HBR: How Smart Managers Build Bridges

How do you manage conflict?  Are you improving your relationships with your directs? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Charalambos Vlachoutsicos

How Smart Managers Build Bridges

What do you do when the other person simply won’t budge from an entrenched position in which they have a great deal of personal and professional commitment? How do you bridge the gap between your position and his?

Most people try to win the other person over to their point of view by argument. The trouble is, in many cases they don’t have all the facts to fully understand why the other person doesn’t agree. What’s more, the gap may be down to differences in values or cultures that are not particularly amenable to reasoned arguments. Whatever the source of the differences or gaps, when you can’t win by reason, you start to get angry at what you see is the other person’s lack of it, which gets mirrored, and so the gap only gets wider.

The key to avoiding this dynamic is to stop trying to get the person to change and instead get them to open up. The information you get may well encourage you to moderate your own position and thus open the way for a mutually advantageous cooperation. Make them understand your constraints and get them to see what they have to gain by what you propose.

Of course, sometimes, no amount of understanding is going to get the other person to budge and you’re going to have to force progress. At this point, you have to work to bridge the gap in such a way that their main concerns are accommodated so that you can communicate and cooperate productively in spite of and within the limits of your differences. Typically, this involves talking responsibility for the action you wish to make while being prepared to share the payoff and the credit.

Once the gap is actually bridged and you move forward you will pretty soon see that your interactions generate change. Through the give and take of communication, all sides come to feel that at least some of the differences between them are actually smaller and easier to live with than they appeared to begin with.

I built perhaps my first managerial bridge when, fresh out of HBS, I joined our family’s business. Immediately on joining I realized that our warehouse constantly remained out-of-stock of at least five of the thirty-odd products our company carried. This not only caused a loss of sales of the items missing but also had negative repercussions on the sales of all of our products because it drove many customers into our competitors’ arms.

I went to our warehouse and met with the manager who was a very loyal, trustworthy person who had worked with us for many years. He was about 60 years old, knew all our clients personally and had a wide network of potential clients in the market. I asked him why he believed we faced this problem.

He answered that it was because our suppliers took a long time to deliver our orders and, given the global nature of our supply chain, there was nothing we could do about it. I talked to him a little about the notion of forecasting what amount of each product we would need to carry as minimum stock, in order to cover our sales during the time required between the date of placing our order and the date it would reach us.

His reaction was fierce: “If you want predictions go to the Oracle of Delphi,” he told me. “In Greece we do not know what will happen from one day to the next, so we cannot make predictions of how much of each product we will sell.” He would not budge.

Faced with this attitude, I stopped trying to get him to change. Instead, I asked for a worker, some red paint, a brush, and a wooden ladder. I obtained from the accountant the average monthly sales of each product, added a security margin of 20%, converted this quantity to the volume of space required for each product, and drew on the wall a thick red line at the point where the pile would probably be enough to cover sales of the product until our next order arrived.

I assured the manager that I respected his view that predictions in Greece were risky and — this was critical — assured him that the head office would take responsibility for whatever risks were entailed by my attempts to forecast “All you have to do is, whenever you see a red line appearing on the wall behind the stack of any product, is inform me”. Finally, I promised him a bonus for each day our warehouse carried stocks of all our products.

The immediate impact, of course, was fewer stock-outs. But the longer-term and more important benefit from the improvement was that the warehouse manager and I started talking more. He took to visiting me at my Athens office and to ask my opinion on other problems our Piraeus shop faced and to make useful suggestions on how best to address them. Thanks to my action in bridging I had been able to move from talking to the manager to talking with the manager.

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HBR: Dealing with Sexual Harassment When Your Company Is Too Small to Have HR

Most building supplier retailers do not have a formal HR department.  If you turn a blind eye to sexual misconduct at work, you create a toxic setting for all of your employees. What is your company doing about sexual misconduct? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Karen Firestone:

Dealing with Sexual Harassment When Your Company Is Too Small to Have HR

The subject of sexual misconduct at work is dominating mainstream conversation and board room agendas. This doesn’t just mean men and women who run large global enterprises, Fortune 500 behemoths, film studios, and media platforms. The conversation is happening in small businesses as well.

In the U.S. 43% of employees work in organizations with 50 or fewer people. It would be a mistake to think that a smaller workforce means a decreased chance of sexual harassment. In fact, a few characteristics make small firms more susceptible.

For example, at a smaller firm, people may engage with each other more frequently and that proximity can make the impact of any harassment feel disproportionately large. It can be extremely disruptive if two out of twenty employees suddenly can’t work together and need to be separated. And the legal and punitive costs of sexual harassment cases can feel steeper to a firm with less money and fewer resources.

Importantly, many small firms, especially those with fewer than 30 people, do not have a formal HR department. There is often not enough work to justify a full-time HR employee. The absence of HR means that CEOs must take more responsibility when it comes to keeping current with changing laws, and designing, communicating, and monitoring rules regarding workplace behavior. Another challenge is that without an HR department, more incidents might go unreported, since it may be easier for staff to talk to HR than the boss.

Managing all this is no easy feat for leaders who must also focus on running the business. At our firm of thirteen, the president and I, as CEO, handle all the hiring, compensation, performance, promotion reviews, and any personal matters that our staff brings to us. (Our business manager handles the rest of our “HR” functions like administering payroll, health insurance, and 401K enrollment issues.) Over the past thirteen years, I have brokered the reconciliation of some damaged relationships among colleagues, occasionally helping them through difficult medical and financial situations, and remained watchful for any unhappiness or anxiety. We have never had a sexual harassment complaint, but I’m on high alert for any signs, and I’m thinking more now about how to preempt them.

My CEO peers feel similarly. I surveyed 57 small business CEOs on how they were thinking about sexual harassment. Twenty-nine of these firms had fewer than 50 employees and 21 had no full time HR staff. Among the group, 30 had a written sexual harassment policy, 14 had held a company-wide meeting, and 10 had conducted a training session on the subject.

Two-thirds of the CEOs were male and the group ranged in age from 27 to 81. The majority (70%) said they are more worried now about sexual harassment affecting their business than they were a year ago. They attributed this heightened anxiety to the news focus on high profile cases and reverberations, rather than to any specific incident within their company.

They worried that allegations of inappropriate behavior would damage their office culture, but they were also concerned that hiring a consultant for a day-long training session might be costly, redundant, ineffective, and cause tension about the reasoning behind such action. They were also nervous that the absence of a clearly written harassment policy could hurt both recruiting and the firm’s reputation.

Despite the lack of organized meetings or programs, they seem to be trying to create a constructive workplace culture: 20 of them acknowledged that they are more aware of their own behavior today than in the past, and 16 said that they encouraged their colleagues to come to them directly with any issues or complaints.

Small businesses do not need HR to root out and prevent sexual harassment. But leaders need to 1) be conscious of the factors that lead to a toxic work culture, such as having a predominantly male executive staff, layers of hierarchy in power within the organization, and indifferent responses to previous allegations; 2) establish clear policies outlining what constitutes sexual harassment, which behaviors will not be tolerated, and what employees should do if they see or experience misconduct; and 3) enforce these rules by designating clear roles for people within the organization. At my company I have told everyone they should come to me or my second in command immediately with any complaint. Should this ever happen, I would try to understand the incident by interviewing everyone involved, and I would likely ask the alleged harasser to take a leave until we understood the entire situation. Then I’d try to resolve the problem internally. If that was impossible, we would seek outside counsel.

So far, it’s not a dilemma I’ve had to face. Over a decade ago, we wrote up a sexual harassment policy that strongly denounced any form of sexual harassment. These included physical, verbal, or implied requests for sexual favors; inappropriate jokes and gestures; and intimidating behavior. It also offered directions about reporting that misconduct. Each year we revise this, recirculate it, and have every employee sign it. We continue to discuss this policy at company-wide meetings, including one recently, following all the recent news stories on the subject. At that session, I asked everyone if we should do anything else, such as hold a sexual harassment training session; no one believed that necessary.

Since we have no HR department, we tell employees that should they experience sexual harassment, they need to come forward, at some point, to one of the top managers. We know that this won’t happen if they don’t trust us and feel that we care about their well being. To foster this kind of trust, I talk to my colleagues every day when I see them, make sure people are included in any discussions around their work, and ask them questions about their assignments and contributions. This may sound trite, but these actions will generate more trust than merely telling people to come forward with a harassment charge.

Every CEO of a small company has concurrent goals of growing into a highly profitable business and creating a vibrant and desirable office environment. If you turn a blind eye to sexual misconduct at work, you create a toxic setting for all of your employees, and face high financial, reputational, and energy-sapping costs of dealing with a sexual harassment lawsuit. The main way small businesses can prevent sexual harassment is to establish the right internal culture, which means paying more attention to the example you set. The well-being of your company could be at stake.

{Grow}: Why great customer service doesn’t matter like it used to

What are your thoughts on the future of customer service? Is the customer’s experience as important as it was ten/twenty years ago? Below is a blog from the Businesses Grow By Mark Schaefer:

Why great customer service doesn’t matter like it used to

I was helping a financial services company with their marketing strategy recently and job number one was defining their point of differentiation. They had done an enormous amount of preparation for our meeting, including a SWOT analysis and a detailed and honest competitive assessment.

At the end of all this work, their stated point of differentiation amounted to “we have great customer service.”

And they did. But to their dismay, I punched a hole in that strategy and said their fine service didn’t really matter as much as they thought it did. Let’s find out why.

Great customer service is like air

There’s a television commercial airing in America that compares the service of major wireless providers. “It’s 2017” the spokesperson says. “Everybody has great service now … so why pay more?”

I believe this is true for most business categories. Today, the table stakes are exceptional service. To be in business, you need to be great because if you have terrible service, you’re going to get Yelped out of the market in a month. The hyper-connected hive mind has forced everybody to have great service, or at least provide equivalent service.

Even if you could possibly PROVE that your service was 10 percent better than your competition, that’s probably not a significant point of differentiation.

In the case of my customer, they DID have great service but the reviews and ratings were equally stellar for their competitors:

  • My customer’s rating: 94
  • Competitor 1: 91
  • Competitor 2: 90

In this case, touting great customer service as a point of differentiation is like saying “Hey, we have clean air in our store!” or, “Now featuring the city’s coldest water fountain.” It probably doesn’t matter. Everybody has great customer service because if you don’t you’ll be shellacked on customer review sites.

Sparkles as a point of differentiation

Every Christmas, my daughter and I go to a German restaurant in New York called Rolf’s. We go for one reason — every inch of space in the tiny restaurant is covered with Christmas lights. It’s beautiful. If you want to get in the Christmas Spirit, this is the place to go.

Last year, we went to the restaurant and were turned away despite the fact that my daughter had made a reservation three weeks in advance. She had called all day to confirm the reservation and nobody picked up the phone. She proved this by showing them ten consecutive calls to the restaurant on her phone.

Nevertheless, they would not honor the reservation and we were expelled by the rudest hospitality worker on the planet. We vowed to never set foot in this restaurant again. When I looked at their rating on Yelp, to my surprise, this restaurant had an average rating below two stars. One typical review:

After seeing how beautiful this place looked on Instagram I was shocked at how RUDE the host was. And how packed the place was. The food was nothing special and expensive. Never again. And yet, there was a line to get in stretching down the block.

Why would such a terrible place have a line stretching down the block? It’s because they’re sparkly.

Sparkles, it seems, trumps food, service, and price. Think about that. This restaurant doesn’t need to invest in service or quality food, it just needs to buy another $2.99 string of Christmas lights.

And that’s OK because they’re more sparkly than anybody else and enough people care about that to turn a good profit.

Will Rolf’s terrible restaurant survive? Probably. New York is a huge city. As long as there enough people who vote for sparkles over quality they’re fine. They made their calculation and it’s apparently paying off.

Service is important, but it might not be different

How can you explain Rolf’s? The service is bad, but the experience is unique. In this case we see that the customer experience even overcomes the poor food and the jerk at the door. To be clear, I don’t think most businesses can ignore service and quality. But I also don’t think service is the point of differentiation it might have been 20 years ago.

The game-changer has been social media and review sites. The ability for any person to leave a review or post an embarrassing photo has had the effect of keeping businesses honest. In some ways, greater service levels are necessary simply to avoid YouTube humiliation.

It’s certainly not impossible to stand out through service levels, but when I hear a business claim “service” as their core marketing message it’s usually a red flag for me. I think the battleground moving forward isn’t necessarily customer service, it’s customer experience.

What are your thoughts on the future of service, marketing, and experience?

Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

 

HBR: How to Motivate Yourself When Your Boss Doesn’t

Do you request feedback from your peers and/or managers? What do you do to motivate yourself? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Julie Mosow:

How to Motivate Yourself When Your Boss Doesn’t

Let’s face it: some bosses are not inspiring. They don’t motivate us to perform at our best — let alone improve our skills. What should you do if your boss is too hands-off, ambivalent, or downright demotivating? How can you keep your engagement up and your own professional goals on track? Is it possible to motivate yourself?

What the Experts Say

The good news is that while your boss has a lot of influence over how engaged you are at work, you can put yourself in the driver’s seat. “Employees have more control than they realize over their ability to build and sustain motivation in the workplace,” says Heidi Grant Halvorson, a motivational psychologist and author of Nine Things Successful People Do Differently. There are many factors that influence motivation, but “the most significant one is a sense of progress,” says Monique Valcour, professor of management at EDHEC Business School in France, citing Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer’s book, The Progress Principle. “And that comes from the feeling that we are doing work that is meaningful to ourselves, to our colleagues, to the organization, and to the world at large.” Halvorson adds: “Changing your mindset and habits can drive a more fulfilling, more motivated approach to work no matter who your manager is.” Here’s how to motivate yourself when your boss doesn’t.

Understand what makes you tick

If your manager doesn’t motivate you or, even worse, undermines you, it’s important to figure out what drives you personally and professionally. In The Progress Principle, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer stress that motivation stems from three things: love of the work itself, the desire to receive recognition, and a sense that our work matters and connects us to others. So ask yourself: When was the last time you felt a sense of meaning and purpose at work? What were the conditions that allowed those feelings to flourish?

Set your own goals

Valcour points out that many people feel they’re sprinting in place with no extra time to tackle anything other than their day-to-day responsibilities. However, it’s important to step back and look at the big picture. Make an individual career plan to help you track your projects and results and set goals for your own development. While some of these goals may be directly related to your current role, others may be geared toward learning and exploring areas of interest outside your job description. Even though it’s tempting to set demanding goals for yourself, Halvorson cautions against going overboard. “Although it’s counterintuitive, setting unrealistic or overly ambitious goals can actually be demotivating because there’s so much on the line,” she says. Instead, set goals with smaller milestones so that you can celebrate your progress each step along the way.

Use if-then planning

Once you’ve decided on your goals, Halvorson recommends using “if-then” planning to stay on track or to handle setbacks. “Accepting that challenges are a part of life and being prepared to deal with them is critical to long-term motivation,” she says. For example, if your goal is to finish a presentation, but you find yourself getting distracted by conversations with colleagues, you might say, “If I haven’t finished the presentation by the end of the day on Wednesday, then I will come in early on Thursday to finish up while it’s quiet.” Or you might use if-then planning to move past a low point. For example, “If we don’t receive funding for this project, then I will rewrite the business plan and approach the partners again.” By anticipating obstacles, you’re less likely to get stuck.

Evaluate your own performance and ask for feedback

One way that poor managers undermine motivation is by not giving sufficient feedback. “Seeking feedback is important,” Valcour confirms, “even if we sometimes hear things we’d rather not.” Halvorson believes that most managers are willing to offer feedback if you ask. You might request the feedback directly and in the moment by saying something like, “How did you think the meeting went? Is there anything I might do differently next time?” You might also look to peers for an objective assessment of your performance. Ask people who will be candid with you and whose opinions you trust. Another option is self-evaluation. “We’re more capable than we realize of generating meaningful feedback about our professional accomplishments,” Halvorson says. “Look critically at your own work and ask yourself the same questions you would use to evaluate the work of others. For example, consider if you’re moving fast enough or if the quality of your work is what it should be.”

Expand your internal and external networks

If your manager isn’t motivating you, it’s essential to look for support elsewhere — not only to boost your confidence but also to increase your visibility. Find mentors within your own company to give guidance and perspective, and, if possible, develop an in-house peer group designed to help all of you move forward. You can also seek out and develop external relationships. Valcour is a strong proponent of online networking. “Particularly for people who live far away from their colleagues, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other networking sites provide a sense of connectedness to a larger professional community that might otherwise be difficult to maintain.” Even for someone in a major metropolitan area with many opportunities to connect, online networking is an effective way to stay in touch with colleagues and to keep abreast of industry-wide developments.

Focus on learning

By shifting the focus of your work from performing perfectly to consistently learning and improving, you create the conditions for both heightened motivation and success. “Research suggests that this change in mindset reliably results in better performance,” Halvorsen says. “When it comes to achievement, attitude and persistence are often more important than innate abilities.” Her advice: break the habit of kicking yourself when things don’t go perfectly and replace it by telling yourself that you’ll learn from your mistakes, move on, and do better next time. “No matter your manager’s approach, breaking away from results-oriented thinking is one of the most powerful things you can do to boost your own motivation.”

Principles to Remember

Do:

  • Determine your own personal and professional motivators ­— you can’t rely on your boss to get ahead
  • Ask for feedback from your colleagues
  • Build a support system inside ­— and outside ­— your company

Don’t:

  • Set unreachable goals that stall your sense of moving forward ­— keep your goals manageable and celebrate your progress along the way
  • Underestimate the value of self-evaluation — look critically at your own work
  • Dwell on your mistakes ­— it’s more important to keep learning

Case Study #1: Cultivate a supportive, effective network

A vice president of human resources in the financial services industry, Lisa Chang* has had five different bosses during the past two years. The revolving door of managers proved to be very demotivating. So she looked elsewhere for support and decided to create an internal network beyond her team. Lisa developed relationships with three senior women in the organization: a woman who was briefly her supervisor before taking a role elsewhere in the company, another who is a leader in the client group she serves, and the chief human resources officer. “It’s unusual to have such a candid, open relationship with someone so senior, Lisa explains. “The chief human resources officer has given me opportunities at every turn in addition to being someone I can go to for advice.”

Lisa has looked to her peers as well but she feels that these mentorship relationships have been a far more effective way for her to stay motivated. “My peers and I are all in the same boat, so most of them wouldn’t have been a great help to me. By looking to more senior employees at the company, I’ve been able to create the kinds of relationships I might have had if I had been working with a great boss.”

While the lack of consistent, managerial support is not what Lisa would’ve hoped for, the situation has provided Lisa with the opportunity to learn from company leaders she otherwise wouldn’t have met. She says: “I’ve been able to seek feedback, challenge myself through new opportunities, and perform effectively in my role despite the leadership vacuum.”

Case Study #2: Stay focused on your own growth and development

Mark Barnaby* has risen through the ranks at several different investment banks, but with a string of managers who were either completely hands off or overly involved, staying motivated hasn’t always been easy. He coped by staying focused on his own ambitions. “Focusing on my manager’s faults just distracted me from my own goals, so I made it my priority to find ways to help him succeed while learning myself.”

He figured out what his bosses weren’t good at and stepped into the gap. “One of my bosses was a big picture thinker, but her approach wasn’t the right one for our work. I helped her by drilling down into fine points of regulatory policy, providing much needed detail in meetings, and being an in-house resource for her. Doing all of this helped me develop the subject matter expertise I needed to continue to move forward professionally.” Developing and meeting his own objectives kept Mark going even when his bosses didn’t.

Early on, Mark knew his growing interests would serve him well. “There is enormous demand for this kind of knowledge,” he explains. “During the past decade, regulatory policy has emerged as a critical focus of the banking industry.” Even though Mark admits that helping managers who weren’t helping him was frustrating, he acknowledges that it was the right decision for him and for everyone involved to approach each situation with a positive, goal-oriented attitude. He advises, “No matter what, never make an enemy of your boss.”

*not their real names

 

Hit Makers: The “Laff Box”

Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction by Derek Thompson is a quick read. The book is full of stories, and facts on how things become popular. Below is an excerpt:

The “Laff Box”Hit Makers.jpg

In the 1960s, the biggest star in American television wasn’t Mary Tyler Moore or Andy Griffith. By pure screen time alone, the TV talent most present in American living rooms wasn’t an actor at all. It was an electrical engineer who never appeared in front of the camera, but whose work behind the scenes was influential enough that you could hear him almost every minute on about forty shows a week. At one point, he was so powerful, and his work so private, that he was called the “Hollywood Sphinx.” His name was Charles Douglass, and he invented the laugh track.

Douglass was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1910 and his family moved to Nevada when he was a child to escape political unrest. He wanted to study electrical engineering like his father, an electrician with a Nevada mining company. But when he found himself in Los Angeles after World War II, the hot new media industry for a technophile like Douglass was television. He took a job as a sound technician with CBS.

Situational comedies in the 1950s tended to be shot in simple set in front of live audiences. Entertainment often shoehorns past habits into new formats, and indeed 1950s television was basically live radio or theater in front of a camera. But when actors forgot a line or messed up their blocking, the second or third takes of the same jokes wouldn’t elicit many laughs. Weak chortling made a show seem stolid when it was broadcast to audiences sitting at home. This led to the practice of “sweetening” laughs by extending or amplifying the sound of merriment in postproduction.

Douglass was interested in a bigger solution to the problem: He wanted to invent a machine to simulate laughter. This way, shows would never be fully defeated by awful writers, worse actors, dead audiences, or the vagaries of a live recording. For several months in the early 1950s, he listened to audio of laughs, gasps, and applause from several theatrical performances and television.” He recorded his favorite sounds of mirth on analog tape, which he could play with keys he took right off
a typewriter.

The “Laff Box,” as his invention came to be known, looked like a gangly bastardized typewriter, but Douglass played it like an organ. The laugh keys could be pressed together like chords to create more than a hundred variations of audience amusement. In his private studio, Douglass knew how to layer laughter for the right moment during postproduction. As a sitcom gag worked its way toward a ridiculous climax, Douglass would play early chuckles, crescendo to hearty guffaws, and finally leave the invisible audience screaming with delight. layering in the laughs was an art, and Douglass had the only game in town

Douglass’s technology faced considerable antagonism in its early days (and high-minded doubters throughout its existence), but eventually networks realized that canned laughter had several advantages. First, it allowed directors to shoot first and add the audience later. Showrunners began to film television more like movies — inside and outside, with several takes and multiple camera angles. By 1954 Douglass had so many clients that he quit his job at CBS to work full-time with his Laff Box. He owned a monopoly on mechical mirth, but he was a benevolent monopolist, scoring a single episode for just about $100.

The second reason why laugh tracks eventually caught on requires a deeper understanding of why people laugh in the first place — of what makes something funny.

Plato proposed that laughter was an expression of “superiority” over a person or character in a story. Superiority is clearly at work in physical humor and Borscht Belt jokes. “My doctor said I was in terrible shape. I told him I needed a second opinion. ‘All right,’ he said. ‘You’re also quite ugly.'”

But the theory of superiority fails to explain puns, which are funny, at least in theory. “Two atoms are walking down the street. One of them turns to the other and says, ‘Hold up, I think I lost an electron.’ The first atom replies, ‘Are you sure?’ The second atom shouts, ‘Yes, I’m positive!'” This joke has nothing to do with power. The last word of the story arrives as a small yet meaningful surprise. But to explain what makes it funny, a broader theory is needed.

In 2010, two researchers proposed what might be the closest thing that sociology has to a universal theory of humor. It’s called “Benign Violation Theory.” Peter McGraw, now the director of the Humor He- search Lab, and Caleb Warren, now an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Arizona, proposed that nearly all jokes are violations of norms or expectations that don’t threaten violence or emotional distress.

  • “A priest and a rabbi walk into a bar, and they each order a seltzer”: That isn’t a joke, because there’s no violation of expectation.
  • “A priest and a rabbi walk into a bar. They sit down to order a beer. Then they nearly kill each other over irresolvable religious differences”: That’s too dangerously violent for most people to laugh.
  • “A priest and a rabbi walk into a bar. The bartender says, ‘What is this, a joke?”’: Whether or not you personally find this funny, it’s clearly a joke, subverting expectations in a way that isn’t purposefully cruel or violent.

“If you look at the most universal forms of laughter shared across species, when rats laugh or when dogs laugh, it’s often in response to aggressive forms of play, like chasing or tickling,” Warren told me (and, yes, rats can laugh). “Chasing and tickling are both the threat of an attack, but without an actual attack.” By this theory, a good comedian chases with impropriety and tickles with wordplay, but does not deeply wound the audience’s social mores.

Any mainstream system — social behavior, manner of speaking, identities, even logic — can be threatened or violated. But people laugh mostly when they sense that the violation is benign or safe. And what makes something seem benign or safe? When lots of other people are laughing with you. That was the magic of Douglass’s box: It was effective tool of safe public conformity. Hearing people laugh gave audiences license to chuckle, too.

 

Awkward: The Devil Is in the Details

I found Awkward: The Science of Why We’re Socially Awkward and Why That’s Awesome by Ty Tashiro a fascinating book. The book helped me to understand anxiety with social environments. Below is an excerpt:

The Devil Is in the DetailsAwkward.jpg

John Gottman of the University of Washington and his colleagues have conducted observational studies of positive and negative behaviors with married couples and grade-school children for decades. The focus of many relationship scientists has been on negative behaviors such as resentment or withdrawing from conflict, but the trick to understanding interpersonal behavior is about the ratio of negative to positive behaviors. It turns out that positive behaviors can be as small as telling someone he looks handsome, attentively listening to a friend’s small triumph of the day, or surprising a coworker with her favorite cupcakes.

Gottman has found that people keep an informal count of behaviors. He calls this ratio of positive to negative behaviors an emotional bank account. To stay in good standing with others, people need to keep a balance of about four or five positive behaviors to every one negative behavior. Imagine that you do four good things during an interaction with a friend: give an enthusiastic greeting, compliment his outfit, share some french fries, and respond empathically to a concern. Then you inadvertently insult this friend by forgetting that today is his birthday. You would probably come out of this interaction with $0.00 in your emotional bank account with him, which is not bad considering that you could have left the interaction in the red had you not been so nice at the start of the interaction. It’s good to think about leaving interactions without a negative balance because people’s emotional bank accounts charge interest.

Gottman finds that negative balances are not wiped from other people’s minds at the end of the day, but instead carry over to your next interaction. This is bad news if you end the day in the red with someone, but good news if you end the day with money in the bank. When people leave interactions with a negative balance, it has a way of building corrosive resentment in others’ minds, which essentially adds interest to their emotional debt. The good news is that leaving interactions with a positive balance tends to build trust, which is like gaining interest on your deposit.

One strategy is to avoid mistakes, but a focus on trying not to make a mistake has a way of creating persistent anxiety, which is both unpleasant and unhelpful. The best way to leverage the concept of the emotional bank account is to commit to making small deposits of positive behaviors on a consistent basis. Instead of viewing the dozens of social situations and hundreds of cues that one encounters every day as an opportunity for failure, the mindset shifts to capitalizing on routine situations by contributing a little more than expected. Sometimes others view heroic efforts as a disproportionately large contribution, but typically positive efforts both big and small have about the same effect.

When you become the kind of person who first thinks about how to help people rather than how to get something from people, it builds a positive balance in your emotional bank account with others. Over time, that positive balance begins to build trust and eventually faith that you are a good-natured person. The key is to be subtle about your contributions. Most people feel tremendous gratitude when their grandparents slip a ten-dollar bill into their birthday card, but if their grandparents slipped a check for $10,000 into their birthday card, it would actually feel awkward for most people. Subtle deposits could be as small as being more specific when you say thank you or letting others go first when a line forms at a buffet. As a supplement to face-to-face deposits, it’s easier than ever to make “mobile deposits” through a kind text the day of someone’s big test or follow-up message after dinner to say “That was fun, thanks for getting together.”Ackward Table 5-1.png

The reality is that awkward people are more likely. to make small withdrawals from their emotional bank accounts with others because they are prone to mishandling minor social expectations. Awkward people may not notice that their large backpack swung into their friend’s head as they turned to sit down on the bus or they may accidentally disclose the surprise birthday party to the birthday boy. These awkward moments are done without premeditation or malice, but they are still negative and even if people do not say anything, their automated mental accounting system deducts a little bit from the emotional bank account.

These unexpected or accidental withdrawals make it imperative that awkward individuals make a concerted effort to maintain a positive balance through consistently making small deposits that move their balance farther to the positive side in others’ minds, It’s like contributing a little bit every month for social insurance.

Awkward individuals should not let their clumsiness with minor social expectations define them. As both awkward and non-awkward people get older, most of them will care less about surface qualities and instead evaluate people on their Willingness to be fair, be kind, and be loyal. So long as good people feel as if you are trying your best to consistently contribute, then they are willing to overlook a little awkwardness. Whether It’s a commitment to a familial relationship, friendship, or romantic relationship, when awkward people make sure that they find a way to contribute to the broader good, it is the best strategy for creating sustainable social capital.Ackward Table5-2.png

 

Everwise: Building a Learning Culture

Do you have a learning culture in your business? The Lumber Buildings Material Foundation (LBMDF) can help with building a learning culture your business. Below is a blog from Everwise by Melissa Fleming: (Reading time is 6 minutes.)

Building a Learning Culture

Last month, Everwise hosted a webinar on “Building a Learning Culture” with Jeff Diana, the former Chief People Officer of Atlassian & Success Factors. A seasoned executive with 20 years of HR experience, Diana serves as a strategic HR consultant and sits on the boards of progressive HR companies including Everwise. He shared his expertise with our community on how to build a learning culture, rooted in the belief that individual growth improves organizational performance. Here are key takeaways:

Focus on career development

One of the most important factors in whether or not an employee recommends a company as a great place to work is career advancement, not compensation. This marks the continuation of a steady shift over the years. It’s true that compensation and career level are correlated, but today’s employees assign a lot of value to how a company helps them develop their careers, not just compensation at each career level. Focusing on career advancement as a company relies on creating a culture of learning, where employees feel they can grow as individuals and in their jobs.

Getting it right is critical to talent retention and attraction, which is increasingly important as many organizations struggle to attract and retain top talent fast enough to keep pace with the markets. “The number one limit on an organization’s success is people’s capability,” says Diana. “In order to get the most out of your people you have to first put in the right cultural foundation.” Diana compares laying the groundwork for a culture of learning to properly equipping your sales team with the tools to crush their numbers. Without a solid foundation that supports people achieving their potential, an organization’s progress will be limited.

Make a case for greater investment

Organizations that are committed to creating a culture of learning have a real competitive advantage. According to Diana, the four primary benefits of putting resources into building a culture of learning are: 1) increased employee engagement, 2) higher retention, 3) streamlined business processes, and 4) higher ROI/organization success. The best way to make the case for increased spending on Learning & Development (L&D) initiatives is to directly link them to specific business outcomes.

“When you look at the business objectives for a three-year period and you tie that to what capabilities the business needs to have, you can see very clear lines that say why we need higher retention,” says Diana.

What we know for certain is that an organization won’t succeed without the right talent. “Supply is lacking,” Diana says. “We have to help people learn on the job within the context of what they are experiencing today to meet the pace and dynamic nature of business.” One way to make the case for increased L&D investment is to identify capability gaps and how L&D programs can help develop the supply chain of skills needed to reach an organization’s desired business outcomes.

Measure your culture to determine development needs

“One way to grab everyone’s attention is to assess culture,” says Diana. “No leader wants to be at the helm of a culture or a team that isn’t deemed healthy and something they can be proud of leading.”

Having employees assess the health of an organization’s culture can help galvanize efforts to create more learning opportunities. Getting employee input also serves the dual purpose of creating a culture that values transparency and its employees’ opinions. Diana suggests starting with a culture quiz that contains 8 to 10 targeted questions. For example, Do you have rituals that regulate and reinforce values? If you have values around learning and growth, do you have rituals that signal that growth? Does your CEO regularly ask for ideas on strategy? Does your company internally publish mistakes and share learnings from mistakes? Is your physical space driving collaboration? Do you have the tools in place to effectively collaborate? Do you have the ability to give feedback? From those questions, strengths and gaps will emerge, making it easier to take action.

Start small and simple

Diana breaks down the process of enabling a learning culture into four steps: process, culture, L&D investment, and measurement. The best way to start is small and low cost. Find a leader who can pilot a program and generate results that could lead to an expansion. Make sure the language within the company – from performance reviews to the handbook to all-hands invitations – reflects a culture of learning. Find internal success stories of high-performing teams of active learners to help you make the case for L&D investment.

While Diana points out that there are many ways an organization can invest in L&D, the most important one is to build learning into the organization’s culture. The four levers that HR professionals can utilize to drive a sustainable culture are values, transparency, rituals and tools. Having a good set of values conveys the message that learning, self-development and risk-taking are part of the company’s mission and an employee’s daily life. A culture that values transparency and access will breed trust and loyalty. Rituals signal learning and the right tools will empower employees to be curious, collaborate and learn and grow on the job.

Putting it all together: Design learning experiences that impact positive behavior change

Learning today is much more about context than content. Simply put, people are more likely to learn if they can easily recall the information and apply it to their day-to-day jobs. So the challenge for HR professionals is to incorporate the social and experiential side of learning into their programs. You’ll see the best results with initiatives that are intimate and collaborative. “Like anything else we’ll participate more in it, we’ll recall it better if the experience itself touches us in a deeper way,” says Diana.

The best learning happens on the job, where the context is clear and the application is immediate. In order to shorten the loop of trying something, gaining insights and putting those different behaviors back in action, Diana says to think about the actual work that is being done. Having the ability to apply that knowledge to what someone does every day is the best way to turn knowledge into capability.

According to Diana, employees want learning experiences to be highly personalized, more social and collaborative, and rooted in real work. Over 70% of managers want their digital experiences to be more adaptive, 60% want the experience to be more social and collaborative and 55% want more experiential learning included.

It’s important for managers to encourage learning on the job to leverage a team’s capabilities and motivate team members. Diana suggests managers encourage learning by providing the content foundations, mentors/coaches, practice in real work situations and performance feedback from teammates. All of these are learning experiences that offer employees opportunities to practice by doing.

With the right combination of people, resources and feedback, all employees can achieve their full potential. To do this Diana advises that you find role models of high-performing teams within the organization and point to internal success stories to make the case for more L&D. Start small and low cost with a pilot program. Make it easy for people to provide feedback. And most importantly, tie the L&D experiences to business outcomes. The investment in building a learning culture is valuable to both employees and management, and will allow you to tap into the potential of your workforce and improve your organization’s performance overall.

View a recording of the webinar here.

McKinsey: What the future science of B2B sales growth looks like

Are you engaging customers the way they want to be engaged? Are you invested in finding and developing world-class talent? “Driving market leadership in B2B sales takes undivided focus from the CEO and his/her top team, and significant investment of time and resources. However, companies that have achieved proficiency across the three dimensions of the science of B2B sales are already outpacing their competitors and driving disproportionate growth, profitability, and shareholder value.” Below is a blog post from McKinsey & Company by Tim Colter, Mingyu Guan, Mitra Mahdavian, Sohail Razzaq, and Jeremy Schneider: (Reading time is 9 minutes.)

What the future science of B2B sales growth looks like

B2B sales are on the verge of a revolution, with a number of trends completely redefining what it will take to be a market leader over the next five years.

Advanced analytics and machine learning have given sales executives access to historically unprecedented amounts of data and computing power, allowing them to predict with a high degree of precision the most valuable sales opportunities. The fastest-growing companies are using advanced analytics to radically improve their sales productivity and drive double-digit sales growth with minimal additions in their sales teams and cost base.

Also, radical changes in buyers’ preferences, with buyers being more content-driven, technically savvy, and comfortable engaging via digital channels, has led to the rise of a new breed of sales leaders who bring technical expertise and a strategic mind-set. This is also transforming what sales organizations look like, with a sharp reduction in field sales and marketing, and rapid growth in inside sales and analytics teams.

Finally, a significant shift toward subscription-based business models has redefined how customer relationships are managed. No longer is a sale a one-time “won and done” deal. In a world of recurring revenues, sales need to be won every month, quarter, and year. As a result, successful customer-relationship managers are becoming increasingly more valuable, and sophisticated sales teams are aligning themselves closely to the long-term success of their customers.

Emergence of a new science of B2B sales

As a result of these disruptive changes, B2B sales has evolved from an art to a science. By that we mean that sales is data-driven, enabled by digital tools, underpinned by advanced analytics, and focused on really understanding the “what, why, and when” of the customer. Companies that have embraced what we call the “science of B2B sales” have already started to pull ahead of their peers in terms of revenue growth (registering 2.3 times industry average revenue growth), profitability (3 to 5 percent additional return on sales) and shareholder value (8 percent higher total return to shareholders than the industry average).

A key feature distinguishing market leaders from the rest of the pack is that the CEOs of the market leaders actively lead the sales transformation, rather than leaving it to the head of sales. These CEOs realize that redefining their go-to-market engine is a cross-functional sport that requires their direct engagement and flawless execution from sales, marketing, HR, IT, and finance. Market leaders have realized that winning in B2B sales in the next five to ten years will require them to fundamentally transform their go-to-market engine around three defining principles:

  1. Engaging customers the way they want to be engaged

Days when sales executives debated between investing in a great sales force or great digital assets are a figment of the past. Driving growth in the future will require bringing the best of both worlds. Our research indicates that market leaders view digital investments as the glue that holds together a powerful multichannel sales strategy. We surveyed more than 1,000 large organizations across industries and four continents to better understand their preferences in buying goods and services from B2B sellers. Our research showed that the ideal channel to reach B2B customers depends heavily on whether they are making a first-time or repeat purchase (Exhibit 1). Some 76 percent of B2B buyers found it helpful to speak to a salesperson when researching a new product or service. That figure fell to 52 percent for repeat purchases of products with new or different specifications, and only 15 percent indicated a desire to speak with a salesperson when repurchasing exactly the same product or service.

Exhibit 1

Exhibit 1.png

Engaging customers in the future will require a multichannel sales strategy powered by smart digital investments, which caters to the different needs of first-time and repeat customers.

When targeting first-time customers who are looking for direct interaction with sales teams, the fastest-growing companies are using digital tools to help their sales teams address customer needs at each stage of their purchase journey. For instance, they are using interactive product demos powered through tablets or browsers to help salespeople engage customers in the research stage of their journey. A significant proportion are using relatively simple customer-relationship-management software to track customers’ past questions, thus allowing their salespeople to anticipate future inquiries and offer lightning-fast responses when customers compare their products with competitors’. A few cutting-edge companies have also invested in customer analytics that empower sales reps with price recommendations based on analysis of deals other sales reps have closed with the same customer in the recent past.

When catering to repeat customers who are comfortable being online, the fastest-growing companies are using digital tools and inside sales to keep them loyal, speed up the sale process, and encourage them to spend more. For instance, they are creating online comparison engines that allow customers to seamlessly compare products and services with competitors’ offerings. They then supplement that with inside sales teams to answer customer questions via email, live chat, and video conferencing. In addition, they are using next-product-to-buy algorithms that send customers relevant recommendations of complementary products based on their purchase history to grow customer share of wallet.

  1. Using advanced analytics and machine learning to make better decisions faster

In the next five years, we believe that the fastest-growing companies will be using advanced analytics and machine learning to address fundamental strategic issues, such as what sales opportunities to pursue, what resources to allocate to which accounts, and what behaviors to prioritize to drive sales productivity. Already the days when lead generation relied entirely on local field knowledge are fading fast. Market leaders of the future are using advanced analytics to build a granular account, product, and geographic profile of each of their customers. These profiles are then augmented with relevant external data such as news reports, public financial information, and social media to generate a truly 360-degree view of each customer.

Lead-scoring algorithms can then use these detailed customer profiles to predict which customers to target, when to contact them, and what factors truly drive lead conversion rates. A few of the most cutting-edge companies are also experimenting with AI-enabled agents that use predictive analytics and natural-language processing to automate early lead-generation activities such as handling basic customer questions and automating initial presales questions. While these predictive lead-scoring algorithms are still relatively nascent, some companies deploying them are already experiencing 15 to 20 percent improvement in their lead-conversion rates.

In the past, sales leaders used to rely on gut instinct to identify behaviors that drive sales productivity and make account coverage decisions. Advanced analytics is revolutionizing our understanding of how to match the right people to the right deals. The most data-savvy sales organizations are combining sales, customer, and HR data to understand the intrinsic attributes (e.g., professional background, education, personality traits, cognitive ability) and behaviors (e.g., frequency/duration of customer interaction, time devoted to sales planning, listening skills, persistence, risk taking) that are statistically correlated with distinctive sales performance. Armed with this knowledge, they can identify the best sales people and allocate them to their most strategically valuable accounts.

  1. Continually investing in finding and developing world-class talent

Buyers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and technically savvy, which has led to the rise of a new breed of sales leaders who bring a strategic mind-set and rock-solid technical skills. These leaders are “growing up” across multiple roles in their organization and come with a truly cross-functional and cross-geographic skill set. They view themselves as coaches whose primary job is to turn rookies into rainmakers.

“Getting the right individual in the right role” was a common theme that came up in our interviews with more than 400 sales executives. Despite the stated importance of hiring the right talent, not all organizations believe they are equipped with the right talent for the future (Exhibit 2). While all companies struggle with getting world-class talent, fast-growth companies fare better than slow-growth companies: 51 percent of the former believe they have the right sales talent for the future compared with only 30 percent of slow growth companies.

Exhibit 2

Exhibit 2.png

Hiring the right talent is only part of the puzzle. The fastest-growing companies also invest significant time and resources in nurturing and growing their talent. In our survey, 48 percent of fast-growth companies indicated that they invest significant time and resources in sales training versus only 22 percent of slow-growth companies (Exhibit 3). Behavioral economics and social psychology have revealed powerful insights into how to nurture high-performing individuals who thrive on independence and entrepreneurship. A defining insight has been that adult learners only remember 10 percent of what they heard and 32 percent of what they saw three months after the learning program concludes. In contrast, they remember 65 percent of what they learn by doing. This insight is driving a transformative change in the nature of sales trainings. They are evolving from classroom and digital modules to “on-the-job” experiential, immersive programs in which sales reps are paired with experienced coaches and learn from doing.

Exhibit 3

Exhibit 3.png

How to embrace the science of B2B sales

Companies who embrace the science of B2B sales generally begin with a three-part journey:

First, they make an honest assessment of the status quo. This starts with a look at the customer. Customer preferences for buying should shape the investments the sales organization makes, yet many sales leaders fly blind. In our experience, most companies tend to underinvest in the sales capabilities that actually matter most to their customers.

Second, they plan for the long term. Sales winners are moving past quarterly planning and adopting instead a long- term view. Of the fast growers we have studied, more than 50 percent take a minimum 12-month view in their sales plans, and 10 percent look more than three years out. This long-term view means that sales leaders can invest in the right capabilities based on a specific (though flexible) roadmap.

Third, they move fast and get quick wins. Speed matters now more than ever. Winning sales organizations are using test-and-learn strategies to become more nimble. Some set up a sales war-room model to launch new digital campaigns and messages. Others adopt an agile test-fail-learn-adapt operating model to rapidly ideate and refine sales tactics. Through these quick-win approaches, sales orgs are seeing dramatic results, some with up to 300 percent growth in digital sales within the first 30 days of action. In the next few years, we expect to see more of the winners enjoying these results.

Driving market leadership in B2B sales takes undivided focus from the CEO and his/her top team, and significant investment of time and resources. However, companies that have achieved proficiency across the three dimensions of the science of B2B sales are already outpacing their competitors and driving disproportionate growth, profitability, and shareholder value.