Leading in Japan is distinct and different from other countries. The language, culture and size of the economy make sure of that. We can learn by trial and error or we can draw on real world practical experience and save ourselves a lot of friction, wear and tear. This podcasts offers hundreds of episodes packed with value, insights and perspectives on leading here. The only other podcast on Japan which can match the depth and breadth of this Leadership Japan Series podcast is the Japan's Top Business interviews podcast.
Essentials For Motivating Salespeople
“Hey, it’s a jungle out there”. A brilliant meeting followed by a woeful meeting; the emotional roller-coaster world of sales.You’re up and down within minutes, depending on the client’s interest and reaction. You’re always too early or too late for the business chance.
The client is never on your timetable, especially your schedule around meeting the month’s quota. So how do we keep salespeople motivated to push through and produce the needed results?
Managing salespeople requires time-usage perspective. Break the team composition down to some key segments; the star, the non-performer, the new or developing, and the plateaued employee. Our natural instinct is to spend a disproportionate amount of our time on “fixing” non-performers. Stop doing this!
Instead, spend only 10% of your time on it and give them clear guidelines, firm activity targets, lots of encouragement and sell them hope.Tell them they can do it but let them do it—don’t do it for them. Send them to training to get the required skills.
The plateaued employee should get slightly more attention—around 15% of your valuable time. This group needs you to model the sales process, to go together on joint calls and to receive your coaching.
Set realistic activity levels, monitor achievement and let them know that your time becomes more available to them the more they achieve results. The new and developing deserve 25% of your attention. Their attitude and skills are good, but they lack experience. Extra coaching, your modelling of the sales technique, and priming the pump with some new leads all set them on a course for becoming high-level performers. In fact, they are keen and want to succeed, to challenge the more established performers for the top sales spot.
The star performer is often neglected because we see them as capable, skilful, competent, already producing—we think we just need to get out of their way and let them get on with it, and use our time to do other things. Big mistake! They need 50% of our time.
Their capacity for even bigger deals, bigger clients and more strategic solutions is the greatest you have available to you.
Don’t waste this succulent opportunity by spending your time with low-level performers who, even if they doubled their production, would not make a great deal of difference to the overall monthly quota achievement.
Get the star performers dealing exclusively with higher-level strategic accounts. With your seniority and contacts you often will have better initial access, and so can clear their path forward. Don’t use your prime client opportunities as a training exercise for less capable salespeople!
Keep thinking of new ways to challenge the stars. They have the capacity to do more complex deals so keep pointing them in this direction. At the same time, clear obstacles, find them needed resources, and don’t forget to praise and appreciate them.
Often these employees are highly driven, so we think they are totally self-contained and don’t need our recognition. Not true! They may not need it but they still want to hear it from you.
Formal, informal and daily recognition tools are some of the basics in the sales manager’s toolbox. Examples of formal recognition are awards, reward trips, plaques and pins, while informal acknowledgment is a spontaneous recognition of milestones achieved.
Examples include an individual or team lunch, tickets to a film or sporting event, a holiday or food. Daily appreciation might include a simple “thank you”, a congratulatory handwritten note, or recognition in front of the group.Be careful with this last point in Japan. Being singled out for praise in front of one’s peers can be uncomfortable in a group-oriented culture like Japan, where fitting in is more valued than standing out.
Murahachibu (banishment from village collective celebrations and joint activities) was a traditional exclusion technique used to punish those who didn’t
Are Your People Smart Enough?
Success is usually thought to be built on a combination of personal attributes such as intelligence, technical knowledge, street smarts, hard won experience (built on failures from pushing too hard), guts and tenacity. Our varsity halls offer a vast array of academic knowledge, information, insights, concepts, theories, tomes, technology and debate. Company education is usually focused on producing detailed product knowledge and navigation clarity around the organizational labyrinth.
Tick the boxes on all of these and you are off to the races for career progression. Trouble usually starts though when they recognize you and start to expect leverage from your personal abilities. Leverage means not just what you can individually contribute, but your capacity to get contribution from others they have placed in your charge. As the old saw goes "all of our troubles in life walk on two legs and talk back". Welcome to management!
Even if you are a powerhouse, a total workaholic, pounding out 100 hours every week, your 5 staff working 40 hours a week are doing twice as much as you are. By the way, if you are putting in 100 hours a week, we need to talk!
The tricky part though is you got recognized for your personal qualities, which quite frankly, you are depressed to discover are not universal within your team. You might even become a Theory X manager, who sees the glass as very much half full. You have become a legend at finding faults and shortcomings in your team. You perceive them as useless. They can’t be trusted, they are lazy, they make mistakes all the time, they don't take responsibility, they don’t have the required commitment, etc . Theory Y managers, on the other hand, see the glass as half full. They see their people as decent, capable, honest, doing their best, wanting to succeed, etc. McGregor, who termed Theory X and Y, concluded that how you see them is what you will create for yourself. Uh oh!
This means we really have to be careful about our own attitude, more than worried about our staff’s attitude. We have to be walking around looking for the ten things people are doing well rather than the one thing they are not doing well. Leveraging strengths is more effective than trying to minimise weaknesses.
"Gotcha" however is a popular pursuit for bosses. They really enjoy finding fault and spend their time whining into their beers about what a pitiful deck they have been dealt back at the office. Could they themselves be part of the problem? Impossible they believe, why they are in this position of leadership, accountability and responsibility because they are superior! If this is you, by the way, get ready for 200 hour work weeks. You will have no leverage and will have to do all the work. "Delegation" will be but a distant dream.
Here is a simple hint for looking for the good: when wandering around, tell your team what they are doing now that is "good" in your opinion and then ask them what they think they could do "better".
Here is another idea: "make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest". Sounds simple, but how does that actually work? Normally everyone thinks they are busy enough already thank you very much or they are deep in their comfort zone around the way things are done around here. Usually the boss’s suggestion represents more work or doing things differently – neither considered particularly attractive prospects. So how do we get people to engage? Instead of giving orders we could ask questions. This "self discovery" process leads to greater ownership and commitment to the execution of the task.
We could break the task down to smaller pieces ("eat an elephant one bite at a time") and "praise the slightest improvement and praise very improvement". It is too late to wait until task completion to tell people they did a good job. We need to be intervening part the way through to recognize and appreciate th
You Don't Learn Do You
Corporate learning isn’t working. Heroically, time and treasure are being spent by company leaders to improve staff performance. Inherent in that goal is that we as recipients learn something new or re-learn what we supposedly should know already. Talking to companies interested in increasing people performance, we have noted some common barriers to making learning work.
Business conditions, markets, the competition are all in a state of flux and change is now "constant". Companies attempt to respond. The clarion call goes out to the troops to rally behind the latest change. New policies, slogans, work methods, and systems "cascade" and are met with disinterest or just tacit compliance.
The changes usually require everyone to "learn" to do things in a new or different way. The desired order is usually (1) learn, (2) change, (3) improve results. The breakdown point in this continuum is the one in the middle – change. The organisation may want improved performance, but is met with the mindset of "I" agree in principle, but no thank you - "I" don’t want to make any changes to what "I" do now. Insanity is defined as doing the same thing every time and expecting a different outcome. This "no thank you" attitude drives leaders nuts.
So why don’t we want to change? Actually we are changing all the time, and with the influx of powerful hand held technology, which we lug around 24 hours a day, we are the leading generation of change adoption. Having some cool new piece of technology is fine, as far as change goes, but getting on board with the latest corporate direction is not as appealing. The bosses return from the executive off-site brimming with exuberance and high hopes, to find the troops don’t really buy into the change proposal.
"Seen it all before" cynicism runs wild, and top down direction is resisted. By the way, "we own the world we create". So when there is no creation or ownership, leaders, at best, get passive compliance from subordinates.
In the adoption of the new, change necessitates exposure to RISK. We are generally risk averse, that is why we are all firmly entrenched in our Comfort Zones. We have all learnt to reduce risk, so that is why we take the same route to work every day, eat the same range of cuisines, listen to the same range of music, have the basic same circle of friends, and have the same group of close colleagues at work. Hey, it’s comfortable and we will have boiled down a lot of complex choices to settle on these few safer alternatives. So don’t ask me to go through the whole process again and make changes, thank you very much!
Break out of our Comfort Zone? Successful companies work on this to successfully drive the culture change required to meet the organisation’s goals. The barrier is the learning process inside most companies. There is no content component to expand their people’s Comfort Zones. "Learning" is often just data download, purely technical or simply product knowledge driven. Now is a good time to take a measured look at your current learning content. Where is the bit to build the confidence to take risks, to really expand those Comfort Zones, to actively adopt change, to learn, to improve performance?
Will we ever learn?
Management Smoke And Mirrors In Japan
"I don’t understand!".
Well in Nippon, particularly, what a pandora’s box or treasure trove that statement is, depending on your point of view. Employees who respond in this way may have a number of subterranean issues bubbling away. As managers, our ability to plumb the depths of what they are saying is integral for success.
Here are 5 hidden meanings behind that "I don’t understand" response. Gauging which one applies is the combined IQ and EQ test for managers. Here are few hints on passing the test and getting your just reward – keeping your job!
1 – They don’t know what to do
They may genuinely not understand the task content or have enough experience to execute what you require of them. They may not want to "fess up" to their lack of ability, because they fear the consequences.
2 – They don’t know how to do it
Funnily enough common sense is not so common it would appear. What is obvious to a seasoned, experienced manager may be "Swahili" to their staff. Logic works in mysterious ways, especially here in Japan, so the way forward can be unclear.
3 – Not believing they can do it
This is closely linked to the "Big Black Book of Failure". This infamous tome is usually squirrelled away in the bowels of the HR Department and it carefully captures and records everyone’s errors, mistakes, crimes and disasters. Therefore, a certain inspired logic informs it is better to do nothing, than to make a mistake. Fear of falling short of expectations or performance minimums is re-branded as "I don’t understand".
4 – Not knowing why they should do it
This has two variants. One is why should "I" be doing this? In other words, in my highly refined and defined world view, my guidebook of Big Black Book of Failure avoidance says only do precisely what is in my job description and avoid straying into exotic areas of interest to my manager. The second variant is more bold. It is the actual idea that this task or project has dubious, shallow or irrelevant value, so why do it at all.
5 – Not wanting to do it
Ah, we have arrived at last. They know what happens to "nails that stick out" and they know that challenging your whacky ideas is a path to pain. There is "no way" I am going to do this, but I will snow you and just say "I don’t understand".
So facing that sea of inscrutable staff faces, all certified masters of silence and obfuscation, how do we work out what is the problem.
Some gentle probing will ascertain whether they don’t know what to do. For example, "Have you ever done this task before?" will establish whether you are facing blank, terrified total ignorance or not. This usually covers off Hidden Responses 1 & 2.
If the answer is "No", the boss penchant for muscling up to the bar and displaying vast knowledge, capability, and experience should be avoided, unless you want to be doing their job as well as your own, with no reduction in headcount and no increase in your own remuneration.
If the answer is "Yes", we move on to see if Number 3 - self doubt - is the issue. "Is there anything about this task this time which you think is going be difficult (code word for "impossible" when rendered back into Japanese as "muzukashii"). If the answer comes back as a "No" or lists concerns that don’t seem insurmountable, then we need to see if Number 4 - the "why" - is the issue.
Here some background on why you chose them for this task could be helpful. "I chose you for this task because I know I can rely on you, even though you are so busy with other work. The reason why this project is important to me is ….’ A "trial close" at this point is useful. "Are you happy to do this task?". If they say "Yes", we are off to the races, if it is a "No" then we are getting down to it at last.
Their answer about why they are not happy will tell you all you need to know about why your idea won’t work in Japan. Always useful to get that type of feedback - just do your best
541 The Exorbitant Cost Of Leader Stress
I am putting this content together for me to remind myself that psychosomatic illness is a real thing and there are plenty of graveyards with ambitious thrusting leaders pushing up daisies, because the stress killed them. Being an Aussie male is a health hazard. We are taught from a young age to harden up, soldier on, keep going no matter what. “She’ll be right” is our approach to health issues, which is why we don’t bother going to the doctor or taking good care of ourselves.
Male leaders in general, I would say, are not good at taking care of their health. Too many fags, too much grog, not enough exercise and bad eating habits piling up one on top of the other. We add extra kilos and can’t figure out why we can’t shake that tummy roll as well down an excellent red. We keep working late rather than get to the gym or we are permanently tired in the morning and can’t muster the energy to get out of bed to jog or walk, to get our aerobic exercise quotient.
This is during normal times and then we get hit by additional stress from insufficient results, staff issues or any number of things in business which can drive you nuts. Before you know it, your blood pressure is very high and this is the problem, you don't recognise it is high, because you have been functioning like this for so long, you don’t recognise anything has changed. Annual health checks are good, because they flag things that are going sideways, but there is a long break between results and a lot can kill us in that one year interval.
My recent health check flagged high blood pressure and in typical Aussie male fashion I just dismissed it, because I didn't believe it. It was just a one off, I said to myself, a small blip, nothing to worry about. My wife being a lot smarter than me, bought one of those home blood pressure readers and now I realise this was not a blip. By the way, I know exactly where the stress is coming from and I thought I was on top of it. I didn’t feel anything was particularly wrong, nothing felt different, but that is when we get ambushed.
There are a range of medical solutions I will be discovering very shortly no doubt, but what else can we do to self-manage our stress. One little four-point formula I like is the following:
1. What is the problem? This sounds easy, but it isn’t. Often there are multiple problems and we are wandering through the day assaulted on all sides by various problems like a swarm of bees buzzing around inside our head all struggling for individual attention. We have to decide which is the Queen Bee of problems, the biggie, the one we have to face down first?
2. What are the causes of the problem? Again, sounds simple, but it isn’t. There can be so many causes and inter-related causes and we are struggling to sort out where we should start. We have to decide which is the most egregious cause of our main concern? Which cause should we prioritise above the turmoil we are facing?
3. What are the possible solutions? This is an important step because we move from the back foot to the front foot and we start to engage the positive part of our brain. When we get to this stage, we need to suspend judgement and just go for as many ideas as we can manage. Some will be stupid, unrealistic, unworkable and some great, but we want to get them all out. That stupid, crazy, dopey idea may trigger another thought. “We can’t get that idea to work, but if we tweaked it like this, we could get this better result”, type of conversation with ourselves. The better idea may not have emerged, without the help of the stupid idea.
4. What is the best possible solution? It may be the best of a bad bunch of alternatives and far from perfect, but at least we have arrived at a possible way forward. We now have a possible map to navigate the future and to get to the best possible results, given where we find ourselves.
540 Giving Errant Staff Feedback
I have a short fuse for idiocy. I know this about myself, so I have to work on me, to calm down and not just verbally unload both shotgun barrels into the idiot. Like everything, there is best practice about giving errant staff feedback. I find a useful ploy is to “time separate” my irritation with them from when I deliver the feedback. When I get hot and irritated, I can be too powerful, direct, strong and cutting.
Just putting the conversation off for a day, can make a big difference to how I can approach the topic of their failure. It is rare that the conversation has to be had on the very spot, so buying a bit of time for yourself as the feedback giver, is worth it. We can calm down and become more skilled in our angle of approach. When the blood is boiling, we will go straight for the jugular and wreak havoc.
How we approach the conversation is a key. When our temper is up, we will get straight down to business and immediately go into the problem. This can inspire a counter punch from the staff member as a defensive reaction and then we are into the depths of a heated argument. Always remember, prior to raising this specific topic, the staff have been working away on something and they have this in their mind when we approach them for our conversation. We need to use a cushion to create a breaker, a cushion, between what they have been thinking about and what we are about to discuss.
A cushion is a simple statement, which neither aggravates nor neutralises their current condition. We can ask about their hobby or family or interests. Something outside of work is a good breaker. Following that we should look to praise them. The praise has to be real and statements cannot be too vague. A meaningful comment would be something like this: “I thought your suggestion in the team meeting last week, about changing the way we break down the sale’s lead flow was a very good idea, so thank you for making that point”. The person we are talking to knows they made that statement and so it was real and now you are praising them for making it. Hopefully they are not making errors in all parts of their work, so that we can find something they have done well to recognise.
Now we get to the point at issue. Say for example, they failed to make an entry into the accounting system, which led to the initial P&L report being wrong and certain decisions were then taken on the basis of those incorrect numbers. We could say, “Why did you screw up the entry process? Don’t you know how important it is to have accuracy around our forecasting and decision-making process. This error has had major consequences and cannot be tolerated”. Now, this may be what we may be thinking, but it isn’t a great way to impart the feedback and to effectively correct the error going forward.
We would be better to try another approach, such as “I see that key numbers were missed in the accounting process and this has led to important decisions being taken on the basis of the wrong numbers. We don’t normally have these data entry issues, so I am wondering what happened on this occasion?”. We turn the invective into a neutral question and allow them the chance to explain what went wrong. It may in fact prove to not be their fault. Or it may be that their workload was so overloaded at that time, that this caused the error. Or it may be that they are an idiot.
The next question should be around, “How can we make sure that we don’t have a repeat of this problem”. This gives them ownership of the solution and therefore they are more likely to make sure the error is not repeated. If this was a regularly repeated mistake, then we would be talking about their future in the company at this point, but let’s assume this is a one off error. We want them to keep going and to do a better job, so we have to resurrect their confidence. They know they made a mistake and they feel b
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