Tag Archives: managing

The Stain On Your Back

I’m going to be a little self-serving today, but it’s based on a comment someone made to me the other day. You’ll probably be able to figure out what the comment was as you read on.

Imagine that on your way to an appointment a drop of something – coffee from someone’s cup, condensation from an air conditioner – spills onto your shirt. You’d see it and deal with it immediately if it was on the front of your shirt. If it spills onto the back, you’d probably not even notice it until some kind-hearted soul mentions it. That, dear readers, is why you need people like me.

When I grew up in the business world, I had a lot of people coaching me. My immediate boss and his boss were always ready to encourage me (and not always in the nicest of tones) and help me to grow. They let me know where the less-visible (to me) stains were. That situation is less common today in a world where there are a million corporations of one as opposed to a large company. Today’s smaller companies have much less institutional memory from which they can draw as well as less personal experience on the part of the founders and employees.

Part of what I do is to coach. I’ve run into some potential clients who tell me that they don’t need coaching, just more hands to do the work. While the latter half of that statement is assuredly true, they also need someone to point out the stains on their backs. Most consultants I know don’t have a political agenda. We’re not after your job nor are we burdened with your past or present. We are charged with helping you and your business to grow. No, you can’t do the latter without doing the former. A business is only as good as the people managing it. My peers and I are there to look at your situation and to help you reach your goals.

I’ve been doing “business” for almost 40 years (yikes!). In that time I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I’ve seen a lot of others do the same. I’ve seen great managers and horrible managers. Part of what clients pay me for is an insurance policy of sorts. My experience ensures them that they won’t have to make the same mistakes I did. They get the benefit of the learning without the pain of the experience. What I and my peers bring is why football teams have coaches up high in the stadium – to get a broader perspective.

Most professional golfers have swing coaches. All sports teams do too. The coaches aren’t caught up in the second to second physical involvement that sport requires. They can see and protect your back. I can do that too, by seeing the parts of you and your business that you can’t or won’t see and by letting you know what’s going on in those blind spots. Call me?

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Filed under Consulting, Reality checks

The Cobra Effect

If you heard any news this weekend, you probably are aware of the Executive Order banning folks from certain countries from entering the United States. I expect that the folks who issued the order felt that they were doing something pretty straightforward. Instead, they ended up preventing workers with visas, legal residents with green cards, and a host of others who have all their legal certifications in order from traveling here.

English: Indian Spectacled Cobra, Naja Naja Fa...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since we’re not a political blog, I’m going to put aside humanitarian concerns and politics and instead focus on what one must assume are unintended consequences of the order. It’s the “Cobra Effect” come to life yet again. Unfamiliar with that? It got its name based on what happened when the Indian government offered rewards for dead cobras in an effort to cure a plague of them. Rather than decreasing the number of cobras, people began breeding them and killing them for the reward money. When the government figured this out they stopped paying for them. People released the cobras they no longer needed. Net effect? More cobras and lots of wasted money. Unintended consequences personified!

So how do we avoid the Cobra Effect in our businesses? Not by preserving the status quo since that’s rarely an option. It’s actually as simple as taking the time to think through what possible effects a particular action might have. “If we do this, that might happen.” Don’t be bashful about throwing out absurd conclusions, either. There are many examples those absurdities becoming reality (you gain more weight when you skip meals? Really?).

I guess my thinking is to go fast but do so slowly. Push for change and evolve your products, services, and business, but do so in a manner that thinks through as many of the potential effects those changes could bring about as you can imagine and avoid the Cobra Effect. Make sense?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?

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

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

Top Posts Of The Year #4

Courtesy Jeffrey Beall

Each year at this time, I repost the most read 4 “regular” posts and the top Foodie Friday post from this calendar year. That’s what I’ll be doing this week. The #4 most-read post was written prior to the Super Bowl and was a pre-game appreciation for Peyton Manning‘s last game. Originally titled “The Wily Old Veteran,” it deals with things one learns over time. In retrospect, it was probably a bit of a love note to my fellow “experienced” business people too. Enjoy!

The Super Bowl is this Sunday and if you’re not going to be watching it you are a member of a small minority in this country. It’s been hard to avoid hearing about the upcoming tilt for weeks, and it has become almost impossible this week. That’s not a complaint, by the way. I’m a huge fan and while it’s sad to see the NFL season end, this year’s game offers us something of a business lesson as part of the deal.

Amidst all of the hoopla, you might have heard Peyton Manning’s name more than once. If you follow the game at all you’re aware that he is a guaranteed first-ballot Hall Of Fame player who might be playing in his last game. You might also be aware that he missed a significant part of the regular season with a foot injury. In his place, Brock Osweiler came in and lead the team to a number of victories. He is clearly Denver’s quarterback of the future. Even after Manning got healthy, Osweiler had the starting job and was only back on the bench after Denver stumbled in a late season game and Manning came in. So why is Manning starting the Super Bowl?

You might say “oh, it’s a tribute to his wonderful career and that must be respected.” The real answer is the business point today. As an article written about the game said

Manning, not Osweiler, will start Sunday against the Carolina Panthers after reclaiming the job he lost to foot problems and turnovers earlier in the season. The five-time MVP‘s experience outweighed his limitations for the stretch run on a Denver team that relies on the running game and defense.

Experience isn’t something that you can teach – it’s something you need to gain over time. As I tell clients – most of whom are younger than I am – you hire me in part so that you don’t make all the mistakes I’ve made over the years. While you can stay up all night to work through a problem, I have probably faced the same problem multiple times over the last 40 years.  It might be possible to read about business and to learn (and I encourage you to do so!), but there is no substitute for living through business situations.  That takes time, patience, an open mind, and a willingness to accept that there might be many valid solutions to the problem you’re facing.

I will be rooting for the wily old veteran to have a good game no matter how his team does.  Every team needs one to help lead them into battle.  How about yours?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

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?