Being a Quality Salesperson

A core function of quality leadership is building the case of quality and raising the level of awareness and adoption through the organization. As we work to mature our quality system we build commitment. This is the salesperson aspect of our role where we go out and sell quality and the improvements we are advocating for.

Understand what the customer is buying

You first need to understand what the customer is buying. A person selling a food processor is really selling the ability to easily make tasty food. A person selling a car is selling a whole lot of cultural assumptions about mobility, and power, and the dream of success. Similarly, our stakeholders are not buying specific quality methodologies and tools (e.g. process management, knowledge management, risk management), they are buying something wider, which quality methodologies can deliver to them, and you need to understand what that is. Two of the more wider things that the customer wants that quality usually promises are protection and opportunity.

Quality at heart offers protection against deficiencies and risks. Quality protects against loss of capability.

Quality is also an opportunity – gaining more value from our resources.

Segmenting your audience

Every salesperson needs to know their market and their customer base which we can think of in terms of three market segments:

  • Those who ‘get’ the quality improvement and become immediately enthused, moving rapidly from first contact to positive perception and trial. These are your allies, supporters, and early adopters.
  • The folks who just do not care about maturing quality. They will engage with quality if they must, if it is part of the job, or if everyone ese is doing it. If the improvement is voluntary, or unusual, they will not bother. Moving them to the trial phase of buy-in will require a range of influencing tactics.
  •  Those who do not like quality, seeing it as a threat to their way of working, or even as a personal threat. These people will resist everything unless it is embedded into the very structure of the organization. They can be exceedingly difficult to move to the positive perception state, let alone higher than that. Here your primary tools are peer pressure, social proof, appeals to authority and compulsion.

Think through the types of quality initiatives you are working on. Those that are voluntary will only reach the first third, and that is the best place to start. Or you need more inescapable methods. I usually find for any set of improvements it is a mixture of experiment with early adopters, build social proof and introduce a few critical compulsions.

Influencing Tactics

In their book Mind Gym Sebastian Bailey and Octavius Black outlined nine influencing tactics you can select from, based on the character and situation of the ‘buyer’.

To add context to these, I am going to provide an example of implementing Gemba Walks for leaders, managers, and floor level employees, with standard work that emphasizes pushing to a learning culture.

TacticIncludesExample
ReasoningUsing logical argument to make a case. Reasoning is necessary to support your case with all stakeholder, even if other influencing techniques will create the closing sell. You need to create a compelling logical case for quality improvement, and it needs to be a case for the individual was well as the company.Presenting  case studies and evidence on how this is successful.
InspiringAppealing to emotions and creating the vision. Inspiring people generates an emotional commitment to the vision. Being inspiring demands conviction, energy and passion but is especially effective with the early adopters.A vision of a gemba walk being the hallmark of quality culture and building a culture of inclusivity.
Asking questionsLeading the other person to make their own discovery of the value of the quality improvement.Drawing out examples of an individuals own experience of the value of observation and good coaching.
Ingratiating(Be a buddy)Your stakeholder will almost feel positive toward someone who makes them feel good about themselves.   This is not a great approach for people more senior than you, it comes across as sucking up. You also need to be sincere – people always detect insincerity.Friends helping friends get things done
Deal makingWhen you give another person something in return for their agreement with you. Your ability to use this approach depends very much on your confidence and ability to offer something in return. To keep trust, make sure you deliver on any promises made.Through introducing the Gemba walk we will see a reduction of human error deviations and we will be able to close minor deviations in three days.
Favor askingSimply asking for something because you want or need it. This works well only when the other person cares about you or their relationship with you. If used sparingly, it is hard to resist, but be prepared to pay back that favor!If you can support the Gemba Walk, then we will be able to free up the time for that important project of yours as a result.
Using silent allies (aka social proof)Using the fact that others are getting value from the quality improvement as an argument in its favor. Social proof is sharing the stories of people as like your ‘buyer’ as possible. This really gets to that big middle of uncertain individuals.   Each success, no matter how small, is an opportunity to gather social proof. Hold lessons learned, don’t be afraid to capture good feedback on video!Listen to Nancy here as she discusses how much Gemba Walks have changed the work in her team.
Invoking authorityAppealing to a rule is one you use late in the roll-out program to convince the laggards once the quality improvement has become a clear expectation.Your boss tells you to do Gemba Walks and enforces them happening (report a metric of how many Gemba Walks)
Forcing (“do it or else”)Bringing senior management in to demonstrate clear requirements with clear ramifications that can include temporary or permanent removal of the individual. This is a tactic of last resort.Do this or else
Influence Tactics
Influencing Tactics per Implementation Phase

Be prepared to spend a lot of time in “Yes…but…and” territory, especially in the Strategy Phase.

Yes…but…and

We have all had the first rule of brainstorming, “defer judgment,” drilled into us for years. The general rule of “When a person proposes an idea, don’t say, ‘Yes, but…’ to point out flaws in the idea; instead, say, ‘Yes, and…’” which is intended to get people to add to the original idea, has become almost a norm in business settings. We have all become improv actors.

That truism is probably not a good one though. It can lend to a fairly superficial approach. Yes we need to be beyond “Yes, but”, but “Yes, and” stifles creativity. The concept of “Yes, and” gives an illusion of moving forward, avoiding conflict, but also prevents truly diving in and exploring issues.

We need to combine the best aspects of criticism and ideation, “Yes…but…and.” I propose idea A, a colleague first addresses what she perceives to be a flaw in it, provides constructive feedback (this is the “but”), and then suggests a possible way to overcome or avoid the flaw, yielding Idea B (this is the “and”). Then you do the same: You acknowledge Idea B, provide a constructive critique, and develop a new, even more improved result. Others can jump in with their critiques and proposals during the process. This kind of constructive interaction encourages a deep cycle of critical dialogues that can lead to a coherent, breakthrough idea.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • When you see a weakness in the idea, don’t simply say, “This does not work.” Rather, first explain the problem and then propose an improvement that would make it work.
  • When you do not understand the idea, don’t simply say, “That’s unclear to me.” Instead, first point to the specific spot that is unclear and then propose possible alternative interpretations: “Do you mean X or Y?” This helps all participants to see more detailed options
  • When you like the idea, do not just take it as it is. Instead, search for possible improvements and then push forward to make it even better.
  • When you listen to someone’s critique of your idea,try to learn from it. Listen carefully to the critique, be curious, and wonder, “Why is my colleague suggesting this contrasting view that is not in line with what I see? Perhaps there is an even more powerful idea hidden behind our two perspectives.” The critique becomes a positive force, focusing the team on overcoming its weaknesses and enhancing the original idea.

Good decisions require creativity. But flexing our practices we can drive that in our interactions.

Teaching Quality People to Listen

Been thinking a lot on what a training program around teaching people to listen and not to talk might look like and how it fits into a development program for quality professionals.

People in quality think a lot on how to make a reasoned argument, a good decision, to provide guidance, get their point across in meetings, persuade or coerce people to follow standards. This is understandable, but it has a cost. There is a fair amount of research out there that indicates that all too often when others are talking, we are getting ready to speak instead of listening.

I think we fail to listen because we are anxious about our own performance, concerned about being viewed as an expert, convinced that our ideas are better than others, comfortable in our expertise, or probably all of the above. As a result we get into conflicts that could be avoided, miss opportunities to advance the conversation, alienate people and diminish our teams’ effectiveness.

When we really listen we create the spaces to make quality decisions. Listening can be improved by these practices:

Ask expansive questions. Stay curious, build on other’s ideas are mantras I think most of us are familiar with. Suppress the urge to interrupt or dominate a conversation and concentrate on the implications of other people’s words. It is very easy for a quality professional to instantly leap to solving the problem, and we need to be able to give space. Focus on open-ended “what” and “how” questions, which encourage people to provide more information, reflect on the situation and feel more heard. Avoid yes-and-no questions which can kill dialogue.

Engage in “self-checks”. Be aware of one’s own tendencies and prepare with ways to identify they are happening and head them off. Doing this will surprisingly allow you to focus on the listener and not yourself moving beyond the words that are being said and being able to take in the speaker’s tone, body language, emotions and perspective, and the energy in the conversation.

Become comfortable with silence. This means communicating attentiveness and respect while you are silent.

Listening needs to be part of our core competencies, and unless we work on it, we don’t get better.

Future of Expertise

Good discussion on the future of expertise on OnPoint: https://player.wbur.org/onpoint/2019/07/10/expertise-navy-work-future-employers

Provides a great reading list

Change Leader Competency

Luigi Sille on sharequality answered the June 2019 ASQ Roundtable Topic asks: “How can an individual become a successful Change Leader?” I’m a big fan of both blog carnivals and change management so here goes my answer, which is pretty similar to Luigi’s, and I would guess many other’s – just with my own spin.

A few things immediately come to mind.

Change management (and this is another great example of really meaning people change management) should be a competency on the ladder for any quality professional. It certainly needs to be a core area for anyone in a quality leadership position.

There are a lot of competency models out there for change management. Instead of pointing to just one, let’s try to find what they actually have in common. To do so it is important to set out the critical activities of change management:

  1. Define the change
  2. Ensure change delivers value
  3. Stakeholder strategy
  4. Communication and engagement
  5. Assess change impact
  6. Project management

In order to do these it is important to be able to provide education and learning support, facilitation, team effectiveness and understand how to sustain systems.

Change Management requires the seven skills we should all be developing: communication, content, context, emotional competence, teaching, connections, and an ethical compass

Change Management is part of the core for any quality leader, together with continuous improvement and knowledge management.