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What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School

Mark H. McCormack

Summary published by Compact Classics

I. PEOPLE

 

Reading People

Business situations always come down to people situations. The more you learn about the person you are dealing with, and the sooner you learn it, the more effective you are going to be. Reading people comes down to opening your senses to what is going on around you, the whole level of personal dynamics operating just beneath the surface, and converting this knowledge to your advantage.

Insight demands ... talking less and listening more. I believe you can learn almost everything you need to know - and more than other people would like you to know - simply by watching and listening ...

 

The seven steps to build your people-reading skills are: listen aggressively; observe aggressively; talk less; take a second look at first impressions; take time to use what you have learned; be discreet; and be detached (emotional involvement blurs your vision of reality).

 

Aggressive observation means going after the big picture, [weighing] conscious and unconscious signals ... and converting them into usable perceptions. Observing aggressively does not mean jumping to conclusions.

 

Learn to read egos. If you can read ego, understand its impact on business events, then control it by either stroking it, poking at it, or minimizing its damage, you can be the beneficiary ... But remember, nothing blocks your insight more than your own ego.   Observe people wherever you happen to meet them, not just in business situations. You can learn a great deal about a person at a restaurant or on a golf course.

 

Creating Impressions

The right impression may be created simply by treating someone the way he or she wants to be treated. This applies to your correspondence, phone conversations and face to face meetings. Be your best self.

 

To impart a positive impression, do exactly what you say you will do exactly when you say you will do it. And don't be a time thief.

 

Common sense is the most important personal asset in business. Additionally, the ability to laugh at yourself is a plus that will create positive, lasting impressions.

 

Everyone has, or should have, principles that govern his business conduct. However, claiming too often that this is a matter of principle is usually a cover-up for a bruised ego.

 

Taking the Edge

Taking the edge is the gamesmanship of business. It is taking everything you know about others and everything you have allowed them to know about yourself and using this information to load the deck - to tilt a business situation slightly to your advantage. It is winning through intuition.

 

To take the edge requires preparation. Know the facts of your deal, and know them well. Be familiar with the other parties; learn as much as you can about them and their company.  The next step is backward: take a step back and size up the situation. See what opportunities exist.

 

A situation that might allow either one of the negotiators an edge is considered a crisis. When a crisis - or what other people may perceive as a crisis - arises, take time to examine what's happening. Don't respond immediately. Look, listen - observe aggressively - and decide on a response that will sway things your way. Should you use discreet questions, a humorous rejoinder, or an honest reply? Acting rather than reacting to the situation will pay off.

 

Getting Ahead

Climbing the corporate ladder is a game. In order to move up you must learn the system and discover how to use it. Your peers are your best allies; you get along by getting along.

 

In business there are three hard-to-say but extremely useful phrases: (1) I don't know. If you don't know a thing, say so, then find out; (2) I need help. The other side of this is knowing when and how to give help; (3) I was wrong. It is not the mistake itself but how a mistake is handled that forms the lasting impression.

 

Likewise, your boss (shareholders, voters or manager) will judge you by three criteria: (1) Your commitment, (2) Your attention to detail, and (3) Your ability to follow up on tasks. To make a positive and lasting impression you need to excel in all three areas.

 

Prevent boredom and burnout - keep the edge. One way to prevent burnout is to schedule time for exercise and relaxation. Boredom occurs when your learning curve goes flat. Never quit learning about your job and the ways you can do it better.

 

II. SALES AND NEGOTIATION

 

The Problems of Selling

Most people are born salesmen; even in early childhood we all learned and used sales tactics. The difficulty comes, however, when we enter the business world. Then we learn that our sales abilities are judged, and doubts creep in.

The biggest problem most people have in selling is fear - fear of rejection and fear of failure. But you can learn to accept rejection - without having to learn to like it. And you can put fear of failure in its place as a constructive motivator; after all, if you are afraid to fail, then you probably care enough to succeed.

 

Timing

Too many good ideas fail because the timing is not right. A good general common sense rule of timing is: Don't blurt out anything. Take a moment to consider whether the situation demands a certain strategy or whether you can use timing to your advantage. Take your sales cues from the buyer, letting him dictate some of the timing.

 

You can also benefit from the bad timing of others. Just as you should renew a contract when the client is the happiest, sell one when the prospective buyer is unhappiest with your competition.

 

Some other important timing advice: weigh present value against the future; plan years ahead on your calendar; don't give deadlines; use (prudently) phone calls during non-business hours; quickly get to the point of presentations; take less of a person's time than you asked for; and, if you have a good proposal but the customer balks, return to try again later. The toughest part of good timing is patience.

 

Silence

Silence is what keeps you from saying more than you need to - and makes the other person want to say more than he means to. In sales, once you get to the point ... where you have asked for a commitment, don't speak again until the other person has replied.

 

Marketability

Know your product or service well, including the reasons why someone might not want to buy or use it. Believe in what you're selling, and let others know you believe in it. Sell with enthusiasm, but sell smart, putting the bulk of your effort and focus on the top 20 percent customers. Figure out ways to keep their interest and business.

 

Negotiating

First, find out what it is a person or company wants to buy. Second, find out who does the buying. Third, use effective strategies: sell defensively (allow the client to say no to some proposals); expose rather than sell; present one-on-one, when possible; and use your positive reputation.

 

III. RUNNING A BUSINESS

 

Building a Business

This may be one of the better ways to start a business: What are you really passionate about in life, and is there any way to make a living at it? When you are passionate about what you are doing, going to work is like going to play.

Some good rules for building a business are: commit early to quality; grow slowly; hire people who can teach you what you don't know; charge for your expertise.

 

Don't let structure slow you down; when it comes to your business' structure, think small. Refrain from doing things the same way every time just because they have worked in the past. Look for ways to be creative and still maintain consistency. Without creativity and flexibility, it is too easy to get locked into a rut.

 

Manage unconventionally. Don't just look for opportunities to do the unexpected. Create them. Aggressively pursue change ...    Spend the five hours now to train subordinates so you don't have to spend hundreds of hours in the future trying to retrain them. Hiring, training, managing and firing people takes consistency, planning, timing and sensitivity.

 

Getting Things Done

When you plan your time, don't look at a 40- or 50-hour work week. Examine all the available 168 hours. Plan time for sleep, exercise and relaxation, as well as for work. 

 

Concoct some sort of organizational system where you can write down projects or ideas and then forget about them. Make them come back when they are needed.

 

Schedule your time. Decide what must be done for the day, week or month, and then establish a schedule and force yourself to stick to it. Honor appointments with yourself as you would appointments with others.

 

Rather than holding a formal meeting, meet in the hall for a few minutes, or else simply circulate a memo.

 

What They Don't Teach You ... delves into many intricacies of business life. Sections on avoiding telephone tag, conducting a meeting, making decisions, entrepreneurship, etc. may provide just the needed inside, street-smart tips and information that many business schools fail to explore.

 

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