Five Moments When Saying No Is Your Best Strategy

Most successful leaders have little difficulty saying no to a losing deal, to a project that’s wasting money, or to a request that doesn’t align with their priorities. But these same leaders can find it very uncomfortable to speak up when their concerns are less cut-and-dried or when their organization is hell-bent on pursuing a plan.

As difficult as it can be, saying no is often the key to effective leadership. Without the ability to push back when needed, you run the risk of “commitment drift” or the erosion of promises, without anyone really stopping to think about the consequences.

In this post on strategy+business, Five Moments When Saying No Is Your Best Strategy, I share several common scenarios that should raise red flags for leaders, along with some examples that highlight how saying “no” has helped business leaders advance the company’s values and long-term success.

Let me know what you think!

All the best,

Elizabeth Doty

Finding the “Herbie” in Your Change Initiative

For many companies, the biggest threat today is not complacency, but overreaching. When too much change is happening at once, competing initiatives undermine one another and disconnected priorities put the core business at risk.

But how should change champions reconcile these competing, urgent initiatives?

Eli Goldratt’s 1984 classic, The Goal, offers a counter-intuitive but powerful solution. To explain his approach, called the “theory of constraints,” Goldratt uses the analogy of a scout troop on a hike. The fact is, only one factor determines how fast they will get to their destination: the speed of the slowest scout, a poor soul named “Herbie.” To maximize their speed as a troop, they need to let Herbie set the pace. They put Herbie at the front of the line, then do everything they can to lighten his load and help him do his best. Similarly, to maximize the speed of progress, business leaders must identify the “Herbie-group” within their organizations and use that to guide the pace and sequence of change.

In this post on strategy+business, Finding the “Herbie” in Your Change Initiative, I offer a few ways Goldratt’s approach can help you accelerate your critical change initiatives.

Tell me what you think!

All the best,

Elizabeth Doty

Want to Change Corporate Culture? Focus on Actions.

To shape a positive culture, many leaders focus on articulating their organization’s mission and values — the why and the how they hope will inspire their teams to deliver. Unfortunately, almost every company has a values statement, and posted values show no significant correlation with business outcomes.

However, research shows that companies that live their values in practice achieve higher productivity, higher profitability, and an increased ability to attract talent compared to those that do not.

So, how do we get from “values on the wall” to “values in action”? In this post on Strategy + Business, Want to Change Corporate Culture? Focus on Actions, I provide four lessons that can help as you integrate values into action.

Tell me what you think!

All the best,

Elizabeth Doty

Does Your Company Keep Its Promises?

Businesses today make a lot of promises, to customers, employees, investors and the larger world. These promises help build trust, but they also add risk. The fact is, we live in an era of transparency driven by social media, in which businesses that don’t keep their word have nowhere to hide.

It is troubling then, that so many companies struggle to keep their commitments in practice. Though individual leaders may care about keeping their word, companies often fall prey to “commitment drift.” Seemingly minor breakdowns in communication, handoffs between departments, or failure to track promises over time can cause a firm to renege on its commitments to internal and external stakeholders — putting its reputation, brand and trusted relationships at risk.

In this post on strategy + business, Does Your Company Keep Its Promises? I outline seven strategies to help you avoid this type of “commitment drift” and protect your brand credibility.

Tell me what you think!

All the best,

Elizabeth Doty

Us versus Them: Reframing Resistance to Change

Anyone attempting to lead change in an organization knows to expect some resistance; but this is no less frustrating for being predictable. Over time, you may find yourself gravitating toward those who support the change, and distancing yourself from those who openly or quietly oppose it.

Unfortunately, approaching change with this sort of “us versus them” mindset actually increases pushback. When we think of people as resisters, we tend to discount their perspective, assuming that if we are right, they must be wrong. Yet, in reality, each group is simply paying attention to different things. Change champions generally see the upside of change and the downside of the status quo; so-called resisters see the downside of change and the upside of the current state. Each is right, but only half-right.

Thus, rather than assuming critical thinkers are resisters, we would do better to treat them as “guardians.” Guardians see what needs to be protected. They help keep us honest, asking hard questions, and highlighting risks we need to consider. They recall the promises and values we need to honor if we want to sustain trust. By engaging them with respect, we actually improve our change strategy.

In this post on strategy + business, Us versus Them: Reframing Resistance to Change, I offer a few practical strategies for building a bridge between change champions and guardians, to help you truly advance positive change in your organization.

Tell me what you think!

All the best,

Elizabeth Doty

Three Promises Every Sales Team Needs to Make – and Keep

Customer loyalty has always been the holy grail of organic growth – yet, as sales models shift toward subscription-based services, longer-term relationships have become more critical than ever before. In their classic study, W. Earl Sasser Jr. and Frederick F. Reichheld found that reducing customer churn by just 5 percent could increase profitability between 25 and 85 percent, depending on the industry.

Why do customers leave? Often, it’s because they feel the company has not delivered on its promises. And who is making these promises? Ultimately, it’s your own salespeople. Marketing may craft your brand promise, but your sales team makes the commitments that count for specific customers — what your company will deliver, when, and with what level of quality.

In the past, your salespeople might have been tempted to promise whatever they thought it would take to close a deal, then move on to the next customer. But sales strategy expert Steve Thompson, who coaches both buying and selling organizations, suggests that “in a world of relationships, a different kind of salesperson succeeds.”  To win in this new world, sales teams need to focus on whether customers are receiving the value promised — and whether your firm is getting credit for the value delivered.

In this post on strategy + business, Three Promises Every Sales Team Needs to Make – and Keep, I take a detailed look at three specific promises Thompson propose can help any direct-sales business build longer-term relationships.

 

See what you think!

All the best,

Elizabeth Doty

Liberate Your Team with Clearer Processes

I am pleased to share that this post on strategy + business, Liberate Your Team with Clear Processes, has just received a 2018 Azbee Bronze Award of Excellence from the American Society of Business Publication Editors (one of many awards for the magazine).

My goal was to offer a way out of a recurring challenge for many teams: Our aversion to “process” in the sense of checklists and forms, and our desperate need for workflows that work.

I am sure you are familiar with the challenge. Ask any member of your team if they want to institute better processes and be prepared for them to roll their eyes. “‘Better processes’ means ‘more bureaucracy,’” someone will mutter. But ask that same team how much they enjoy doing projects the hard way — duplicating efforts, scrambling to meet deadlines when someone drops the ball, or bearing the brunt of customer fury — and you can expect the floodgates to open.

As a leader, what can you do? How do you walk the tightrope between poorly implemented processes with annoying rules and checklists, and the danger of “winging it” when quality, productivity or safety are at stake?

One solution is to re-frame how you think about “process.” At their heart, effective processes are not about adding red tape — they are about enabling “flow.” Wherever there is an activity that happens repeatedly in your business, there is a potential flow. As a leader, you have the choice to leave this flow to chance, to control it, or to channel it.

In this post on strategy + business, Liberate Your Team with Clear Processes, I explore three ways you can improve processes to generate that sense of “flow” and enable your team to feel more productive.

See what you think!

All the best,

Elizabeth Doty

Learning from the Persuasive Genius of Great Leaders

In my 20 years as an executive coach and advisor, I’ve found that “framing” is one of the common threads behind great leaders’ persuasive genius – both in formal presentations and one-on-one conversations.  Great leaders do not rely on facts alone to communicate. Instead, they offer new frames for what facts mean, in a way that creates “lightbulb moments” for others.

Simply put, a frame is a lens for interpreting events, a way of making sense of complex, messy experiences, so we can communicate and take action. According to The Power of Framing, by Gail Fairhurst, framing means “defining the situation here and now in ways that connect with others.” Frames provide a shorthand way to orient ourselves and tap into prior knowledge, without having to review every detail of a situation or plan. When a leader says, “we are all in the same boat,” she is helping people recall their interdependencies. Looking for a “win-win” in a negotiation activates more productive, collaborative behavior. And reminding a team “not to get too academic” can prompt them to move to a decision when needed.

Yet as powerful as frames are, they can also create a box around our thinking – narrowing our options, limiting our perspective, and ignoring critical aspects of the situation. Great leaders look for empowering, inclusive frames, that help people recognize and incorporate more of the current situation into their thinking.

In this post on strategy + business, Learning from the Persuasive Genius of Great Leaders,  I outline how great leaders I have observed use frames consciously and deliberately to empower and focus their teams.

See what you think!

All the best,

Elizabeth Doty

 

How to Accelerate Learning on Your Team

Some years ago, I met an ERP implementation team that was able to deliver tangible business results in just six months, where eight other teams at the same company had stalled. The successful team’s secret? Early on, its members had given up on planning, and instead focused their time on putting live customer orders through a prototype of the software. Week after week, they met with the pilot customer team, listened to their feedback, and iterated on the design.

Many leaders I’ve interacted with have wanted to accelerate learning within their teams, however, money, times and more-so, a narrow-minded approach to learning, have always proven to be their major constraints. An effective measure such as implementing meaningful challenges with a well-designed feedback system can easily help teams learn naturally on a daily basis.

In this post on strategy + business How to Accelerate Learning on Your Team, I explore a few concepts that can help accelerate learning within a team.

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All the best,

Elizabeth Doty

Five Ways to Reverse the Downward Spiral of Distrust

A few years back, a VP at a high-tech firm I was working with pulled me aside. “Our division is mired in distrust,” she said. “Teams are not talking to each other. Meetings are more about posturing than work. And no one is taking any real risks. But when I bring it up, I get shot down. Does the CEO not see it? Or has he given up on us?”

This story echoes many others I’ve heard from professionals in a variety of industries. Unfortunately, once a company or team is infected with distrust, it tends to fall into a downward spiral that drags everyone down to the lowest common denominator.

In this post on strategy + business, Five Ways to Reverse the Downward Spiral of Distrust, I outline the warning signs for each stage in the downward spiral, then offer five practical strategies for rebuilding trust — even when no one wants to talk about it.

See what you think!

 

All the best,

Elizabeth Doty