Quit Being Right and Start Getting Results in Your Company

Cliff Oxford

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

When I started my company, I was selling to the Fortune 500 and getting so close to making a big sale, but was always coming in second, the worst position as you get all the expense of the sales cycle but none of the revenue of a sales win. We had the best solution at the best price, but at the end of the day the C-suite would buy a lesser product or service.  At first we blamed it on the fact that we were a new company.  We were totally wrong.  The C-suite was all for us and then seemed to switch as they narrowed it down to the final two and began what they call the socialization period of who is going to be our “partner.”  I had the best solution, but when you are offering a solution you are implying that the other side has problems.  I also was not the image of success.  I was a guy driving a black Bronco telling Corporate that they had problems and that I was going to solve them.  The C-suite does not want to hear that they have problems when they are trying to craft an image of success.  I changed my black Bronco for a BMW 740 and ramped up my pitch for the C-suite culture.  Instead of problems, I told them they had great visions and just needed a little help getting there.  That’s how we sold to 86% of the Fortune 500 over the next five years; having the best product was secondary during the sales process.

A highly successful corporate TV executive told me the truth when he said, “I never make a decision where I can be blamed but I am always in the room when the decision is made so I can come back in the room to celebrate success if it turns out right. This way I am always right.”  Here is the problem – when they do make a mistake or choose the wrong product, they can’t back out of it because they have to be right.  Welcome to Corporate Hell where who is right reins over who gets results.  Nothing could be further from the truth in an entrepreneurial company where it is not about who is right, but about who gets results and who gets the work done.  The CEO sets the stage on whether you have a “right” company or “results” company.  If you want to grow and exit a successful company, be a results company.

It is pretty simple how you become a results company.  First, hire the results people.  A pre-employment assessment or apprenticeship can go a long way to sort out the talkers, all talk and no action, from the walkers, go-getters who get results and the work done.   It seems the latest monkey-see-monkey-do-thing is to get all the right people on the bus and let them fail so that you can have a big win. I am not going to tell you to celebrate failure. In fact, I am getting concerned it is becoming too cool to fail as it seems to be the latest trendy topic in academia and management consulting circles. Just move on from failure.  In fact, learn to be a quitter.  Quit doing things that don’t work and do more of the things that do work.  People who want to be right will stick with failure until the cows come home and now you have this management fad that says failure is good. Failure is expensive, especially in the light of trying prove you are right.  You just can’t be scared of failure, but move on from it and try something else. You are going to hurt some feelings as these non-results projects become pets of the “I have to be right crowd.” Of course, I want you to recognize and reward the big wins and moments in your company, but lay off trying to celebrate every little failure or success that comes down the pike.  It comes off as phony to your people and they get tired of hearing it.  Expect success and simply say a lot of warm, genuine “thank yous” on a one-to-one basis. A results company measures everything and posts the results for all to see. I didn’t say it was easy to be a results company.  Rank the results from best to least best so the best are recognized and the worst are not ostracized but are informed.  Finally, to be a results company, get rid of the motormouths who have these long winded excuses and explanations on why they are right and have already done everything in life.  Even if they are talented, I have never seen these people flourish in a results company. In a results oriented environment, “yeses” and “nos” are both good answers if they come quickly and it doesn’t matter who is in the room.