With last month's release of the world's most valuable brands, topped by Apple at $142.5 billion, it seems an appropriate time to consider how organisations accrue value. Where does it come from? If we can understand this, we can apply the lessons gleaned from these thriving businesses to our own.

In Apple's case, some may point to their string of successful product launches over the past decade, starting with the iPod, then the iPhone and most recently the iPad. But while it's easy to cite tangible products like these as the backbone of a company's success, the reality is that true value comes from its most precious asset: the human creativity of its people.

Simply put, human creativity, embodied in ideas, is the lifeblood of every business. It's not Apple's innovative products that account for the $142.5 billion valuation; it's the innovative people who created those products that have made Apple into this behemoth.

So where does human creativity come from? How can companies engineer and manage it, just as Apple has? To us, the answer is quite straightforward: Human creativity is a direct function of the quality of management and the quality of leadership.

This truism is most transparently reflected in any publicly-traded company's stock, because within each of them there's a component for the quality of management and leadership. As a simple example, when news of Steve Jobs' illness broke, Apple's share price went down. And when he regained his health and retook the reigns at the company, the share price went up.

It's also important to note that although we say leadership produces human creativity, it must be accompanied by influence. Of course generally speaking, the two go hand in hand. But we have encountered the occasional leader who assumes their influence comes simply from their position or title. Title alone is not enough to garner influence; it must be earned through actions. And at the end of the day, it's those within an organisation who hold influence – including those who may not be in traditional leadership positions – who can inspire and guide human creativity.

No matter how you fit into your company – as a manager or a leader or a team contributor – if you can exercise influence, think about how you can encourage and direct that human creativity amongst others. The more innovation you can stimulate, in as many dimensions of the business as possible, the more you'll be feeding the real lifeblood of the business.

Posted: 28/06/2011 9:25:52 PM by Andy Klein | with 3 comments
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Last month Dave Stein wrote a good piece on how sales leaders can improve their sales team's effectiveness with competitive intelligence. It raised a number of important issues for sales managers and salespeople alike to consider when running the sales process. Central to his argument, Dave states that although most competitive intelligence is limited to who the competition is and what their product or service is, salespeople can truly increase sales effectiveness when they know how the competition sells. To this end, he offers 11 areas of questioning for salespeople to consider when discovering the ins and outs of the competition's processes.

Dave raises some very useful points for salespeople to consider. However, despite the value of intelligence, it's important to reassert that as a sales team and as salespeople, our primary objective is always to create value for the customer.

Competitive intelligence plays a part in the process, but for the most part, it's ancillary. The sales process is founded on continuously solidifying the relationship, through which we create value by leveraging our knowledge of the customer and the market to demonstrate how our products and services uniquely solve their business problems.

Salespeople who over rely on competitive intelligence may lose sight of these priorities. For example, we've seen instances of salespeople restructuring their own sales process so they can simply react to what the competitor is doing! But what if the competitor is off the mark with how they're structuring their sales process? Not only would your focus be misguided, but you'd be spinning your wheels to fill holes that don't even exist.

It's a simple point: make sure your priorities are clear and straight. Sure, collect that competitive intelligence. But don't lose your head over what others are doing. Remember that the sales process is about serving the prospect – not the competition. Even from the outset, you can simply ask a new prospect what they're looking for in the sales process and modify your approach accordingly to play to your business strengths. By focusing the lion's share of your attention on the customer and creating value, you balance the need for competitive intelligence and increase your sales effectiveness.

Posted: 21/06/2011 5:23:23 PM by Andy Klein | with 0 comments
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Your purpose as a manager is about creating a business or a team that can function in your absence. This means you must develop your people, and one of the single best means of achieving this end is to ensure that your people deal with and solve their own problems.

However, there are several reasons why it's often easier said than done for managers to embrace this reality. First, they've usually been promoted because they're good at exactly what they should no longer be doing now they're in management – solving their team's problems! Second, as discussed in a prior blog, being a problem solver is fatal error that fulfils our emotional need to be needed but robs our people of essential development. For these and other reasons, managers often fall into the trap of acting as their people's problem solver, and it's a difficult one to escape because it's rooted in a very powerful habit. And here's the rub: The greater our competence, the more problems flow our way because we're simply good at solving them – but that's not leadership or management! We fail our people, we fail the organisation and we fail ourselves... eek.

We emphasise this crucial issue in our leadership development program by using our monkey metaphor: Whenever an employee brings you a problem, visualise it as a monkey on the employee's back. Listen to them, counsel them and guide them but don't let that monkey jump off their back onto yours. Ensure, however you're interacting with them, that they take their monkey with them. If you don't you'll quickly find you're running a zoo! And too many managers are running zoos.

A crucial distinction (and one that's not immediately obvious) is that while you don't want to become your people's problem solver, you definitely are a problem finder. This means being alert to issues and when your people come to you with a problem, don't simply send them on their way without internalising the issue and considering its implications. What's causing the problem? Is there a larger underlying issue at hand? Is there a lack of communication, knowledge, opportunity, direction or inspection? There are obviously a large number of issues at play here and any of them could be indicative of a larger issue that you may need to address.

Of course, a manager's responsibility as a problem finder extends well beyond an employee raising problems; that is, they must proactively look out for problem issues that indicate something is off track. In some cases an employee may be hiding a problem from you, but perhaps more frequently employees don't recognise that there is a problem! So by looking out for potential problems you'll surface and deal with them early. And as we discuss in how to manage poor performance a problem that goes unaddressed can quickly become a destructive habit.

So be sure not to act as your people's problem solver. Otherwise you'll stifle their development, and that of the organisation. But be equally sure you're acting as a problem finder... and giver. There are always monkeys hiding in the woodwork, and unless you proactively seek them out and identify them, they may rear their ugly head as a gorilla.

Posted: 14/06/2011 7:48:59 PM by Andy Klein | with 0 comments
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We recently received an email from blog subscriber Krystle Vogler asking, "Could you write a blog about some techniques that employees could use to subtly help managers with their people skills?"

Krystle, happy to provide our insights! In a perfect world, employees would never need to manage up because all businesses would provide each and every one of their managers with effective, ongoing management training. But of course business, like life, is not a game of perfect so we (reluctantly) acknowledge that that's never going to happen. Accordingly it's important for employees at every level to understand when and how to 'manage up'.

However we should start by cautioning your intended approach. That's because with any form of management or positive confrontation, you don't want to attack people personally. If you do, you're practically begging for the situation to degenerate, maybe into petty bickering or worse, blow completely out of hand! So before taking any action, depersonalise the situation by considering how the manager's poor people skills are influencing them to act in way that's negatively affecting the business and the team. Note that this isn't just about how they're negatively affecting you or your coworkers – but how they are negatively affecting the business?

Next, brainstorm some ideas for improvement. For each of them, consider what benefits they would provide the organisation and the manager.

Then consider the manager's style. Allow them to feel in control by presenting your ideas as options or suggestions that they can consider. You'll want to present your solutions in a way that will allow you to talk through the pros and cons of each and arrive at a consensus.

After your prep work, approach the manager and raise the issue with them. You can do this very adroitly by saying you have some concerns you'd like their help with. As you would have already pinpointed ahead of time, explain exactly what the problem is that you are concerned about, how it is affecting you and why you believe it is having a negative impact on the business. Get their opinion on your problem and see if they share your concerns. Offer your ideas for improvement and ask your manager what actions they would see as being most appropriate to resolve your concerns and help them arrive at a conclusion however they see fit.

Finally – and this is important – once you have a decision from your manager about what will be done, you must establish an agreement with clear, concrete and actionable steps for you and the manager. Try not to leave any gray areas or else you risk things going back to the way they were and your work being for naught.

Krystle, thanks for recognising this problem and proactively seeking advice on how to address it. You'd be surprised by how often people simply sit on their hands in similar situations, hoping that the manager's manager will observe their poor performance and take steps to rectify it. But in the absence of that happening, it's up the manager's own people to take the initiative. That's because just as we say that the manager who doesn't confront poor performance is effectively condoning it, the same holds true for managing up: Do nothing now and the manager will continue to act as they always have... right until maybe they run the team into the ground! So kudos for taking action and we wish you the best.

 

Do you have a question that you'd like for us to address in a blog post? If so, email us at innovate@fortunegroup.com.au.

Posted: 7/06/2011 7:25:23 PM by Andy Klein | with 1 comments
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