Sunday, August 27, 2006

"Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, an amateur built an ark that survived a flood while a large group of professionals built the Titanic!" William Swanson

Swanson's Unwritten Rules of Management:
Unwritten rule number 33...

"Obviously, you need to think before you try something new, and you need to know when to ask for help and expert guidance, but don't talk yourself out of trying something that your heart tells you is within your power to accomplish. Often those less immersed in a field or discipline have the unique perspective that produces the answer."

This reminds me of times when folks turn impossible situations into dramatic successes in large part because they are just "too stupid to know better." One such situation comes to mind. A rookie seller won first place in all three competitions of a first quarter sales contest. Having never before sold media she achieved 1) the highest unit rate. 2) most new business closed (total new dollars and total number of new clients). 3) most packages sold. She set new record highs in all three categories because she failed to understand that doing so was impossible. No seller had ever before taken first place in all three categories. But wait, there's more...she is pacing to end this year far and away the number one seller of online only sales. Again her secret is she fails to understand what her fellow sellers know to be true - no one wants to pay premium rates for online only inventory.

The lesson here is first timers are excellent additions to the team. They can bring the "unique perspective" that Bill Swanson talks about in his Unwritten rule number 33. The great sales trainer and sales development guru Norm Goldsmith was fond of saying "new hires, especially those new to broadcast, are excited about selling, they come to us without knowing what they can't do, accordingly they often produce amazing results in the days and weeks before we 'train' them how to properly sell our product, before they have been informed, educated by our sales veterans regarding what is and is not achievable."

The impossible happens

Each and every day someone makes the impossible "happen." The seller that closes the account that has never before used broadcast or made an online only buy - the very same account every other seller has called on and failed to close for years. The programmer that takes a station from worst to first without changing the so-called "dead format." The affiliate manager that clears 200 stations with a program the major networks all passed on. The morning show that "comes out of nowhere" to take a dominant first place. This time of year my day job has me working with clients to develop next year's business plans. The exciting part of the job is working with folks who have never before participated in budget planning - the ones that clearly don't get it.

As a facilitator or guide in the process I use Wurman's three principles...

1. Learn to accept your ignorance
2. Pay more attention to the question than to the answer
3. Never be afraid to go in an opposite direction to find a solution

A network executive in the city asked me earlier this year...should they hire seasoned veterans or grow their own, hire those without any network experience. My take was grow your own. While it represents the road less traveled and will certainly demand much more of leadership, the upside is practically unlimited. When reviewing these kind of situations my sense is to examine the amount of "unlearning" required. Seasoned vets too often bring baggage, notions regarding what is and what is not possible. The job of leadership is to help the experienced to "unlearn."

How to create a winning business plan

Teams planning for 2007 need to stop focusing on the goal and begin obsessing on the gap.

The question should be "what would have to happen to close the gap?" The gap between where we are on 12/31 (forecast) and where we need to be at the end of next year (projection). That gap might be page views, uniques, ratings, net revenue, local direct, national, new business, whatever. The important part of the exercise is not simply developing assumptions supporting the goal. The important part of the exercise is developing a map of activities and related metrics that will close the gap and deliver the goal. Investing time to subtantiate the goal is the first step. Investing time to create the practical strategies needed to manage activity required to close the gap is the critical second step. On balance it's all about execution. Execution is not about the goal but about the gap.

Learn to say "I don't know"

Invariably the most successful leaders we work with are the ones unafraid to say "I don't know" they tend to also be the people with the best questions. Conversely, those with all the answers tend to also be those who could never imagine themselves saying "I don't know" before a gathering of subordinates. In my experience leaders that foster dissent, encourage the contrarians, and greenlight open, brutally candid discussions are the leaders that win more often than not.

Invite the "unqualified" to participate

Just as first time sellers amaze, so do first time managers. Take a fresh look in your 2007 planning, involve people who fail to understand what is impossible, get the unaffected into the process, ask the opinions of those lacking any informed judgment. Ask sellers what they think of programming and programmers (and talent) what they think of sales.

Dare to be naive, go for greatness.