All posts by Christopher Barrat

Can we Expect Company Loyalty to Motivate People These Days?

There are many different ideas on how to motivate staff, but the one thing that everyone can agree on is that if you are able to motivate them, then the results can be amazing.

If you look at any high performing company, in any sector, then you will find they have a very motivated workforce. Is this a chicken and egg problem? Which came first – the motivated staff to drive results or the results successes giving motivation back to the people?

Having worked with many companies in many sectors I know this ‘good motivational spiral’ to be true, and indeed the ‘downwards motivational spiral’ can be true too. The other thing I have noticed is that ‘loyalty’ – the desire for people to put in extra effort through a sense of pride and belonging – can be a factor, but only if the unit is small enough.

Creating Shareholder Value

Over the last 10 years there has been the on-going trend towards ‘global’ companies and ‘matrix’ organisations. This has had an interesting effect on loyalty – it has broadly destroyed it.

The bigger the company, the more they re-organise and constantly restructure, the less people appear to identify with it. The concept of creating shareholder value as a key goal is still talked about in big companies, but almost nobody (apart from very few at the top who hold massive share options) actually cares. Why should they put in extra work just so that some anonymous pension fund can make more money in 10 years time?

What is interesting is how loyalty can still be a real motivator if you can make your ‘unit’ feel that it has an identity of its own, and that the people in it can see how their extra effort can have a direct result on helping others who they work with or interact with directly.

The motivational psychologist Victor Vroom ( what a great name for someone studying motivation – VROOM!) had four ‘gateways’ of motivation that you had to pass before anyone would be motivated. In simple terms its ‘Could. Would. Would. Desire’. Could I do it? Would it make a difference that I can see? Would anyone notice? Do I desire the outcome? The middle two gateways are focussed on this area of belonging – if I can see my actions make a difference and people notice then that can be a great motivator. If I have to go through some massive IT change that is only of benefit to people in head office who I never meet then I am not going to be motivated to do anything more than the minimum required.

Losing a Sense of Belonging?

This then prompts the question of how big a unit needs to be before you lose this sense of belonging? My experience is that firstly they can be very small – a group of 6 people in a depot or office unit can build a great sense of loyalty. At the other end of the scale I think 100 people starts to get to the limit.

I worked with an incredibly successful Belgium food company. Even though their world wide network of sellers came from 40 different countries, the total group was only about 90 people and the sense of loyalty, even in this highly dispersed and nationally diverse situation, was amazing. Likewise you can go to massive head offices of 1000 people all in one building and nobody feels any connection at all.

There is a dark side to this – get too strong a sense of loyalty to a small unit and you run the risk of many small silo mentalities causing the matrix to malfunction. This is always a risk in modern business –but my challenge would be that we are better off creating really strong identities in smaller groups.

Do not try and get a corporate sense of belonging, you will waste your time. Nobody really cares about your corporate behavioural values – too many people can see how they are not being lived out in big corporations so they just destroy the sense of belonging, not enhance it. Instead think small – how can we bring back that sense of common purpose.

Perhaps we should take a lesson from history – go back to roman times and start organising our companies in units of 100 and no more. Wouldn’t you just love to have on your business card the job title ‘Centurion’ – that really would be motivating!

Making Your Department Sexy

Every functional department needs to find its rightful place in the business hierarchy. So what can you do to help it achieve the sexy status it deserves?

And before you even think of saying, “we’re doing a really good job – that is what people will notice!” – forget it. Of course you are doing a good job, but these days that is not enough. You have to show it too.

The first thing you need to do is strut your stuff, show your wares and make them want your services – find out what you are good at and market yourself.

Lose the Mission Statement

Rule number one – if you have a mission statement then throw it away – it has already fulfilled its purpose by getting you to think about what you do. It is useless to market yourselves. In fact it’s worse than useless because it often has a bad effect on others.

Put it this way – just how thrilled would you be if you got sent a copy of the Accounts Department mission statement? Would it lighten your burden? Would you think: “Ah! Now I at last can see their purpose in life I will for evermore integrate with them seamlessly”?

You need to work out what you’re good at – how you impact the wider community, what are the practical things you do for them, and why do you make their life better? Next you need an influence plan, and that should have named individuals on it representing no more than ten per cent of the company.

If you think a plan means putting a display board up in the canteen so everyone can see us –think again. It’s limp, unfocused and unprofessional. Your message is too important to let it dribble out to people who are grazing, rather than go-getting.

Craft Your Message

If you need some help in formatting this idea then why not ask your own marketing department? Perhaps you buy some marketing and creative services in – you may even get it for free if you sell it as part of the process of ‘getting to know you better’.

Take your ten per cent target and use your carefully crafted marketing material with laser like accuracy to get up close and personal. If you make it important then so will your target audience. This is line fishing for powerful marlin, not drift netting for common herrings.

Get the Right People

So you‘ve got yourself a good story – but do you have the people to back it up? Is your group bursting with talent that is the envy of the rest of the organisation? If not then you need to something about it. The simplest tool of all is often overlooked – go find the best people and ask them to join you. Top talent is always interested in self-development. They often have the ability to persuade their own management to let them do things. Best of all they are usually a bit vain and easily flattered.

This doesn’t have to get tangled up in job specs and grade issues. Perhaps they could have some relevant work experience for a short while, or work on a joint project with you. If you can get some fresh blood into the camp, it can have a rejuvenating effect on the whole team. Start looking at the way your team does things. What impact do your people have? Not just from the point of view of their skills.

This sort of profile-raising is not going to be without its side effects, which are worth heading off early if possible. Firstly when you tell people what you can do for them, you can expect the initial response to be a lengthy list of all the things you haven’t done well. This is great feedback – it may not feel like it at the time, but it’s gold dust. Remember, before you stimulated them into complaining, the problem was even worse because you didn’t know about it.

The Future

So where does the future lie for making your department the sexiest around?

The truth is that the skill and attractiveness of your players will make the difference. Does this mean you need only Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie look-alikes in your group? Absolutely not. Lasting attractiveness has always been more to do with passion, knowledge and focus than surface looks. And the good news is these are things that can be taught, so everyone can be sexy if they want.

“And the winner is…”: Supplier Award Schemes

Award schemes come in a considerable variety of shapes and sizes. Likewise the concept of ‘developing’ your suppliers leaves a wide spectrum of potential, with a carrot at one end and a large stick at the other.

The Set Up

Start with defining the effect you want the scheme to have on your suppliers. Are you looking to genuinely reward the best suppliers? This could be by giving them something meaningful, or by using the process to give them contacts and insights into your own company.

On the other hand are you looking to use the process to highlight to non-winners that they are losing out – perhaps that they may even be under threat as a result. Both of these are possible to achieve, but you may set the process up differently depending on your needs.

Establishing Criteria

Next consider how the awards may fit into other measurement programs. If you have an existing appraisal process then it must be related to the awards scheme – if not then one or other of them will suffer a serious credibility crisis. If you don’t have an established scheme, then an awards ceremonies can be a good launch pad to announce them, and to show that there will be winners from the process.

There is a second strong connection between award schemes and supplier ratings – they both only really generate value over time. Suppliers will need to see that the success criteria are not just one-off political choices, and the process is really about developing them – not just an excuse to tell them all to reduce prices or leave the room. It will probably take two or three years to properly establish an event as a key focus for your supply base.

Behind the Win

The most effective awards schemes use the event to genuinely share learning across the supply base. This can be a two edged sword. You want to reward your best suppliers, and you need to make sure you are not asking your best performers to simply give away their competitive advantage in public. With this in mind, get them to share by focusing more on the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of their performance.

In too many ceremonies they simply tell a chronological story, which is not nearly as helpful to others as learning what the drivers, attitudes and obstacles were to success. Also ensure that your suppliers speakers are well practiced, that you have worked together on not only the content, but also the style of any presentations made.

Slick and Well-Staged

This last point confirms that it should be a well managed, well prepared, and a well staged process. The winners would know in advance and can work on helping the development messages. It is not necessary to have fanfares, glitter and repeat sound blasts of Queens’ ‘We are the champions’.

It is important to fund it well, making it slick and professional. Brief your own senior managers who may attend so that they both give a consistent message – and you can use it to engage in a subtle bit of supplier conditioning. External speakers are very effective, they can add a new dimension to the process and give it a ‘special event’ feel.

All suppliers should have some chance to contribute. Don’t just talk ‘at’ your suppliers, make opportunities for them to feedback. Having done this also ensure you manage expectations on how you are going to use this feedback – this will be an important convincer that the process is one to be taken seriously.

Supplier events therefore can be an excellent tool to develop your supply base, and like any tool, planning and practicing its use will make it that much more effective.

10 Steps To Achieve Networking Success

‘It’s not what you know but who you know’ – never has this been a truer saying. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have made it easier than ever to target those in the know and the people who make the important decisions. But, many people just don’t know how to do it right.

Are you the person stuck in the corner of the room, trapped chatting to the same person for the duration of the event and leaving feeling dejected, like it was a waste of time or opportunities? You may have the knowledge and the expertise, but if you can’t connect with the right people, what’s the point?

Don’t worry! You can be the one circulating like a pro, making every meeting count and leaving with a fist full of business cards from the people that matter.

10. Are you attending the right events?

Who do you want to meet? Focus on the events where you are going to meet people who will help you. If you’re looking for a new job, identify those where you can meet potential employers. If you’re looking to sell a product or service, e.g. website design, don’t go to an event just for web designers. Identify who may need your service (e.g. bars and restaurants) and attend events where decision makers will be.

9. Entering the room

Enter the room with confidence: stand tall and scan the room to identify people you want to approach. Don’t rush straight for the sides or corners of the room; your underlying attitude is all-important as this is what you will be radiating. If you’re feeling self-conscious then maybe chat to the host to find out who is there. They may put you at ease and they may be able to introduce you.

8. Who to approach

Knowing which groups to approach can be the hardest part of networking.   Look out for groups of three people who are facing out towards the room – these ‘open’ groups are the easiest to join.

And if you need further help in getting into an established group, see if there is a table nearby that you can put a drink down on. This should open at least one person up and you can start a conversation with them.

Avoid closed groups, the ones that have three or four people huddled closely together as these will be the least receptive to interruptions.

7. The Handshake

The handshake gives you an insight into what the other person is like. A firm (not too firm) handshake is sufficient but there are three handshakes you need to be careful about:

  1. Dominant – the finger/hand crusher, implies you’re boss and not going to listen to anyone else
  2. The ‘Wet Fish’ – limp and powerless, this suggests you’re a walk over and
  3. Double touch – grasping both hands or hand and arm together, this can seem over-familiar.

Don’t write someone off completely for giving you the ‘wet fish’ though – they may have a hand injury!

6. Remembering names

If you have a name badge, wear it high on the right side of your body which makes it easily visible to the other person to see. Listen carefully when the other person says their name and repeat it in the conversation as soon as you can, as it will help to cement it in your mind. Word association can also help; try linking their name to a well-known phrase or person. If all else fails, it’s ok to ask and much better than guessing their name!

5. Building rapport

So you’ve made your approach and you remember their name. How do you build rapport? It’s not so much about WHAT you say but HOW you say it. We get on with people who are most like us, so you need to concentrate on two things:

  • Moving and gesturing in a similar way
  • Matching the speed and pace of their voice

Don’t be too obvious about it, wait a couple of second before copying actions, but if you’re able to you’re able to do this, it will make more positive impact on them than what you’re actually saying.

4. Be interested before being interesting…

You will get the most out of networking if you listen to the other person and find out what you can do for them. Ask key questions to identify their needs:

    • What makes a great customer for you?
    • What sort of contacts are you looking for?
    • Is there anyone I might know who could be useful to you?

Givers gain, so if you can help them first, they will be more likely to help you in return.

3. Moving on…

You have been chatting for a few minutes and you realise that this person isn’t able to help you… however don’t write people off straight away – they might be well connected with the people you want to meet.

If you’re in a group excuse yourself politely. If you’re with just one person it’s a bit trickier. Ask them to accompany you to the drinks table – you might lose them on the way, or find someone else to introduce them to while you’re there. If all else fails, it is socially acceptable now to tell them that you are there to network and would like to circulate more, wish them well and just move on.  

2. Work on your social networking personality

These days your virtual presence is as important as your physical presence. Make sure that your Linked-In profile is 100 per cent completed and get people to recommend you, especially from outside of your employment – client recommendations are worth a lot. Linked-In is great for connecting with key decision makers too.

As for Facebook, check your privacy settings. If your settings are set to public, only upload photos and comments that you would be happy for a client to see. If in doubt, tighten your privacy or don’t add it.

1. Following up…

You have attended an event and chatted to and exchanged business cards with a potential new client/employer. What next?

Ask if it’s ok to send them an email or message via LinkedIn and don’t be too pushy about meeting up. Be persistent but don’t pester: ask how you can work TOGETHER and if they don’t reply, back off.

If you have been chatting about a specific subject, send a link to articles or websites of interest. Really personalise the approach – a handwritten letter with an article of interest makes a big impression – and it will have the stick factor.

For more on this, check out my TEDX presentation on Successful Networking

Let Me Entertain You (Or Not… Depending On The Party Line)

Customer entertainment, gifts, and freebies are becoming a bigger issue for buyers these days. Increased ‘professionalism’, new company guidelines and a general pressure on how you spend your time is making it harder for this traditional form of relationship building to be effective. Despite this It can still be a very potent force to improve your chances of winning or maintaining business, provided it is used in the right way – and you have thought it through properly.

Having been a sales rep, sales manager, corporate buyer and purchasing director I have seen this problem form both sides of the table. As a rep I have stood in the car park of a customer wondering why on earth marketing think a tankard with our logo on it is going to impress a buyer, and as a buyer I have been helicoptered into a grand-prix (which was nice ). So I have seen the good, the bad, and the just plain naff, of entertaining and gifts. So let’s set the record straight on whether you should entertain, and if so how you can do it to maximum effect.

Across the world it has always been traditional to mark good relations with the giving of gifts. This practice certainly doesn’t appear to have held back the Japanese economy where it is a major force in business. If you don’t think you need gifts or entertainment because ‘our relationship is strong enough’ then just try telling your partner ‘…sorry darling for not giving you any presents or taking you out this year, I think our relationship is strong enough not to need those things – is that OK?’ There is a fundamental misconception over gifts and entertaining. Most people think that they are to do with persuasion, or obligation. If that is your objective then you will fail. The only real objective should be to use them for networking, and even the most ‘bah-humbug’ of buyers can probably see the benefits of that.

Many companies have policies on entertaining. Interestingly most of the big ones have totally different ones for selling and buying. They may well have entertainment days and gifts in the marketing budget, and yet corporate purchasing has a policy of not accepting any gifts or entertainment. The Chartered Institute for Purchasing and Supply (CIPS) is the buying equivalent of the ISMM, and they have a policy. It states that gifts should really be of nominal value, and that entertaining should be managed openly, and not of the type that might be deemed to have had influence on a buying decision. So this still leaves a reasonable scope. There may even be ways around the ‘no gifts’ policy at major companies which we will come back to later. So what makes entertaining both acceptable and effective?

The first rule is line-fish wherever possible. By this I mean that you are meant to be doing something that is attractive to people. Don’t offer them United tickets if they prefer opera, and don’t do a golf day if in reality its just your sales guys who like it. I happened to enjoy my day out at the grand-prix, but when I enquired why exactly they did racing it was because the MD loved it. That really made me feel special. Even if you find your customer has a passion for train spotting, then find a way to get him a day out at Crewe station. The fact that you cant ( indeed would not in any circumstances ) boast about this to your colleagues is irrelevant. Most sales people I met worked on an ‘invite first, ask questions later’ principle, and because of that much of the entertainment these days is ineffective.

The next rule is make it easy to accept. One company I knew had a factory near Verdun – not exactly a romantic location. However to get there from the UK you do have to drive through champagne country. They put on a ‘Quality and Product Development Seminar’ to be held at the factory – mmm, fascinating. There was in fact some real content to this, and at the same time the schedule did call for an overnight stop (both on the way there and on the way back) in the heart of Champagne. They got a good uptake and everyone was (literally) very happy. This probably even got around the ‘no entertaining’ company rules.

If you do have gifts, and your customer is wary of accepting such things, then suggest a charity auction, which even the most hardened would find hard to resist. The process is simple – you give them a load of gifts (NB not ties with the company crest on…) and they then run an auction, or a tombola in-house, with the money going to charity. You get great kudos, they are happy, and a charity makes some money.

If you are able to get some key contacts to come to event then make sure you maximise your time to broaden and deepen your knowledge of your customer. I have been to events where sales guys spend more time networking with their own senior management than the customers. This is great for buyers, it lets them off the hook to go and network with others in your organisation who will probably be less guarded than you after a glass or two of Chablis.

The last key rule is don’t talk business. Entertainment should be just that. Use it to get to know people, understand them, even befriend them. Business should be done later. Not only does it put the customer in an awkward position (they mustn’t be seen to let the event affect their judgment) but also it is rare for these events to pass without someone having a drink. Many have lived to regret deals done after too much wine.

Entertaining and gifts can be great sales tools. They can be great relationship builders. The challenge is to take real care and focus on how you pitch them and how you deliver them. In the same way that a gift to your partner bought at a service station, or an entertainment of two tickets for your own favourite sports team does not hit the mark. As the old adage goes, it’s the thought that counts.