Tag Archives: management

Misdirection (It’s Magic!)

When I was a kid I became fascinated with magic. As I attempted to learn trick after trick, what became clear to me was that the primary skill of the magician wasn’t so much manual dexterity as it was the ability to draw the audience’s attention to something very specific. One magician called it “the manipulation of interest”. I think of it as misdirection and as it turns out there is a really business point to it as well.

Top hat as an icon for magic

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What a magician is trying to do is one of two things: either to get you to look away from what he is really doing for a split second or to reframe your perception so that you focus on a different reality, thinking that something has a lot to do with what’s going on when in fact it has nothing to do with it.

We see this in business all the time. Sometimes it’s benign, as when we’re distracted by a phone buzzing during a meeting. Sometimes it’s not so benign, as when the fine print of a deal is overshadowed by a blaring headline and attention-grabbing photo. I’ve been in meetings in which someone was completely unprepared for the topic of the meeting but managed to get the group distracted onto a side issue and he was never found out. You’ve probably witnessed something similar.

We can’t let distractions draw our attention away from what’s really going on. We can’t look at the obvious while the real business is going on elsewhere. More importantly, we can’t let others draw our attention away from something they’re doing that might have an impact on our business. We can’t let a nice suit distract us into thinking someone is successful – look at their track record. We can’t let someone’s ridiculous initial offer draw us away from our negotiating plan – maybe they’re trying to distract us through the misdirection of anger. We can’t let someone tell a lie as a distraction without correcting it but that also means we need to have facts at hand to avoid the misdirection.

Some folks are masters of controlling how others feel about and deal with them by controlling others’ focus. Don’t fall for it.

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Pushing And Pulling

It’s another Foodie Friday and this week I’ve been thinking about teamwork. If you’ve dined out at any point, and who hasn’t, you’ve been the beneficiary of what should be excellent teamwork. After all, unless you’re dining in a tiny place, the person who takes your order isn’t the one who cooks your food. It’s likely that the person who cooks your food isn’t the one who developed the recipe, and it’s just as likely that there are multiple items on the plate that they were prepared by more than one person. For the end product to be great, every one of those people needs to be operating in sync and on the same page.

The one thing all great restaurants are is consistent. Every plate of the same dish should taste the same, and every time you return, the experience should be exactly the same. That doesn’t happen by chance. It happens because the chef leads the team and gives them the tools they need to perform. The recipes are written down and followed. That includes the recipe for more than the food. It’s how food is plated. It’s the vision of what the business is and how it will operate. It’s a shared sense of mission. It’s not kicking people in the butt and making them do a particular task.

There are very few work environments that are hotter or more stressed than a restaurant kitchen during peak service hours yet the best crews seem to ignore the environment and focus on the mission. Each member of the team understands their role and how it fits into the bigger whole and is committed to performing that role at a high standard.

Everything I’ve written above applies to your business too. OK, maybe not the uncomfortable, hot working conditions, but certainly the need to stop pushing people and to start leading them. If you ask multiple staff members to explain the main goals of your business and get very different answers, you have a problem. If each person can’t explain how their role fits into achieving that mission, you’re on the road to disgruntled employees and to failure. If the standards and recipes – how your business operates and how success and failure are measured – aren’t written down and clear to all, you might as well shut the doors now.

If things go badly, maybe it’s not the fault of the person who screwed up. Maybe they were told to salt the food without any amount stated. Since each palate is different, it’s unlikely two people will salt the dish the same. Maybe you asked for an analysis of some data without explaining what questions you’re trying to answer and how that question ties into the broader goals. Two analysts might answer very different questions, making the analysis terrific or useless. Communication and teamwork; pulling, not pushing. That’s how great kitchens operate. Shouldn’t your business operate that way too?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Thinking Aloud

Digging Out Of A Hole

Let’s begin the new year with some (more) sobering news. People think marketers suck and don’t trust us. Actually, that’s not a recent development according to the Gallup folks who conduct an annual poll about various professions and how they’re perceived. Since Gallup has been conducting the survey (as far back as at least 2001), “advertising practitioners” have always appeared near the bottom of the professional rankings:

When it comes to rating the honesty and ethical standards of people in various professions, American adults rate medical professionals highly. But advertising practitioners? That’s a different story. In fact, just 11% of adults rate advertising professionals highly for their honesty and ethics.

That’s from the Marketing Charts summary of the poll. You can see the chart listing the various professions off to the side. Is anyone shocked by these results? Let’s think for a minute about many of the prominent ad stories of the past few years. They’re a litany of theft and fraud but those don’t really affect consumers. The big consumer ad story is probably the rise of ad blocking which is a response to irresponsible behavior on much of the advertising/publishing ecosystem.

That’s just the online world. Offline, one needn’t look very far to find examples of “free” offers that require one to submit a credit card, businesses suing their customers for accurate but negative comments on social media, and just about any political ad this last year. Each of these things further reinforces the negative perception that this study finds.

It’s a new year, and every new year brings the possibility of fresh starts. Maybe this is a good time for any of us who make a living within the marketing community to start digging out of this perception hole? We can do so by reminding ourselves that our families and friends are the consumers we’re pitching. Would you try to run a scam on them? Would they find the ad you’re running offensive? For those of you not engaged in the ad business, you’d do well to ask yourself the same types of questions. My guess is that we’re going to hear a lot about ethics this year. Let’s try to make our profession a better example of the right kind of ethical behavior. You with me?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Huh?

Top Posts Of The Year #3

Continuing our countdown to the most-read post of the year, this post is from last May. I’ll often use something that has happened to me as a case study, particularly when it involved bad customer service. I generally find that many of the issues that escalate into customers not returning to a business involve things that could be prevented or remedied with transparency. This post is one of those cases. Originally called “I Got Trucked,” it was prompted by a bad van rental experience. Enjoy!

I rented a cargo van and that’s when the fun started. I mentioned in another post that we’re preparing to sell Rancho Deluxe and part of the process is cleaning out 30 years of stuff. I booked a cargo van through Enterprise, a company from which I’ve rented cars in the past without issue. They confirmed my reservation but just to be safe I went to the local lot and examined the vehicle I was renting a week ahead of time to be sure it would serve my needs. It was fine.

At 2pm the day of the rental I got a call from Enterprise asking if I was indeed coming to pick it up. I said yes, the reservation is for 5:30 and that’s when I’ll be there. I asked if there was an issue. The guy on the phone said no, we have a van, it’s just not the one you saw. Hmm. Is it the same size? “No, it’s a little shorter.” “You mean less tall because I need height to get some items in?” “No, the length is less.” OK, not an issue.

5:30 comes and I go to get the van. It is quite nice but a miniature version of what I rented. It was no bigger than a minivan or large SUV, and not at all satisfactory for my needs. The customer service rep was very apologetic, informing me that the person who rented it last hadn’t brought it back, they’d been working all day to find me another one, etc. All well and good, but it’s 5:40, most other rental places have closed or will close in the next 20 minutes, and I need a van.

What’s the business lesson? First and foremost, be honest with your customers. Obviously, they knew there was an issue at 2 when they called. Why not be honest? I’ve been on the other end of this, running the NHL’s online commerce. One year we were completely out of hockey jerseys and the inventory system failed to turn off new orders. I told the customer service reps to be honest – we would not be able to fulfill the orders by Christmas and if the customers didn’t want a credit then a full refund should be offered. More than that, I asked our commerce folks to be proactive and contact the people immediately, since it is unacceptable that some kid wouldn’t get a gift due to our faulty inventory management.

Had they been open about the problem at 2, it would have given me 3 hours to find a replacement. They were also dishonest about the size of the replacement. It had nowhere close to the cargo capacity of what I rented. No, I didn’t take the replacement Enterprise offered me. I scrambled and was lucky enough to convince a U-Haul dealer to stay open an extra 15 minutes to rent me something like what I rented in the first place. It will cost me a few bucks more but at least I got what I needed.

I’m hoping this was an aberration on Enterprise’s part. As I said above, I’ve rented cars from them before without a hitch. Customers don’t expect perfection but they do expect to be told when there is a problem and to be told what you’re doing to solve it. I wasn’t told there was a problem until it was too late, and what they had done was to throw up their hands when they couldn’t find a replacement in their own inventory (ever hear of an airline rebooking you on another airline? Maybe get one from someone else?). The goodwill you’ll generate by doing so will outweigh the negative of the moment.  You with me?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?, What's Going On

6 Ways Your Business Might Be Narcissistic

You might have been hearing a lot about narcissism lately. Since we don’t do politics here we won’t go into the reasons why that is, but since it’s been front and center I thought I’d do a little reading on the topic. I came across this summary in Psychology Today which I’d encourage you to read. See if it sounds like anyone you know or might have read about.

In any event, as I was reading it I realized that the traits narcissists exhibit are often displayed by some brands or businesses as well. As with people, I think displaying some of the traits I’m about to mention are signs of a personality disorder. The brands are sick, in other words. As with any illness, they require treatment, but the first step to fixing the illness is to diagnose it. Let’s see if any of these traits, sound like your business.

Oil on canvas

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • You have a grandiose sense of self-importance. You don’t acknowledge that you’re one of many potential solutions to a customer’s problem. In fact, you might just think customers are there to solve your problems;
  • You lack empathy: your company is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others – customers, vendors, even your own employees;
  • You show arrogant, haughty [rude and abusive] behaviors or attitudes. Customer service is impersonal and rarely resolves the problem to the customer’s satisfaction, putting the business first;
  • A corollary to that is that people who criticize your business are written off as idiots because you believe that you and your products are “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions). You know: people who “get” it;
  • Your business puts out inordinately self-righteous and defensive messages. The brand is never wrong, even when it’s clear you are (look up the Apple response to complaints about the iPhone 4 dropping calls. Apple’s response? People are holding the phone incorrectly);
  • Finally, you often react to contrary viewpoints with anger or rage. This might be social media comments you delete or refuse to acknowledge or it might be to bar certain press from your events. You might “ban” a customer because they’re too demanding or undercut people who criticize you rather than discuss the merits of their claims.

If three or more of the above signs sound familiar to how your business behaves, you need help. As with narcissistic people, narcissistic businesses have a lot of difficulty maintaining healthy relationships. As we all know, it’s those relationships with our customers and others that keep us in business. Without them, we’re dead. OK?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?

Willfully Ignorant

At the risk of being redundant, I’m going on a bit of a rant today about ignorance. It’s a topic I’ve touched on before but it seems as if something happens each day, either in the business world or elsewhere, that makes me feel as if I need to get this off my chest.

The hardest thing in business these days is seeing over the horizon. I think the people and enterprises that “win” are the ones whose horizon is just a bit further off, allowing them to see a little more of the road in front of them. I also believe that the way we can extend our horizons is through information. That impels each of us to seek out information about anything and everything that can help us improve our vision. Information about our market. Information about our customers. Information about our competitors. Information about the world around us.

What has me ranting today is the amount of willful ignorance I see. It’s one thing not to have information. It’s another thing if the information doesn’t exist. It’s absurd, however, to know that information is out there and even to have it offered to you and to decline it. Even worse is to hear about what the information source has to say and to challenge its reality based on nothing other than your own gut feel. That’s insane.

The worst part is that some of the folks who participate in this insanity do so out of hubris. They are the personifications of “let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good story” or in the way of their own ignorant beliefs. That’s not to say they’re stupid. Many of the folks I’ve met who act this way are quite intelligent. They’re just too smitten with their own success to date to believe anything but their own guts.

I wrote about the role of intuition in business (there is one!) a little while back. Intuition is NOT “I know better than anyone.” It’s not throwing out factual information because it conflicts with your world view. It’s certainly not being willfully ignorant.

So today’s bit of business advice is to choose knowledge. Rather than willfully ignorant, be aggressively knowledgable. See further over the horizon and you’ll make better decisions. OK?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?, Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

Hashing It All Out

This Foodie Friday, the subject is hash. Not the kind you smoke (although there are smokey kinds of hash made from leftover barbecue) but the kind you’d have for a hearty start to your day. The most common kind is hash made from corned beef, potatoes, and onions, but as with most food things, there are endless variations. Ever heard of red-flannel hash? It featured beets along with corned beef. Has your has ever been bound together with a white sauce? It may have been if you live in the mid-west. The aforementioned use of barbecue in southern hashes, the use of meats other than corned beef, and different types or preparations of potatoes can offer up nearly endless varieties of what is a very basic dish.

Corned beef hash at the Creamery (Nina's break...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m a fan of crispy corned beef hash made with home fries and caramelized onions. Add a couple of poached eggs which will create an unctuous sauce when pierced and I’m in breakfast heaven. Unfortunately, many of us have been presented with a plate of “corned beef’ in a form that’s unrecognizable and that often prejudices our view of what can be an elevated experience with something quite humble. As it turns out, it happens in business too.

Every culture has a variation on hash. In each of those, the dish emerged from a desire to conserve resources and not waste food. At the same time, we all know it can be boring to eat the same thing over and over again. Hash (from the French word, hacher, to chop) is nothing more than transforming resources that might have been tossed aside into something new and wonderful.

That’s a great goal for any of us in business. Maybe a product or a project has become boring, both to you and to your customers. How can it become hash – something new and wonderful? Maybe a valuable employee has been in the same role for a while and the level of productivity is beginning to drop as boredom sets in. How can you and the employee make hash together out of the ingredients that made the employee great in the first place?

Ultimately, one reason I’m a fan of hash is that it takes things that might be tossed aside and makes them great again. Isn’t that a great goal for any of us in business?

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud