October 12, 2004: Distribution Channel Commentary (DCC) # 71


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  2. "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear."                                         Attributed to many including Lao Tzu, the quasi-mythic founder of Taoism.

    "Conversation is a meeting of the minds with different memories and habits. When minds meet, they don’t just exchange facts: they transform them, reshape them, draw different implications from them, engage in new trains of thought. Conversation doesn’t just reshuffle the cards: it creates new cards."                                                 Theodore Zeldin (1933-; modern historian, philosopher.)

    "We teachers - perhaps all human being - are in the grip of an astonishing delusion. We think we can take a picture, a structure, a working model of something, constructed in our minds out of long experience and familiarity, and by turning that model into a string of words, transplant it whole into the mind of someone else. Perhaps once in a thousand times, when the explanation is extraordinarily good, and the listener extraordinarily experienced and skillful at turning a string of words into non-verbal reality, and when the explainer and listener share in common, many of the experiences being talked about, the process may work, and some real meaning may be communicated. Most of the time, explaining does not increase understanding, and may even lessen it."               John Holt


We have confused some of our readers who had gotten into the weekly rhythm of commentaries that ended last May. Since then we have posted some new articles, which in case you have missed them are #ed and entitled as follows:

# 2.21 - Targeting New Profit Growth Opportunities with Support Notes 2_21.asp

# 2.22 - How Can Channel Players Re-deploy Master Wholesalers with Support Notes 2_22.asp

# 2.23 - "Supply Chain Redesign = Strategy" with Support Notes 2_23.asp

# 2.24 - Fast Growing, Master Distributor Story: An Interview with John Tracy, President of Dot Foods      2_24.asp

# 2.25 - Restructuring Wholesale Channels: Three Cases 2_25.asp

# 2.26 - Stale Strategy? Try A Strategic Conversation 2_26.asp

# 3.13 - Maintaining Distinctive Service Value with Support Notes 3_13.asp

# 3.14 - Google's Service Value and Ours with Support Notes 3_14.asp

We have resumed the commentaries, but my goal is to get perhaps two out a month instead of 4, and like this one, they may be shorter than the past.

The big intellectual gift for this issue is to call your attention to four new exhibits and an annotated slideshow that have been posted at www.merrifield.com (hotlinks at end of commentary). These are (please excuse the whimsical jargon) the living-edge, new-frontier, question maps that I created for a strategic conversation that I had with about 15 sales managers of a distribution chain. These maps were referred to in last week’s posted article #2.26 that was entitled "Stale Strategy? Try A Strategic Conversation" (hotlink above). Because a few readers asked for copies of the question sets, we have now posted them.

For readers who haven’t yet read the "Stale Strategy" article, here is the gist of it. A teacher can lecture a room full of students who can be in college, grad school or a group of experienced sales managers working for a large distribution chain. But, if the advice is out-of-the-box thinking, little will be sufficiently understood to spark any follow through action.

If the teacher can, instead, orchestrate a dialogue that is supported and sparked by new hard data reports (like customer profitability ranking reports) and a list of thoughtful questions, then learning at the individual level will be much greater.

For one of the clients that is referred to in the stale strategy article, management wanted to implement the use of the "5-5-5 report", a monthly, one-page tool for each profit center that readers can find more out about in article #2.20 specifically under "step 7." The company had run one of their locations thoroughly through the "High Performance…" training program and had gotten terrific results by: re-focusing on their top 5 most profitable accounts; transforming their 5 biggest losing accounts; and super-targeting their 5 most promising target accounts.

The client wanted me to sell the 5-5-5 report at a sales management meeting, but most of the attendees had only had superficial exposure to the new thinking in the "High Performance…" video. So, the solution was to design a conversation that would allow the participants to share their own successes and doubts about new thinking and methods. And, one of the hopes was that the conversation and learning would continue on long after the teacher/catalyst had left.

What was the net result? One senior manager put this way: "You can tell them and sell them on what you think they should do, and they will tell you they will, but nothing usually happens. This time around something different happened. I could see lightbulbs going on over their heads. The amount of energetic discussion was higher. We talked openly about emotional issues that have never been broached before. The conversation about this session continued on for the next day of the management meeting. The feedback was enormously positive. I’m optimistic that great new stuff is going to happen across all of our locations."

What should we do at our own companies? Perhaps we should present the team with a new idea or perspective on what we could be doing along with a thoughtfully put together question map. We should do less selling and telling and invite them all into a "strategic conversation." To better understand how to go about doing this, I would encourage readers to download the new slideshow plus the new exhibits on questions maps and (re) read the "Stale Strategy" article. 2_26.asp







That’s all for this commentary. Until next time, best of luck with your mental model management!