When I was a kid, my dad taught the most important business principle of my life: “Give value: do more than is expected!” For individuals and businesses to realize their vision and truly succeed, this principle should drive all thought processes. It is the foundation of whatever success I have enjoyed, and in fact, my entire business is based on helping my clients develop and execute their visions based on that idea.
Leadership is a results contest. If leaders don’t deliver results, they are asked to step down and are replaced by others. In the case of the self-employed, if they don’t deliver results, they go out of business. A powerful concept every leader must understand is the relationship of value to results. As Warren Buffett stated so well:
“Price is what you pay; value is what you get.”
We’ve all heard the term buyer’s remorse. I think it is a polite term for the way people feel when they have purchased something and the item or the experience did not meet their felt needs and expectations. In many instances, this disappointment accelerates through remorse and becomes anger. We have all found ourselves in this disappointing condition, and it’s all about value. Did we get what we wanted, and did the product or service meet or exceed our felt needs and expectations? The negatives of disappointment are significant, but there is a huge positive impact on results when products or services exceed value expectations.
Think about this: when a product or service meets the expectation of customers, those customers will be satisfied with their purchase, and they will not be remorseful about the purchase. However, if the product or service merely meets an expectation, it will not always translate into growth for the business. Just meeting an expectation doesn’t get people excited. They are merely satisfied with what they got for their money. They won’t necessarily become a raving fan and tell others about the product or service. Worse, they remain open to the sales and marketing efforts of competitors and are more likely to buy based on price, rather than value. People who are merely satisfied are people who can be influenced by your competitors who are able to sell on the basis of value. These are the people who can shift market share percentages when they shift their allegiance to products or services that promise to exceed their expectations through greater value.
When we buy something that exceeds our expectations, we are blown away by our good fortune. We can’t believe that we “got all of this” for what we paid. What we got could be a combination of product quality, customer support, the effect the product had on our lives, or any other thing that’s makes us happy about the money we spent. When our expectations are exceeded, we become walking advertisements and testimonials for the product or service. Every time we run across a friend with a similar need, we tell them about what we got for what we paid. We are raving fans at that point, and a raving fan can’t be tempted and lured away by competitors. This is the kind of customer that leads to growth and great results for any business
In recent weeks I have been absolutely overwhelmed by friends and associates telling me I need to be involved in Twitter and FaceBook and countless other internet sites that supposedly contribute to marketing success. They reportedly present boundless benefits for those who master the subtle strategies related to those sites. I know I am going against the popular trend here, but I have given the issue of social media a lot of thought and am convinced it is a huge distraction machine that most people should avoid! Personally, and professionally I have decided to opt out of ‘Twitting” and the other “cutting edge” social networking sites! I just don’t have the time or the interest to Twit.
One of my foundational beliefs is that success pivots on having the ability to concentrate on doing the things that really matter and filtering out what doesn’t! Have you ever attended an NBA basketball game? In the final minutes of close games, the team that is behind usually resorts to a strategy of committing intentional fouls on the other team. When a player is fouled, the game clock is stopped to allow the fouled player to attempt one or more free throws. What the free throw shooter sees is the basket against a backdrop of several thousand frenzied, lunatic fans waving towels, tassels, pom-poms, or anything else they have been able to bring into the arena to distract the shooter from making the free throw. The fans scream, yell, blast air-horns, and do anything they can do to break the concentration of the shooter. To be successful, the shooter has to block all of this mayhem from his mind and focus on the basket. If the shooter can’t block out the distractions, the shot will be missed!
Most people don’t think of focus as a strategic skill, and most people haven’t really spent much time factually examining how well they focus. Focus is a subject that gets a lot of lip service, but it usually doesn’t get the respect it deserves. When you don’t treat focus as a strategic issue, minimizing its importance is easy, and soon you’re ignoring it altogether. Most people approach focus as a time management issue or as an organizational challenge. Typical solutions to improve focus may include obtaining a better time management system, or doing something to better organize the work environment. These are valid considerations, but those kinds of solutions don’t address the heart of the focus issue, which is distraction! Distraction is a natural occurrence in the life of every person. You can be the most organized person on earth with a great time management system, and still become routinely distracted.
Information and input are the raw materials for human creativity, opportunity recognition, and problem solving. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, distraction is the direct result of the same brain function. That’s the bad news. You become distracted whenever you allow something to enter your mind that takes you away from doing what you should be doing in the present moment. In fact, distraction is the path of least resistance because the most natural activity for your mind is to take in information. Unfortunately, that is all you need to latch onto things that can remove you from the moment and disrupt whatever focus you had for the immediate task at hand. In other words, distraction is a natural result of thinking! Your ability to overcome distraction and elevate your focusing skill depends on your ability to learn how to think in ways that will counteract what comes so naturally.
One of the challenges of living in the information age is the extraordinary number of opportunities you have to become distracted. The very things that are meant to be powerful tools to help you be more effective are potential sources of distraction. The Internet, e-mail, and cell phones all introduce unexpected intrusions into our minds, and every intrusion creates the possibility of disrupting your ability to focus on what you should be really be doing at the moment. Focus is about establishing priorities and keeping the main things in front of you. To do that effectively, you have to be able to control the distractive influences that bombard your mind. Your ability to do that depends on how you think about the present moment, because focus is always found in the present.
This brings us to the issue of Twitting and FaceBooking and all of the other social networking sites that claim to be so beneficial. I know people who spend hours everyday twitting their every thought to hundreds of followers. I’ve yet to see the real benefit of that kind of time investment. The same is true for Facebook and other sites. If you want entertainment, then these sites are great. If you want results, I suggest you invest your time elsewhere. You need to get focused on your “high-leverage activities” that can really move your results needle. That’s only possible when you are really clear about what you want and focus on the things that matter!
There are three strategic elements about persuasion that every leader should understand and practice. These elements represent not only why and what you communicate, but they also reflect the effect of that communication. So, let’s take a look at the three elements of effective persuasion.
Persuasion Element 1: Communicate at the Belief Level and Explain the “Why”
The goal of persuasion is to influence others in a way that will produce voluntary change in their attitudes and behavior. To produce this kind of voluntary change, you must impact people at the level of belief because people only become willing to change voluntarily when they change what they believe. Nothing has a greater impact on what people believe than the perception that they are being told the truth. Explaining ‘why’ supports the perception of truth telling.
Communicating at the level of belief involves heavy dose of “why” being constantly explained. “Why” is communicated by explaining value and purpose, the very items we so diligently pursue in the process of gaining clarity about the vision we have for our products and services. The same characteristics that cause us to believe in our vision will cause others to believe in it also. Communicate to the “why” to create buy-in.
Persuasion Element 2: Set A Powerful Example By Your Own Behavior
Have you ever heard the expression, “What you do speaks so loud I can’t hear what you say!” That remark is a famous quote of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American essayist, philosopher, and poet who lived in the mid 19th century. Emerson’s observation was true in 1850, and it remains true today. Only 7% of communication and persuasion is oral. The other 93% is the result of what people see and sense based on tone and other non-verbal clues. So, if you hope to persuade others it will be important that you make a practice of exceeding expectations yourself! Nothing persuades more effectively than a leader who sets the right example for his team, children, associates, and colleagues to follow
Persuasion Element 3: Demonstrate Confidence in What You Say and Do
The ability to present yourself, your requests, and even your vision with confidence is another non-verbal piece of the persuasion formula. Why? Well, it’s because of the perception that confident people know what they are doing and can be trusted. Confidence is a natural by-product of certainty. You transmit confidence by being confident and allowing it to be heard in the words you use.
It is difficult for many people to do, but having the ability to speak with authority about the things you want to persuade others to do is a strong confidence builder. People will read a lot of meaning into the things you say as well as the things you don’t say. You may be frequently tempted to give a less-than-assertive opinion for the purpose of not appearing arrogant, or because you are concerned that you will be perceived to be lacking in humility. When you want to persuade people to do something that involves their making a voluntary change in their behavior, confidence is more powerful perception than humility. When you say things like, “I still have a lot to learn about this,” or “You probably know more about this than I do,” you are unwittingly sabotaging your own perceived confidence. People want a confident leader who knows what they are doing.
Remember, persuasion is a strategic function of leadership and your ability to persuade others will directly impact their perceptions of the future. Their perceptions will control their actions and the results they produce.
With most of the world falling into an emotional funk about the economy, its time for leaders to stop focusing on problems and start thinking about solutions. Ultimately, the free market will have to provide the permanent solutions for our economic challenges. Until that happens, we are going to have to create strategies for ourselves and our businesses that will allow us to weather the storm and thrive! Because the economy can’t be changed by any single person or organization, it creates a lot of individual and organizational fear and concern. We tend to feel helpless in the face of such huge challenges that seem beyond our control. A huge part of our individual success will hinge on the perceptions we have about our ability to be successful, in spite of hard times. Perception is reality, even if its not the truth and our perceptions are the engine of our action and the results we get. That is why perception matters!
Organizational perceptions about the economy may become the most strategic factor in how well any business will respond to the economic downturn. Companies that are able to move beyond the obvious problems and move toward positive solutions and identify new opportunities are going to have a competitive advantage over businesses frozen in fear about the future. Every leader should understand that the organizational perceptions of their team must be addressed. Leaders must proactively involve themselves in communication strategies that promote healthy perceptions about their businesses, their products and their future. Simply put, leaders have to take on the challenge of persuading their teams that the world is not coming to an end and that opportunity continues to exist, even in the worst of times.
The secret to surviving a recession is opportunity recognition. The first step in opportunity recognition is to know and believe that there will always be opportunity for those who seek and pursue it. Regardless of how bad the economy may seem, people still buy and sell. People still have needs to fill and businesses have products and services that meet those needs. When the economy goes south, however, there is mass fear and concern and the perception is that the entire world may completely cease to function. This is patently untrue. Even in the Great Depression of the 1930’s the world continued to function and 75% of Americans had work and jobs. Some people actually became wealthy during the Great Depression because they were able to identify opportunity and capture it.
One of the great examples of success during the Great Depression is the motion picture industry. People were so distressed and fearful about their economic condition they needed emotional relief and a means to escape. The movies provided that relief, no matter how brief and temporary. The movie industry identified need and opportunity and filled it at a price people were able to pay. Opportunity always exists, even though it may be harder to recognize in tough times because it takes a different form.
In good times, opportunity comes in the form of just doing more of what already works. Opportunity in good times assumes the continuation of the normal and capitalizes on things remaining normal. In bad times, opportunity comes by abandoning things that no longer work and finding new things that will work, based on new needs. Recession itself is a great opportunity for those who choose to see it that way. It’s just that the opportunities may look different and they might require us to leave our comfort zones. Now we are down to the real stress that a bad economy produces; the stress of change and the need to leave our comfort zones! Sometimes that means taking a new road.
Sometimes taking new roads leads you in a completely different direction than you had originally intended, with favorable consequences. Here’s a great example: In 1927, a young married couple started a hot dog and root beer stand called The Hot Shoppe. They had many years of success but they saw greater opportunity along the new highways being built across America. They opened a motor lodge for travelers to sleep overnight. That venture helped J. Willard and Alice Marriott build one of the greatest hotel chains in the United States. In 2007, The Marriott Corporation was handling over 50,000 reservations a day!
If you see something that needs to be done and you have the opportunity to do it, don’t let someone else seize the opportunity. Be bold and step up to the task. If you are the first
person to see that something needs to be done, you are probably the best person to do it. That is the action you need to take when you identify opportunity. But, what is it that helps us recognize new opportunities?
The people who have trouble recognizing opportunity are most likely the same people who are unwilling to leave their comfort zones. What is a comfort zone? First and foremost it is a mental state in which people lose the momentum to pursue a vision because they have accepted where they are as the best they need to be or do. Identifying and capturing new opportunities always requires strategic change and the nature of strategic change always disrupts comfort zones. That is why change is a big deal to people and is so difficult to achieve. The pain that accompanies change can be financial, physical, or emotional, but regardless of the type of discomfort created by change, recession and hard economic times demand that you embrace it if you intend to remain competitive and effective.
Comfort zones are called comfort zones because they are comfortable! The only thing required to remain in a comfort zone is to close yourself off to new ideas and refuse to change. Over the years, I’ve learned that nothing very interesting or innovative ever emerges from a comfort zone, except more plans to make the comfortable more comfortable. Comfort zones impact all of us. When people in organizations
become too comfortable, it’s because they have lost the momentum to pursue their vision. Why? Because they’ve accepted where they are as the best they need to be or do. Recession and hard times require a different response.
So, how do you survive a recession? First, you embrace a mindset that relentlessly pursues new opportunity. Don’t close yourself off to new ideas and change and become an expert on what people need and want. In a recession, people may want some things that are different and someone will have to fill those needs. Second, read lots of books, magazines and other publications that may expose new needs your product or service might be able to meet. You will probably discover that people still want your product or service, but just need to see it differently.
This brings us to the final piece of the puzzle on surviving a recession. You must be able to articulate a powerful value proposition for your product or service that will resonate with the felt needs of your customers and potential customers. Understanding their deepest felt needs is the key to understanding the value of what you have to offer. Talk to your customers and prospects. Discover their problems and concerns and you will discover your opportunities!