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Apr 8 20

Working From Home

by David Brock

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had friends, colleagues, clients calling and to talk about the trials and tribulations of working from home. We’ve shared funny stories, frustrations, and swapped hints and tricks.

Some people have been asking me for hints/tricks about working from home, knowing that I have had a home office for the past 20+ years. I hardly feel qualified, since typically on Monday mornings I jump on an airplane to go to a client location. Prior to the “Shelter In Place” rules in California (supplemented by common sense and good judgment), I normally work from my home office 3-5 days a month. Now, like everyone else, my home office is my full time office–at least for some time.

But, I have learned some things. Here are some things I’ve learned and am learning, I’m interested in your ideas:

  1. Establish a routine. Somehow, people feel that working from home is different than working in the office. But, as you think about it, we have routines in the office, we need to establish routines working from home. Current circumstances are making things different, but it’s important to have routines that help us stay focused and productive. For me, my work at home routine has always been starting my day very early. I work the global time zones in working with my clients and prospecting. I’ve learned I’m most productive getting up about 4:30am, doing 15 minutes of light exercises, 5 minutes of meditation, taking a shower and shaving. Usually, I’m sitting in my office at about 5:15-5:30. I block my time. Certain time for email, time for prospecting, research/client work and so forth. Very importantly, I schedule breaks through the day.
  2. Be attentive to “distractions.” It’s so easy to be distracted when you work from home and aren’t used to it. Many of us have children and spouses who are learning to do the same thing. There are things around the house that might distract us. Particularly, in these times, it’s so easy to get distracted. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in working from home is that when I am in my “office” I’m at work and I do work. When I am in a different space, I’m not “at work.” Whatever your “office” space is, when you are in your office your focus should be only about work. If it’s a separate room, a closet a corner of the living room, turn off non work distractions when you are in the “office.”
  3. Know when to turn “work” off. Working from an office, it’s easy to turn work off when we leave the offices (though in the past 10 years, people are increasingly doing email from home and scheduling conference calls in the evening. These past few weeks, when I talk to people, they are tempted to always be working, since their work place is also where they live. They are getting exhausted and worn out. It’s critical to turn work off, to exercise, spend time with your family, call friends, read, even watch TV. We, each, need time to refresh and re-energize ourselves. Related to the previous point, if you have a place at home that you call your “office,” when you are in the office, work, when you leave the office, stop working and do something else.
  4. Related to the previous point, don’t eat at your desk. To be honest, I have trouble complying with this. When I am in client offices, I often grab a sandwich and eat at my desk, I notice others doing the same. I sometimes transfer that to my home office. Somehow, I think I’m more productive. Some years ago, I owned a software startup in Paris. In my first week working with the team, I did my normal habit of eating lunch at my desk. My CFO gently told me that wasn’t the way things were done. I learned the entire team took a lunch break together. We would go into the conference room, have lunch, talk, share stories. It was a huge opportunity to connect with others, to refresh. And when we went back to our desks, we were more focused and productive. When you take time for lunch, go to your kitchen or dining room, have lunch. Perhaps call a colleague and talk to her. Maybe get your colleagues together to share lunch and stories over a Zoom call.
  5. Get your sleep. Related to the previous points, it’s so easy to forget to take care of ourselves–eating well, exercising, and getting sleep. Also, make sure you are getting exercise, whether it’s a few pushups, lunges, squats, a bike ride, or a run. I have a set of kettlebells in my office. Every 90 minutes, I take 5 minutes to do something with them.
  6. Stay professional. In our offices, we behave professionally. Perhaps, how we dress, how we speak, how we work–respecting those around us, and doing the things we know produce results. Many people, working from home, forget that they need to be just as professional as they are in the office. Things as simple as dressing the same way, engaging people the same way (though perhaps by phone or video calls) help shape your mindset and keep you focused on being productive. Your colleagues and customers expect you to be as professional from home as you are in the offices.
  7. Learn how to use the technology. Technology has always been important to my effectiveness, both working from a home office and as I travel. Over the past few weeks, I can’t believe how much time has been wasted by bad video conferencing connections or not knowing how to use the tools. Technology helps you become enormously productive and impactful, both from the home and office, but we have to use it effectively.
  8. Stay connected! By this, I don’t mean through the technology or social networking, but stay connected with your people, your colleagues, and customers. The biggest problem people who are new to working from home face, is the feeling and reality of being isolated, separated, and alone. When we are in an office, we feel more connected. There’s so much informal communication that happens, whether at lunch, coffee breaks or just throughout the day. That disappears when we work from home. So we have to consciously look for the surrogates for that informal communication and engagement. Managers should reach out and talk to their people every day, even if it’s just a few minutes. There’s great value in work-group conference/video calls to keep connected with our colleagues. And each of these calls don’t have to be just about business, there should be time for social exchange. For example, I sat in a call with a team the other day. The manager asked each person to share something funny that happened to them in the past week. Each person shared a brief story, we all laughed and had fun.
  9. Don’t forget the good habits you develop working from home when you go back to the real office.

What are you learning about working from home? What works, what doesn’t?

Apr 8 20

What’s Next, Moving Forward

by David Brock

We are still in the midst of the global health and economic crisis, yet many of the conversations I’m hearing are focused on “what’s next.”

Some people talk refer to what’s next as, “when things get back to normal.” Implicitly thinking what we are going through is a momentary interruption, and, at some point, we are back to doing business and interacting socially in the same ways we were doing as little as a few months ago.

It’s not unusual to think about, “when things get back to normal.” As we look at past history, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, earthquakes (in California we think about this), even tragedies like the World Trade Center; over time as the crisis passes, things start getting back to the way they were before. And, over time, we forget about them (except, perhaps, for those directly impacted by the tragedy).

Some are looking at today’s circumstances–work from home, an “adjusted” economy, restructuring, and so on as the “new normal,” trying to figure out the path forward from here.

I’ve no crystal ball, but here are some thoughts and hopes.

The way forward starts with what we are doing now. This doesn’t mean we will continue to be in “crisis mode,” but the actions we take today, individually and organizationally, shape our futures.

How we treat our people, how we treat our customers, how we treat our suppliers will shape our futures. Sadly, there are too many that don’t value people, view customers as just a source of revenue, and do everything they can to take advantage of suppliers (for example, not paying them, asking for unreasonable sacrifices). These people and companies have always been this way, but what they do now is done at a grander scale, and is far more visible. They have a short term, transactional, self interested mindset.

As an example, just this morning I read of a major office supplies retailer refusing to pay landlords rent for the month of April. They’ve taken a unilateral decision, without engaging landlords in discussing alternatives.

Other organizations are undertaking vicious headcount reductions, yet the top executives aren’t foregoing multi-millions in salaries and bonuses.

We see people and organizations at the other end of the spectrum. There are leaders doing everything they can to preserve jobs, to work with their customers, to work with suppliers. These people and companies recognize all of these are important to their abilities to operate now, and to grow in the future.

Several of my clients have taken “no layoff” stances for the next 90 days. They have reassured their people they don’t need to worry about their jobs and are focusing them on moving forward. Others are working with troubled customers, working on payment and other plans.

What we do today is not just about today, but impacts what we do and how we are perceived as we move forward.

There’s the perception what we are facing is an “interruption,” and we will go back to the good old days and what was “normal.” One, it’s impossible to ignore what has happened and the impact on each of us, our organizations, customers, and our communities now. We can only move forward from where we are, nothing else makes sense.

But we have a huge opportunity, we are learning/relearning things that we cannot forget in the future. We must continue to leverage and learn from them, not only because they are the right things to do, but they produce results.

We have seen the impact of genuine caring–caring about our people, caring about our customers, caring about our communities. We’ve always known about this, but too often fail to execute on this. But now, in crisis, we see the impact of caring, why it matters and how it produces results.

We have seen the importance of the fundamentals of selling and business. Focusing on the problems you are the best in the world at solving and those customers having those problems and wanting/needing to do something about it. This has always been true, but that’s all that counts now.

All of us struggle to make sense of what we face and how to deal with it. Sensemaking makes sense–it helps our people feel connected, engaged, and move forward. It helps our customers understand an move forward.

In this crisis, we’ve learned that no one has the answers, but by working together, collaborating, we can develop answers, make progress, even thrive.

We’ve learned the value of values and a strong culture in unifying people in taking action.

Even in simple things, we’ve relearned the power of the phone, perhaps supplemented by tools like Zoom.

All these, and more, are helping each of us, our organizations, our customers, suppliers, and communities move forward. If these work in times of crisis, imagine their power as we move from this crisis to recovery and whatever is next.

By contrast, imagine the tremendous loss if we revert to the things we did/didn’t do before.

This crisis has been too valuable to waste! We have such an opportunity to do better and be better. We cannot squander this opportunity in moving forward.

Apr 6 20

Your Value Proposition Must Be More Valuable Now!

by David Brock

Creating value with our customers has never been more important than it is now. Our customers face issues they have, probably, never had to deal with in the past. The safety of their people, restrictions on how they operate, profound shifts in their markets and with their customers, possible supply chain management issues, and the list goes on.

Some customers are in areas critical to our current health and economic crises, they are struggling to respond to critical needs from their customers. Some are struggling to be important to their customers. Some are restricted in their ability to do business, for example, hospitality, travel, and many small businesses.

Our customers, as are we, are struggling–individually and organizationally. Their jobs, their businesses, their markets are all disrupted. They are focused on those things most critical to what they face now.

As a result, our value propositions must be sharper and more focused than in the past. We, not only, have to present business justified solutions, but we must present our value in the context of what’s most important to them now.

Some things we have to be focused on:

  1. Our solutions and value will no longer just be evaluated against alternatives. Our solutions will be evaluated against all other things the organization is considering. For example, projects in other parts of the business will be competing with our solutions. Alternatively, people’s jobs may be impacted. Decisions will be made based on what is most critical to the company now.
  2. Time to results becomes more critical than it has been in the past. Time to results is always important, but those things that accelerate the ability for the customer to achieve the desired outcomes are critical.
  3. Risk is critical, but risk in the context of today’s crises may be very different than “business as usual” risks. Can they even make things happen, given current restrictions and market circumstances? Is it even implementable?
  4. Customer implementation risks/challenges. Can the customer even implement the solution? Given restrictions for WFH, physical proximity, and other challenges, have we helped develop a to enable the customer to implement the solution under current circumstances?
  5. Personal risk and value: Traditionally, we’ve always looked at value propositions in the context of the impact on the organization or enterprise. Too often, we fail to recognize the risk/value to those making the decision and implementing the solution. In the best of times, people can lose their jobs if they make a poor decision. Today, people face heightened anxieties. We must make sure we help them understand the value of our solutions in the face of their concerns right now.
  6. Can we deliver on our commitments? Many companies face huge supply chain challenges. Others have solutions that require people to work in close proximity. Just like our customers face restrictions in what they can get done, so do we. Making sure that we can deliver on what the customer is buying in the time period they expect is critical to their success and ours.

Customers are buying, but they are only buying solutions that address their highest priorities for the business and individually. If we aren’t building value in the context of their new priorities, we are wasting their and our time.

Apr 3 20

“How Can I Help?”

by David Brock

One of my sources for blog topics is my friend, Brent Adamson. The other evening, Brent and I were trying to solve the problems of the sales world. I actually think he was trying to escape the “shelter in place” lifestyle we have adopted. One of his daughters was downstairs exercising, the rest of the family was some place else in the house.

He posed the question, “What’s the worst question you can ask a customer?” After brainstorming a few alternatives, he suggested, “How can I help?”

Think about the emails you are getting, calls you are getting, or perhaps the emails and calls you are producing. They all pose the same question, “How can I help?”

At first, it strikes us as appropriately empathetic and sensitive. But the problem is, the customer (or even your own people) don’t know how to answer the question.

We are all facing things we have never faced before. A global health pandemic, massive business and economic impacts. Jobs being eliminated, companies being restructured, even the viability of many companies or industries.

Our customers and our people don’t know how to answer the “How can I help” question. They don’t know what help to ask for.

The only way they can answer that question is in the context of what they know. And they know they are facing huge cutbacks, so the answers might be, “can we cancel our contract,” “can we get a price reduction,” “can we……”

While those responses address the immediate pressure everyone is facing, they aren’t very helpful. Certainly, they aren’t what we want to hear. They probably aren’t really helpful to the customer because they bought to solve a problem.

So the question “How can I help,” actually isn’t helpful, because the customer doesn’t know how to answer. And if they did, we might not know how to respond.

More useful questions might be framed around our value proposition and the problems we are the best in the world at solving. They are the same questions that we should be asking but in a slightly different context.

Questions like, “How are you handling [this issue] in the current crises?” Or “What is the impact of [this issue] now?”

Just like we always should have been doing, we could share some insights, “We are seeing many of our customers doing [these things] now, and producing these results.

The problems and issues we have always helped customers understand are still there, but the context is very different. As a result, the greatest help we can give is to help our customers think of those problems in the context of what each of them face today.

We may not know the answers to the issues, ourselves. After all, we’ve only looked at these issues in a very different context. We’ve never posed them (unless you are a scenario planner) in the context of a pandemic or a massive economic/business reset.

But just like before, we develop the answers and solve the problems, collaboratively with the customer. And that’s how we solve problems now. None of us know the answers. But we develop the answers, collaboratively with the customer. We develop the answer in the context of what they are facing today. We help them figure out what to do now and how to go forward.

Of course we already knew this. We’ve always been asking those questions, we’ve always provided those insights, we’ve always focused our discussions and collaborative value creation in terms relevant to what the customer faces, and what’s important to them “now.”

Haven’t we?

So we know how to engage the customer. We know we have to help them learn and understand the issues they face now. We know we have to develop the answers, collaboratively, in a contextually relevant manner. We just have to do what we have always been (or should have been doing) but understanding the new context, the crises and confusion our customers feel, and the heightened sense of urgency to solve those problems, now.

And while I don’t want to seem predatory, that heightened sense of urgency, that need to address and solve a problem is what we are always looking for.

Having said all of this, what can I do that is most helpful to you, now?

(I’m sorry, long time readers know my perverse humor).