3 Ways Business DNA is Suddenly Critical

Ed Marsh | Apr 9, 2020

"Business as Normal" Will Doom You

I'm hearing from lots of folks about how they are trying to continue business as normal. 

That's a huge mistake.

Of course we need to continue to service existing customers, process new orders, and sell new deals. So in a very rudimentary sense that is "as normal."

But the situation we face is so completely abnormal that NOBODY knows how it will unfold. There is no analog to which we can turn.

Among many consequences is the fact that skill, character, grit and creativity - among the attributes that I'll call collectively Business DNA - will determine how a business emerges, particularly relative to its peers.

It's a big topic with many facets. I'm going to focus on three here.

  1. Mindset
  2. Sales DNA
  3. Discipline

Mindset - Avoid or Accept

the-secret-yet-obvious-ingredient-to-sustainable-agility-16-638Carol Dweck's Growth vs. Fixed Mindset framework is about to become a crippling reality in many companies and departments. I've written about it in detail here and here

In short "The premise is that folks with a 'fixed mindset' prefer to look smart, and will 'stick to what they know' to avoid stumbling. In contrast, those with a 'growth mindset' will learn, fail, look silly and believe that their potential progress is without bounds."

Suddenly, most of what we know about managing cash, ensuring supply chains, jockeying logistics, or securing networks (just as random examples) is largely irrelevant.

That's not to say we don't need process. In fact, in many areas it will be even more critical in order to focus diminished resources. For instance, financial internal controls should top everyone's list. With CFO, Controller, AP, AR & Payroll teams working remotely - and many under personal financial duress - there need to be new control processes developed and followed rigorously.

Nevertheless, nearly every business function is now disrupted. The loyal, plodding employee, reliably managing a predictable function has been a staple of many departments. Some will step up for sure. Many won't be able to do so.

"We can't because....", "That won't work because....", and "There's no way to do that because...." were objections that could be gently handled through coaching two months ago.

The rules now are different.

Yes, people are stressed. Yes, people will have bad days. Yes, HR programs should do what they can to reassure. But none of us know how this will play out, and loyalty to the people who are adapting for the common benefit will likely mean there are some tough individual employee decisions looming concerning those who won't or can't adapt.

So maybe it's worth having a company wide meeting to speak very frankly about Dweck's model, and describe how the two different approaches will impact the business, customers, and colleagues. Help everyone on your team understand the implication of their personal comfort - and then they'll have to make their decisions.

And for the members of your team who have a growth mindset, take a look at John Panaccione's (@JohnPanccione) distillation of key concepts from the Army's ADP 5-0, the guide to the operations planning process. 

Crisis leadership and planning

The Army recognizes the pervasiveness of threats, but identifies the recognition and seizure of opportunities to be as important in achieving outcomes.

You and your growth mindset colleagues have to be looking for opportunities.

(Interested in more insights like this? If you're a senior business exec, consider registering and joining our weekly Crisis Leadership Idea Exchange.)

Sales DNA

Dave Kurlan and Objective Management Group have talked for decades about major weaknesses among sales people. The model has been continuously refined for 30 years based on ongoing research, but some of the basic building blocks remain amazingly accurate predictors or whether someone WILL sell.

These weaknesses, which collectively constitute Sales DNA, include:

  1. Need to be liked
  2. Difficulty talking about money
  3. Lack control over emotions
  4. Non-supportive buying cycle
  5. Non supportive beliefs
  6. Handles rejection (especially passive)

These are essentially sales specific predictors from Dweck's model.

Salespeople need to be trusted. Respect helps. Liked is irrelevant. They can't be unlikeable (unpleasant) but that's different. A need to be liked is reflected in hesitance to ask tough questions or to hold buyers accountable to commitments that have been made.

Difficulty talking about money often stems from childhood admonishments that it's rude, and typically is reflected in a threshold amount (normally a few thousand dollars) which a rep personally believes is significant. The impact is that budget, priorities, and value are never fully discussed.

Salespeople who become emotionally involved lose control of the sales process. Rather than being a "fly on the wall" able to observe and manage the situation, they become an engaged participant and lose objectivity.

Dave has long maintained that just as people play the game the way they practice, and fight the way they train, they also sell the way they buy. If they research technical attributes and reviews across 20 different websites, consider purchases for weeks or months, compare prices from multiple sources and generally opt toward the cheapest - then they will empathize when buyers do that with them. On the other hand if they recognize their need/want, go to a store or website and find something that satisfies the need/want, and buy it, then they'll expect prospects to be similarly efficient and structure their sales approach accordingly.

Non-supportive beliefs cause reps to accept irrational behavior from prospects. Examples include the belief that people will only buy if our price is best; that it's rude to challenge prospects or ask too many questions; that comparison shopping is natural; and even that "great presentation - just give us a couple days to think it over and then we're probably going to move ahead" is anything other than a DOA deal.

Most salespeople believe they are resilient and rejection proof. And they may be more so than colleagues in other functions. After all, if only 20% of sales people typically hit quota, yet they keep going back for more, they must be. Prospects saying "No" is only active rejection though. Passive rejection is reflected in hesitance to cold call and other unproductive sales behaviors.

And suddenly they are all legitimate

Here's the problem. 

Just as any inclination toward a fixed mindset is suddenly "natural, sensible and reasonable", likewise any sales weakness now is perfectly understandable and almost excusable.

Of course people are freezing and cutting budgets. Of course they're scrutinizing expenses. And of course they're deluged by weak salespeople from weak competitors who are cutting price to try to get deals.

If you had sales people on the bubble in February, now might be the time to make tough choices. Even if you think you need 50, and only 15 are solid, ask seriously what value the other 35 are creating.

Keep in mind that the next couple months may be an extraordinary time to pick up top talent that's suddenly available because their company has collapsed, can't deliver product/service, etc.

Also keep in mind that inorganic sales growth opportunities are likely to explode. If sales or marketing are weaknesses, consider distressed valuation acquisition opportunities which would help to bolt those capabilities on, along with some appropriate product/service extensions.

Remember...beware the threats, but seek the opportunities!

Organizational Discipline

Who's got a "Boss Button" set on their PC to quickly change screens from Facebook, day trading or other non-work activities? And who's office firewall is set to restrict certain types of traffic?

Those existed when everyone was in the office, together.

And now folks are working remotely, suddenly, and without policies.

In 2013, when then Yahoo CEO and tech management wunderkind Marissa Mayer banned remote work for Yahoo employees, her decision was both celebrated and criticized. There were strong arguments to be made on both sides of the issue - and in 2020, traffic congestion and real estate costs are worse while technology has improved.

Remote work is a challenge of business culture more than operations. And that's the problem companies are facing today. They've adapted operations without ever addressing the business culture.

I remember having various versions of C.S. Lewis' quote "Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching" drilled into me as a young Infantry Officer. Maybe "integrity" is too pregnant with other implications - let's at least call it self-discipline. Collectively self-discipline contributes to organizational discipline.

How's your team measuring up? Is productivity up? For many jobs, it should be. Few folks are traveling. Meetings are hopefully more focused and efficient. 

If your team has the right business DNA you'll be able to adapt the culture on the fly. It won't be easy, but it will be possible.

However, if the DNA is lacking, you're in for a rough ride.

Talking Through Tough Issues

Behind each of these business DNA issues is a complex set of tough discussions and decisions. There are no clear answers.

That's the crux of being a true crisis leader. And that's very different than being a proficient manager when things are good.

And it's lonely.

That's the reason for the Crisis Leadership Idea Exchange. If you're a senior leader that wants to tackle tough issues as part of a weekly group discussion, check out the details here and register if it's a good fit.

Today, 9 April, we're going to tackle the question of how to handle mediocre performance. Of course we understand the need to be empathetic with the stress employees are experiencing and the impact on performance. On the other hand, the rest of employees that are "soldiering on" are unlikely to tolerate sub-par performance from peers.

That means tough decisions. 

We'll have a combat vet talk about emerging leaders and what team members expect from their leaders in crisis situations. And we'll have a group discussion about how to encourage crisis performers and how to handle underperformance.

The hour is precious. The value could be even higher. More here.