“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” ~ Abraham Lincoln
Gary Lindberg had high hopes when he started his Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) service only 5-years ago. At first it was just him. After working for ACME Comfort Systems, he decided he could do better by starting his own HVAC service company. At first, a few friends and family hired him to replace their furnaces. Then he got a few lucrative service contracts with some commercial building owners. After a while with referrals and a lot of hard work, he had grown Happy Heating to 13 employees and was earning over a million dollars a year.
Unfortunately, Happy Heating wasn’t so happy. After all his success, Gary noticed a substantial decline in business over the past year. His sales team was not bringing in work like they used to. He had heard the excuses about the economy and all sorts of things but was convinced his people were just not putting forth the effort they used to. To be honest, he didn’t know what was wrong. All he knew is that they were on target to earn much less revenue this year, if something didn’t change. While his million-dollar revenue number would have been coveted by his competition, Gary knew that his diminished revenue forecast spelled a loss for the company of $200,000. A loss he couldn’t afford, if he wanted to pay for the new vans they had just purchased.
George was Gary’s accountant and had seen the slip in revenues happen all year long. In a recent conversation about how they could stop the financial bleeding at Happy Heating, George recommended that Gary talk to a guy who called himself Coach Russ. He claimed that Coach Russ had helped turn around several companies in the past and he could probably help Happy Heating as well.
Gary called Coach Russ to set up an initial consultation.
Russ asked Gary, “What has happened in your company that has prompted you to call me?”
Gary responded, “My accountant, George, said that you had helped other companies with problems like mine, and you may be able to help me.”
“I might be able to help. Tell me a little more about your company and its problems.”
“We were growing pretty good for five years and then all-of-a-sudden, we’ve been going downhill.”
“Can you explain what you mean by ‘going “downhill’?”
“Last year, we had our best year ever earning over $1.3 million dollars in gross revenue. If this year continues the way it’s going, our total revenue will drop to a million-dollars and we will record our first loss ever of $200,000.”
“What do you think has caused your decline, Gary?”
“I was hoping you could tell me. Honestly, I don’t know.”
“What is the atmosphere like around Happy Heating?”
Gary chuckled, “It’s like you’d expect. Everyone is wondering if they’re going to lose their job. I think they are all affected by our poor performance over the past year.”
“That’s too bad.”
“How can you help us?”
“I’d like to meet with the people in your company that are in charge of seven key areas of your business. These areas include…”
“Hold on, Coach Russ. I need to grab a pen.”
There was a pause as Gary got a pen and a pad of blank paper.
Gary announced, “Ok. Go ahead.”
“I’ll need to talk with leaders in Operations, Sales, Marketing, Human Resources, Finance, Growth and Legacy.”
Russ paused as he waited for Gary’s writing to stop.
Gary asked, “What do you mean by Operations?”
“For your company, Operations will be the HVAC technicians who directly serve your customers. With your size of business, I guess that you have around 6 HVAC technicians, and then you have someone who manages them.”
“Yes. That would be Oliver. Oliver is our Tech Supervisor and he makes sure that all of our techs stay busy.”
“How about the rest of these areas?”
“Sally is our Sales Manager. She has three sales reps that report to her.”
Russ interrupted, “Do you have a separate marketing person, or does Sally do that as well?”
Gary was a little embarrassed, “I’m sorry… I guess I don’t know what you mean by marketing.”
“Marketing is the act of attracting prospective clients to your business while sales is the act of converting those leads into paying customers.”
Gary paused and then responded, “I guess Sally will be your girl for marketing and sales. She is responsible for posting ads in our mailers and she oversees our sales people as they call people to see if they need HVAC service.”
Russ responded, “Sounds, good! I’ve got Sally for Sales and Marketing, Oliver for Operations. What about human resources, finance, growth and legacy?”
“Penny is my assistant. She helps me with benefits programs, and she also does a lot of our book keeping. She keeps track of each employee’s paperwork and she tracks vacation time and all our benefits. I do most of the thinking when it comes to these things, but she knows a lot of the details.”
Russ paused, “I suppose Penny will work for now. It may help if you’re in the room when I talk with Penny as it sounds like you may be mostly responsible for leading your people.”
Gary continued, “As far as finance, I’m probably the best person to talk to for that as well. As I said, Penny does our book keeping and she is on top of most day-to-day finances, but I do all of our financial forecasts.”
“Very well. What about Growth and Legacy?”
Gary paused again and sighed before he asked, “Russ, what in the world is Growth and Legacy about?”
“I’m guessing you’re the guy to talk about these two items as well. Growth is about your plans to deliberately grow your business. Legacy is about positioning your business for sale one day.”
Gary laughed, “Russ, we are trying to survive this year. I think talking about either of these things will be a waste of time for now.”
“I understand. Maybe a different time.”
After their brief discussion, Gary hired Coach Russ hoping that he could help Happy Heating turn things around. He was tired of coming into a depressing work environment every day not knowing what he could do to save his company.
Russ’s first conversation was with Sally. Sally was hired in Gary’s second year in business. At that time Gary was a technician doing most of his own work. As Sally described it, Gary hated selling and wanted Sally to do sales and some light book keeping. As Happy Heating grew, Sally first became a full-time sales person and eventually was managing three sales people. Each sales person has a quota to sell $500k in HVAC business. This HVAC business is a combination of service contracts and new installations. A service contract receives more weighting than new installation contracts because service revenue earns a higher margin and tends to create recurring revenue for Happy Heating.
Russ decided to visit Sally in person. He wanted to get an idea of the general level of excitement in Sally’s sales group. As Russ entered the front door of their small office building, he noticed no one was in the receptionist desk to greet him. He had an appointment with Sally at 10:00 am. Just then, a red-faced blonde ran past him through the front door almost knocking him over.
Russ managed a polite, “Excuse me.”
The blonde turned around and blasted, “Why are you standing in the middle of the doorway?”
As soon as the words left her mouth, Sally remembered that she would be meeting with some sort of consultant today, and thought, ‘I’ll bet this is the guy that will determine my future with Happy Heating.’
Before Russ could speak, Sally offered, “I’m sorry, you must be Russ.”
“Yes. I am. Are you Sally?”
“Yes, I am Sally Cunningham. I’m sorry for my rudeness. I was running late and am a little stressed out.”
“No problem. Where can we meet?”
Sally directed Russ to a small conference room to the right of the reception area and then said, “I’m sorry, I need to take care of a few emergency phone calls. Do you mind waiting a few minutes for our meeting?”
Russ asked, “Should I come back at a different time?”
“Oh no. Please these things should take only a few minutes.”
15-minutes later, Sally entered the small conference room and shut the door.
Sally looked quite frazzled. When Russ first saw Sally running through the entry door, he thought she was having one of those bad days. However, as Russ studied Sally’s face, he could tell Sally had a run of several bad days.
After some small talk, Russ decided to get down to business.
Russ asked, “Sally, Gary told me that Happy Heating is having a bad year. Can you tell me what may be causing your decline in sales this year?”
Sally felt attacked, “Look, Russ. I’ve been working for Gary for four years. Each year better than the one before. Now we have one bad year, and I’m a bad sales manager.”
Russ could see he needed to temper his questions, “I’d never impugn your ability as a sales manager. I’m looking for what may be causing the bad year at Happy Heating… and since you’re a trusted leader in the company, I felt like you could help me out.”
Sally calmed down, “Sorry about that. I guess I’m a little sensitive about the poor sales numbers this year.”
“Tell me. Why are sales down this year?”
“It’s the economy, plain and simple. Plus, the fact that our technicians are pissing off customers left and right. Between the two of those obstacles, it’s a wonder we’re selling anything at all.”
Russ was writing down what Sally was saying.
Before Russ could respond, Sally asked, “What are you writing? Looking at justification to fire some sales people?”
Russ knew what was going on and responded carefully, “I’m trying to get a sense of how we can improve Happy Heating’s financial performance. Since you’ve been a key part of Happy Heating’s past success, I feel like you can help us turn it around this year as well.”
Russ continued, “Sally, I’d like to ask you a series of questions about your sales and marketing efforts. What do you say?”
Sally had appeared to calm down, “I suppose that’d be okay. I guess I don’t have a choice, right?”
Russ asked Sally, “Tell me a little about how you attract customers to Happy Heating?”
Sally seemed confused, “We really don’t attract customers, we simply follow up on referrals and try to get folks to fill out our contact forms online.”
“Gary had mentioned that you do some direct-mail campaigns. How are those going?”
Sally chuckled, “Our direct mail campaign is a joke. I have no clue how well that’s doing. To my knowledge, we haven’t received one call from those mailers.”
“Can you give me a sense of how you’ve had input on your marketing efforts?”
Sally looked confused again, “Russ, I have no idea what you mean. We make cold calls and some of my representatives are trying to network with builders so that we can get work on their new construction projects.”
Russ persisted, “What type of messaging do you give to your representatives when they talk with prospective customers?”
“Messaging? What on earth do you mean?”
“Why should your customer use Happy Heating over your competition?”
Sally was quiet as she digested Russ’s question before she responded, “I guess we say what our prospects want to hear. Some want low prices, others want quality workmanship, and still others want us to install certain brand products. Each client is different, and so every conversation we have with our prospective clients is different.”
“What has your close rate been on prospects you talk with?”
Sally was silent again as she tried to think of an answer to Russ’s question, “I’m, not sure. I guess we close about half of clients we talk to.”
Russ took a deep breath and continued, “What is the sales process you are currently using to sell to prospective customers?”
Sally smiled again, “That’s even more of a joke than our direct mailings. Gary gave me this phone script and it’s laughable. We don’t really use it much. But don’t tell Gary. I think he thinks it actually works.”
“I’m not talking so much about your script on a cold call, but rather your process. I mean, what steps do you take to educate your customer and help them buy your products and services?”
Sally paused again and then responded, “I guess we call a contact on our list. They either need HVAC services or they don’t. If they don’t, then we go on to the next person on our list. In most cases, our customers call us when something breaks and needs to be fixed.”
Russ asked, “What happens when you get a person who is interested?”
“We schedule a visit with and look at their specific situation to create a quote for their project.”
“We email them a quote; and they say go ahead or not.”
“Do you ever follow up for those that don’t want to continue?”
“No way. We don’t want to bother people who don’t want to buy from us. That’s cheesy!”
Russ decided to switch directions, “What have you done to increase your internet advertising and advertising on social media?”
“Look Russ, we have plenty of leads, but my sales people are not selling. If they can’t close the leads we have with our phone numbers, how are they going to close brand new leads we get from the internet?”
Russ continued with his questions and Sally tried to answer the best she could. At 11:00 am, Russ politely thanked Sally for her time and said that he would keep her in the loop with whatever discussions he had with Gary regarding sales and marketing.
Sally didn’t feel like the meeting went well. She was convinced that there was nothing she could to do improve sales for Happy Heating. The economy was on a down-trend and customers were clearly deciding not to deal with their HVAC problems. There was really nothing she could do. In her conversation with Russ, Russ didn’t seem very empathetic to her plight and continued to ask questions that she didn’t feel she answered very well. While Sally felt like she had gotten a lot off her chest, she didn’t feel that the discussion went in a positive direction. She decided that she would get her resume updated just in case she got some bad news in the next few weeks about her future at Happy Heating.
Russ’s next visit would be with Oliver. Oliver managed and scheduled the HVAC technicians. His group completed the maintenance and service of existing systems as well as the installation of new systems. Oliver’s office was carved out of a small warehouse space. There was a break room table where Oliver had assembled his technicians before they were to start their day. As Russ had stepped in, Oliver motioned toward his office where they were to meet.
Russ took a seat in a stained fabric chair. Oliver entered the room and closed the door behind him.
Oliver was a little overweight and had a noticeable Mexican accent. Gary told Russ that he hired Oliver shortly after Gary started the business and was also an employee of ACME Comfort Systems where they had both worked as HVAC technicians. Gary indicated that he trusted Oliver, but that he was disappointed with the amount of time it was taking his technicians to do routine maintenance work and installations.
After some quick discussions about the cold winter they expected and how that should boost sales of furnaces, Russ decided to ask Oliver some serious questions.
Russ asked, “Oliver, Gary informed me that it’s taking a little longer than expected for a lot of the tasks that are being performed by your crew. What do you think is contributing to this longer service time?”
Oliver’s slight smile turned to a frown as he answered, “Look, Russ. I know that Gary and I used to do this work in half the time of these young guys, but they are slow, and there’s really no way to speed them up.”
Russ didn’t respond right away, and Oliver added, “Look, if we paid our technicians more, we’d probably get better work out of them, right?”
Russ responded, “Oliver, I’m not in a position to tell you how to improve efficiency. I really want to learn from you.”
Oliver furrowed his brows, “What? Amigo, I thought you’re the one with the answers.”
Russ smiled, “I’m the one with the questions. Here’s my next question. If you paid your technicians more, you may have less technicians to do the work. Do you think your smaller team of technicians could do all of the work that you need done?”
Oliver’s cynicism rose, “Look, Coach Russ. We do the best we can with what we’ve got. I got six technicians that still need training because that’s all we can afford. Some of my techs don’t even have a full set of tools, so the jobs take longer. Our sales folks are pricing the jobs so low, we can’t make money, and on top of all of that, it looks like I’ll have to lay some of my techs off this year because of poor sales.”
“It sounds like you have a lot to deal with, Oliver…”
Oliver interrupted, “And if that wasn’t bad enough, our most experienced tech, Alex gave me his two weeks’ notice today and is going to work for our competition.”
“Oliver, I know things are not looking so great now, but tell me how things would be, in your ideal world with your service and installation department?”
“I don’t know. I can’t see things getting better. Maybe I need to start looking for work, myself. You know, I’m managing these techs as a favor to Gary. I liked being a technician a lot more than being a manager.”
Russ held his hand up, “Hold on, Oliver. Stay in place until we get this little downturn figured out. I think things will get better. Deal?”
“Okay. I hope you can help us out, amigo.”
After their discussion, Oliver and Russ chatted a little more and then Russ scheduled a meeting with Gary and his administrative assistant Penny.
Once again, when Russ entered the front office, there was no one in the receptionist’s desk. After a minute, a young woman, about 25-years old entered the room with a cup of coffee in her hand. She sat in the receptionist desk and quickly grabbed an incoming phone call that had been ringing for a while. She held up a finger and smiled at Russ as if to tell him she’d be with him momentarily.
After the woman realized that the person on the other end of the phone had hung up, she turned her attention to Russ, “How can I help you?”
Russ responded, “I have a meeting with Penny and Gary this morning to discuss human resources.”
The woman smiled, “I’m Penny. I don’t remember Gary scheduling a meeting with me today.”
Apparently, Gary overheard the conversation from his office and entered the reception area. He corrected, “Penny, didn’t you get my email? We have a meeting today with Russ to talk about benefits and stuff.”
Penny’s smile disappeared, “I suppose I can take notes for the meeting, but I don’t have anything prepared to talk about our benefits program.”
Russ interjected, “You don’t need to prepare anything, Penny. I have a few questions about how you manage the people in your office.”
Penny didn’t want to argue, “Ok. I’ll forward my calls to voicemail.”
Russ and Gary walked into the conference room and chatted while they waited for Penny who joined them 10-minutes later. Penny brought in a tray with bottles of water, a pot of coffee and some coffee cups.
After they got situated, Russ started, “Happy Heating has grown quite a bit in 5-years. I was curious, how will your organization change as you grow?”
Even though Russ was looking at Penny when he asked the question, Gary answered the question, “I’m not sure we’re in a position to talk about our future until we can fix the company. Russ, as I told you, we may have a loss this year, and I’d like to focus on fixing our present situation.”
Russ responded, “Certainly! While I met with Oliver, he told me that you may be losing one of your best technicians, Alex. What do you think about this loss?”
Again, Russ was looking at Penny when he asked, and Gary answered, “Alex was certainly one of our best. To be honest, I think we have too many technicians for this slow year, so his loss was a blessing in disguise. Alex was one of our highest paid technicians and not having to pay him should improve our financial situation.”
Russ tried to hide his reaction. He struggled with Gary’s cavalier attitude about the loss of such a talented employee.
Russ continued, “What sorts of employee evaluation systems have you both put in place to make sure that your staff understands what is expected of them and ensures your employees are constantly improving?”
This time, Russ did not bother looking at Penny because he knew Gary would have the answer.
Gary replied, “Russ, honestly, we don’t do a lot of evaluations. I mean, really, what’s the point? If I tell someone they’re doing poorly, I’ll demotivate them. If I tell them they’re doing good, then I have a lawsuit on my hands if I decide to fire them at some point. It seems to me that evaluation systems are a waste of time and do nothing to help me with my current financial predicament.”
Russ could see that he was not going to make much headway with human resource systems as Gary was in ‘emergency’ mode to save his business.
Russ said, “I have one more question, and I’d like Penny to answer this one. Penny, on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the workplace energy in your office?”
Penny glanced at Gary, and Gary nodded his approval to answer the question.
Penny responded, “I guess I don’t know what you mean by the word ‘energy’?”
Russ added, “Do things around the office seem exciting, or happy or do they seem gloomy and quiet?”
Penny hesitated and then answered, “Gary does everything he can to allow us to do whatever we want. I really like that.”
Russ said, “That’s great. But that still doesn’t answer my question. On a scale of 1 to 10, Gloomy and quiet is a one and exciting and happy is a 10?”
Penny chose her words carefully, “We have had a down year this year, so I suppose we are at a 2 now, but it used to be an 8.”
Gary again nodded his approval sensing that Penny felt like she was put on the spot.
Russ thanked Gary and Penny for talking with him and set up a time to meet with Gary on the finances. He wanted to include Penny in the financial discussion but felt it would go much like the human resources discussion went, so he decided to meet only with Gary this time around.
Russ and Gary met in his office to have their discussion on the company’s finances. Gary felt it would be easier to have his computer handy, if Russ asked any financial questions.
Russ understood that Gary was a direct person who was panicking over Happy Heating’s financial situation, so he thought he would go right to the heart of the financial issue, “Gary, you had indicated that you will lose close to $200,000 this year. How will that loss affect you personally?”
Gary looked a little confused, “I’m not sure I understand. Are you asking what will happen to me, if we lose $200,000?”
“Yes. How will it affect your personal finances? Will you have to borrow this money from the bank? Will you have to take the money from your savings? How will you come up with the $200,000?”
“I suppose I will take it from my savings. In the past four years, I have saved a little always worried this day would come. But I hope you’ll help Happy Heating so that I don’t have to do anything rash.”
Russ responded, “Gary, whatever you do to reverse the trend at Happy Heating, it will be a result of your efforts and a change in your thinking; and not a result of anything I do.”
“I was afraid you’d say that.”
Russ continued with his question, “What will you do to cut costs with your staff and other expenses associated with your business?”
Gary looked a little sad as he answered, “Russ, we have a lease on this building, debt payments on some new service vans and I can’t see cutting costs without dramatically cutting staff. If I cut staff, our company will have fewer people to do the work, and I just don’t see us recovering from such a cut.”
Russ encouraged Gary, “Look, Gary, you’ve had successful years in the past and you will continue to grow in the future. It’s quite normal for small businesses to have a year like the one you’re having to help them correct course and continue on their growth path.”
“I don’t know about that, Russ. Penny was not fully honest when you asked her about our workplace environment. Our office has been quiet, gloomy and depressing. And it’s been like this for a while. Our good people are leaving, and my sales team doesn’t seem to know what to do to bring in more sales. I hate even coming to work.”
Russ could see that the rest of his questions would be difficult as Gary had lost all focus on a positive future for Happy Heating.
Russ said, “I’d like to ask another question about your prices. Do you think that you have the ability to raise your prices?”
Gary looked like he was ready to cry, “Russ, that’s the crappy thing about being in business for yourself. If we raise prices, we’ll lose customers and make the problem worse. But if I keep my prices as they are, we won’t make enough to pay our bills. How in the hell do others do it? We are getting our asses kicked!”
Russ acknowledged Gary’s pain, “I feel your pain. It’s the challenges of every business owner I talk to. But I think we can find a path forward.”
Russ continued, “I have one last question, on a scale of 1 to 10, how likely do you think it is that Happy Heating will make it 10-years?”
Gary looked Russ in the eyes as tears welled up in his eyes, “I think it’s a 1 or 2. I just don’t see where we can go from here.”
Russ consoled Gary as he knew Gary was in a rough spot. Gary felt like all the hard work he had invested for 5-years was for nothing. Gary shared with Russ that he had been talking with a few lawyers about the best way to file for bankruptcy if things got any worse.
Russ waited a week before his next meeting with Gary. In that week, Gary’s mood hadn’t improved much. This meeting would be a hard discussion, but it would be quite necessary for Gary to turn the corner with his business.
Again, they met in Gary’s office behind closed doors.
Russ started, “I want to start our discussion off today with a mini-course on energy.”
Gary looked confused, “Russ, Penny already told you that we are at a low level of energy around here. I don’t think you’re telling me anything I don’t already know.”
“Gary, you are right that you see the symptoms of low energy. However, I don’t think that you are aware that you can do something about the root cause of these symptoms.”
“Russ, our energy level is low because our company is tanking. Once we fix what is wrong, we will be profitable again and you’ll see attitudes around here improve.”
Russ cracked a small smile, “I know that’s what you think, but you’ve got it backwards. Let me ask you a question. Why did you come to this office to meet with me at exactly 9 am this morning?”
“Because we scheduled a meeting.”
“Why did we schedule a meeting?”
“Because I wanted to know what you found out after talking with my staff and me about how we can fix Happy Heating.”
“The point, I’m trying to make with this line of questioning is that you wouldn’t have come to this room to meet with me unless you had some sort of expectation. This expectation and motivate were created within your mind. That means that your action followed your thought, correct?”
“Oh my God, Russ. Just tell me what we need to fix!”
Russ moved his hands in a downward motion, “Calm down, Gary. This discussion is necessary for us to get Happy Heating back on the right track.”
“Okay. I’ll hang in there. Yes, of course my actions followed a thought that I had to come to our meeting this morning.”
“The fact is that us human beings have thoughts, then feelings and then act. The actions create what we label as “wrong” behavior. But that behavior starts with a feeling, and prior to the feeling, a thought. The combination of these thoughts, feelings and actions are what us core energy coaches call energy.”
Russ continued, “You believe that by changing an action, you’ll improve attitudes in this office. But you have it backwards. The attitudes in this office need to change before you can improve your actions that will result in making Happy Heating a success. After talking with your staff and with you, Gary, I believe you are at the lowest level of energy possible.”
Gary was trying to understand what Russ was saying. When he came to this meeting today, he thought that this expert ‘Coach Russ’ would tell him how to fix Happy Heating, and he would do what Russ told him and everything would be better. This discussion about energy seemed like a complete detour of what he had hoped he would get from Russ.
Gary played along, “So, how do we improve our attitudes, or this energy level you’re talking about?”
“Currently, you and your team have ‘victim’ energy. The core thought of victim energy is ‘I Lose’. The next level up from this victim energy is competitive energy. The core thought of competitive energy is ‘I Win, You Lose’.”
Gary had calmed down by now and was starting to engage in the discussion, “Russ, I hear you, but honestly, I don’t know how changing our thoughts will help my business make money.”
“I’ll give you an example of how your thoughts can change the success of your business. Sally told me that her poor sales numbers are caused by many external factors that are out of her control. She pointed to the economy, incompetent sales people, ineffective direct mail campaigns and poor work by technicians.”
Gary interrupted, “Isn’t that typical? Sales people always have some half-baked excuse for failure.”
“What I’m getting at is that as long as Sally considers the source of her bad year to be outside of herself and out of her control, she will feel helpless to change it.”
“I get it now. That’s why you are calling us ‘victims’”!”
“That’s partially right. You are not victims, but you are thinking like victims. If Sally shifts her thinking to believe that she can beat the competition by changing her marketing message and outline specific reasons why Happy Heating is a better option than your competition, she will attract more customers and she’ll be able to close more sales. Right?”
Gary challenged, “Russ, it’s really all about price in our industry. It doesn’t matter what Sally says, customers will buy the lowest price.”
Russ smiled, “That’s a victim statement, Gary. You’re acting like your company is a victim of the customer and their linear thinking.”
“But it’s true!”
“Is it really? Then how come your competition, Easy Heating & Air Conditioning, is charging more than you and they are closing deals?”
Gary looked stunned, “What? Easy Heating & Air Conditioning is advertising a new furnace for only $3,000. It costs us that much to buy the furnace and install it. There’s no way we can compete with that low price.”
“They are offering a low price but upsell features and services after they get an appointment with the client.”
“How do you know this?”
“I had Sally do a little research after our initial conversation, and she called a few of their clients.”
“Okay, so we have to change our tactics, but that’s not related to our thinking.”
“It is. The next level of energy that your company can shift to is called ‘competition’. The core thought of competition energy is ‘I Win, You Lose’. This is the type of thinking that is helping Easy Heating & Air Conditioning win and you lose. Right?”
“Okay, so how do we shift Happy Heating from victim thinking to competitive thinking?”
Russ smiled, “Great question. But since I’m the coach, I’ll ask the questions. I’d like to meet with your team to go through the same discussion I had with you and you all will create a plan to shift from victim to competitive energy in your business.”
Identifying Victim Energy
The way that you can quickly identify victim mentality in your business is by hearing the language used by you or your employees. Language that tends to blame others for your shortcomings or your feelings or your thoughts. The most commonly blamed villains in business are: the economy, a bad boss, bad coworkers, bad employees or bad customers. When you’re a victim, the belief of this outward force is quite real.
To be sure, victim thinking will follow poor business or personal performance and real outward obstacles. In fact, for victim thinking to exist, there must be some shred of truth to the victimhood claims. The economy is a very real force and it can create resistance to any free-market business. In order to properly diagnose victim thinking in your organization, you must be conscious of your reactions to “bad news”. Victims will be defeated while others will tend to find a way to fight or innovate.
SHIFTING Victim to Competitor
At this low level, it is more important to clear this catabolic energy than to attempt to shift right away. There are two techniques to “clear out” this negative energy: 1) acknowledging and validating; and 2) centering.
Acknowledging and validating is a counter-intuitive technique you can use as a leader of a victim mindset. You listen to the cause of victimhood, and you then acknowledge that source and validate their feelings. A statement like “Your company has suffered financially due to a poor economy. It’s perfectly understandable that you feel sad and powerless to stop it.” You are not reinforcing a false belief, you are clearing out the emotion associated with a victim mindset.
Centering is another way to “clear out” this catabolic victim energy. There are many meditations that help a person focus on breathing and clear negative thoughts from their mind.
Until this negative energy is cleared, shifting cannot take place.
The challenge with victim energy is that when one person is infected, it’s quite likely that it has become somewhat of a culture in your organization. Shifting an employee from Level 1- Victim to Level 2 – Competitor, may be challenging. If each person feels like they are a victim of others in the company, the Level 2 shift may turn out to be conflict among employees. This means that they need to somehow defeat their coworkers or customers in order to get out of their victim mindset.
In order to shift your employees to Level 2 in a healthy way, you need to pick a common foe and unite your team to fight that foe. This may sound rather ridiculous, and it’s not a long-term fix as you will see in our story, but it will help your employees create a common bond and at least temporarily stop fighting amongst themselves.
STUCK AT VICTIM
If your organization or people within your organization cannot shift out of victim-mode, your organization or those people will fail. In the coaching world we label these folks as “uncoachable”. These uncoachable folks tend to bounce in and out of Levels 1 and 2 (Victim and Competitor). People at Level 1 - Victim will argue about why their victim perception is true and defend their failure as reality. They will fight any attempt by you to paint an alternative, positive reality.
If you are a compassionate employer, your first inclination will be to take care of the victim. While this victim does need care, the care must come in the form of growing the victim while at the same time making a judgement about how this victim energy is impacting the larger team. Make no mistake, while victim energy is considered the ‘lowest’ of all the energy levels, it is the strongest ‘catabolic’ energy, which means that it has great staying power.
Core Energy Coaching concepts described in this blog post are registered trademarks of Bruce Schneider and the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC)
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