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Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

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The Challenges We Face

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It is not only important for managers to recognize the challenges that they will face, but also to understand how to meet and overcome such trials. Preparation provides them with a starting point and the impetus to change.

As the complexity and depth of challenges increase, managers cannot afford to ignore the issues that currently confront them. Doing so will create a domino effect of problems that will continue to plague them until dealt with. More importantly, managers will learn that the obstacles, barriers and challenges to their business will continue at an alarming rate, fueled by technological advancements and changes in the global economy.

Cognizant of the above circumstances, managers can devote more time to meeting the strategic challenges that continue to confront their business. At the same time, more of the tactical issues must be pushed to the frontline employee. The strategic nature of many challenges precludes most managers from micromanaging the activities of their people and forces them to deal with the macro-issues of management.

Related: Adapt or be Bypassed

Several critical management challenges identified are listed below, along with specific strategies managers can employ to meet these challenges.

Reinforcing Employee Support Systems

The rapid flow of information between managers and their employees is the biggest challenge to be faced. It is recommended that managers conduct a complete reassessment of their employee support system. The best approach is to flowchart the entire system so as to completely understand its methodology and complexity. Over time, support systems tend to become increasingly complex and redundant as new elements are put into place, which overburdens the process.

Managers should consider a complete redesign of their support systems; this can start with a fresh set of goals and objectives to use as a foundation. With these goals and objectives in mind, managers should analyze the type and form of information that both they and their employees require, and the best means of obtaining and delivering that information. The key is to remember that most managers and employees are awash in information, but starving for knowledge. Managers should look for the best methods possible to deliver knowledge over information, providing support data and information if it needs to be referenced. Some vital areas to examine are:

  • The effective use of performance metrics to evaluate work.
  • The conversion of reports into action plans.
  • The minimization of data flow to eliminate information overload.

Realigning Internal Processes

Managers must conduct a comprehensive analysis of the buying habits and patterns of their customer base. As buyers become more sophisticated and are forced to face the realities of increased global competition and a depressed economy, their behaviors change. Managers must examine and monitor these changes, and analyze future trends: when compared to their existing processes, most will find profound shifts. The impact of the Internet on information gathering must be addressed along with the overall increase in risk factors that change the way companies handle their purchasing. The key is to realign the internal processes using all of the available tools and technologies to closely match customers’ buying behavior and to maximize the use of their people’s time and resources.

The business landscape is evolving and changing. It is important to monitor these changes and continually adapt and modify the operating processes accordingly.

Related: Power Must Be Shared for Organizations to Grow

Strengthening Employees’ Understanding of Customer Profit Economics

There is no doubt that many changes in the economy and marketplace have precipitated a shift in customer economics. If anything, many companies have been induced to reevaluate the manner in which they conduct business. Companies are purchasing more carefully and examining the return on investment a specific product or service delivers to them. Consequently, unless employees understand the economics of their business and how their product or service fits into that picture, they will be quickly discounted.

Managers should require their people to conduct a review of their companies’ major accounts in order to understand the specific application of their product or service, recognize the importance of that product or service to the customer, and glean how the product directly contributes to the customer’s profitability. Only when employees know how their product contributes to customer success can they successfully position themselves to contribute to the bottom line.

Reconstructing and Realigning Reward Programs

As companies realign their internal processes and require more servicing of accounts, managers must adjust their compensation plans to reflect these changes. Compensation plans should be designed so that employees perform desired activities and functions, which can include business development and service. Research shows that employees will gravitate to where they are making the most money. If they are paid on commission it is unlikely service will be important to them.

Managers should identify and prioritize desired behaviors. Based upon what they come up with they will have a platform for creating a compensation program that meets their goals.

Related: Dealing With the Challenges of Change

Flattening Decision Making

Managers are challenged to move the decisions typically made by managers directly to their frontline people. Employees are thus given the latitude to make quick and timely operational decisions that can positively impact the speed and quality of results.

Strengthening Employees’ Understanding of Their Companies’ Profit Economics

Employees should be educated in the profit margins of the products/services their company sells. They need to understand the impact an order has on their business as well as the financial ramifications of customer concessions. Once furnished with this information, their performance should be evaluated not only on their specific work-related activities, but also on the profitability of the portion of business for which they are responsible.

Excerpt: Overcoming Management Challenges: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 17.95 USD

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

You Can’t Hope Your Problems Away

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Managers are overwhelmed and burdened with many tasks and responsibilities in a constant quest to improve results. It is easy for managers to ignore the many challenges that confront them while hoping that issues will resolve themselves. However, rather than disappear, unmet challenges create a new set of problems that can represent a deepening morass from which managers must extricate themselves.

Problems and challenges are a regular and ongoing occurrence: some surface as daily tactical problems and issues, while others are more complex, time-consuming and strategic in nature. In all forms, problems can overwhelm the manager and sap their productivity.

Managers must create a systematic approach to problem solving to allow time for their regular duties and responsibilities. Without a detailed, time-focused approach that allows managers to break challenges down into more manageable components, they will quickly feel overwhelmed by the enormousness of the demands facing them.

The manager who hopes that problems will go away on their own will be faced with the following consequences:

Closely Controlled Information

The flow and control of critical information is a management issue. Many managers base their personal power on how they manage and control information made available to their people. Yet the free-flow of information to frontline employees is essential for success. Managers who attempt to micromanage their employees and limit the information fed to them, contribute to undermining the efficiency of the team.

Employees are hindered when they are not given the information they need to be competitive. Without the information and authority to make decisions on the spot, their efforts can be negatively impacted by delays. When decisions are pushed up the line for managers to make, bottlenecks are often created and critical decisions are not made in a timely manner; potential results include lost productivity or poor customer service. At a time when customers are increasingly demanding, this can be extremely problematic. Rather than make employees more effective by streamlining the process, managers often erect additional barriers that hinder performance.

Related: Power Must Be Shared for Organizations to Grow

Loss of Critical Skills

In response to slow economic conditions, many companies cut their discretionary spending and slash training budgets. Rather than focus on the development of skills that can have a direct bearing on the success of a company, many allow skills to become outmoded and ineffective during slow periods. Consequently, companies experience an additional decline in performance, which then necessitate further cuts.

Rather than focus on reducing training budgets, managers should seek to sharpen employee skills to achieve the same objectives. Studies have shown that a 2% increase in customer retention over the previous year’s performance levels will result in a 10% reduction in operating expenses. This is due to the additional retained business impacts of economies of scale.

Disconnection Between Company and Customer Base

With the changes in purchasing habits of customers and a closer examination of the roles and returns that specific products or services offer managers, those who fail to meet critical challenges can find themselves increasingly disconnected from their customer base.

Employees who fail to understand their clients’ profit economies and who are not attuned to the rapidly shifting complexion of business will find it increasingly difficult to meet their customers’ needs. As companies neglect training, they rob their people of critical skills at the apex of change.

Related: When the Process of Change Spins Out of Control

Inefficient Use of Resources

Not only are companies more demanding, but the use of various new methods and technologies have made for more diverse methods of collecting and disseminating information. The use of face-to-face meetings is in many circumstances no longer the most efficient use of resources. Phone and Web conferencing can supplement traditional meetings and free managers to pursue more essential activities.

Additionally, if managers fail to focus on the desired outcomes of their business processes and the behaviors required to achieve those goals, they are, once again, inefficiently using their resources. Failure to align desired behaviors and goals with compensation plans will result in a failure to meet objectives and negatively impact the organization.

Minimizing Profit Potential

The failure to meet new and ongoing challenges through heightened training can result in the minimization of profit potential. Employees who do not understand the profit economics of their products/services cannot comprehend how they might impact and improve the profitability of their own efforts.

Related: Seven Productive Responses to Change

Deterioration of Growth

Managers who neglect to deal with a new problem are either in denial of the situation or hope it will resolve itself. However, a failure to meet challenges will create a domino effect across the entire organization. All challenges are interconnected: each impacts the other. If solutions are not addressed in tandem, they risk failing. Consequently, when managers fail to meet the issues facing them head-on, they can easily undermine their unit and organization’s growth. The hazard is always present, but the consequences manifest themselves in increments, and the impact is only truly felt over time.

Excerpt: Risk Management: Pinpoint Sales Management Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 18.95 USD

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Seven Productive Responses to Change

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It is difficult to predict leaders’ responses to change, as they must continually be on guard for unpredictable occurrences and forces, and in some cases immediately respond to a series of unknown and unanticipated events and circumstances. The only certainty is that change will occur, and leaders must be at the forefront of the process regardless of circumstances and apprehensions.

Change undoubtedly poses a challenge to every leader. This is because it can be anticipated only to the degree that it is predictable. Long-term changes and trends can be generally anticipated, but these changes are often complicated by numerous factors and elements continually altering and transforming themselves at varying rates of speed.

The total process is like trying to navigate across a table filled with a number of spinning tops: each spins at different directions and speeds, bumping into one another, knocking each other out of their orbits. Controlling the process of change is similar. In this type of atmosphere it is extremely difficult, and at times virtually impossible, to plot a straight and stable course.

The difficulty in controlling the process of change is important for leaders to appreciate, as their reaction demands a high degree of flexibility and adaptability to rapidly altering environments, circumstances and events. Their response must include continual and active involvement in the midst of change, “getting their hands dirty” as problems and crises erupt, handling and resolving each as the process of transformation moves through its charted course.
The concept of change also demands that leaders embrace stability and instability within the organization as it transforms itself. Several strategies that leaders need to employ during periods of change include:

Being Visible

The very nature of leadership demands that leaders be actively involved in their organizational unit. Leadership does not emanate from behind a desk or within an office. Leaders must be active and visible in the front lines of their business. Only when leaders are out and about among their employees can they see and feel the pace of progress, and witness firsthand the problems their employees are encountering.


Paces of change and organizational transformations demand that countless ideas be constantly generated and experimented with at all levels. Undoubtedly, some ideas will fail and some will succeed. The only way leaders can sort out the winners from the losers is by constantly applying new ideas and concepts on the line to test for feasibility and adaptability to their organization.


As leaders become increasingly visible, it is important that they simultaneously begin to develop listening forums where everyone within their organizational unit is sharing new ideas, celebrating minor successes and learning from small failures. This increases the synergy between employees, builds and solidifies team bonds, and enhances overall organizational cohesiveness.

Appreciating Failure

As aforementioned, an organization’s response to change as it transforms itself implies countless new ideas and concepts are being experimented with on a regular basis. Leaders know that constant experimentation means that they must test concepts, ideas and strategies rapidly—fail or succeed fast—and adjust quickly.

Active leaders must immediately discard bad ideas and learn from their failures. However, no idea can be deemed good or bad unless it has been adequately tested. The key is to learn from the failures and quickly move on to the next idea, building knowledge and expertise from a continual string of ineffective results, failures and shortcomings.

Taking Action

Leaders in the fast pace of change must be proactive rather than reactive. They cannot let the organizational bureaucracy interfere with the progress of their organizational unit. At times they must actively work against this bureaucracy when it regulates or inhibits the testing and experimentation of new ideas and concepts.

Effective leaders do not only involve their frontline employees in concept, idea and method experimentation, they encourage the participation of multi-functional teams as well, and work to get them fully involved in the process.

Learning from Customers

Leaders have learned that the external influence of the customer is a stabilizing factor in the midst of change.

Successful leaders interact with their customers, and encourage employees at all levels to do the same. This can be accomplished through scheduled customer visits to the organization for discussions, observations and feedback, and by sending representatives out to the customer’s business. Once there, their job is to objectively observe exactly how specific products and services are being used and applied. They also interpret what problems occur and why, as well as each one’s impact on various time factors.

This allows leaders to cross-pollinate ideas and concepts throughout the organization so that all involved have mutual goals and objectives, increasing the overall quality of the product and its value to the customer.

Additionally, employee exposure to their customers makes daily tasks and assignments more tangible. Employees are able to see how the product they produce is used. This increases empowerment and overall responsibility toward the customer.

Making It Fun

The concept of change and accompanying process of organizational transformation are stressful. Most leaders have learned that they can ease stress by making certain elements of the process “fun.” This is not to say that leaders create a jovial and joking atmosphere, but that there is pleasure and enjoyment in accomplishing something together as a team and sharing interesting failures and mistakes in a non-critical atmosphere. It means keeping things light, celebrating the little successes, and using them to build on others to the accomplishment of mutual goals and objectives.

Change will throw many curves at an organization. It takes large doses of flexibility and participation to adapt to these trials. It also helps if leaders and employees lighten up at times where stress is at its highest, which helps to reduce the urge to take things far too seriously.

Excerpt: The Impact of Change on Individuals: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, 2011)

If you would like to learn more about how to personally manage change and its effects, refer to The Impact of Change on Individuals: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series. This training skill-pack features eight key interrelated concepts, each with their own discussion points and training activity. It is ideal as an informal training tool for coaching or personal development. It can also be used as a handbook and guide for group training discussions. Click here to learn more.

Copyright © 2011 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

November 17, 2011 at 10:59 am

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