Sales Management. Simplified.: The Straight Truth About Getting Exceptional Results from Your Sales Team

Book Summary - Sales Management. Simplified. By Mike Weinberg

Key Insights

The problems faced by sales managers are varied and plentiful. Unrealistic expectations of executive management and a lack of time in the workday are just two of the challenges they face. Sales managers understand that if they don’t achieve their goals, it also affects their team.

If you’re a sales manager, you understand how intense the pressure can be. Apart from managing sales teams, it is important to know how to direct their focus and prioritize objectives. When sales teams lose sight of their objectives, this can cause more problems for the manager.

Sales management is a multifaceted role. Managers are involved in adjusting compensation and administration work on CRM software. Sometimes these tasks can take away from the managers’ true role. Being a successful manager requires knowing how to prioritize tasks and eliminate unnecessary ones.

What you’ll learn

  • What issues and problems sales managers commonly have to deal with.
  • How sales managers attempt to fix work problems and when shortcut solutions go wrong.
  • What helps sales managers and sales teams succeed.
  • What qualities a good sales manager and healthy work culture have
  • What tools are best for planning and strategizing.

Who this is for

  • CEOs
  • Corporate executives
  • Sales professionals
  • Company managers
  • Sales managers

Key Points

Being a sales manager in name only is disastrous for everyone.

Do you spend most of your time doing everything but sales? A lot of sales managers probably feel this way. That’s because a lot of your time can be taken over by dealing with tasks unrelated to sales. If your time is not focused on your sales objectives, it can affect your whole team.

If you’re not driving revenue or coaching your staff, you might start to miss targets. In sales, missing targets can mean the difference between a great month and a terrible one. Even if it’s the sales team that’s underperforming, it’s the responsibility of the sales manager to fix it.

When you’re prioritizing the wrong things, you’re missing opportunities to be a sales manager. If you spend the majority of your day working on updating CRM software, you’re not fulfilling your role the best way you can. The time spent on the wrong things could be focused on bringing in sales and improving your team’s performance.

You want to be an actual sales manager and not just a manager in name only. You have to create a productive atmosphere and make sure your team is driving revenue. To do this, you need to communicate with your team and be aware everyone is working towards the same goals.

How to create a culture of teamwork and lead with distinction.

Just because you’re a nice person doesn’t mean you have a happy team of salespeople. To create a positive environment requires some work. To begin with, you need to identify the goals you all share and make yourself accessible to your team.

When you’re a salesperson you’re in the habit of thinking about your goals and your sales results. You may be part of a team, but ultimately, what matters to you is your own sales performance. This way of thinking is common in salespeople and it helps them to be successful.

However, when you’re a sales manager, you have to think about others. You’re in charge of a team and it’s your job to monitor their performances. Unlike salespeople, managers have more of an impact if they are putting the needs of the team before their own.

To be a good leader, you must understand the difference between your previous role as a salesperson and your current role. You may have been a great salesperson, but you’re a manager now. That means leaving the active sales role behind.

Trying to take on two roles can reduce your effectiveness. Instead, put all the effort into your new role and help the team. If you were good as a salesperson, use that knowledge to guide your sales team. You will be more effective as a manager when you coach your team in selling techniques than trying to compete with them.

Being nice doesn’t always mean a happy sales team but it can. Be accessible and helpful. Nurture the sales talent you have on your team instead of trying to relive your glory days. If you do these things you will give your team the confidence and energy they need to succeed.

Get to know your team members and play to their strengths.

One of the least effective things you can do as a manager is to assume that someone is underperforming because they are bad at sales. There could be many reasons for a person’s bad performance. You can minimize the wrong assumptions through proactive management.

When you’re coaching, take the time to get to know your salespeople as individuals. As you get to learn more about them, take notes of their strengths and weaknesses. It will help you to assess the areas you as a team can improve and where you excel.

This matters, because it will help you to identify if anyone is in a role they are not suited for. If you find that people are underperforming, clearly defining everyone’s role will help. One of the main reasons employees underperform is because they are not entirely sure what their actual role is.

If you can clearly communicate what each team member’s responsibilities are, you will see a positive difference. Once people understand exactly what they are meant to be doing, they often strive to be the best they can in their role. You can use this as an opportunity to move people into more suitable roles if it would be helpful to the team.

In worst case scenarios, you may have to replace people. This should only happen if they consistently underperform even with constant coaching. Only when it is clear that they cannot work with the team should you consider replacing them.

A good manager trusts their team and works with them to improve. One of the most common mistakes made is to bring in another more experienced salesperson if there is no need to. This can cause friction and lower morale. It also doesn’t always mean sales will improve.

Experienced salespeople still need to find their place in the team. So bringing in another member without needing them could create more work for you as a manager. Think about it, an experienced salesperson will have their way of doing things. Even worse, it may cause your best performers to leave if they don’t feel valued.

There are times when you need to recruit people. You want to be able to get the best talent you can but also retain the talent you have. Your team will always benefit from high performing candidates, as long as the existing members feel valued.

Be aware of the needs of your team, but always be on the lookout for new talent. Keeping your highest performers happy doesn’t mean you can’t have strong candidates ready to join. If one of your best salespeople leaves, you should have a strong enough team that it doesn’t affect sales results.

Use your knowledge and experience to make sure your team gets the training they need.

When you are running a team of salespeople, it will be clear from the start that not everyone has an effective sales strategy. This is where your role as a sales manager comes into play. Although you’re not a salesperson anymore, you have to provide them with information that will help them the best they can.

There is no secret to being a good salesperson. It simply takes a lot of work and having helpful resources at your disposal. Take the time to make sure your team has all the resources they need. It’s your job to ensure they have presentation skills and a clear sales strategy.

This is where your experience can help. With your knowledge you can help them to prepare for sales calls properly. Ask them questions about their calls. Have they researched the potential customer? Have they prepped questions specifically for the call?

As the sales manager, you have to emphasize the importance of the sales story. The sales story goes beyond listing the services or products. It is how the customer is engaged and a good sales story will make the deal easier to close.

A good manager never stops providing coaching tips for the team. Highlight the importance of talking points and being prepared for sales calls. You should always take the time to explain why it is important to communicate the story and how it differentiates you from the competition.

Coaching your team will help to create an open and positive culture for your team. When you make the effort to train them, you improve their skills while building a relationship with your team. By being supportive, you help to create a supportive work environment.

If you have meetings they should have a purpose and inspire your team.

Even though you may have a great team that you trust, you still have to make sure you are getting results. Monitoring the team doesn’t mean you have to sit in on sales calls or constantly read sales reports. Try instead, to hold a regular meeting.

When you hold a regular meeting you can take the opportunity to provide team feedback and more importantly, get theirs. In these meetings, you can look at sales reports together and discuss the results. If you notice any issues arising in the reports, this is the time you can address them.

A meeting is also a good time to look at the month or year ahead. You can create sales plans as a team. When you’re in the room together everyone is included in the conversation regarding the sales plan. By the end of a sales meeting, everyone should know their goals and be ready to go.

Holding meetings gives you the ability to speak to your team about goals and strategies. It also enables you the opportunity to monitor their progress without making them feel any pressure about their performance. In short, you can address concerns and inspire your team all at once.

The Main Take-away

To be a successful sales manager, you have to clearly define the roles of your team and provide consistent coaching for them all.

Sales management is not the same as sales. If you want to be a successful manager, you need to know your team’s strengths and weaknesses. You need to be available to them for coaching and as a resource. You need to provide them with the resources and the knowledge need to achieve sales goals. A good sales manager understands how to create a healthy work culture and elevate the sales team.

About the Author

Mike Weinberg is a bestselling author, consultant, and professional coach. His knowledge of new business development and sales management have made him one of the most trusted sales experts in the world today.

Weinberg has consulted with companies around the world and has been voted the number one sales expert to follow on Twitter. He lives in St. Louis with his wife and three children.

Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers: The People Skills You Need to Achieve Outstanding Results

Book Summary - Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers by Anthony Mersino

Key Insights

Projects need leaders that can manage a team of people that may not be used to working together. Emotional intelligence is essential in working with people effectively.

Before you’re able to manage the others, you have to be able to manage yourself. That means having the self-awareness and emotional intelligence to lead yourself where you need to go. Emotional intelligence is your capability to understand and manage your emotions.

From a team perspective, relationships are critical to getting the work done effectively. Project management has moved away from the hierarchical structure of the team leader announcing what will be done. You can encourage the development of team members and move into a more agile workflow.

What you’ll learn

  • What emotional intelligence is
  • How to lead yourself
  • How to foster an agile project team
  • How to manage relationships in the project environment

Who this is for

  • Project managers
  • Team leaders
  • Project team members

Key Points

Emotional intelligence is the capacity to manage your own emotions.

The first step in emotional intelligence is understanding your own emotions. You have to be able to perceive and name what you’re feeling.

A starting place is the acronym SASHET. This stands for sad, angry, scared, happy, excited, and tender. While these emotions don’t include every possible feeling you could have, they cover the big categories.

Each of the emotions in SASHET has other emotions that fall under them. There are variations of feeling sad, with some deeper and darker than others. But the idea of feeling sad and understanding that it is affecting you is the beginning of emotional intelligence.

Once you understand your emotions, you can begin to manage them. You know that a certain emotion may take away your focus. But if you manage that emotion, you’re able to keep it from taking over. The management is critical to emotional intelligence because you don’t allow the emotions to detract from the goals.

You can improve your emotional self-awareness.

Leading yourself with emotional intelligence first requires self-awareness. This is not a trait you’re born with that is genetically determined. You can work to become better at emotional self-awareness.

Start with a journal. Keep track of what you’re feeling and how often you feel it. Have someone with whom you can safely share those feelings. Also, use that person to get some feedback about the expressions you have during each of those emotional states. When you have negative feelings, try to identify what caused them.

You also have to think about the emotional habits you’ve learned that may feel normal for you. Maybe you don’t register emotional changes, but you experience physical symptoms. For example, you think you’ve handled a dispute or frustration calmly. But if you pay attention to your body, you’ll have a flush and a rapid heartbeat that indicates anger.

Once you recognize your emotions, what triggers them, and how they manifest, you have to start becoming aware of what you do with them. Some people respond to emotions like fear with jokes or respond to anger with passive-aggressive commentary.

Use an honest self-assessment to ask yourself what you’re doing and why. If you need help, look to people you trust to give you feedback. Remember that the people who love you can often see things you’re not aware of.

Project managers can’t let their emotions control the team environment.

The self-management component of emotional intelligence is critical in managing project teams. If the manager is letting negativity take root, it can disrupt an otherwise collaborative environment. On the flip side, positivity and enthusiasm can also be contagious, boosting team morale.

For example, negative emotions taking over can result in screaming, storming out, or sabotaging the work to get revenge. This creates a toxic work environment for everyone. If these emotions can be contained and processed, the work need not be affected.

So, how do you improve the management of your emotions? Building off the self-awareness and self-assessment, you start to understand your triggers. Figure out how to avoid those or redirect yourself when they come up.

Position yourself to handle emotional triggers better.

The acronym HALT can be used to remember the things that make us more likely to explode. If you’re hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, any bad feeling may get magnified. So, try to address these needs as they come up and before you get emotionally triggered.

Identify the warning signs of emotional issues. These can be physical symptoms or something else that you’ve become aware of. Take a step back and allow yourself some time to feel those things without taking it out on others.

By caring for your emotional needs and not just suppressing them, and by taking care of physical needs before they interfere with your emotions, you can give yourself more power to handle bad emotions.

Turn your emotional intelligence into empathy for others.

The nature of project management is that each project is a temporary undertaking. So, when one project is finished and another one starts, you may have an entirely new team of people and personalities.

You need strong relationships with all of your stakeholders to get the job done well. The bonds come from social awareness and relationship management. These are extensions of the self-awareness and self-management components of emotional intelligence.

Social awareness means you can understand others’ emotions. You are able to empathize but also see and respect boundaries. Basically, you need to read people’s feelings and needs without overstepping.

Empathy is the most challenging piece to learn, but you can work on your listening and observation skills. Before you react, listen to what your project team member is saying. Take account of the non-verbal cues as well. Be aware of your own personal biases that allow you to jump to conclusions and challenge them. Try to wait to draw any conclusions until you’ve heard someone out.

Identify the interpersonal relationships that can affect the work.

Contextualizing social awareness is the concept of organizational awareness. You may think you understand someone, but they are a product of their environment.

There may be office politics or other interpersonal conflicts or alliances. Observing and understanding these issues can help you understand what you’re dealing with on your team. Also, each organization has its own culture and what is considered acceptable. You may need to titrate your expectations and adjust your own behavior accordingly.

Take what you know about the people in each team to manage relationships.

Relationship management comes from what you do with insights. For example, an effective leader is able to redirect potential personal drama. Understanding what is acceptable in an organization, you can work with your team to set ground rules and boundaries for communication.

You have to communicate effectively with your team, which means providing feedback in the appropriate way. Encouraging development and growth in your staff while pointing out where things came up short is essential for project success.

Telling the truth is harder than you might think. It isn’t just brutal honesty and leaving other people to clean up the mess. Maybe you are frustrated and want to yell, but you have to find a way to express yourself productively.

Without striking the right balance, your relationships with team members and other stakeholders may falter. To be an effective project manager you need to use that emotional intelligence for the benefit of the project.

Create a positive team environment.

The best use of your emotional intelligence in project teams is to create a positive environment. You identify the goals and the path to those goals. Then you empower your team with motivation and support them with clear communication.

It won’t all be sunshine and rainbows. Everyone will have challenging days and they need to be able to express what is going on and what they need without harming the project team and its goals. Use your awareness of your staff to read emotional states and try to head off trouble.

Conflict is not always avoidable. To resolve conflict with emotional intelligence, take into account the feelings behind the conflict. If you include those in thinking through a resolution, everyone can feel good about the solution. Resentment following conflict is detrimental so you have to think about how people are feeling.

Work towards being an inspirational leader that allows her team to flourish.

The traditional top-down project management style is fading. Agile projects are all about letting the team do what it does best. Your job as a leader is to facilitate that and not create any unnecessary obstacles.

How do you do that? Be an inspirational leader. You motivate and focus on the big goals and the vision for the project. Highlight and celebrate achievements and be willing to pitch in wherever you’re most needed. If you lead by example as a team player, you show your team respect and commitment. You will be rewarded with a positive work environment.

You can use the feelings and emotions and channel them into the project in a positive way. This is especially important in complex projects, which have been shown to need greater emotional intelligence. Virtual teams add to this need, requiring you to be even more adept at reading people and controlling how you convey emotions.

Moving past the inspirational leader is the resonant leader. This is where your emotional intelligence can shine.

The Main Take-away

Emotional intelligence is an essential tool for project managers to lead project teams effectively in agile projects.

Be self-aware about your emotions and learn to control them. Use your understanding of emotion to become socially and organizationally aware. Take this understanding to manage your team more effectively. Emotional intelligence about yourself, your team, and other stakeholders will allow you to be an inspirational and resonant leader.

About the Author

Anthony Mersino is the founder of Vitality Chicago. His firm focuses on agile training for teams and has developed expertise in team dynamics and the challenges organizations face.

They offer standard courses through a partnership with Northwestern University and personalized coaching for organizations looking to improve. Mersino focuses on the value of transparency and a positive organizational culture. He believes that addressing organizational challenges first will pay off in productivity.

Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers is his first book. He has since also written a book on managing agile projects. Mersino is also versed in scrum and lean principles for projects and performance improvement.

Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters

Book Summary - Good Strategy/ Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters by Richard Rumelt

What You’ll Learn

  • The definition of strategy
  • What are the building blocks of strategy?
  • Which corporations set good examples of strategic approaches to business
  • The importance of being focused
  • How strategy is like science

Who This is For

  • Business executives and entrepreneurs
  • Business management students
  • Anyone curious about how successful companies beat out the competition

Key Insights

With a focus on what makes Good Strategy, Richard Rumelt teaches the basic elements for business success, beginning with understanding the difference between strategy and goals. The kernel of strategy is made up of three parts: diagnosis, guiding policy, and coherent actions. With these basic building blocks, the science of strategy can be employed, paying attention to balance, leverage, and keeping the high ground above the competitors.

Key Points

What Strategy is and What it Isn’t

Let’s begin with what strategy isn’t… it’s not goal setting. A graphic arts company cited their 2005 Key Strategy to be, “20 percent revenue increase and a 20 percent profit margin.” But a goal (or vision) is an idea that stands alone. Without an action plan, it is not a strategy.

Strategy is a set of ideas that include an action plan to achieve those goals. The place to start is setting goals, but to qualify for the term “strategy” there must be detailed information on how the goals will be achieved.

While goals can often be mistaken for strategies, motivational slogans and buzzwords also get misinterpreted to be strategies. This is especially true in the absence of clear, simple verbiage. Considered “fluff,” superficially restating the obvious with buzzwords comes across as high-level planning, but is really just a façade. One example of this is the “strategy” employed by a bank that offers “customer-centric intermediation.” This sounds highfalutin, but since “intermediation” just means taking and lending money, and “customer-centric” means they serve their customers, all their strategy is really saying is that they are a bank! And since there are no actionable plans, this is actually not a strategy.

Failure to face the challenge is another weak spot in strategic planning, meaning not properly identifying your company’s main problem. Bad strategic objectives are only seeing serious problems as irritants and not addressing them directly or at all. Sometimes leaders believe that focusing on difficult issues is just negative thinking, but problems can’t be solved if they aren’t identified.

The Building Blocks of Good Strategy

All strategies will appear different as they are tailored to meet unique needs. But there is a common component to any successful strategy. It’s something called “the kernel” and is made of three different parts. The first two are labeled the diagnosis and guiding policy.

Diagnosis is really just analyzing the complexity of a company’s circumstances while the guiding policy lays out the plan to address the diagnosis. For example, in 1993, IBM was in decline. The marketing strategy of offering complete computers was antiquated as the industry was moving towards a more fragmented approach of selling individual computer parts.

Rather than altering to this fragmentation, the CEO created another diagnosis. He chose not to fragment the departments, but instead to centralize and become the leader in IT consulting. This required a guiding policy of focusing on customer solutions.

The third element of “the kernel” is coherent actions that support the guiding policy. “Coherent” meaning that the chosen actions should not contradict each other. Ford Motor is an example of incoherent actions. They took over Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover, and Aston Martin. With these acquisitions, the new guiding policy they employed was to exploit these brands while also utilizing the economy of scale, which meant they consolidated the design and manufacturing between all the brands. Coherence was lacking because what set these brands apart was their uniqueness, and consolidating their manufacturing robbed them of the very quality that made them desirable.

Good Strategy Means One Strategy

Focusing resources on just one action is the hallmark of “good strategy.” It can be tempting to pursue multiple opportunities, but it's imperative to focus on just one priority. Doing the opposite can water down all efforts and produce lackluster results.

In 1988, Digital Equipment Corporation was struggling to compete with the latest PC designs. The executives couldn’t commit to one direction. They wanted to build ready-to-use systems, focus on customer solutions, and explore microchip technology. The corporate leaders were unable to choose a single direction until 1992 when they finally settled on microchips. But by this time, they were too late as competitors had the lead. The company ended by selling out to a rival corporation.

The biggest deterrent to having the needed laser focus strategy is that it can often hurt other areas of the business, which results in opposition from those working in the departments being harmed. Strategic leadership requires pushing through, by understanding how essential it is to have focus.

Good Strategy has Leverage

Another evaluation of Good Strategy is, does it give you leverage over your competition? To do this, you need to anticipate opportunities ahead of time. This doesn’t mean fortune-telling/seeing into the future, but rather having the knack for recognizing emerging possibilities in the present and making actionable plans to pursue them.

Toyota recognized early on the dwindling supply of fossil fuels would lead to a hybrid car demand, so they were the first to invest in this new technology… to the tune of $1 Billion! This led to other manufacturers licensing their technology rather than investing in their own.

Another important implementation of leverage is to avoid competing with companies where you don’t have an advantage. Called “wrestling the gorilla” it is counterproductive to put energy and resources into a pursuit where another company already has the upper hand

Good Strategy is Balanced

Actions of Good Strategy need to be based on your current situation and fit together. There is always a tradeoff between resources, possible actions, and ways to optimize them. A good strategy utilizes resources in the most efficient ways possible. When Hannibal invaded the Roman Empire, he ran into trouble. The Roman Army outnumbered him by 85,000 to 55,000. Since his resources were more limited, Hannibal created a strategy that maximized what he did have.

He had his army form an arc with the middle intentionally appearing to be in retreat. The Roman Army fell for it and went after the “retreating soldiers”, going into the gap Hannibal had intentionally created. The space they were filling became too tight for all of the army to fit in and they struggled to swing their swords. Then the sides of the arc closed in and the Romans were surrounded. In this out-strategized state, they were slaughtered. The Romans lost 50,000 compared to Hannibal’s 5,000.

Good Strategy Takes the High Ground

Shifts in the business market are constantly happening. A good strategy needs to take advantage of such changes. When television became more widely available, it created competition for movie theaters. Previously, Hollywood had a captive audience, but with the advent of free television, they needed to shift their strategies. One such strategy was for the big production studios to fund indie film companies with specialized interests that attracted a different audience, one which followed independent films. The winners here were the independent filmmakers who benefitted from the competition that television placed on the cinema industry by receiving big studio funding!

Good Strategy uses the Scientific Approach

Begin your good strategy utilizing the scientific approach of hypotheses. In this application, it means using educated reasoning to anticipate how situations could work to your advantage.

Howard Schultz visited Italy in 1983 and hypothesized that the Italian expresso experience could be successful in America. He relished the Italian coffee bars where pricey coffee served in comfortable social settings were in contrast to the cheap, bland American coffee experience. Schultz tested his hypothesis by convincing his employers of a Seattle-based coffee roasting company to let him set up a small expresso bar. The company was Starbucks.

Schultz gathered information by studying the Italian coffee market and then tested it by setting up a small “study” in the form of the expresso bar. Then he modified his study as he discovered that Americans preferred comfortable chairs to bar stools and wanted to take their coffee to go, which led him to introduce paper cups.

His hypothesis was tested, produced results, and then was modified through further research. Howard Schultz bought Starbucks in 1987, by 2001, it brought in $2.6 billion in revenue!

The Main Takeaway

In Good Strategy/Bad Strategy, Richard Rumelt explains the basic elements of strategy and how they are employed. Through examples of well-known companies who successfully implemented Good Strategies (and a few who fell for bad ones), the basic building blocks and science of strategy is illustrated.

About the Author

Richard Rumelt is the Harry and Elsa Kunin Emeritus Professor of Business & Society at the University of California, Los Angeles Anderson School of Management. He joined the school in 1976 from Harvard Business School. The Economist named him as one of the 25 most influential people in management and corporate practices, and McKinsey Quarterly called Rumelt the “strategy’s strategist.”

Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind

Book Summary - Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind by Jack Trout and Al Ries

Key Insights

Positioning is everything. Without it, Coca-Cola and Apple would not be brands that are recognized globally. In today’s society, consumer products and information is produced at an extremely fast rate. If you want to be a successful brand, you have to rise above the noise and stand out. This is what positioning is all about.

It’s not just consumer products that use brand positioning. Politicians and public figures have become adept at building their brands too. Positioning can be used to promote almost everything from a political message to your own social media posts.

To position your brand, you must first understand where it exists in the consciousness of your target audience. Whether you are trying to influence a certain demographic or simply get your product seen by as many people as possible, understanding your market is key. To be successful you need to know your position, learn how to compete against the first position brand, and understand how to get into the mind of your audience.

Key Points

To be a successful brand you need to be the first one that comes to mind.

Being first in the thoughts of your customer is essential to being successful. Think about iconic brands that you know. Brands like Coca-Cola and Kodak have strong marketing departments that have helped with their growth but it wasn’t the only reason for success. They became successful by being first.

When you’re a brand leader you are almost always placed above the fray of competition. You were there first so consequently, every other competitor is automatically compared to you. Even if someone comes up with a better product or service, the fact that you have been the primary brand will make it a lot harder for them to take your spot.

The first brand gets benefits that other brands that follow never experience. For one thing, if you’re the first brand, that can never be taken away. You’re the original. You may not be the best anymore but you have had longer market exposure and by default have become a trusted name. Even if another brand becomes bigger and better, it is rare that they will ever have the same position in the customer’s mind as the first brand.

If you’re not the first you have to find a way into the mind of the customer.

You know you don’t have the advantage of being first so now you have to think about how you can stay in the customer’s minds. One of the best approaches you can take is to look for the gap.

For example, when everyone was building bigger cars for the American market, Volkswagen launched the compact Beetle. Another good example is the Michelob brand. They entered a market that was filled with a number of cheaper, established competitors. They differentiated themselves by positioning their product as a premium beer brand. Both brands stood out because they found their own place by being purposefully different from their closest competitors.

If everyone is making one thing, then try and make the opposite. If everyone is making cheap, affordable products, that means there’s a gap for an expensive luxury brand. It may seem obvious but doing the opposite is one way to ensure that your brand stands out from the others. Having a good marketing strategy also pays off.

A unique packaging model can be effective for retail products. Try thinking beyond what is expected. The company L’eggs took a risk and packaged their pantyhose line in eggs. It caught the attention of the consumers and succeeded in occupying a position in their minds.

Sometimes a marketing strategy is so successful that the brand becomes synonymous with it, long after the idea has been dropped. A good example is the image of the Marlboro Man. Years after the campaign, Marlboro cigarettes are still associated with the image of a rugged outdoorsman.

Regardless of the product, a good understanding of trends and how to capitalize on them is essential for success. Not only do you have to look for the gap in the consumer’s mind, but also make sure you are providing a brand they want. Only products or services that can effectively fill a need will fit the gap, and only brands that are positioned well can survive.

You can use a competitor’s brand to help reposition your own brand.

You don’t want to build your brand by simply catering to a trend. Even if that trend helps make your competitors highly profitable, it will not help you build a trustworthy brand name. Besides, there is a more effective way to position your brand alongside your competition. It’s called repositioning.

What this means is that your product becomes known by association. For example, a well-known vodka line associated with its rivals by stating it was the only brand that was produced in Russia. The vodka brand had now positioned itself alongside its rivals in the mind of the customer but with the added bonus of making other brands seem less authentic. It may be an unfriendly approach but it resulted in a successful repositioning of the brand.

A good brand name is integral to its success.

You know you have a successful brand name when it becomes part of everyday language. Band Aid is a good example of this. Even if they do not sell as much as other competitors, their name is synonymous with adhesive bandages. As a result, they will always have a prime spot in a consumer’s mind.

The choosing of a name cannot be underestimated. A good name can lead to brand immortality. Positioning and marketing all begin once you have a name decided upon. A good name will help you to plan how you market your brand and the gap you are looking for. The danger with brand names is that they can become dated.

What may seem fashionable now could seem old and tired in five years. Creating a name requires taking this into consideration. Even if your product is the best on the market, the name is everything. Consumers don’t think of the purpose of the product first. They think of the name. Therefore your name must stand out from the rest.

Try not to be too clever. If you take a look at some of the most successful brands, their names are very easy to remember because they are concise. Look at Kodak and Xerox. Keep it simple so that customers can easily remember the brand.

Also, consider that the name itself doesn’t have to reflect the product exactly. Think of Apple. What do apples have to do with computers? Nothing, but the name is easy to remember and well known that the meaning behind the name is irrelevant.

Where you are positioned now affects your future for better or worse.

Positioning is not just for brands or single products. Positioning can affect companies as well. Companies rely on good positioning to enhance their image and secure their place in the minds of their target audience. For companies that are looking for investment, a good position today is essential for their future.

If you invest in a company, you’re investing in their image and in your perception of what they represent. Companies know this and therefore, positioning is integral to ensure they can get that kind of investment.

This doesn’t just refer to financial investments in corporations but also an investment in public figures, in educational organizations, even in nations. Almost everything and everyone relies on a form of positioning to thrive and function.

Positioning even affects you personally. When you strive for a promotion or are seeking to be recognized, you are effectively building your brand. You are looking to secure your own space in the mind of a target audience, just like a company, and you ensure you present your best self to do that, just like a company. This is why positioning is everything.

Once you have your position, you have to work to maintain it if you want to continue to be successful.

A lot of brands have had the luxury of being the first of their kind. To maintain their position, they simply have had to find ways to reinforce they were the first, therefore they are the ones to trust above others. Coca-Cola has done this by branding their product as the real thing, indirectly accusing competitors of being shallow imitations.

However, if you don’t have the prestige of being the first brand out there, you have to find ways to reiterate your reason for being in that position. If you have found a gap in the market, one way to continue your success is to restate your position as the only brand in that gap. If you now have competition in this niche, now is the time to push your brand as being the first within that area.

Another way is to highlight the reasons you are unique. Maybe you are the only company in a specific region. Whatever makes you different from your competitors use it to your advantage and build on it.

The key is to ignore what your competitors are doing and focus on what you can offer your customers. Once you know how to do this you can build your brand the way you want and be in the position you want.

The Main Take-away

If you learn how to position your brand, you’ll be able to use your strengths to stand out from your competitors.

Understanding where your brand is positioned in comparison to your competitors is the key to your success. If you cannot be the first on the market, create a memorable brand name and look for gaps where you can thrive. A good marketing strategy that plays to your strengths will help you retain a place in the customer’s mind.

About the Authors

Jack Trout was the founder of Trout and Partners, an international marketing strategy company. He was the author or co-author of several best-selling books including five with Al Ries.

As a pioneer of positioning theory, Trout has worked with an array of clients ranging from General Electric to Papa Johns. He worked with the United States Department of State to develop the Brand America campaign during the Iraq war. Trout died in 2017, aged 82.

Al Ries is the co-founder of Ries & Ries, an Atlanta-based consulting company. He has co-authored nine books, five of them with Jack Trout. He has been named one of the Top 10 Business Gurus by the Marketing Executives Networking Groups and in 2016, he was inducted into the Marketing Hall of Fame.

The 1% Windfall: How Successful Companies Use Price to Profit and Grow

Book Summary - The 1% Windfall by Rafi Mohammed

Key Insights

If you’re not thinking about how to price strategically, your company is probably missing out on profit.

The standard advice for pricing is based on adding a profit margin to what it cost you. This cost-based pricing strategy is problematic because what you’re selling is about more than what it cost you.

Your price should be based on the value it brings to your customers. What they’re willing to pay is not based on what it cost you. Value-based pricing strategies can help you plan for different situations, and keep the profits rolling.

The 1% Windfall refers to a study from McKinsey & Company that found that imposing a 1% increase in prices can create an 11% increase in operating profits. Thinking about your prices creatively for all situations can lead to a big payout.

Key Points

If you just need to think about one customer, price relative to their alternatives.

A value-based pricing strategy for one customer or one product prices according to the target customer. Specifically, you need to price relative to the next-best alternative for your customer.

This is a one-on-one pricing calculation. You identify who you want to sell to. Then, you identify what the alternative is priced at. Use your best judgment to adjust your price above or below that price.

For example, if you have a home to rent, you can compare it to the nearest neighbor also renting out their home. If your home is a little better, bigger, or has an extra feature, you can adjust upward. If the neighbor’s home has the upper hand, you can adjust downward.

Of course, you should try to get a sense of the market. Make sure you’re not tethering yourself to an outlier. Think through the comparison to the next-best alternative.

By looking at what is selling and what it’s selling for, you can introduce your product with a pricing strategy that fits the market.

If you have a broader customer base, maximize profits by finding the ideal balance between demand and margin.

A one-on-one pricing strategy may be ideal for introducing a product to a single customer or a small number of customers. But a multi-customer value-based pricing strategy is a little different.

Let’s say you produce large quantities of your goods and there’s more variability in your target customer base. Start with a general idea of the right price using the one-on-one pricing strategy you would have used for a single customer.

Then, you need to estimate how many units you can sell at that price. Your profit margin per unit multiplied by the quantity sold will be your total profit.

But that estimated price based on a single customer may not maximize your profits. When you take a small dip in profit per unit, you could sell a lot more units. The total profit may end up being higher even if the profit per unit is lower.

On the flip side, you could have a higher price with a greater profit for every unit you sell. This means that you’ll likely have fewer units sold. Your total profit could go down even with a higher profit margin.

The quantity sold depends on demand by your customers. The more your customers value your product, the fewer sales you’ll use when setting higher prices. Value-based pricing has to take into account the demand curve to optimize total profit.

You can also position your products to have a higher perceived value compared to alternative goods. A luxury brand can charge more and the customer value remains intact. Your profit margin is much higher and the quantity that must be sold to maximize profits is lower. But it depends on whether your customers value your products as elite goods.

Prices are not always a “one-size-fits-all” situation.

Just because you set a price doesn’t mean all your potential customers are going to be willing to pay it. You don’t want to haggle, but you also don’t want to lose customers. What do you do?

A variable pricing strategy is a key to meeting more customers where they are without compromising your profit potential. You adjust what you’re offering (and the price that goes with it) to stop a customer from walking away.

Versioning is a pricing strategy that aims to capture the maximum profit without compromising on the base unit price. You start with the core price for your core product or service. Then, you start adding or taking away features to get a premium package or a budget package.

For example, think about theme park tickets. There may be a standard price for a day’s admission. Value-conscious customers can be reached by offering a discounted ticket for evening hours or off-peak days. Customers that see value in a splurge may spend more for a VIP package with shorter lines or early admission.

When you create versions, think about your customer’s unique needs. Maybe there’s a demand for a certain combination of products. You could bundle them and take a small hit on the price per unit of each component because you’re selling multiple products.

Understand the reason for a customer’s resistance in order to offer the right solution at the right price.

People have different reasons for being unwilling to make a purchase. But a creative, variable pricing strategy can adjust to each of these reasons.

What if your customer likes the idea of the product, but doesn’t want to commit to ownership? Plenty of products offer rentals, leases, and fractional ownership. Figure out a way for the customer to enjoy the product without full commitment and you get to enjoy the profits.

Sometimes, the amount of money is just too high to spend at any given time. It’s not that the customer doesn’t believe the product is worth the price. They just don’t have the money. That’s where financing comes in. You can offer 0% interest for any purchases above a certain amount. Without having to worry about up-front spending, your customer may even buy more than what they originally came for. It may take a little longer, but you get all the profits in the end.

Maybe your customer just doesn’t know if the product is the right fit for them or if it’s worth the money it costs. Give them a guarantee. Like a lawyer working on a contingency, you only get paid when the customer gets what they want. Alternatively, you can license the product to them. They pay less, but you collect ongoing royalties.

If the value is uncertain for you and the customer, use an auction. With open bidding, the value of a product becomes clear fairly quickly.

What if your customer is resistant to spending that doesn’t have a fixed price? Think about a phone plan where you have to pay by the minute. Instead of charging based on their usage, you can offer an unlimited monthly price that offers predictability. Alternatively, you can charge a lower variable price with a higher membership fee at the outset.

Don’t give in to the temptation to sacrifice your profitability during a recession.

If you’re going through an economic downturn, demand for your product may drop. You may think to lower your prices, but that’s a trap. Lowering your prices only makes your customers less willing to pay the full price again for them in the future.

Ideally, you should plan for tougher times with a robust pricing strategy. Knowing that there will be times when people are inevitably going to have to cut back on their spending, you can design a product line for them. This can be available at a lower price point for anyone who needs it.

Creating a budget line is a preemptive pricing strategy that keeps you afloat as your regular products’ sales slow down. It is a well-established strategy utilized by companies like the guitar maker C.F. Martin & Co. They created a basic guitar model for a recession and, after, they stopped offering that line and customers could upgrade as the economy picked up.

If you’re also facing inflation that increases the price of your raw materials, raising prices may deter customers. Instead, you can adjust your product so that you use fewer raw materials. For example, Breyers made its ice cream containers slightly smaller for the same price. You maintain your profit and customers see the same price.

The Main Take-away

A robust, value-based pricing strategy should an integral part of your corporate culture if you want to maximize profit.

Cost-plus pricing is an outdated method that can leave profits on the table. Think about the value to your customer by comparing your product to alternatives to set a price. Adjust your price up or down to maximize total profits by targeting a price that balances quantity sold with profit margins. Plan for challenging situations like a recession and offer alternatives to that accommodate resistant customers. Creative pricing strategies can lead to greater profitability.

About the Author

Rafi Mohammed is a pricing expert with more than 25 years of experience in pricing issues.

Originally from Milwaukee, Mohammed was raised in Cincinnati. He received degrees from Boston University and the London School of Economics and Political Science before receiving his Ph.D. from Cornell University. He is the Batten Fellow at the Darden Graduate School of Business and the University of Virginia.

Mohammed’s commentary has been featured on several media outlets, including the Harvard Business Review, National Public Radio, the Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times.

He founded a consulting company called Culture of Profit. Through that organization, Mohammed works with businesses on their pricing strategies.

The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More Change the Way You Lead Forever

Book Summary - The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier

Key Insights

A good coach can help you to improve your life and enhance your career. Unfortunately, not all coaches provide employees with this kind of experience. The reality is that most employees rarely experience the benefits of an outstanding coach. As a result, they are more likely to think coaching won’t be of use to them.

To be an effective coach you have to be more than just someone who talks to people and hands out advice. You need to develop good relationships and understand the needs of those you are coaching. This means asking questions, initiating conversation, and finding out how you can be more useful to them. By implementing a good set of behaviors, you can become a better coach and in turn, you can improve the performances of your employees.

Key Points

Giving advice is not the same as coaching people.

Giving advice is part of being a coach but it is not all there is to it. If you want to be a coach that truly wants to help people you need to ask questions. While giving advice will enable you to lead the discussion, you should be prepared to listen and learn about other people.

One way to learn is to ask questions, but these can have a negative effect if they don’t encourage the other person to open up. The best approach is to develop your personalized coaching techniques and refine them. This means developing a method that helps you to bring out the best in people.

If you want to be effective in coaching people, develop an effective coaching habit.

It may seem like an obvious statement, but if you want to be effective in inspiring people, you need to develop good habits. When you are in a leadership role, your employees likely defer many decisions to you.

This can do a disservice to everyone involved. For you, it means more work and more responsibilities which can make you feel more overwhelmed than you should. For your employees, it can make them feel uninspired and sometimes they lose a sense of their own value at work.

The reality is that the deference to leadership is a habitual behavior that often occurs in workplaces. Research has shown that almost 50% of our actions are habitual. If you can develop the right coaching habits, you are more likely to influence employee work habits too. It will prevent you from feeling overwhelmed and enable employees to be more independent.

Another benefit of good coaching habits is the improvement to work relationships. As employees become more independent through coaching, they are more likely to tackle difficult assignments. Ultimately, a lot of the burdens that are on you will be taken away as employees feel capable of handling tasks independently. Helping employees to become more autonomous is the mark of an effective coach.

To get the best out of people, there are seven important questions you need to ask.

As you develop your coaching habits, it is important to learn how to get the most out of people. Simply giving good advice is not enough. If you want to get the best out of your employees, you need to ask seven essential questions. These questions are designed to dynamically transform your employees and business. By incorporating them into your daily coaching habit will prove beneficial to everyone. These are the 7 essential questions:

  • What’s on your mind?
  • And what else?
  • What’s the real challenge here for you?
  • What do you want?
  • How can I help?
  • If you say yes to this, what are you going to say no to?
  • What did you find most useful?

You have to first ask the right questions to allow people to feel comfortable and begin opening up.

To start a focused conversation, you should ask the kickstarter question. Start with a simple question: What’s on your mind? This allows you to open up a conversation by putting the other person in charge of its direction. Using the kickstarter question also gets to the purpose of the conversation directly and prevents you from being mired in superfluous small talk. It also allows the other person to discuss their most important issues and feel like they are being heard.

Once the discussion has begun, take the opportunity to ask the second essential question: And what else? This is most probably the most important and effective question to ask. It not only shows that you are willing to listen but also gives the other person more confidence to open up more. More importantly, this question turns you from simply giving advice to actively encouraging others to communicate more freely.

Don’t lose sight of the purpose of the conversation and what you’re there for.

If the conversation goes off track or loses momentum, you can incorporate a focus question. You can direct the conversation with this question: What’s the real challenge here for you? In doing so, you can help to isolate the problem the other person has. Asking “what” instead of “why” is more constructive and less likely to put the other person on the defensive.

As the conversation evolves you can ask a foundation question: What do you want? You are getting an idea of their needs. Like the focus question, it addresses the main issue but sometimes this question can be challenging for employees to answer. When you ask this question you’re assuming the other person already knows how to respond. If they can’t answer properly, then you can explore the reason they’re asking for something in the first place. This will help you have a much better idea of how you can coach them.

One of the biggest hurdles is how to effectively save time. As a coach, you need to make sure your time is used productively and you do not become mired in aimless discussions. There is a simple question you can ask: How can I help? It can reduce a lot of procrastinating because it gets straight to the point of the conversation.

It’s known as a lazy question because it requires the other person to provide you with all of the details before you commit to taking action. It is a direct approach and is an excellent way to prevent your time from being wasted.

On the other side of the lazy question is a more complex variation that you can ask. The more complex question: If you say yes to this, what are you going to say no to? This can be a strategic question that forces the other person to analyze why they are making specific choices.

Your wording of the question asks the person to clarify their decision but without putting them in a defensive position. It will allow you to provide more in-depth coaching for the other person, helping them to think critically about the actions they want to take, and any potential implications it may have for them.

The final effective question is the learning question. Basically, you’re asking the other person what has helped them the most. You ask: What did you find most useful? By doing this, you’re requiring the other person or people to engage in the discussion. The benefit is that it makes the other people make an effort to learn from what you’re saying and learn from it.

Words matter when it comes to coaching conversations.

Asking questions is essential to coaching. However, you need to understand the difference between asking for more information and advice disguised as a question. Choosing your words carefully when posing a question can greatly improve your coaching abilities.

If you commit to using the seven questions regularly, you’ll have a greater impact on those you coach. You’ll be able to reduce the number of aimless conversations you have and get a better understanding of an employee's needs.

If you want to be a really successful coach, you will have much better success by engaging others and encouraging them to share their ideas. When you only advise without trying to understand what your employees need or want, you will have very little impact.

Think of every opportunity as a coaching opportunity.

You should take every opportunity you can to motivate and encourage your employees. Whether it is by email or just a quick conversation in the hallway, you can turn that into an effective coaching moment. It can be as simple as asking the Kickstart question, but it is an opportunity to engage with your employees and enhance their abilities.

As you begin to implement good coaching techniques into your daily life, you’ll notice improvements in your employees. This is a result of you becoming adept at using the seven questions in conversations and developing strong, nurturing relationships in the process. Now, your employees have the benefit of someone who doesn’t just give advice but helps them improve their performance. And you now have a solid coaching technique that will stay with you.

The Main Take-away

A coaching habit requires you to empower the person you’re coaching to see where they need to go and how to get there.

Being an excellent coach is more than just offering your employees advice and bits of personal wisdom. It’s about developing a relationship with employees that empowers them and provides them with greater autonomy. By asking seven important questions and listening to your employees, you create an environment in which you are much more capable of being an effective coach.

About the Author

Micheal Bungay Stanier is a best-selling author and founder of the development company, Box of Crayons.

Bungay Stanier is also an accomplished keynote speaker who has spoken in front of thousands of people on a variety of stages around the world. He has regularly spoken at the International Coaching Federation conferences and the International Association of Facilitators.

A Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, Bungay Stanier has won numerous awards including the Canadian Coach of the Year and he has been named the Coaching Guru of the Year every year since 2014. In 2019, he was shortlisted for the Thinkers50 coaching prize.

The Eight Essential People Skills for Project Management: Solving the Most Common People Problems for Team Leaders

Book Summary - Eight Essential People Skills for Project Management by Zachary Wong

Key Insights

In this book on the struggle to maintain a healthy work environment as a project manager, Zachary Wong explores the eight key skills that will help project managers navigate not only challenging employee relationships, but also difficult relationships with superiors. He explores how the horizontal or “wedge” shaped workplace has changed management practices, and how to effectively manage a team and maintain employee attitudes to guarantee project success. Each chapter explores a key principle or people skill that project managers can use to guide their management practices.

Key Points

In recent years, we have moved from a pyramid to wedge-shaped work culture.

In the past, the office was a top-down, hierarchical environment. It resembled a pyramid, with upper management on top and employees making up the majority of the workforce on the bottom. Rules were expected to be followed, and employees had little say in the way the company was organized and run.

That model is no longer the norm, and project management practices have to shift to reflect that. The new model is wedge-shaped, with individual contributors at one end, working teams in the middle, and management at the other end. A good project manager is able to work within each section of the wedge, to help facilitate the tech-savvy and democratic environment that most managers strive to achieve. The wedge-shaped model is less hierarchical and allows each employee to realize their full potential and move smoothly between sections. Unlike the pyramid where the size of each section was based on numbers, in the wedge, the size represents the power and resources that each section holds.

As a project manager, it is important to understand how to navigate this new system. The wedge-model is not only a way of visually the power and resources in your company - it is also a way to diagnose problems.

Use the wedge-model to diagnose work culture issues.

The wedge-model lets you visualize your work culture, but it also can help you diagnose problems, and find solutions.

Say, for example, you have an employee approach you with a problem. Her colleague is saying cruel things to her at work and degrading her in meetings. She is struggling to work with this colleague, and can’t get her projects done. This might seem like a team problem, but it also has other repercussions - because of the legal ramifications of abuse at work, you should wedge up this problem to include an HR manager. This problem needs a specialist, or manager because management has more resources and power to solve the issue.

For individual problems that don’t need to be wedged up to management, you can use an alternative model: ERAM, or expectations, resources, ability, and motivation. This acronym will help you determine why an employee might be having a problem, and how to fix it. Listen to the employee describe their dilemma, and determine the source of the problem. Were you clear about expectations for the work? Does the employee have the resources and knowledge they need to complete the work? And finally, is the employee motivated to complete the assignment in the allotted time?

Using these models, it is easy to find solutions to problems that will help keep your team running smoothly.

There is a difference between friendliness and friendship.

In a less hierarchical work culture, it can be difficult to navigate the dynamics between a boss and subordinates. To avoid complications, remember that being friendly and being a friend are different things. When it comes to work issues, you have to stick to policies and be willing and able to put your foot down to speak for the company.

For example, a good friend at work has a minor injury on the job and doesn’t want to fill out paperwork. You know it's company policy to fill out paperwork, and as the manager, you need to insist on following the policy. Your friend might resent your choice to insist on the following policy, but ultimately the best management practice is to be hard on policies, not on people. If you stick to that rule, you can maintain a friendly work environment without allowing problems to slip through the cracks.

Promote an inclusive environment.

Promoting an inclusive environment isn’t just about making sure that everyone feels welcome - it’s about making sure everyone feels valued. Cultivating a “we” versus “me” environment is one of the best things you can do for your team. But how do you do it?

The book Please Understand Me by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates might help you begin. It’s about four basic personality types that most people fall into and focuses on how each personality type thrives at work. By knowing which of your team members fall into which category, you can better support them.

The four personality types, according to Keirsey and Bates, are rationals, guardians, idealists, and artisans. Each type has certain appeals and fears. Rationals like autonomy, and fear failure. Guardians like cooperation and fear conflict. Idealists seek fairness and fear bullies. And artisans love risk and fear boredom.

Keeping personality in mind is helpful, but it’s also important to think about whether your policies foster a collaborative and inclusive work culture. Make sure that your policies reward teams, not individuals, and that you support cooperative lunches or seminars that allow teams to bond.

You can manage your attitude by managing praise.

Keeping morale up is a huge part of your work as a project manager. To boost spirits, remember that everyone wants to feel satisfied at work. A huge part of job satisfaction is the feeling that you receive the praise you deserve for a job well done. According to a study in 2011, 69% of people were happy with their jobs, but only 46% said they were happy with the ways their boss recognized their work.

To best recognize the hard work of your employees, think of the acronym SCOOP. Make your recognition sincere, consistent, on time, on values, and personalized. This will connect your employees with your work culture, motivate them to do well, and increase job satisfaction.

Manage poor performance using the Past/Present/Future model.

People problems are one of the biggest challenges employers face. Most people feel uncomfortable dealing with confrontation, especially when it involves having awkward conversations about poor work performance. But there is a way to navigate those conversations more smoothly using the past/present/future model.

The basics of this model are relatively simple; you consider what happened in the past, what is going on in the present, and how to improve in the future. For example, say an employee is not reaching his sales targets each month. To use this model, begin by allowing him to talk about the past. What happened to slow his progress? Make sure you ask him to provide evidence and avoid unfounded claims. Listen actively to his struggles.

Next, focus on the present. What is currently happening? Diagnose the problem, and offer a reality check about the expectations of the work environment and culture, and the policies that he might not be following.

Finally, focus on the future. Problem solve and set concrete goals to reach within a set time frame. Ask the employee, “what can you do to improve things” to encourage him to take accountability for his own performance.

Define your values and apply them to the whole team for sustainable success.

Sometimes it might be easy to feel like the ends justify the means, but having values and the following policy as a team is a vital part of sustainable success.

To ensure that everyone is on the same page in terms of values and best practices, define those values for your team and make them readily available. If there are issues - for example, with a few people consistently coming in to work late - gently nudge them toward the preferred behavior by asking them to present at a meeting first, for example.

It can be challenging, but being tough on problems can help you maintain a successful work culture. Just remember that being tough on problems isn’t the same as being tough on people. Don’t be punitive, look for solutions.

Teach your employees to manage fear by helping them understand it.

Taking risks is a part of life in business, but it can be hard to help your employees navigate that fear. To ensure that your employees are ready to take the risks required to succeed, consider the elements of fear that might be holding them back: circumstance, ability, and failure.

There is no way to determine exactly how risky a circumstance might be until you are in the middle of it, no matter how much you plan. And if you don’t know what’s coming, it can be hard to determine if you have the ability to succeed. Finally, at the root of all this, is a failure - no one wants to fail, especially when it means potentially harming others.

Helping your employees manage fear is all about preparing in advance as best you can, and reminding them to embrace knowledge and ambition. If you have confidence in your skills and the risk is worth the reward for your values or dreams, it is easier to manage fear. For example, fire fighters aren’t immune to the dangers of their job. Instead, they train to ensure they have the knowledge, strength, and skills to do their work, and rely on their ambition to save lives to get them through tough situations.

Navigating your relationship with your superiors is all about mutual support.

When it comes to managing relationships in the office, one of the most challenging tasks is dealing with your own boss. Knowing how to work well with your superiors is all about horizontal relationships and remembering one important rule: you both need each other to succeed.

To make your relationship more equal, consider managing up. This means living the values and policies that your manager expects, to show your support for their work. Making yourself more visible by speaking up in meetings or attending optional happy hours might seem like a simple solution, but it can help superiors recognize your commitment to a shared cause. If your manager trusts that you share values and can manage yourself when it comes to work culture, they are more likely to come to you with problems or new projects.

The Main Take-away

Eight Essential People Skills for Project Management helps project managers navigate work culture in a world where office hierarchy is less defined than it once was. Wong’s basic principles are all about sticking to your values and policies, being solution-oriented, and focusing on solving problems, not punishing people.

About the Author

Zachary Wong is the author of Eight Essential People Skills for Project Management and other books. He is a professor of leadership and business management at UC Berkeley and worked for over thirty years as a manager and consultant at Chevron.

The Age of Agile: How Smart Companies Are Transforming the Way Work Gets Done

Book Summary - The Age of Agile: How Smart Companies are Transforming The Way Work Gets Done by Stephen Denning

Key Insights

Management expert Stephen Denning explains the origin of agile management practices, which came from developments in the organization of the U.S. Army in Iraq. Agile management was first adopted by the software industry, who were bogged down by the lack of flexibility in their management practices. In an uncertain and rapidly changing world, agile management leaves behind some of the core philosophies of traditional management to allow companies to move faster and focus on the future. Agile management allows a company to work more quickly and flexibly on short-term projects and focus on the customer.

Key Points

Agile management began its life during the War in Iraq.

In 2003, General Stanley McChrystal was struggling with a perplexing problem in Iraq. The U.S. Army was highly trained and had better equipment, but could not defeat insurgents on the ground. His task force was, by all measurable accounts, the best it could be. And yet, they were losing to poorly armed, poorly trained terrorist militias.

But McChrystal was an acclaimed commander, and he wouldn’t sit down and accept defeat. He began to realize that despite being well-trained, his task force was not flexible enough to defeat a highly adaptable insurgent network. The task force waited for word from their distant commander before acting and missed opportunities because commands weren’t coming from someone on the ground. It was impossible to communicate well with the FBI and NSA, and none of the task force teams were working collaboratively. He realized that to defeat the insurgents, he would need to adapt some of their methods.

McChrystal’s agile management method focused on creating small collaborative teams. Decisions were made based on competence, not rank - someone close to the action didn’t need to wait anymore to make an important call. He put TVs and electronic communication at the forefront and had daily briefings to keep teams up to date. His new strategy formed the foundation of agile management - rather than a hierarchy, McChrystal created a network.

The basic principle of agile management is flexibility.

Meanwhile, tech and software companies were struggling with outdated management strategies. Technology changed daily, sometimes hourly, but out-dated management kept companies from embracing growth and change. On top of that, there was little room for flexibility. Companies could be put out of business because of their inadequate response to the rapidly shifting market.

Software companies looking to agile management to solve their problems. They created a network of small teams to focus on limited-scope projects. This meant better communication, more flexibility, and more opportunities for success.

Traditional managers, however, often struggle to implement agile management principles. Three main principles make up the foundation of agile management - by following these “laws,” traditional managers can shift their practices toward flexibility and agility.

The first principle of the Agile Manifesto is the “Law of the Small Team.”

In agile management, the small team is king. Teams should consist of seven to twelve people, and be cross-functional. Each team member should bring unique skills and areas of expertise. These teams should have the autonomy to get work done in a way that works best for them. Once management has set a goal or assigned a task, the details are up to the team itself.

Working in small batches or cycles is another key feature of this principle. A team should be assigned a small project, and given full permission to work only on that project until its done. Focusing on multiple priorities can lead to hold-ups in the production line. Instead, the team should have a shared goal.

Communication is important within the team. Teams should hold daily meetings to report on progress and discuss challenges. Information within each team should also be publicly available, to reduce confusion and increase transparency.

At the end of each project, a team should have a customer and internal review to discuss strengths and weaknesses. Data should be collected, and teams should consider how to improve efficiency and better serve the customer for the next project.

The second principle is the “Law of the Customer.”

In the 1950s, businesses believed that their focus should be on making a profit. They were serving shareholders, not customers. But larger global markets and stiff competition mean that customers have more ability to choose the competitor. As such, they have to be the focus for a company to be successful.

The principles of customer-focused behavior include targeting a small audience. You can’t appeal to everyone - it makes more sense to find a target audience and please them. Experiment with new products to find the best possible options, and make sure the products you make are malleable so your customers can use them however they need.

Make sure your products are well-designed and simple. It’s okay to make changes but innovate in small steps to ensure customers aren’t overwhelmed by dramatic shifts.

Focus on the customer’s perspective. They want flexible, simple products they can tweak to their individual needs. Make sure you innovate often enough to keep your product on the cutting edge, unnecessary changes.

The third principle is the “Law of the Network.”

Obviously, your teams can’t exist in a vacuum. This is where networks come in. Like General McChrystal’s network of soldiers, your network will be large, adaptable, and consist of small collaborative units. This model is the most flexible, and the most agile.

But what does it mean to create a network? Basically, the small, collaborative teams you build will fit together, like gears. Though each gear operates independently, the combined work of all the gears keeps a machine running. Though these teams don’t necessarily work together daily, they all work toward the same goal. The role of management in this system is to make sure teams have the support they need, are collaborating with other teams as needed, and share a common purpose. Management will likely also take on the delegation of projects among teams.

As a manager, having a large network might seem impossible. It can be easy to think that hierarchies are the only way to control large companies. But companies like Spotfiy and Microsoft’s Development Division have huge teams that are run as networks. Even if you have 1,000 employees, you can operate an effective network as long as your teams are running smoothly.

How do you shift from top-down to network-style management? There are a few approaches. You can take the “big bang” approach and remove upper management. If you work for a marketing company, for instance, this might look like removing all departments and assigning everyone to a cross-functional pod. Your manager would no longer be your manager, and you would likely no longer work on the same accounts. That sudden change can lead to a lot of confusion among staff who are accustomed to a traditional hierarchy.

You can also take a bottom-up approach. That means creating teams at the lower level and only changing the management hierarchy at the end of the transition. That can lead to resentment on the part of upper management and can cause tension for lower-level workers who don’t have a model for their work.

The best approach is a combination of top-down and bottom-up, where managers and one or two departments are selected to lead the transformation. This can reduce tension because it’s like an experiment - one department tries a method and reports back to the larger organization before huge changes are made. This was the case at Microsoft, where the Development Divison shifted before the rest of the company, with the support of the CEO and upper management.

The Main Take-away

Agile management strategies come from contemporary military tactics. They focus on flexibility by creating networks of teams to take on small projects centered on transparency and collaboration. Though these strategies can be hard to conceptualize and implement for traditional managers, they often increase productivity and allow companies to make necessary changes in an uncertain world. The strongest companies are the most adaptable companies; agile management teaches teams how to be flexible and customer-focused in order to get the job done.

About the Author

Stephen Denning worked for decades in a management position at World Bank. He has consulted with governments and large organizations on their management strategies. He has written many books on business, as well as a novel and a volume of poetry.

Subscribed: Why the Subscription Model Will Be Your Company’s Future – And What to Do about It

Book Summary - Subscribed: Why the Subscription Model Will Be Your Company’s Future – and What to Do About It By Tien Tzuo with Gabe Weisert

Key Insights

Eighty-eight percent of the companies on the Fortune 500 list in 1955 are no longer there today. The twelve percent who made the list in 2017 did so because they learned to adapt to the ever-changing business environment. One of the most unparalleled changes in the current market is that people are no longer looking for ownership, they simply want access. In Subscribed: Why the Subscription Model Will Be Your Company’s Future- and What to do About it, the authors Tien Tzou and Gabe Weisert provide the knowledge companies need to understand this new digitally-driven trend and advise on how to capture a share of the billions awaiting those who can make this transformation.

Key Points

Go Digital or Go Home (i.e. out of business)

The reality is that digital services in business are essential to thriving in today’s market. At its core is the subscription model. Netflix, a subscription-based service, expanded to 100 million users in a decade while Blockbuster, the antitheses of this model, went out of business. IBM, one of the 12 Fortune 500 companies to make the cut rose from being 61st on the list to 32nd, by focusing on IT and business subscription services.

Customers have moved away from wanting to own products. Surprisingly, they don’t want or even need to own cars anymore, as seen by the growth of transportation services such as Uber. Today, demand is access. People would rather pay for access to music than buy music C.D.s; they prefer live streaming from Netflix, Amazon Prime, or HBO than to own or even rent movies. For today’s consumers, the music or movies matter more than the silver disc they are recorded on.

Tzou wrote an article in 2015 for Fortune magazine which asserted that people shouldn’t bother with business school anymore. The reason, he claimed, is that they only teach the students to make a hit product and sell lots of it. The rise of the subscription-based model proves his thesis correct. If a company wants to compete, or even survive, in today’s market, it needs to go digital, and the real profit is in the subscription model.

It’s Still About The Customer

A well-known mantra in many businesses has been, “The Customer is Always Right!” and that is still true. By paying attention to what the customers want, businesses can determine what direction to take their services in the digital market. The key is to slightly change the mantra to say, “The Subscriber is Always Right” and learn what it is customers will sign up for that will bring both profitability and longevity. One example is Fender guitars. Most of their guitars are sold to first-time users (We’ll call them “aspiring musicians.”), but the abandonment rate is extremely high. Fender determined that they could reduce the attrition rate by 10% and double their market size, creating life-long customers, by developing an online service teaching guitar lessons via video.

Another unique approach to the subscription model comes from Hyundai who now sells cars on plans which are reflective of cell phone subscriptions. For $275 a month, someone can pick up their Ioniq at the dealership, having previously selected its features and ordered it online. According to Tsou and Weisert, the physical product is just an enabler. “Your value lies in your IP, the usage data from your customer base and your ability to trade information across multiple markets.”

Subscriptions Models That Work are Always in Beta

Because technology is always improving, in order to provide the best service to customers, the subscriptions offered should also be ever-improving. In a very real sense, this means that a company’s subscription service is in perpetual beta mode. A UK subscription service called Graze sends snacks on a monthly basis to its customers. The customers have the ability to indicate if they like it or not and the system will then self-correct to please each subscriber.

Another example of continually evolving services is seen in the subscribers of Kanye West’s music. When he released The Life of Pablo, Kanye continued to improve it and his subscribers loved witnessing his new iterations.

Changing to a Subscription Model Will Be Challenging at First

Changing from traditional product sales, such as Adobe selling their functionalities on a compact disc, to SAAS (service as a software) does come with obstacles. During the transition, businesses can expect their revenue to dip. Adobe’s stock dropped 35% when they first announced they were going to become a subscription service. But the dip was well worth it as their revenue grows substantially every year.

The authors warn that businesses will likely have internal resistance when introducing a subscription model. It requires overhauling the marketing department, sales department, development, and business systems, as well as beefing up the IT department. Revenues will reflect that process, so it is a challenge to know about and accept in order to stay the course.

On the Upside, User Experience will Become Your Best Advertisement

An important concept from the book is that “Underneath all the hype of technological disruption is actually a very simple but powerful idea: Companies are finally starting to understand their customers.” The short of it is that when a company gets the pricing right, customer growth is easy. There are a number of proven approaches which include providing a trial period of free service with ads, or adjusting the price based on how much the customer uses the service.

The end-users experience has proven to be the most powerful advertising as word of mouth testimonials and recommendation through social media has demonstrated to have more impact than traditional marketing.

Subscription Services have Changed the Way People Shop, and the Way Businesses Compete

The internet and new mode of file sharing kicked off this revolutionary “e-commerce” we are seeing today. It began with companies like Napster. Initially, big film companies and music labels attempted to shut down their competition with legal attacks. In this effort, at first, they missed seeing the potential of this new ability for their own profitability.

However, start-up companies recognized that technology could allow them the opportunity to compete with large, established corporations. Netflix stepped on the scene and went from zero to 100 million subscribers in just a decade. Spotify went from zero to 500 million subscribers in nine years and makes up 20% of the global music industry revenue. Shopping online is continually growing. Amazon has over 90 million U.S. Prime Memberships, which is just under half of all U.S. households!

Manufacturing is Next

Technology companies initiated this new commerce, and manufacturing will be next. Thousands of manufacturers have been investing in connecting their products to the internet. They install connectivity features and sensors which are accessed online. This is referred to as the “Internet of Things” or IoT.

The authors of Subscribed predicted that by 2020, there will be a wide array of smart cars, smartwatches, and digitally connected products such as clothing, all of which provide feedback. This data will help the manufacturer better anticipate and understand the preferences of its customers. The result is that they will continually be improving, updating, and selling subscription services connected to their manufacturer’s IoT products.

The Main Takeaway

Consumers are moving away from purchasing products in favor of accessing services. With this shift, the subscription model is rising as the most important change a business can make. Although it will come with challenges in the transition, the end results will be well worth it.

About the Author

Tien Tzuo is a prominent leader in the software-as-a-service industry. He founded Zuora in 2007 and built one of the fastest-growing SaaS companies. He is the primary promoter of subscription-based business models and coined the phrase “Subscription Economy.”

Gabe Weisert is the managing editor of Zuora, a publicly-traded company in the New York Stock Exchange focused on creating software for subscription-based businesses. He started his career as a content marketer, writing for the Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, New York Post, Forbes.Com, Huffington Post, Daily Beast, and Yahoo! Travel.

The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership

Book Summary - The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership by Kevin Eikenberry and Wayne Turmel

Key Insights

More than 90% of project teams include one or more remote workers according to the Project Management Institute. More than 80% of managers supervise at least one remote employee. The Long-Distance Leader discusses the new challenges distance leaders face, and the principles of leadership that remain relevant regardless of location. Eikenberry and Turmel break down their research into 19 rules for distance leaders. The most important rule is that leadership matters more than location - a good leader can manage a team anywhere using the right techniques.

Key Points

Rule 1: Leadership matters more than location

Distance leadership was rare in the past, but in today’s business world a huge percentage of the workforce is remote. This new remote workforce offers new challenges for management, but the most important principle for distance leaders to remember is that good leadership is more important than location. Managers worry about how their employees spend their days working remotely, but with good leadership principles in place, you can build a successful team with employees in every corner of the globe.

Rule 2: Remote leadership requires its own set of skills

In the past, good leadership was all about clear communication, eye contact, listening skills, and team building. While these skills are still valuable, as a remote leader face-to-face communication is not nearly as important as written communication skills. For distance leaders, it is vital to communicate nuanced ideas via email and instant message. Distance leaders should also know how to embrace technology to build teams using meeting software and messaging apps.

Rule 3: Don’t forget the value of interpersonal connection

If your teams never meet face-to-face, it is easy to have a strained working relationship. Distance leaders know the value of interpersonal connection among team members and find ways to build connection using technology and warm written communication. Maintaining positive relationships among team members and with employees is a vital part of the distance manager’s role.

Rule 4: Take advantage of tools

The Remote Leadership Model offers three important elements for distance leaders, and two of them revolve around using tools effectively. The first element is building interpersonal bonds and encouraging personal growth. The second is using all technology at your disposal to make communication seamless and efficient. And the third is building the skills necessary to embrace new technology as it emerges.

Rule 5: Follow the Three “O” Model

The Three “O” Model examines leadership through three lenses - others, outcomes, and ourselves. Using this model, leaders focus on measuring outcomes to ensure success, supporting others so the team becomes your primary tool, and remembering to take accountability for ourselves and the actions of the team.

Rule 6: Balance individual goals with organizational targets

Remote workers will often focus more on their individual goals than team targets. Some workers may not have a clear sense of the overall aim of their team or organization. As a remote leader, it is important to connect each employee with perspective on the team’s objectives, and how they fit into the overall framework of the organization.

Rule 7: Don’t just set goals, achieve them

As a remote leader, it is important to focus not only on setting goals but planning and executing them. Set a time frame for each employee for each goal, and communicate those goals to your team. Having each goal broken into measurable parts makes it easier to determine your rate of success.

Rule 8: Coaching means having a conversation, not giving a lecture

A good coach listens to employees and engages with them in a conversation. As a remote leader, it can be easy to send demands and talk more than you listen. But supporting your remote workforce means providing regular feedback, coaching them in their process, and listening to their needs. You should always assume your workers have good intentions, even if they make a mistake.

Rule 9: Understand your employees’ work styles

Each remote employee is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all method for communication. It’s important to understand your employees’ work styles and ideal forms of communication to best manage your team. One employee might want frequent check-ins, while another might prefer to reach out to you with questions as they arise. Treat each employee as an individual, and work to meet their communication needs.

Rule 10: Think like your employees

Though employees don’t want to play office politics, in every organization there is an inherent power structure that employees will interpret and understand. These power structures can be even more intimidating in a remote environment. Being transparent about power in your organization and ensuring that employees know their value and place within the organization’s mission is vital when building your team.

Rule 11: Trust is vital to business success

Building trust with your remote employees doesn’t happen naturally. Distance leaders have to be strategic about building trust. Using meetings strategically and publicly delegating tasks can build trust, as can minimizing conflicts between colleagues and planning team-building exercises. It’s also important to trust that your employees are doing their work and achieving their goals. Studies show remote employees do just as much work as on-site workers - they can even be more productive.

Rule 12: Understand and utilize communication tools

As the project manager, it is your job to know what technology is at your disposal and choose the best tools for your team. Communication among remote workers is one of the biggest challenges for distance leaders, so reducing communication and facilitating connection with technology is vital to your team’s success.

Rule 13: Use each tool to its highest capacity

Because technology is a vital part of keeping your team together, one of your roles as a leader should be staying on top of new technological advancements in meeting platforms, messaging, and other communication tools. File storage tools are also changing constantly and important for a remote workforce.

Rule 14: Don’t be afraid of feedback

As a leader, your success is your team’s success. Don’t be afraid to ask for honest, objective feedback from people who can provide it. Rather than expecting feedback to come from one conversation, like an annual review, look for periodic check-ins both within your organization and from outside consultants.

Rule 15: Speak kindly to yourself

Managing any team can be stressful, and managing a remote team can be particularly alienating. As a leader, you should learn how to strike a balance between positive self-talk and challenging your own beliefs. Think about the Ancient Roman auriga, who stood behind the emperor and reminded him in a whisper that he is only a man. Be humble, but speak positively to yourself. If you are telling yourself you can’t do it, your team will never succeed.

Rule 16: You can’t do it all

Some rules of leadership are true whether your workers are remote or not. One of those is that you can’t do it all. Delegating tasks is essential, and you manage your team well enough that you can take a break when you need without the world crumbling down around you. Focus on work-life balance. If you aren’t taking care of yourself, no one can take care of your team.

Rule 17: Time management is choice management

Your time is limited, and you can only do so much. Make time for exercise, your family, and your personal life. At work, make your choices count so that you don’t waste your important time with tasks that someone else could take on. You should also make time for your own personal development. As a coach and leader, your development is connected to your team’s ability to succeed.

Rule 18: Prepare the next generation of leaders

As you learn how to become the best distance leader, be sure to think about the next generation of management. What might your work environment look like in five, ten, or twenty years? Is your organization committed to training new leadership? As a coach, think about how you are training members of your team to become the new distance leaders.

Rule 19: Never forget Rule 1

Leadership matters more than distance. If you are a good leader, you can manage a remote team. Whether your workers are five or five thousand miles apart, you can build strong interpersonal relationships, secure trust, and meet organizational and personal objectives.

The Main Take-away

The Long-Distance Leader offers 19 rules for remote leadership centered on the idea that leadership is more important than location.

While the book hits on some familiar leadership principles, like the value of trust and the importance of communication, it also discusses the unique challenges that distance leaders face. The primary argument of the book is that remote workers and on-site employees are equal in value. With the right tools and technology, you can create a collaborative and efficient workforce regardless of distance.

About the Author

Kevin Eikenberry is a writer, speaker, and corporate trainer. He runs the Kevin Eikenberry Group, which, a leadership and learning consultancy company. He is an Outstanding Alumnus of Purdue University, and two-time best-selling author.

Wayne Turmel is the author of nine books and co-founder of the Remote Leadership Institute. He is fascinated by the ways that people communicate at work. He is also the author of Meet Like You Mean It and 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations. He has a podcast called The Cranky Middle Manager Show.

Free to Focus

Book Summary - Free to Focus: A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less By Michael Hyatt

Key Insights

The well-known adage, “Less is More” is not typically applied when speaking of business and work. Productivity is often gauged by the length of the to-do lists and the number of check marks on them. But in Free to Focus: A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less, Michael Hyatt introduces the revolutionary idea that not-to-do-lists are actually more valuable and useful. In his book, Hyatt teaches a productivity system that outlines three elementary steps to achieving simplified success. They are: stop, cut, and act.

Key Points

Step One: Stop

In today’s society, we live a fast, busy, and preoccupied pace. While time is a premium, the way it is spent is often not measured by the level of quality activities, but more by the quantity of what we get done. Without realizing it, the amount of busyness we allow into our lives by the hour robs us of accomplishing what’s most important. We are easily distracted by what is right in front of us, what the world tells us is pressing, and by the addictiveness of the platforms we use for business and communication, i.e. social media.

The first step to regaining control of our time and its potential success is to stop, analyze, and recognize that our time may not actually be as productive as it feels. For example, when we let work time carry over into the weekends and even our vacations, which seems almost inescapable with the remote access (i.e. technology such as cell phones) that is constantly with us, our well-being pays the price and, by extension, the quality of our accomplishments.

Business leaders should take time to stop and assess how their time is being used and to evaluate their goals against how well their current activities support those objectives. Part of this analysis is considering both what they are proficient at as well as what is a passion. Being clear about what elements of the job mean most to them, along with the overall mission, will help business leaders know what activities to prioritize.

Step 2: Cut

Hyatt asserts that cutting is at the heart of productivity. In the rush of daily tasks, it is most important to identify what not to do, above what needs to be done. This is an innovative way to look at time management, but because of the nature of our modes of communication and information, controlling what doesn’t make it onto our desks can be the bigger challenge. Since time isn’t a renewable resource, it’s essential we are intentional about not wasting it.

Too often people have difficulty saying “no” to the demands put on their time, but by not saying “no” to certain things, they are unwittingly saying “no” to what could have filled their time, which may have actually been more important. This is an important perspective to keep when fulfilling Step Two… Cutting!

When the task is reducing the amount of work to contend with, there are three approaches. One is to cut the activity from the schedule or workflow completely. Another is to find someone who has the proficiency for the assignment and delegate the task to that person. In this way, it may actually be done faster and better than you could have fulfilled it. The third option is to automate the task, such as setting up an email template that significantly reduces the time spent on common work activity.

Step 3: Act

The third step in Hyatt’s productivity system is putting the first two steps into action. It has four approaches. The first is consolidation. This involves grouping together similar work activities, such as planning meetings on the same days or recording multiple podcasts in one setting. Designation involves careful attention to what is done when ensuring that the most pressing and necessary work is scheduled on the calendar along with their deadlines. Finally, activation minimizes the distractions so that the tasks at hand don’t feel like emergencies and can be handled with calmness and clarity.

People who are the most overwhelmed are the ones in greatest need of this productivity system, yet they may also be the most resistant to it. It’s an important paradigm shift to realize that getting things done the most efficient way possible is not the goal, but that what is being done, specifically, is most important. This is a very big difference that can take time to comprehend at first.

Passion can be the Best Measure of Priority

A counterintuitive idea presented in Free to Focus is the truth that passion should lead our activities. We tend to have an almost monk-like belief that the mundane and disliked tasks need to be done first to ensure we are effective. In reality, those things which we are both passionate and proficient at are a wiser use of our time, because those capabilities will ensure the tasks are accomplished faster and better. Tasks we may dislike might be delegated to someone else who has that proficiency, leaving us the time to accomplish our most meaningful work.

When our work is enjoyable and meaningful, there is a positive effect on our outcomes and productivity. One way to measure the level of passion, and therefore the productiveness of activity, is to record feelings associated with the various tasks at work. They should be divided into two columns: loathe or love. By keeping an inventory on every task during the week, assigning them to one of these to columns, a person can clarify what tasks will be done with greater speed and efficiency because they are enjoyable to the person vs. what is more apt to take too long. This list can then be used for analyzing what projects are best to take on and which ones to delegate.

Rituals are Good for Productivity

In addition to identifying what activities are most enjoyable, mechanizing those tasks through ritual can further enhance productivity. The benefits of rituals, when applied to work, is that they speed up tasks while preventing mistakes. They free up the mind to do more creative thinking since many cognitive decisions have already been made. An example of work-place rituals could include activities that regularly start the day such as checking email, listening to voicemails, and outlining the specific priorities.

Rituals can be compared to algorithms that are made from a series of ordered steps. Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work (2016), describes his “shut down ritual” which he has used to end his workday since he was a graduate student. On his ritualistic schedule is checking emails in batches, reviewing a perpetual to-do-list, glancing at his calendar for upcoming meetings or deadlines, and planning for the next day. In full mechanical style, he actually speaks aloud the two words: shutdown complete. He does this because it is a trigger that helps his mind let go of anxiety and thoughts that might follow him home. Newport says the ritual takes at least 15 minutes, and sometimes longer.

Delegation is the Core of Good Leadership

Many in leadership positions are high achievers with a tendency to be perfectionists. Delegation may be hard for these types, but it’s an essential skill for productivity and therefore successful leadership. In a nutshell, Hyatt asserts that any nonessential work that doesn’t tap into the leader’s proficiency or passion should be delegated!

Perfectionist leaders will often micromanage their teams, which is the opposite of being productive. Micromanaging removes the motivation for subordinates to step up and proactively get to work without being instructed. One example in the book is of former Navy Seal Jocko Willink who owns a consulting business based on his military experience. At one point, the number of projects to complete became impossible for Willink to oversee and he asked his subordinates to step up and completely take over some of them. To his surprise, not only did they effectively accomplish the tasks, but many of their solutions were quite different than his approach and, as it turns out, they were better! Willink cites this as the moment when his business was transformed. Suddenly he found himself free to do the high-level planning that had not been achievable before.

Where Possible, Automate

Some tasks don’t need to be delegated because they can be automated. This is essentially putting work on autopilot. While configuration is often required, once that work is done, the amount of time saved makes it worth the effort. Autoresponder email is a good example of automation. A way to identify which tasks can be automated is to evaluate the level of their repetitiveness. The level of independence or interactiveness is another criterion on which to measure the potential for automation. Independent work that doesn’t require the input of others can be a good candidate for automation. For example, many banks have automated their phone system to tell callers their balance and other basic information.

The Main Takeaway

We live in a world full of distractions. Paring down and focusing on what’s important is an essential yet rare skill in today’s businesses, as well as our personal lives. While the constant enticement of social media and disruption of technology, from emails to cell phones, can prevent us from being productive, even ordinary business work can fall into the category of distraction and perpetual busyness. In Free to Focus, Michael Hyatt provides new perspectives. He puts emphasis on not-to-do-lists and teaches that good business leadership includes delegating and automating as much as possible. This ensures there is ample time for leaders to focus on their passions and proficiencies because this is where he or she will substantially outpace their previous limitations. A productivity system is explained beginning with the three simple steps of stop, cut, and act.

About the Author

Michael Hyatt founded the Michael Hyatt & Company leadership firm based in Tennessee. Ranked by Inc. as one of Nashville’s top businesses in 2018, Hyatt has used his success to also become a popular blogger and podcaster with the title, “Lead to Win.”

Who: The A Method for Hiring

Book Summary - Who: The A Method for Hiring by Geoff Smart and Randy Street

Key Insights

In this book, the authors argue that who you choose to hire can make or break your business, either costing or saving your company a fortune. They go on to explain how broken, outdated, but somehow still trendy hiring methods keep companies from finding the right people from the beginning and losing more with every inadequate hire. They propose their ultimate solution, the “A Method for Hiring”, which offers an organized way to find and recruit the best people for your company’s needs.

Key Points

Hiring errors can be extremely costly. Choosing the wrong person typically ends up costing 15 times their salary.

When looking for your next employee, you’re hoping to strike gold. You want to find the person that will perform exceptionally, a part of the top 10% performers who can meet all the outcomes you set for them.

You’re probably wondering why in reality, hiring managers end up settling for less. In fact, managers make 50% of their overall mistakes during the hiring process, says famed management consultant Peter Drucker, costing their team money and resources by choosing the wrong person.

Just how much do hiring mistakes cost a company? The authors found that it costs, on average, 15 times the hire’s base salary. Some of these costs come from the hire’s poor decisions on the job, but a majority come from the labor needed to fire, replace, and then onboard new talent.

In other words, a bad hire is never worth the consequences. To stop this cycle of trial-and-error, the authors recommend stepping back and taking a close look at your hiring process. How can you select a reliable candidate from the beginning and avoid these extreme costs?

Bad hiring happens because managers use inadequate and outdated techniques to select their candidates instead of an organized system.

Where are hiring mangers going wrong? They may not understand the demands of the job or feel none of the candidates in their pool of potential hires meets their standards. But most of the time, managers hire the wrong people because their hiring process isn’t systematized.

Instead, hiring managers rely on what the authors call “voodoo hiring methods”, or methods that rely on short-cuts instead of careful and balanced evaluation.

For example, an “art critic” manager expects to understand a candidate based on a short first impression, likely to be fooled by appearances like the candidate’s charisma. A “prosecutor” may ask indirect and tricky questions in interviews to try and get the candidate to slip up, putting the candidate on the defensive. A “fortune-teller” manager asks candidates about hypothetical future problems which have little to do with the candidate’s ability to handle the current problem of the company while an “animal lover” asks bizarre questions like “what’s your spirit animal?”.

Not only do managers lean on unhelpful interview questions, but they squander interview time. A “chatterbox” manager spends the interview making small talk while a “suitor” spends it trying to sell the company, instead of collecting information about the potential hire.

Even managers that test their candidate's skills can rely too heavily on the outcomes as predictive of the candidate’s fit. An “aptitude tester” uses job-skill aptitude tests without considering the candidate’s cultural fit. “Psychological and personality tester” managers use psychological tests to try and understand a candidate, despite their proven track record of poorly predicting performance.

Revamp your hiring method with the “A Method for Hiring”

How does systematizing your hiring work? The author offers their version of a system called the “A Method for Hiring”. The four-step method addresses hiring problems in order to help hiring managers understand who the “A players”, or top performers are, where to find them, and how to successfully recruit them.

Define your hiring needs. What results do you want from the hire?

Before you can hire your ideal candidate, you should know what they look like. In the first step of the hiring method, create a “scorecard” that defines your intention for the job position, and the qualifications needed for a hire to succeed. This isn’t just a list of job requirements, but a careful description of how you hope this new hire will fit in and contribute to the business.

The scorecard asks you to write about three core elements of the job: its mission, the expected outcomes, and the preferred competencies of the hire.

First, define the mission of the job. What are you trying to accomplish by filling this position? Maybe you need a beautifully designed website or a hilarious script for an advertisement, but be specific and detailed. This way, you understand that you need a candidate who can accomplish this specific mission with excellence, whether it be a seasoned web-designer or copywriter, instead of a generalist who is good at everything.

Second, describe the sort of outcomes and results you hope to see after the hire has completed their work. By defining the expected outcomes and the timeframe you need them finished by, unfit candidates may sort themselves out of the running.

Third, consider what specific competencies you think would help a candidate achieve these outcomes. These may describe the specific way you’d like the hire to achieve these outcomes. The authors give examples of the types of competencies exhibited by ideal hires. An “efficient” hire performs quickly and well without much distraction. An “honest” hire is truthful and sincere, straightforward about their mistakes. Other qualities considered competencies include: “organization”, “aggressiveness”, “follow-through”, “intelligence”, “analytical skill”, “detail-oriented”, “persistent”, and “productive”.

To find the best candidates, don’t wait for when you immediately need to fill the job. Keep a healthy pool of network referrals by offering employees incentives for tipping off great hires.

After you’ve understood who you’re looking for, you can start fishing for the best candidates.

The authors explain that as a hiring manager, it’s wise to maintain a pool of potential candidates even when there’s no immediate need to fill the job. An easy way to do this is by contacting great talents in your network each week and ask for referrals to another talent. The authors found this system of network referral to be an incredibly reliable way to find the best addition to a team. As a benchmark, keep a list of about 30 great people that you could offer the position to if it opened.

To encourage more staff referrals, companies can give bonuses to members who point you to qualified candidates. Similarly, your company could offer incentives to friends of the firm for referring good people.

Beyond referrals, recruiters can be an excellent way to search for talent. Both external recruits, who interview prospects, and recruiting researchers, who investigate the market and offer a list of names, can be incredible assets. Make sure, however, that they completely understand the needs of your business and ideally, the needs as detailed on your scorecard in step one.

To keep track of your talent pool, devise a system that keeps them all in order, whether it be a box of index cards with names of a high-tech database. Contact these strong candidates and note when you reached out. Following up keeps them interested and more likely to listen when you come to them with a job offer.

Select the perfect candidate by using a diligent interviewing system and pressing for the answers you need.

After you’ve assembled a reliable pool of candidates, it’s time to examine each person individually through a diligent interview process. The authors advise practicing a four-step interview process, progressively deepening your understanding of the person, and getting a sense of the candidate from all angles.

Start with a brief telephone call, or what the authors call a screening. This way, you can understand if the candidate is really interested and whether their career goals are aligned with the position. Ask them about their goals, their strongest professional skills, and how their previous five bosses would rate their performance. By directly asking them about their confidence in their performance, you can weed out candidates that don’t quite fit the bill.

The authors emphasize the next stage of interviews is essential. Every hour, they write, saves even more time later as you eliminate the candidates who cannot meet the requirements of the job.

In this interview, called TopGrading by the authors, you want to understand the complete history of the work candidate so you have all the information about who they are as a worker. Ask about each job in this person’s career, from the beginning to the most recent. Then, ask about what they were hired to do, and whether they feel proud of their accomplishments at each stage. Ask who they worked with, whether they liked it, and why they eventually left the job. By pressing for these specific details, you can learn everything you need to know from the candidates themselves.

Next, during an interview called Focus, conduct a third interview with at least three members of the team, each one lasting 45 minutes to an hour. In this interview, make sure to compare the candidate directly to the scorecard, looking for their competencies and experiences that demonstrate a match with the card.

When calling references, listen between the lines to understand how the candidate really performed in their past jobs.

Finally, if the candidate still seems like a good fit, check their references. Make sure candidates give their references a call beforehand to let them know that a call is coming. This way, references are more likely to be prepared for the phone call when it rings.

References are an excellent way to gather real information on a candidate’s ability to perform as asked. Don’t be afraid to ask for any excess information you need, even if it involves asking people unlisted as references but mentioned in the interviews. Ask references what context they worked with the person in, their biggest strengths, for a rating of their performance and why, and of any noticeable struggles the person had.

In all of these interviews, the authors suggest listening for subtleties in the answers— remember, faint praise can be a bad sign. Are the references praising the person mildly? Did the candidate exaggerate their successes or hide any large failures? This is your time to check for these potential red flags, which may otherwise be easy to overlook.

Don’t let the best candidates slip away. Sell the position by noticing what matters to them.

In the final step of the process, you’ve found your perfect employee, but they may not want to join your team. After all that work, it would be a shame if the candidate walked away. Now is your opportunity to sell the position to them by noticing what’s important to them and offering to meet those needs. Of course, by making sure supporting the candidate in this way, you eventually save more than having to deal with the financial consequences of an unqualified hire.

The authors recommend advertising the opportunity by choosing from five selling points: fit, family, freedom, fortune, and fun.

Does the opportunity to align well with the candidate's expressed a career path? Emphasize the fit of your position with their life goals. Do they want to take the position but find their spouse and children not wanting a lifestyle change? Ask about the family’s needs, whether it be relocation costs or schooling costs, and then address them.

Is the candidate worried about controlling management or co-workers? Offer them personal freedom in their work. Do they value a salary increase? Explain that you’ll pay for performance and consider going above the corporate guidelines for a truly stellar candidate. Finally, do they want their work to be a good time? Consider ways that the company culture can make the talent happy at work. Find ways to make it fun for them, whether it be retreats, free food, or any amenities that would make for a happier time.

If the candidate accepts the job, make sure to follow through with these promises, supporting them and their concerns for the process. Oftentimes, great candidates leave in the first months of the job if they find they aren’t growing. A large part of a successful hiring process is following it through these first moments at the company.

The Main Take-away

To find the ideal candidate and save your company money in the long run, standardize your interview process. The “A Method for Hiring” offers four steps to address all the needs of the employer, and adequately investigate candidates for fit and demonstrated potential to meet your goals. First, define the job and its qualifications. Then, look for the best candidates by asking proven talent for their recommendations and also using skilled recruiters to scout for the best people. Send all potential hires through a thorough interviewing process. Dig for details, as this is the most important stage. Finally, strive to keep the candidates that made it through the process by meeting all their real needs.

About the Author

Dr. Geoff Smart is the chairman and founder of ghSMART, a leadership consulting firm that serves Fortune 500 executives and their boards, billionaire entrepreneurs, and heads of state with its 12 offices in North America and Europe. He is the NYT bestselling author of Who, Leadocracy, and Power Score: Your Formula for Leadership Success. He holds his Ph.D. in Psychology from Claremont Graduate University where he was a student of Peter F. Drucker.

Randy Street is the managing partner of ghSMART. At the company, he helps executives find and develop top talent to join their teams and make a real impact on the world. A popular keynote speaker, he speaks on leadership topics to companies and executives. Prior to joining ghSMART, he was the EVP of Sales and Marketing for EzGov.