Tag Archives: managing

Mounting On The Right

Let’s begin this week with a question for all you folks who like to ride horses. In fact, if you’ve ever been on a horse, you can probably try to answer it too. Here we go: on which side of the horse do we ALWAYS mount and dismount? Now that’s pretty simple, right? It’s the left side. In fact, you’ll almost always see the horse being led by someone on the left side as well. The real question is why, and that’s where things get interesting for your business.

No, there isn’t a physiological reason we do this. Most horses aren’t blind on their right sides so we’re not going to spook them. Basically, we mount from the left because it’s traditional. Unlike some traditions, this one has a practical reason for existing. Many of the people who rode horses hundred of years ago also were wearing swords, which were generally worn on a person’s left side so they could grab it with their right hand. If you tried to mount a horse from the right, the sword you wore on your left would get in the way, and no one wants to impale either themselves or their mount.

Those days of swords are long gone for most of us but the tradition of mounting from the left continues. Is there really anything preventing us from training a horse to accept mounts from the right side? Not really – we just don’t. That answer is probably applicable to something you’re doing in your business as well. Reports that get cranked out week after week or meetings that get held without fail. Maybe those things had a very good reason for existing when they began (maybe back in the days of swords!) but don’t really now.

The point is that we need to constantly be asking ourselves why things are the way that they are. Circumstances change constantly. Markets change and so do customer needs and preferences. It might just be time to ask yourself if it’s appropriate to try the right side, don’t you think?

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Filed under Consulting, Thinking Aloud

Happy Faces

According to a piece published by the BBC, scientists have found that goats are drawn to humans with happy facial expressions. There was a study done in which researchers showed goats pairs of photos of the same person, one of them featuring an angry expression, and the other a happy one. The goats overwhelmingly went to the picture of the happy face. They also spent more time examining the happy face photo (we social scientists might call that better engagement!).

Notwithstanding whatever application this has to working with goats, all I can say is DUH! Who among us walks into a bar and heads for the person with a scowl on their face when there are smiling people about? My grandmother would call them farbissinas – sour pusses – and it was about the worst thing she ever called anyone.

Happy people are better businesspeople. Happy people tend to be honest, they tend to be nice, they tend to cooperate, and I think they have more emotional intelligence. All of those things make for better team members. They play well in the sandbox with the other kids, which is one of the most important things I used to look for when hiring.

You can’t be happy if you hold on to grudges. By doing that you’re focusing on the past rather than on today. It’s hard to be happy if you worry about every little thing (sweating the small stuff) when you should be focusing on the things that matter and that you can control. There is nothing wrong with being detail-oriented (in fact, it’s a great trait!) but the details should pertain to those big things. Optimists are generally happy, even in the face of bad things happening. People who attack the problems that arise as challenges and not as…well…problems tend to be happy too.

All of those characteristics make up the kind of folks we should want on our teams. Maybe I’m more of an old goat, but I gravitate to happy people. You?

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Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

The Sense Of Being Valued

I was reading an article about an emerging form of advertising the other day. It’s a form in which people who view ads are paid for having done so. You can read the article about it here but one thing in the article got me thinking and I hope it has the same effect on you.

The CEO of the company that’s doing this – AdWallet – was asked if this was just “slackers” trying to put a few extra bucks in their pockets. What he had to say was this:

They’re not Millennial slackers looking to earn money on the side, he says. Instead, the average AdWallet user is 45 years or older and earns more than $100,000 a year. The main reason they have been using the platform, he says, is not the money, but the sense of being valued (emphasis added).

That’s something that often gets lost in the marketing process, especially when expressing value to our customers takes a backseat to making more money off of them. For example, many companies are using chat-bots for customer service. Nothing infuriates me more than when I have a problem and, after having tried to solve the problem myself, I call customer service only to reach a phone tree. Reaching a bot instead of a human using many companies’ “live chat” help feature is just as bad. The message I get is “we value profits more than we value you.”

It’s almost as bad as when I get a human and they have no insight at all as to who I am. I give them account information or order numbers and they have no record of past transactions or the fact that I might have called in the past with an issue. I had this experience recently with one of the large ticketing companies. I was supposed to get a CD with at ticket purchase and the code they sent didn’t work. I spent 20 minutes reaching a human who promised me to get back to me with an answer. It’s been two months: No CD and no explanation. Message received: “we are so damn big that we don’t have to care.”

I’ve had similar issues with financial service companies (almost an oxymoron there since their “service” is non-existent) and many others, as I’m sure you have. Yes, I sometimes express my frustration via social media and here on the screed. More often than not I do whatever I can do to avoid interacting with this company again, taking my business elsewhere is at all possible.

When I was running an online commerce store I used to remind our customer service types that I didn’t expect them to solve every problem that arose. What I did expect, however, is that every single customer knew that we valued them, were listening. and would do whatever we could to rectify the issue even if it meant we’d sacrifice some margin by expending time and resources to do so. It’s always easier to retain and up-sell an existing customer than to find a new customer. You do that by letting them know how much you value them on a regular basis. What was the last time you did that?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?

Married To Making A Decision

I had one of those wonderful Dad moments over the weekend. We walked our youngest daughter down the aisle to meet her true love under the wedding canopy. It’s one of those moments that really don’t hit you until you’re standing there at the back looking down the aisle. In my case, 28 years of this child’s (now woman’s) life came flooding back in a rush. I wonder what the pictures captured as we walked her forward?

Of course, the 48 hours preceding the wedding were a minor nightmare as family, friends, and others hustled to transform a huge empty space into a magical circus that could seat 130 for dinner as well as for the wedding ceremony. Place settings, table and site decorations, room for aerialists and fire-breathers (I’m not kidding), as well as dancing and food all needed to be pulled together. And that’s what leads to today’s screed because the entire process reminded me of one thing.

Nothing happens without someone making a decision. That sounds awfully basic but it almost crippled us as we set the wedding up. First, no one was really in charge and empowered to have the final call. Does the salad plate sit on the table or on the dinner plate? 10-minute discussion. Where should the dessert bar go? 10-minute discussion. Silverware rolled into napkins or placed separately? 10-minute discussion. Meanwhile, a dozen helpers are sitting idle and the clock is ticking.

It’s critical that decisions get made. It’s critical that there be firm deadlines set by which they’ll get made and that someone is empowered to make the decision at that deadline if one hasn’t been reached in some other way. The team needs to have a roadmap, a project plan with milestones. It’s a guide which can limit distractions (and emergency trips to the store!). Don’t go chasing every shiny object that presents itself and keep to the deadlines you set. Appoint a “benevolent monarch” whose word is law when those deadlines come.

As with most productions, there were things that didn’t go as planned and, as with most productions, no one in the audience noticed. The bride was gorgeous, the drinks were cold, and the dance floor crowded. The most important decision did get made: for two people to spend their lives together. We were all just lucky enough to watch that marriage happen. You, however, can’t run your business just on luck. Make some decisions!

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Filed under Helpful Hints

Wanting And Needing

If you hang around the candy aisle of the supermarket long enough, I can pretty much guarantee you that you’ll hear some kid yell at their parent that they “need it” with a large bag of candy in their hand. At that moment, I think the kid believes it. Hopefully, the parent explains the difference between “needing” and “wanting”. Hopefully, that’s something you can recognize in your business life too.

A need is something you must have to survive. As humans, water, food, and shelter are about the extent of those needs (I put clothing and warmth under the shelter heading). As a business, the fundamental need is to make a profit. Without that, no business can survive over the long term. In order to make those profits, you need money coming in, which means you also need customers who will pay you for your product or service. As with any need, once we have satisfied it we can move on to the “want.” You want customers who are happy so they stick around. You want customers who are pleasant so you can interact with them without drama. You need to have people working with you who are loyal and knowledgeable so they support your customers. You want them to stick around for the long term at a reasonable cost to the business.

The hard part for me when I began consulting was that I think I probably spent too much effort helping clients get the wants and not enough time focused on the needs. Rookie mistake, one I don’t make now. I’m not surprised when a client and I get into the need/want discussion and there is a bit of a disconnect. With early-stage companies especially, you have to get the needs shored up.

I try to focus on telling clients what they need to hear, which is not necessarily what they want to hear (see what I did there?). I did the same when I was part of a larger organization, sometimes to my detriment, I’ll admit. I did learn that the people who can hear things that are true but sometimes unpleasant are the ones with whom you want to work. They have learned that the bag of candy is a want, but those wants might not be affordable or necessary. They might even be detrimental. Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, Thinking Aloud

Finding The Black Swan

Many centuries ago, people were convinced that there were no such things as black swans. That thinking is so old, in fact, that there are references to it in Roman literature. That thinking was disproven around 1700 when a group of explorers sighted some black swans in Australia.

Since then, the term “black swan” is used to refer to something that, as Wikipedia states:

comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight.

If you’re in business, I’m sure you’re familiar with black swans even if you’ve never called them by that name. My team often used the Monty Python quote that “NO-body expects the Spanish Inquisition!” when something surprising would happen.

I don’t think of Black Swans as negatives, necessarily. In fact, it’s exactly the sort of rare bird we should be seeking in business on many levels. For example, you’ve read many times in this space about the need to understand your customer. If you’re approaching them with an open mind, what you might find can be surprising. You might find, say, that your ad that’s aspirational in nature might have the exact opposite effect on your audience – it reminds them of what they don’t have and makes them mad.

Where I find Black Swans particularly useful is in negotiating. It’s critical to understand the needs and wants of the person with whom you’re negotiating and to get on the same side of the desk as they are, meaning you’re not in an adversarial position. In the process of doing that discovery, you often find a Black Swan – something you didn’t know about them or about something that’s part of their bottom line for the negotiation. Every party in a negotiation has a bottom line – things they can’t or won’t give up – while other things are far more fungible. Unless and until you can understand what those things are, you’re wasting time. If you find a Black Swan in the process, it’s important that you incorporate it unless it crosses your bottom line.

Part of finding the Black Swan is keeping an open mind, whether it’s in negotiating or in reading data or even in a brainstorming session. Be open to possibilities even if they don’t match your current understanding of the world. The Black Seans are out there – find them!

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Conducting

Did you play in your school’s band or orchestra? Maybe you sang in the chorus? I did all of those as well as in the school’s jazz band. If you did, you came face to face with a conductor. For those of you unfamiliar with how a conductor operates, I’ll spend a few words on the topic. For those of you already familiar, please keep reading because those hours spent under their baton can tell you a lot about business.

Whether you played in an ensemble or just listened, you’ve seen a conductor at work. Their right hand, usually the one holding the baton, keeps time. Their left hand, the far more expressive one, serves many purposes; among them cueing various instruments, helping the musicians understand the dynamic you want to project or the phrasing you’re after.

One of my childhood memories is of seeing Leonard Bernstein conducting the NY Philharmonic. He conducted the orchestra in a way that was a cross between dancing as a listener and working hard as a musician. There is no doubt, if you watch old videos of him, what he is trying the get from his musicians. That’s not true of all conductors.

What you probably never thought of is how anticipatory conducting really is. It begins in rehearsal, where the conductor will often stop and explain what he or she is after. The musicians are learning what each gesture means and they get a sense of the speed and phrasing the conductor wants. It’s assumed the musicians already know the notes and heaven help the musician who causes the conductor to stop and demand the musician play a phrase the conductor heard as wrong. It also means the conductor is a few beats ahead of his musicians so he can cue them, hopefully in a way that also tells them how he wants the upcoming music played.

What does this have to do with business? A lot. I always looked at my role as being similar to an orchestra leader. My job was to bring coherence to a large, diverse group of executives who played very different roles. I kept time with one hand, meaning that I set goals for the entire group and established how we’d get there. With the other hand, I let individual elements within the group know when to speak up. Most importantly, we rehearsed. No, I didn’t have my group do things just for the sake of doing them. I did, however, ask them a lot of questions to make sure they knew the music and that when it came time for them to be front and center they would shine. I was careful to be clear about what I wanted and about what I meant when I asked for something. I was also a few beats ahead at all times.

Watch some of the great conductors. Bernstein, Loren Maazel, Seiji Ozawa, and others. There are some great business lessons there, don’t you think?

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Filed under Music, Thinking Aloud