Sunday, March 25, 2012

John Lennon, and Transitioning from Order Taking to Order Making

One of my favourite stories is the old legend of John Lennon setting out to 'write a swimming pool'.

Ever the cynic, Lennon (as the story goes) decided he wanted a swimming pool for his house, so he sat down to write a hit song that would generate the funds necessary to pay for it. Depending on which version of the story you get, the result was either 8 Days a Week, Hard Day's Night, or even Imagine.

As a Lennon fan, I choose to believe this story - because it's cynical, funny, a little subversive, and inspiring at the same time, and frankly, I really don't care to know if it's true or not!

I find the story inspiring because there's an innate sense of personal empowerment in it (embodied by Lennon), that essentially says: 'go get it'. It's a sense of empowerment that business leaders can learn from.

I'm telling this story because I've recently had discussions with two CEO's who are facing a crisis of sales - yet are reluctant to change their sales model. I challenged each of them with the question: "why are you just taking orders and not making orders?"

"Whuddya mean?"

Faced with declining sales, the challenge for both firms is to 'write a swimming pool'. Set short term turn-around goals, provide solutions/relationship selling training to the team, and install incentives and accountability systems to communicate a 'new sheriff's in town'.

Regardless of the economic situation of the sector, each firm needs to adopt a solutions-sales approach to reactivate old clients, reach out to them and listen to their changed purchase requirements, and find ways to present adapted-solutions to solve those needs.


In other words, stop just taking orders, and, by listening to their (now former clients), listen to what's needed, and provide what the market wants to buy, rather than what the firm wants to sell.


James Simone Leads Caffeine Performance Management - a firm that provides substantive performance improvements in the areas of sales growth, market share improvement, and customer, employee, and channel engagement.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

If Marketers Ran the Canadian Healthcare System (Just for a Day)

I read an inspiring op-ed piece in the March 11, 2012 Calgary Herald by Dr. Tom Feasby, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Calgary, in which he suggests that the healthcare system isn’t as bad as we’ve been lead to believe (A New Perspective: health-care glass is not half empty).

He makes a strong point: because we read about healthcare every week, we tend to think (perhaps naturally) that the system is in disarray, and we tend not to appreciate its excellence. Dr. Feasby points out the leadership of Alberta Health Services in areas including heart and stroke, kidney failure, colitis, and epilepsy.

Then it struck me: this is a marketing problem. I began to wonder: what would the healthcare system look like, if marketers ran it…just for a day?

Marketers – particularly the marketers of services - believe in a foundational set of 8 principles they call the ‘marketing mix’, against which they build their marketing plans. This marketing mix is known by many terms, one term, popularized for its simplicity is ‘the 8P’s’. The ‘P’s’ stand for: Product, Place and Time, Price, Promotion, Productivity, People, Proof, and Process.

Using this 8P’s framework, I envision these issues being addressed:


1. To Dr. Feasby’s point, marketers would seize on good news, and insist on profiling the successes of the system in the areas noted.
2. Further, they’d find opportunities to measure patient satisfaction with services, and other clinical measures of excellence. They’d communicate this data in real time, and compare actual results with with external quality benchmarks, or similar health systems to build user confidence in the system.
3. From this measurement data, they’d challenge the operational specialists to find methods to improve internal systems to improve patient satisfaction with outcomes, and report successes via regular releases and media events.


1. A health system is un-marketable if it does not have the confidence of its buyers (the public). Instigation of process improvements that will have the largest quantifiable returns will be recommended, with results tracked and externally reported – to build a sense of confidence in the ‘changing and improving’ process.
2. Confidence can be built by ‘coming clean’ by ‘putting it all out there’ – inviting public feedback and scrutiny (there will likely be very little feedback)
3. Hire a systems review to find duplication, mis-direction, miscommunication and waste
4. Build robust internal communication processes that reward internal innovation (for example: identification of immediately implement-able solutions to reduce waste, effort duplication), and the communication of ‘what’s going on’…an aware workforce has a much greater chance of being engaged, and being committed

Place and Time:

1. Capacity issues – a well known challenge for the system. While marketers wouldn’t profess to be experts in hospital throughput analytics, they would apply marketing analytics to solve the problem, and posit creative solutions to capacity-problems and wait lists by using the excess surgical and hospital capacity that’s available with a 400km drive (and certainly a 1-2 hour flight) of most Canadian cities – US hospitals.
2. Health systems in most jurisdictions have evolved a multi-layered delivery system, starting with a telephone hotline, and progressing to emergency services. Yet the problem of Emergency overcrowding remains. Marketers would seize on this challenge and integrate the telehealth hotlines with an Emergency-reservation service (for the non-emergencies that use the service).
3. They’d also take a close look at the client base and purchase patterns (ie who is using Emergency, when and why) and find alternate solutions to reduce pressure on the system. Ideas might include interventionist phone calls, and use of private care nursing services.


Using external surgical capacity (ie US hospitals) would involve coordinating the collective purchasing might of the Canadian healthcare system to negotiate preferential rates with willing US providers.


1. Conduct an employee engagement survey, or, if one has recently been conducted, chase-down the corrective-action plans to assure implementation
2. Hold a town hall meeting with staff (not managers)
3. Meet regularly (daily) with staff and ask detailed questions about how the system could be better (they’ll know).
4. Hold a town hall meeting with managers, and ask the same questions of them. Often, mid-managers are caught in the middle during organizational change initiatives, and are the ones required to do the most, but have the least information. What are their issues? Make efforts to connect one-to-one.
5. Communicate financial realities candidly, both internally and externally.


Most organizations can improve productivity, and doing so helps the bottom line. Alternatively, the resources discovered as a result of the productivity improvements can be diverted to improve patient care, communicating with the market, purchasing additional surgical capacity to reduce wait lists, and so on.

To that end, we envision the marketers hiring a Lean team to advise a process to improve productivity and identify savings.


Showcase results – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Showcase them in a matter-of-fact manner that says:

1. “we know we have work to do, and we’re doing it – come see”
2. “we know we’re good, and we’re getting better – come see”

Benchmark against other businesses.

1. Chrysler’s ‘Exported from Detroit’ series is an excellent theme of renaissance that can inform external and internal communications
2. Use of the US’s HCAHPS system and select-hospital comparison of patient satisfaction scores is now available, allowing comparison against giant names such as Mayo Clinic, et al


We see 4 elements:

1. Promote successes and showcase results. (via progess with patient satisfaction, system improvements, etc)
2. Promote wellness to reduce reliance on the system in the first place (GoodLife Fitness does a nice job of this with their current ad campaign – a version of which could inspire health system wellness/activity campaigns)
3. Promote access – to assure the right people use the right service at the right time.
4. Robust internal communications – to assure all staff are aware of what’s happening, why, and when.


James Simone Leads Caffeine Performance Management - a firm that brings a solid history of leading substantive performance improvements in the areas of sales growth, market share improvement, and customer and employee engagement.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Engagement or Satisfaction – What’s the Difference?

Engagement is frequently identified as a leading indicator of ROI. It’s the measure of a customer or employee’s involvement and commitment to the company or brand, while satisfaction is the measurement of recalled service delivery against a prescribed set of drivers.

The differences are subtle, but important:

• Engaged customers are more likely to be involved in the company: more loyal, committed, likely to excuse error, likely to return, likely to refer, and likely to spend more.
• Disengaged customers on the other hand, while possibly satisfied, are brand-ambivalent, or worse active campaigners against your service.
• Engaged employees are more likely to be involved in the company: more loyal, and likely to stay longer.
• Disengaged employees may very well be satisfied with elements of their work, but fail to contribute the discretionary effort required to deliver outstanding service.
• Disengaged employees can impact the engagement level of customers, and vice versa.


While traditional satisfaction surveys are helpful tools to isolate and improve performance, there is not necessarily a correlation between engagement and satisfaction. Not measuring customer or employee engagement can lead managers down the path of false positives – assuming that all is well with the business, yet market share and other key indicators could be about to take a tumble.

We advocate an annual survey of the engagement of clients and staff, along with satisfaction/incident tracking surveys, as management deems necessary to facilitate performance improvement.

We just released a whitepaper that outlines a process by which managers can maximize organizational performance improvement planning, by bringing together the engagement statistics of both the customer and employee engagement surveys, to define a process that is most efficient for the organization.


Monday, January 16, 2012


Have you ever been on a long-haul flight and wondered if the plane is being flown by autopilot?

Does it bother you that your fate could be in the hands of a computer program, or are you (like me) somehow comforted by it?

When you go to work tomorrow, take a look at the faces of your colleagues - or better yet- ask them outright: 'are you on autopilot?'.

The idea here of course is to determine if your colleague truly has an understanding of her role in the company, and her contribution to the success of the firm.

I'd bet there's a better than 60/40 chance that the response will refer to 'just keeping up', or 'handling the volume of work'...a couple of hints that maybe things might be drifting a little, and that the link between goal achievement and corporate objectives might be graying.


Autopilot is fine for an can be a signal of stagnation (or worse) for a workplace, and an opportunity for managers to call an impromptu huddle, and realign priorities, and clarify roles (particularly in relation to customers, sales, and rewards).

Recognize Autopilot through ad hoc conversations, engagement surveys, and customer satisfaction surveys, and stats like lead generation activity.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

20 Minutes Too Late

I heard an expression the other day that I thought was funny, in a subversive way: "He has a knack of managing 20 minutes too late."

The expression was meant to convey dissatisfaction with feedback and action that rarely arrived, or arrived too late.

As I drove back from my meeting, I reflected on the manager in question, and what the opposite to '20 minutes too late' might look like.

Clearly, it's a pro-active approach that coaches, guides, and helps remove organizational obstacles to achievements.


The point of this blog is to challenge leaders to a moment of introspection.

As a leader, you know that your staff are talking about you with friends and family (this is positive, and inevitable).

Can you change the story from: "20 minutes too late" to "a terrific coach that inspires me to achieve my goals"?


Friday, January 6, 2012

Toward a Culture of Safety

The WCIB estimates that 40-50% of workplace incidents in Canada go unreported.

There are two foundational questions that employers (and risk managers) need to come to grips-with:

1. Why are so many safety-incidents unreported?

2. What can we do about it?

It would appear (at a macro level) that the reason that such a large volume of unreported incidents has allowed to continue as unreported is that the system simply tolerates it, if even tacitly.

If substantial will existed for change- change would happen.

Now, given this, there are of course many cases of exemplary employers and leaders across every industry who place priority on the management of cultures of safety, wherein the reporting of every safety violation or incident is encouraged.

These organizations make every effort to make it easy for their employees to report an incident, and provide loop-closing activities to assure escalation from incident to accident is minimized.

These firms provide easy reporting tools, ample time for the associate to complete their work as well as report incidents. They train all supervisors frequently in company policy and communication skill - things like ways to create an environment of trust and communication, and provide managers and supervisors with the opportunity to train their crews in safe work procedures.

Additionally, for remote workers, best-practice employers provide remote training and performance support resources to assure understanding, compliance and access to safety information, training, and on-the-job safe-work resources.


A culture of safety is the end-point of a continuum that begins with a culture of complacency.

The first step to move beyond complacency, and toward a safety culture requires the courage to gather the data (via a safety culture survey) to get your employee's perspective of the efficacy of your safety management system.


Monday, January 2, 2012

12 Performance Improvement Resolutions for 2012

Here are 12 resolutions to adopt to improve the performance of your workplace in 2012:

1. Hire an external firm to assess the engagement levels of your staff.

While it can be done internally, we've recently seen cases where the biases in the survey were (not intended) astounding, and skewed results dramatically. An engagement survey can be adapted to focus on safety issues, if this is a particular concern for the business. The results of either survey will provide solid insights into planning organizational change to assure the targets of 2012 are achieved.

2. Conduct three random and heart-felt 'thank you's' per week, to anybody on your staff, where you invest a minimum of 10 minutes per conversation.

3. Ask a senior manager how they are progressing with their goal-achievement- then acknowledge them in front of their peers if they can recall their goals with out looking them up.

4. Visit quarterly with each member of your sales team, and ask the question "what do we need to do, to be doing better?"

These are the folks on your front line. You hired them. Listen. Act.

5. Ask your direct reports, privately: "how can I be a better manager for you?"

If you're really committed, invest in 360-feedback surveys for your management team, and commit to action plans to improve the results.

6. Take your banker and accountant out to lunch - together, and ask-for and listen to their advice.

7. Assess your risk tolerance, and challenge your business plan from both an opportunity and risk management perspective.

What 3 things can you stop doing, because they've never really carried their weight from a profit-generation perspective? What 3 things can you add that will add profit to your firm?

8. Put-together a "diversity board"- consisting of people whose sole function is to provide perspective that you might not be getting.

Consider a 20-something, a visible minority, a senior, and so on. If you're not listening to these constituencies- you're likely not listening completely to your market.

9. Go mobile.

Challenge your team to develop performance support resources for mobile workers to achieve specific business objectives.

10. Recognize that training has a shelf life.

People forget classroom training within a matter of days...are you still training in a classroom-style? Consider weaving accountability into every training program, via rapid e-learning- where managers author their own training content as required.

11. Invest in transforming your performance appraisal process into a performance management process.

Performance appraisal is 'broken' in most places to the extent that appraisals are rarely done (on time), and the goal-setting process is very often ineffectual (or the follow-up is).

12. Connect the dots between accomplishment and aspiration.

Maslow nailed the whole concept of motivation by pointing out that unfulfilled needs are what motivates us as individuals. Find a way to align the achievement of the unfulfilled needs of your staff with the achievement of your strategic objectives, and you're good to go. Your process may involve an incentive plan or a reward and recognition plan. It will definitely include improving managerial skill, better communication/listening, and better goal management.


Use the energy and good will of the new year to realize that performance and ability improve when managed as one.