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A Fresh Take on Accountability by Next Step |   posted: 01/29/2014

How Leadership Style Can Build Capacity

In today’s world many leaders struggle to understand what accountability really means: is it simply holding people responsible for their defined obligations – or is it something more?

Accountability is undoubtedly one of the signs of a great leader. Harry Truman’s famous statement “The buck stops here,” epitomizes both the ultimate simplicity and the profound importance of accountability.

Your understanding of accountability determines your response to crisis.

What is your style when a crisis strikes and a project is at risk?

When disaster strikes, a project is at risk, and customer experience is on the line, leaders are highly motivated to do whatever is necessary to fix the problem. After all, you are personally accountable for everything that happens within your business, and you don’t want to give your team the impression that you are hiding out in your office until the storm passes.

But how do you respond to problems in a way that builds organizational capacity?

The answer can be found in your leadership style.

Many leaders are action-oriented and want to step in personally and immediately resolve the issue. While it is crucial to address problems quickly, it’s also important to include your team members in the solution.

Here are five ways your leadership style can help build more accountability and capacity in your organization:

  1. Share the big picture
  2. Focus on results and expectations
  3. Expect setbacks and learning curves
  4. Incorporate coaching and advising into your role
  5. Know the work and leadership styles of your team members

Visit our Publications page to download a complete Tip Sheet on Improving Your Company’s Accountability. Contact us to schedule your 30-minute complimentary consultation.

Increase Productivity through Contractors with Benefits by Next Step |   posted: 10/23/2013

Why hire a contractor?

As the economy improves, managers are challenged with matching the right skills to fluctuating market needs. Since the use of contractors allows companies to engage talent quickly and flexibly, the “contingent workforce” is growing exponentially. For many Next Step clients, having a pool of qualified contractors address requirements “just in time” provides a strategic advantage.

Attracting and retaining contingent workers 

According to the Freelancer’s Guild, one-third of the national workforce is comprised of contingent workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports there are 10.1 million self-employed workers nationally.  These “freelancers” may contract directly with a company or work through one or more consulting firms or agencies.

Increasing demand for quality workers raises the question

How can a manager attract the best contractors, maximize their productivity and develop long-standing relationships with them?

Historically for many contractors, the challenge with contingent work has been the lack of “benefits” such as health insurance.

Through research conducted with our client, Teaching Artist Guild Next Step identified several benefit options that allow contractors to receive benefits – while working for various organizations.

Contractors with benefits 

One of the five options identified for US companies was leverage of the Affordable Care Act. Contractors (even those with previous health challenges) now have increased access to affordable health insurance that is not tied to an employer. Each state’s health insurance exchange website describes plan options and costs. For a small business (which might be comprised of multiple contractors with complementary skills) there are also new options available for coverage through the small business exchange (SHOP).

Other options available to the contingent worker either on his / her own or through an agency include:

  • dental and vision plan discounts through an affinity plan or third-party insurance company
  • clearing houses offering discounted health services
  • group insurance through membership in a guild
  • membership in a union or professional association
  • group plans for liability and other business insurance

Use of a contingent workforce can allow fast response to market changes, greater productivity and long-term company sustainability. Don’t let the question of benefits stand in your way of growth – contact us if you would like more information on options to leverage top contractor talent immediately.

Four Rules to Master the Art of the Solution by Next Step |   posted: 08/31/2013

Technology sales success today requires a combination of business and technology expertise.  For many companies this means a team approach to the sale – with a business-focused account manager partnering with a more technical ‘solution focused’ sales counterpart who can best relay the product / technology features to the customer. solution architect

Skillful team selling and especially the role of the solution architect can be considered both a science and an art.

While there are numerous sales methodologies to select from to form the ‘science’ of sales, mastering the art of the team selling can be more challenging.  As a solution architect, you need to invest in developing your knowledge of the technology, business and most importantly your personal style.

Four Rules to Master the Art of the Solution:

▪      You are a member of the sales team – not the Account Manager or owner of the sale

▪      You must be Business Relevant

▪      You must be Technically Knowledgeable

▪      Know your audience

Remembering these rules of thumb will help you demonstrate your artistry and style.

Rule #1:  You are a member of the sales team:

There is not always love, drum circles, group hugs and special brownies between sales team members – especially customer focused Account Managers and pre-sales engineers or Solution Architects – in fact some SAs and pre-sales engineers tend to resent sales people for various reasons (and vice versa.)  In reality, it’s natural for a Solution Architect to be proud of their technical skill set.

However, it’s your job to perform as a member of the sales team assisting account managers in the sale of the products and services your company provides.  Without you to define, communicate and address questions about the technology solution to the customers’ needs the Account Manager can’t be successful.  Similarly without the Account Manager to identify opportunities for the products / solutions you provide and bring you into the sale, you can’t achieve your targets and goals.


Now that you’ve swallowed the fact that you’re a member of the sales team it’s time to enforce the fact that you are not the leader of the sales process with the customer.

Your job is to make sure that the product, service or solution the AM sells is relevant, effective, right-fit, and complete for the particular customer.

Often today, the channel organization / company is referred to as a ‘Trusted Advisor’ to the customer but that ‘Trusted Advisor’ is typically a two-person team. Both the AM and the Solution Architect know the customer well, understand their environment, and maintain a mutually beneficial relationship – but from different perspectives.

As the technology / product side of the team, you are responsible for the IDEA. That is to:

▪      Identify

▪      Design

▪      Evangelize

▪      Adjust

As the Solution Architect, you need to identify customer requirements, design a product set or solution to meet those requirements, evangelize the proposed solution, and adjust the solution as necessary for the customer. 

Rule #2: You must be business relevant

This is typically another tough thing to do from a product or technical standpoint.

Understanding business requirements and applying the technology to those requirements does not come naturally for most technology experts but it is vital to success.  Great technology alone has no value; the data center landscape is littered with stories of great technology companies that failed because they couldn’t capitalize by making the technology business relevant.  The same lesson applies to the Solution Architect.

To be a great SA, you have to understand both business and technology enough to map the technical benefits to actual business requirements.  So what if your widget is faster than all other widgets before it, what does that mean to my business, and my job?  A great way to begin to understand the high level business requirements and what the executives of the companies you sell into are thinking is to incorporate business books and magazines in to your reading.  Next time you’re at the airport magazine rack or your iPad looking at the latest trade magazine, grab a copy of ‘The Harvard Business Review’ or Fortune magazine instead to gain a broader perspective of your customers’ issues and questions today.

Rule #3:  You must be technically knowledgeable:

Maintaining an appropriate level of technical knowledge becomes harder and harder as more products are thrown at you, but you must do it anyway.   If you can’t speak to the product or solutions features and benefits without using slides or data sheets as ‘cheat sheets’, you might want to rethink your presentation or product knowledge.

Staying up-to-date is a daunting task but there is a plethora of resources out there for it.  Blogs and twitter can be used as a constant stream of the latest and greatest technical

information.  Add to that formal training and vendor documentation and the tools to be technically relevant are there. Most importantly, the best way to stay technically knowledgeable is not being afraid to ask and or say you don’t know when asked a question. Then find someone who knows the answers or the latest information and talk to him or her.

In return, openly share your expertise with others as it creates a collaborative environment that benefits everyone.

Rule #4:  Know your audience:

This may be the most critical rule to differentiate yourself, your Account Manager and company. Mastering this requires doing your homework and ensuring that your conversations, questions and solutions are relevant to each of your audiences. Before you join a call or meet with a customer, be sure you have reviewed their company information and history with your organization and learned as much as possible about their requirements and environment.

Before the call, leverage your Account Manager so you know the customers’ interests and pain points.

Based on this knowledge, you can ask good thought-provoking questions.  As the customer provides more information it’s important to tailor the questions and information you provide to that customer’s interest.  Any technical conversation should be a fluid entity ebbing and flowing with the customer’s feedback. 

Practicing the art:

Like any other art, team sales with a Solution Architect and Account Manager must be practiced.  You must study the products and services your company sells, develop your skills and constantly work on your communication.

By starting with general conversation about the customer’s company and market, and asking open-ended questions, you can most effectively identify, then drill down to discuss the needs and areas of greatest interest to the customer.  Through continued use of discovery questions the Solution Architect can respond to the product/technology needs of the customer.


Solution Architect

In the diagram, you can see the way the conversation should go with a customer.  You begin at the top-level big picture and drill down into only the points that the customer shows an interest in or are applicable to their data center and job role.  Don’t ever feel the need to discuss every feature of a product or solution because they are not all relevant to every customer.  For instance a server admin probably doesn’t care how fast switching occurs but network and application teams probably do.  Maybe your product can help save a ton of cost, great but that’s probably not very relevant to the administrators who aren’t responsible for budget.  Always ensure you’re maintaining relevance to the audience and the business.


The role of the Solution Architect must be honed and practiced.  It doesn’t come overnight and as with anything else, you’re never as good as you can be.  Build a style and methodology that work for you and don’t be afraid to change or modify them as you find areas for improvement.  The better you get at the art of your role, the more value you’re giving your customer, team, and company.

Adapted by Next Step from article by Joe Onisick of Define the Cloud, LLC

Are You Rude in the Workplace? by Next Step |   posted: 04/10/2013

Did you know that as businesses are being forced to cut jobs and run a leaner than desired organization, people are becoming more rude?

Sarah Eckel from Forbes Magazine writes: “The accelerated pace of office life has made us lose touch with common courtesies once taken for granted, like saying, ”good morning.” In fact in the same article there is an example of a man who had bad habit: He was moving his wrist and hand as if to say “hurry up” as people were talking to him. He wasn’t even aware he was doing it.

It’s no wonder workers are losing their patience and manners in an accelerated workplace that creates more pressure and stress. Add to that the push of technology in the form of increased emails, text messages, IM’s, cell phone calls, and social media , and you can see how easy it can lead to a complete breakdown in business etiquette or a “snap attack” (yelling at your colleagues).

These bad habits and trends are not just little things to note and move on, they actually have impacted the bottom line revenues of some companies. When employees ignore others, talk over people in a meeting, show up late to a meeting or worse yet fail to make it at all, it is bad for business. This lack of business etiquette can permeate the organization culture and end up at a client/customer or prospect meeting and lose a deal or the customer.

Training for business etiquette is no different than training for sales, management or any other core competency within an organization. More companies are asking for this kind of training and we are happy to offer them our Business Etiquette Workshop.

“The kindest word in all the world is the unkind word, unsaid.” Author Unknown. This quote kind of reminds us that a simple word like “kindness” can help create a better meeting . . . and maybe even bring in a new customer or two.

Next Step has been helping companies avoid the “rude” factor and create efficiency and better business etiquette for years.

Check out our funny, but very relevant Meeting Faux Pas video.

Do you need a strategy for networking? by Next Step |   posted: 02/10/2013

Networking effectively for business growth and development is critical to your success during periods of both economic boom and uncertainty.  Having a strategy on building up your network is key.Depositphotos_3334484_l

Successful networking requires planning and perseverance. Statistics show that an opportunity resulting from a new business contact takes, on average, seven to twelve “touches”, with each touch adding to the value that you can offer a desired contact.  Since 1997, Next Step has helped hundreds of individuals, leaders, and companies develop and implement effective networking techniques—an important part of a successful business planning strategy .

Some keys to networking and successful lead generation include:

  • Define, in 60 seconds, the value that you bring to potential contacts. Deliver it in a clear, concise, and compelling manner, and always include:
    • The problem you solve or can solve for your listener
    • How you solve the problem — uniquely
    • Proof point, validation, and testimonial
    • A call to action
    • Continue to build the relationship by being an increasingly trustworthy resource to your contact
    • Define a networking plan with clear, targeted goals, and hand out business cards to those contacts that fit within your target.
    • Consider networking as an opportunity in research and marketing. Develop quality leads by spending the time listening to fellow networkers and the issues that come up naturally in conversation.

Add value to your networking plan with top line tips from Next Step.  Learn how our proven processes can help you and your organization network more effectively.   Contact us by email or call Next Step now at 650.361.1902.

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