Tag Archives: self-improvement

Asking Questions to Enhance Your Strategic Thinking

By Jill J. Johnson

Jill Johnson-question

The foundation of effective strategic thinking and strategy development is knowing how to ask the right questions. Learning to ask the right questions can be difficult because most people only know how to ask superficial questions that have easy answers. Asking challenging questions allows you to be more impactful in critical situations, have a greater influence on outcomes and help your organization achieve greater results.

Ask Questions That Matter

The level of uncertainty in today’s business climate is driving major challenges for most leaders.

To be an effective leader, you have to fully understand the overall strategic goals of your enterprise and key leadership. Use these goals as the framework to align your thinking.

Understand the critical market forces impacting your business strategies so you can determine the questions to be answered. What critical market forces are at play in your industry? Are there forces evolving around you which have the potential to impact your survival or growth opportunities? Consider what it will take to grow revenue, expand profitability, improve job satisfaction, enhance productivity, or increase customer retention. How does each of these areas impact the questions you should consider? Structure your questions to challenge the critical issues impacting your ability to achieve these goals.

The foundation of effective strategic thinking and strategy development is knowing how to ask the right questions. Click To Tweet

Three Critical Categories of Questions

There are three primary categories of questions to evaluate when you are focusing on your strategic thinking. These questions allow you to scan the various elements impacting your enterprise. These include reviewing what is going on internally in your organization, exploring external market forces creating new challenges or opportunities, and a review of your organizational relationships. Here are some examples of the types of questions you can consider for each level of your scan.

Internal Scan: Ask detailed questions about your customers and their evolving needs. What is the impact of your ownership, culture, stage of your business life cycle? Where are the sources of your profitability and capital resources? What are your leadership capabilities? How deep is the expertise of your team? Make sure you fully understand the key strategies of your organization and the opportunities you have to implement them.

External Scan: Consider the impact of various market forces on your target market and opportunities. What is happening demographically? How is your competition influencing your target market’s expectations on services, costs, and quality? What generational influences impact your ability to compete for your customers? What are the risks of remaining status quo?

Relationship Scan: Consider the status of the strategic relationships and partnerships you and your enterprise have developed. How do they impact your opportunities and create new challenges? Can you tap into other resources they offer or leverage them to achieve your goals? What are your internal relationships and how can you use them to impact success?

Constructing Your Strategic Questions

Focus your consideration of the questions on the key components impacting your enterprise growth or survival. Your questions should follow the format of who, what, where, when, why and how. They should be action-oriented. As you answer them, they should provide clarity to your strategic direction and focus. This will provide guidance on areas needing more research.

Align your questions to answer critical business questions. Your questions should help you clarify the most critical priorities for your organization. These should be broken into levels of importance: top, short-term, and on-going. Also consider the time-horizon for the impact: short-term, mid-term or long-term. By understanding the time priorities, you can categorize your strategic questions to align them with the key external market forces impacting your ability to achieve your goals. Aligning your questions with the external market forces provides you with a deeper level of critical thinking. As you elevate your critical thinking, you can begin linking your questions to impact your overall enterprise strategies.

Make sure your questions are challenging enough so they cannot be answered without some research or reflection. Questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no” are not strategic questions. Ask provocative questions to encourage deeper thinking. This will bring a higher level of critical thinking to your planning effort. If your team cannot ask tough enough questions, find an outside advisor or consultant who can provide insight.

Getting Answers to Improve Your Strategic Insight

Often you will have to do some research before you can develop your questions. Think of this as your “homework”—doing the right preparation before you begin ensures you will ask better questions. Look to your major industry associations as a good starting source for insight about emerging issues and challenges. Study how your competitors are tackling challenging market forces.

Consider your options for obtaining the information which will allow you to confidently address your questions. Outside resources can be an objective source of obtaining information. If you keep this research role internal, work carefully to minimize any bias you might inject into the research.

Identify the key metrics you should be monitoring by carefully analyzing industry data. Tie your questions to what improves or impacts each of these metrics. Your questions should consider what impacts your profit margin, return on capital employed, return on investment, and return on assets. If you don’t understand these terms, learn more about them.

You will never have all of the available data to answer all of your questions. The goal is to obtain enough data to make reasonable judgments or to clarify for you the next layer of questions to ask.

Final Thoughts

Asking the questions that matter will build your confidence and others will be more confident in working with you. Learning to ask challenging questions allows you to be more impactful in critical situations, have an influence on outcomes, and help achieve greater results. Thinking strategically is a skill set you must actively work at trying to improve. Find resources to help you learn and practice your critical thinking skills. Building your strategic mindset takes time, discipline and focus.

What critical questions do you need to ask to improve your business?

Jill J. Johnson is the President and Founder of Johnson Consulting Services, a highly accomplished speaker, an award-winning management consultant, and author of the bestselling book Compounding Your Confidence. Jill helps her clients make critical business decisions and develop market-based strategic plans for turnarounds or growth. Her consulting work has impacted more than 4 billion dollars worth of decisions. She has a proven track record of dealing with complex business issues and getting results. For more information on Jill J. Johnson, please visit www.jcs-usa.com.

Reactions: The Superpower You Didn’t Know You Had

By Jennifer Powers

Jennifer Power-Take Control of your Career

You are not in control of everything. That’s right. As much as you’d like to try, you cannot control all that goes on around you. Unlikeable policies will be made, people will say and do things that upset you, clients will come and go, your business will ebb and flow. And there’s not much you can do about it. Or is there?

One way to gain back a bit of control of your career is to understand that things don’t happen to you, or against you. Things just happen. You are not here to control what happens. Your job is to control how you react to what happens. And the way you react determines how your work-life unfolds from that point on.  Hence, utilizing the power over what is actually within your control.

So, people and circumstances can show up (or throw up) in your life however they may, but you get to choose how you react to those things. And what you may not realize is that REACTIONS = REALITY. Think about it. How you react in one moment will have a direct impact on your reality the very next moment.

If you want to take more control of your REALITY you need to take more control of your REACTIONS. Click To Tweet

It works like this:

R = R
(Reactions = Reality)
so
CR = CR
(Crappy Reactions = Crappy Reality)
 and
PR = PR
(Positive Reactions = Positive Reality)

A simple illustration. The stock market takes a dive. Mark, Kelly, and Jim all lose their shorts. Mark panics, feels vulnerable and sells all his shares. Kelly, experiencing the same loss, chooses to see this as an opportunity and buys more while the price is low. Jim is a scaredy-cat and is afraid to do anything, so he doesn’t.

Later, when the market shifts, Kelly makes out the best, Jim does okay, and Mark is too busy kicking himself to do the math.

The reality was the same for all three people: the stock market took a tumble and they all lost money. There was nothing any of them could do to control or prevent that from happening. But each of them had control over how they reacted to it. They each reacted in a different way, so they each ended up with a different reality.

So it stands to reason then that if you want to take more control of your REALITY you need to take more control of your REACTIONS. But how do you do that when reactions are like wild horses? They often run amuck and sometimes you feel like you have no control of them at all. 

Start with this simple three-step formula:

1. Observe And Resist Your “Knee-Jerk” Reaction

Observe how you would tend to react when things don’t go your way and resist going there. You’ve got better plans for your career. Give yourself time and space to allow any negative reactions to flow through you. By pausing, you are allowing your “fight or flight” mechanism time to calm down and giving yourself a second to regain your composure. Consider taking deep belly breaths, counting to ten or humming a tune. This will occupy the space that a crappy reaction would normally take up.

2. Ask Yourself A Question

To redirect your focus, ask yourself a question. Not just any question, but one that will help you shift into a more positive mindset from which you can react. Here are a few examples to get you started:

 What about this situation can I be grateful for? What belief or opinion would serve me better? How do I deserve to feel? Who would love to switch places with me? 

Feel free to come up with your own powerful questions that will shift you into a positive mindset.

3. Answer The Question

You can’t skip this step. If you only ask yourself the question you are only halfway there. The shift in perspective and your ability to react from a more positive outlook occurs when you answer the question. This part may be challenging at first but push through it because the payoff is big.

Imagine the scene. Some unrealistically tight deadlines are handed down to you at work.

  • You Observe And Resist the knee-JERK reaction to complain, moan and gossip.
  • You Ask Yourself: “What can I turn this into?”
  • You Answer: “A chance to highlight my ability to perform well under pressure.”
  • Your Reality: You calmly and coolly respond with an “I’ll handle that!” and your boss sees you as a shining star. 

Remember, seemingly bad things happen to everyone. You’re not alone in that.  But you have way more power over your day, your week and your life than you may recognize.  The moment you begin to take control of your reactions you begin to take control of your reality. 

Jennifer Powers, MCC is an international speaker, executive coach, author of the best-selling book “Oh, shift!” and host of the fun and binge-worthy “Oh, shift!” podcast. Since founding her speaking practice, Jennifer has worked with hundreds of professionals and delivered powerful keynote addresses to over 250,000 people around the globe. For more information on bringing Jennifer Powers to your next event, please visit www.ohshift.com

Understanding the Importance of Decision Triggers In Selling to Your Prospects

By Jill J. Johnson, MBA

Jill Johnson-decision triggers

A key component of effective target marketing involves developing deep insight into the decision-making process influencing how your customers make their purchasing choices. For organizations working with diverse customer needs, moving your prospects from, “I’m interested,” to “I’ll buy,” is a highly complex process. What is significant and how this will impact each of your prospects in their buying decision can vary.

This buying decision might involve a need to consolidate their vendor list enabling you to become their sole source or among their most trusted resource providers. Their decision may also impact how they view the value of buying additional services or other resources you offer.

Understanding how your target market makes decisions is fundamental to more effectively promoting your products and services. It is essential for you to understand your prospect’s decision-making process and what triggers their buying decisions to more quickly move your sales to a “yes.” Insight into what triggers your prospects in their decision-making process allows you to adapt your messages to highlight the unique characteristics of concern to your customers. Adapt your sales approach to their needs rather than using a “cookie cutter” approach. By tailoring your promotional strategies, you can enhance your opportunities to win the sale or deepen your relationship with your potential customer. You can use this insight to carefully craft your sales approach to meet their unique needs and concerns.

Each Prospect Has Unique Decision Triggers

Knowing what will move your prospects forward in a sale is just as important as knowing what is holding them back from saying “yes.” Decision Triggers can range from stress about the costs of your product or service and not understanding the value-add you offer, to believing they need support for the decision from a trusted member of their leadership team. In your sales approach, you need to utilize probing questions to isolate how they will make their decision about investing in buying a product or service from you. You must also uncover and understand the motives of who else is involved in making the decision.

Do the work to understand what Decision Triggers are at play with your prospective customers and with the other key stakeholders they rely on for support. Knowing how to activate or neutralize these triggers will provide you with vital insight on how to adjust your sales messaging tactics. Once you understand their Decision Triggers, you can determine what you should provide your prospect so they can move forward with their decision to buy from you.

Once you understand the Decision Triggers driving your sales prospects, then you can tie it to the rest of your promotional strategy. Click To Tweet

Navigate the Decision Continuum

As you move your prospective customers through their Decision Continuum, consider what your goals are each step of the way. If they reach out to you via your website or email, your goal is to get them to talk with you in person. If they ask you for information, determine what information they really need and what you can follow-up with if the sale is going to take longer than one interaction. Your goal is to keep them engaged with you and moving forward toward completing the sale and getting them to join your customer ranks—both now and long-term.

Understanding how to navigate a prospect along their Decision Continuum requires you to probe them carefully about what is important to them and their key stakeholders. In this process, you are identifying what their critical Decision Triggers are while gaining an understanding of how you need to incorporate this insight into your sales approach.

All too often when a company or organization has been around a long time, the manner in which sales are made to prospects becomes somewhat stagnant. Use decision insight to make sure your messaging is fresh, unique, and clearly matched to the evolving needs of your prospect. It might be time to reassess and revise your messaging to ensure you are hitting the hot buttons of your prospects and matching your approach to what they are most concerned about. This approach will get them to buy and stay with you beyond the initial sale.

Decision Triggers Drive Sales and Promotional Strategy

Listen carefully to the words your prospective customers use and how they describe their needs and concerns. This insight can help you shape your sales messaging back to them in ways that mirror their words. As you match your sales messaging to where they are on their Decision Continuum, you will have a better understanding of how to highlight key product or service features or benefits. This approach leverages the Decision Triggers to your target market to match what matters most to them. By specifically tailoring your messages to your prospect’s Decision Triggers, you can significantly increase the potential for achieving the sale. What you offer only matters if it matters to your prospective customers.

Once you understand the Decision Triggers driving your sales prospects, then you can tie it to the rest of your promotional strategy. You can incorporate your deep customer insight into all of your collateral materials, advertising, public relations stories, video clips, website and social media. These communications messages can reinforce how you want your prospective customers to respond to your sales messages. If there is a disconnect anywhere in the Decision Continuum, you are at risk of not being able to achieve the sales success you desire.

Final Thoughts

By incorporating insight about your prospective customer’s Decision Triggers, you can help your prospect gain confidence that the product or service you are trying to sell to them will truly benefit them and make a difference in their lives or businesses. They will have more confidence in buying from you because you will have tied your presentation to their concerns. As a result, your prospective customers can be reassured your products or services can and will effectively meet their needs. Leveraging your prospect’s Decision Triggers will make your sales cycle more efficient. It will result in more sales, help you build superior customer relationships, and will boost customer satisfaction when you deliver on what you promised.

Jill J. Johnson is the President and Founder of Johnson Consulting Services, a highly accomplished speaker, an award-winning management consultant, and author of the bestselling book Compounding Your Confidence. Jill helps her clients make critical business decisions and develop market-based strategic plans for turnarounds or growth. Her consulting work has impacted more than 4 billion dollars worth of decisions. She has a proven track record of dealing with complex business issues and getting results. For more information on Jill J. Johnson, please visit www.jcs-usa.com.

Strategies for Remaining Indispensable at Work: Proving Your Value

By Michele Wierzgac, MSEd

Michele Wierzgac-brand champions

The economy is booming—great! But wait—organizations continue to focus on cutting labor costs. Why? Labor costs comprise 80 percent or more of an organization’s operating costs. This fact clearly creates another problem among the workforceprotecting your job.

How then can you remain indispensable at work? By bringing attention to the value of what you do. How do you do that? By focusing on where the organization is going rather than on the procedural or day-to-day maintenance issues of your position. Begin thinking of how you contribute to the success of the organization. Do you know what the top business issues are within your organization?

1. See Their Point of View

Enhance your role as a team player by demonstrating a sincere interest in your company and looking at issues from the employer’s viewpoint. If it is the cost of labor that is forcing companies to cut back within your department, get together with your boss and figure out ways to merge systems, cut costs, negotiate spending, or merge tasks between departments. Often in companies where there are several departments duplicating efforts, redundancies can be eliminated.

2. Talk in Sound Bites

Concentrate on improving communication with your employer. Think about how your listener will receive the message. Put yourself in the listener’s shoes and anticipate how he or she might react. Learn to talk in sound bitesquick and fast. Bosses want the summary, not all the details.

Strive to be that one shining employee. Click To Tweet

3. Find a Mentor

To be the most indispensable employee you can be, get a coach. Surround yourself with mentors and coaches from inside and outside your industry. How do you get a coach? Look around your informal and formal networks and figure out who you would like to emulate. Whose skills and career path do you admire? Then just ask if he or she will mentor you. Most of the time, people are flattered that they have been asked. It does not take much time, perhaps just a 45-minute phone call once every three months. You tell them what is going on and they give you simple advice to get back on track.

5. Recruit Brand Champions

You are a brand! Who supports you? Who are the people that are always spreading the good news about you? These are your brand champions. It is critical that you update your friends, family, colleagues, parents at PTA meetings, and anyone else you know about what you are doing or what you want to do. Why? Because your networks are filled with the power and credibility to spread the word about you. To begin with you need to understand the difference between formal networks (professional organizations that you pay dues to, with regulations, meetings and guidelines) and informal networks (people you meet in the lobby of a hotel or on an airplane or through hobbies). Social networks are a hybrid of the two. Next, you need to communicate to your brand champions about your work, your talents, and changes you are thinking about. If you need a favor, ask, and reciprocate by asking what you can do for them in return. Send out regular alerts through your grapevine and share your success stories. Start a buzz and you will be amazed at what happens.

6. Safeguard Your Reputation

A brand creates an image of trust and loyalty over time. It takes years to build a name, reputation, and networksand takes a minute to lose it all. Always protect your name. See what others are saying about you. The key to leadership is listening to criticism and self-correcting. When a mentor gives you criticism about something you are perhaps not thinking about, it takes courage to change.  You must earn credibility, not expect it. Be prepared to spend years on earning credibility.

A Final Thought

Every workplace has that one employee that everyone goes to for answers to their problems. They know everyone and they know how to get things done. Strive to be that one shining employee by following these steps. Remember, being a key member of a team has the biggest benefit—job security.

Michele Wierzgac is a leadership expert, keynote speaker, and author of the forthcoming book, Ass Kicking Women: How They Leverage Their Informal Networks For Success. With her high energy presentations, Michele conveys sound leadership solutions and promotes audience engagement and on-your-feet participation. She promises her audience that they will leave her solution-driven keynotes and workshops with at least one passionate, life transforming leadership tool. For more information on bringing in Michele Wierzgac for your next event, please visit: https://micheleandco.com.

The Pursuit of Perfection

Do you want a staff of perfectionists?

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Some managers say “yes,” whereas others respond with a resounding “no.” The informed answer is, “it all depends.” Here’s why:

Of that portion of the populace who are perfectionists, some are blindly or proudly so. Others are self-aware of possessing this characteristic and informed about it; I call them recovering perfectionists. A self-aware perfectionist understands this condition, knowing how to tap into and celebrate the many strengths and benefits of pursuing excellence. At the same time, they know to guard against its limiting, self-defeating, and even paralyzing facets.

Doing research on perfectionism reveals a host of debilitating traits, starting with compulsiveness and going downhill from there. However, knowledgeable perfectionists can tap into the positive aspects of their natural tendencies when appropriate, that is, when it is to their advantage to do so. At the same time, they can usually avoid being handicapped by perfectionism’s alluring snares.

Doing research on perfectionism reveals a host of ominous and debilitating traits, starting with compulsiveness and going downhill from there. Click To Tweet

For a perfectionist, there are many traits which provide great value in the workplace:

  • Produce quality work: Perfectionists tend to produce high quality work. They take pleasure in excellence and find satisfaction in a job well-done.
  • Exceed expectations: If the boss expects a short summary, the perfectionist will submit a report. If achieving a 99 percent rating is admirable, the purist will aim for 99.9—and then 100. Being above average is not good enough; being the best is a self-imposed requirement.
  • Go the extra mile: Perfectionists often give more than asked. If a report needs to be five pages long, they will turn in six. If a product needs to have three new features, they will add a fourth and maybe a fifth. If they set a record last month, they will strive to better it this month. In sports, this results in shooting free throws while the rest of the team showers or taking 30 minutes of extra batting practice—every day.
  • Set high standards: Another trait is that perfectionists set high standards, both for themselves and others. As long as the standards are reasonably attainable, it is acceptable, and even admirable for the perfectionist to set a bar high—for him or herself. (However, foisting faultlessness on the others does little more than establish the groundwork for future frustration, disappointment, and conflict between the precision-minded and the rest of the world.)

Of course, there are counterparts to these traits. One is procrastination. It is said that the perfectionist subconsciously reasons that the results of their work will never be just right—no matter how much time is invested—so why start? In fact, the project is often delayed until the last possible moment, so there is a plausible excuse as to why it’s not perfect: “I didn’t have much time to work on it!” Taking this to an extreme, some perfectionists miss deadlines and blow past due dates, often agonizing over some trivial or irrelevant detail.

Another side-effect associated with perfectionism is having problems in making quick decisions. Sometimes, they need to “sleep on it” to be assured of the correctness of their judgment. Other times decisions can be agonizingly difficult for them to reach. They fear making the wrong conclusion, that is, a less than perfect one. They delay a decision, while awaiting more information, so they can conduct an informed analysis. Unfortunately, this mental paralysis is seldom cured by amassing more data.

Over the years I have often interviewed perfectionists during job interviews. As it becomes apparent that I am talking to a perfectionist, I segue into a special interview segment, just for them. “So,” I inquire, “Do you consider yourself to be a perfectionist?”

Their responses fall into one of three categories. The first one is shock or denial. If a person who has just exhibited several perfectionist traits is taken aback at the thought of being called one or disavows any connection whatsoever, I judge them to either be disingenuous or lacking in self-awareness. Neither are characteristics that I seek in an employee.

The second type of response to my perfectionist query is unabashed pride and total satisfaction in possessing this quality. To make sure I am not rushing to a snap judgment, I give them one last chance for redemption. “What,” I ask, “do you see as the weaknesses of being a perfectionist?” Occasionally, they will comprehend the importance of that question, using an astute answer to move them from this category over to category three. Usually, however, they give me a blank stare, as if my inquiry was nonsensical, responding that there is no downside or that they don’t understand what I asked. In similar fashion, I don’t want to work with a perfectionist that has failed to realize the turmoil and trouble they can produce by their proclivity for perfection.

The third type of perfectionist applicant smiles at this question and begins to share their self-awareness about the shortcomings of how their version of perfectionism is manifested. They openly identify the less then admirable ways that it reveals itself in them and often proceeds to communicate how they guard themselves and others from this tendency. This is a person I want on my team. Yes, they may require a bit more management effort from time to time, but doing so is worth the extra energy as the results will be an employee who produces quality work, frequently exceeds expectations, goes the extra mile, and sets high standards for him or herself. Isn’t that who you want working in your organization, too?

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is a published author and commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services.