Join Maggie’s workshop at the LEAD event – Amsterdam, November 14

On November 14, the LEAD network is organizing its annual networking event for professionals who share an interest in promoting diversity (focused primarily on the consumer goods industries). I’ll be running a break-out session with tips and tricks for helping executive teams benefit more from diversity in the broadest sense of the word: diversity of gender, race, orientation, culture, style, values, and thinking. See the full program here:


Do join us in Amsterdam if you can. This will be a thought-provoking and exciting conference, and the registration fee is low.

Membership of the LEAD network is free, and provides good articles, webinars, and networking opportunities – sign up at:

Looking forward to seeing you there!


The emotional case for change

We find over and over again in our work that the “case for change” does not actually lead people to change all that much. The so-called “knowing-doing gap” is evident in corporate life, much as it is in those wanting to lose weight or quit smoking: the “case” is clear enough, yet action does not follow intent.

Much energy is typically spent on creating the “rational” case for change: reasons we should work in different ways, such as changes in market outlook and competitive dynamics. The long term benefits of change are outlined in detail: greater profits for example, more satisfied customers, or a more efficient process. The reasoning is clear and hard to disagree with; the problem is that too often, actual change does not follow the “case”. In addition to compelling people’s minds, we need to speak to their hearts as well.

Here are a handful of Sokratic questions to start addressing the emotional case for change:

  • What makes your people most proud of themselves and their work? How can you connect the change you want to this source of pride?
  • What are your people already doing (no matter how small) that supports the change you want? How can you leverage that to encourage them that change is not hard – they’re already doing it?
  • How do your people see their own purpose, and how can you connect with that? For example, can you speak with your senior leaders about the legacy they would like to leave behind – how would they like to be remembered once they retire? Can you speak with your scientists about the breakthrough they dream of being known for, and how the change you want might support this? Can you translate the change for the mothers in your team into something that benefits their children?
  • What identity can you create for your people that is worth aspiring to? Can you help them see how the change they want would make them part of the “cool club”, or of the “most generous and helpful group”, or of the “highest integrity leaders”?


The power of individuation

The front page of this morning’s New York Times shows a picture of a child. The caption? “A malnourished child at Banadir Hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia. More than 500,000 Somali children are verging on starvation.

The message hits home. It’s hard to get your head around half a million children. Half a million children is abstract and overwhelming. But you can easily feel empathy for the individual child that is pictured here. Perhaps you’ll even feel compelled to help.

When you want to persuade on a large scale – maybe even change a culture – individuation is one of your strongest tools. Be concrete, specific, and individual; not abstract, complete, but thereby necessarily diffuse. Tell the story of one, not many (“a child in Somalia is starving”, not “hundreds of thousands are dying”). And if you need action, point your finger at one, not many (“you in the black sweater, call 911” rather than “help!”; “Mr. Smith, please set the example”, rather than “everyone should role-model the change”). Individuals respond to individuals; and that insight might just help you change the direction of the crowd.

Value pricing

I can hear your excuses for why it is not necessary, in this particular case, to spend much time and attention assessing and communicating the value of your proposed service.  “I’ve served this client for a long time,” you say; “he already knows the value, it would look strange if I now started to discuss it with him.” “The client has asked me for this work and is not asking any competitors; we don’t have to convince him the work is needed – he’s convincing us.” And so on, and so forth.

And then… the client comes back and tells you he has a new boss, who, surprisingly, doesn’t see the need for your work  in quite the same way. Or, he comes back with push-back on your price (always a sign that the client has estimated the value of your work lower than you have). Or you’re halfway down the project, and he wants to scale back…

Always, always figure out what the impact of your service will be on the client’s business, and estimate its worth. You’re not just doing it to “justify the price tag”: figuring out the value to the client helps you scope the work, commit the client’s effort and resources to your project, measure your progress, adjust along the way, and create much stronger referrals once you are done. Value is of course ultimately best expressed as  expected bottom line gains, these can in turn  be estimated many different ways: based on expectations of  market share gained, growth accelerated, productivity improved, skills upgraded, pipelines filled, close rates increased, portfolios balanced out, customers satisfied and retained… Ultimately, there is always a dollar number, and you need to do the work to get there. What’s the value of improved employee engagement? Well, if fewer employees leave, how much recruiting and training cost would be saved? And what impact is greater employee satisfaction expected to have on customer satisfaction, and in turn on customer retention, average  deal size, average number of products purchased per customer…?

Why are you providing this service, and how will you know it was worth every penny? More importantly, how will the client know? Before you quote a price, make it a habit to have a defensible estimate of its expected ROI.

Threat as a negotiating tool

A threat is a statement that takes the form of: “Do X… or else I will do Y”. In negotiations, that typically means some form of: “Raise the price you’ll pay/reduce the price you’ll charge… or else I will abandon these negotiations.” Since the possibility of “no deal” is implicit in any negotiation, it is seldom necessary to make an explicit statement – a threat. Consider the following before you use threat as a negotiation tactic:

  • Is your threat a considered, well planned statement, or are you acting on emotional impulse? The former may be advised in some rare circumstances – the latter is usually not a good idea in negotiation. Take a deep breath and think again.
  • Are you certain there is no more negotiation space? Have you truly exhausted all other “win-win” options? Are you certain your threat will not close doors that might have led to a better outcome?
  • Can you follow through? Will a “no deal” outcome hurt you much less than the other party, or just as much? Do you have the resolve, the authority, and the resources to make good on your threat? Empty threats are typically transparent and will hurt your credibility and your negotiating position.
  • Is it worth the relationship damage? Threats invariably create some level of stress and hostility in your negotiating partner, and can easily produce an impulse to “strike back” (either with active hostility, or passive undermining). Is this an outcome you can live with? Is the relationship of no or limited value to you (a purely transactional negotiation), or are you likely to need this partner again?

Lastly, perhaps needless to say, but best not to use email if you must make a threat.

The one-minute culture survey

There are many questions you can ask a company’s leaders to start understanding its corporate culture. Here’s one of the most revealing ones: what would you fire someone for? Outside of the obvious, such as stealing and lying, what behavior would you consider a deal breaker offense? The answers will tell you what’s at the very core of the company’s culture. Would ignoring a customer’s feedback be a deal breaker, but would publicly humiliating a staff member be tolerated? Looks like we have more of a customer-focused than a people-focused culture then. Would making excuses for unmet promises be a deal breaker, but would missing a high risk, high potential new opportunity be tolerated? A performance culture, rather than an innovation culture. No matter what the formal vision and values statements may say – the answers to this question will tell you what’s REALLY valued around here.

What’s your team uniquely positioned to accomplish?

This month, we’re working with the leadership team of the global Shared Services organization at a Fortune Top 100 company. How can the team best come together to make Shared Services a competitive advantage?

The team quickly identified a need for closer alignment. Team members need to know what their peers are doing, so they can manage the overlaps and dependencies. HR services needs to know when IT services will have the new passwords go live, because it will have impact within HR services. But more importantly,  these leaders realized that together, they are uniquely positioned to make trade-offs across different services. Should we first invest in Windows 7, or in PeopleSoft? Is our budget better spent integrating our travel services globally, or should we delay that in favor of ensuringbetter mobile agility? No team other than the top team is positioned to make these choices between “apples and oranges”, and allocate scarce resources where they’ll have the highest impact.

What’s your team uniquely positioned to accomplish – what can you do together, that no other team or individual can do?

What’s your blackberry doing in this meeting?

Ever found yourself sneaking a peek at your blackberry under the table during a meeting? (Or even thumb-typing away openly?) Are you experiencing an emergency – are your messages so urgent that they can’t wait until the meeting ends? My guess is you’re not in a crisis, you’re bored. Your time is being wasted here. The content of the meeting isn’t directly relevant to your work, or you’ve read the pre-read and now you’re sitting through the presentation anyway, or the discussion goes around in circles. Your emails seem more interesting right now, and maybe you can actually get some work done.

We see teams try to limit blackberry use in meetings through “ground rules”, and some even impose “fines” – pay a dollar each time you use it. (So now you have permission, it’s only a dollar to look at the next message – a steal!) Instead of fixing the symptom, why not fix the problem? If people are whipping out their blackberries in a meeting, they’re not on the edge of their seat with passionate interest in the discussion. The tough question is: why not, and what can you do about it?