The 3 P’s to Meeting Success

Most meetings are won or lost before they ever start. Whether it is a job interview, client presentation, or a date, most of what you can do to be successful occurs prior to the first words being spoken in the actual meeting. I have seen quite a few detailed methodologies for having successful meetings and while I think many of these “systems” have real merit and could be valuable, I’ve had problems adhering to anything that requires too much discipline or time. Over time, I’ve developed a cut-down approach for getting ready to attend meetings that I can scale from 5 minutes to a week depending on what’s at stake and the time I’ve been given. The fact is that if your complex 14 step meeting preparation process requires 24 hours and you only have 10 minutes before your meeting, you are likely to fail.  Since I am often on a tight timeline, I have scaled the many approaches to meeting preparation that I have tried down into three simple actions.   I can scale these actions to the intensity of the requirement and the time I have before the meeting occurs.

  1. Positive – Get yourself in the right mental state. Visualize success. Run through the opening to the conversation in your mind and visualize things going perfectly. People can sense confidence, so spending a little bit of time visualizing yourself succeeding can help you go into the meeting in a positive state of mind. Try to set up some down time in advance of your meeting.  During this time, you can prepare yourself mentally and ensure that you are in a positive state of mind. I try not to place two tough meetings back to back without at least a 15 minute break in between.  I want to ensure that I have some time to regroup if the first meeting is contentious. Moving from one difficult meeting to the next increases the likelihood that there will be negative bleed over.
  2. Visualize Success
  3. Prepared – Know the scope, participants, and context for the meeting.  Too many people enter meetings cold, armed only with the information that is important to them. You have to know what you are going to talk about and be prepared for logical deviations. In order to do this, you need to be able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Without  doing this you not only risk alienating the other participants by  focusing only on your concerns, but you also risk missing the point of the meeting as a whole. Just like the date that can’t stop talking about themselves, make sure you listen during the meeting.   Make sure you prepare yourself to listen and understand by doing some basic research on “their” point of view. Successful meetings, partnerships, and relationships are bi-directional.   It allows  multiple participants to feel that they have achieved what they set out to achieve in the meeting or encounter. Putting yourself in their shoes enables you to help them meet their objectives, while you are ensuring you meet yours.
  4. Be prepared. Get the right data.
  5. Plan – Provide an agenda, even if it is only for yourself. Most meetings are held to get to specific decisions or drive an action. Structure your meeting so that it leads towards that conclusion. I make between 20-60 calls every day to talk to existing customers, prospective customers, employees, partners and other stakeholders of Millsapps, Ballinger and Associates. Prior to every one of those calls I try to make sure that at a minimum I have set a mental goal for the call. I treat each one like a meeting and I try to plan for the result I want. Without that step, I’ve noticed that calls have a tendency to drift into the social area.  While this is fine from a relationship-building standpoint, if you don’t set specific goals you generally do both parties a disservice. Recognize that every meeting participant’s time has value and structure your meetings to derive the most value from that time. Internally, we do not hold meetings without agendas – period. Even our daily scrums (15minutes) have a specific agenda and formula that is designed to get to value by the close of every meeting.
Make an Agenda or a Checklist

If you follow these three P’s, I guarantee that you will get more out of your meetings, calls, and conversations. None of the above should take so much time that the time invested isn’t well worth the results. After all, having an unproductive meeting ensures that any time you spent was wasted. In order to take my own medicine on a compressed schedule, I keep the tools required to do a quick version of the 3 P’s by my desk at all times. I keep a pad of paper on my desk where I can sketch quick goals for a call and I’ll often simply do a quick scan of a person’s LinkedIn profile, last few e-mail exchanges, or other biographical information directly before the call. Finally, I always put myself in their shoes. What are they looking for? What do they want to talk about? If you aren’t prepared for those, you cannot expect to get the results you are looking for out of your meetings.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Going Mobile: How to prioritize your application portfolio

It is now commonly accepted that the world is a pervasively connected place. More and more customers’ and stakeholders’ expectation is that work and play will occur anywhere, anytime and via any device. Below are a few facts from the recent publication Digital Government: Building a 21st century platform to better serve the American people:

  • Mobile broadband subscriptions are expected to grow from nearly 1 billion in 2011 to over 5 billion globally in 2016
  • By 2015, more Americans will access the Internet via mobile devices than desktop PCs
  • As of March 2012, 46% of American adults were smartphone owners – up from 35% in May 2011
  • In 2011, global smartphone shipments exceeded personal computer shipments for the first time in history

These facts are driving the requirement for both the public and private sector to provide access to resources their stakeholders need in this new mobile context. There are many issues that an organization will face in attempting to meet this new expectation. The effort to go mobile will often be tied to other efforts around digital strategy. At times it will be a component of a larger push towards service orientation, in concert with data management initiatives, or coupled with any one of a number of transformational shifts within the technology landscape that are changing the way that organizations do business. Tying an organization’s mobile strategy together with other initiatives will often make sense. The natural synergies that come into play enable the efforts being made to achieve one objective to simplify the attainment of other goals.

With that being said, I have tried to keep thing simple in this article and focus primarily on the characteristics that should be evaluated as the organization looks across its application portfolio to prioritize what should go mobile first. This is an inherently simplistic approach that does not take into account the myriad of opportunities to reduce redundancy, become more efficient within customer facing processes and tie to a cleaner implementation of the organization’s data layer. There are simply too many variables involved to address them within a single article, however addressing these issues within the application portfolio should be considered a critical step in developing a real mobile strategy. The following characteristics should therefore be seen as tools to better understand your application portfolio in the mobile context and not as a comprehensive approach to creating a mobile strategy or methodology for evaluating your application portfolio in the mobile context.

With those caveats in mind I think that the following are some of the key characteristics that should be considered when evaluating the application portfolio for mobile opportunities:

Number of Users
Sensitivity of Data
Application Lifecycle State
Criticality
Mobile Requests

Number of Users

I think that the number of users is a both obvious and underappreciated criterion for going mobile. The numbers game at the top of the page tells the story. With so many mobile users and with almost half of the American population owning a smartphone it is highly likely that any application with a lot of users will also have a lot of users who expect to be able to use the application in the mobile context.
Sensitivity of Data: This is critical because of the implied dependency to maturity of the mobile capability of the organization that will be deploying the application. Having a mobile application that includes personally identifiable or sensitive information requires the application provider have put time and effort into the security of the information in transit and on the device as well as general mobile device management and security.

Application Lifecycle State: This is a factor because the cost of “going mobile” may be easily rolled into the re-development or refresh of an existing capability or built into the development of an early stage application development effort. The return on investment may not be as high on an application that has just entered its maintenance phase; of course the ROI may also be highly dependent on other criteria.

Mobile Requests

Many organizations have begun to change the manner in which they engage with both internal and external stakeholders. The entrance of social media and the focus on enabling conversation has made it easier for stakeholders to advocate for things like mobile access applications. Are you listening? Evaluating your application for mobile opportunities can be much easier if you engage your stakeholders directly with regard to their priorities.

Criticality 
See the factor above, but add your understanding of the organization as an executive. You can’t crowd source leadership. The factors above are things that should be considered from a common sense perspective however every organization has unique circumstances, political factors, maturity challenges, and opportunities. Get the most out of moving your stakeholder experience to the mobile world by ensuring that you don’t put too tight of a box around how you move forward. One critical mistake that can be made when considering the move to mobile is to simply begin “porting” applications to mobile.

Conclusion

I think the characteristics above should help you begin to think in the right direction, figuring out what works for your organization will require some tailoring. If you have an approach you are using at your organization that has been working I’d love to hear about it @jmillsapps on twitter.

                                       

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

3 ways to ensure your process isn’t the enemy of organizational improvement

The world is becoming a more process-centric place and to a large degree, rightfully so.  The wide acceptance of standards around processes for organizations, specific types of interaction, and data exchanges has, in general, lifted the quality of the goods and services we receive from most organizations on a daily basis, while reducing the cost.  Within many of these organizations, the ones that have grown and matured are the ones focused on the care and feeding of these processes, and the services they support. Unfortunately, in some cases the pendulum has swung too far.  The focus on process has become an anchor dragging on organizational agility and performance.  Is your organization too focused on process and not enough on performance? Here are 3 quick ways to check the pulse of your process-oriented organization:
Check your outcomes: Performance management systems are critical to understanding how your organization drives performance and spotting areas for improvement. Make sure that your performance management system is truly measuring the performance of the system, including outcomes. Knowing that 99% of transactions were completed within a service specification is great.  Knowing that 99% of the customers of that service were happy with it is even better.

Check your peers: Having a mature and well understood process is great.  However, as time moves on you need to keep an eye on innovations within your peer, and near peer organizations. Nobody wants to be sitting on top of a process that is repeatedly, accurately, and steadily increasing the lag between your performance and that of your peers. Understanding where other organizations are succeeding, and developing an ongoing process for accommodating process innovation is critical to maintaining organizational performance while you maintain your process orientation.

Check with your people: One of the first places you will find out about a lagging or underperforming process is at the water cooler. Unfortunately, if you aren’t there when the conversation happens, you may miss a great opportunity to change course and intercept a failing process before it impacts organizational performance. It is critical that an internal feedback loop for processes be in place and that process innovation be a part of organizational culture. Don’t be afraid to allow employees to provide input into your processes. After all, hopefully these are your foremost experts in these processes.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Mentors: Identifying & Leveraging Mentors

Most of us don’t have all the answers, particularly when it comes to how to advance ourselves within our chosen career. Most of us know generally where we want to end up, but whether our goal is to be the next CEO or just the next rung up the ladder, most people are confused as to how to make the jump. If you are confused about what to do, don’t think you are alone. While the modern world has transformed how we keep in touch with friends, find information, and listen to music, it still hasn’t come up with a great solution for providing tailored advice that is specific to us and where we want to go as people and professionals. That is the role of the mentor.  The good ones are really hard to find, worth their weight in gold, and may be just the thing you need to get from the corner cube to the corner office. That isn’t to say that modern tools like LinkedIn and Facebook can’t help you along your path.  It’s just that they haven’t quite been able to replace the advice a person who has once walked in your shoes and is perhaps wearing the ones you want to wear’s advice.
The term mentor comes from Greek mythology.  Odysseus placed Mentor in charge of his son when he left for the Trojan War. The goddess Athena disguised herself as Mentor when she visited Odysseus’s son and provided him with advice on overcoming the obstacles in front of him. So many years later we still depend on mentors to help us develop ourselves both personally and professionally. Chosen wisely and properly cultivated, mentors can be game changing relationships that help remove barriers, show the right path to progress, and help you make the right connections you need to succeed. It is for this reason that simply choosing somebody with a few more years of experience isn’t the right way to choose a mentor. In fact, most people do not go to the trouble at all of formally choosing their mentors. They simply go with the flow and if they run into someone that they get along with, has a few more grey hairs, and is a few more rungs up the ladder, they take their advice. This is the absolute wrong way to go about something that can be one of the most valuable resources you will find within your personal and professional career. I believe there is a real process that should be followed to ensure that you find a mentor that compliments your unique requirements and goals.

Step1: Decide that having the right mentor is important and treat it that way, find the right person. 
Most people don’t spend $50 anymore without extensive online research, but they are willing to take advice from somebody whose primary qualification was being born in the typewriter era. Choosing a mentor represents at a minimum, a major investment of time, which is everybody’s most valuable resource. At some point in the not too distance future you will be the result of what you have spent your time doing, so invest it wisely. Finding the right mentor is very much about who you are and what you need to grow. This doesn’t always mean focusing in on specific weaknesses and then finding someone who has strengths in those areas. For one, a laser-like focus on specific issues is usually not the role of a mentor, although a mentor may raise some specific issues that need to be addressed. Your mentor should be looking at the whole you and help you work through larger “path issues.”  Path issues essentially are how to get from where you are now, to your ideal end state. Finding people who can help you navigate the path between your present and desired future means finding people who are close to where you one day want to be, have advised those in that role, or who have spent a long time studying or watching those in that role. Ideally, this means finding people who embody where you want to be one day AND who have characteristics that you aspire to emulate.


However, finding an introverted CEO at a Fortune 500 firm may be a tall order. You may have to get a bit creative when where you want to go is a long way from where you are now. Maybe you can find someone who once held the right position, who has written about the person, studied them, or simply set your sights a bit lower.  You could find a mentor that is a little closer to where you are now, but is on the path to where you want to go. Besides, choosing a mentor simply based on their success in achieving similar goals to yours isn’t enough to be successful anyway. Having a shared value system is critical not only because it will increase the likelihood that you will have a rapport with that person, but also because it increases the likelihood that you will want to embrace the approaches they put forward. You may also want to take a look at the personality traits of the person you are evaluating as a mentor. If you are essentially a reserved and quiet person it may not pay to choose a gregarious person. Their strategies, insights, and strengths may be too different to be applicable. In short, you are looking for the you that you want to be in N years. Just don’t be afraid to look outside your immediate circle. You will be amazed at the interest people have in being a mentor and not knowing “the right person” shouldn’t stop you from approaching them.

Step 2: Close the deal and get the most out of your mentor. Make it official. 
Sure it’s a little cheesy and embarrassing to ask somebody to mentor you, but it is critical for both parties to make it official. There is something about saying “yes” to mentoring somebody that makes you feel kind of responsible for how things turn out. Maybe it is the flattery of having somebody think highly enough of you to ask you to mentor them. Maybe it’s because over time you start to feel like a parent or older sibling.  Whatever it is, the end result is usually a real bond between mentor and mentee.  This drives the mentor to put the mentee in position to succeed. Whether it’s setting up a meeting you could never get on your own, or putting in a good word for you with a friend, it comes more naturally once the mentor has overtly agreed to the role. As for the mentee, making it official means that you now have an obligation to succeed, a personal cheering section, and someone to help you work through the problems along the way. Closing the deal also means setting realistic expectations on both sides. You don’t have to get the following in writing, but it does help to have a good understanding on the part of both parties of what is expected with regard to meeting frequency, topics covered, and level of effort (time). This could range anywhere from telling your potential mentor that you are hoping to have lunch once a month for about an hour to a weekly meeting or phone call. Think about and explain what the format of the meeting will be. Do you expect this to normally be a casual conversation, or will you have a formal format. Give your potential mentor some insight into the types of topics you plan on covering.  This way they have an idea of what they are potentially in for and can politely decline if they are uncomfortable working with you or set boundaries in advance in some areas. Setting these mutual expectations in advance is critical because it sets up the entire execution of the mentoring process for success or failure. If you have spent the time in step one to have identified a really great mentor that you believe can help you get where you want to go, spend the time working with them to come to some type of reasonable agreement about what your mutual expectations are for the effort. This is also a critical first step in developing the framework, rapport, and working relationship that will exist for the duration of your mentorship. Like any other self-improvement program, mentoring requires dedication, discipline, and patience on both sides.  Getting a schedule and expectations out in public is sort of like announcing you are quitting smoking. The announcement itself increases the likelihood of success by formally and publicly setting the goal and creating personal and peer pressure to meet your goal.

Step 3: Make your own decisions and do your own work. 
A mentor isn’t a personal assistant, sales associate or a surrogate parent. If you chose wisely, they are probably somebody that could be spending their time more profitably by continuing to do all of the things that made them successful enough to be your mentor. They chose to help you along your path, not carry you. The more you can do for yourself, the more inclined your potential mentor will be to work hard on your behalf.  Too often people expect the world to be handed to them and there is no more sure way to kill a mentoring relationship than to push your mentor beyond their comfort zone. I do not personally believe in asking a mentor to make calls on your behalf, make introductions, or otherwise positively affect your growth beyond helping you develop personally and professionally. That doesn’t mean you can’t ask for advice on how to approach someone, but try to firmly separate the advice from asking for a service. In the end you will only stunt your own development if you allow your mentor to do the doing for you, rather than asking for help in developing the appropriate approach and doing the work yourself. In many cases the mentor probably can do a specific thing better than you can at this point in your career and if you let them do it for you, they always will. A more appropriate approach would be to ask the mentor to listen to the approach you plan to take and then get feedback. I’ve often found that the simple act of framing the problem statement to someone else helps me get my arms around the situation a little bit better.  If the person that is listening to you can provide some advice and feedback, then so much the better. One of the most critical roles a mentor can play is as a sounding board. They are someone who has played through similar scenarios on a multitude of occasions and can perhaps give you some insight into a potential outcome that you might not otherwise have anticipated. This can be particularly critical with issues like complex organizational politics.  Someone who has seen a similar situation play out dozens of times may have insight into the range of potential responses to a particular action. In the end, it is critical that you try to shape your interaction with your mentor to help you frame your decisions and not to make your decisions. There is a fine line between developing a mentor relationship that becomes a career accelerator by helping you choose the right paths and a crutch that advances your career but not your personal and professional development.


Put our team to work improving your organization’s performance. Visit Millsapps, Ballinger and Associates online.


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Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Developing quality messaging around quality

Quality doesn’t have to be a part of your services offering.  In fact, it is completely reasonable to make the explicit decision to focus first on other factors that may be more important to your customers. Price comes immediately to mind. Customers of some services and products may be more interested in receiving acceptable quality with the lowest possible price.  This happens particularly in the delivery of commodity products and services. However, if you have made the decision that quality is part of the way in which you are going to differentiate your business like we have at MB&A, it becomes critical to ensure that this message is constantly in front of both your clients and your employees. By virtue of choosing to differentiate on quality, you are almost inevitably asking that customers pay a price premium.  Your employees then go the extra mile to ensure that your services and products are differentiated to the point that they justify this price premium.

I think the easiest way to explain why it is so important to compete on quality to employees, is to explain what happens when you choose to compete on price. The decision to compete on price, generally means the beginning of a ruthless effort to reduce costs.  This needs to be done in order to support margins in the face of limited ability to support prices based on other factors. This almost inevitably ends in lower employee wages.  Even in a products business where there may be some opportunity to simply scale operational efficiencies to support lower costs, competing on price is essentially a race to the bottom.  Because of this, it shouldn’t be too difficult to explain to employees that they derive the most personal benefit from a quality focused strategy.  The idea of building quality into every stage of the product or service life cycle is simply part of justifying the additional cost to the customer.  In all probability, this results in higher wages relative to competitors in the same market that choose to compete on price. This is perhaps an over simplification, but I think it holds fairly true and it is certainly easy to explain and grasp intuitively.

Once there is broad recognition of the desire of the company to differentiate on quality, the hardest part begins.   The market to compete on quality, is almost always very competitive because of the perception of higher margins.  The very human desire to compete on these factors rather than simply on acceptability is another. Most people want to be perceived as delivering “high quality” services. Very few companies mottos or vision statements say that they aspire to be “technically acceptable” or the “lowest cost offering.” In order to compete on quality, the messaging needs to occur regularly, and not just from the vision of “being the best.”  There needs to be a consistent focus on quality and identifying repeatable practices that lead to an increase in, or more consistent level of quality. Their also needs to be an understanding across the organization that quality runs across two axis.  The first is the “level” or “grade” of the product or service being delivered, and the second is the consistency with which that “level” or “grade” of product can be delivered.  The perception of quality is a very tenuous thing.  Due to the price premium being paid, even small slips in quality can have disastrous results for the company. Companies attempting to go down market for sales should be very wary of the pressure to sacrifice cost elements that are important to delivering quality in the search for additional revenues.  Years of hard fought gains in the market for client perception can be lost in moments, dragging the company into the very price competitive environment that it initially chose to avoid by competing on quality.  Therefore, it is critical that the quality that is being messaged to the client be delivered every time, and that the internal messaging around quality be just as consistent and deeply embedded.

I think senior managers that are part of quality based companies simply cannot talk to quality points enough. The message surrounding the pursuit of quality should be something that is openly stated at every meeting. There may not need to be a ten minute diversion at every meeting, but something as simple as a single sentence reminder that “this is another chance for us to show we are the best,” on a daily basis ensures that people don’t lose site of the number one goal. I know that in our services business there is always pressure to compete on price and an instinctive desire to increase margins.  However, we constantly remind our people and ourselves as a leadership team that competing on price is a slippery slope and that we are better served by innovating on our clients behalf to deliver more value at our current pricing.  The message surrounding quality should also figure prominently in the work environment via the presence of the message in corporate communications, office decor, training, and performance management. Every element of the organization needs to be tuned to drive quality or the organization will end up competing on other elements of its product or service delivery.

The same approach of consistently messaging internally must be applied to existing and prospective customers. One of the most frustrating things that can happen in the pursuit of a sale is to have a customer compare your quality differentiated approach and price to that of a firm competing on price. This is inevitable as customers are always searching for a better price for “similar” services, and price competitors certainly do not advertise their products and services as “ok” or “not so great, but good enough.”  When this conversation comes up, you had better have an answer at the ready or be ready to lose the client, at least in the near term.  I have on several occasions said, “I almost hope that they end up choosing company xxxx.” It feels good to say, but it is a terrible approach and shows that you are failing to communicate your value to the customer adequately. This may be harder with prospective customers because quality is a hard sell, and competing on quality leads to very slow sales cycles. Simply put, it costs more to convince someone to pay more for a service on the basis of quality, than to ask someone to “try” a cheaper offering.  Based on this you should guard your existing customers well, because the cost to convert new ones is much steeper than the cost to retain existing customers who should be well aware of what differentiates your service.

The time to draw comparisons to your competition or draw attention to the value of your differentiated approach is not when the customer is in the midst of making a buy decision. It should be happening every day as they use or experience your product or service. Quality competitors shouldn’t have clients or customers shopping their business, and repeat business should be a given. This is an explicit activity. Marketing to existing customers should occur with the same intensity and MORE frequency than that to new customers. In particular, I think packaging of quality differentiated offerings is important. I have often been told that a client package is ready to go.  Then when reviewing the deliverable before it goes across to the client, you find that colors are not complementary or that the document is dull and lacks graphics. This is unacceptable, in our case having the answer to a complex management issue is only part of the solution. It is critical that the solution be packaged in a manner that enables it to be communicated to an executive team and then acted on. It is one part solution, one part communication piece. A technically acceptable solution that does not inspire action is simply not good enough. Quality in this case means having the answer and presenting it in a manner that inspires the client-side outcome. When this happens, the client can easily evaluate the value proposition you deliver because you have provided real worth to their organization. The final component of messaging for quality is that in order to differentiate on quality you have to message it and live it internally, message it externally, and finally have it be accepted by the client as being a product or service that is differentiated on quality. If you can get to this final step, you will rarely lose a client to a price competitor.

Put our team to work improving your organization’s performance. Visit Millsapps, Ballinger and Associates online.

Millsapps, Ballinger & Associates

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.