The New Normal, and What It Means

451326_medMediocre is the new normal.

Sorry to say, but I challenge you to refute the idea. It’s not the exception anymore – it’s the NORM. Call me cynical.

Do you realize how difficult it is to find people who pay attention to detail? Who care about excellence? Who care about improving the workplace culture? Who have pride in their work? Who are willing to do what it takes to be successful?

Oh…by the way, I’m not talking about employees. I’m talking about you – the manager. Allegedly, the leader of the band.

Of course you probably thought I was talking about employees, because that’s who gets the blame when performance is sub-par. Unfortunately, I have bad news: when performance is poor it is a clear indication that leadership is ineffective. Shall I be blunt? If you have a poorly performing team, it’s not your employees fault – it’s your fault.

Look in the mirror.

The next time the service you receive at a restaurant is lousy, understand that the manager or owner is to blame. Trust me; if management wanted service to be exemplary, it would be. And enough with the excuses about “you can’t find good people” or “part-time people aren’t committed” or “kids don’t work hard.” Ever been to Chick-fil-A?

The next time you go to the Post Office (heaven forbid) and wait in line for 30 minutes while a single, uninspiring, disinterested employee moving at the speed-of-sloth waits on three people, don’t blame the employee. Consider the people who run the place.

Get the picture? Mediocrity is not only acceptable, it has become the new normal.

But there is good news. You know what that means? Without question, if you have any interest whatsoever in standing out, you couldn’t get better news. There isn’t a lot of competition.

It’s like going back twenty years in the World Series of Poker – before Chris Moneymaker won $2.5 million in 2003. Average guy comes out of nowhere and wins millions, people start thinking they can do the same. Entrants tripled the year after he won. 10 years BC (before Chris), there were 220 entrants into the Main Event. Last year? Almost 6,600.

The point is, when there are more people doing something well, it’s harder to be the best. Conversely, when there are fewer people, it gets easier – and right now, it is surprisingly difficult to find people with the discipline and dedication to achieve excellence. The opportunity this provides to motivated managers is staggering:

  • IF you are willing to work.
  • IF you are willing to learn.
  • IF you are willing to excel.
  • IF you are willing to commit.
  • IF you give a crap.

I had to throw in that last one. Unfortunately, people just really don’t seem to care if the job is done well or not. And excellence doesn’t happen unless somebody cares.

Again, I’m talking about managers, not employees. Managers are responsible for performance. If you care about excellence, then caring is not optional if you work for that manager. In fact, the big surprise is that employees are screaming for strong leadership.

That’s right. While companies are clamoring for effective leaders – individuals who know how to engage and develop employees, build high-performance teams, and create best-in-class performance – employees are more so.

Do you know how much it stinks to work for an average boss?

No training. No development. No feedback. Nothing. Just show up, do a job, collect a paycheck.

No wonder it’s so hard to find good employees.

Quit Making Sales Calls

19210726That’s right, if you want to hit your numbers this year, quit making sales calls. What a colossal waste of time.

First off, sales calls aren’t even SALES calls; they are “office-visits-where-I-complete-some-menial-task-that-makes-me-feel-like-I’m-doing-something-valuable-and-give-me-something-to-write-on-my-call-report” calls. Ask salespeople about their “sales calls” and you get answers like this:

  • I dropped off our new brochure.
  • I followed up on an order.
  • I checked in to see if they had evaluated our proposal.
  • I met the department manager and set up an appointment.

Seriously? These are sales calls? If I read these in a report, my blood pressure would double. If I asked a salesperson to outline their sales plan for the week and I got these answers, I would need oxygen.

Secondly, we should quit calling them sales calls anyway – even if they qualify as sales calls. Why? Because “sales calls” imply a whole lot of salesperson and very little customer. 85% talking, and very little listening. What we need to do is change the vernacular; real “sales calls” are not sales calls, they are “value creation calls.”

That’s right – “VALUE CREATION” calls.

You come into my office to sell me something, you’re a product pusher. You come into my office to create value for my organization, you become interesting. Assuming you can deliver that value, you become a trusted advisor. A resource. A partner.

And, by the way, value creation doesn’t have to be just about delivering your products and services. Every single call can be a value creation call. In Conceptual Selling, authors Robert Miller and Stephen Heiman made the case for preparing a “valid business reason” for every call. In other words, when you approach a client or potential client, you need to be prepared to offer something in the call that makes it worth the investment of time – regardless of your ultimate objective in the call.

  • I offered a training program to improve safety in the shop (and I dropped off a brochure).
  • I delivered some research data that will benefit their marketing department (and I followed up on an order).
  • I introduced the buyer to someone I think can solve a problem for them (and I checked in to see if they had evaluated our proposal).
  • (I met the department manager and set up an appointment), and I left a White Paper that addresses a problem they are experiencing.

Everybody talks about delivering value, but few salespeople think about it for every single sales call.

What I know, without question, is that business owners and executives have no time for salespeople. They do, however, have plenty of time to talk with someone who can create real value for their businesses.

Think about it for every single call you make.

The Fallibility of Results

2206743_medWhat is the defining characteristic of an effective leader? That is, what is that “one thing” that causes you to say about someone, “That person is a leader.”

What do you observe?

I’m sure this question will produce a laundry list of responses. He or she is: confident, decisive, commanding, persuasive, responsive, charismatic, transparent, caring, intelligent, innovative, insightful….and so on.

Many would see this as an impossible or meaningless exercise, and I can’t say that I would disagree. One thing? Really?

However, in my experience, people usually get branded as leaders for one very distinct reason: they get things done. They product results.

Actually, that should be self-evident. The vast majority of managers have been promoted to their current position of leadership because of their performance track record. As employees, or as a supervisors or managers at a lower level, they have produced results. Think about it: when it comes time to pick a new manager in your company, what does current management look for?


And that creates a predictable problem. If leadership is primarily about results – and I’m not suggesting it isn’t – how you produce those results can easily become a secondary consideration.

“But wait,” you say. “Leadership is about much more than performance, it’s also about motivating and developing employees. It’s about setting an example. It’s about ideas and the ability to execute those ideas.”

Wait. That last part sounds like results.

“Well, sort of. But being a leader is about solving problems and making decisions.”

Uh huh. Results.

“But what about the employee part – engagement and development and all that?”

Good point. But are those things really factored into a decision to promote someone to a position of leadership? Or, is it about the results they produce, and the other stuff is icing on the cake?

The reality is, in the final analysis, the vast majority of executives consider one thing when considering an individual for a management slot: RESULTS. That’s it.

How do I know? Because I hear the comments made about those leaders who are leaving a mark on employees:

“Hey, sometimes you have to crack a few eggs.”
“Say what you want – he gets results.”
“You don’t have to like her, but you have to respect her.”
“Right now we need someone to whip that group into shape.”

So, we are back to Square One. We hire and promote leaders based on their ability to produce results. To get things done. To make things happen. And, truth be told, we are willing to overlook some of the, uh, issues that may accompany those results.

And we wonder why employee engagement is poor (3 out of 4 employees are not engaged or actively disengaged). We wonder why people don’t reach their potential. We wonder why morale is poor. Sometimes we just wonder what is wrong. We can’t quite put our finger on the “why,” but we know the organization could do so much more.

“…harsh, hard-driving, ‘results-at-all-costs’ executives actually diminish the bottom line…self-aware leaders with strong interpersonal skills deliver better financial performance.”

Excerpted from “What Predicts Executive Success?
Green Peak Partners and Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations 2011 Research Report

Perhaps it would help to consider leadership from this perspective: the art and science of getting things done through other people.

Not just results. Influencing others to produce those results. Not compelling others. Or forcing others. Or driving others. Influencing others. Engaging others.

How many people get promoted to management based on that criteria?