Monday, July 25, 2011

Your Local Street Preacher

Every larger town or city probably has at least one street preacher.  I'd like to tell you about one who is parked in front of Old Navy at the corner of Washington and State Streets in Chicago.

He's famous enough to have had an article written about him and folks have posted videos such as the one below.  Please be advised that the views you will hear are his and his only.  My intent on sharing it is to give you some texture.

Considering he's been out there for 40+ years, you've got to admit that the guy has energy and tenacity (regardless of your belief in his message).  And, it's this combo of energy and tenacity that I'd like to talk to you about today.

Hello?  Is this thing on?

It's clear that people "hear" him but are not always listening to him.  And I often wonder why he sticks to the same style of preaching if he's not making connections with people in the way he'd like.  And I often conclude because these are not connections in the way they'd like.

So, what of business?  Does energy and tenacity of message matter if people are walking by?  Clearly no.  Too often, as with this preacher, we're so focused on the broadcast that we forget to check if the receivers are on at all.  

This is especially serious if the broadcast doesn't ring true.  I've had major service issues with a phone company and a bank with each call yielding different meaningless answers but ending with "your business is important to us."  It's hard to believe that when service is poor and I've told them so.

Walk in their shoes.

These days, it's not enough to be present, or exactly what the street preacher is doing.  Being present is a given so we don't get extra credit points for our tenacity of presence.  But how we're present and what we're doing while we're present matter to others.

They say that the customer owns the brand which is really another way of saying that perception is reality.  It's all well and good that we tenaciously create and promote truisms about our brands/products/etc. but the arbiter of the veracity of these truisms is the customer.  We always have to ask ourselves if what we say is consistent with what customers hear.

So, I leave it to you.  How are you doing with "what" and "how" when it comes to your customers?  What do you think you could be doing better?  Please share below and, if you've enjoyed this post, please share with others.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

1 Lesson From Real Housewives of NJ

There are a lot of things one can learn from the ladies of New Jersey and they don't include table flipping, hair pulling or drama though those are all admirable.

Instead, in a recent episode, I learned the art of the sale in action.  And no, it clothing sold at Posche though Kim D. is quite a determined salesperson.  Instead, today's lesson comes courtesy of Soul Diggaz.

Who?  Soul Diggaz.

As many of you know, Melissa Gorga hopes to be a R&B singer one day.  We've heard snippets including her famous misquote of "Amazing Grace" (... that saved a wench like me...) but it's fair to say that she can carry a tune.  In a recent episode, a meeting was autotuned engineered set up with Soul Diggaz, a production team that has worked with brand name artists, came to the Gorga home for a mini audition.

They listened to her sing intently and politely.  When she finished, Corte established his expertise by saying that as he has been singing since the age of two and he can identify singers.  And he said she can sing.  K-Mack politely agreed but then added she needs to practice up to 15 hours per day.

Both Melissa and her husband were extremely happy - though both did take note of the excessive practice time.  Solution?  He started to build a studio in their home where he wanted his wine cellar to be before she sees even $1 from her recording career.

A sale in action.

What just happened here?  It was a masterful sale.  Of course, there must have been numerous things edited out but let's play along with this for a spell.  What happened was kind of interesting.  What they did that could not be re edited or edited out was to make a few statements in this order: they agreed she had a singing voice and she needs to practice.

The reason why it's significant is the affirmation of her singing and the order in which it came... first! As you know, the typical sales/vendor behavior is to create (or play up) some insecurity or fear if you do not purchase their product/service or if you do not buy the more expensive upgrade.

You're bombarded by everything you're doing wrong with the design that you start to see the salesperson as your only way out of this mess. It's what makes the sales profession look so bad and probably why it's called "business development" these days.

Yes.   And.

What's successfully different with Soul Diggaz?  They affirmed her conclusion that she could sing.  And they offered their conclusion that she needed to practice.  They didn't attack her, her conclusion nor did they attack how she arrived at her conclusion.  

Their practice comment was a "Yes.  And." to her instead which was to dissuade her from thinking that talent and success are linked.  And it worked.  She was so happy to hear others agree she could sing that the 15 hours of daily practice was something she more than embraced.  And she wanted to work with them.

What didn't she hear? A promise that she'd be a chart topper.  All they said was she could sing but needed to practice.  And that was masterful.  

I'd love to hear your thoughts.  Please comment below, send an email or visit with us on the 678 Partners Facebook page.  We'd love to visit with you.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Monday, July 18, 2011

12 Most Helpful Team Leadership Tips

We’ve all been there: the point in our careers where all of a sudden we’re presented with the chance to lead a team. We’ve earned it through blood, sweat, tears plus our skill and will are both ready, willing and able. When it actually does happen, many of us do have a moment of abject fear.

Some suggest reading books. Sure – there are a bunch of great leadership and management books out there and one of Parissa’s personal favorites is Marshall Goldsmith’s “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There”. As great as those books are, we find that hearing personal anecdotes of what works and why can be helpful. There’s something about people just like us sharing stories that reduces psychological distance and gives us courage to press on.

With that, we’re sharing with you some of the things we’ve used when leading teams and why they are favorites of ours. We know that you have many other useful tips and we can’t wait to learn from you.

Be available
When you’re available, you’re regularly communicating with your team and you’re attuned to team nuances. When Amir was managing and training sales teams across Europe, this meant a lot of air travel. Your team wants to know you and wants to know you care and, sometimes, communicating your care means being completely silent and hearing (and owning) your team’s feedback either about you, your style or the company.

Be a champion
To us, a championing leader means granting autonomy and trust. The best thing a leader can do is to let an individual contributor shine and bask in his or her own spotlight on stage. Giving decision making power to your team and believing these individuals act in the best interest of the company delivers great morale and great results but you must walk the talk here. You can’t say you champion them without the behaviors to back it up.

It's a marathon not a sprint 
Patience is a tricky thing in the business world and board members and shareholders don’t always have it. As a team leader, it’s important to have the EQ to recognize peaks and valleys in an individual’s performance. If the drive and will are there, it’s important to support and help people get out of their own way. Constructive feedback is a must but there’s no need to be a bull in a china shop, either.

Hit the streets
We mentioned in #1 that Amir travelled regularly to visit his teams. Go out and walk in your team’s shoes for a day or two, see who their customers are and understand critical issues up close to gain an appreciation for why there is success (and also understand some of its barriers). Sometimes it means rolling up your sleeves to help with a project to truly appreciate all that your team accomplishes day in and day out.

Love thy enemy
We all have heard “Love Thy Neighbor” but here we suggest that it’s good to teach your team to appreciate what makes your competition successful not only for product but how they go to market beyond a basic SWOT. Parissa often advise her teams to live and breathe your competition so you can beat them at their own game and infuse this within your team. It helps to focus and the indirect benefit is a bonding device.

Test limits
Sometimes, we find it’s best to take a Yoda like or even Socratic approach to team leadership and management. The answer isn’t always apparent and we must resist the urge to save the day. Parissa often says that when managing people, your goal must be that they become your peer or take your job when you move on to greener pastures. To make this happen, it sometimes has to (gently) hurt.

Say thank you - specifically
We can all agree on the importance of celebrating successes and we all like having fun. There’s something a bit missing from team fun days or outings when the heartfelt, meaningful and specific thank you goes unspoken by a leader. A meaningful word of appreciation can sometimes go much farther than a company outing – but don’t stop doing those!

Say sorry - specifically
We know that death and taxes are inevitable and we’d add making mistakes to that list. Leaders are not all knowing and sometimes we err. By making a specific apology and acknowledging the boo boo makes your team respect and like you all the more as long as you demonstrate that you’ve learned from your mistakes.

There is no "I" in team
This isn’t a new thought but it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be repeated. It’s so crucial for the leader to build a karmic, virtuous circle of goodness within the team and respect contributions of all. This can mean tempering the team diva, encouraging the silent and welcoming new employees among others.

Celebrate errors - even the yucky ones
To ensure the karmic, virtuous circle of goodness in #9, it means taking hold of an error and quickly turning it into a meaningful lesson. It’s easy to devolve into the blame game but that’s an opportunistic disease which kills mercilessly. Teach your team to remove the emotion, set things right and commit to better decisions and brighter days.

Promote healthy competition
Employee of the Month reserved parking works as a motivator! It’s perfectly okay to talk about an individual’s success to the rest of the team to re energize commitment to their personal development plans. The trick here is to tie tangible behaviors directly to the tangible success. The risk for not being specific is accusations of “playing favorites” or similar.

Amir jumped out of a plane. Why? It was the fulfillment of a promise he made to his team as part of an AIDS charity fundraising drive. In this case, charity did begin at home because the team rallied around a goal that had nothing to do with business results. We don’t recommend extreme gestures like this but it was an eye opener.

Thanks for allowing us to share our list with you. We’re certain you’ve a bunch of effective techniques so please start a conversation with us! It would be a pleasure to engage with you!  Oh, and if you're curious to learn more about 12 Most (where this was originally published), please give them a visit.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Learning From One Another

For one hour on July 15, beginning at 12 p.m. ET, Judy Gombita (@jgombita) and I (@parissab) have the honor of co-hosting the #Kaizenblog chat while the esteemed Elli St.George Godfrey (@3KeysCoach) is on a well-deserved vacation.

The week’s theme focuses on learning from each other, primarily in the work environment. Also, why it’s in everyone’s best interest to be aware of and open to these enriching teaching and communication moments, professionally and personally.

The following narrative is co-authored by Judy and me; it’s been a pleasure working together to develop this kaizen chat’s theme.

Judy Gombita

“You should hire her. She’s the best one for the job.” 

Several months into an early-career position I learned the company’s receptionist gave her seal of approval to my boss. Intuitively, she picked best candidates based on brief chats prior to scheduled interviews. Although never formally recognized, she gained a reputation for hiring savvy. Later with the opportunity to test it, my respect grew.

Besides appreciating the receptionist’s recommendation, a lesson learned was how significant are impressions made from first encounters. Be polite and respectful to frontline people; engage in conversations when appropriate. Recognize those who are exceptional in this important role. It saddens me how few people do this, based on the thrilled thanks and smiles my compliments elicit.

Similar lessons are applied to anyone in a gatekeeper role to “official” leadership. Executive assistants can be a goldmine of assistance, providing time is taken to cultivate genuine relationships, based on mutual respect and clear, persuasive communication as to the business need for access.

Other teachings

Accountants/financiers teach the value of research and logic, and how financial impact must always be given front-end consideration—the need for precision, checks and balances, including independent verification and actions. Learning to read and understand financial statements, including double (triple checking) the figures and accompanying commentary.

Similarly, marketing mentors drive home the need for metrics and having a baseline for analysis. Many marketers are exceptional at providing words and imagery (“branding”) to “sell” an organization to relevant shareholders/stakeholders.

Skilled human resources professionals edify about challenges as advocate/champion for vision and business goals; essentially, balancing the needs and wants of both the enterprise and each employee—the best ones pull it off.

Customer service reps teach ways to make satisfied customers even happier and the unhappy ones more accepting as to reasons why—despite a mandate to do both in very short timeframes.

My offerings

With a career-focus on communication management—term evolved to shaping the “organizational narrative”—I posit communication needs to ring true and be compelling. It needs to be timely, relevant and interesting.

The best way to make communication resonate is to cultivate and recruit key players into narrative champions.

Whenever possible, give validity and recognition to relevant players. Sometimes through profile, more often by cultivating individuals as resources in their areas of expertise, no matter what rank in a company’s hierarchy. Key is mutual respect, plus trust.

Giving people a voice means listening—asking questions and inviting input; determining strengths and weaknesses, plus skills and interests.

“In the filter bubble, there’s less room for the chance encounters that bring insight and learning. Creativity is often sparked by the collision of ideas from different disciplines and cultures.” Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble

It’s also true for company departments. Collapse silos: glean and meld ideas and insights from staff in different functions—it’s organizational manna! This framework supports fulfillment of business and communication objectives. An overarching goal is for each employer to be happy in the relationships and end-result outputs and outcomes.

Parissa Behnia

I can relate to these ideas.

In a previous life, I managed a number of teams with members representing IT, finance, risk management among others. Though we ostensibly shared a common language and business goal, we had disparate departmental points of view, needs, territorial goals and whatnot.


As a marketer, I spoke in generalities to set the stage for projects, thinking that specificities would be addressed “later.” This drove many an IT and finance colleague batty. I looked at the world as my personal white board (with smelly markers and erasers), without comprehending that everyone else had his or her own white boards. My missing component was in understanding that their white boards were critical to my personal learning, not to mention ensuring a project’s optimum success.

I mistakenly thought that, as the owner of a project, I had better understanding of its vision than others. My tendency was to discount other people’s input, with dismissive thoughts such as, “Oh, that’s just XYZ coming from a place of ‘no’ again.”

As Judy so correctly states, the best way to make communication resonate is to cultivate and recruit key team players. Instead, I disregarded their input. I didn’t recognize them for their unique experiences, or for their pragmatic or creative contributions.

Turning Point

It took one contentious meeting with an IT colleague to make me “get it,” though it was not a shining moment for either of us. He and I had been butting heads. Truth be told, he was unpopular with others in marketing, too. I had reached my boiling point with him and he also had reached his limit. It didn’t start out pretty. 

But something in the dynamic changed. I don’t quite know what made me drop my weapons, listen and accept the lesson being taught. What I heard and learned about his perspective of business as my IT colleague changed my strategic approach to that project. It also:
  • evolved my view of how necessary it is to cultivate team input 
  • changed my view of leadership, from sequential to circular, and 
  • (in a cheesy greeting card moment) began a very strong friendship with this same IT person. He even helped me pick out the shoes I wore on my wedding day!
In turn, I believe I taught him the value of opening up and trusting colleagues; his knowledge and opinions gained understanding and value. Not only did this give him a persuasive voice, but it earned him an ally and champion in the organization.

We really are a team.

It’s easy for people within a work team to focus externally on the customer while considering an internal colleague as competition, and sadly, as our collective nemesis. It’s easy to forget those colleagues’ personal and business experiences are always relevant, including maintenance of the office environment’s good health.

We’re taught as children the importance of listening to others and the importance of respect and yet we don’t always apply those in our work life.

Why is this so important? Companies spend a lot of time reducing waste tangibly: LEED certified buildings, paper/plastic recycling, reducing electricity use, etc. It’s time that we reduced intangible waste – the waste of time and misdirected energies.

We can do this by taking some level of care to communicate effectively, to listen and to respect. If we do these things, all of us can go farther, faster.

July 15th #kaizenblog questions

Q1. Provide examples of teaching moments from colleagues in a different area or discipline. How and why did it happen?

Q2. Reverse roles. What are you most proud of teaching someone else?

Q3. What official or artificial constructs inhibit cross-functional communication, learning and understanding?

Q4. How can we be proactive in collapsing departmental silos, to better learn from one another?

Bonus Q5. (time permitting) Has any work colleague been such an effective communicator and teacher that you yearn to do that job?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

One Afternoon's Musings...

No, you can't.  That was an answer I wanted to give to this unfortunate question that came my way this afternoon:

"Hi! Can I ask you about your hair?"


I've been going non stop since about 5:30am this morning: email, phone calls, drove to 2 different places and walked a few miles around Chicago's Loop in the pursuit of a multitude of complex errands/projects.  Like many of you, I've a lot on my mind these days and everything feels like a race against time.

So, there I was on State Street making a mad dash towards a government office where I had to fill out the same form for the third time.  It was around 3:30ish, the office closes at 5 and I was meditating on pleasant thoughts so I could wrap this thing up for once and for all.  I was a bit very anxious.

It was at that very moment when that question I mentioned above was delivered unto me.  I smiled, thanked the woman and declined politely.

That question makes my hair stand on end - pun intended.

I've heard that question before -- either directed to me, to people I'm with or other passersby on the street.  I'm always amazed that people think it's a good question and that they coach their staff to ask it.  Here's why:

  • It puts people in a defensive posture particularly as it's hurled at them out of the blue.
  • For some, hair is sacred.  To ask about something sacred in the middle of the street seems...  unholy.
  • It makes people (more) insecure about their looks... especially if they're just starting to recover from a bad cut, for example.
  • It just might be a wig.
  • Maybe how it looks is by design.
  • It's a negative opener.
  • And so on...
It kind of reminds me of Seinfeld's close talker episode.

What's your natural instinct when someone invades your personal space?  You tend to step back or find a way to regain some breathing room.  That's exactly the posture I adopt when I hear that question about hair or anything that intrusively direct -- especially when it's so random and out of the blue.  

Like the anecdote in this post, typical pushy sales-y vendor behavior like this that make customers and prospects head for the hills.  It's out of context and, worse, they're not properly asking for permission.  The "Can I..." isn't a request so much as it's better than saying "I'm going to.,."

Ask for permission.  Make people feel okay.

It's your mission as a business person to make people feel okay with the decisions they make as they work with you.  I've said many a time that our "gut" drives our decision making with the mind rationalizing what we decide.  Our job is to attract them to us and not to repel them.  

If we, without permission, approach prospects with an opener that makes them insecure or "not okay" like this hair question, it's difficult to engage with them meaningfully.  Our mission as product/service providers is to look less like a pesky vendor and more like a critical business advisor.  

Let's think about customers or prospects -- have there been times where we've made them feel "not okay" as we've interacted with them?  Are there ways that we could be doing better?  Please share your thoughts and, if you've liked reading this post, please share with others.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Monday, July 4, 2011

Margaret Thatcher's Heart

"To wear your heart on your sleeve isn't a very good plan; you should wear it inside, where it functions best." 
Margaret Thatcher

I wish I could remember whom it was that tweeted that Margaret Thatcher quote. I should have "favorited" (thank you Twitter for turning that into a verb) instead of copying it but whomever you are, thanks for the inspiration for today's post.

There have been more conversations these days about authenticity than I can count. So, I don't want to write about that. And I don't think you want me to write about it either, for that matter.

What is our true north?

I don't quite know the context in which Margaret Thatcher said those words but I'd like to share with you how it is I am interpreting them. She is talking about our essence, our raison d'etre and our internal compasses. And, it's also a comment on how we are focusing too much on the outside without checking in on the inside.

We're hearing a lot these days that we should be engaging directly with customers as much as possible. We hear that we should be talking to them directly, listening to their feedback and acknowledging their support of us. We hear that if we are to do this regularly, then we will improve the relationships but then also improve "word of mouth" as these same customers become our ambassadors of goodwill.

We're told to wear our hearts on our sleeves...

Because it makes good business sense to do so. And I don't disagree. The problem is that of motivation and instinct. What are the reasons why we want to directly engage other than it makes good business sense?  What in our gut informs the decision to engage and build relationships?  Do we understand and accept the responsibility of the care and feeding of these relationships?

I ask because if our only answers are that it's good for business, your customers and prospects can see right through it. In this post, I shared with you this mantra that we espouse here at 678 Partners:

"My interest is your best interest."

The trick with saying this, though, is that you have to mean it. And by meaning it, you have to walk the talk at all times.   It can't be half hearted, it can't be superficial and it can't be bare bones.  Here are some reasons why: 
  • Opportunity Cost: Even if you're doing something halfway, it takes time, effort and energy away from other things that need your attention.  If you can't commit 100% to direct engagement, please don't bother.  Find other ways to surprise and delight your customers within your means and you'll go farther.
  • Tacky Factor: If you want to be taken seriously, don't leave things on your site or Facebook page from 6 months ago.  It's the equivalent of putting plastic on your sofa in 2011.  We did it in the 70s but we don't do that today.
  • Sincerity Matters: You have to wear your heart on the inside.  When you operate with your heart as your guide as opposed to your head or your HP financial calculator, people are instinctively drawn to you.  
Or course, there are a host of other reasons - and I'd like to hear yours.  Please comment below or send an email to continue the conversation.  If you've enjoyed this post, please also do share it with others.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef