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The Kaizen Way
By Michael Webb
People generally get a lot more chances in life than they realize.
Everyone struggles with challenges and problems. The trick is to see beyond the surface appearance to the huge opportunities that may be hidden underneath.
Dr. Robert Maurer has written a book of simple ideas that originally took root in a classroom with Dr. W. Edward Deming.
In his book, he focuses on the personal, inner world of ambitions, fears, hopes, and accomplishment. The book has 8 chapters, including:
- Ask Small Questions
- Think Small Thoughts
- Take Small Actions
- Solve Small Problems
- Bestow Small Rewards
- Identify Small Moments
You get the idea. What is fascinating is that Dr. Maurer makes clear how gigantic personal accomplishments actually come from incredibly small steps.
Whether you want to lose 30 pounds, run a marathon, or make sales quota, you must take the actions which will lead to that result.
Trouble is, our human emotions often get in the way: We're afraid.
Or, sometimes, we're not afraid enough, and our innovations fail when we should have known better.
Maurer's book is filled with examples of how the idea of kaizen helps people deal with their emotions, by finding some innocuous, risk-free action that nevertheless moves in the right direction. In doing so, they are better able to face and deal with the realities of their situations:
- A divorced overworked mother of two young children knows she needs to get more exercise for health reasons, but starting an exercise program just seems too hard. So she starts out by simply standing on her treadmill for one minute every day. Before long, she is actually doing more exercise than she though was possible and enjoying it.
- A manager at a production plant wanted his team to excel, so he set high goals, and asked them for their ideas. Not surprisingly, he didn't get many. When he shifted his strategy and asked them instead for very small things that might cause improvement, he began getting cooperation and results.
This kind of reality-based approach is extremely relevant to sales organizations, for two critical reasons:
First selling is a performance art: salespeople must learn to consciously take control of their communications and behavior to match the requirements of their situation. This can't be done alone, especially in the beginning. It requires reflective feedback from others, such as skilled sales trainers and mangers.
Salespeople must commit to the personal effort necessary to improve their own skills and abilities. This is best done in a kaizen-style approach: through doable, bite-sized steps that are actually implemented, with continuously improving goals. Dr. Maurer's ideas on personal kaizen directly apply to leading and managing salespeople.
Second, and this is where most organizations fail miserably, salespeople live within a system, and management's job is to improve the performance of that system. Salespeople naturally bump up against the constraints of that system: not finding enough qualified prospects, for example, or having to take time preparing customized product literature, or follow up on unreliable shipping schedules. Salespeople cannot control those constraints, they can only try to work around them.
Most sales organizations fail miserably because their managements ignore the job of examining and improving the system salespeople live in. In most organizations, solving sales problems amounts to little more than "just work harder!" ... you should be more careful entering your orders ... here's a training program you have to go to ... here is a consultant we want you to give information to ... here is a complicated software system we want you to keep up do date now, in addition to everything else you are doing ... OK, now we need a 15% increase in quota too!
Yet usually, nothing fundamentally changes to make it easier to find more of the right customers, and win them at higher margin and lower costs.
Sales kaizen, which Dr. Maurer's book does not address, deals with these systemic issues. It incorporates the scientific method to help the team clarify their work, identify the facts, and understand causes and effects.
You ask small questions, think small thoughts, take small actions, solve small problems, and bestow small rewards, just as this little book describes.
Soon you'll have data, if you do it right. And to keep the momentum going, you'll need to use that data effectively. Doing so is surprisingly simple.
November 4, 2009