Tips to Better Coach Your Executives

As companies grow, it becomes increasingly important for CEOs and other executives to improve their coaching skills so they can help direct reports take on more responsibilities and be successful. The need is even more important now that staff are distributed rather than working in a central office; micro-management as a back-up isn’t as easy.  Going forward, workers need to self-manage and be accountable to themselves and team members.

As a vistage Chair, I have the privilege of working with 800 other chair-facilitators-coaches who constantly seek to improve our own skills at helping the CEOs with whom we work, but also share insights. Recently, it published an article, 9 Powerful Questions Coaches Ask CEOs, in which other chairs highlighted ideas which leaders at all levels can use to assist their direct reports. 

I thought I’d share a few of them to stimulate your thinking. You can substitute the word department or division for company, since it applies.

  • Are you running your company or leading it?  Too many leaders spend more time than they should being “hands-on” with activities and tactical, rather than taking the time to be strategic and focus on making sure everyone is asking the big strategic, cultural and leadership questions. Leaders should allocate 20% of their time to being strategic. (That’s one of the hidden benefits of Vistage – it sets aside 7% of a leader’s time to focus on strategic growth issues.)
  • Are you more of a fire-fighter or a fire-preventer? We all want to feel successful – but are we doing the things that add the most value? At our initial coaching session, one CEO admitted that he spent 50% of his time firefighting – and recognized the need to change how he and his team operate. 
  • Are meetings focused on the problems needing to be solved or the value of different solutions? At our Board meetings, we use Issue processing to enable members to resolve their biggest challenge by getting fresh perspectives and accountability. The format serves as a model they can use in their companies as well: each member is expected to identify the issues around the problems and then propose the alternative solutions under consideration. 
  • What habits do you have which hold you back from being the kind of leader you want to be?  We’re often focused on (new) things we want to do, without understanding that the best way to get rid of a bad habit is to substitute a good one for it. Similarly, you manage your time better when you recognize that, to have 4 extra hours a week to work on a project, you have to give away 4 hours of activities.

What questions help you coach your team more effectively? Share them with us.  If you feel that Vistage might be a tool to help you be a more strategic leader, feel free to contact me to discuss experiencing it! (Jerry.cahn@vistage.com)

Is It Really “Impossible”? Stop the Excuses

Some of the changes we’ve seen take place during the pandemic, such as engaged workers successfully working at home productively, actually are continuations of trends that started prior to 2020 (e.g.,  the rise of “gig” workers). At the same time, new trends were started… and now is the time to focus on some which will have positive outcomes in the post-pandemic era. In “The Important Role of “Responder’ in Leadership”, the author, a retired Navy captain, reminds us that one is to increase the extent to which we should challenge limiting beliefs; let’s unleash our potential for growth.

Among many important points she makes concerning leadership, is Dr. Morro’s comment that we can turn “predicaments into progress”.  “When I ran a VA hospital in rural Georgia, I knew telehealth would open us up to recruit better talent and the level of care we needed. We had such modest goals because of buy-in, regulation requirements, and adoption – then COVID hit and wiped those barriers away. What would have taken years to implement happened in a matter of days.”

In the first months of the pandemic, I shared examples of seemingly “impossible” feats of people and companies, as reported by McKinsey & Company and other observers.  Activities that were considered impossible to do or take years to implement, were accomplished in days and weeks because the goals outweighed worrying about the “resistance”. 

For instance, in one of McKinsey’s best reports on this topic, From Surviving to Thriving: Business after Coronavirus, they relate the story of a leading retailer who was exploring how to launch a curbside-delivery business; the plan stretched over 18 months. When the COVID-19 lockdown hit the United States, it went live in two days. There are many more examples of faster, smarter, ways of thinking.

Suddenly the need to keep business going by empowering responsible people to do the “right thing” enabled people to work from home on imperfect devices, without all the rules, regulations, safeguards, etc. that “centralized” office teams” had been using to slow progress. It may not have always been perfect, but with the right intentions, it generally worked. The key was to assess the risk, and then learn from the experience until a new better, faster, and/.or cheaper solution was apparent.

Think of things you, your family and close friends/colleagues were engaged in throughout this last year; how often did the traditional norms and rules serve as limitations and restrictions – only to lose those powers as we progressed forward? We thought we had to work during ”working hours” but now we create them by adding in time that used to be used for commutes; we thought deals needed our personal presence; Zoom filled the gap and will in many cases continue to do so.

As we forge the new “post-pandemic” normal, challenge assumptions, reduce red-tape, find new ways to be agile and service-oriented. Control has shifted; this is your chance to make the next normal more conducive to more responsive, efficient and effective processes!

Time to Plan for Mentoring Internships

With the Spring semester at its midpoint, students are beginning the search for summer internships. This year, possibly more than ever before, it’s important for adults in the labor market to try to open their hearts and companies to offer mentoring internships.

A bit of background. I started offering internships to students in my very first full-time job. The concept was simple: provide students with an opportunity to learn about job/career opportunities, and learn about their own strengths, weaknesses and interests, by integrating them into productive projects within companies. Since then, I’ve worked for public, private, nonprofit and government organizations and served over 650 interns. We referred to them as mentoring internships, because we took extra time to mentor the students so they could make better career choices.  At one point, at a school career fair, we realized that despite the fact that my teams were small, we were serving more students than much larger companies. We even published an ebook to help other companies adopt our mentoring internship model.  (It led to the development of another mentoring program model for companies who wanted to stop the churn of young recruits; one used it successfully for seven years as it engaged new and experienced workers.)

Impact: A recent study by the ASTD (American Society of Training & Development) documents the value of such programs along four key measures:

  • Development: More than 60% of interns and recent college grads list mentoring as a criterion for selecting an employer after graduation; 76% of Fortune’s top 25 companies offer mentoring programs.  
  • Productivity: Managerial productivity increased by 88% when mentoring was involved versus 24% increase with training alone.
  • Retention: 77% of companies report that mentoring was effective in increasing employee retention; 35% of employees who do not receive regular mentoring look for another job within 12 months. 
  • Promotion: 75% percent of executives point to mentoring as playing a key role in their careers.

Why It’s so Important Now. One of the impacts of the pandemic has been a general re-evaluation by students and adults about developing lifestyles and careers. Today’s students face a different world than most older adults. Increasingly, they are living in a digital economy, where physical labor isn’t the key requirement. During their elongated life to 100+, they can engage in lifelong learning to pivot into as many as 10 careers – and provide their services from outside a central office. This enables them to pursue passion and purpose as the commit to mental and physical health, financial security and independence, and meaningful relationships.  Faced with these options, mentoring internships provide an ability for them to learn from the experiences of people who are at the forefront of some of these changes.

It’s clearly more challenging now, since so much of the worker-team is virtual. It is more difficult to onboard and supervise/mentor people who aren’t in the same workspace and have to save the interaction time to scheduled Zoon calls.  But as we get increasing control of our lives through vaccinations, changed office spaces, and new working styles, we will learn how to create hybrid experiences.  Indeed, I resumed taking on interns during the 20-21 academic year to provide experiences for both students who must be 100% virtual (e.g., in Australia) and combined on-site and virtual training for people who are local.

Feel free to reach out to me to answer questions. Reach me at jerrycahn@presentationexcellence.com  

Are You Also Selling the Invisible?

As entrepreneurs and business leaders, we focus on building the best possible set of features into our products and services and then marketing them.  Yet, there is another and sometimes better way: selling the invisible – features and processes that are not obvious in product design.  

Recently, a client asked why our ADAP Formula (Audience-Driven, Authentic Presentations) was so successful. I explained that by looking for visible and invisible factors affecting audience decision-making, we could appeal to whatever we thought was strongest. For instance, when a company selling women’s dressy-dresses tried to think through how to sell itself into a new Private Equity firm, we explained that the prior failure was due to an invisible factor: the buyer’s team consisted only of men. They thought about tuxedos, which can be worn several times; yet women need a fresh dress for every special event.  By re-focusing their attention before even starting the presentation, we had their attention that this was a much larger opportunity than they thought. It worked.

Remember the old advertisement for Dunkin Donuts?  “It’s 4 AM and time to make the donuts”. It focused on an invisible feature – dedication to FRESHNESS.  Note, it didn’t focus on the observable size, flavors, tastes, etc.   When Krispy Kreme was launched, they similarly focused on an invisible feature: the smell of freshness: they piped out of the kitchen into the street the smell of making fresh donuts. It became a craze and helped give them competition directly with Dunkin Donuts.

One of our Vistage members just competed against a bigger company on providing a service. A small part of it required installation of a unit. Using the same kind of “Prefab-design and preparation” that leading home builders now use to save on site-labor-costs, he submitted a bid which included installation in a fraction of the time of the competitor – saving time and money for the client.

As the member and I discuss growth, I realized that his invisible “competitive advantage” in logistics and distribution would make his service capability much more attractive. Indeed, his service which helps companies reduce energy costs on a sustainable basis through monitoring, also allowed companies to control airflow in buildings (which reduces Covid exposure) – which appeals to a much larger audience. 

Think about “invisible” practices you use in your business that can get the attention of prospects and customers. It can be a real true “Competitive Advantage”.

Years ago, I read Selling the Invisible by Harry Beckwith and incorporated it into my former company, Brilliant Image, a 24/7 presentation service bureau, where most customers could not tolerate late delivery. Since then, I refer to this concept in my marketing courses. While teaching in China the last time, another professor saw me re-reading it and tipped me off to the Youtube video by his wife:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=4HdA924aqbM&ab_channel=ChristineClifford.  

Enjoy!

What Could Innovation Do for Your Company?

As human beings, there’s one set of innovations we’re all waiting for: effective vaccines for Covid-19 and ways to distribute them as quickly as possible.

There’s a second set many of us are thinking about: a system that will enable us to handle the next pandemic a lot better than the one we’re in now. Let’s not be unprepared again!

There’s a third group that the CEOs with whom I work are now talking about: product and process innovations that enable their companies to serve customers better. Helping companies unleash their workers’ creativity and forge innovations has been a special area of interest for me for dozens of years and therefore a subject we discuss in group meetings and executive coaching sessions.

As we have these conversations, I am reminded of a major misconception about innovations: the myth of the lone genius who comes up with an innovation. Instead, the experts remind us that innovations are “cobbled together” by contributions from a number of sources. Henry Ford’s assembly line idea was the product of observations made while watching the meat “disassembly” plants by meat packers, and the replaceable parts concept used in the sewing machine.

In How Breakthroughs Happen: the Surprising Truth About How Companies Innovate, Andrew Hargadon focuses on this issue by introducing the concept of the “technology broker” – outsiders who specialize in trying to see how a new idea could be commercialized effectively.  We all know stories about companies where people created innovations that never saw the light-of-day as commercial products and/or services. For instance, Xerox’s PARC’s (Palo Alto Research Center) scientists created the GUI (graphic user interface), the mouse, and other technologies; but did nothing with them. It took an outsider – Steve Jobs to see the commercial applications – and then used them to create Apple Computer. Similarly, Spencer Silver, a 3M scientist, discovered an adhesive that stuck lightly and saw no use for it.  Art Fry found a use for it and engaged others (secretaries) to experiment with it – and created 3M’s Post-it Notes. He was the critical “technology broker”.

Who is your technology broker?   If you don’t already have a group of objective, smart business leaders who look at your ideas and, using  their fresh perspectives, give you insights on how it can be adapted  successfully, now is the time to do so

One of unheralded benefits of belonging to Vistage Worldwide is that you have a set of smart, committed leaders who are constantly coming up with new ideas and approaches, sharing them, and getting constructive, objective feedback from members of their local Peer Advisory group and/or the “special interest” networks to which the 23,000 global members belong.
Why not find out for yourself? Vistage offers appropriate leaders an opportunity to experience Vistage meetings virtually. Just contact me for details.  Email Jerry.Cahn@VistageChair.com or call 646-290-7664.

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