1: As leaders, one of our most important roles is to unlock the full potential of each person on our teams.
One of the best ways to release this potential is to organize “Quality Circles,” Brian Tracy writes in his terrific book Sales Management.
This practice involves gathering our team for a specific one-hour time block each week to focus on a single question to drive “continuous and never-ending improvement,” or CANEI. Using brainstorming techniques, we motivate our people to think creatively and keep them involved in developing solutions to business challenges.
“The most effective use of quality circles is to structure them around the key result areas,” Brian writes. “The good news is that every single process in your business can be improved and should be improved continually. Sometimes one improvement in a key function can lead to a dramatic improvement in results.”
2: I am currently serving in two roles at PCI: one as CEO, and second as outside sales leader. Brian believes “salespeople usually have an enormous reserve of potential that is seldom used and that can be released to increase sales results.”
The quality circle process is straightforward. Each person on the team “explain(s) how they have achieved the very best results in this specific key result area,” Brian writes, “and have them talk about how the ‘best practices’ could be applied to their own sales activities.”
For the sales team, examples include “dealing with difficult customers, changing competitive conditions, variations in demand for our products and services, and the daily difficulties that salespeople face that hold them back from achieving higher sales results,” Brian writes.
He suggests we begin by selecting “a single question or problem that demands a practical answer, such as, “How can we increase our sales by 20 percent over the next ninety days?” Or, “How can we find and set appointments with more qualified prospects than we are getting today?” Or “What are the three things we could do in every initial meeting with a customer to build higher levels of rapport and trust?”
What is the best time for a quality circle? “Either the first hour on Monday morning, so people can begin using the new ideas immediately, or the last hour on Friday afternoon at the end of a busy workweek, when people have just had a whole week of selling experiences,” Brian writes.
We plan for a specific amount of time, perhaps 30 or 45 minutes. “The pressure of a deadline increases the number of good ideas,” so we want to announce up front how long the session will be and then stick to it,” Brian writes.
If we are holding the meetings in person, setting up the room in a circle where everyone faces everyone else is best.
Why? Because “when people can see, hear, and make eye contact with other people in a brainstorming session, they are more stimulated and motivated to contribute even more ideas.”
Brian suggests we organize the team into groups of five to seven people. “Less than five people diminishes the potential value of the brainstorming session, as well as the number of ideas,” Brian writes. “When you have more than seven people, not everyone gets a chance to make a full contribution to the session.”
We divide the quality circle session into two parts: Idea generation and idea evaluation.
During idea generation, we focus on the “quantity” and not the “quality” of the ideas. “What experts in this field have found is that there is a direct relationship between the number of new ideas we generate and the likelihood that we will generate a great idea that can really make a difference in our business,” Brian writes.
The key to successful brainstorming? “To suspend judgment completely,” he notes. “No comments or criticisms are allowed, no matter how strange or crazy an idea might sound initially. Very often, combining one ridiculous idea with another ridiculous idea yields an absolutely brilliant idea that can really make a difference to results.”
The second part of the meeting is idea evaluation, where we review the ideas and select those that will have the greatest impact.
3: There are two crucial roles in any brainstorming session. First, the leader who makes sure everyone has the opportunity to share their ideas and encourages people who may be hesitant to speak up. “Often, the person who says very little is the one who comes up with the groundbreaking idea that changes the entire sales results of the business,” he observes.
The second key role is that of the recorder, whose job is to write down every idea as quickly as possible.
As leaders, one of “the greatest benefit of regular brainstorming sessions is the effect that they will have on us personally,” Brian predicts. By tapping into the best ideas to drive improved performance, we “will be brighter, sharper, and more creative” and perceived as such.
Reflection: Does my organization have a regular, recurring process to tap into ideas and best practices from each team member?
Action: Run an experiment: Set aside one hour per week for the next four weeks for a Quality Circle.