New neuroscience reveals 7 secrets that will make you persuasive

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It’s important to keep in mind that when you’re trying to be persuasive with someone, the two of you aren’t the only ones who can affect the result.

You can painstakingly show somebody tons of bulletproof evidence and present flawless logical arguments but often they still won’t change their mind. What gives?

The problem is that the human brain is not a purely rational computer. And when we ignore that, even the best of efforts to convince others can fall flat.

From The Influential Mind:

So the human brain doesn’t work by strictly logical rules — but it does work by rules. And if we know what they are, we have a much better shot of framing our arguments in ways that other people will find convincing.

So what are these rules? Don’t look at me — I’m the guy who presents heaps of data all the time thinking that makes a difference. (Sigh.) That said, I know where we might be able to get some answers …

Tali Sharot is a professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London and her new book is The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals About Our Power to Change Others.

She’s identified 7 factors that influence our ability to influence. (I hope you don’t mind if I try to change your mind about how to get others to change their mind.)

Let’s get to it …

1) Prior beliefs

Don’t ignore a person’s current stance when trying to persuade. Military strategy says direct assaults against fortified defenses are stupid. The human brain is no different. Start off by telling people they’re wrong and you’re already in trouble.

When our brains hear new info that agrees with our beliefs, we eagerly accept it. When we hear things that contradict our beliefs, our minds suddenly morph into defense lawyers looking for any conceivable flaw.

So a few rounds of back-and-forth jousting doesn’t weaken people’s opposition. Often it has a “boomerang effect” that ironically causes them to double down.

From The Influential Mind:

You’re a pretty smart person, right?

Well, that means you’re more likely to boomerang, not less. (If you responded by saying, “No, I’m a moron” then you’re off the hook.)

From The Influential Mind:

So how do we overcome this natural neuroscientific resistance? Don’t begin by trying to prove others wrong. Start by finding common ground.

When people who believe childhood vaccination is dangerous were presented with evidence that it’s not, the discussion went nowhere. When the focus was shifted to “improving the health of children” the conversation made progress.

From The Influential Mind:

(To learn more about the science of a successful life, check out my bestselling book here.)

So taking the right angle with your logic can be critical. But there’s also a way to succeed that is usually considered the exact opposite of logic…

2) Emotion

We all know that our mood affects our judgment. Neuroscience research shows that we actually understand each other better when our brains are “in sync” emotionally.

I tell a joke. You laugh. I laugh. And then the conversation seems to go more smoothly. The positive emotion synced our grey matter. This is one of the reasons that stories can be so powerful in convincing people even when rational arguments fail.

You can have the best evidence in the world, but if you’re emotionally out of sync with the other person they might not even really be hearing what you’re saying.

From The Influential Mind:

So don’t neglect to share feelings. Make a joke. Tell a story. Don’t try and connect with reason until you’ve connected with emotion.

From The Influential Mind:

(To learn the science of how to take naps that will make you smarter and happier, click here.)

This is all great for ideas. But how do we get people to change their behavior?

3) Incentives

If you want people to do something, emphasizing rewards is powerful.

In one hospital the staff was only washing their hands thoroughly 10% of the time. (I’ll pause a second to let your horror die down a bit.)

But when researchers set up an electronic scoreboard that congratulated employees after a good scrubbing, compliance went up to 90%.

From The Influential Mind:

Anticipation of rewards usually beats fear when it comes to getting people’s brains to act. This is one of the reasons why video games can be so addictive.

From The Influential Mind:

But it’s also vital to keep the other side of this equation in mind. When you want people to stop doing something, warnings about negatives prove more powerful than incentives.

From The Influential Mind:

(To learn how to best use caffeine — from a neuroscientist — click here.)

Focusing on rewards is a much better way to tell people what to do. But, then again, people hate to be told what to do. So the answer to getting people to do what they’re told is not to tell them what to do …

4) Agency

People like to feel in control. This isn’t just a personal preference; we’re biologically wired to seek control. It makes us happier and healthier across a number of dimensions.

From The Influential Mind:

Former FBI lead international hostage negotiator Chris Voss says it’s critical in any negotiation to give the other side a feeling of control. And the research agrees.

So when you want to persuade, don’t give orders; give options. Don’t tell; ask and guide.

From The Influential Mind:

(To learn how to use FBI hostage negotiation techniques to lower your bills, click here.)

All of this stuff is great but it’ll be useless if they’re not really paying attention in the first place. So how do you make people want to listen to you?

5) Curiosity

In general, our brains seek positive information and avoid negative information. This is true to an absolutely terrifying degree…

When doctors tell people they may have Huntington’s Disease, very few actually follow through on getting tested. Other studies have shown similar results when it comes to HIV testing and breast cancer screening. When the news could be bad, people often don’t want to hear it.

From The Influential Mind:

So if we frame the info we have as bad, people will often tune out. But if the same information is presented as positive, others often get curious. But how do you make them really curious?

When we hear something that sounds good, but the information is incomplete, your brain wants to “fill the gap.” Best example?

“Here are 7 clickbait headlines that will make you more curious.”

From The Influential Mind:

So to draw people in emphasize the possibility of improvement and highlight the informational gap so they start asking questions.

From The Influential Mind:

(To learn 6 rituals from ancient wisdom that will make you happy, click here.)

So you’re emphasizing the positive benefits that can come from listening to you. That’s great. Unless it’s not. Because there’s an exception to this rule …

6) State of mind

When we feel threatened, we’re much more sensitive to negative information.

From The Influential Mind:

When we feel bad, our instinct is to play it safe — even if this isn’t the smart move. Research shows that when underdog football teams start losing, they play more conservatively. And this is a terrible strategy when the competition is better than you are.

From The Influential Mind:

On the other hand, when we feel good we’re more inclined to take risks. Researchers theorize that positive emotions make people buy more lottery tickets. When you feel good, you feel lucky.

From The Influential Mind:

So align your presentation with the other person’s mood. When they’re feeling down, they’ll be more receptive to suggestions that seem safe. When they’re up, they’ll be responsive to riskier ideas that have a big payoff.

From The Influential Mind:

(To see the schedule that very successful people follow every day, click here.)

Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that when you’re trying to persuade someone, the two of you aren’t the only ones who can affect the result …

7) Other people

We’re social creatures. We love to think we act independently and aren’t affected by the opinions of others, but we are. Always and forever.

This is so powerful that we follow the lead of others even when it can be life-threatening.

From The Influential Mind:

The flip side is just as true. When others are positive about something, we’re more likely to see it positively as well.

From The Influential Mind:

When we frame our position as a positive and popular one it gives it more weight because, hey, all the cool kids are doing it.

(To learn the four Stoic secrets to being more productive, click here.)

Okay, we’ve covered a lot. Time to round it all up …

Sum up

Here’s how to use neuroscience to be more persuasive:

Prior Beliefs: Don’t start with how they’re wrong, start with common ground. (You may disagree with me on this but we both want to get better at persuasion, don’t we?)

Emotion: Make them feel and get your brains in sync. (Look! Smiling puppies!)

Incentives: Focus on rewards, not warnings. (Incentives will get you what you want, I promise.)

Agency: Give options, not orders. (Would you like to offer them two possibilities or three? Totally up to you.)

Curiosity: “Fill the gap” and focus on the positive. (The headline of this blog post was not chosen at random, my friend.)

State of Mind: If they’re feeling down, present the conservative option. If they’re feeling good, focus on the riskier upside. (Before I explain this further, how are you feeling today?)

Other People: Showing the popularity of your position helps. (Every smart person I know follows this rule.)

That’s all the data you need to stop being reliant on data. We didn’t have statistics and research thousands of years ago but people still convinced one another.

We get the answers we need when we think like a computer.

But we get the help we need when we don’t forget we’re human.

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How Navy SEAL’s train for Leadership Excellence.

Almost every world-class, high-performance organization takes training and education seriously… but Navy SEALs go uncomfortably beyond.

They’re obsessive and obsessed. They are arguably the best in the world at what they do. Their dedication to relentless training and intensive preparation, however, is utterly alien to the overwhelming majority of businesses and professional enterprises worldwide. That’s important because real-world excellence requires more than commitment to educational achievement.

Continue reading “How Navy SEAL’s train for Leadership Excellence.”

Pump Yourself Up Before a Presentation

Giving a talk in front of an audience can be stressful, and our bodies react to that stress in different ways. If you’re someone who gets jittery and anxious, or whose energy levels flatline, try an exertion ritual before your next presentation.

The ritual is just what it sounds like: You exert yourself in order to get your heart moving, feel in touch with your body, and boost your energy. You might do a brief workout before heading to the venue, dance in your hotel room, or even jump up and down backstage. An exertion ritual can amp you up while also reducing your levels of stress hormones. It can be especially helpful if you’re presenting at a high-energy event like a sales conference, or if you feel ambivalent about the subject of your talk and need to project enthusiasm. Choose an activity that suits you; the key is to tap into what helps you perform at your best.

Adapted from “How to Pump Yourself Up Before a Presentation (or Calm Yourself Down),” by Nancy Duarte

Public speaking affects people in different ways. Some people get jittery and anxious before they talk; they need to spend time calming themselves down before they go onstage.

Other people want to make sure they have extra energy when they’re in front of an audience. These people need to spend time amping themselves up before a talk — doing whatever helps them feel invigorated.

My pre-talk ritual has always been to be still; I would consider this a spiritual ritual. I’ll typically find a dark spot backstage to center myself, exhale calmly, and create quiet space in my head. Meanwhile, I interviewed over 40 professional speakers some of who have a more amp-it-up ritual, like doing power poses or rocking out to heavy metal bands.

Out of curiosity, I decided to try out some of these different, energizing pre-talk rituals before my last big keynote. I tried doing exertion rituals: a couple quick jumps, a few power poses, and a handful of big stretches.

Unfortunately, what I learned was that since I’m already a pretty amped up person, these routines didn’t work for me. In fact, my energy was so over-the-top that I couldn’t catch my breath through the entire talk, and afterwards, people told me I sounded like I couldn’t breathe because I chuffed into the microphone. One client even called the speaker’s bureau to ask if I was sick, because of how I came across.

I determined that my tried and true routine still works best for me and the right thing to do to get ready for a talk is to tap into what makes you the most comfortable right before you walk onstage.

There are 4 types of pre-talk rituals to consider trying before you go onstage. While selecting yours, think about how you want to come across to your audience.

Empathy Rituals

Empathy rituals help you connect better to the people in your audience. According to neuroscience professor Pascal Molenberghs, “Empathy is important because it helps us understand how others are feeling so we can respond appropriately to the situation.” A ritual that generates empathy can both help you humanize the individuals in the crowd and makes you less afraid of them.

You can build empathy by working the room before your talk to connect with attendees — ask them questions, learn what they’re interested in. Another technique is to zero in on a friendly face that you know in the audience from backstage. Or look at the stage from your audience’s vantage point. Renowned marketing speaker Nick Westergaard told me he always relies on this pre-talk ritual, “I sit in the audience and quietly look at the stage I’ll be on while taking some deep breaths. A great centering exercise that my high-school band teacher taught me.”

Consider trying a pre-talk empathy ritual if you:

  • Are speaking to an audience you don’t relate to
  • Get stage fright and clam up while speaking, losing your personality
  • Have high-stakes content that simply has to resonate

An exertion ritual before a talk is just what it sounds like: you exert yourself before you speak in order to get your heart moving, feel in touch with your body, and boost your energy levels. Exertion can amp you up, and it can also reduce the amount of anxiety you feel, since it naturally reduces the level of the stress hormones in your body. There are lots of ways to execute an exertion ritual, like doing a brief workout, dancing to hip hop music in your hotel room, or jumping up and down backstage. One contributor I interviewed told me he simply likes to walk around briskly and smile at everyone he sees.

Consider trying a pre-talk exertion ritual if you:

  • Are presenting at a high-energy, upbeat event
  • Feel ambivalent about the subject and need to appear excited
  • Tend to lack dynamism in your delivery

Spiritual Rituals

Spiritual rituals are like the moments of silence and stillness I experience backstage. Mine include prayer, meditation, contemplation, and expressing gratitude for the opportunity. Spiritual rituals can help quell jitters and make you feel grounded and positive. What I do is breathe in slowly and deeply and exhale thoroughly each time. I do that three times and on the third inhale I do three short bursts of trying to get even more air in my lungs and then I exhale slowly. It calms me down.

Consider trying a pre-talk spiritual ritual if you:

  • Are a naturally amped up person
  • Tend to get extremely jittery or anxious before speaking in public
  • Have a spiritual practice that grounds you

Mantra-Based Rituals

Mantra-based rituals are ones that help you prepare by using repetition and self-talk for soothing. Try repeating your favorite mantra to yourself before you go onstage. For example, you might say, “I’m there to give, not receive” or “Just be present and be yourself.”

Consider trying a pre-talk mantra-based ritual if you:

  • Feel soothed by repetition
  • Have a phrase or pattern of words that comforts you
  • Use self-talk to make you more comfortable or bold

When it comes to prepping for a talk, one size does not fit all. You can pick the pre-talk ritual that’s right for your speaking style or the scenario you’re presenting in. Or, you may find it helpful to try multiple rituals. The key is to tap into what makes you uniquely your best, right before you walk on stage.

Unleashing the power of agile teams

Small, independent teams are the lifeblood of the agile organization. Top executives can unleash them by driving ambition, removing red tape, and helping managers adjust to the new norms.

What does it take to set loose the independent teams that make agile organizations hum? These teams are the organizational units through which agile, project-based work gets done. The typical agile company has several such teams, mostly composed of a small number of people who have many or all of the skills the team needs to carry out its mission. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos contends that a team is too big when it needs more than two pizza pies for lunch.) This multidisciplinary way of composing teams has implications for nearly every business function. Take IT management. Instead of concentrating technology professionals in a central department, agile companies embed software designers and engineers in independent teams, where they can work continually on high-value projects. Continue reading “Unleashing the power of agile teams”

Infographic: 11 essential skills marketers must hone

More than ever, “brand manager” is an all-encompassing job title that includes tasks such as social media management, tracking data, crafting engaging content and driving conversions.

Maryville University takes an in-depth look at the importance of these and other skills that brand managers must possess in today’s rapidly evolving industry in a new infographic.

It includes:

  • Content marketing is a crucial skill for marketers, but while 86 percent say they use it in their strategy, only 36 percent say their expertise is “sophisticated” or “mature.”
  • Social media marketing is another area of expertise to develop, as 70 percent of Gen Z purchases their products or services on these digital platforms.
  • Tracking user experience and the customer journey is essential for boosting sales and building customer loyalty.

Continue reading “Infographic: 11 essential skills marketers must hone”

When to Stick with Something — and When to Quit

When Vontae Davis walked off the field at halftime, the Buffalo Bills were down 28-6 to the Los Angeles Chargers. But instead of huddling with teammates, the Bills cornerback quit football entirely, right then and there. Later that evening, Davis announced his retirement on social media, saying “today on the field, reality hit me hard and fast: I shouldn’t be out there anymore.” Many were outraged, including Bills linebacker Lorzenzo Alexander: “It’s just completely disrespectful to his teammates.” But some disagreed, saying Davis was “a working-class hero.”

While unorthodox, Davis’s abrupt mid-game retirement sparked strong emotions for a variety of reasons, including a question many of us ask: How long should I stick with something?

So when you ask yourself whether to stick with a task or goal, or to let it go, weigh the potential to continue learning and developing incrementally against the costs, dangers, and myopia which can come with stubborn perseverance.

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Perseverance has received lots of support in recent years from a variety of schools of research. One is from psychologists studying grit. They have found the capacity to stick to a task — particular when faced with difficulties – is a crucial factor in explaining the success of everyone from kids in the national spelling bee to recruits at West Point to Ivy league undergraduates.

Then there’s the idea that persevering in the face of adversity can prompt learning and improvements of skills. Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindsets has found that those who treat challenges and limitations as an opportunity to develop and learn tend to perform better in the long term. They persist when they face challenges, and the reward is a deeper and wider skill set.

A final benefit of perseverance is that we don’t know when our luck will turn. A recent study of the careers of nearly 29,000 artists, filmmakers, and scientists found that most of them had a hot streak in their career when their work received wide acclaim. These hot streaks happened at a random time in their career, however. They weren’t related to age, experience, or even being more productive. They just happened. This suggests that if you’re thinking about quitting, you should remember a hot streak could be just around the corner.

Other research challenges these findings, however. One recent meta-analysis of studies of over 66,000 people found that there was actually a weak link between grit and performance. And a recent study of over 5,600 students taking scholastic aptitude tests found that there was no link between growth mindsets and scores on the test. People with a growth mindset were not more likely to improve if they took the test again, nor were they more likely to even try to take the test again. And the research on the artists’ hot streaks? It turns out most people had only one; second acts were comparatively rare, particularly for filmmakers. So if you’ve already enjoyed a streak of success, the odds are against you enjoying another one.

In fact, there’s a large body of work showing that perseverance may have a harmful downside. Not giving up can mean people persist even when they have nothing to gain. In one study, people working on an online platform were given a very boring task. The researchers found those who said they were very persistent continued to do the task despite the fact it was boring and there was little to be gained in terms of monetary reward. So while it might be valuable to persist with worthwhile and rewarding tasks, people who don’t quit often continue with worthless tasks that are both uninteresting and unrewarding, ultimately wasting their time and talents.

Remaining fixated on long cherished goals can also mean people ignore better alternatives. A great example of this are baseball players on minor league teams. These players often receive low pay and have little job security, but live in hope of being spotted and making it into the major league. Only about 11% of players will make that transition. The other 89% are left languishing for years. If they stopped playing baseball, they would be more likely to find alternative employment which was more secure, paid more, and had a more defined career path. In short, by remaining under the spell of their dream, they are unable to explore other options which might be more lucrative.

Being unwilling to let go can lead to people being perpetually dissatisfied — even when they end up getting what they thought they wanted. This was nicely illustrated in a study of graduating college students searching for a job. The researchers found students who had a tendency to “maximize” their options and were fixated on achieving the best possible job possible did end up getting 20% more in terms of salary. However, they were generally more dissatisfied with the job they got and they found the process of getting the job more painful.

An unwillingness to quit can be more than just unrewarding. In some situations, it can become downright dangerous. This happens when people’s persistence leads then to continue with, or even double-down on, losing courses of action. One study found that people who were particularly gritty were less likely to give up when they were failing. These same people were more likely to be willing to suffer monetary losses just so they could continue doing a task. Another study of would-be inventors found that over half would continue with their invention even after receiving reliable advice that it was fatally flawed, sinking more money into the project in the process. The lesson: people who tend to be tenacious are also those who get trapped into losing courses of action.

Being unable to let go of cherished but unachievable goals can also be bad for your mental and physical health. People who struggle to disengage with impossible goals tend to feel more stress, show more symptoms of depression, be plagued by intrusive thoughts, and find it difficult to sleep. They have higher rates of eczema, headaches, and digestion issues. Being fixated on unachievable goals is also related to high levels of cortisol (which over time is linked with things like weight gain, high blood pressure, negative mood and sleeping problems) and higher levels of C-reactive protean (which is linked with inflammation in the body).

So when you ask yourself whether to stick with a task or goal, or to let it go, weigh the potential to continue learning and developing incrementally against the costs, dangers, and myopia which can come with stubborn perseverance.

What heavy industry can teach you about agility

Organizational simplicity. Fast execution. Clear responsibilities. Fluid teams. Agile planning practices. Companies in every field are rushing to make these organizational changes to compete in today’s marketplace. But one industry that has been lagging more than most – heavy industry – is using innovative ideas borrowed from the tech sector to bolster performance and respond to increased environmental rules and the need for further cost savings.

Projects that once took months to move from idea to initiation now just take days and, in general, are 75 percent faster.

What one global chemical company is doing to create agility in its R&D operation offers an inside look at the beneficial impacts such organizational makeovers trigger for not just this industry, but others as well. The company believed it could speed project execution and save a bundle in the process via its 100-plus member process-improvement R&D team.

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Projects that once took months to move from idea to initiation now just take days and, in general, are 75 percent faster. Rapid coaching of the R&D team sparked daily improvements. Delegated decision-making replaced the common “hurry up and wait” culture. A seismic benefit: The first agile R&D team doubled its productivity while – in just five weeks – it identified $150 million in potential annual savings. Since then, identified savings have more than doubled as more R&D teams have made the transition to agile.

As the backdrop, most R&D team members were chemical engineers with PhDs who spent much of their time alone in their respective offices. Many knew their plant’s front-end processes but had no clue about its back-end troubles. Interaction with internal business customers – and each other – was inadequate, leading to delays and rework. And their time was split across multiple projects that led to inefficient multitasking and lack of accountability.

The transformation developed through the department leaders, who handpicked team members, making sure the team reflected different age groups and behaviors. Everyone got a brief training on the agile concept.

The team applied Scrum – an agile methodology developed by the tech industry for rapid, iterative software development with a “test and learn” mindset. It adopted one-week “sprints” to identify high-value process improvements in the plants, and each week, it held reviews with internal business customers to iterate end products. Accountability was instilled through complete team ownership of the project and peer pressure. Plus, the team got instant feedback about performance.

This was also essential to meet the team’s personal needs. They were used to working independently with vastly differing schedules. We set a 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. schedule for Monday to Thursday to account for personal needs such as child drop-off and pick-up, and Friday was open for them to handle non-project related work. But importantly, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Thursday, they were 100 percent dedicated to the Scrum team with no exceptions.

Of course, challenges exist that can stymie success. Principally, leaders and employees must develop new mindsets and capabilities that can differ markedly from before. And leaders must manage on output – defining the goal – rather than input, or giving the task.

Highly agile leaders and teams realize that change is constant and adopting to a turbulent global environment is part of the future. Understanding the realities that organizations need to adapt again and again means having intentional, proactive approaches to change. Continually scanning the organization’s environment, viewing challenges with fresh eyes and a willingness to rethink past assumptions, is the path forward to future success.

Want happy customers? Focus on happy employees

happy employees photo

It was 5:18 a.m. – after a five-hour, red-eye flight – when I arrived at the tony Vineyard Resort. In three hours, I would face 15 participants in a two-day leadership training program. But the receptionist couldn’t find my reservation and didn’t seem to care much. When I got to my room 90 minutes later, a note of greeting read: “Hospitality and service as a way of life.” Oh, the irony!

The incident spotlights that being customer-centric requires a culture where employees must live the inspirational quotes espoused. A decade ago, McKinsey and Egon Zehnder studied the relationship between managerial quality and revenue growth. The analysis found that customer impact – the capacity to grasp the evolving needs of customers – led all leadership competencies.

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The degree of customer impact also correlated with a company’s revenue growth and the effectiveness of its top executives across all growth situations, as well as with the senior teams and managers below them. It helps define a customer-centric culture where employees individually and collectively prioritize customer needs in everything they do.Why are some organizations better than others at creating leaders focused on customer impact? How do you recognize a customer-centric culture? Invariably, a customer-centric organization displays:

  • A clear vision that customer experience is a priority.
  • Formal mechanisms to co-create that experience with customers and complementary partners.
  • Accountability created among employees.

In such organizations, employees at all levels possess the freedom to drive customer service excellence. Customer experience and outcomes are measured, shared and tied to individual performance assessment. These organizations recognize and reward internal cross-functional collaboration and knowledge-sharing because they understand how to serve customers better. The employee experience reflects the customer care the organization seeks to create.

Consider Southwest Airlines, a recognized leader in customer experience. It consistently scores in the mid-sixties in public NPS (Net Promoter Score) benchmarks that measure customers’ willingness to recommend a company’s products or services to others, a score that is higher than any airline and one of the leaders in any industry.

Many travelers are familiar with Southwest crew members delivering safety announcements with humor, thereby personalizing that obligatory inflight duty and making it more enjoyable for passengers. And it goes beyond the safety spiel. Employees are routinely asked to submit ideas for improving safety and hospitality and for paring costs.

Southwest gives employees the autonomy to deliver a premium customer experience and to continuously improve it. When the airline decided new uniforms were needed to match its new logo and image, they asked their employees to design them. Thousands volunteered, and 43 employees were chosen to collaborate. They designed a fashionable, yet functional uniform (even machine washable, a rarity) that employees say represents Southwest’s personality.

Forbes named Southwest No. 12 on its list of America’s Best Employers in 2016. CEO Gary Kelly attributed the ranking to “the passion [employees] show every day for offering the best in hospitality to our customers and to each other.”

This is an example of customer service done well, where employees are empowered to be engaged and passionate about the customer experience.

My reservation at the Vineyard Resort was not in the system; something had gone wrong in the back office. That happens. The next day, resort managers apologized many times. Still, in the end, the receptionist likely was not empowered to go above and beyond. He likely did not feel safe to take a risk and give me a room without following protocol. That single incident left an indelible memory – and it wasn’t favorable.

The Salesforce vs. Microsoft Battle Just Heated Up (Again)

The expansion of enterprise software provider Salesforce has been relentless, and that has put the company at odds with Microsoft many times. Since Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella took over a few years ago, the relationship between the two competitors has warmed compared with the cold war they used to wage. Salesforce and Microsoft customers can even integrate the two software platforms, a capability that is advertised on both companies’ websites.

It seems the contest is heating up once again, though, as Salesforce’s expansion gets more aggressive and Microsoft has made a cloud-based business model transformation. In September, each announced new software capabilities aimed at consolidating customer relationships into its own platform and not the other company’s. It could be an early sign that the cloud computing industry is about to get a lot more competitive.

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Subtle shots fired…again

Salesforce’s subsidiary Quip — a cloud-based collaboration tool armed with word processing and spreadsheets — just added an alternative to Microsoft’s PowerPoint called Slides. Since acquiring it back in 2016, Salesforce has continued to build out Quip’s capabilities to the point that it’s virtually a replacement for the basic work solutions in Microsoft’s Office 365.

Microsoft’s most recent addition is bigger news. The company announced it’s adding artificial intelligence to its Dynamics customer service and marketing software. Salesforce has been a leader in AI for business with its Einstein platform, which powers insights and suggestions across the company’s suite of software. Now Microsoft users will get something similar in their digital workspaces.

While that move was playing catch-up, Microsoft simultaneously announced a one-up: mixed-reality integration with Dynamics. The new software builds on the HoloLens device that Microsoft released two years ago. Companies can now use data from Dynamics to provide information in context to their workforces using the HoloLens. Salesforce is compatible with Facebook’s Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets, but an out-of-the-box solution for enterprises is a first point scored for Microsoft.

Cloud computing is the rage, but for how long?

Cloud computing, especially services geared toward business and enterprise, has been growing by leaps and bounds the last few years. The world economy is transitioning to digital, and the cloud is making it easier and cost effective for big businesses to make the switch. That has led to big gains for shareholders; the Vanguard Information Technology ETF’s return of over 300% in the last decade is proof of that.

In the fast-growing digital economy, there’s been plenty of elbow room for all players so far. Salesforce and Microsoft’s recent software expansion announcements could be the latest indication that this is changing, though. The biggest contestants are shoring up their platforms to retain clients, and their diverse lists of offerings are starting to look less like differentiation and more like incremental sales additions. Earlier this year, Salesforce’s acquisition of MuleSoft was its biggest to date by far. But plenty of other companies got there first — like Microsoft, which operates the Flow data integration app. Atlassian and Slack’s recent entanglement is another example of best-in-class software companies teaming up to prevent client migration to a rival platform.

That isn’t necessarily an impending sign of trouble, especially for juggernauts like Salesforce and Microsoft. However, with the cloud computing industry getting crowded, the two companies playing copycat in an attempt to round out their software suites shows that a slowdown might be around the corner. Since many cloud companies are sacrificing profit now to maximize growth, some could get knocked down if the pace of digital adoption takes a breather.

Agile Cities: Preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The world is urbanizing and the Fourth Industrial Revolution is transforming life at an unprecedented rate. Cities must be “agile” – able to move quickly and easily – to enable their citizens to thrive. Agile Cities: Preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, unpacks the concept of agility and introduces guidelines for measuring agility in key areas of city life.

Building on their previous work with Data Driven Cities: 20 Stories of Innovation, the Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanization shares a series of case studies from cities around the world that are taking steps to become more agile across physical, digital, and environmental dimensions.

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The path to agility: A staged approach

Peter Drucker pinpointed five essential questions to ask about any organization.  He recognized that the answers provide a stepping stone for probing deeper to truly understand an organization.

The importance of questioning holds true on the journey to become Agile, which involves four distinct stages: agile foundations, experimentation, scale-up, and continuous evolution.

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McKinsey’s work with dozens of organizations making that journey has identified several key questions to be answered in the first three stages to promote the five trademarks of such nimble organizations.

Here are the essential questions for assessing each of the stages before the final “continuous evolution” phase:

Stage One: Assessing agile foundations
  1. Is the organization’s purpose and strategy clear to all employees?
  2. Are there standard ways of working for all critical activities?
  3. Are roles, responsibilities, and decision rights clear across the organization?
  4. Is governance and decision-making quick, clear, and effective?
  5. Are leaders aligned on why the transformation is needed and on a blueprint for the Agile end-state that can deliver the desired business objectives?
  6. Do leaders, particularly senior leaders, possess the skills and, particularly, the mindsets to design, build, and lead an agile organization?

If you answered “no” to any of those questions, you have some foundational agility work to do in parallel with launching agile experimentation. Addressing those fundamental elements will help create stability needed to execute successfully.

Stage Two: Agile Experimentation
  1. Is there leadership alignment on the desired outcome of the experiments/pilots?
  2. Have one or more experiments/pilots been short-listed and selected and are they sufficiently self-contained and able to deliver the desired outcome?
  3. Has sufficient awareness, understanding, and secured leadership buy-in been established in areas impacted by the experiments/pilot?

If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, you have more work to do before launching experiments/pilots. If yes, you are ready to move to scale-up. (Note: experiments/ pilots may still be going on in parallel to scale-up efforts.)

Stage Three: Scale-Up

Once your experiments/pilots are ongoing and you want to gauge readiness for scale-up, consider these questions:

  1. Have we successfully completed a major agility pilot or several smaller pilots that demonstrated the desired outcomes?
  2. Do we have a high-level plan for getting from current state to end-state that the organization believes is feasible?
  3. Have we built broad-based leadership buy-in for the full agile transformation?

During scale-up, continually ask these questions:

  • Have we driven sufficient changes to achieve the desired business objectives?
  • Are we a fully agile organization from both an operating model and a mind-sets and behavior perspective?

If the answers were yes, you have reached the new normal and can focus on the next stage.

Stage Four: Continuous Evolution

To stay agile, you must maintain the dynamism of the earlier stages as you continually refine the operating model to meet changing requirements. This requires new questions – but we will leave those to a future blog post.

How to Retain and Engage Your B Players

We’ve heard for decades that we should only hire A players, and should even try to cut non-A players from our teams. But not only do the criteria for being an A player vary significantly by company, but it’s also unrealistic to think you can work only with A players. Further, as demonstrated by Google’s Aristotle project, a study of what makes teams effective, this preference for A players ignores the deep value that the people you may think of as B players actually provide.

As I’ve seen in companies of all sizes and industries, stars often struggle to adapt to the culture, and may not collaborate well with colleagues. B players, on the other hand, are often less concerned about their personal trajectories and are more likely to go above and beyond in order to support customers, colleagues, and the reputation of the business. For example, when one of my clients went through a disastrous changeover from one enterprise resource planning system to another, it was someone perceived as a B player who kept all areas of the business informed as she took personal responsibility for ensuring that every transaction and customer communication was corrected.

How can you support your B players to be their best and contribute the most possible, rather than wishing they were A players? Consider these five approaches to stop underestimating your B players and help them to reach their potential.

Get to know and appreciate them as the unique individuals they are. This is the first step to drawing out their hidden strengths and skills. Learn about their personal concerns, preferences, and the way they see and go about their work. Be sure you’re not ignoring them because they’re introverts, remote workers, or don’t know how to be squeaky wheels. A senior leader I worked with had such a strong preference for extroverts that she ignored or downgraded team members who were just going about their business.

Meanwhile, the stars on her team got plenty of attention and resources, even though they often created drama and turmoil, rather than carrying their full share of responsibility for outcomes. Some of the team members she thought of as B players started turning over after long-term frustration. When the leader and some of her stars eventually left the company, some of the B’s came back and were able to make significant contributions because they supported the mission and understood the work processes.

Reassess job fit. Employees rarely do their best if they’re in jobs that highlight their weaknesses rather than their strengths. They may have technical experience but no interest, or they could be weak managers but strong individual contributors. One leader I know had been growing increasingly more frustrated and less effective; the pressures of satisfying the conflicting demands of different departments were too much for her. Then she took a lateral move to manage a smaller, more cohesive team focused on developing new products, and was able to focus and be inspirational again once she was freed from the pressures of managing projects in such a political environment.

Consider the possibility of bias in your assignments. Women and people of color are often overlooked for challenging or high-status assignments. They’re assumed “not to be ready,” or they’re not considered because they don’t act like commonly held but stereotyped views of “leaders.” When a midlevel leader who was trying to get more exposure and advancement for one of his team members couldn’t figure out what was holding her back in the eyes of the senior leader, I raised this possibility, and we strategized multiple ways that her boss could showcase the quality and impact of her work in upcoming meetings.

Intentionally support them to be their best. Some people are their own worst critics or have deep-seated limiting beliefs that hold them back. When one of my clients lost a senior leader and couldn’t afford to replace her at market rates, a longtime B player near the end of his career nervously filled the gap. Although he expanded his duties and kept the team going, he emphasized to both his management and himself that he wasn’t really up to the job, and most of the executive team continued to treat him that way. It was not till after he had retired, and a new senior leader had to fill his shoes, that it became clear how much he had done on the organization’s behalf. The executive team never came to grips with how much more he could have accomplished had they provided the relevant development, support, and appreciation all along.

Give permission to take the lead. In 30 years of practice, one of the most common reasons I’ve seen people hold back is if they don’t believe they’ve been given permission to step up. (The people we think of as A’s tend not to ask for or wait for permission.) Some B players aren’t comfortable in the spotlight, but they thrive when they’re encouraged to complete a mission or to contribute for the good of the company. A midlevel leader I coach is quiet, modest, and doesn’t like to make waves. She kept waiting for her new leader to lay out a vision for the future and to provide direction about how the work should be done. I asked what she would do if she was suddenly in charge. She laid out a cogent plan, and I encouraged her to present it to the new leader and ask for permission to proceed. Now she and the senior leadership are moving forward in partnership.

We can’t all be A players, and it’s unrealistic to think we’ll only ever work with A players. But that may not be the appropriate goal. Instead, try using these strategies to help employees give their best, and you’ll be ensuring that your whole team can turn in an A+ performance.

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How to Make Sure Agile Teams Can Work Together

Cross-functional groups often have different incentives.

Increasing volatility, uncertainty, growing complexity, and ambiguous information (VUCA) has created a business environment in which agile collaboration is more critical than ever. Organizations need to be continually on the lookout for new market developments and competitive threats, identifying essential experts and nimbly forming and disbanding teams to help tackle those issues quickly. However, these cross-functional groups often bump up against misaligned incentives, hierarchical decision-making, and cultural rigidities, causing progress to stall or action to not be taken at all.

Agility requires the integration of different capabilities and perspectives to understand VUCA issues and figure out what kinds of experts are needed to tackle them. But those who see the world differently or who are new to a group often languish at an organization’s network edges. Whereas those in the center may be over-relied upon, those on the fringes are often not tapped in a way that allows for agile collaboration. Managing these collaborative players as part of a network can help organizations be more agile. By steadily nurturing agile collaboration, senior management can more effectively and more efficiently access the necessary depth of expertise of key collaborators within the organization. Continue reading “How to Make Sure Agile Teams Can Work Together”

Try Design Thinking + Scrum

Design Thinking and Scrum are complementary Agile approaches, the former strong in Ideation, the latter in iterative building. Why not combine both?

Classic Scrum’s Achilles’ heel

One of the weak areas of classic Scrum, in my opinion, is the relative simplicity of the ideation phase. “What to build” is sometimes an arbitrary discussion during the Scrum Backlog building and Sprint Planning exercises, and too frequently I see people just listing up things “to do” in linear fashion, resulting in what Jeff Patton calls a “flat backlog.” Not enough thinking is put in to “what to build: why, for who, and how?”

The check-in question “Is this really what we’re supposed to be building?” is frequently pushed aside while everybody is absorbed in getting the Scrum up and running and maintaining the frantic pace of Sprints.

Patton’s User Story Mapping is one such approach to fixing this problem. It goes back to the crucial question, “Who are our users and what are we building for them?”, and applies a constructive yet laborious process to boil that down into a “user mapped backlog”. It’s a multi-day process with a lot of brain sweating and heavy team work, but it is a worthwhile investment of time and effort that I would recommend to any Scrum Product Owner.

Another powerful approach for ideation is Design Thinking. Continue reading “Try Design Thinking + Scrum”