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.

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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There are no wrong decisions!

During our life we are always called to make some decisions. During everyday life, at work, in sports, with family and so on. When we have a decision to take there are very few things that we can do, basically we can just evaluate pros and cons and then we have to take a decision. The only real bad decision is not to take a decision at all. But apart from that “not acting” situation, in all other cases we are going to take a decision (sometimes we are forced to).
My opinion is that whenever you take a well thought decision, evaluating rationally pros and cons, then this is the right decision, and also the best one. Basically the decision process involves the evaluation of the possible outcomes, of the different scenarios and our goal is to choose for the best one.
So the decision is based according to information available. Whenever you apply this basic criteria, there are no bad decisions – they are just the most rational result of the available information.
So the point is not to made the right decision, but to have the right information and possibly to collect as much information as possible in order to improve our decision process. In this way there are no regrets about decisions taken, but there is a continuous pro-active involvement in an improvement process of collecting and processing information. The focus itself is moved from the decision to be taken to the collection of the data and in our capability of managing it.
This is a reason why in general I’m not disappointed for a failure but I’m more disappointed for the fact that I have not forecasted the best decision. And this is even more clear when I have not invested enough time on the collecting information process.
So the outcome of this post is to never regret for a decision taken, not taking any decision is the real mistake. To make your decision just use the information available, if you have time collect even more data, and then use all the collected information to make a rational, balanced and coherent decision – OK this is the best decision you could have made without ifs, ands or buts!

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.

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.

Transparency into organizations

When I am put in charge of a project I normally start asking questions. I ask a lot of questions because the more I know the easier it is for me to understand what is expected the project to be. And sometimes the questions that I made seem to be not so much correlated with the project itself. This is typical of my style of doing things. I want to have clear in mind the full picture of the project, starting from the customer needs, the reasons for the request, the country where the product will be sold and so on. But I want to know more. I want to know the expectations of the customer, of the company management, of the potential customers and so on. Basically in mind I want to create the best picture as possible, like a Prezi presentation, a big picture where you can zoom in and see all the small details and even more. If you do not give me all the information I need, of course the result of my project will be less accurate, or let’s say, less effective.

The same is valid for all organizations in general. The more you know about the organization, the more efficient you could be in meeting the organization expectations, the more easily you will be integrated into the organization itself. Unfortunately I should say that in this case there is a big difference between the delivering of information for a technical project and the delivering of organization information in general.

In the case of a technical project when I ask questions the result is very simple – or I get the answer or I will not get the answer because the answer is still unknown (and sometimes is part of the project to find it out). In the case of information within organization, the situation is a little more “blurry” – sometimes you receive the answer, sometimes you will not because this information is “reserved”. Or even worst, sometimes it is better to don’t even ask questions on that subject.

All this comes to the tile of this post. The transparency into organizations. There is great post with title: “Transparency is the New Leadership Imperative” which speaks about the modern concept of leadership and transparency.

As I said before, if you want to be really effective and manage at best all the resources that you have you must know the full picture together with the small details. And your team and your employes are the most important resource that you have and should be put in the best possible condition to drive your company to the global competition. In order to do that the sharing of information between the organization, with no secrets and with complete transparency, is the key factor to be competitive. Of course the way that you deliver the information is very important and is the crucial factor for having excellent managers into the company.

The old style companies where the top level management knows the most, than the middle managers know less but have to report everything, and the low level employees know almost nothing is over. This model of business could still survive for a while. But in the nowadays society where there is an excess of information and the channels for delivering information are so diversified and easy to use the real challenge is not keep information for yourself but it is to be able to distribute the information as best as possible. An excellent manager today is not anymore the one with experience but is the one able to transfer experience, the one able to facilitate the delivering of information at all levels of the organization itself.

The nature is never following the rules of our models

I have studied electronic engineering at University. All the classes and subjects were deeply focused in studying and creating mathematical models representing the world and the nature around us. Every natural phenomenon in general can be modeled with a mathematical function. The function used can be very simple (linear approximations) or very complex (n-grade functions), can be real or complex, with analytic solutions or numeric solutions and so on. In any case we use these models in order to understand better the reality and to predict the future or the outcome of a system when applied a known stimulus.

When we make a project we rely on this knowledge in order to predict the behaviour of the system or the device that we are going to make. Especially in electronic engineering we are plenty of models, simulations and calculations that we must take in consideration even before doing any kind of test or qualification.

Sometimes we are disappointed because the results of our projects are not exactly as we expect them to be. Probably in 90% of the cases it is because we made a mistake. But in some other cases we have to consider that our projects are based on models and not always that models are perfect or accurate. In most of the cases these models are just a simplification of what it is the real world.

I remember my professor when made an example speaking about the property of materials – “if you find a strange materials which doesn’t follow the ohm’s law you can’t say that the material is not following the law, it’s ohm’s law that is not adequate. The nature is never following the rules of our models!”

Our models are just a simplification of the complexity of the nature. The nature is more complex, the world is complex. It is our responsibility to take this into account when we make a new project, a new design or when we implement a new idea. If the result of our project is not exactly as expect to be, then we have to broaden our perspective and consider that the model used is not enough adequate for our problem or even that the model that we really need is a combination of different knowledges and perspectives which could fit better for the solution we are searching for.

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.