Igniting Workplace Enthusiasm

Blog by Dr. Greg Story, President

President's Blog - Executive Insights

 Dale Carnegie Japan President

Selling Isn't Telling

BCCJ ACUMEN E-Bulletin, October 2014
He slid effortlessly into the chair, and before I knew it, he had popped open the oyster shell of his laptop and was pointing his screen menacingly in my direction. Uh oh! PowerPoint slide after PowerPoint slide bombarded me with detailed data, specifications, diagrams and text information. After 20 minutes he stopped the torture.
"Wow", I thought, "he hasn’t managed to ask me even one teensy question during this session of our first meeting". According to his business card he was the sales director—that seemed a definite worry if he was responsible for others.
The irony of this sales presentation was that I had requested it. I was, in fact, a hot prospect. I had heard the firm’s president talking about their new whiz bang service at a function, and I was intrigued. So intrigued, I approached the president and asked that he send one of his crew over to see me.
I should have suspected something was amiss though, by his reaction when I made my request. Did he become buoyant with anticipation of a sale and reassure me that this product was the best thing since sliced bread?
No. Rather, I found him surprisingly aloof; in fact, almost disinterested. What I did think to myself was, how important it is in sales to be positive and upbeat about your product at all times.
So, back at the meeting, after death by a thousand PowerPoint slides, I miraculously revived myself and questioned the sales director. Why? Well, despite his incompetence, I still had a need. In the end though, sadly, I was not a buyer.
What could he have done differently? He could have asked me a few questions to ascertain what I was interested in. He could have holstered his weapon before drilling me with detail, dross and pap. Of the ten functions of the whiz bang service, there were only two or three that were of any use for what I needed.
We could have dispensed with all the irrelevant detail and gone straight to the finish line. We could have spent the bulk of our time talking about the aspects that, in my case, were most likely to lead to a sale.
Reading this little vignette, I hope you take immediate action and check whether your crew are any better at questioning than this guy. Don’t assume that they have a sales process in place. Are they spending the bulk of client interface time with their laser focused on where they have the greatest likelihood of success?
If they tend only to speak to the client rather than question them, there is a simple formula that will help your crew get to the heart of the matter, and uncover where they can be of most assistance to the client.
Start with either where the client is now, or where they want to be—it doesn’t really matter which one you ask first. This is because we are trying to understand how big the gap is between the two.
Unless the sense of immediacy about the need to close that gap is there, the outcome of the meeting will probably be no sale. Clients are never on the salesperson’s schedule, and will take no action unless they clearly understand there is a benefit to doing so.
Having understood the parameters of the current and ideal situation, next enquire about why they haven’t fixed the issue already. This is an excellent "barrier question". Depending on the answer, you might be the solution to fix what they cannot.
Finally, check on how this service would help them personally—what is the payoff? They may need this fix to keep their job, hit their targets, get a bonus, get a promotion, feel job satisfaction or rally the troops—there is a myriad of potential motivators.
Why would a question on the payoff be important? When we come to explain the solution to the problem, being able to address their personal win helps to make the conversation more real and relevant.
If my sales slideshow maestro had applied some of these basics, he may have had a sale that day. If you want to see your firm’s revenues go up, get your staff to ask clients questions before they mention anything else. Do this one simple thing and watch the difference it will make.

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Dealing With Idiocy In The Workplace

Why, why, why isn’t common sense common? We deal with people in our work lives who do dumb things. They make stupid decisions which fly full in the face of common sense. It is such a puzzle. Why don’t they get it, why can’t they see the obvious logical answer?
Reflecting on this phenomenon, we have to draw a clear line between losing our sanity trying to anticipate these crazies and getting on with our work. That is actually the really scary bit – we can never imagine what they would choose as (for them) a rational course of action, which is actually irrational. How can we spend our entire day worrying about what someone else might do? Well we can’t, so rather than go crazy ourselves trying to head off feckless behavior, let’s concentrate on what we can control.
The first decision is, are we the idiot who is the cause of the problem? Whoa! What if we are one creating havoc and they are just pawns in our game. That can’t be right can it? We are smarter than them, we see better and further than they do. We have perspective, so let’s put a red line through that possibility right now.
Wait - not so fast! What if we have not properly trained these people. What if they are actually "the uninformed" masquerading as "idiots" because we are at fault by not having invested in them sufficiently? What if we have been too busy with our own work to explain the finer points of various tasks? What if we have already mastered it, so logically the task is "easy", therefore not a lot of explanation needed, right?
Question - were we perfection personified when we first encountered this totally unfamiliar and unknown task? Have we conveniently forgotten the learning curve applies to others as well as ourselves? We may have assumed the task was easy, so we went light on the explanation and forgot to check for understanding. We may have merrily moved on and not put in place some regular checking mechanism to ensure they have got it. "I show you, we do it together, now you do it and I check it", sound boring and so basic, but did you do that?
Are you a perfectionist? Are you the type of person for whom there is only the "right way" of doing things? Does your logic rule and allow no other possibilities for task completion? If the "idiot" does it differently to you, is that incorrect or just different? Are you entertaining the possibility there might be multiple paths to the mountain top? Maybe we need to consider there might be equally valid solutions to the same problem, including those we haven’t even contemplated or thought about. What if we went really crazy and asked them for their ideas on how we might complete the task? What if we just shut up and quietly listened?
Well now, let’s give you the benefit of the doubt and say you did explain it, you did seek their ownership of the process by asking for their ideas and did incorporate their offerings into the final solution and they still managed to screw it up. What do we do now?
If we are going to empower people, we have to empower them to screw things up as well. We ask them to take a risk with the unknown (There Be Dragons!), the unfamiliar, to step up to greater accountability. When we whack them because they made an idiotic mistake, we are in danger. We are double-crossing the person, because we asked them to go into this area of weakness in the first place and then we belt them for it when they get it wrong. The trust is broken right there and they will join the Great And Venerable Guild Of Do Nothings, because that is the safest path forward. The Guild has a mega membership in Japan by the way, as almost every Japanese person has learnt how not to be the derukugi (出る釘)– the nail that gets hammered down. Their colleagues are also watching hawk-like for your reaction, so they can gauge the danger associated with anything new and shiny coming from your direction in the future.
We need to provide a Reasonable Allowable Margin of Error (RAME) for the task. We need to be checking progress without buying back the delegation, we need to make sure errors are picked up early (before they blow us all up) and we need to be coaching their progress. A great start is to set the control limits for the task. This will allow the person completing the task to know where the boundaries are from the get go. What often happens though is we give them the brief, in brief and then just abandon them until completion. They suddenly start "zagging" when we expected they would continue "zigging" and we discover the differential is fatal. There is nothing more frustrating than to discover the "zagging" when it is too late to do anything meaningful about it.
When the error surfaces, how do we handle it? Often we hear from someone else about the error, rather than the individual in question. This is a danger point, because our attitude and judgment can be clouded by the messenger. "Oh, you won’t believe what Tanaka just did, it's a disaster", can often be the tactic of the sycophant and office politician. If Tanaka san is not a great English speaker and the messenger is, it is not unknown for the linguistic access to the boss’s ear to become a power play, where the boss gets enlisted as the politician’s unwitting assassin.
So shake out those prejudicial inklings and approach the situation as an objective research project – "Just the facts!" Only after having effectively gathered the data and eliminated the opinions, approach the perpetrator in question. Begin with rapport, something to open the discussion, which will help them to relax. They are feeling guilty, embarrassed, nervous, uncertain, fragile, defensive – wow, a potent, powerful cocktail of potentially explosive emotions.
Telling them they made a mistake is not news to them – they know that, so whining about the mistake is not helpful. We are on the path to recovery here, so we need to choose our words very carefully. You might think we are also on the road to permanent removal, but in Japan that is rarely the case. You don’t have that arrow in your quiver to unloose at will, so better to get smart about this and work on helping them out of their mess. "Play the ball not the player" is good advice, so remove the personalities from the discussion. "You" must become "We" in your new lexicon and "We" are all about fixing the issue not crucifying the fallen one. We focus on the action not the person. We want to hear their views on what went wrong. This is crucial because in their telling we will uncover whether they are in denial or prepared to take accountability. We will also learn if this a systemic issue and not a one off. Those bosses with a short fuse – take a deep breath and turn your
body language off at this point. Your words and surface control may be seemingly modest, but your "aura" could be accusatory and hostile. Barely suppressed anger is not a good look in this situation.
For the employee who fesses up, accepts responsibility and wants to recover, get them involved in the decision-making about the solution. Reassure them they have a place here, they have an important role here, that they can make a significant positive contribution here. Reference that we are all the sum product of our failures, because that is how everyone learns. We eliminate what doesn’t work and replace it with systems that predictably, reliably replicate correct outcomes.
Solomon-like you now hand down your judgment and any penalties that may apply. You make the point the mistake is not fatal though very serious. You assure them they can recover from this and keep moving forward in their career.
What if they don’t fess up, what if they stay in denial, engage in passive/aggressive behavior, stay locked into a defensive mindset? Take a break from proceedings, give them time to think about what you have said and then try again.
If at this further point there is still no change, then they need to be changed. In Japan, removing them from employ is difficult, so try to look for an arrangement where you can pay them out, so they leave. Better to be generous on the money because the collateral damage is more expensive. Larger companies can do this more easily, but for smaller companies it is trickier.
Smaller companies however do have some advantages. The individual’s stubborn and unreasonable behavior is prone to impact on their colleagues. They will judge them very harshly because they endanger the whole operation and therefore everyone’s livelihood. That peer pressure will be much more fierce than anything the boss is going to dish out. Murahachibu (村八分) was a form of ostracism for those who went against the collective good in traditional village life and it is still with us in the urban village of the workplace. If you are reasonable and judged by the team to be doing the right thing and the individual in question is not, they will feel intense peer pressure to accept your offer to depart.
Idiocy in the workplace will be with us forever, we won’t be changing that in a hurry, but we can work on prevention, minimization and how we react to it. Given the scope of the problem, this will be well worth working on.

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Elites Who Can't Cut It

BCCJ ACUMEN E-Bulletin, September 2014
Society approves titles and status, especially in Japan. We rise through the ranks and following the Peter Principle, we peak at our upper level of incompetence. On the way up, we pick up titles and accrue status, respect and credence amplified through the power of our title. Our personal power though could be suddenly exposed as bogus, when we get up to open our mouths in public. This is one of those "The Emperor Has No Clothes" moments, when all is revealed, and we are found severely wanting.
I was at a function recently and one of the bureaucratic elite in Japan was there to give a keynote presentation. You generally get to become an elite official in Japan because you went to the right elementary school, middle school, high school and then University. The reason these were the right schools up until University, is because they have the absolute best system in place to help you be a legend in memorization, rote learning and test taking. At University you take a couple of years off, before you start cramming for the national selection exam, where again memory and exam technique are the most rewarded skills.
You join a Ministry and work like a dog for a squillion hours every day, for years, simultaneously looking for a powerful patron to whom you can pledge total loyalty. After decades of glacial progress, you emerge a grey haired, elite official. Now part of the bureaucratic upper crust, you are often called upon to represent your organization and speak in public and the whole edifice comes crushing down.
This was the case with this official – sent out into the firing line to promulgate the new way forward for his political masters, to impress everyone with the potency of their new policies, to win adherents to the path forward. Total fizzer.
Why? Because he spoke without energy or passion – nothing to indicate he felt at all impressed with his own recommendations. He looked down at his papers and hardly glanced at the audience. The opportunity to make eye contact, to combine words with the power of his face and to use the tonal variations available to his voice, were in total absence.
He was a truly dull correspondent and we were completely dulled to his message. There were no converts that day. He could tick the box though – the task was completed, a total failure, but completed.
Astonishingly, during the post speech Q&A session, he perked up like man really engaged – sadly it was only sustained for 30 seconds, but it showed he could do it.
So why didn't he do it while he commanded the stage? No concept and no appreciation for the immense power at his beck and call, I would proffer. His self-concept seemed to be that he was just a grey bureaucrat, whose job was to be grey and boring. Obviously he had received no training or preparation for his task. So his brilliant university pedigree meant little when he was publically outed at the podium. He was a total failure as a communicator, he became a message killer, a brand assassin instead.
Was he an exception, a one-off, the runt of the litter among the bureaucratic ranks of the gifted, great and plausible public speakers? No he was typical of that bevy of elite officials, who are mainly acquired status and have almost no personal power projection.
Another vaunted profession is that of the elite government official who works in the foreign service. This has been a bad week for me, as I suffered more of the same, this time from an Ambassador.
You would think that given the high profile nature of their job, they would be experts in promoting their countries. No, this was another national reputation suicide effort.
Monotone, weak voice sputtering forth Ums and Ahs aplenty, with no engagement with the audience. A voice that sounded so very weary and where the last three to four words in every sentence, just slowly petered out. The energy and tone just subsided, guaranteeing the key message was a total downer, regardless of the actual content of the words.
Was this a one off – just the Ambo having a bad day? No, I have seen this gentleman in action on many occasions and there is a scary consistency to his public speaking murder of his country’s brand. He is not unusual – in my 28 years of survey here, I have found that most Ambassadors are hopeless public speakers. Yes, yes, there are some exceptions, but they just prove the rule (send me a list of more than 10 Ambassadors you know who are any good?).
Do these career diplomats get proper training in the art of public speaking? Astoundingly no! They become elite government officials due to their ability to write cables and reports, which usually almost no one reads, by the way. They have large analytical abilities and very big brains. They can really shine is small meetings, where they can one up their rivals and be the smartest intellect in the room.
So they get promoted and then get propelled to the front of the stage, handed the mike and away they go into ineptitude, writ large under lights, in front of the assembled masses. The good thing is that all of their colleagues are equally hopeless, so it seems normal to them. The fundamental error is they simply don’t value having a skilled public presentation facility.
The worst public speaking experience of my diplomatic career was giving a speech on behalf of one of our Ambassadors. I was "our man in Osaka" and had to deliver the speech on his behalf. The talk was in Japanese, which was no issue, as I had given around 400 public speeches in Japanese. The content however was challenging. There are four main types of speeches – to inform, to persuade, to entertain and to impress. Foreign Ministries around the world, tend to love the data dump, inform variety. This automatically leads to lots of dull information being imparted. Why they don’t go for the persuade type is a bit of a mystery to me and all countries seem to make that selection. I absolutely gave it my best shot to liven it up, while sticking religiously to the approved Ambassadorial text, but what torture it was!
Imagine when you combine dead data with a dead delivery? You have a massive bromide of winter surf Hawaiian North Shore frightening proportions, thundering down to bludgeon unsuspecting audiences into stupefaction. This is what we usually get from elite Government officials and it doesn't have to be like that.
There are some bright spots of hope though, even in Japan! Previous Ambassador Motohiko Nishimura, who I met in Osaka in the mid-1990s, during his posting to the Kansai (yes, Kansai is considered a foreign country by Tokyo, so they have to send an Ambassador down there), was skilled and excellent. English or Japanese, it did not matter, he was the consummate diplomat in the sense he could use his speaking power, to capture an audience and have them love Japan. He finished his career as Ambassador to Portugal, and I am sure he was a tremendous asset for his country in creating support for Japan there.
Hello to all of you elite officials and aspirants out there, stop boring us all to death, get some proper training and represent your Ministries with aplomb. Boys and girls – be ambitious? No be persuasive!

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The key to personal leadership

BCCJ ACUMEN E-Bulletin, July 2014
Job descriptions, performance reviews, incentive schemes and recognition programmes are often box-ticking activities in organisations, which seldom lead anywhere. Overviewing these various systems and their execution may make managers feel that they are earning their keep, but are they really contributing all that much to the required outcomes?
Counting what the heads do and getting those heads to think are different challenges. The latter challenge necessitates cultivating people, which is the "new black" for managers, as they must move up and into leadership roles.
So, what is the difference between being a manager and a leader? Leadership is all about creating environments that influence others to achieve group goals, because people will willingly support a world they create.
Management is the creation, implementation and monitoring of processes. People will willingly comply with a process that helps them succeed.
Moving forward means designating the next level of achievement. In our busy lives, with a deluge of emails every day, spiced up with endless dreary meetings, we can sometimes forget what the point of work is, as we are totally consumed with activity.
We need to set a vision for the team of where we want to be and what the next level for us should be. It must be concrete, clear and well communicated.
I ran across one vision the other day: "delivering extraordinary customer experiences". A rather ambiguous statement, as you could be delivering extraordinarily bad experiences to your customers! A bit more clarity is needed back at HQ by the look of that one.
It raises the point though, that clarity in communication is key if you want to get people behind you. Don’t kid yourself; semantics matter.
Where possible, get buy-in to the vision, so that it is a shared process. This may be difficult when "the vision" comes loftily down from on high, but there are always subsets of the vision for the work group that can take it to a further concrete stage, or which further clarify the main message for the reality facing the team.
With a successfully shared vision, the troops cease seeing their role as robotic task completion, and switch to a mind-set of results completion.
How about down at your shop—is there a shared vision (or subset of the vision)? Is the team focused on painting by numbers or on producing a group triumph? Do they know what the designation is for the next level?
We ask people to step up, but that also requires them to take on risks—of the new or the different. The outcomes must be totally defined and clear, and the team must buy in to achieve them in order to step out of their current mode and take on the risks of the unknown.
The fear that "there be dragons" is a strong gravitational pull away from innovation or anything shiny and new. It must be countered by you.
Leadership begins to include self-leadership when we have buy-in and clarity, because it allows the team to be more self-directed, handling their available resources without the need for micro-management.
We can all quote buzzwords such as empowerment and empowered behaviour, but actually realising such concepts is another matter.
The poor communication skills of people in charge are often the breakdown point. The "vision statement" penned by the CEO goes up on the wall in a nice frame, on expensive paper, safely protected behind glass and on view for everyone to completely ignore from then on. But, it has to live.
If staff cannot quote the vision on demand and from memory, the firm is not even on the first rung to having a real vision.
It is not a one-shot pronouncement and move-on affair. It always amazes me, how often you have to keep telling the team the same thing, for it to really permeate. It just points to the fact we are competing with a whole bunch of other stuff for the real estate of cluttered minds.
When you ask senior executives to identify the most significant personal characteristic needed by management, they will dutifully trot out "the ability to work with people". Take a look at the expense line in your profit and loss statement—people are a huge component.
Yet, so many leaders are woeful communicators. They are often promoted into positions of accountability, on the basis that they count.
Leaders fall into certain categories: insular, brainy, technical experts; the chief financial officers, who can’t grow the business, but can watch the bottom line like a legend; and the idiosyncratic salespeople who do things "my way", but can’t teach it to anyone else.
We need to educate these smart people how to be people smart—it is a different attitude and skill set.
The executive decisions get carried out by people, but how much time does a leadership team spend building people, as opposed to issuing directives, giving orders or providing technical guidance? These activities are all about the "how" and zero on the "why".
Time to start work on some personal leadership: strongly communicate the why and get the team to create a shared vision of your organisation’s better and brighter future.

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