Strategic Planning. Training. Market Positioning.

Archive for March, 2012

Discussion Question: Are You Exploiting the Value of Chat Sessions–Why or Why Not?

Yesterday I did a chat on EMS Program Management at Printed Circuit University. We had four people asking questions. But, afterwards I learned that we actually had 377 unique visitors during the hour-long chat. I found that data interesting . While the chat was free, viewers had to register to get access. In short, asking a question didn’t reveal more about the user than the act of registering to view the chat  had already done.

I thought this might be a good topic to drive a little discussion in my blog because it seems to me that the advantages of chat aren’t being exploited. The disadvantage of chat is obvious. Typing questions and waiting for answers is about as exciting as watching grass grow. But asking questions and checking back later to see the answer, is actually quite productive. PCU has created an environment where subject matter experts are available at specific times to answer questions on set topics. The chat logs from the conversations are available 24/7 after the chat. Basically, each chat is opportunity to tap free knowledge on subjects that interest you. However, the overall value of the chat is dependent on quantity/quality of the questions, as well as the quality of the answers. I can understand why someone would choose not to visit a topic that was not of interest. But, it is harder for me to understand why someone would visit a topic that interested him/her but not ask questions (particularly given that questions can be asked anonymously in that forum).

So, my discussion driving question of the day is: are you exploiting the benefits of chat sessions by asking questions? And, if not, why aren’t you asking questions? These answers don’t just need to apply to my chat session–I’m interested in learning more about what people like and don’t like about this type of forum. Inquiring minds want to know.

Networking Should be a Two-Way Street

I learned the value of having a strong network early in my career. It opened the door to the right job opportunities, helped me help friends and business associates, close accounts back when I was in EMS sales, start and grow my consulting business, and get my first book publishing contract. One of the reasons my network has been helpful is that I’ve always viewed networking as a two-way street. The person helped today should be prepared to return the favor when asked, or better yet, return the favor unasked.

That isn’t always the case in our exit strategy-driven, social networking, twittering society. I have two examples to make the point. When a former client contact lost his job, he contacted me and other people in his Linked In network to let us know he was looking and pass along his resume. He offered to make recommendations on our Linked In sites and asked for recommendations on his in return. He had a job in a less than month. I’ve seen that phenomenon with several other friends who approach networking in that positive a fashion, and while not always able to point someone to a job opening, I do make an effort to try.

Comparatively, I had a recruiter contact me via email requesting that I call her about an operations position she was trying to fill. Given that I didn’t know her, I ignored the email. When she called a few days after looking for names I wasn’t very helpful. When she asked me to email her if a name came to mind; I was pretty clear in telling her that wasn’t going to happen. Why? The reason is because over the years when I’ve been helpful in providing recruiters names I’ve never gotten so much as a thank you note in follow-up. Yes, I know some recruiters do provide consultants with finder’s fees if they place a candidate based on recommendation, but in my experience most are trying to get names for free. They only network when they need something. Since I see far more value in sharing candidate names directly with my client base with no fees involved, I’m not very helpful when unknown recruiters call. If I were still in corporate life, I’d take a different perspective because maintaining recruiter relationships can be good if looking for work. But as a consultant, I’m a professional who is paid for services rendered. Therefore, if I’m asked to help a consultant in another field earn a commission, I’d like to understand what benefit I receive in return.

As you network, don’t just think about what you need today. Those who network best instead think about   maintaining relationships which may be beneficial to both parties over time. This is true in job hunting, but it is even more true in sales relationships.   Do you only call customer contacts when you are trying to sell them something? In the OEM world, most outsourcing decision teams are pretty overworked right now. They are more likely to talk to salespeople with whom they have a relationship that provides value beyond services sold, than to those who are   only interested in closing a new deal. One of the best salespeople I know actually calls every contact in his database twice a year just to touch base and see what is going on. Sometimes it is just a casual call, other times it   opens the door to new opportunities that grow out of the conversation. Still other times, what he learns in one conversation allows him to introduce an opportunity to another member of his network.  In short, two-way   networking builds synergistic relationships that create outstanding opportunities. One way networking leads to closed doors.

Don’t forget my free PCB Chat:  Effective EMS Program Management and Strategies for Growing Accounts. It will be held online this coming Wed., March 28th, from 2-3 pm ET.

Are You Focused on Activity or Results?

I try to alternate my posts with a mix of industry news and general advice. This post falls in the general advice category. One of the interesting challenges of an up and down economy is that it creates a significant amount of stress. While some stress is good, long-term stress can drive non-productive behaviors such as avoidance of risk and political gamesmanship. Now that the economy appears to be finally gaining traction, it is a good time to evaluate whether or not ingrained non-productive behaviors are present in your organization.

Here are few tips for banishing non-productive behaviors:

  • Focus on results vs. activity. In a recession there is a tendency to focus on short-term goals which are often activity-based. For instance, number of cold calls, number of sales calls or number of RFQs are all activity-based. But who adds more value, the salesperson who is closing two accounts per year or the one making 60 unproductive sales calls a year? Try to create measurement systems that evaluate short-term progress toward results.
  • Stay positive. There is more competition and decision teams are taking longer to commit. It is very easy to fall into the trap of talking about all the issues that keep you from doing your job, and in politically-charged organizations people who want to discredit you will actually encourage that venting behavior in the hopes that you will be viewed by management as a whiner instead of a doer. So, avoid water cooler discussions about how tough things still are and focus on what you do well. If you have to discuss a challenging situation with your boss, discuss it in terms of steps you are taking to eliminate the challenge vs. why it kept you from getting the job done.
  • Be productively indispensible. I minored in sociology in my undergraduate degree and one of the classes I took looked at administrative behavior in positions considered powerless. The bottom line was that when people felt powerless, they found ways to create power and a pecking order by virtue of their control of office resources. This is why in some departments only one person seems to know how to get critical tasks done. It may also be why the project you are quoting doesn’t have documents that reflect all the ECOs that have been done on that customer’s product. The bottom line is don’t sabotage your team’s productivity by withholding information or resources. Also, build the relationships you need to get the job done.
  • Recognize that differences in approaches aren’t necessarily wrong, they are just different. Diversity is productive if it broadens the breadth of good ideas. It becomes counterproductive when it polarizes people. Generational differences are one example of potential conflict in ideas. Find common ground in diverse perspectives, instead of polarizing into a kids against the old schoolers debate.
  • Minimize office politics. All organizations are political to some extent, but managers who are leaders can set a more productive tone. Avoid closed door meetings whenever possible. If one employee complains about another, invite the other employee in for a three-way discussion about the behavior that needs to change. If someone is not performing, paper his or her file and terminate if no behavior change is made. Don’t tell the office you plan to do it and suggest they make that person’s life miserable so they will quit to save you the liability of a wrongful termination suit. Set an example in your work commitment and others will follow.
  • Take a hard look at yourself. People are creatures of habit who create their own comfort zones. If you haven’t evaluated the processes you use to do your job in a couple of years, chances are that you aren’t as productive as you could be. Have software upgrades given you better ways to do things? Have you seen more efficient processes elsewhere or read a book that gave you new ideas? Are you fully utilizing the tools you already have? Is there finally budget to buy better tools? This is a good time to look in the mirror and do some self-improvement.

Finally, find a way to have fun. Stress kills. Life is a cycle of ups and downs. People change jobs 7 or more times in their career now and this may be a job change time for you. Instead of worrying about what may happen, focus on getting your job done to the best of your ability. If you get fired, you’ll have a good track record when looking for work. But, more often that behavior will help you   differentiate yourself in a positive way that adds to your job security.

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