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I was recently facilitating a Business leadership session that utilizes a powerful business simulation  when an interesting and impactful discussion began during the debriefing of one of the leadership scenarios of the simulation.  In the simulation, one of the main characters – Ellen Astor – is upset with a fellow teammate Theo for not taking more initiative on a project.  As a result of her frustration with Theo, Ellen decides to provide him with some rather aggressive feedback.  Theo’s response is that “nobody ever told me I was supposed to do that,” which of course made Ellen more upset.  The scenario is designed to prompt a rich discussion about the best practices of leadership and how to apply the learnings back to the real world.  As a result of the dynamic discussions, the participants were able to take key learnings back to their leadership roles.

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As we all probably painfully aware, empathetic listening is a critical skill of success in any business environment.  Over the years, we all have been presented with hundreds of different frameworks and methodologies that teach business professionals to listen effectively and intently absorb the words others are saying. By absorbing what others are really saying, we can be more collaborative and effective. Some effective listening methodologies suggest repeating and rephrasing, some suggest “parroting” the words back to the other individual, and others suggest using 5-7 seconds of silence to make sure the other person knows you are listening effectively.  All these methods have their positives and negatives in my opinion.

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The job of the HR business partner has never been more important than it is today.  And perhaps just as underappreciated at the same time. The corporate business world is extremely complex and uncertain, and most line managers have developed a critical dependence on their top HR partners to help them execute their business strategies.  In our ever-changing business world, good HR Business Partners are able to follow along and provide foundational levels of support, while world-class HR Business Partners are able to assess the business and provide deep insights and solutions that help the business achieve its goals and objectives.

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Greetings from the ATD Conference and Exposition in Washington, DC.  This week the world of Talent Development is on the big stage and it’s clear that the $100 billion industry is thriving and growing at a record pace.  There are more than 10,000 attendees and more than 500 unique vendors positioning the value of their talent development solutions.

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This week, I had the pleasure of spending time in China and Singapore conducting several Business Acumen simulation workshops for US clients developing their Asia-Pac talent.  One of the things we pride ourselves on is the ability to take concepts such as strategic thinking, financial management, leadership development, coaching, and others and tailor our award-winning business simulation platforms to meet the specific needs of our global clients.  To do that, I typically spend a few hours researching local companies and brands and use their stories to teach and support the work in Business Acumen.

While in Singapore, I wanted to explore long-lasting “legacy” brands and how they’ve been able to evolve, so I could use them in our work to make concepts relevant for our participants.  I reviewed several strong legacy brands and decided on one that is fascinating and a great story of strong business acumen skills.

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The discussion between the Global Vice President of Sales and his HR Business Partner was quick and to the point.  “Rich is a terrific person, a valuable asset to our organization, and a very strong communicator. However, he is not a Sales Professional and never will be, so why are we talking about him for this Sales Training program?”

When the HR partner probed for more information, the VP shared; “In my opinion, Sales Professionals today are pure ‘hunters’. They are able to understand the customer’s business, effectively prospect for new customers, develop relationships, close deals, make the hand-off to account management, and then move on to the next opportunity.  Rich is a great account manager, but he doesn’t have the skills to hunt. He can make sure the account is happy, and he can take new orders, but he doesn’t have the elite skills to prospect and close”

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There are a few Business Acumen metrics that most leaders in most industries drive toward such as increases in organic revenue and increases in profitability from the existing business.  Unfortunately, those two metrics are sometimes diametrically opposed from a strategic perspective.

For example, increases in organic revenue is typically driven from the existing business acquiring new customers, and increasing profitability is typically driven by driving out costs from the existing business and gaining more revenue from existing customers.

The problem in all of this occurs when businesses upset their existing customers by aggressively going after new customers creating the perception that new customers are more important than existing ones.  The most obvious example of this can be seen in the Cable TV industry where all you hear about is the incredible deal being offered by bundling TV, Internet, and phone for a super-low price.  Well, that’s great, but what about the existing customers who are paying 5 times as much as the offer for the new customers.

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As part of the design work we are doing for a client in the chemical industry that is focusing on enhancing their sales skills, we conducted a survey of their customers to seek answers to the question of what the customers truly value from Sales Professionals during the sales process.

The decision makers in the survey were asked to rank five core sales competencies from 5 being the most important to 1 being the least important.  Because the focus of the training is developing the skills of “hunters” (sales professionals who are identifying new customers as opposed to sales professionals “farming” existing accounts), we focused on only potential customers (prospects) and not existing customers as we felt their responses would give us better insights into the specific answers we were looking for. The data below presents a compelling argument that Business Acumen skills are the critical foundation to any sales process in 2019 and beyond.

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One of the many interesting things that I’ve learned from delivering business simulation-centric leadership development programs for some of the largest companies around the world is to listen to and pick up on weak signals and trends that business leaders are thinking about and talking about.  Over the past few weeks some of these week signals have turned into strong requests for help in an emerging area of leadership I will call “Keeping-it-Simple-Leadership-Strategy” for now.

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What does it take to lead through the current challenges and opportunities at the same time thinking about the future disruptions that are going to shape the future markets well beyond your leadership tenure?

It takes the ability to think beyond the incremental and a focus on the data that will uncover the weak signals that provide the insights and ideas to develop innovative solutions that will disrupt the existing market.  It also takes leadership courage to drive change and think in new ways that nobody wants to hear or talk about.

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