April 30, 2012 | last updated June 4, 2012 12:07 pm

Be smart about change, understand agendas

"The Reinventors: How Extraordinary Companies Pursue Radical Continuous Change" by Jason Jennings (Portfolio, $26.95.)

Continuous improvement comes in two forms: 1. Benchmarking (You're copying what's already been done; while it's new to you, you're always on the dull edge.); 2. Reinvention (You know that what got you to Point A won't get you to point B; so it's always time for change.) Where would you rather be? A few steps behind your competition? Or at least a step ahead of them.

Those committing to "a step ahead" attract and keep the best talent. Why? A culture of growth presents résumé-building opportunity. Sustainability aligns with growth as well because customers want change — usually much faster than a company can. Unless a company grows, it won't meet their customers' needs and won't have profits to plow back into its business.

Jennings sees radical (i.e. you haven't done it before) continuous change as akin to kissing a lot of frogs rather than searching that one big thing. Radical though the change may be, it's more likely evolutionary rather than revolutionary. So how many frogs should you kiss? "Make as many small bets as you have people responsible for making them happen and sufficient financial resources to maximize the odds of success."

To improve the long-term odds, learn from frogs that don't turn into princes. And look to the princes for clues about your encore. Small bets must have SMARTS — Specific, Measurable, Accountable, Resourced, Timed and Scalable. And when you find a prince, you need a quick-into-play introduction plan.

To improve the success odds, your bettors have to share their knowledge. Encourage their ideas with positive "yes, and how…" feedback. No skunking of ideas. Making mistakes is OK; covering them up isn't.

It's up to management to set and keep the tone and beat. See the sense of things before making judgments about them. "Making sense" forces you to "look for the rest of the story, the logic the other person sees in what he is saying." Be interested, not interesting.

The bottom line: Try anything. If it works, spread the word. If it doesn't, learn and move on.

• • •

"The Hidden Agenda: A Proven Way to Win Business and Create a Following" by Kevin Allen (bibliomotion, $24.95.)

Allen, the guy who pitched and closed multi-million-dollar Fortune 500 ad campaigns, says, "Behind every decision is an unspoken, visceral, emotional motivation. Tap that, and you win." He identifies three hidden agendas, which go beyond solving the problem at hand, and present opportunities to salespeople.

Wants: This shows the decision-makers that you not only understand their business, but also where it's going. Help them visualize the future and how your product/service plays a role. When prospects see that you can help them navigate, you win. Uncovering questions: "If you had to write a corporate dream, what would it be?" What frustrates you about the perceptions of your company in the marketplace?"

Needs: The initial problem acknowledges that "something's missing." Decision-makers seek assurance that your solution will work. If it doesn't, it creates other problems — their decision-making capability and credibility become questionable. In order to win, you have to show that you have their back — you'll do what it takes to make it work. Uncovering questions: "What keeps you up at night?" "What might set your plans back?"

Values: Every salesperson does homework on prospects. But many don't look at corporate mission statements and similar information to understand the context in which decisions are made. Still fewer look to understand the values of their prospect's customers. If the values of your firm don't intersect with those of the prospect and its customers, you lose. Uncovering questions: "How would you define the value system in your company? Your customers?" "What drives your business?"

Like the ad campaign he created for MasterCard, Allen's advice on uncovering and addressing the hidden agenda is "Priceless."

Jim Pawlak is a nationally syndicated book reviewer.


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