Note: This post originally appeared in the Procurement Insights Blog and makes reference to an SAP Academy training course featuring Roz Usheroff’s brand building strategy.
“Procurement professionals are great at delivering value, but terrible at promoting their value to their organization and beyond.”
This is the statement I made to open my second session at last weeks 25th Annual Public Procurement Forum in Virginia.
Titled Strategically Speaking: Procurement, the Organization and You, I focused on the significant changes that are taking place not only within our own profession but within the larger business world as a whole. This included a detailed breakdown on how both Finance and IT professionals are themselves going through a major transformation, and what it means in terms of the dissolution of the functional silos that had for too long restricted rather than stimulate enterprise-wide collaboration.
As exciting a time as it is, to fully capitalize on this much larger and more diversified stage, procurement professionals need to become more adept at branding themselves and the value we bring. Or as…
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In the October 17th, 2013 article “If You Like a Star Athlete, Now You Can Buy a Share,” Peter Lattman and Seve Eder talk about the new Fantex trading exchange in which investors can “buy and sell interests in professional athletes.”
With the backing of executives from Silicon Valley, Wall Street and the sports world, the new exchange will create and then track stocks that are tied to an athlete’s financial performance. Beyond their earnings for actually playing, corporate endorsements and appearance fees are also included in calculating the stars value both on and off the field.
Although it does have its detractors – renown sports psychologist Dr. Jack Singer worries that getting a ton of money up front may actually have a negative impact relative to a player’s on-field performance – it is nonetheless an interesting concept.
While only a very small percentage of the population plays professional sports, the principle behind making an investment in another person’s brand is somewhat universal in the everyday workforce.
For example, think about those organizations who pay the fees associated with providing their employees with additional education or training. In reality, these companies are betting that their investment in developing an employee’s skill set will pay-off in terms of improved performance and bottom line results for the company. This is the company’s return on their investment.
Of course making investments such as paying for additional training or for travel to attend an industry conference, is usually offered to those who have established their value or the potential of their value to the organization. This is your “recognized” brand value or worth.
The question you have to ask yourself is simply this; have I established my brand’s value to the point that the company with whom I work or the client I want to serve, is willing to make an investment in me?
Even though we may not perform our various duties in front of millions of people every Sunday afternoon, at the end of the day the end goal is still the same; you have to create value to realize value in terms of personal satisfaction and financial reward.
I was recently rummaging through some old boxes that had been stored in my basement for what seems like an eternity. You know what I am talking about . . . the hidden treasures of ones past that remain forgotten until we decide it is time to clean out the basement or to prepare for a pending move.
Occasionally, this exercise in purging extraneous “stuff” as I call it, takes a pleasant turn down memory lane. For whatever reason – and I am not sure about the why and the how it came to be in my possession – I found a copy of a classic Saturday Evening Post cover from October 1958.
Featuring a milkman and a pie man enjoying a good laugh as well as each others product, I couldn’t help but remember what it was like to have milk delivered to your door every other morning. Our milkman’s name was Myron, and he was as much a part of our daily routine as the sound of the neighborhood kids heading off to school and the smell of fresh toast that had just popped in the toaster.
Of course the milkman’s presence in our everyday lives has long ago faded into nostalgic reminiscences such as this post. The victim of rising costs and as one pundit put it America’s “ubiquitous use of refrigerators.” Whatever the reason for his departure, the milkman and more specifically what he represented, endures to this day.
Like the jump-to-the-pump Texaco crew that would rush out to greet every car that stopped for gas, the old milkman symbolized an era in which customer service was an inseparable part of their product offering and brand. Even with the advent of the high speed Internet where dealing with someone from the other side of the world is the same as dealing with someone in the next town over, I believe that we still appreciate the milkman’s attitude.
Happily, and similar to that old magazine cover that was buried deep in a pile of boxes, the enduring value of good customer service might be temporarily lost in the hustle and bustle of a busy life, but it is never totally forgotten.
Just as my discovery reminded me of what it takes to truly make a difference and leave my enduring mark, I hope that today’s post inspires you to ask the question; how can I be of service to someone today!
In my new book The Future of You! Creating Your Enduring Brand, I share with you the steps you can take to create your enduring brand and bigger future!
I was reading a recent article recounting how Marissa Mayer assumed the helm of Yahoo from under the apparent nose of then interim CEO Ross Levinsohn.
It is an interesting story in that it revealed what can go wrong when like Levinsohn you (a) believe your own press (b) think schmoozing alone with other colleagues will secure a future promotion and (c) blindly assume that your ideas for change are the be all and end all, without bringing the right people on-board to serve as an all-important sounding board.
When I say sounding board I am talking about an earnest effort to solicit critical feedback as opposed to a languid acquiescence to one’s authority or position. Think of the brave little girl who boldly announced that the Emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes. I know that I would prefer being told straight up that I missed the mark with an idea as opposed to operating under a false belief that I had hit it out of the park.
The real question I have to ask however is simply this . . . was Ross Levinsohn overconfident, believing that he was a shoe-in for the permanent CEO position?
In this context was Levinsohn’s greater failings tied to arrogance or complacency?
Regardless of the reason this speaks to the importance of being disciplined enough to run the race through to the finish line by not assuming the victory (or promotion) before it has actually been achieved.
If Levinsohn were my client I would have advised him that shoe-ins can turn to the opposite direction, and that preparation and networking with the right people to get the right feedback is critical to avoiding a costly misstep.
At the end of the day, and as I wrote in my book, you have to “build greater awareness of how others perceive you,” and proactively “conduct market research and seek feedback from trusted advisers/confidantes/sponsors who will tell you the truth!”
In future posts I will touch on some of the other things we can unintentionally do to undermine our own efforts and ultimately success.
In the meantime, I would invite you to share your thoughts and stories relating to other mistakes or oversights that someone can do to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
In the recent Deal Book article Lessons on Being a Success on Wall St., and Being a Casualty by Susanne Craig, the writer shares the insights she gained from her interview with one-time power executive Sallie Krawcheck. I use the term one-time in that after rising to the top of major financial institutions Citigroup and Bank of America, Krawcheck found herself in the unemployment line.
Now for those familiar with the financial markets, and in particular the colossal collapse of venerable Wall Street firms such as Lehman Brothers and its impact on the economy as a whole, Kawcheck’s demise would not seem out of the ordinary. In fact, given the attitude of the general populace towards the blatant greed of these institutions, one might be hard pressed to find anyone who would feel sympathy for a senior executive in the financial industry losing their job. After all, how many people lost their life savings?
This of course is a fair consideration. However, if one looks beyond the justified feelings of indignation and frustration with Wall Street, you will find that during a crisis situation, financial institutions tend to throw female executives to the wolves. Disagree? I’d like you to consider the following; in the above article, Craig highlighted the fact that beside Krawcheck, there were many female casualties of the financial meltdown including the former co-president of Morgan Stanley – Zoe Cruz, Lehman Brothers – Erin Callan and JP Morgan Chase senior executive – Ina Drew.
Once again, one may reasonably point to the fact that the reason these women lost their jobs is due to the market crash. To a certain extent this may be true. However it is the manner in which their careers imploded that stands out.
According to Krawcheck, when faced with a crisis, male CEO’s will invariably turn to those people with whom they are familiar and feel most comfortable. In the case of Wall Street, this means that men will turn to other men instead of women during a period of upheaval and uncertainty. There is nothing inherently wrong with this because it is natural during times of trouble that we all turn to those with whom we feel most comfortable and most confident. The problem is that women have only recently begun to scale the heights of corporate leadership and as a result are not strategically placed to play the role of trusted CEO confidante or go to person – at least not as much as we thought or would like.
Now we can rail at the moon and bemoan the fact that this is an unjust situation, or we can learn from these setbacks and take positive action.
For example, women need to become better at networking. We need to identify those individuals with whom we can connect who can serve as sponsors and mentors. And yes I disagree with Krawcheck in this regard and her position that we need sponsors as opposed to mentors. We need both. In fact, Harvey McKay’s book on networking reminds me of the best advice I can give to clients: Dig Your Well Before You Are Thirsty.
Women also have to learn to brand themselves better, which includes not waiting until all of our proverbial ducks are lined-up before having the confidence to step-up and stand out. A recent purchasing industry poll found that women believe that they need to have all of the prerequisite skill sets before going for a position, while their male counterparts feel that having some of the required skill sets are enough to get the position now, and that they can learn the rest on the job. I call this the perfect star alignment syndrome that undermines our value and therefore our confidence to properly brand and promote ourselves.
While my new book The Future of You! Creating Your Enduring Brand takes an overall genderless view of branding, there are many references to successful female executives and business owners who have adeptly weathered similar storms to that of Krawcheck and have come out on top.
The key is to avoid dwelling on the apparent unfairness of situations such as what is happening on Wall Street and focus on those things that empower women to not only rise in the corporate ranks, but to also establish their creditability as go to people that can deliver when the chips are down!
Have you ever heard the saying by Ralph Waldo Emerson?
“Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.”
It is an interesting thought in that in many ways our words do not always align with either our body language or for that matter our true feelings. Like the wife who asks the husband if the dress she is wearing makes her look heavy or the husband, sporting a new haircut, asks if he looks good, depending on your point of view, the response could be either positive or negative.
Scenarios such as these are magnified when different cultures merge in a macaronic mix augmented by beliefs and customs. This can easily lead to misunderstandings that despite one’s best efforts can derail a collaborative effort.
When conflict arises within groups that are composed of individuals from different backgrounds or cultures, fast and certain action is required to diffuse the potential problems that will negatively impact the ability of the team to work together effectively.
If you find yourself party to a cultural meltdown, adopt an instant attitude of genuine curiosity and interest. With the right mindset, you are now ready to follow these winning steps you need to take to bridge the cultural gap and get back on track again:
1. To start, re-establish the whole purpose or reason for the group being assembled in the first place. According to R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr., author of the book “Building a House for Diversity,” it’s critical that the company’s mission and goals are communicated clearly and often, and that the workplace is driven by business requirements rather than personal preferences, traditions or conveniences.” Or to be more concise, focus on the task at hand and recognize the fact that in any group whether multi-cultural or not, a certain degree of conflict is both healthy and necessary to getting to the best results. A kind of “if both of us are always in agreement, then one of us is redundant” perspective.
2. Even though disagreements are bound to occur as a normal part of the collaborative process, seek to first gain a clear understanding for the reasons behind the other team member’s position. I find that in these circumstances, it’s usually a good idea to first seek to understand and avoid misunderstandings. Misunderstandings need to be corrected quickly. When you ask people for their viewpoints, it shows that you respect their knowledge and opinions and are prepared to be objective.
- Ask closed-ended questions to see if you were clear, if the information was useful, etc.
- Ask open-ended questions to uncover any ideas or problems that you may have overlooked.
3. Once you believe that you have a handle on the source of the disagreement, in explaining your position relative to the company’s mission and goals, be certain to avoid using culturally-centric jargon or slang as well as metaphors as this can only lead to further confusion. In short, be respectfully direct using as few words as possible in explaining your position to the other member.
Give the person time to express themselves.
- Listen quietly.
- Maintain physical position.
- Wait until they have verbalized their feelings.
- Use their name.
Avoid red flag words which can definitely sound accusatory:
- “You should” or “You’re wrong” or “That’s impossible” or “That’s ridiculous”
4. Never forget that in a team environment, there is no such thing as individual winners or losers, but instead adhere to a united we stand, divided we fall mindset. This will remove the potential for disagreements to become personal.
Respond rather than react. Projecting an attitude of openness will encourage participation and help achieve consensus from your colleagues. This quality is displayed by how you respond to people when they question your statements or opinions. Avoid reacting as they may simply be asking for clarification.
- Paraphrase to verify what the person has asked before you answer.
Say “Let me check – are you saying that….”
- If you feel attacked, focus on the situation or behavior, not the person.
Say “I understand your concern. Let’s try to come up with some options.”
5. Finally, if you do have any pre-conceived ideas regarding other cultures, check those at the door. While you will still need to be sensitive to the differences of the other team members who come from different parts of the world, your communication will be more objective and therefore effective if unencumbered by unproductive sentiments.
What is interesting is that the above tips can be applied to any team environment whether culturally diverse or not.
By following these guidelines, when everything is said and done, you will be able to establish the level of rapport that will make the collaborative process within multi-cultural groups both enjoyable and productive.
In the meantime, if you have any questions regarding how to interact with a person from a specific cultural background drop me a line through the comment section of this blog post or, send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.