Collaboration Kills Commoditization

There is a trend developing in the sales world that has caught my eye over the past couple years.  This Sales & Marketing Management article opens with a terrific summary of what I have experienced (emphasis mine):

According to Harvard Business Review, “Traditional sales methods are increasingly unproductive. In fact, aggressive sales styles and product-focused selling are now so outdated that some customers are simply refusing to meet with salespeople using these techniques. In this situation, focusing on product features in the sales meeting is a waste of everyone’s time. In fact, there is plenty of evidence that high-performing sales people are those who listen and respond, who are flexible, and who think in terms of developing a solution to an emerging customer problem.”

That entire paragraph is spot on.  The “aggressive sales styles” they reference is the High D (Dominance).  These salespeople have a driven, aggressive, even confrontational style.  This style is often considered the classic sales hunter style, but that stereotype is changing.

Here’s why – the High D style has done well in the past when they were able to control information (product info, tech specs, etc.).  The High D’s were able to leverage that information for meetings and commitments from prospects.  Today, that information is on the web so the need is for salespeople who have the ability to connect with prospects to get in front of them.  This is not the High D’s strength.

So where is it going?  Back to the article:

What customers increasingly want from their vendors are collaborators.

The author goes on to acutely describe the possible definitions of the collaboration.  This collaborative approach will eventually fit in nicely with the upcoming Millennial generation.  That generation, in general terms, has a desire to work on projects/tasks in a completely collaborative way.  As the Millennials move up the proverbial sales ladder, the collaborative culture will become prominent in most sales departments.

The closing paragraph from the article wraps it up nicely:

Order taking may make your salesperson’s job easier, but typically what your customer really wants is a trusted partner. Collaborating with your customers builds relationships, adds value, and helps further entrench your key strategic accounts. It helps keep the competition at bay. And, it keeps your offering from being commoditized.

25 Fastest-Growing Job Titles for 2016

From Monster.com, I doubt you would guess what is number 1…Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers.  Seriously, there are 13% more of them now than 1 year ago.  Number 2 you might actually get – Registered Nurses which makes sense with the aging Baby Boomer generation.

Sales Managers made the list, but you will have to follow the link to find out at what spot they landed.

Does Job Jumping Matter Anymore?

I would answer no.  I have the opportunity to look at many resumes on any given day and there is a definite sea-change in the job jumping area.  Millennials are far less loyal to their employers than any generation before them.  In fact, I would say “job” jumping isn’t accurate, they are actually “skill” jumping.  These employees are often looking for personal skill development and once they sense they have tapped out their growth curve in their current role, they leave.

I spend a fair amount of time explaining this skill jumping behavior to old-school hiring managers.  Companies must have a plan for ongoing development of their Millennial workforce otherwise they will look for skill development at a different company.

This somewhat new trend is well documented in this Harvard Business Review article.  From the article:

Sullivan says that employers have become more accepting of brief periods of employment. As many as 32% of employers expect job-jumping. “It’s become part of life,” says Sullivan. In fact, people are most likely to leave their jobs after their first, second, or third work anniversaries. Millennials are especially prone to short stays at jobs. Sullivan’s research shows that 70% quit their jobs within two years. So the advice to stick it out at a job for the sake of your resume is just no longer valid.

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Did you catch that…2 years!  I suspect that fact is due to companies being slow to provide development paths for these new employees.  The days of pension-earning careers with one company are long gone.

The Millennials are skewing the tenure number lower, but other generations are catching on also:

The average length of time a worker stays in a job these days is 4.6 years.

Have a plan to grow your direct reports’ individual skill sets.  Put milestones out there for them to achieve.  Have a plan and share it with them.  If you need help, we can help.

The Lost Art of Decorum

Maybe I am aging faster than I will admit, but I have seen a trend in the professional workplace that is unsettling.

Decorum.  As defined by Webster, it is “correct or proper behavior that shows respect and good manners.”

One of the things I tell hiring managers is that the initial candidate interview is as good as it will get.  The candidates’ behavior, manners, etiquette, communication, etc. will never exceed their level as observed in that first interview.  Therefore, the candidate’s decorum should be exemplary in that interview to the point where it is memorable.

Sadly, I simply am not seeing this exemplary decorum nearly as much as I used to 15 years ago.  Perhaps as a society we are simply becoming more crass.  Nonetheless, the interview should be treated as hallowed ground and respected in such a way that crassness does not permeate it.

I have noticed this change not only in the younger generation, but also the Boomer generation.  I have observed aging leaders, who have become out of touch with the younger generations, find a connection (earning laughs) by being crassly provocative.

Younger generations communicate in…how shall I say…in an overly casual manner.  Cursing comes to mind and I have experienced it an multiple phone interviews recently.  The expletives have come out in face-to-face interviews also.  I’m not talking about shockingly blue language, but still language that simply does not fit in a high-level sales position interview.

Professional salespeople need to possess an impressive level of professionalism, or decorum, when approaching prospects in today’s business world.  A lack of this decorum being exhibited in the initial interview, when they are allegedly at their best, is a big red flag for me when considering whom to move to the next level in the hiring process.

Of Authenticity

I have encountered this issue of authenticity recently in a handful of situations and it has captured my attention.  Here’s why – Gen Y is all about authenticity.  As a Gen Xer, I would argue that it is high on our list also.  Yet, some Baby Boomers have a different approach to authenticity and it stems from one key approach – they believe they have to have the answer to every question.

Now I’m not talking about aerospace-grade questions, but questions regarding their field of expertise.  Recently I witnessed 3 different situations where different Baby Boomer-aged experts encountered a difficult question.  The question was clearly beyond what they knew yet all of them attempted to answer it as an expert.  Unfortunately for them, the people asking the questions did not seem to believe the Baby Boomer answers.  I didn’t believe them either.

The after effect of the interactions was simple – I no longer trusted their expertise.  The irony of it is in the fact that some of the questions were not even in their area of expertise.  The Baby Boomers did not have to provide an answer as they could have easily deferred the question.  Instead in each situation they attempted to spout some rather odd sounding answer that came across as just that…odd.

One of the most powerful communication tools is to simply state, “I don’t know.”  If that is too direct you can use, “I’m not sure.”  In a strange way, I find it edifying of the person’s expertise – they answer questions that they know and they legitimately answer with an I don’t know if it is outside of their knowledge base.

It is disarming, real and authentic.

It Is All About Communication

From today’s Herman Trend report (emphasis mine):

The other highlights of the study are fascinating: the least happy of the generations is the Baby Boomers. They expressed the strongest discontent with their employers and the greatest frustration that their loyalty and hard work have been neither recognized nor rewarded. “Almost one-third (32 percent) of Baby Boomers surveyed say a lack of trust in leadership is a top turnover trigger—the highest ranking by any workforce generation.”

Employers are most vulnerable to lose their Generation X workers. Lack of career progress is their top exit trigger (65 percent). Only 28 percent of Gen X employees surveyed expect to stay. This intention to leave is a clear signal to employers to expect a significant exodus by employees viewed as future leaders.

For the Millennials, their employers’ commitment to "corporate responsibility/volunteerism" was very important. Millennials are also nearly three times more likely to say a "fun work environment" is important than their Baby Boomers counterparts.

On the other hand, “employees who plan to stay with their current employers (35 percent) say their companies have strong talent programs, characterized by clear career paths, leadership development initiatives, trust and confidence in corporate leadership, superior programs to retain top talent, and effective communication.”

Did you catch that last topic?  Communication – this is almost a free move for any company, but it requires commitment.  The Gen X’ers are a generally skeptical bunch as I can attest – I am one.  I value all of the programs listed, yet it all starts with effective communication within the company and specifically within the manager-employee relationship.

A Secondary Effect Of The Recession

Most people agree that there will be a demand for workers as soon as we start the recovery process (no, I do not subscribe to the idea that the recession ended in June of 2009).  Companies are running in a most efficient manner right now due to the fact that they had to cut staff to the bone.  Growth/expansion will require an expansion of most company’s workforces.  The supply of workers will be limited due to the Baby Boomer retirements and the great decrease in workers in Gen X.

Along with this shortage comes another important limitation in the workforce.  From the Herman Trend’s weekly email (emphasis mine):

“Unfortunately, with all of the uncertainty created by the current regulatory environment, small to mid-size businesses have put their hiring plans on hold; in fact, many are waiting to see the outcome of the United States’ elections on November 2”, said Daywalt.

When they are ready to recruit trained, qualified people and the demand exceeds the supply, US employers are in for a rude awakening. Why? Government, healthcare, and energy industry Baby Boomer retirements and the significant training cutback that accompanied the recent economic slowdown.

Absolutely true.  I work with a handful of sales trainers and they have all seen serious declines in their revenue.  There will be a price to pay for this lack of development in the workforce.  The “tsunami” of hiring that is impending will be tempered by the sheer lack of candidates along with the lack of trained candidates.  Companies will need to keep an open mind when hiring as to the investment they will have to make in their new employees.

Bashing Millennials

Fast Company has an entertaining article written by a CEO of a company that employs almost all Millennials.  The article is well worth the read, but let me give you a taste of it:

Lazy. Entitled. Fickle. Freighted with their own inscrutable agendas. These are the kinds of things people say about cats — and millennials. For today’s managers, the generation born after 1980 is a favorite punching bag.

It’s not hard to see why, given that they’re the generation of Lindsay Lohan, Jersey Shore, and flip-flops as appropriate office footwear.

I have been drawn in by these exact topics and I’m an Xer.  But further on in the article comes this dandy (emphasis mine):

Millennials don’t have traditional boundaries or an old-fashioned sense of privacy. They live out loud, sharing details of their lives with thousands of other people. Of course there are the obvious risks to this — say, that unflattering, reputation-damaging photo that should have been deleted from Facebook — but while you shake your cane at them for indulging in TMI, I see their openness as a great opportunity. For instance, when our summer intern @jimmyaungchen tweets and Facebooks about something he achieved at work, that’s free marketing for Do Something to the 1,500 people in his immediate network. I now ask job applicants how many Facebook friends and Twitter followers they have.

Excellent point.  In fact, I just did some network checking of a sales candidate for one of our customers earlier today.  I like that she asks the candidate directly.  I prefer to check on my own and it is mainly LinkedIn that I peruse.  Facebook is fine, but it is definitely closer to the social/personal side in comparison to LinkedIn.

An entertaining and informative article for sure.  It is rare to find this combination so I strongly encourage you to read the entire thing.

What Employees Want

I am usually a bit cynical regarding these types of articles.  My reasoning is this – each individual is unique in their motivations and rewards.  Attempting to place employees into set categories regarding global characterizations is a stretch.  Nonetheless, this article from Inc.com presents some excellent points and advice for employee engagement.

I do not believe you can overstate this one:

5. Employees want flexibility. In addition to deciding how they work, the experts say employees also appreciate having a say over when they work. Gunther has, of course, set up a radically flexible schedule for his employees that might not work for every office. But, he says, it has enabled him to find and retain top talent for Meddius. “We’ve had people who have taken significant pay cuts to work for us, because at their old job they were told to show up and be at the office between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.,” he says. “Generation Y is looking for a synergy between their personal lives and their professional lives.” Set up a flexible vacation policy or a telecommuting policy that enables employees to work from home. It involves a great deal of trust, but, as Pink says, “If you don’t trust your employees, you’ve got much bigger problems.”

This recession has lowered the drive for some employees on this topic, but it is still prevalent among the younger workers.  I love the last line as it is absolute truth.

I think the older generation has a palpable difficulty with telecommuting.  My discussions with many Boomer-aged managers have included comments basically stating that to be effective in the role, they have to be in the office every day.  My take on that commentary is that the manager is projecting their own approach into the position.  They may struggle in a remote role, but I’m not convinced that is always the case with the younger generations.

There are 9 other interesting points in the article so I recommend you read the entire thing.

What Is Gen U?

“Generation Unretired” according to this BusinessWeek.com article.  That is a new term to me.  According to the article:

The AARP says that 8 out of 10 baby boomers will work part- or full-time past retirement age. That’s 64 million unretiring Americans, the biggest demographic shift in the American workforce since WWII—and 93% of the growth in the American labor market from now until 2016, according to the Pew Research Center.

This trend is one that has been in the making for some time.  The current recession and housing bubble burst has only exacerbated the trend.  Clearly there will be new management techniques needed to handle the Gen U employees.  The article illustrates some excellent hiring suggestions, but this one stood out to me:

Define Roles. How is the former senior vice-president of a multinational going to feel about reporting to a project manager? Your Gen U staff may need to report to others with fewer years of business experience, yet more advanced or specialized skills. While you may not supervise the prospective Gen Uer, it may helpful to engage in some of the interviews so that you better understand the mindset of various Gen Uers.

(You’ll want to be sure that your less senior staff is not threatened or that the more senior member is not threatening. It works both ways.)

There in lies the tension, doesn’t it?  Later in the article comes this management point:

Remember that it’s an upside-down world for retired executives returning to the workplace: Their junior colleagues are actually “senior,” and they are reporting to managers who have far less experience than they do. As a result, Gen U hires may not be feeling entirely secure about their position. Micromanage them and many may feel particularly boxed in. Give them the benefit of the doubt—and watch what can happen. Often, strategic thinking that is the Gen Uer’s greatest asset.

The next decade will provide a unique management landscape for Gen X as we ascend into the majority of the  management ranks.