The Most Important Part of Accountability

08 Jul
by Bridget DiCello

Your team is not being held accountable if they are not the ones doing the talking.

I followed up.

I asked them if they did it.

I told them they needed to get it done.

Still, they didn’t do it.


Let’s revise that scenario.

You: Mike, it’s important to make those sales calls. What are your targets for this week?

Mike: 20 calls per day, 5 appointments set this week.

You: Great, touch base with me before you leave on Friday, hand me a copy of your sales report and let me know how you did. Will you be in the office on Friday afternoon?

Mike: I have a golf game with our largest prospect in the afternoon.

You: Okay, come see me before you leave for that game.

On Friday at 11:15am, Mike stops by your office.

Mike: Just leaving for that game. Here is my sales report.

You: Tell me about your week, and how you did on your goals.

Mike: Mike tells you about some of the calls he made, and talks through the challenging calls. I just got too busy to make more calls. I was out much of the week at events.

You: How many calls did you make each day? Mike responds. And how many appointments did you set? Mike responds. And, what did you accomplish at the events?

Mike: I met some people I think could be good prospects.

You: Great, tell me about them. Mike responds. So what will you do differently next week to fit in your calls each day?

Mike: I might have to make them in the morning.

You: Good idea, what time will you arrive in order to do that? Mike responds. Based on how the calls you made this week, what else could you do differently next week? Mike responds. Okay, sounds like a plan. Touch base with me before you leave next Friday, hand me a copy of your sales report and let me know how you did. Will you be in the office next Friday afternoon?

The sales example above is about a struggling sales person who needs accountability to perform the basic sales activities. He would be perfectly happy to take your criticism and consternation as he sits quietly and listens because it requires no energy on his part. But, we have to get him engaged and talking if we expect him to do anything differently. This same conversation could occur due to a lack of performance in operations, customer service, finance or marketing. Accountability must include the employee’s participation in the conversation where they are thinking about what they will do and do differently.


What Candid Conversations have you had recently?

07 Jul
by Bridget DiCello

- Have you ever told a customer “No”?

- Have you fired a customer?

- Have you successfully communicated to your employees your honest assessment of their performance?

- Have you told employees what you really think they are capable of accomplishing?

When it comes to customers, we often hear the phrase, “Under promise and over deliver.” While the concept is strong, that phrase always strikes me the wrong way to approach things because any time you test the limits of honesty, you have more to keep track of.

What if you had candid conversations with your customers ahead of time and promised honestly and intelligently (challenging their expectations as necessary), delivered as promised, and left room in your time and budget to pleasantly surprise your customers by meeting their special requests, unusual concerns and unspoken needs?

With employees, candid conversations about their performance are crucial. If you honestly believe they are incapable of doing the job, fire them now, and edit your hiring practice to not hire the wrong person next time.

If you believe they can do the job, tell them that and push them to succeed with routine and candid conversations about the goals they need to accomplish (14-30 days into the future – not only yearly goals), their obstacles and how they will overcome them, and your confidence in their ability to proceed. Simple cheerleading never works if you do not help them to uncover their own solutions to the obstacles to progress that they face.

If you see a problem, address it with a candid conversation. Sometimes that means standing up for an employee in their interactions with customers or supervisors, albeit strategically; or standing up for your customers if your employees have not delivered well.

When you think about candid conversations, you may think about the toughest conversation you have had or need to have this week or month. But candid conversations do not occur only once in a blue moon. In reality, they are conversations that build over time, are punctuated by activity and are matured by reality.

Innovation – Radical and Incremental

26 Jun
by Bridget DiCello

In what area of your business have you innovated so far this year? How about last year – what was your main innovative accomplishment? Sometimes innovation is organic, and you improve your current product or service. And sometimes innovation comes in the form of buying something that improves or transforms the way you do business.

Incremental innovation is the type that smart companies will do every week – based on feedback from customers, challenges they face and employee input and suggestions. Daily processes and systems are reviewed for opportunities to increase efficiency and productivity, and the product or service offerings are continually improved based on a desire to do things better, be more profitable and stay competitive. Radical innovation is the type that transforms a business, requires the willingness of the company to go beyond incremental improvements, is most often based on the dream goals of a visionary leader or entrepreneur, and is discovered through the work and input of the team.

It’s very important for leaders and entrepreneurs to stay in touch with their dream goals, even if they might not be realized in the near future. Revisiting them, sharing them with the team, and every once in a while, spending an afternoon researching and working on them, all brings them one step closer to realization. These goals are the basis for radical innovation.

Yearly goals, even if they are ambitious, often do not push the leader or the team members to move outside their current comfort zone, and beyond the incremental improvements that are routinely accomplished by dedicated employees.

Challenge your current processes based on your dream goals. If you haven’t identified those dream goals, spend some time doing that – what do you really want your company to accomplish? If you haven’t shared your dream goals – share them with your team: “Someday, we are going to…” – and they will start thinking and strategizing with you. Set aside a half day once a month to work on the goals – no matter how distant they may seem amid daily fires and challenges.

How have you come up with your greatest innovations?

Leaders Engage!

04 Jun
by Bridget DiCello

Leadership is so much more than doing tasks; and so much more than being a charismatic cheerleader.  It’s about leading people to Greatness – regardless of your specific goals, and in order to meet those specific goals.

Have you had someone who has pushed you to Greatness?  Who has helped you become a better or stronger person personally or professionally?

School was always easy for me and I greatly appreciated the professor who pushed me to not only take a full credit load my senior year in college, but to add a few more classes, including an independent project, work with him to publish two papers, present at a conference as the only undergraduate, and network actively with alumni in my field.  And the hardest part of the tasks was not the considerable time I spent, but the fears and shortcomings I had to overcome to do those things – most of those activities were well outside my comfort zone.

Do you have a comprehensive strategy for pushing your team members out of their comfort zone, supporting them in the process, holding them accountable for taking the first step, persisting through obstacles and growing into new areas of skill and ability?

With a good team, you can run a company successfully, make a profit, minimize turnover and keep customers happy without ever achieving Greatness in your team.  But, people on your team, and your company, are capable of so much more!  Typically, we will not move outside our comfort zone without prodding from someone.

If you find yourself saying that you don’t need prodding and that you are always looking for the next way to challenge yourself – realize that that may be true because you are the entrepreneur or business owner.  Even business owners who thrive on new opportunities have comfort zones.  Maybe sitting down to connect with employees in curious conversations is outside your comfort zone because it doesn’t move fast enough for you.

Based on your goals, what do you really want your individual employees to be able to do or do better?  Are you ready to set some ambitious individual goals for employees, get them talking about how they will reach them, and help them determine the first and next steps?  Then are you ready to walk with them on a journey of professional improvement with a series of accountability coaching conversations?

This requires a level of engagement form you as the leader that many leaders will never display for one of a few reasons:

  1. Their drive to move the company forward and seize new opportunities is so strong, the thought of employee development, especially at the deliberate pace it takes to connect with someone in order to be able to lead them to Greatness, is not appealing.
  2. They delegate the task to a middle/front line manager who doesn’t know how to coach the employees.
  3. It can be exhausting.  People don’t change easily, even in exciting, new and upward directions.  Overcoming fears and areas where one lacks confidence are tough things to do and not all leaders can stomach those conversations.
  4. The leader thinks the employees should do it on their own.  They probably will do some professional development, but I may never have thought of publishing the two books I did if I hadn’t published papers in college – pushed by my professor.
  5. Sadly, some leaders do not have a genuine interest in the professional development of their individual employees.  They can create good companies, but never great ones.
  6. They just don’t know how.  It’s a very specific set of skills that very few people are just born with.  I certainly wasn’t.  If you want to develop these skills further, give me a call and let’s talk.

Missing the Boat on Leadership Skills

16 May
by Bridget DiCello

When you promote your best performer to a leadership position:

  1. Good things happen if they have been ready for the next challenge and maybe even a  little bored or burned out by the routine work they are so good at doing
  2. Bad things happen if they love the work they have been doing and you just added much work (the management) they do not like
  3. Negative repercussions occur when they have no desire to coordinate and lead the efforts of others and/or have no leadership experience, inherent skills or desire to work directly with employees
  4. The biggest challenges occur in the form of company stagnation and mediocrity when they do not possess the inner desire to develop other people and access their potential

Here are some skills that are very often missing as you promote or hire someone to management that you may need to purposefully work to develop:

  1. Communicate expectations effectively.  A manager must clearly formulate their expectations, and verbalize them in a way that makes sense to the employee.  The employee needs to be paying attention, and verbalize back what they have heard.  A head nod means the expectations may not even have made it to their ears, much less their brain to process, voice concerns and in the end – agree to do their best.
  2. Accountability – You can’t hold people accountable to what they didn’t agree to.  You must find a way to measure what you hope to hold people accountable for.  And then you must have the tough, but effective conversations when expectations are not met.
  3. Delegation – In order to effectively delegate, the manager must transfer ownership of the task.  This requires setting the expectation (see above), obtaining genuine agreement from the employee, setting a timetable and following up (see accountability).
  4. Engage in productive conflict –  ‘“Yes” employees’ appear agreeable, yet don’t produce.  Silent employees hope you will go away so they can continue doing things as they always have.  Strong, solid performers honestly believe they know better.  Quiet, undiscovered employees require conversations that push them, and probably the manager, outside their comfort zone.
  5. Setting goals – Managers are often good at accepting the goals set for them.  However, it is never as powerful to work towards something you feel you must do to keep your job than it is to engage the manager in conversation about their goals for their department or area, match those with the company goals, and include goals to help them professionally develop.  And, write them down.  What do your managers see as possibilities in their department?
  6. Project completion – Getting from where you are to where you want to be cannot be accomplished simply by working really hard and wanting to get there.  Ambitious goals require a plan that takes into account where we want to be in three months, and counting back to what we need to do each of the three months, this week and today; and do that daily.
  7. Coaching team members – probably the critical skill most often lacking – but assumed to exist in charismatic and inspirational leaders.  Coaching is having a series of conversations with an individual in order to connect with them, assist them to engage in their professional development, and to be able to discover their potential and accomplish more that they or you thought they could.

What professional development do your managers need from you?

Enthusiasm is not Engagement

05 May
by Bridget DiCello

If your team members are nodding their heads as you speak, and appear to clearly understand what you are saying with their response, “Yes, I understand,” you are very possibly on the road to doing it all yourself.

If you want to get someone to engage, which typically means that they are taking initiative, getting things done, coming up with ideas and playing a key role in reaching goals, you must get them talking and taking action.

There is a definite difference between enthusiasm and engagement. Enthusiasm can be displayed nonverbally, and with words of little substance – and can be a great trait to display at many times in the workplace. However, enthusiasm often includes you speaking and being the center of attention in order to share that excitement and movement and on its own does not get anything done.

Get them to talk. People think, engage and learn when they are talking, not when you ‘explain it again.’ As a leader, you may feel you need to have all the answers and come into a conversation prepared to address a team member’s challenges and objections. When really, what you need to walk into the conversation with is:

1. a clear picture of what you are trying to achieve, coupled with your expertise and experience

2. a strong desire to understand their view of the situation

3. a genuine interest in determining where the holes are in their picture, and

4. a determination to get them talking about the situation to hear their fears, beliefs and planned approach.

Get them to act. Often the first step is the hardest to determine and to take. When you think someone knows what to do, and how to get started, take a moment to test their understanding in a supportive way. You may ask, “What is the first step? What do you think will be the most difficult part? When will you have that first step done?” Then, schedule a time to check in on progress. A definite deadline for the first step will ensure the ball gets rolling, and once it does, it often easier to keep rolling, especially with your assistance as necessary and accountability to agreed upon actions.

Be enthusiastic! And be determined to drive real engagement with the way you engage your team members in conversation where they are thinking, talkingn getting prepared to act and taking action.


I Have No Time to Sell!

11 Apr
by Bridget DiCello

How many small businesses face this dilemma?  When the work is piled high and the execution of commitments we’ve made to customers is demanding all of our time to meet the deadlines, focus on selling diminishes.  Even with a dedicated sales team, salespeople can lose focus on marketing and sales when they are onboarding new customers or transitioning them to the operations team.

Yet, as that workload lessens and the work is being completed, panic arises that there is not a great deal of work in the pipeline.  Salespeople hit the field full force and the newest wave builds.  It is then that we must take a moment to look at both our sales machine and our systems and processes in the operations departments.

Any activity done consistently will yield better results.  Sales efforts must continue, at least at minimum levels, at all times, to create consistent sales and to maintain company image to prospects and customers.

The challenges are often on the operations side when systems and processes for bringing on new customers or projects, dealing with exceptions and unexpected issues in executing, and consistently delivering a quality product or service, are not solid enough to handle spikes in workload.  As a result, operations may pull in salespeople or the salesperson may hold off on selling due to a perceived capacity issue.

What to do?

Insist on consistent sales efforts.  (Some salespeople will use busy times as an excuse not to sell – and that break in their sales activities will allow lack of confidence to creep in – and then they’ve got to get started all over again.)  Measure key sales activities – it may be as simple as # calls = # appointment = # proposals = # sales.  Have plans in place operationally to handle spikes in work without using your sales team to the point that it pulls them out of sales.

Build an operations team happy to serve customers.  Seem obvious?  Too many operations teams don’t have a passion for serving new customers which requires getting to know/understand new expectations, demands, and communication styles.  Operations people stereotypically like routine and execute it well – and that’s a good thing!  Build on that to teach and create the mentality of excitement not only about current customers, but about new opportunities and put in place the contingency plans to handle what the salespeople hope to sell – so we can all be excited about the growth.


What Creativity is Not

27 Mar
by Bridget DiCello

Creativity is not having unique and cool ideas that hit you out of the blue on a regular basis.  It doesn’t necessarily have to do with art in its many forms.  Dictionary.com defines it as “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, and interpretations.

Creativity in the professional business realm is firmly rooted in the ability to connect seemingly unrelated information, thoughts, ideas and strategies.  This requires a few key things:

  1. Expectations must be communicated.  If you ask people to be creative, they can interpret that in many ways.  Provide the framework.  Start with describing the situation – not the specific problem to be solved, but the situation – the destination in general terms, the constraints, the history, and the clear objectives.  To do this, you must make sure you do not solve 90% of the problem in this step.  Leave it open enough to allow for creative thought, while providing a framework with immovable constraints, company values and goals not up for debate.
  2. Describe the Creative Process.  If you ask people for ideas, and then don’t use any, tell them they are wrong or that their idea won’t work, you will stop the creativity from flowing.  “Yes, and…” is a good approach.  Explain that you want to brainstorm 100 ideas in 5 different areas.  Tell them what will happen next and how those ideas will be processed.  Involve others as much as possible in the steps of the process and the implementation.  You can elicit more involvement, especially from those you might think are not creative, by creating a safe and predictable place.
  3. Ask Questions to clarify.  The idea that someone puts forth first is rarely their best idea.  They are testing the waters.  If they are shut down, you will never hear the good idea.  Curiously ask them the How, What, When, Where types of questions to better understand their suggestion.  Most of us cannot clearly communicate what is in our head in 30 seconds or less, especially with a creative or unique idea or concept.
  4. Connect the Dots.  If you enter the creative process without ‘the solution’ in your mind, you have a lot better chance of combining seemingly unrelated ideas.  Group words on paper.  Create different categories.  Find multiple ways that different ideas connect.  Don’t jump too quickly to conclusions.  If you need an immediate solution, then have a meeting with your problem solvers and solve the problem.  If you want to stimulate creativity, give it time to grow and ideas to evolve.

Recognition Too Much Time, Energy and Money – and little ROI?

20 Mar
by Bridget DiCello

People thrive on recognition and praise.  Every leadership book will tell you so.  And many resources will give you a ton of ideas on how to recognize your employees.  And so many of these ideas take either a lot of time or a lot of money.  Make no mistake; your time and your money are both things that your employees appreciate.

However, many of these recognition strategies pale in comparison to a powerful conversation.  People grow and professionally develop both in small steps and in big ones.  Have you ever disciplined yourself to do something that may appear very small, like be on time for meetings?  To others, it may be a “well, it’s about time” moment, but to you, for whatever reason it was tough to make it on time, it is an enormous leap forward.

And I’m sure you’ve also make huge strides as well, like hiring a new key position, landing a large account or launching a new product.

When a member of your team makes a huge stride forward, it deserves recognition, praise and public acknowledgement.  However, we can probably all attest that some personality-challenging step forward like being on time, using a calendar consistently or routinely making sales calls can take a whole lot more energy.  The acknowledgement you give as the leader to these small steps forward does more to change a person to become the best they can be than any big bonus, award or public praise – as important as that is.

How to recognize small steps:

  1. Identify in each employee the potential they have that they are not currently realizing – talk to them about what you see that you know they can do and do better.
  2. Focus on seeing specific movement forward in those areas by those employees.
  3. Have a brief, but specific conversation about those mini-accomplishments when they happen.  “I noticed… great job!”
  4. Also have a brief conversation when you see them slip back into old behaviors, reminding them of your belief that they can make progress and you know they will succeed.
  5. Continue to have the brief, but specific conversations when you see movement forward, realizing it actually takes quite a long time to change a behavior and reform a habit.  People will slip back but as long as it’s two steps forward and only one back, they are still making progress.

Be careful not to be patronizing – don’t use some silly reward system or stars on a chart.  They may be small steps forward, but if they were easy for that employee, you wouldn’t have to be coaching them.

Pinpointing Strengths that Energize You

04 Mar
by Bridget DiCello

Skills are what you are good at doing, but do not necessarily enjoy. Strengths are what energizes you, but you may not be extremely good at them. However, strengths are where you have the greatest opportunity to improve your performance because they energize you.

The question is:  How do you know which is which – for yourself and your team members?

  1. Observe carefully. If you take a moment to observe both yourself and your team as they go about their daily duties, you will see the times when their faces light up, when they begin to work a bit quicker and when they put their nose to the grindstone and stay focused and determined. Those are the times they are working within their areas of strength.
  2. Listen closely. Listen to how your team members speak about certain tasks and roles. Are they animated, thoughtful and asking good questions? When do they talk more than usual? Or when do they think more than usual? These are times where they are probably talking about their strengths.
  3. Start a discussion. After you’ve observed and listened to those with whom you work, ask them what they enjoy doing the most. If you ask them to do a task or assist you in a certain project area, notice how they approach it and then ask them afterwards if they enjoyed what they did. If they respond with, “Sure, no problem,” ask more questions to clarify. “I really appreciate your assistance and need your expertise, but it seems like you’d rather I was able to do it on my own or get someone else to help me?” Then, be ready to do so.

People-pleasers. The challenge with the above activities is that there are different personality types that make pinpointing strengths difficult. There are people who will never say “No!” would never admit they did not want to help and will always step in with a smile. You must observe them much more carefully in order to see what is really energizing to them, and what they do out of need to please others. Rarely is the desire to please others their actual strength.

Grouches. The other challenge is those people who have tried very hard to cover any energy they might have in a veil of grouchiness. In order to protect their ego, their personal space or their fears, they respond almost always with a lack of energy. You may need to watch them carefully for a longer period of time, offer extra recognition and appreciation for what they do for you, and encourage the things they are good at to see if you can uncover some energizing activities.

Strengths are not always the things you are best at, but certainly can be. Pinpointing what you are good at can be a decent place to start if you are struggling to identify strengths.

What about you? What activity are you doing when your energy levels the highest during the day?

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