“If you walk in with information about you, they consider you a salesman. If you walk in with ideas and answers, they consider you a resource. Which one are you?”

Gitomer is a good one, usually a relatively clear voice in the static. Even with an over-emphasis on the word “answers,” he covers the spectrum well here, and more importantly, he touches on the holy grail of sales professionals.

Ideas are the currency of Difference Makers.

Ideas transform challenges into strategies. Ideas move us forward, and if we end up moving in the wrong direction, fresh ideas will allow us to course-correct, keep moving and stay in the game.

I’ve never been a “system” guy, or a “methodology” guy, and it’s because ideas have always trumped the system or the method.

https://thehestongroup.com/5478-2/

The Temptation of The Proof

“Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.”

Truer today than ever, perhaps?

One, Galbraith was a diplomat, and diplomacy is in short supply these days. In fact, with all the talk of supply chain issues, why don’t we focus more on the short supply of diplomacy, grace and presumption of good intentions?

Two, even if selling is our career, the act of changing our mind might still serve us better than proving our point. See, as sales pros, we not only get focused on making the sale, we can get wrapped around the axle on how the buyer decides to make the purchase. If we just know that their motivator is “x” we focus all our energy on making that the focus of our “why you should buy.”

What if the buyer gives us a sign that something else is more important? What if we realize that some other element of that thing we sell matters more than the boss or the marketing materials suggest it matters?

In buying and selling, it’s about bringing people together for a common good. In life, politics, love, relationships, it ought to be about the same thing.

Changing our mind — not necessarily our principles or values, and certainly not our morals, but changing our mind within those boundaries — might be the best way to create a safe environment for others to change theirs.

Data and The Drunk Man

“He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts – for support rather than illumination.”

Andrew Lang (1844 – 1912), Scottish poet, thinker and literary critic

Using data is a crappy way to change someone’s mind. If all we’re tossing out is numbers, the odds are pretty good that we’re simply repeating the chorus of our song at the expense of the verses.

The story is told in the verses. The story is where the emotional connection gets made with our point, our position. If we’re using data at the expense of stories, we’re substituting something rational over something compelling.

Buying decisions are made emotionally and then rationalized with information, data or facts. I’ve been blessed with some very smart friends, many of whom are actuaries, CPAs, attorneys, and even judges. Even the actuaries look for the “why” behind the numbers, and base their decisions, strategic or otherwise on the stories the numbers help tell. Because the numbers never tell the entire story. Even though the “figures don’t lie” — the wise seller will put them in context and the wise buyer will consider them a part of their decision.

Dad said it differently; “Figures lie and liars figure,” he generalized, and he was on the right path, even though I don’t buy the dark undertone of the position. Business and salespeople who rely solely on numbers might be of a fixed mindset when a growth mindset is key to being viable tomorrow.

If we’re using data as more than a support mechanism, we are likely to lose our way and end up in an icky place. If we’re using stories and leveraging data to prop up the most important elements of those stories, our direction likely matches our intention.

Arguing With An Idiot

“Arguing with an idiot is like playing chess with a pigeon. No matter how well you play the pigeon is going to wind up pooping on the board and then strutting around like it won.”

Long-time subscribers know that I am a devoted fan of the Iowa Hawkeyes, and we’re heading into the peak of college football season. So, what’s the connection to today’s headline and quote?

Three weeks ago, a variety of chess-playing-pigoens on The Tweeter and Instaface or Facegram were calling for the head of Iowa’s legendary head coach, Kirk Ferentz. He’s won 181 games as Iowa’s leader and has placed dozens of young men in the NFL, most of whom started as “Who’s He?” recruits. And three weeks ago, the idiots were calling for the university to fire him.

Most reasonable folks ignored them, on account o’ not wanting pigeon poo on their chess boards. A few well-intentioned fans, God bless them, took up the argument. Only to face lots of pooping and strutting. Because, you see, the Hawks have recorded two straight wins — one against a very bad team and one against a relatively bad team) and now many of these same Tweeters and Sound-Off call-in show hacks are touting “the system,” and expecting Iowa to win 7 of its last 8 games this year. “Build a statue,” they’re shouting…

Sigh.

It’s the same in our businesses. Ask “what’s right?” and get ready for the crickets. Ask “what’s wrong?” and look out for the dump truck of pigeon excrement headed your way.

Theodore Roosevelt said as much in 1910 in his famous Citizenship In A Republic speech (more widely known as “The Man In The Arena.”)

“A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticize work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life’s realities — all these are marks, not of superiority, but of weakness.”

The key phrase for me is “work which the critic himself never tries to perform.” As Joe South (and later Elvis) sang, “…before you abuse, criticize and accuse, walk a mile in my shoes.” We live in a time when folks who’ve never been in the arena, sit in the bowl of the arena and bluster at the ones with the sweat and tears that come from doing the work.

Just like most people have never coached a Division I, Power Five Conference football team for 24 years and to almost 200 wins, most people who complain the loudest about (insert boss, teacher, coach, CEO) do not have contact with the realities of business. Nor do they have a clear handle on what it takes to lead a team, run or own a business, make the hard decision and open yourself up to critiques from the pigeons with tons of fiber in their diets.

Should we question authority? Yes, if we’ve got an idea of what might be done differently. Should we speak truth to power? Dang right, as long as we’re willing to use forethought and empathy in framing our voice.

Odds are, though, if we find ourselves cynical, aloof or out of contact with reality, we maybe ought to check our tongues and simply do the work.

Memorization

“This is the famous Budweiser beer. We know of no other brand at any price that costs so much to brew and age. Our exclusive Beechwood aging process produces a taste, a smoothness and a drinkability that distinctlty says “Budweiser.”

  • Printed on every can and bottle of Bud and pretty much-required recitation when being put through the Budweister boot-camp. (Oh, and a really solid marketing lesson, too!”)

Memorization ain’t what it used to be, what with the whole Google / Interwebs at our fingertips all the time. Heck, I’m not even sure they teach geography in schools anymore, let alone having kids memorize all the states and their capitals.

And, I haven’t really liked Budweiser since I discovered dark beers in the late 90’s. After growing up in a “Bud” house, and working for Anheuser-Busch selling the “Mother Ship” brand — the taste has left me, but the words on the label never will.

In our businesses, in our stories to the market, what parts are worth memorizing? Retailers used to argue that Miller and / or Coors were “cheaper…” and we’d remind them that we knew of no other brand at any price which cost so much to brew and age. Bartenders had trouble arguing with the taste, the smoothness, and the drinkability… It did, after all, distinctly say, “Budweiser.”

No one memorizes prices. No one memorizes features. No one memorizes deals. Stories, though… people memorize stories. They personalize them. They pass them on to friends and family.

Is our business memorable? Are our stories worth memorizing?

If the answer is “yes,” then we have something upon which more, or longer, or better can be built.

Stratecution

“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

“I’m in favor of it.”

  • John McKay (1923 – 2001), American football coach, when asked about his team’s “execution”

Strategy and execution are two different things.

I am still open, though, to the idea of using one word to address their relationship.

Many businesses are heading into strategic planning and budget season, when it can be tempting to erase (or at least blur) the line between the two. And, if we break the concept down to adverbs – strategy ultimately is the what, and execution is the how that drives us.

Let’s not forget the why…

Why? (See what I did there…?)

Strategy is almost exclusively about the top line (since that’s where all the math ultimately starts), yet for owner / operators it can’t only be about revenue growth. There needs to be a “true north” steeped in “Why?” Why do we want to grow revenue? Why do we want to become the market leader or move up in market share? What does that mean to our customers, our team, our shareholders? Porter’s concept, (also frequently attributed to Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, Jim Collins, etc) is best informed by a “why” that guides us in selecting what not to do. If a strategy runs in conflict to our why, we ought not to pursue it, in other words.

If “what” and “why” are aligned, then the focus turns to the how — execution. Not the kind that Coach McKay joked about when his team played horribly, mind you, rather the kind that determines how much headcount we can keep, how much we charge, how much we discount, how much we return to shareholders.

In budget and planning season, “stratecution” may ultimately be our focus. Let’s just make sure we get the two parts in the correct order, and sandwich a solid “why” in there to balance the two.

But

“Get your a** around behind you!”

  • Dick Heston (1933 – 2002), circa 1970-ish, trying to teach his 9-year-old son to use a shovel

Dad’s point, while it didn’t register with me for about eight more years, was that if I’d keep the shovel working around my body, it’d move more grain and I’d look less like a bag full of squirrels trying to fight over the last acorn of the season.

But that’s not my point.

My point is that we ought to put our “but’s” behind us. As in “leave them permanently in a closet, behind something heavy.”

If you’ll forgive me for going all English major on you, unless it’s used as an adverb (“There is but one God…”) it’s argumentative. You’re a great kid, but… I love you, but… That’s a fair offer, but…

Even if we argue that our intent isn’t to be contrarian, the word has come to erase whatever came before it in the sentence.

Arguments that contain “but” are only as productive, but way less funny than Dan Akroyd and Jane Curtin on Saturday Night Live in “Point / Counterpoint.”

So, let’s put our but’s behind us. Permanently, perhaps.

“You’re a great kid, and I can sense how frustrated you are. Let’s try to figure that out together.”

“I love you, and I believe your intentions are good. I think there’s common ground for us if we’ll focus on it as a starting point.”

“That’s a fair offer, and I think I have an idea based on your offer that might work even better for both of us. Would you like to hear it?”

Yes, making the bt-to-and shift might be even more difficult than trying to learn how to use a shovel with your dad barking at you. AND, it’ll dang-sure be more rewarding.

Speaking Truth To Power

“One of the most important things is to have empathy for the people we work for…”

  • Simon Sinek (b. 1973) on the subject of Speaking Truth to Power

I’ve always been willing to speak truth to power, and occasionally without the empathy or compassion that Sinek calls for here. It’s cost me, big time. It’s the reason some of my closest friends love me and the reason that some of my greatest detractors don’t. To that second group, I’m sorry. I wish I’d have been more empathetic.

So, with that said…

We live in a time where it seems like more and more of the Emperors are all nakedy up on the back of their horsies. Yet, before we go all Roseanne Roseannadanna on them (“HEY! You trying to make me sick here?!), it will probably serve us well to consider their stories. Their motivation. Their goals. Their dreams. Their realities. Their fears.

As our economy ebbs, and as the world we’ve known has less and less in common with the world we’ve known — it’s easy to presume that layoffs, price increases, supply chain glitches, disagreements and decisions are simply cases of leadership losing touch with the “little people.”

But here’s the deal. We’re all little people in the big picture. Where can we find common ground?

We see it in politics, and while I hope it’s a passing trend, it alarms me that so few appear to stand for something, perhaps because they’re too wrapped up in being against something. We see it in sports. I sat with 69,000 of my closest friends Saturday and listened to too many of them scream horrible, hurtful things at the storied coach of our favorite team and his 22-year-old quarterback. Things they wouldn’t say to a sworn enemy. Things they certainly wouldn’t say if that coach or quarterback was sitting at the table with them.

We see it in our workplaces, and in our homes, sometimes without realizing the toll the past few years may have taken on our clients, our co-workers, our kids, and our spouses. We’d love to speak our truth to power — or anyone else who will hear it — but are we willing to hear their truth, to understand their “why?”

It’s not ironic that Simon Sinek’s best-selling book is “Start With Why.” And it’s not ironic that he leads off today’s post. Because when we focus on someone else’s “why,” we earn our way into their trust, and then, when we help them connect to their why, we earn our way into their hearts — and trusted and loved are two good neighborhoods for us to seek residence in.

It’s extremely important that truth gets spoken to those in power. It’s just as important for empathy to be part of the message.

Change vs Legacy

“In order to bring about meaningful change in a long-standing successful business – step one is to honor the legacy; genuinely and with a keen eye on what made the company great. Step two is to determine how you’ll convince those who built the legacy to invest fully in the decision to update and upgrade it.”

  • A paraphrase of a recent conversation with a CEO

Change ain’t easy but standing still is no option either — so, we’re called to run to the flame.

In a business with a long, positive legacy however, a leader need tread carefully, but not lightly. Especially if he or she is following a legend.

Nebraska football (NCAA FBS Division) was a juggernaut for 20 years. It promoted Fank Solich to replace Tom Osborn (who had just won two national championships). The “Lucky Man” to follow the the legend was the head assistant coach who promptly went 10-2 and 9-3 as a head coach, before being shown the door. Frank should have a statue built in his name, for leading Ohio to its greatest heights ever. Frank will someday have a statue outside Nebraska’ home stadium. Nebraska’s current coach is torn between tanking further to get $8 more in buy-out money, or trying to win consistently to get one more chance.

A few years back, I was hired to change a 40-year-old business that had great bones but needed fresh strategies. They LOVED the idea of being changed — yet they had no appetite to really change things.

I might have been a bull in a china closet. Two members of the executive team fought every change — not face-to-face mind you, but during the meeting after the meeting; passive aggressive at best, intentionally harmful at worst.

When we lean in to the legacy of a firm and we honor it with marketing, with personnel choices with putting the team in a position to decide for the Client, we’ll make a difference.

It’s gotta come in order though. Honor the legacy, THEN bring about the change. Only by beginning in that order will we get the opportunity to move into simultaneous “honor while changing” mode.

All In?

“Does it matter which order?”

  • Unattributed

In a career spanning nearly four decades, it’s easy to lose count of the number of strategic planning sessions that have come and gone. In every one, the exercise has been “Mission, Vision and Values.”

This week, the question has come up, “Does it matter in which order we address these topics?”

One could argue that the Mission is the “true north.” It’s a succinct statement about the purpose of a corporation or an organization. Purpose is important, right? (Duh, Heston!)

One could argue that the Vision is the “true north.” It’s an over-arching statement of what drives a corporation or an organization; a word picture of that thing a founder or leader sees in their mind when they think “big-picture, long-term.”

One could argue that the Values are the “true north.” They guide the behavior, the decision-making and those “ethical intersection” conversations that are going to happen at some point along the way.

The key, I’ve come to believe, and to see played out this week is really two-pronged. First is the alignment of the three. In whatever order. Most importantly is for leadership, staff, customers, constituents — stakeholders, fill in your word of choice here — to be all in on all three.

That’s where the magic happens. Mission and vision may well evolve as markets change and as the execution model of the business change. Competition might impact mission and vision. Values, though, are really hitting home with me this week as being the closest thing I imagine to “true north.”

Whether corporate, departmental or individual — and whatever our mission, vision, and values, are we “all in?” And how does that shape our approach to each day and each task at hand?

Speaking of “all in,” check out this organization, which is an amazing place for all of us to make a difference. A lasting, multiplying difference.

If you feel compelled to support with a tax-deductible gift, let me know, and I’ll put your name in the hat for a gift of appreciation, which I’ll draw on September 1. And look for more news on the Mission, Vision, and Values, (or Values, Mission and Vision) of this amazing cause.