Tuesday, September 29, 2009


More and more we are busy, very busy. As a consequence we read and write quickly and superficially, because it seems that we are always in a hurry.
When we have meetings with other people, we are also in a rush. We have difficulty in concentrating and paying attention to what the other person in trying to say. Our minds are thinking about the past (what happened before this meeting) and thinking about the future (what do we want the outcome to be of this meeting or even preparing for the next meeting). We are rarely in the now with our attention.

Proper listening is an art. When we really master this art we can establish lasting relationships and faster achieve results. Why is this the case? The consequence of inappropriate listening is a lot of miscommunication, which consumes (a lot) more time and energy.

So, what are some rules for proper listening?

·      Be open and receptive
Questions prepared mentally before they are asked will disrupt the flow and not follow the interest of the other person. Far better to hear the person through and then pause if necessary while the next appropriate question comes to mind.
·      Listen ‘empty’
Have no judgments or opinions in your mind. Forget aloud how this other person reacted in the past. Have no expectations at all.
·      Listen with your heart as well as with your head.
What do you feel? How does this conversation touches you?
·      Look at the body language
Is the body language in line with the message or do you perceive a disconnect?
·      Pay attention
Write as few notes as possible, otherwise you miss valuable parts of the conversation.

A great tool to support your listening is the Pulse smartpen (check out www.livescribe.com). This pen records everything what is being said. So, you can later go back to what was literally said. If you touch the key words, which you have noted, you get instantly the recording! So, you don’t have to be afraid that you miss something. You can even download the (MP3) file to your computer, so you can share your conversations with others.
For example this pen is a fantastic tool for sales representatives and marketers (when talking with customers and prospects), for journalists (when interviewing), for business people (in negotiations), for lawyers  (in preparing cases) and for students (in seminars).

Please remember that listening forms 40% to 50% of any communication, so it is crucial to be a great listener!

This is emphasized by a thoughtful poem from Ralph Roughton called “On Listening”.

‘When I ask you to listen to me and you start by giving advice, you have not done what I asked.
When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me why I shouldn't feel that way, you are trampling on my feelings.
When I ask you to listen to me and you feel you have to do something to solve my problem, you have failed me, strange as it may seem.
Listen! All I ask is that you listen, not talk or do...just hear me.
When you do something for me that I can and need to do for myself, you contribute to my fear and inadequacy.
And I can do for myself. I'm not helpless. Maybe discouraged and faltering, but not helpless.
But when you accept as simple fact that I do feel what I feel, no matter how irrational, then I can quit trying to convince you and get about the business of understaning what's behind this irrational feeling. And when that's clear, the answers are obvious and I don't need advice.
Irrational feelings make sense when we understand what's behind them.
Perhaps that's why prayer works, sometimes, for some people...because God is mute, and He doesn't give advice or try to fix things. God just listens and lets you work it out yourself.
So, please listen and just hear me. And if you want to talk, wait a minute for your turn, and I'll listen to you.’


Tuesday, September 22, 2009


More and more organizations are becoming convinced that innovation is no longer a nuisance, but that it is the only way out of the misery.

Once you have taken the decision the next step is to think about how you are going to organize that activity (if you haven’t done that already). There are four keys to organizing innovation:

  1. the driver
This person is acting as an intrapreneur (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intrapreneurship). In addition to this (s)he should have quite a broad experience and background. And he should be able to act as a detached observer. This is necessary to make sure that his perspective is open and not biased.

  1. the sponsor
This is the decision maker, who is a member of the Board. He should be the man who can assign budgets and resources. He is an active evangelist of the innovation itself. He should make sure that no operational priorities impact the progress of the project(s).

  1. the space
Innovation can only become a success when there is no operational pressure on the group. They should have a special place where they can work on their projects. Skunk Works (see  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skunk_Works ) was the first example for this.

  1. the team members
There is so much literature about the right composition of teams, that I am not addressing this here. However, it is crucial that the team encompasses – from the beginning – functional representatives from the departments who are involved in the implementation/execution phase (e.g. logistics, sales, delivery, IT), business representatives (those who have the budget responsibility) and last but not least customers. Even better noncustomers should be involved in the team. And an external innovation consultant should also be added.

These are relatively simple requirements to get started and to get started quickly.
Do you already have an innovation team in place??



Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Last week my Internet connection was not working, so I called the helpdesk of my ISP (internet service provider).  This ISP has a brand image of providing high quality services and they are #1 in customer satisfaction survey for many years. When I called they already had a message recorded which said that due to maintenance problems some of the servers were not working. It also said that the waiting time in the queue is 12 minutes. So, I was happy that it was at least a known problem.
After 25 minutes I finally got through and the person checked my zip code and could see that I was also impacted. Well, it is always nice that they confirm what you already experienced… Then he said that he would send a request to the telecoms department to put me on another server. My problem should be fixed within 1,5 hours, al least that was his guess.
After 1,5 hours I tried again, but no Internet connection. I waited and tried again and again, but no results. This experience did no good for my customer satisfaction. The next day I did call again and the prerecorded message was still there. However it stated that the waiting time was 1 minute. Wow, that was fast………. But I had to wait 35 minutes to get someone on the line.
He denied that there was a problem with the servers of the telecoms department….. “I was not right about that”. And he could not see that I called the day before as well because his colleague did not log the call. He said that he just had to reset my connection and everything should be okay after one hour. I asked whether he knew that for sure and he said no.
So, after an hour my Internet was back up and finally running again. I also became aware how dependent we have become on our Internet connections.
After this negative customer experience I am starting to have a serious look at having an Internet connection by cable. This is something I would not have done if I hadn’t had this experience.
What can be learned form a customer service perspective?
·     Only mention real waiting times, otherwise don’t mention them at all.
·     Never tell the customer that his experience is wrong. Remember the customer is always king.
·     Never say that what your colleague did was not correct. Always support each other.
·     Tell the customer when the problem is fixed, when the connection is restored. Customer are not interested in the effort, but in the results.
This experience damaged their brand, as I don’t perceive them to be a high quality service provider anymore. And of course I will share my experience with others using social media. Professional service is really at the heart of any operation!


Tuesday, September 8, 2009


The enormous amount of change requires an almost equal speed in learning. Changes are in so many areas like new technologies, new government guidelines, global markets or social media/networking. Also it is crucial to not only check your competition and your customers, but also noncustomers (if you are interested in creating blue oceans…). Fortunately there is so much knowledge available on or via the internet.
However you need time as well as a willingness to learn! Most executives are so busy that they don't plan any 'learning time'. Firefighting keeps them away from working on the business. Somewhere there is an inner voice which says “you should learn ..” but that voice rarely wins. To silence that voice some buy books.  I have been in many rooms of senior manager and they all have a bookcase in it. But most of these books are not read........ Maybe they might even think that they don’t need to learn, as they are already up to date. Well that might be true for your own company, but certainly not so in a larger perspective. For instance, there are many great books (John Kotter) and researches available about change management. But still are most change initiatives not producing the required results. Why? Because they don’t know about this knowledge and change in the old way, the way things get done here.
Therefore I do think it is crucial that executives see learning time just as important as any other business commitment And there should be a new, frequent modus of learning/teaching available (instead of the one-off executive education programs), where they can ongoing learn the latest findings and know-how from experts, academics and research. This should be planned for at least half a day each month. Also a proven method like a mastermind group could be very useful for corporate execs, not only for entrepreneurs and business owners.
Innovation by definition means doing something new, either in your business model, processes or services. To do the right new thing you need to learn. Applying what you have learned is the only way to be innovative. If you want to create new markets, than read the book about the Blue Ocean Strategy, learn and apply the methods provided. Only then your innovation can be successful.
To cope with today’s and tomorrows challenges senior managers should become enthusiastic about ongoing learning (and change limiting beliefs that learning is only what you do at school).
What are your ideas for creating a culture of learning??