice and the older they became. The reason is that they start to fill their background with more and more information and the new drawings start to be more complex, more precise and more “creative”. Basically they have more and more contents where to pick up something in order to create something new, or at least that looks new from their point of view.

When you became an adult the process is almost the same. The process of creativity is simply the ability to put together all your knowledge in order to create something that is out of the box, that looks different or that is different, but different from the point of view of the others which are observing “the creation”.

So keeping in mind my initial question “are you a creative person?” the answer is “of course I am”. I am a person with a unique combination of knowledge and this unique combination is giving me all the bases for been a creative person.

I’m really convinced that everybody is a creative person, the problem is that a lot of people don’t even realize that and tends to think always in the same way or to give up at the first problem. Being creative is not easy, it’s hard because first of all you must improve your base knowledge and secondly you have to force yourself to look out of the box, to think differently (or laterally) and to use all your ability to create connections, to pick up from different subjects, to use every insignificant piece of knowledge you have acquired in order “to create something that nobody has done before”.