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Richard Holden, a Professor of Economics at UNSW Business School, is one of the world’s leading experts on contract theory. He has also been a Visiting Professor of Economics at the MIT Department of Economics and Visiting Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School - and has written extensively on the boundary of the firm, incentives in organizations, mechanism design, and voting rules. Many years ago, he was also one of my debating rivals at university. After running into each other on a flight to Dallas recently, we caught up to discuss some of his recent research on why so much wealth is controlled by so few, the impact of smart contracts and the Blockchain on the future design of companies, and why now is a good time to brush up on our understanding of game theory.
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Mike & Tim Between Worlds Transcript
Tim Sanders on Dealstorming, emotional talent, and the sales driven company of the future
Listen to the Podcast for Free Here or Read the Full Transcript below.
Between worlds the show the takes you over the horizon and beyond borders to bring you the global thinkers innovators and troublemakers his ideas challenge the world as we know.
Mike: I’m here today with Tim Sanders, we’re here in Las Verga of all places. But this is where you live right Tim?
Tim: This is where I lay
Mike: Fortunately not on the strip, You’ve carved out a quiet, tranquil spot in this crazy city.
Tim: We are the westside, we love it, its a great city, one of the best cities to live in in NA
Mike: You know Tim I’ve been a big fan of your books and your ideas for some time. What was amazing when we started talking was that you've really been on the cusp of so many of these revolutions for some time going all the way back to cell phones.
Tim: I’m like the Forest Gump of technology. You show me an inflection point of history and its like I’m there with big shoes. I’ve been fortunate to be on the ground floor of the quality moment when it came to the united states in the 1980s, the launch of cellular phone, the birth of the internet with audio and video streaming, so it’s been very exciting.
Mike: and if nothing else you were the sales guy for Mark Cuban
Tim: There you go! Exactly
Mike: So how did you make that transition from the corporate sector into becoming essentially a thought leader around sales and relationships?
Tim: I didn’t choose it, it choose me, and I tell that to people all the time. I was working at broadcast.com when a literary agent approached me and said that she thought I had a perspective that was worth writing a book around, and we incubated that idea for a few years. At the same time parallel to all of that Mark Cuban IPO’s this broadcast.com and it’s the biggest IPO in history, and then he sells the company to Yahoo for whatever amount of dollars and I transfer to California and within two years become the company’s chief solutions officer, so this happens at the same time. So I publish a book while i’m a standing executive at Yahoo, we take some time off work to do a little national book tour and it makes the lists 11 months later and I go to work one day and they’ve run a cover story on fast company about my book and I’m holding a heart and the whole thing. I go to work, no joke, there’s 20 voice mail messages on my machine from talent agents and bureau leaders saying we’ve got this client HP and they want you to come to France and give this talk at their international customer summit and thats how it started! I went to my boss at the time and I had a list of all these speaking offers and I said, ‘What do I do?’ and they said well just take vacation days and be a brand ambassador and I started, that’s where it all began.
Mike: I sometimes think I feel sorry for the people that weren’t around for the first internet ___, because they think Uber, and AirBnB are big but back in the late 1990’s early 2000’s it was insanity!
Tim: They were breaking new ground, it was like morse laws time a thousand. From a business development standpoint the value that was being created from 1994 to say March of 2000, we’ve never seen that again. Forget social media, bitcoin, whatever you want to speak to, we’ve never seen that much value created in such a short period of time in history.
Mike: Your new book that’s coming out, it’s going to be about re-imagining the sales process, but it’s more than that isn’t it?
Tim: It is. It’s my 5th book, it’s titled Dealstorming: the secret weapon that will solve your toughest sales challenge. The premise of the book is that in business to business sales, a quality sale is really difficult. The rise of multiple decision makers procurement groups in buying committees is astounding.
Mike: It’s like a labyrinth for anyone to navigate.
Tim: The analogy I use is that when I started out in sales in the nineteen seventies I sold radio ads in Portales, New Mexico. I had a clip on tie and a short sleeved white shirt, I went door to door and I pitched mostly mom and pop businesses on buying radio and our little FM station.
Mike: This wasn’t a product that sold itself was it?
Tim: Direct sale, handshake deal is was the easiest sell in the world. The analogy I use is it’s like playing the video game of the time palm. Very simple hand eye coordination right? But today, with multiple decision makers layers and layers of complexity on the products and services we sell and cloud based competitors. It's like playing halo these days. The game of sales has become increasingly complex. And the premise of Dealstorming is that, A quality sale is a thousand problems solved and the only competitive advantage left is rapid problem solving. Whether it's our problems or the customers dysfunction that we have to solve to get from the contact to the contract.
Mike: And this is not just looking for the right angle to sell somebody is it you're actually constructing the value on the fly.
Tim: You know what you're doing is you're creating a team. And the analogy I use is that we need to create webs not silos. So when I think about teams I've done a lot of research on successful collaboration, creative innovation projects. You have to invite everyone who has a stake in the outcome, or expertise about the problem. You have to think beyond the borders of the normal organizational structure. So in the world of sales, I've interviewed so many leaders that say we’re very teamwork oriented, and I say help me understand the value chain of your team and they basically described this very tall line oriented team. They're not doing team work they're doing line work. This is no different from making a car in Henry Ford's factory, it’s line work a person passes it to the next person. Teamwork is when everybody's involved with a shared vision and willing to look out for the person next to them and sacrifice themselves if they have to. True teamwork we've learned, involves people from finance and operations and engineering and marketing and there's an alignment in the most successful selling organizations in the world that's cross departmental. Where this shared vision, usually beating the competition, gets everyone in the room to share what they actually know. Because the secret to collaboration is for everyone in the room to share what they know and express what they think will work in a given situation.
Mike: You need more than executive platitudes like this happen though, I mean what is the optimal environment you need to have for this to kind of take root?
Tim: So in my mind, an opportunity for collaboration starts around the sales challenge. It could be winning a big account it could be about breaking into a new market that could change the future of the company I write a lot about that or it could be about saving your biggest relationship. And I believe it starts with that account executive and her manager
Mike: That’s the catalyst
Tim: That’s the catalyst, that account executive has to figure out how to translate everything to get everyone in the room, those that are not in sales, to make the transition from me to we so there's a shared vision in the room. The account executive has to protect the misfits and the introverts, they have to drive people to making decisions and achieving consensus. The most important thing I learned from the research is, to quote Louis Pasteur “chance favors the prepared mind”. Brainstorming doesn't work because we throw people into a room, fully unprepared and we spend too much time briefing them and not enough time letting them express their ideas and that vetting their assumptions. The secret I learned in the research for this book, a hundred case studies, is that a deal brief that's given to everyone that's going to come to a meeting three days before, hopefully over a weekend, is the secret to success. When you put together the problem, the influence map, the history of the opportunity, and the strength weakness opportunity threat of the target, and you put that into a three to four page brief. You give it to a wide diverse group of thinkers and you bring them into the room they are bursting with vetted ideas and you can enter the debate cycle within fifteen minutes. That's where you really hatch constructive plans.
Mike: Is this something that really has to be done in a room with a white board and a pot of coffee or can you use enterprise social networks rather tools to scale this up beyond just the physical environment?
Tim: Very good question! So the answer is it depends on the organization and its culture. In certain situations the umbrella of grace that is extended that causes everyone to reveal the not so common information that really leads to creative solutions has to happen in the room. Because, what you have to do is dissolve those boundaries or as one author that I researched writes - Leigh Thompson in Creative Conspiracy - you gotta solve those fault lines. So sometimes you have to do that face to face because they're such a high telepresence of communication can happen more face to face. However, that being said I've seen a lot of shared environments that were purely digital. The analogy I would use for those organizations, say Google and advertising sales or Linkedin and HR solutions, it’s called the accordion. So think of the accordion as like the account executive and the small team of cross departmental players get together and they identify and agree on the problem and they pontificate on potential next steps and then they go out and have all their separate meetings with their tribes their stakeholders. To figure out what they can do what they can get commitment to and that's a bigger set of meetings and then they collapse back into that small Dealstorming meeting again to talk about what's happened. The executive kinda keeps that going so according goes in and out and out over time and what kind of pulls them along is the shared document features. Whether its salesforce or Google drive, whatever it is, so that shared work space is critical to that accordion keeping the group together through multiple iterations and little tribe holder meetings etcetera.
Mike: It seems that these companies that are successful that build a culture that is collaborative to solve problems really depends on the strength of the networks that they have internally.
Tim: That is absolutely true Mike, it is. There was a study in 2014 by Miller Heiman Institute that does a lot of research on sales performance. And they identified this type of company they call world class organization. World class organizations sell twenty percent more than their competitors and has better reputation for deliveries, the place you want to be in any business right? They said that they looked at everything attribute wise that they could all share in common to find the one that could be modelled and they said the only thing they could find in common with all these world class organizations is the habit of conscious collaboration across departments in pursuit of large deals. Because the large deals are the war stories around the campfire that create that corporate culture.
Mike: They become a shared experience.
Tim: They become a share experience exactly. The stories, the heroes, the multi-million dollar deal that saved the company. So what happens is that the world class organization uses a sales challenge as platform, a burning platform, if you will to create underground tunnels between silos that can't be solved. The worldclass organization would believe that you can't solve silos as long as you have budgets and limited resources. They will always be built to harden the world from the outside that that department wrote. But when you create these collaboration projects up against a sales challenge, you create these tunnels, these high level communication experiences between groups that allow them to function very well despite the fact that they live in silos. It changes the culture of the company.
Mike: It’s like a neural link almost like a kind of form of muscle memory.
Tim: It is and the reason why is because, getting back to one of my earlier points, this account executive is really good at using the right lever to create a shared vision. The shared vision is not the revenue believe it or not you know engineering and operations and everybody outside of finance and sales they don't care about the money that much right! In the world we live in the stock market you don't even know that money leads to stock performance. But I hate our rival. That organization where the pain of losing is greater than the joy of winning and that works every single time and so the act of bringing a team together to solve a sales challenge to kick a rivals ass…
Mike: It’s tribal right?!
Tim: Yes, exactly. What it does culturally, is it puts competition on the outside. So that's part of that culture building process, so what I loved about the Miller research and I write about it in the new book is, it redefines what it means to be a sales driven organization. Right we also thought a sales driven organizations was an organization where sales had to bring the business in or the lights don't stay on but that’s not it at all. Sales through its collaboration through its boundary busting problem solving mentality creates a truly innovative organization. Right because creativity, which I spent a lot of time researching, creativity is one's ability to produce surprising yet truly appropriate solutions to the situation. That comes from culture, and that culture comes from shared experiences. And besides, save the company product or marketing which is very rare, these sales challenges present the platform for organizations to reinvent themselves.
Mike: What I think is intriguing about this, is that companies often think about these things in isolation. Almost like in a vacuum, they say to themselves we want to be more innovative, we want to be more collaborative, we want to be more creative. But they kind of tell people to host spend part of their day doing that it, there is no focus around that.
Tim: Right, there’s a process. I mean there are two common ideas that came out of all my research. I interviewed two hundred different executives across all the different verticals and and not just salespeople, CEO, CMO, Chief Product Officers and there’s two ideas. Idea number one, without a process you get a mess. You don't prescribe collaboration, you adopt a structure for it, you create escalation points, and you create a process around it to structure it so that the time is spent wisely, execution is based on a test and scale basis. So when you have that process, the thing works great, you don't the process you have the “goat rodeo” I call brainstorming. Second key idea I got out of all my interviews, is that the winning culture has the following mantra. Ideas can come from anywhere. When leadership adopts this mantra, ideas can come from anywhere, you shatter one of the most important myths we need to shatter about creativity and that's the myth of the expert. You and I know there's no such thing as experts, they're just experienced people that have opinions.
Mike: But we also kind of buy into that heroic archetype of kind of the lone genius on the mountain top.
Tim: Another myth of creativity right? Thomas Edison stood for twelve people right? There is no lone genius, Whitney didn't invent the cotton gin.
Mike: Why do we lust after that?
Tim: I interviewed a creativity expert, David Birkus, who wrote a wonderful book called the “Myths of Creativity”, and he said that it goes all the way back to mythology right? It's like, it's a romantic notion like the hero's journey. So we're very resistant when people like me or him or the other creativity experts, when they come out and say there is no lone inventor, it's all collaboration, it's all people building and other people's ideas. Or as Ed Kappel from Pixar says ‘most ideas are like really ugly babies’, you know that are brought to like and kind of made pretty you know by a town or a committee. But Birkus told me, he said we fight for this, we fight for the idea that Steve Jobs invented everything, it was Steve when you know it wasn't. It’s Jony Ive in the studio and it cascades down, you got Tony Fadell in there, I mean you know you know it's a huge team but we have that romantic notion, we fight for it, that’s the problem with myths of creativity. If we believe there's one big idea that saves the company, if we believe there's one lone genius that saves the company, we never collaborate, that's the risk. When we break these myths down we realize no, I've got to build a web around me that’s democratic. I’ve got to extend the umbrella, i’ve got implement a meritocracy for these meetings were ideas can come from anywhere. That that's the only way that any company truly solves any problem.
Mike: One of the other big problems other companies are trying to get their minds around beyond obviously creasing sales is experiences. And you know, in my work, I see this as particularly important because when thinking about digital transformation in the context of how it improves the customer experience for a new generation of customers. You’ve done a lot of thinking and work around emotional talent, how does that tap into this idea of experience.
Tim: So let's tie into why emotional talent is so important. Donald Broadbent, he was a UK professor in the fifties, he penned a theory that he spent a lot of time researching, it’s called Broadbent's filter. Right they always name the concept after themselves. He believed that the human brain would develop these filters that would keep information from penetrating and demanding attention and that the more demands on our attention that are made, the denser the filter becomes and that there would be a point where the human being is accosted twenty times a day with a request for our attention, he predicted it’ll be somewhere in the sixties or seventies. Of course, now it's five hundred times a day and it's escalating, so the filter is so dense it’s a miracle anything gets through. But Broadbent suggested there was velvet rope and when he wrote this it inspired a young man named Daniel Goleman. Broadbent explained this emigdula, this emotional seat of the brain that was thirty-five times more powerful than the logical brain. That is the hijack, it is the velvet rope, it is the secret, like before the book the secret came out, to being successful with human beings. So to cut to the chase, when you take a look at companies that have figured out customer experience design, whether it’s virgin airlines, whether it's Ritz Carlton, whether it’s Starbucks. What they've done is they've taken a design viewpoint about how the customers journey works from an emotional experience that went beyond that Microsoft functionality and they entered the apple surprise and delight world. So I’ve done a lot of work that basically says, leaders need to think like designers, especially when it comes to their employees emotional experience, which drives either their cortisol or DHEA production. This leads to their problem solving ability, which leads to their ability to get along with each other, which leads to engagement, and entrepreneurship, and all those things we push for. We've got to design an emotional experience that’s so positive that when the employee comes to work everyday somehow there is a song in their heart and not a pit in their stomach. In the last two years, I’ve also developed a body of research that suggests this is infinitely even more important in terms of how companies treat their supply partners and vendors. If you think like a designer and you say ‘I am the best client, I am tough but fair, but I am the best client from an emotional standpoint,’ you get the A-team, and your service levels are dramatically higher. The research I've seen says it's three hundred percent more determinative of performance of your service providers then your ability to negotiate strong contracts with them. So it’s thinking like a designer, design being defined as the constant act of problem solving.
Mike: And what kind of resolution do they have to do this? I mean, CEOs can sort of understand they can go out on a weekend retreat and come up with a bold purpose for the business. But how do you sort of go down to the to the level of day to day managing the emotional levels?
Tim: It’s a brilliant question. So getting back to customer experience I’ll use an example, so Sharp Healthcare systems in San Diego read a book, the same book I read, “Turn of the century; the experience economy” by Pine and Gilmore, talked about the idea that in the future people buy experiences, the don’t buy services. So Sharp decides they're going to do this, so the CEO comes in and decides ‘hey we want to compete on having the best experience” and he challenges every discipline in the hospital system to segment the experience, because the patient doesn't have one experience, they have a bunch of little transactions along a designed plot-line from discovery to billing that leads to an overall impression. So whether it was the emergency room, or whether it was oncology or whether it was prenatal, they all had their little collaborative exercises to redesign their experience and the winning group which was based on the KPI have net promoter score. The winning group was pavilion where they do colonoscopy. These guys sat down as a group democratically and they asked everybody ‘what are all the experiences the patient has around a colonoscopy?” Well you can imagine it's a pretty bad experience from preparation to conclusion it sucks! They realize in this experiment/discussion the two things they couldn't change was the flee enigma or the actual invasive procedure, they can’t do anything about those. But they changed everything else.
Mike: So they give you a hug afterwards?
Tim: Get this - so the night before your colonoscopy you receive a video they produced, and it's kind of humorous, but it's kind of serious and it kind of helps. They call it an orientation video, because it helps you learn surprises, as the more you know about what's going to happen when you go in the less bad it is right? So the video kind of sets your expectations. You’re given a wake up call the next day by cheerful nice person at your home. When you show up at Sharp Healthcare they link the picture in the health insurance records to your appointment so that they recognize you before you even identify yourself just like Starbucks does. Brilliant hack by the way, Starbucks doesn’t give you a number they ask you your name, Shapr does the same, they say ‘Mike it's nice to see you’ when you walk into the pavilion. They redesigned the walkways because men don't like to see other men in their robes so there's no eye contact between patients, they also redesigned their robes around the San Diego Chargers, the local football team, as they got rid of the hole in the back of the robe it’s Velcro at the side. When you come out of the procedure your served orange juice on stemware. The doctor is trained in empathy so when he calls you with the results, if their bad he's very sensitive, if they're positive he's almost jolly, and it's almost like a Southwest Airlines flight where they kind of joke around when you land. But by taking that colonoscopy experience and breaking it down into every little transaction they did the two things that a designer always does, they get rid of the pain points and they find those signature moments that can be staged and I think that's the secret. It’s also something I'm super interested in. So great leaders today have a design viewpoint and they understand how to read the emotions of their people correctly and they know how to design for a consistently positive emotional experience, not just for the customer, but for the employees and the vendors they depend on.
Mike: Which companies have you seen that have taken that logic and applied it to the employee vendor or supplier experience?
Tim: Sas Institute, it is considered one of the best companies to work for in the world, no doubt. Fortune has a list they come out with every year and Sas Institute has been top ten for twenty years. So, they get it! They get it so much that Google went there to Cary, North Carolina in 2000 and they stayed there for a month just bugging the founder Jim Goodnight, a statistician, bugging him about how we did everything at Sas because he figured it out. He was the first corporate campus, he was the guy they got rid of cyclic time - at Sas they don't have sick days. You just come in if you feel healthy, if your kid sick don't go to work, if you can’t do your job they replace you. They bring in fresh flowers every Wednesday, there is onsite food, they've had on site health care for you and your family from the 31st day since 1989.
Mike: Do they do this globally? Because I know there's a trend with a lot of these tech companies kind of utopian campuses in the United States but if you work for them anywhere else…?
Tim: Well, Cary, North Carolina is a utopian campus, but when they have expanded out, I have had the opportunity to speak for them in other countries such as Brazil, they have replicated that campus idea. They want to create that solution, that sticky point that's family oriented and by the way, they are the first that adopted the strict 38 hour work week with no evening and weekend email, he was the first guy! The French got the idea from him. Goodnight realized that if you could tell an engineer you don't have to check your email evenings or weekends, and he realized this a decade ago, that it would create a huge advantage for the next generation that wasn’t as workaholic as their boomer parents. Sas institute has great design for employee experience.
Costco, great design for vender, or what they call partner, experience. Jim Sinegal and his team take just as much time and attention around the Kirkland brand supplier chain that allows him to produce such an outstanding quality product at a fraction of the price of most of the leading brand. He realized that their ability to produce strong store brands and have really good suppler relations came down to their ability to be their retailer of choice. He was smart because think about his competition like Walmart, who has a reputation for being the crap out of their suppliers to push the price down, he saw an opportunity to think like a designer and if you shop Costco versus a Sam's club or Walmart it's not even close.
Mike: We're at a time now where 21st organizations are going to be under attack from A I algorithms, automation, and more computers. Do you think this is going to present a challenge to the design of these kind of human experiences inside organizations?
Tim: I was thinking about that today, and I think so. I read something about Robert Scoble - Scoble wrote a famous blog called the Scobleizer, he’s chief technology evangelist now at Rackspace. But yesterday, he was talking about how excited he was to see all these independent bookstores dying, he thinks this is a really good thing for society and the way it should be. And what he what is that if you want to be a successful technology leg company in the future as a consumer services company you have to reward the lazy and stop rewarding the innovators because that's what ruins business. He says you know the only people that ever got any value out of going to independent bookstore from like 2000 - 2015 were the innovators that figured out how to hack the store and get something out of the whole hassle of driving there and parking and buying real physical books and having to carry them around and monkey with them, when the rest of the lazy world that carries a kindle around just does it on two clicks. He says business has to change their philosophy to reward the lazy if they want to stay on the cutting edge of innovation.That really hit me today and I said, ‘yeah that's where things are going, that’s where we are now with machine learning, AI, and everything converging. We have to realize that the lazy will rule the future of consumer services.
Mike: Tim it's been a great pleasure hanging out as always.
Tim: Absolute pleasure, drive safe.
Speaking.com Interview with Lior Arussy
The recipient of CRM Magazine’s “Influential Leader Award”, Lior Arussy is known as a man who gets results in the fields of customer experience and customer-centric transformation. His knowledge of how to help organizations stop focusing on the product and focus on the customer comes from his experience working with some of the most prestigious brands in the world, among them Capital One, Thomson Reuters, HSBC, E.ON, Nokia, SAP, University of Pennsylvania and Wyeth.
Passion and purpose will become differentiators of products and services; only vendors who are willing to rise up to that challenge will be able to command premium prices and customer loyalty.
SPEAKING.COM: What are some of the customer experience trends you see emerging within the next ten years?
ARUSSY: Customers are going to play a more integral role in the overall experience they receive and will no longer be passive in the experience that’s being delivered to them. Passion and purpose will become differentiators of products and services; only vendors who are willing to rise up to that challenge will be able to command premium prices and customer loyalty. Employee engagement and loyalty will become a critical factors for organizations looking to foster sustainable success.
SPEAKING.COM: How do you suggest people embrace customer-centric transformation?
ARUSSY: Here is the advice I would give:
• Be honest with yourself about the true nature of your customer relationships.
• Understand the financial impact of not embracing customer centric transformation.
• Humanize your organization.
• Empower your employees to delight.
• Measure what matters.
• Train your people to know how to delight. Don’t assume that they know already.
SPEAKING.COM: Can you give us three tips for improving customer service?
ARUSSY: First, start every day by calling a customer and saying thank you for the business. Second, surprise your customers with small acts of generosity, and third, ask your customers, “What else can I do for you?”
SPEAKING.COM:How can organizations foster customer experience innovation?
ARUSSY: An organization can foster customer experience innovation when they:
• Create an environment in which everyone understands the customer on a human and emotional level.
• Walk in the shoes of the customer and identify their pain points.
• Foster an environment in which mistakes are acceptable so employees can experiment.
• Celebrate the heroes who are trying new ways to delight customers.
• Let go of all the cynics.
SPEAKING.COM: Are there any clients you have worked with that exemplify customer experience transformation? If so, how did they do it?
ARUSSY: All of our clients have achieved success in different ways. We have been a part of 160 transformations to date. The approach we are taking is a disciplined integrated approach that accelerates the transformation by combining data-driven research, innovating experimentation, employee engagement and training, metrics alignment, and a strong sustainability program.
The #1 obstacle to performance excellence is people thinking they are doing it already.
SPEAKING.COM: What are some of the main obstacles to performance excellence and how can an organization overcome them?
ARUSSY: The #1 obstacle to performance excellence is people thinking they are doing it already. Overcome this by setting clear goals on how do you measure excellence and who is the judge of it (the customer, not you). The #2 obstacle is companies operating in silos and as a result customers suffer and performance is less than optimal. Address this by journey mapping, aligning to the customer perspective, adopting measurements that unify the whole organization, and offering incentives to change. The #3 obstacle is that oftentimes it is assumed that employees know how to deliver exceptional experiences but we find that employees are operating on procedures and not customer-based guidelines. They need the time to learn and practice how to deliver exceptional experiences before we expect them to deliver it.
SPEAKING.COM: What are a few of the reasons why organizations fail to deliver excellence?
ARUSSY: Some of the reasons organizations fail to deliver excellence are:
• Lack of consistency in leadership support
• Assumption that the task of transformation is minor
• Conflicting metrics
• Lack of employee training
• Lack of sustainability
• Lack of rewards and recognition for those who are delivering exceptional results
• Process vs. Customer Orientation
• Lack of understanding of the true customer needs
It is only when we target exceeding customer expectations that we can provide the new performance standard that is constantly changing as customers are adopting and heightening their expectations.
SPEAKING.COM: How can excellence be redefined and a new performance standard set?
ARUSSY: Excellence can be redefined and a new performance standard set based on what will surprise the customer, not what will meet their expectations. It is only when we target exceeding customer expectations that we can provide the new performance standard that is constantly changing as customers are adopting and heightening their expectations.
SPEAKING.COM: What are your main professional passions?
ARUSSY: Making an impact on people’s lives and inspiring people to change and discover the exceptional within them.
SPEAKING.COM: What other projects are you working on currently?
ARUSSY: A day in my life includes working with a chain of dialysis centers, helping a car manufacturer delight their customers, helping a bank understand their customers better and developing the next research in the area of customer experience. It’s very diverse and I work with various industries with different customers and different challenges.
Speaking.com Interview with Robyn Benincasa
With a trio of Guinness World Records to her name, a CNN Hero designation and a world champion Eco-challenge Adventure Racer, few people are better placed than full-time firefighter Robyn Benincasa to talk about Human Synergy, the force which allows ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things. She brings her experience of leadership, teamwork and overcoming adversity to her inspiring presentations.
Since 1995, Robyn has been working with racing teams around the world to take on the most extreme challenges imaginable—from the jungles of Borneo to the Himalayas, from the rain forests of Ecuador to the deserts of Namibia. Racing against time to complete seemingly impossible challenges, Robyn has developed a unique knowledge of what it takes to develop a world-class team and to lead them through challenges and changes to success.
A “we thinking” leader inspires their team to not just walk side by side together, but to literally and figuratively carry one another when they need to. All problems are “ours,” and responsibility for success and failure is shared as one.
SPEAKING.COM: What are some of the main challenges and opportunities faced today in organizational team building and leadership?
BENINCASA: “We thinking” is probably the most overlooked aspect of team building. Most people think of a team as a group of individuals, moving forward together towards a common goal. But a “we thinking” leader inspires their team to not just walk side by side together, but to literally and figuratively carry one another when they need to. All problems are “ours,” and responsibility for success and failure is shared as one.
For example, when we race, every team at the front of the pack is utilizing tow lines that stretch from the back of a stronger team member’s pack to the chest strap of a team member who is slower at the moment, so that the slower person can be pulled along at a faster pace with less effort, and we can move faster as a team than the four individuals can move alone. We will all be that strong team member and we will all be that weaker team member at some point in the long run, so all egos must be focused on team success versus individual glory.
In our day-to-day life, “we thinking” is manifested in how we choose to lead our lives. Who is on your team? Is it just you? Is it just your family? Is it your clients? Everyone in your company? We all decide every day who is on our team and who is not.
For the most part, if we’re honest, we’re all pretty competitive and we tend to operate as soloists. But “we thinkers” make the conscious and important effort to leave their house every day and see a world full of potential teammates versus a world full of potential competitors. They capitalize on their strengths and barter their weaknesses to their “team”. And in doing so, they get a lot further, faster.
SPEAKING.COM: How do you suggest people embrace team building principles?
BENINCASA: You have to be a part of the right team. If you don’t feel motivated or productive in your team, you may not be in the right team, or in the right role. On a great team, all of the members bring something unique and valuable to the table that they share with the team; on this team, you are absolutely recognized and applauded for your contributions. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be there for very long!
It’s a common misconception that team building is a completely selfless endeavor. But while it is true that a great team member must wrap their ego around the team’s success instead of their own individual glory (egos must be left at the start line–but not confidence!), the whole point of “strategic team building” is to seek out people who have strengths that you don’t possess, and to share your core talents with them. All of this is for mutual gain.
For example, over a few years of ups and downs with teams, I formulated a recipe for success in my sport. The four team members who would travel together, day and night, non-stop for six to ten days had to be great teammates first. I needed two of the team members to be world-class navigators, two to be solid mountain bikers, two to be very strong paddlers, and one had to be a great strategic thinker who was great at interpreting the road rules we were given.
As you can imagine, everyone on the team got to be the hero when it came to their unique strength, and they were recognized and applauded by everyone on the team for their efforts. Then it would be another team member’s time to shine as we switched sports, took care of one another, navigated successfully through the dark of night, etc. We genuinely needed one another and openly appreciated and applauded individual effort, and we were on the podium race after race as a team.
We don’t inspire others by showing them how amazing we are; we inspire them by showing them how talented, smart and capable they are.
SPEAKING.COM: Can you give us five tips for building human synergy and peak performance?
1. Your ego is the heaviest thing in your backpack, so leave it at the start line.
2. Acting like a team is more important than feeling like a team.
3. We don’t inspire others by showing them how amazing we are; we inspire them by showing them how talented, smart and capable they are.
4. We work for people, not for companies. The best leaders always remember that
5. Great leaders change their leadership style like a golfer changes his clubs. Use the right style for the job: coach, visionary, friend, pacesetter, consensus builder, etc.
Are you consistently doing what it takes to win versus simply not losing? It’s a completely different mindset, leading to vastly different outcomes
SPEAKING.COM: What are some of the key leadership principles leaders should cultivate?
BENINCASA: Be ruled by the hope of success versus the fear of failure!
Are you consistently doing what it takes to win versus simply not losing? It’s a completely different mindset, leading to vastly different outcomes. Fortune favors the bold. Great leaders are shattering the norm, changing the game, and doing things that have never been done in an effort to propel their team to the next level. They are courageous–not only in terms of innovation, but in terms of perseverance: taking step after step, day after day, relentlessly pursuing excellence.
We’ve won many a race not only by slowing down less than the other teams, but also by coming up with some game changing solutions. Once, in a 100-mile whitewater canoeing leg to the finish, my teammate taught me the “be ruled by the hope of success” lesson through some tough love.
We were paddling our whitewater raft near the front of the race on day 6 and every couple of minutes, I looked behind us to see where our closest competitors were. That is, until the teammate sitting behind me grabbed the top of my head, spun it back around to face forward, pointed down the river and said, “Winning is THAT way!”. My other teammate overheard the admonishment and realized my teammate was right. We had to focus on winning versus not losing.
So in the next leg, when race organizers gave each team two separate inflatable canoes, my innovative teammates decided to tie our two canoes together with our climbing rope, end to end, creating one very long, rigid and FAST new boat, powered by every member of the team. We also switched out our canoe paddles (single blades) for kayak paddles (double blades), which was far outside the norm for canoe travel. With those visionary changes, we caught the team that was an hour ahead of us and went on to win the race by 2 hours on that final leg.
In another race, the Borneo Eco-Challenge, we took the lead halfway through the race by turning a proposed ‘hiking leg’ of the race into a swimming leg by jumping into the rising whitewater rapids, generated by a recent flash flood, and swimming for several hours downriver (just yards from the hiking trail). Much of this was in the dark. It was extremely risky, but also cutting-edge cunning. We never looked back, and lead the race all the way from there to the finish line.
We did what it took to win, and not to “not lose”. Leaders need to be working with their teams to build what is needed in innovation and teamwork to beat the competition continuously rather than being satisfied with being ahead of the competition only because the competition isn’t doing anything. Don’t be satisfied with being less than you can be because you’re afraid of failing. Let the need to win because you are the best rule your actions instead.
That’s another important leadership skill: when to inspire, when to instill tough love, when to coach, when to lay down the law, when to get out front and show your team the way, or when to let them lead… and when to cut bait.
SPEAKING.COM: What is “kinetic leadership” and how does it help advance teamwork?
BENINCASA: As an example, someone on your team may not be exceptional at face-to-face client meetings, but you discover they have a talent for writing great copy for graphic design, or they’re fantastic with strategy. Keep digging until you find the gold that that person can offer the team. Let them lead based on their strength versus their title.
If at the end of the day this person isn’t cutting it on any level, you have to do the rest of the team justice and move that person off of your team before overall team morale is diminished. That’s another important leadership skill: when to inspire, when to instill tough love, when to coach, when to lay down the law, when to get out front and show your team the way, or when to let them lead… and when to cut bait.
SPEAKING.COM: What are your main professional passions?
BENINCASA: My professional passion is speaking! And I enjoy inspiring others to find the powerful team-builder, teammate, and leader in themselves. I genuinely love connecting with corporate audiences and adventurers on our Project Athena events. I love sharing the incredible winning synergy that we learned while inspiring semi-exhausted people to a nearly impossible finish line for days on end in the sport of adventure racing.
My other professional passion is firefighting! I would love to say that becoming a firefighter was a mission I had as a child, but I was pretty sure I was going to be a garbage person. I really dug the way they hung off the back of the truck.
When I graduated from college with a B.S in Marketing, I worked as a hospital supply and pharmaceutical sales rep for about seven years, but I was still equally drawn to my athletic life. So in 1996 I ditched the panty hose and heels and picked up an application for the San Diego Fire Department. I passed all the tests, but there was an unfortunate three-year hiring freeze.
So I had some fun as a substitute teacher and semi-professional athlete (the nice way to say “lived with roommates or on friend’s couches”), until I got my shot at the fire academy. Being a firefighter allows me to be all of the things I love the most–an athlete, a rescuer, an emergency medical first responder, a teammate, and an adventurer. It’s never the same day twice!
For the last 4 years, my team of Athenas and I have taken cancer survivors and survivors of other medical or traumatic setbacks and trained them for some incredible endurance adventures.
SPEAKING.COM: What other projects are you working on currently?
BENINCASA:I founded Project Athena back in 2009, after my own personal experience battling my body. My mission behind Project Athena started when I was in the middle of the 2007 World Adventure Racing Championship in Scotland. I came to a point where I could no longer move forward on the course without literally picking up my leg and moving it forward. My teammates had to tow me to the finish line.
When I arrived home, I went to an orthopedic surgeon and discovered I had stage 4 osteoarthritis in both hips. I was in complete shock and didn’t want to believe it. That marked the beginning of what is now a total of four hip replacements in four years. (My first two failed). But it didn’t mark an end to my adventurous life. It just sparked a change of sports and a new beginning.
After my first hip replacement, I knew I would get my spirit back by planning new adventures and embracing new sports. Then it occurred to me that other women who have survived setbacks far worse than mine might really benefit from getting outside and inspiring and amazing themselves through adventurous and athletic goals. So for the last 4 years, my team of Athenas (all survivors helping survivors) and I have taken cancer survivors and survivors of other medical or traumatic setbacks and trained them for some incredible endurance adventures, surrounded by a cohesive and supportive team.
Our new Athenas have crossed the Grand Canyon twice on foot, ran a marathon on the Great Wall of China, completed their first triathlons, etc. It’s the best adventure of my life to combine a love of teamwork and inspiration, with elevating the people around us who need it the most.