Tag Archives: management

Getting The Message

You may have read about a missile alert issued in Hawaii a couple of weeks ago. A worker mistakenly believed that there was an incoming missile attack and issued an alarm. The initial report was that he had hit the wrong button on a drop-down menu. As it turns out, he had missed the part of the incoming alert message that said it was an exercise. The message itself also included the words “this is not a drill” (it shouldn’t have) which proved to be confusing at best and terrifying at worst.

As I read about this, I thought about how many times employees don’t hear the messages we send them. This particular employee had a track record, according to reports, of confusing real-world events and drills several times over the last decade. While I’m not sure this is the individual I would want in a critical role, that fact that he was should have reminded his management to be absolutely clear when giving him instructions.

You don’t think this kind of miscommunication could happen in your business? Well, maybe not, but let me ask you a few questions.

  • Do you ever tell your staff that it’s OK to fail and yet punish people who do so at review time?
  • Do you ever tell people to innovate and yet get mad when they don’t follow protocols you’ve established?
  • Do you ever tell anyone to work carefully and yet push them to make an unrealistic deadline?
  • Do you ever refuse to prioritize their work with them and instead tell them that “everything is a big priority”?

Those are the same type of confusing, conflicting messages as the guy heard in Hawaii, and just as in that situation the chances are good that the recipient will mishear and push the wrong button (or, as in this case, the right button at the wrong time). Putting aside the fact that the Hawaiians did themselves no favors by allowing one individual to issue an alert (they’ve remedied that – it now takes two to do so), or that the individual in question had made similar mistakes in the past,  the fault lies just as much with the supervisor who issued conflicting instructions (This is an exercise/this is not a drill). It’s a mistake no supervisor can afford to make unless they enjoy creating terror in their businesses. Now, who wants that?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Huh?

Deglazing

This Foodie Friday I want to talk about deglazing. It’s a very basic technique for sauce-making but it’s also a word that scares a lot of people when they see it in a recipe. As it turns out, it also has something to do with business.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, deglazing is nothing more than using some sort of liquid to loosen the bits leftover in a pan (called fond) after you’ve cooked something in that pan. Say, for example, you’ve made a roast and after you pour out the accumulated fat and juices, you see a lot of crispy bits clinging to the pan. You would deglaze the pan by heating it and pouring in a liquid. It can be as basic as water but wine or stock is preferable because you’re going to use the resulting liquid as the foundation for a sauce or gravy. You’re doing yourself a great disservice if you don’t deglaze your pans!

I suspect some of you out there just toss the fond – you scrape the remnants into the trash. Well, as the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and that’s where the business thought comes in. How many businesses have been built around taking what someone has discarded and finding a new or better use for it? The entire recycling industry is built around that notion. While we’ve been recycling things for centuries, especially during shortages of raw materials created by war, the modern industry is just about 50 years old and is a $500 billion enterprise.

The point today is to get you to ask yourself what might be incredibly useful and productive in your business that you might be discarding. It could be a person, it could be a product that’s underperforming because it’s not sexy and no one wants to work on it, or it could be an unexplored portion of the data you gather. These things might just be fond, and with a little deglazing they can be transformed. What do you think?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Snowing Our Ignorance

It’s snowing here in Central North Carolina. Again. Is that unusual? Well, the area usually gets less than 6 inches of snow a year and we’re about to get 4 or so. We also got a few inches several weeks ago. When we got a dusting (and to my Yankee friends I know that 6 inches are pretty much just a dusting) of snow last year – maybe half an inch – the area came to a complete halt and schools were shut for 4 days. You can imagine what 4 inches will do. Fortunately, by the weekend it will be near 70 degrees so the accumulation shouldn’t be around very long.

Photo by Catherine Zaidova

Other than venting about the golf courses being covered in white, why do I bring this up? Because it’s symptomatic of something which has business implications. Increased snowfall, extreme temperature changes, and other weather phenomena are indicative of something going on. It’s pretty clear that something has changed and yet there are those who turn a scientific and factual issue into a political one. Folks, you can call it climate change or you can call it Fred but no matter what you call it, it is real.

You know, of course, that we don’t do politics here on the screed and my point isn’t that we need to acknowledge that the weird weather everywhere is the result of climate change. The point is that any businessperson can give their own interpretation about what they see going on in the market and in their own enterprise. The problem is that sometimes their interpretation conflicts with the empirical evidence – the facts. A single data point isn’t a reason to change your entire strategy, but when you have enough data points to produce a reliable trend, attention must be paid.

There are some very famous studies that were conducted by Stanford in 1975. They showed how people’s opinions are often unmoved by facts. One need not go a heck of a lot further than your own Facebook feed to see one person trying to change another’s mind using some fact-based evidence and failing miserably. The cold weather and snow here remind me that you can deny the facts but that denial won’t keep the snow from falling. Question the sources of information, question the interpretation of information, but once those questions are answered, don’t deny the facts. You still will have to shovel up the aftermath regardless. Make sense?

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Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

50 Years On

As I sat down to write this morning’s screed with Dr. King’s birthday on my mind, I realized that it’s been 50 years since that horrible year of 1968. I was 13 at the time and if you’re younger than about 55 today you probably have no memories of the almost non-stop bad news. It’s hard to believe but things seemed even more screwed up and polarized that they do today. The day Dr. King was shot is one of my indelible memories and the killing of Bobby Kennedy two months later snuffed out a small glimmer of hope that Dr. King’s legacy might come to fruition soon. It took another 40 years for that although there are valid arguments that we as a country are still waiting in many ways.

With that, what follows is my post on celebrating Dr, King and his message from a few years ago. It’s about listening, something many of us don’t do often enough. Maybe you can give it a try this week?

Today is the day we pause to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday.  I went back and looked at my post from two years ago, which was about dreams – specifically one of Dr. King’s dreams becoming a reality.  That was sort of focused on what he saw – his vision.  Today I want to focus on one of the great man’s best qualities that influenced how he acted to make that vision real.  I think it’s applicable to business.  No, it’s not going to be another ethics rant (although those are never out of style in my book).  Today, it’s about the most important skill I think all great businesspeople – and great leaders – possess.

To me, great leaders serve to fulfill the needs of their people.  For Dr. King, it meant endless meetings with various groups to understand their concerns and explain how broadening civil liberties to be more inclusive could help meet them.  For those of us in business, it means paying more attention to the concerns of our customers and co-workers than to our own agenda – these folks ARE our agenda to a certain extent, along with the underlying needs of our businesses.  In a word – listen.

Everyone wants to feel as if their ideas and thoughts are being heard if not acted upon. Without someone hearing them, acting on those concerns is impossible. Listening, then speaking, brings trust.

I know this isn’t a new thought in this space but it came to mind on this day thinking of Dr. King.  If you go back to the early days of Dr. King’s involvement in the civil rights movement, it’s pretty clear that he was a reluctant leader. He was drafted to lead and was kind of unsure of himself.  As he listened to the members of the community and other clergies, he realized that he was simply a voice for the community and their agenda became his agenda.

Many of you will be familiar with Stephen R. Covey, who wrote that we ought to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  I think Dr. King if he read pop-psychology, would have appreciated that.

What are you listening to today?

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Filed under Growing up, Helpful Hints, What's Going On

The Razzie Goes To…

I went to see a movie Saturday afternoon and ended up seeing a lot more than I had intended. It became a great learning experience about trying to solve one problem and creating a much more severe issue in the process.

The movie itself was fine (“Darkest Hour,” a little long but great performances). It was what I saw going on several times in the lobby which provided the learning experience. Apparently, this theater has a policy that kids under age 17 cannot attend a movie Friday-Sunday after 4pm without an accompanying adult. That’s right – any movie, even a G-rated one. It’s a relatively new policy too since there were several people there who had thought they’d go into one theater while their teen-aged kids went to see something else. They were engaged with the person taking tickets as well as with the customer service desk and someone I assume was a manager. The exchanges weren’t going well.

A few things from which we all can learn. First, this policy is nowhere to be found on the theater’s website or Facebook page. From the comments on the Facebook page, some parents had even dropped off their 15-year-old kids only to be called to come back since they weren’t being admitted to a PG-13 movie. If you’re going to make a change in your policies, make them loudly and often. Obviously, people do check movie times before showing up – how about making sure that every time your theater displays that your new policy does as well? BY the way, there is still no official announcement of this on their Facebook page despite numerous (negative) comments about it.

Second. This theater could not care less about customer service. How do I know? Two ways for starters. The person at the customer service desk was doing anything but serving the customer. They had a “take it or leave it” attitude and when I heard someone say “we won’t be back to this theater” his dismissed it with a “that’s fine.” He also said the policy was a safety issue and when one mom pointed to her three 13-year-old girls, asking if they looked dangerous, his response was “yes.” Really?

The other thing that this theater does it to respond to every Facebook comment, good or bad, with exactly the same cut and paste copy. There is no acknowledgment of the specific issue nor anything beyond a link to their corporate customer service page (they’re part of a chain) which is basically kicking a local issue into a much larger, less likely to be served bin. The funny thing is the copy: We strive to give you the best experience and would like the opportunity to give you a 5-star experience, next time. Not so much, and why would anyone with an issue come back?

I do understand why this policy is in place. The theater has had trouble on Friday and Saturday nights with teenagers acting up: making noise, throwing food, using their phones to take pictures, etc. As with most things, it’s a very small group that causes the problem and the theater’s management has chosen to paint with an extremely wide brush in an attempt to solve it. In the process, they’ve alienated many customers. There is another multiplex showing most of the same movies not very far away. Which would you choose as a parent?

I wonder if they did a cost/benefit analysis? What would it cost to hire extra security on weekends? How about a few more ushers? How many admissions and concession sales are lost to the new policy? Moreover, what is the value of the goodwill seeing the extra security vs. the negative effect of this? What 16-year old wants to be told they need to have Mommy go with them to the movies?

They give out The Razzies to films or acting performances in films considered to be the worst of the year. I’d give this theater one for their “problem-solving” and customer service performances. You?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?

Most Read Posts Of 2017 – #3

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas or at least a nice day off! This week I’ll be posting the posts written in 2017 that were read the most. This first one was written last April after I had some sort of a cold (I’d actually forgotten that!). Originally titled “Clear Headed,” it’s a reminder that decisions made under sub-optimal circumstances are often themselves suboptimal (I’m being kind – they usually are horrible). Enjoy!

I’ve been MIA from this space for a few days (hopefully you’ve noticed). I caught some kind of a bug and it pretty much laid me out for a few days. Body aches, a little congestion, and a foggy brain. I had zero energy and just wanted to sleep. More importantly, I couldn’t really focus my thinking on anything.

This may come as a shock to you but I do put a fair amount of what I hope is clear-headed thought into the screed. While I might have been able to force myself to spend a lot of extra time to write something, I thought it a better course of (in)action just to give it a rest. I’m a big believer in doing nothing when one’s head is foggy and let me explain why.

“Foggy” to me just doesn’t mean the state I’ve been in over the last few days. Foggy is when things are unclear at all. It may be because you’re distracted or it may be because the information you need to make a decision is incomplete, unclear, or inadequate. Jason Day, for example, withdrew from a golf tournament a couple of weeks ago because he was distracted by the fact that his mom was having surgery (she’s fine) and he couldn’t focus. Rather than making bad decisions on the course, he made a great one and left it.

Each of us needs to think along the same lines. Sure, sometimes fuzzy logic is called for because we can’t get enough information. In and of itself, that’s a clear-headed decision you make. Oftentimes, however, anything from a cold to a hangover to a family matter to office politics can reduce or eliminate your ability to focus. Those are the times when we need more time because I don’t concur that a bad decision is always better than no decision.

What do you think?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, What's Going On

The Ninth Candle

Last night was the first night of Hanukkah. You’ve probably seen a version of the candelabra that is used to hold the candles that are lit each night of the holiday. You might not, however, have noticed that while the holiday goes for 8 nights there are spaces for 9 candles in the candelabra, called a Menorah. The ninth candle is our business topic today.

That candle is called the shamash in Hebrew, which translates to “helper” or “servant.” It’s not like the other candles in that it sits either higher or lower than the others in the menorah. It’s used to light the other candles, and although it burns just as brightly and sits in the same candelabra, it’s different.

What this brings to mind is how those of us who have grown up into managers and executives become very much like the ninth candle. We’re servants and helpers. Our job is to help the other members of the team to do their job, much like the shamash enables the other candles. Where we get into trouble is when we forget that. The people who actually do the work don’t serve us. They serve the organization, its goals, and customers.

Think about the best boss you’ve ever had (and I hope you’ve had some great ones!). My guess is that they were clear communicators who respected you as a person and as a professional. They probably never talked down to you when you didn’t understand something and were always pushing you to be your best self. They were also willing to get you whatever you needed to do your job, to the extent they could whether that’s a better computer or a pencil. They were also unwilling to let a weak team member jeopardize the entire team so they were clear about standards and held everyone to the same ones.

As you pass by a menorah (whether it’s a real one or a picture) this Hanukkah, remind yourself that while you may be the boss, you’re also a shamash, a ninth candle that’s a part of the team. You might sit higher up but you’re really there to help. Make sense?

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Filed under Thinking Aloud, What's Going On