Take Time for Strategy

December 19, 2011

Filed under: General — Luis A. Martinez @

When was the last time that you worked on your business?  Not in your business.  On your business.  Oh, you don’t have a business?  Well, if you don’t have a business, just pretend that you are the business.    Have you been passed over for a promotion?  Did you fail to close that big deal?  Have you been three times a finalist after the interviews, but first runner up?  It’s time for strategy.


Many readers will be making New Year’s resolutions.   That’s okay. I’m sure you can sit down with a cup of coffee and come up with a half a dozen New Year’s resolutions – but wait, there’s more.  I’m thinking more like investing as much as one week or 10 days of really assessing where you’ve been this year, and where you’d like to be at the end of next year, 3 years, or even 5 years.  This is not about making a bucket list of activities – people to see, things to do.  As Michael Porter says: “Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different.”


How will you be different next year?  How will your business be different?  Let’s get you started:

  • Your first New Year’s resolution should be to take time for strategy.
  • Sit down with your business partners, leadership team or family and tell them that you have to take some time, a few days at least, to go off and think about the paths you’ve traveled and make some plans about the future direction.
  • You don’t have to go to an expensive place.  You can retire for a few days to your nearest public library.  Take this opportunity to visit a few libraries in your area.  Get to know the Information Desk professional; they have studied about how to help you most effectively; they have an arsenal of information – all free.
  • Ask members of your Board of Advisors to meet with you; ask your coach for some perspectives.
  • Even if you don’t have a business this can be an investment in your own professional development – learn more about yourself and your potential.  If you decide to take some college courses, then ask yourself to what end are you taking those courses?


A rudimentary strategy is better than none at all.  A strategy is part of your internal guidance system, part of your core, part of your brand – and it’s important that you be aligned with it.  I love this quote from Michael Porter in his Billion Dollar Ideas blog: “The best CEOs are teachers, and at the core they teach strategy, by going out to employees, to suppliers, and to customers, and repeating, “This is what we stand for, this is what we stand for!”

Someone said: “Visualizing is a dream, but if you put it on the calendar – it’s a plan.”  So, when are you taking time for strategy?

Don’t Lift!

December 5, 2011

Filed under: General — Luis A. Martinez @

In sports car racing when we talk about “lifting” we mean lifting your foot off the gas pedal just before braking for a corner.  The opposite of lifting is going flat out, pedal-to-the-metal (where the accelerator pedal is pinned to the metal floor).  This topic is about the propensity many of us have of “lifting” during the month of December.

If you are unemployed or self-employed looking for your next potential customer you may be tempted to have these thoughts, “Well, I think that companies are winding down for the year; they are taking it easy, cruising towards the holidays, so I’ll just kick back and wait for the new year.”  Isn’t that what we say to ourselves?  Isn’t that what we tell our spouses and friends?

Big mistake.

December is not the time to lift.  Here’s why: Have you talked to sales professionals?  Guess which is their busiest month?  If their employer has a fiscal year ending on December 31, they are working day and night to finish the year with a rise in their top line sales volume.  Their companies have accounted for every sales day, and they expect over-the-top results in December.  They are racing flat- out,  pedal-to-the-metal-and-steer!

In December we must maintain the same sense of urgency as our prospects.  If, on the other hand, we become complacent in December believing that everyone else is slowing down, here’s the likely outcome:

  • The senior leadership teams of our prospect companies are still racing towards the finish – for a good / better / best sales year.
  • Their sales professionals are pulling all the stops, collecting all the IOU’s and favors so they can finish a strong year and improve their own bonus payout.
  • In addition, those who are self employed or looking for work who don’t lift in December are busy making plans to meet and network with their prospect companies not only for December, but also for January.
  • In short, their eyes are still on the finish line  – they’re not lifting in December.

On the other hand, if you lift in December you’ll find out – in January – that not only didn’t you make any meetings in December, but you have none scheduled for January.  Why?  Because you lifted in December.  So you lost not one, but two months of effectiveness.

For December you have to have a sense of urgency.  In fact, you have to meet or exceed the sense of urgency you see in your prospective company.

As John Kotter says in his book, A Sense of Urgency, “At the very beginning of any efforts to make changes of any magnitude, if a sense of urgency is not high enough…everything becomes so much more difficult.”

The holidays in December are not an opportunity to become complacent.  The race is not over.  We must stay on the gas: pedal-to-the-metal-and-steer!


In December, don’t lift…

Leader’s Dilemma

November 8, 2011

Filed under: General — Luis A. Martinez @

Book signong, WegmansRecently, during a conversation with a friend about her struggle to convincingly define her space and appropriate sphere of influence within a large not for profit organization, I reminisced about various milestones in my own ascent to management and leadership.

My friend, we’ll call her Katy, has been rising steadily in her organization over the last seven years. She is now in charge of the largest portion of budget and headcount in her area office. Katy has climbed steadily to that platform by dint of her extraordinary performance and reliable results. Yet, her senior leader seems bent on bestowing title and salary on one of Katy’s peers who functions largely by total delegation (“dumping”) and braggart persona while manifesting mediocre to poor results.

Katy and I met for coffee. After getting an update about her current condition, I remarked: “Katy, leadership is a lonely road.” I remember clearly when, just after grad school in my early 20’s, I was working as a guidance counselor in a downtown school district. One of the Union teachers approached me and advised me that I was earning an unsavory reputation – that of someone who worked past the official end of the school day, 3:15 PM. Her message? It was imprudent to be above average; I should not stray from the poor performance plantation. A few years later, while working in the federal government I was supervising 142 field employees over five states out of the Philadelphia regional office. At that time, it was my custom to bring the Wall Street Journal to work to read during lunch. One day, one of my coworkers, Jim, who had worked there all his life, saw my Journal tucked under my arm and remarked with a smirk, “Wow! Wall Street Journal! What the hell do you think you are, Luis, an executive?” I replied, “Yes, Jim.”

Those are minor skirmishes, to be sure, but such are the vicissitudes of aspiring to leadership. Leadership is often a lonely, rock strewn path. One way to overcome is to meet with and consult other leaders. That’s why I founded Getting There Executive Network. GTEN is a network of leaders and executives who gather weekly to exchange perspectives, strategies and tactics necessary for leadership. A great leadership coach, Lee Thayer, observes: “If you intend to pursue real achievement, you have to be crazy enough and committed enough to crash through all of that.” Dr. Thayer adds, “To your peers, you may be a fool for simply trying to do your job well, or to pretend to own your own destiny.”

Katy and I discussed how to make progress and maintain composure against a bulwark of protected mediocrity. She is thoughtfully considering how much longer she should stay in that environment. I admire Katy’s courage and perseverance under such perversity. It’s abundantly clear to me she has what it takes to go to the next level. Meantime, Katy is crashing through all of that, navigating the shoals of office politics by employing conflict resolution strategies like accommodation, compromise, collaboration, avoidance – and sometimes, just forcing.

Every Skinny Vanilla Latte = Job Interview

October 18, 2011

Filed under: General — Luis A. Martinez @

My son is a college student and recently took a position as barista at a local coffee shop. It would be easy to dismiss this transient position as just a throwaway job, useful only for the cash it yields and little else. But every barista has great leverage because s/he meets people every day, eight hours a day, which translates into interfacing with thousands of people every month! Think of all the opportunities to make a great first impression!

My counsel to my son is simple: every encounter counts – treat every customer encounter, every skinny vanilla latte served up as a job interview. Why? Because with each customer he meets, with every coffee transaction he has a chance to demonstrate his character, his poise, his diction, vocabulary, manners – everything necessary to make a good first impression. The next person he serves may be someone who owns a business, someone who is a manager in an enterprise who just happens to be in search of a personable, social, customer service professional, and what better way to make a good impression than to do it real time serving up a vente caramel macchiato with room for cream?

Here’s an example of what not to do: we had retained a real estate agent to sell our house. In the process of looking for another house, the agent, we’ll call him Jerry, texted my wife several times saying: “Call me”. Call me? Really? No explanation, no details. What do you mean, “call me”? Is that the best customer service behavior that a real estate agent has learned over the years? Why should we have to educate a (very successful) real estate agent about telephone courtesy and etiquette? Putting it another way, if someone said to me: “I’ll give you $18,000 if you do some work for me,” you can rest assured that I won’t be texting my new client saying: “Call me”. I don’t text like that even to my children! But wait, there’s more. On several occasions Jerry arrived to show us a property wearing just an old t-shirt, shorts and flip flops. My wife said, “Jerry, don’t you have anything else to wear?” He said, “Well, I’m tired of coat and ties. In fact, I don’t own a tie. If you invite me to a party that requires a tie, I just won’t go.” Well, that’s it; that crossed the line. I’m sorry, but Jerry feels that he’s entitled to the $18,000 fee, without even bothering to dress for the occasion. He failed to honor the client relationship. Not only did Jerry lose us as clients, we simply can’t refer anyone to him. He doesn’t realize that every encounter = a job interview.

Every encounter counts. Every person you meet = job interview. And I don’t mean just a literal job. Every time you meet someone there is a chance for something different, something better, something greater than what we have or where we are.

Every. Encounter. Counts.

Got Gossip?

February 27, 2011

Filed under: Personal branding,Social media — Luis A. Martinez @

Do you participate in a networking group?  If so, how many? What types?  Are they virtual, or in person?  Why is this important?  Isn’t all this networking stuff a waste of time?

Networking groups are critically important.  In fact, with precious few exceptions, all advances in my career of 30+ years took place because of my participation in professional gossip.  Professional gossip is the term I use to describe the discussions that take place in professional networking groups.  In my book, Getting There Volume 2, I describe how I landed my position in Xerox.   I heard about the position, which was based in Rochester, NY, from a lady named Martha at a networking group of HR professionals in Princeton, NJ.  And this happened (more…)

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