Archive | February, 2013

A New Type of Grading

23 Feb

A teacher scribbles a breakdown of the last exam grades on the projector: 65 A’s, 107 B’s, 98 C’s, and 43 F’s.  Average: 82.5.

A number of students feel great because they easily beat the average.  Others feel shitty—they blew it and seeing all those A’s is salt in the wound.  And then the grades are erased from the board.

But instead of just reporting the grades, what if the instructor offered this instead: if the class average on the next exam increases by five points, everyone gets five bonus points on the next exam.

Or what if she went a step further, putting students in small groups with an equal distribution of A, B, and C students in each group?  And offered each student five bonus points if his group’s next exam average increased by five points? 

Would students work harder, knowing that classmates are counting on them?  Collaborate more?  Form study groups and foster a community of learning rather than just trying to master the content solo?

Group incentives in higher education are on my mind, but the logic applies to everything we do:

The next time I run a contest for my sales force, I’ll break the reps into small groups and incentivize the performance of each group, not just individuals.  The result I expect: sales reps will not only work harder, feeling accountable to one another, but share valuable advice with other members of their group, teaching their colleagues how to be more successful.

Too often in life, we reward winners and brand others as “losers” without providing any reason for individuals to help one another.  What we should be doing is incentivizing collaboration and the success of the entire group.  If we want better results, we need a new type of grading.

That Big Project Can Wait. Just For A Little Bit.

20 Feb

Google “Do the hardest thing first” and you’ll find ten articles like this one. These articles implore us to tackle the toughest task on our to-do list first, which is sound, practical advice on productivity.  But it’s all wrong.

Don’t start the day with your most onerous project.  Start with something else first and then take a crack at that tough task.

Here are two reasons why:

1)     Too often, I’ve slogged through my toughest task for an entire morning of work, only to realize that I still haven’t finished it and have 15 other chores to complete before heading home.  This causes PANIC.  I rush through the rest of the difficult task, a chore that by definition can’t be rushed, so that I can move down my to-do list.  Paradoxically, by trying to give the toughest task the most attention by starting with it first, I often give it less attention than it deserves because I feel pressure to get it done and move on to the other projects waiting for me.

On the other hand, when I spend the first hour of the day crossing off one or two other tasks before tackling the doozie, I’m more relaxed and less compelled to rush through the big project when it takes multiple hours to complete.  With an item or two already completed, the stress of needing to move on subsides, allowing me to devote more energy to that tough task.

2)     I believe in momentum.  Starting with a task that’s difficult, yet able to be finished in a reasonable time frame sets a tone of productivity that lingers the rest of the day.  If I’m able to cross off a task or two in the morning, I’m often amazed at my momentum.  The day turns into a steady march through a variety of projects—and a stress free one at that.

I’m not telling you to procrastinate tackling that one hard project looming over your head.  But by finishing one or two less difficult projects before starting, you’ll gain a sense of accomplishment that will allow you to devote your full energies to the big project.  

Which, of course, is the goal in the first place.

My Pet Shrimp Named Google

14 Feb

My focus group attendees are like shy freshmen on the first day of high school.  They walk into our focus group room, immediately shuffle to the last row of seats, and avoid all eye contact.

Which is why I treat them like high schoolers.  At the start of every focus group, we all sit in a circle and introduce ourselves to the rest of the group just like on the first day of class.

But I add a little twist.

1)     As attendees enter the room, I hand them an index card and ask them to write an interesting fact about themselves on it—without including their name.

2)     Right before we start, I collect the cards and put them in a hat.

3)     When we start, I pull the cards out of the hat and read them one at a time.  After I read a fun fact, the group has to try to guess who that fact belongs to.

4)     When the owner of the fact is exposed, he has to explain the fact and what he’s looking to get out of the focus group.

The best fact I’ve heard to date: I have a pet shrimp name Google.

028

Part of running great focus groups is priming attendees to comfortably share their feedback.  If attendees show up but don’t talk openly and honestly, your session is a waste.  The fun fact game immediately loosens up a crowd, endearing the attendees not only to each other, but to you as well.

If an attendee can tell you about his pet shrimp, or his Chilean spear fishing championship, or how he lost his big toe, he’s ready to give you feedback on your product.

Spend a little time running the fun facts game at the beginning of your sessions.  You’ll get better feedback during the rest of the session, and attendees will always remember the fun game they played in your focus group.

The Scoreboard is Scoreless.

9 Feb

Business is a lot like football.  In both, we need to acknowledge two things when looking at the scoreboard:

1)     The final score is often a product of the environment in which we compete.   

A football team’s success is determined by much more than just team performance.  The strength of the competition, injuries to key players, even the referees have an impact on the season record.  Similarly, outside factors often determine our success in business.  A good market environment sometimes ensures success, even when we just show up.  A bad market environment?  It can crush even the most sound strategy.

2)     Results, therefore, don’t tell the whole story. 

Three point victories over an arch-rival and a cupcake, while the same on the scoreboard, usually mean very different levels of performance on the football field.  So too does 3% growth during a bullish market versus 3% growth in a bear market.

If the scoreboard doesn’t reflect the entire story, should we just ignore it?  No, but we must evaluate ourselves differently.  We need to track our processes, not just end the results.

In my career, a few processes I track include 1) returned correspondence from customers 2) conversion of focus group attendees 3) number of sales calls per day.

These processes are smaller metrics.  They no doubt affect the scoreboard, but aren’t swayed or skewed by the landscape in which I compete.

The point of focusing on process is not to ignore end results.  The scoreboard does matter–we should never afford ourselves excuses when the other team wins.

The point is that when you focus on process, you take the business context or environment in which you work out of your measurements.  The ups and downs that can be attributed to competition and the situations we inherit begin to smooth out.  When we have excel at the right processes, results ultimately begin to care of themselves.

Which football coach talks most about process?  Nick Saban, when he’s not busy winning back-to-back national championships.

nick saban

The No Name Game.

7 Feb

“How long can you last without mentioning our product?”

That’s the question my sales manager asked me my first week on the job.  He wanted to know this: in a sales call, how long could I have a conversation with a potential customer without mentioning the name of our product?

When the A, B, C’s of selling are “Always be closing,” this game seemed counter-intuitive.  How could I sell anything to anyone without telling him about my wares?

Only with serious suspicions did I at first play the “no naming our product game.”  By the end of my time as a sales rep, I played it religiously.  It was clearly making me highly successful.

Stopwatch

Nearly every book on sales mentions the importance of establishing relationships.  My sales manager had a deeper insight.  He taught me that as soon as you mention the name of your product, the nature of the conversation changes.  What was once a chat about the customer and his or her needs now at some level becomes transactional.  When you name your product, you’re now a salesman trying to make a sale, no matter how aggressive or pushy you are.

My manager begged me to hold off on mentioning my product because he knew that I needed to get to know my customers before becoming a salesman in their eyes.  He knew that as soon as I mentioned my product, I could no longer ask qualifying questions freely.

In your next sales call, should you bring a stop watch and clock how long you can last before turning the conversation to your product?  Maybe or maybe not.  But I beg you to ask yourself this question:

  • Am I ready to change the nature of the conversation by mentioning my product? 

Meet In The Lobby At 7:15

2 Feb

The lobby of the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego is 150 yards long.  Asking someone you’ve never met to meet you in the Hyatt lobby when it’s buzzing with people is like playing Where’s Waldo without knowing what Waldo looks like.

hyatt lobby

I asked ten strangers to meet me in the lobby of the hotel at 7:15 before a group dinner.  At 7:35, after scrawling “group dinner” on a dopey paper sign and weaving my way through the lobby, I left with six of the guests in tow.  The other four are probably still in the lobby, asking themselves what kind of jackass would give them these instructions.

When you host an event, be specific as possible in your communication with your guests.  Hosting a group diner?  Tell the group to meet you in front of the concierge desk to the left of the front doors at 7:15.  Not just “in the lobby.”  Running a focus group?  Don’t tell attendees that the session will be held in the Del Mar room.   Make sure they know the session is in the South Tower of the hotel, on the 3rd floor, in the Del Mar Room.

We put too much work into our events to have them fail because we give incomplete instructions.  The more specific you are, the higher likelihood that attendees will show up and that your event will run smoothly.

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