Category Archives: Helpful Hints

The World Cup Of Business

The biggest sporting event on the planet began its final phase last week. Soccer’s World Cup, which began its qualifying process over three years ago, is down to the final 32 teams and will crown a champion over the next month.

I’ve been very lucky in my life to attend almost every big sporting event at one time or another but nothing compares to this tournament. For those of you less familiar with the world football scene, The World Cup is national teams playing one another. Football (it’s only called soccer here in the U.S.) is by far the sport played everywhere and it incites passion like no other. What’s most interesting about this is that most of the world football leagues are very international in composition. A club might have half its players from the “home” country but an equal number who play for a different national team.

Take, for example, the Spain/Portugal match of the other day. Cristiano Ronaldo is Portugal’s star and is beloved there but he plays for Real Madrid in the Spanish League (La Liga) and is equally beloved there. Some of the players on the Spanish team are his club teammates but they were tasked with stopping him the other day.

What does any of this have to do with your business? If you’ve ever worked in a medium to a large company you’ve probably seen the internecine warfare that often develops between departments. The sales department might be fighting with finance, marketing might not have any love for research, and legal often has nasty things to say about everyone. I liken it to a national league. All the clubs (departments) live in one country (business) but they are extremely competitive and want to be seen as the winners. There has to come a time, however, when the rivalries take a back seat to the “national” interest, in this case, The World Cup; in the case of a business, maybe it’s when other businesses or marketplace circumstances (countries) are on the attack and the entire enterprise is threatened.

Part of managing in an environment where the departments are extremely competitive is keeping the mindset nationally-focused and not club-focused. You need to let your team know that undermining another area serves no common purpose. It’s dangerous and unproductive. Set a World Cup mentality and then try to inspire the same sort of national fervor that the tournament does. You with me?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Consulting

Help Wanted

It’s June, the month of newly-minted college graduates entering the workforce. There will be a fair amount of job-seeking going on and today I want to spend a minute to reflect on a few things I’ve learned over the years both about finding a job and filling one.

First, finding one. Obviously, the way the job market works has changed since I graduated college several decades ago. Job websites and LinkedIn didn’t exist and the process is way more efficient now. The problem is that so has the nature of work because business itself has been reshaped. The disintermediation of almost everything has meant the nature of hiring needs has changed. Retail jobs have moved from store clerks to engineers who help with online inventory management, customer experience, and other jobs that didn’t exist in the retail sector back in the day. Ride-sharing has created a different sort of cab driver (a popular job for many when we couldn’t get other work), one that doesn’t require a hack license but does require that you have access to a car.

What hasn’t changed about looking for that entry-level job is that you need to have a willingness to do damn near anything. My first job was making slides for presentations at a trade group. Yes, I was an honors graduate with degrees in English and Education and I had no interest in making slides: I wanted to write. I also wanted to eat and to get my foot in the door. I’m always surprised when I talk with a young person who feels many entry jobs are beneath them.

The other thing that hasn’t changed, and this applies to both sides of the hiring desk, is the skills required. I always looked for people who were smart, who could express that intelligence both orally and in the written communication we had, and who seemed like self-starters. Those candidates are the ones who will learn on the job and perform, and I have many examples of that in my hiring. I’d add to the list that the candidate should be able to handle disruptions well. Every business has been or will be disrupted and, therefore, the nature of every job will change as well. Society and business are constantly getting more efficient – more things will be available to more people for lower overall costs – so the hiring and job-seeking processes need to mirror that. Does yours?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, What's Going On

No Applause, Please

There is a solitaire game that I play on my phone. When you “win”, you get a round of applause most of the time. Sometimes, you don’t. There is just silence, probably because you didn’t solve the hand quickly enough. In a weird way, the lack of applause feels as if you’ve not won if that makes any sense.

That, in microcosm, is a very dangerous thing, both in business and in life. Expecting applause for work well done creates expectations that are infrequently met, and that leads to all sorts of bad places. Anger, frustration, and jealousy all begin to rear their ugly heads as some members of the team begin to compare the applause they receive with that others receive. It may not be literal applause but everything from mentions in a staff meeting to promotions to raises all count.

I’m not against giving applause – far from it. I’ve worked for bosses who made it clear that almost no applause would be forthcoming because they believed that employees were fungible. When applause was given, either literally or figuratively, it generally went to the higher-ups and not to the folks who really were responsible for the good work. As managers and teammates, we need to do what we can to support those who deserve recognition (I’m not in favor of “participation awards” for everyone, though). What I do approach with caution is the expectation we have that we’re going to receive some figurative love when it’s warranted.

Doing what you do for the applause creates false expectations. It makes us buy into a belief system that may not be our own. For example, you may not care about making a lot of money but when you see others doing so who do less or inferior work, you may wonder why you’re not getting rich too. People get “rich” in all sorts of ways. Teachers, ministers, first-responders and many others generally aren’t well-paid nor do they get much applause on a daily basis. Most of the folks I know who work in those professions have adjusted their thinking to take satisfaction in their own accomplishments and not in others’ recognition of those things. They spend their lives doing good work and not seeking applause. How about you?

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Filed under Reality checks, Helpful Hints

Dealing With An Intolerance

Happy Foodie Friday! It’s an especially good one as we head into Memorial Day Weekend, the unofficial start of Summer and the grilling season for many of you. I have a friend who will be a lot more circumspect about what she is grilling this weekend because she found out the other day that she has a bunch of food intolerances. What are they and what do they have to do with business?

Food intolerances are different from food allergies. You’re not going to die from the former while you just might from the latter. Instead, your symptoms develop over time as you keep eating things for which you have an intolerance. Maybe you get headaches or stomach aches. Maybe you retain fluids. Maybe you develop a cough that won’t go away or hives or a runny nose. All can be symptoms of a food intolerance.

They’re caused by several things, one of which can be a chemical – caffeine, amines, salicylate – which occur naturally but to which your body is sensitive. The ones you hear about most often are gluten intolerance and lactose intolerance but there are as many intolerances as there are foods, it seems. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to live with a food intolerance as long as you’re willing to adjust your diet and avoid things that you’ve identified as problematic. It’s less easy to fix an intolerance in business.

I’m sure that every manager has a story or two of employees who can’t get along. I certainly do. It can be a huge problem for a business, especially if the employees are managers themselves. There are a lot of reasons why two adults can’t tolerate one another. One feels the other isn’t pulling his or her weight. One gossips. There is a perceived inequity in titles or salary or responsibility. I’ve run into each of those along with the most basic reason for a business intolerance: they just don’t like one another due to some perceived slight that was never corrected.

You cannot let this situation fester, and the key to fixing it is to identify the real problem. Telling them to “grow up” won’t fix anything nor will telling them to “work it out.” You need to speak with the parties involved individually and together and you must follow up your discussions with action. You can’t have a chat and assume the matter is solved. Like a food intolerance that won’t kill you, two employees who can’t tolerate one another won’t destroy a business but they can make things pretty miserable. Also as with food, identifying the source of the problem and following it up with action and monitoring is how you make the problem go away.

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Filed under Consulting, food, Helpful Hints

What Are Your Limits?

What can’t you do? If you’re a child of my children‘s generation, you’ve probably been told since you were born that you can do anything. You have no limits. Does anyone really believe that’s true – that there isn’t anything we can’t do if we try really hard and practice a lot?

As you know if you’ve spent any time in this space, I play golf. I’m not horrible at it although I’m far from really good. I do practice and I might just try too hard. That said, there are shots I just can’t hit and never will be able to despite knowing how to do so and practicing them (you go ahead and hit that 225-yard shot over water and a bunker into a tight pin on a narrow green without landing in trouble).

Knowing your limits is important both in life and in business. We all want to help the team but learning to say “no” when you’re asked to take on more work than you can possibly do well really IS helping. Everyone hits the wall at some point and taking on too many projects or work that you’re not qualified to do well is a great way to hit it bang on.

Many ski areas have signs that remind you to ski within your limits. There is a sign at Bethpage Black, a golf course which has hosted the U.S. Open, that, in essence, asks you to know your limitations as a golfer and respect them.

Many people want to learn and to grow. Most people want to take on a new challenge. While you do need to push your limits to do this, at the same time, you need to be conscious of your abilities and approach any new goals appropriately. In golf or skiing, we can take lessons. How many businesspeople invest in courses to improve their skills?

In skiing and riding, we wear protective gear. The problem is that sometimes we get a false sense of security and push too far. In business, we rely on data from dodgy sources or only those surveys that tell us what we want to hear to give us that same false sense. Instead of recognizing the limits of the information, we believe it.

I’ve been playing the guitar since I was 10. I still can’t play like Clapton or Page despite well over 10,000 hours of practice. It may be some sort of physical ability I don’t have which they do. Then again, I probably have some mental abilities that have let me learn many skills they don’t have. Learning what you can and can’t do even with practice, instruction, and perseverance is key, and accepting those limitations, disheartening as it can be, can help make you better, not worse. Does that make sense?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Are You Gaslighting Your Customers?

I did something dumb but in the process of rectifying my error, I also learned that some companies are still doing something equally dumb, which is treating their customers as adversaries. Let me explain.

I bought tickets to a concert. As a part of the purchase, I was given the option to download the band’s latest album. As an aside, I’m finding this offer with quite a few of the bands I go to see, and it reinforces the notion in my mind that recorded music is a tiny part of the music business equation these days. The real money is in touring, and giving away an album helps increase the value of a ticket. Who knows – maybe it even gets some folks who might not otherwise go to a show to get out for an evening. What is the incremental cost of a digital download? Next to nothing, but the value is high to a fan.

It was with that digital download that I had my issue. I received an email from Ticketmaster, through whom I had bought the tickets, telling me to click on a link to start the download. It began without issue, but my computer locked up about halfway through the process. I rebooted and tried to restart the download to no avail. The link is single use and I had already clicked on it. The page said that if I’d had a problem to reach out via online help.

I connected to online chat. after a 17 minute wait (during which time they did show me what number I was in the queue), on came “Luis”, my customer service rep. I explained the situation and he went to verify my order, which he was able to do.

I do not show that this artist is part of our Album offer, did you get that email from Ticketmaster?

I cut and pasted the email copy. He asked for the domain that sent it, which I gave him. Here is where the real problem begins.

We have verified the email you have received and unfortunately it is not the same as ours.

Uh yeah, Luis, it is. You’re Ticketmaster and it came from a Ticketmaster domain. But it gets worse.

I do apologize for the inconvenience but unfortunately Ticketmaster does not offer the album.

OK, now I’m angry. I feel as if I’m being gaslighted. They sent me an email about the download and it was in the confirmation email for my order, they gave me a link, the download got halfway through, the artist’s website says they’re giving away a download with each ticket order, and yet the person they have “helping” me is telling me that none of that came from them and there is no offer to begin with.

Here is the end of the discussion which followed my asking him exactly those questions. The time code, by the way, is the duration of the conversation, so we’re over a half hour of my time to clear this up:

00:32:12 Luis: Someone else may have gotten hold of your email address, and sent you the made up information.

00:33:31 KeithR : So let’s see – they know I bought tickets last night and they built links into Ticketmaster for a unique download code which now won’t redeem a second time?

00:33:36 KeithR : Is that your theory?

00:34:51 Luis : I do apologize for the inconvenience but unfortunately the email that was sent to you is not the same domain that is sent by Ticketmaster, unfortunately, since this artist is not part of the album offer shown on our end nor the artist page, we would not be able to further assist you.

Implied next sentence, don’t let the door hit you in the ass as you go away. I use Ticketmaster/Live Nation a lot. I think even they would admit that they are not a beloved entity, mostly because of the multiple and high service fees (most of which are NOT imposed by them!). Any company needs to sit on the same side of the table as its customers, helping them to resolve the problem and not sitting in the adversarial position Luis staked out for himself. By the way, I called Ticketmaster and within minutes had a customer service agent who did just that, aligning herself with my needs and sending an email to a supervisor to get my problem resolved.

I suspect I just got a badly trained or unmotivated agent the first time. I’d be curious if they’re Ticketmaster employees or an outside firm that’s paid on some basis (time on phone/chat, number of calls fielded) rather than on that aligns with customers (cases successfully resolved for the customer). Customers may not have a choice when it comes to buying tickets but they probably do when they’re interacting with your business. How are you treating them?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?, Music

Copycat Recipes

This Foodie Friday we’re contemplating the field of endeavor known as copycat recipes. If you read any food sites, at some point you come across recipes which attempt to replicate some of the more popular dishes from chain restaurants. Yes, you too can have unlimited Red Lobster Cheddar Bay biscuits and Chick-Fil-A sandwiches at the same time!

There are books of these recipes and I’ll admit to having tried a couple over the years. While I’ve come close to duplicating a few dishes I’ve enjoyed in restaurants, the results were not exactly the same. One wouldn’t expect that though. I’m not using the same ingredients (the bacon I buy may not be what McDonald’s uses) nor do I have a commercial convection oven or deep fryer. Still, they were enjoyable enough and in a couple of cases, the experience inspired me to create my own variation that I liked even better.

I think these recipes can be fun for some but they miss a fundamental point. Making Girl Scout Samoas at home, besides being incredibly time-consuming, doesn’t support the Girl Scouts. When I want a “hot now” Krispy Kreme, I don’t want to wait a few hours for my homemade versions to rise and fry. What makes some of these dishes so good, in part, is that you don’t have to cook them. They’re risk-free, they’re ready when you want them, they’re always available, and they’re consistent. And of course, that’s the point today.

It’s quite possible that someone will try to copy what it is you’re doing if you’re doing it well. In the case of recipes, the cook can’t turn to the copyright law to protect the dish. Recipes aren’t subject to copyright. Mp3 players had been around for several years before Apple “copied” the recipe and improved it. One could argue that Apple was the victim when Microsoft “copied” the graphical interface that became Windows from Apple, who had “copied” it from Xerox. Sure, you can file a patent to protect you but that immediately makes how you’re doing what you’re doing available to anyone. They can then produce a variant on what you’re doing. Each of the folks in my examples made the recipe their own. That’s the point. You protect your secret recipe in either of two ways and the law has little to do with either.

The first is never to make the product public so no one has a chance to duplicate what you’ve got. Obviously, that’s not a great solution. The other way is to make sure that you produce the end-result to a consistently high standard which is risk-free for the customer, and that you provide that customer with an unrivaled level of support and service. That’s why copycat recipes will never be as good as what you get when you dine out. You copy?

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