Sunday, December 12, 2010

Your Job: Customer Service

When service at a restaurant isn’t quite what we expect it to be, the general tendency is to blame the server. The wait staff is the restaurant’s front line and that is where we gain our perspective. However, if the kitchen is slow, the chef does not cook the food as instructed or management has not scheduled enough bus boys, the dining experience is going to be less than it otherwise could be. We express our discontent with the service through lowering the gratuity, focusing our consternation on the wait staff. Finally, we do not return to the establishment.

The restaurant is not unlike any other industry in this aspect. The customer service representative or field sales representative is the face the customer is going to see or the voice on the phone but the service and goods for which they are paying is affected by everyone at the company. Customer service is everyone’s responsibility. From the building engineer and maintenance crew to the CEO, the work each individual does has some affect on the customer’s perspective and feelings toward the company.

Customer service guru, Ken Blanchard asserts, “Customer service should not be a department, customer service is everyone's job.”

Yes, customer service is everyone’s job. Yes, we all serve customers of one sort or another. The customer we serve may be internal (IT services the needs of the company’s infrastructure and thus most of the employees are their customers) or the more traditional external customers and service partners who use the company’s products or services.

Ken Blanchard’s company conducted a study on customer service and customer loyalty, surveying nearly a thousand line managers, human resources and training executives:

“Blanchard research over the past five years places customer loyalty as the fourth most important management challenge. In the same studies, customer relationship skills were cited as the second most important employee development skill, ranking just behind managerial skills.

“Most participating organizations agree that customer loyalty is a powerful driver of organizational success and one that ties directly to the bottom line. Statistics show that it can cost six to seven times more to gain a new customer than to retain an existing one. Expenses related to customer losses cause many companies to recognize the need to channel resources toward retention.”
The research showed four skills that were in the most need of improvement:
  1. Developing systems and processes that make it easy to do business with the organization

  2. Improving the skills of customer-facing employees to diagnose the customer issue

  3. Improving problem solving skills

  4. Empowering people to utilize their scope of authority
This is a start. The customer is going to make their decision about a company after taking the entire experience into account. A good customer service representative cannot make up for problems in production and errors in deliverables. Every member of the staff must understand their role in making the customer feel loyalty for the organization.

The Blanchard survey further noted, “The findings from the customer loyalty survey support earlier Blanchard research which documented that there is a direct connection between leadership, employee passion, and customer devotion.”

Ian Miller, editor of, sat down with Ken Blanchard for a lunch interview. During the interview a couple points were made about how true leaders put others before themselves.

“What needs to happen is for the pyramid to be flipped over, so that frontline people - the people who are closest to the customers - are at the top. Leaders become servant leaders and are responsive to employee's needs and allow them to accomplish the company’s goals and create Raving Fans.

“... I had one final question for Ken: “I understand you deliver a voicemail each morning to every one of your three hundred employees. If I asked you to send a voicemail to the readers of this article, what would it say?” Ken thought for a moment, then left me with this message: “You become an adult when you learn to serve others not yourself. Look at the job you do and think, who can I serve today?”
Every employee affects the customer’s experience. Every employee has responsibility for how loyal a customer is to the company. The leadership has the responsibility to help the employees service the customers’ needs well. Through proper leadership and employee actions, the customers will continue to feel that strong loyalty and return to do more business.

Additional Link (Blanchard White Paper): “The Leadership-Profit Chain” outlines the close relationship leadership skills have to an organization’s P&L: “The key to organizational vitality is creating an environment that allows employees to win and be passionate about what they do. By taking care of employees, leaders establish an environment in which the employees take care of the customers at a level that causes the customer to want to return year after year.”

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The “Good Boss”

We’ve all shared the “worst boss” stories. There seems to be an unending supply. What, however, makes for the best boss? Everyone has a boss but not everyone is impressed with the way the job is done.

The standard by which an employer is held varies depending on who is making the judgment. There are some common traits to all the better bosses. They also share some basic attitudes and abilities. Additionally, effective managers utilize solid leadership skills. Keeping this in mind, here is a short list of skills, strategies and attributes of “The Good Boss”.

1) Not a just leader but a coach. A manager wears two general hats. One is the leader’s but the other is the coach’s hat. The coach teaches, encourages and, when appropriate, corrects employees. Employee development, as is personal development, is incredibly important. A “Good Boss” uses the unique perspective to develop and encourage the employees. Additionally, while the “Good Boss” will definitely point out and help correct employee mistakes, he will certainly admit when he’s made them too.

2) Don’t fear the reaper. We’ve all heard of the boss who would look perfectly comfortable wearing a cloak and carrying a sickle. So overbearing and over-reactive, their employees feel one mistake on the job is tantamount to death. Mistakes should not be career suicide. A truly effective leader will utilize the occasional blunder to effectively develop better performance on the job. Although it isn’t a matter of a teacher in front of a bunch of kids in high school, the “Good Boss” encourages learning from mistakes rather than generating an atmosphere of anxiety.

3) Keep everyone involved. The most successful managers help everyone feel like an equal and involved member of the team. Treating employees fairly is significantly more than just compensation. The “Good Boss” encourages feedback, innovation and creativity from each member of the team. This engenders a feeling of involvement and genuine ownership. Eventually, a cohesive team develops with sights set on the business’s long-term goals.

4) Movin’ on up! Employees are looking to their superiors to help them navigate the choppy waters of advancement. More than money, team members are genuinely interested in improving and creating meaningful careers. The “Good Boss” recognizes these aspirations and helps the employee work toward their own career driven aspirations. The “Good Boss” helps the employee develop in the areas that affect their career objectives.

5) Huston we have a problem. Although the businesses operating out of sheer altruism are few and far between, the bottom line should not be the primary philosophical or practical focus. Effective leaders recognize the importance of a business mission. The “Good Boss” establishes a clear mission that serves to motivate employees and give general direction. The team works better when the underlying motivation is bigger than money – keep them from feeling the wake-up, go to work, push button A, push button B, clock out, go home, rinse repeat feeling.

6) Old dogs do learn new tricks. The “Good Boss” should recognize that much of what makes a leader effective is learned behavior. Few are born with everything it takes to be the “Good Boss”. Many of the “Best” bosses got to be the “Good Boss” through attending management classes and seminars and reading books on effective leadership. The “Good Boss” is interested in developing and honing management skills. Remember the “Good Boss” attracts top-flight employees. Certainly, we all have innate traits on which we can lean that make us each the “Good Boss” but it is our responsibility to continue to develop becoming even better.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Help Them Understand

So, you’re trying to present a proposal and a lot is riding on getting everyone on board. You think long and hard about what you want to say. That is probably your first mistake. The focus of your presentation should not be what you want to say but what you want your audience to hear.

Whether placing an order at the drive-thru, training a new employee or writing a quick memo about a change in procedure, it is all about getting the right message understood. Say it so the listeners understand it. Sometimes the message is important enough, practice and pre-written speeches are common. This is so the right context and words provide the best chance of success.

Looking at the bookstore or a quick search on the internet will reveal hundreds of books and articles describing the importance of the right words and methods. They teach how to achieve this goal. Common to most of these resources: Be concise, precise, and specific in choosing your words, regardless of whether you write them or speak them.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to present the eulogy at a funeral. Most of what I knew about the deceased was from a very narrow perspective. I knew one aspect of the man very well and could have focused the comments on that. However, the audience was expecting more than that. Tailoring my remarks to the needs of the audience was key. This is true for every situation.

Proper communication recognizes the importance of knowing your audience. Describing the new cutting edge technology to the finance department requires a different set of objectives than when you’re presenting the same equipment to the sales force. The information is completely different when the operators need to be trained. The more the message is tailored to the audience the better the point will come across.

Although the message sent is important, the message received is far more important. If you understand your audience, you can consider how they will interpret and filter what you say.

We all know to avoid using “big words” when talking to five-year-olds. They simply do not understand what we’re trying to say unless we use terminology they grasp. This same concept is true in the business world. We want to keep our vocabulary on the same level as the listener. Do not explain technology concepts to accountants using technical terms. Do not use a financial analogy to demonstrate a point to the creative department. Do not send a memo to your sales force explaining the importance of “keeping the time interval between customer-interface opportunities to a minimum.”

The best way to establish proper communication with anyone is to recognize who they are and how they process information, tailoring the message to them – focus on the receiver more than on the sender.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Managing to Manage

A few days ago I was talking with some of my cousins. One of the blessings of funerals is the family reunion. It would be nice if the family was to get together for something other than weddings and funerals but we seem to have become slaves to our work schedules. In any case, numbered among the participants of this conversation were a CEO, two CFO’s and a couple division presidents. The only thing our careers really have in common, though, is that we’re all managers. For a brief moment the conversation turned to business naturally progressing from a short discussion on the economy and the various ways we are all coping with these difficult times. The economy has had a way of forcing some changes at each of the firms represented by the different family members.

Recently, the first thing my cousin did when he promoted an accountant to Accounting Manager was to take away his calculator. It was his way of signally that as a manager he was not to be accounting anymore; his job was to manage. If a manager spends his time doing his subordinates’ work, he isn’t spending enough time planning, organizing, directing, and controlling. The conversation moved on to other family-centric subjects; however, the seed was planted.

Does a manager have to know how to do the all work he is managing? I think a general disconnect between what people understand of the roles between lead employees, supervisors and managers and effective use of these positions interferes with productivity and cost effectiveness of the organization

What is a manager and what does he do? There is both an art and a science to management. The art is making employees more effective than they would be without the manager. The science is in what it is you do to accomplish that. Stemming from this science of management are the four basic pillars of management, which are Planning, Organizing, Directing, and Monitoring.

If a group of employees can produce eight units of product x a day without a manager and production does not change after the manager enters the picture, what good is the manager? If productivity increases to 11 units a day, the manager has added value. The value of management is making the group more effective.


I was once told by one of my supervisors that a manager should spend 60% of his time planning. I don’t know if that is entirely true. What is true is that management starts with planning. Good management requires good planning. Proactive planning makes everything more efficient and helps avoid pitfalls that might negatively affect the business.

Without a plan, success will be hard fought, hardly attainable. In fact, achieving a goal without planning will be by luck or chance and can hardly be repeated. It is by establishing goals and planning - deciding the best course, correctly utilizing employee’s strengths and those of other resources - that success is recognized. A good plan recognizes many possible scenarios and provides alternatives. Work out the best possible scenario and plan for it but planning for the alternatives allows for quicker, less painful adjustments. Always remember one of the most overlooked and underused planning tool may also be your best – the people doing the work. Ask those who do the work for input.


Once you’ve completed the plan, it’s time to make it happen. Get everything ready so the group will have everything they need. Prepare the group. Prepare those receiving your work. Make sure everyone involved has the proper training. Help them be motivated. In short, do the legwork, making sure everything needed to execute the plan is in place or will be by the time it is needed. Check back regularly to make sure everyone understands their role and everything is still in place.


Once everything is planned and organized the manager’s job is much like that of an orchestra director. Everyone understands their part of the plan or has the sheet music in front of them and are ready for the direction, when to go. Like the conductor directs each section, the manager provides the cue that helps groups know when they start their part.


You have to keep your eye on everything to make sure everything is going according to plan. When reality doesn’t match the plan, make the necessary adjustments. Just like the conductor, you’ve got to adjust the tempo, make changes.

No matter how well planned and organized, problems will happen. This is why the plan included contingencies. As the manager, you need to maintain awareness so you can make the necessary adjustments. The Iterative Process is the plan established for bringing everything back into sync after problems arrive. Adjust the plan, organize the resources, direct the adjusted plan and continue to monitor.


Early in my career, a mentor told me a manager leads people and manages product or processes. Leading people and managing the processes established to help ensure good productivity is not easy. When done successfully, it is very fulfilling. Management is a skill that needs to be honed continuously through study and practice. It can be very rewarding.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Use an Employee Self Evaluation

Self Evaluation Enhances the Performance Evaluation Process

So, it is time for the most intriguing aspect of employee development – the evaluation. How can you encourage your employees to take a greater role in the evaluation and embrace some form of career planning? Whether you are using the traditional, annual performance appraisal or a more aggressive performance management process, an employee self evaluation should be an integral part.

What Does an Employee Self Evaluation Do

A self-evaluation provides an employee the opportunity to respond to a series of questions, helping to evaluate his or her performance during the evaluation period. The process sets the stage for open conversation between the employee and the supervisor during the performance appraisal meeting. It also helps the employee take the necessary time to introspectively review personal career goals, evaluate progress, and review areas for growth.

Why Evaluate Performance

The performance evaluation encourages communication with an employee about his or her performance. This is also an excellent opportunity to discuss the following with the employee:

  • Role related accomplishments,
  • Business goals for the quarter or evaluation period,
  • Goals for performance enhancement and improvement, and
  • The next steps for your personal and business development.

  • An Approach to Employee Self Evaluation

    Use questions to prepare for the performance review and evaluation meeting. This will help to ensure the employee does the following:

  • Spends time thoughtfully considering job performance since the previous performance evaluation.
  • Thinks about their work, career, and personal development progress since the last performance evaluation.
  • Thinks about work, career, and personal development goals the employee would like to achieve during this evaluation period.
  • Determines areas for improvement and growth
  • Prepares the for an interactive performance evaluation meeting – a conversation rather than judgement.

  • What Should a Self Evaluation Include

    The employee should review his or her job description to assess the following:

  • Identify any components of the job description that are no longer part of his or her job or that take additional time to accomplish.
  • Describe new responsibilities or additional challenges the employee feels has become a regular part of his or her job since the most recent performance evaluation – specifically identify additional decision making, responsibility, accountability or oversight of other employees’ work.
  • Identify what the employee likes most about his or her current position.
  • Identify the aspects of his or her job that he or she would most like to change or eliminate, giving reasons for why this is the case.

  • The employee should review his or her achievements. The following aspects of those achievements should be part of the review:

  • What achievements and contributions have been the most important.
  • What goals did the employee wish they had met but did not.
  • What interfered with meeting these goals.
  • What other major projects did the employee participate and contribute.
  • What work is the employee performing that is outside the scope of his or her current job description.

  • The Self Evaluation should also include goals the employee sets. The employee should include the following goal related information:

  • The job-related goals the employee would most like to accomplish in the next evaluation period.
  • How the employee’s supervisor can help him or her achieve those goals.
  • What additional support the organization should provide to accomplish the goals.

  • The employee’s self-evaluation should include an outline of professional development – what the employee plans for his or her future might include the following:

  • Professional career growth goals the employee hopes to achieve within three years.
  • Resources and support the employee wants from the organization to help meet the professional career growth goals.
  • Professional and personal goals the employee feels with help him or her improve or develop performance in his or her current job.
  • The additional support the organization can provide so the employee is able to accomplish these goals.

    What next?

    When the employee is finished with the self-evaluation, a copy of it should be sent to the supervisor and human resources prior to the performance evaluation meeting. The supervisor has an incredible tool to use for helping the employee develop into a better resource for the company. Including the insights the employee reveals as part of the performance review will give him or her a feeling of importance and worth. They have a stake in what is going on. The whole experience will be more meaningful.

  • Friday, October 29, 2010

    Manager: Chief Motivator

    A few years ago, Saturday Night Live's Chris Farley played the part of a Motivational Speaker, Matt Foley. I always smile when I think about how the guy living "in a van down by the river" was set up to help motivate others. Eventually, Matt Foley would fall over a piece of furniture, breaking it into peices. His efforts could be summed up in a single word: Fail.

    One of a manager’s most important tasks is to motivate his people. Sales, production, customer service, everything about the business relies on the people being motivated to do the job. Here are 10 tips that will help a manager motivate his people.

    #1 If you want more innovation from your people, they have to feel secure. Even when the job changes, the employee has to feel safe. If they are worried about losing their job, the tendency is to stretch out the work. This is so very contrary to an atmosphere of innovation.

    #2 Avoid being a Demotivator. As the leader, your job is to get and keep your people motivated and working toward that common goal. Demeaning them erodes their motivation. Do not be dismissive. Watching your own actions will help you be sure you’re not planting the landmines to sabotage your own efforts.

    #3 Any organization’s greatest resource is the people. With the best, high tech equipment available, if you don’t have the people, you don’t have the business. Treat your people with greater care as you would your most expensive equipment.

    #4 Do you remember that fire you felt on your first week, your first month on the job? Over time that feeling tends to fade and the enthusiasm dulls. It is important to fan the flames of your employees’ enthusiasm. Keep that flame bright and hot and the output will continue to amaze.

    #5 Listen. You spend all the effort to find and hire the best. It just doesn’t make sense to ignore them after they’ve started drawing a paycheck. Listen to your employees. They are your best resources (see #3).

    #6 Don’t Spray the Monkeys! Early in my relationship with any employee I share this little anecdote to help them understand how I feel about continuous improvement. I think it applies here as well.

    Imagine if you will a large enclosure with stairs going to the ceiling in the center of the cage. At the top of the stairs is a bunch of bananas. The cage is rigged with sprinklers. Place five monkeys into the cage and almost immediately one of the monkeys is going to go after those bananas. As soon as that monkey reaches for the bananas spray all the monkeys with cold water. Do this every time a monkey reaches for the bananas and soon they will all ignore them.

    Turn off the water and replace one of the monkeys with a new monkey. That monkey is going to see the bananas and head straight way for a nice banana treat. But before the monkey can touch the bananas, the others will beat the monkey, preventing him from getting too close to the bananas. After the second or, if the monkey is particularly stubborn, third attempt the new monkey stops going after the bananas.

    If you replace a second monkey with another new monkey, like the first replacement the new monkey is going to head straight for the bananas. This time the first replacement monkey is going to join in beating the new monkey – getting significant joy out of the experience. He doesn’t know why he is beating the monkey except that it is what everyone else is doing. The new replacement monkey is going to give up on the bananas after the second or third beating as well.

    If you replace the other three monkeys one at a time, a similar experience awaits the new monkeys. Soon, there are five monkeys sitting a cage with bananas at the top of the stairs that none of the monkeys will touch. They will not know why those bananas are no good but they will leave them alone, never to touch or eat them.

    Why won’t they? Because that is the way it has always been. This is how policy begins. It is also how we kill innovation. Blind devotion to old policies leads to stagnation and de-motivates the would be innovative employee.

    #7 Do not treat your employees like they are mushrooms. If you’ve ever gone to a mushroom farm, then you’d know mushrooms grow well when they are kept in the dark and fed horse manure. People aren’t like mushrooms. They thrive when they are kept in the loop and given the information.

    #8 Participation breeds acceptance. When employees have the opportunity to participate in the discussion, they are more likely to embrace the decision management makes.

    #9 Listen. Actively listen to your customers, your employees, your suppliers and anyone who may come in contact with your business. Objectively evaluate what they have to say. You’ll learn a lot, maybe even something that will benefit your business.

    #10 Respect, Value, Human Touch. The three essentials of effective customer service is just as applicable to how we lead our people. Interestingly, you can’t really apply these essentials to the customer until after you’ve successfully applied them to the way you lead people.

    Monday, October 11, 2010

    The Overqualified Candidate

    The business climate today is something that has many of us a little worried. It is easy to just sit back and watch as events unfold, worried to make certain moves, concerned that making just the wrong decision will backfire and move you from the precipice right over the edge into the unemployment line with so many of your peers. Well, don’t take the easy way out just because things are tough. This economy, like so many other things, will not continue on into perpetuity. Yes, it will end. Now is the time to do things that will position your organization for success in the future. Taking things too safely will endanger future success.

    The tight labor market is a perfect example of opportunity knocking on your door. You can benefit from this and hire better people so you will come out ahead when the recovery starts. HR might try to deprive you of these candidates since they are “overqualified”. Your own doubts about your own skills might stand as a barrier between you and these better people. Using these highly talented people will place you in a far better position in the future. Think of “overqualified” as just a new moniker for the best choice.

    Many of the current displaced workers are more willing to put forth efforts you’ll not find under any other circumstances. People with great backgrounds and exceptional skills are willing to put that talent to work in places they would never have considered only a few years ago. The benefits these individuals can bring to the table are significant.

    An “overqualified” candidate is simply someone whose resume is more extensive and more impressive than the hiring manager expected. That’s it. Since the Human Resourced department doesn’t know how much additional qualification is acceptable, the “overqualified” candidate is filtered out before the hiring manager even has a chance to see his resume or the candidate is given the opportunity to show he is the best for the position. This leaves the manager wasting resources training and developing less qualified personnel when another could have jumped into the position ready to work nearly from the start.

    Some reasons for not hiring the “overqualified” candidate are valid, while others are not. They are too expensive, hard to train, skills are not up-to-date, they may suffer boredom, or leave when things improve.

    Probably one of the more common reasons for not hiring an “overqualified” candidate is the cost involved. With more experience comes the higher demand for compensation. Sometimes, this is true. Most of the time, however, it is not. When posting the position, including a salary range provides enough screening to weed out most candidates who expect to be paid more. Certainly, the more experienced worker will probably seek a higher salary but might be willing to work for the lower pay knowing that it may be the best you can do. They will do it and do it well.

    A manager may worry that those whose experience exceeds the minimum might come to a job with some very ingrained responses and unwilling to change. This should be cleared up in the interview. If the candidate expresses they are not willing to change, dump them and move on to the next guy. Do not use the resume as a screening device based on this criterion, though.

    The manager should ascertain how recent the candidate’s skills are in the interview. An overqualified candidate’s skills are probably broader than the less experienced worker. He is probably significantly more advanced technologically and interpersonally. Taking advantage of this, the manager will have an easier time training this candidate and be able to rely on his ability to multi-task and work across functional roles.

    Worry about boredom is hardly a proper screening technique. Covering this possibility in the interview and seeking the candidate’s response to what their tendencies are in such situations might provide insight into how much more the candidate can help the organization. Boredom can spawn improvement if it is the right candidate.

    An overqualified candidate might leave when things improve but that is not any different than any other candidate. After the new hire begins working, retention becomes part of a good manager’s skill set. A good manager helps their personnel feel appreciated and motivated so they will remain with the company.

    The overqualified candidate might just be your best option. Reviewing the candidate’s experience and skills, seeking answers to your concerns in the interview process, and weighing that against potential gains for the company will lead the manager toward making the best decision for the long-term benefit for the organization while quite possibly saving significant costs short term.

    Sunday, October 3, 2010

    Be A Hot Dog!

    High Performance Driving Factors

    High performance cars do it. High performance boats and motorcycles do the same. High performance is showing off. It isn’t about bragging or arrogance. Showing off is simply bringing your best to everything you do. It’s being focused. It’s working with the intention of creating results that benefit the stakeholders for every situation. It’s about creating value through accomplishment.

    Here’s a list of four keys to “showing off” through high performance:

    1. Stupidities, Braveries and Innovation

    Interestingly, top performers are those who seem to act with incredible stupidity and the bravery that rivals that little dog going up against a mad grizzly bear. They are the ones making choices other’s fear to even consider. They’ll try things without knowing the outcome. They don’t settle for safety, doing that which seems ridiculous and just outside of sane.

    This is the flagship of an innovator. To put it out there, making the bold and brash decisions. If you were to ask anyone about the importance of innovation for an organization to stay competitive, the answer will always be positive. That’s generally where it ends – lip service to innovation.

    Innovation is not about waiting to see someone else test the waters for safety. It’s about trying things out without knowing success is sure. You’ve got to let go of what used to work, or the “it’s always been this way” attitude. It’s letting go of those things that have made you successful up to this point and striking out into unknown territory. It’s acting with an attitude of grand stupidity – your mantra: “Let’s find out if this will work.”

    Mark Twain posited, “I knew a man who picked a cat up by the tail. He learned 40 percent more about cats than the man who didn’t.” Although you might get a little scratched up, sometimes you’ve got to pick the cat up by the tail. That extra bit of information might by your edge in a competitive environment.

    2. High Performance: The Need For Speed

    Customer loyalty used to be all about the “what have you done for me lately.” It’s not about that so much anymore. The interest in “lately” has moved to an fascination with what’s going to happen next. The advent of faxes, email, instant messaging and texting has brought with it the attitude of “I want it yesterday”. It’s about getting it now – instant gratification.

    I’ve seen it happen more often. The corporate world is about having meetings about the new ideas. We’ll study the ideas, have more meetings about the ideas, table the ideas in favor of newer ideas. We’ll talk about it until they’re not relevant anymore. Our meetings are the death of innovation. Top performers do it now. Innovation requires it.

    The most effective organizations are set up around speed. Action. Do it now. If it’s a good idea, the responsibility for implementation is assigned, guidelines for accountability set, funding arranged, GO! There’s no dillydallying around on this one, baby.

    The top performer fears being stuck in the mud on the road – indecision. They do not fear making a wrong turn. Indecision is the mud holding back the organization. Wrong turns can be corrected, standing still in the constantly moving traffic of the marketplace can be fatal.

    Action meet speed. You’ll get back to me tomorrow? That gives me plenty of opportunity to find someone else to do the job now – you’re out. Returning that call within 24 hours just doesn’t cut it anymore. Your customers, co-workers, or vendors are more interested in the speed of their second hand than the open spaces on your calendar.

    3. The Relentless Pursuit Of Improvement

    Who’s the greatest boxer of all time? OK, that question is one that will cause many boxing fans to start debating about this guy or that guy. Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. Sugar Ray Robinson. Henry Armstrong. Joe Louis. Some might even suggest Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson or Evander Holyfield. The arguments are plenty with strong supporting facts.

    Who’s the greatest professional golfer in the world over the past ten years? I bet almost anyone reading that would answer Tiger Woods.

    What commonality do all these boxers and Tiger Woods have? They all have a coach. Although they were all considered at one time in their careers to be the best – not just one of the best – they all had someone to help them improve. This is the fact we should all come to understand. No one should ever be as good as they’re going to be. Inside every top performer is a higher performer trying to break free.

    Every company I know of has something, some policy about constant improvement. They all have given the lip service. What they know to be true about the competitive nature of innovation and what they put into practice aren’t necessarily the same. What steps did you take today to make things better tomorrow?

    I’ve attended more than one continuous improvement meeting that started off with some kind of attention-getter with the intent of getting every attendee to “think outside the box.” There’s a good reason for that kind of innovation. Do not ignore what’s inside the box while you’re focusing on the outside. Some of the best innovation can be focused on the basics of your business. Some of the greatest returns are realized when investing in improving the customers’ basic expectations.

    Think about the hamburger stand that sells the best tasting hamburger. The menu will probably be rather scant. The frills aren’t there. Hamburger, fries and a drink or two. They aren’t interested in inventing a new, outrageous fad. It’s about making that hamburger the best it can be. Simply serve a better hamburger fast so it’s hot. Basic.

    4. Next Stop, Normal.

    Yeah, I know. That is a name of a book but I lived in Normal, Illinois for 10 years, where the Texas Eagle stops on its way to San Antonio. What is normal? Here’s the essence of normal: We don’t always know what’s going to happen next. Show offs thrive on the unexpected. They perform well when under pressure. They plan carefully. They research, forecast and consider every contingency. They are completely at ease with the reality that something totally unexpected will happen. That’s normal. Embrace the unknown.

    Although making the right choice was once the way to succeed, today it’s about making that choice quickly enough. It’s about ignoring what that choice will do to your world right now, being ready to switch gears because the situation just changed. If you can’t perform under those circumstances, you’re in trouble. There’s not enough time to understand everything that might happen.

    Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was something of a poet when he told the Whitehouse press core the following:

    As we know,
    There are known knowns.
    There are things we know we know.
    We also know
    There are known unknowns.
    That is to say
    We know there are some things
    We do not know.
    But there are also unknown unknowns,
    The ones we don't know
    We don't know.

    Too much analysis impedes innovation. We’re just not going to know everything. The difference between the person who easily and gracefully handles the unexpected and the person who crawls under the desk and assumes the fetal position: The Normal Factor. Whatever happens is normal. Although it may not be acceptable, it’s still normal.

    Stuff happens and the top performer understands. However carefully you plan your work and work your plan, the unexpected will happen. The proverbial wrench will drop into your well-constructed plan. The one thing we need to remember when creating opportunity from change – always expect change. What happens might not meet exactly with your expectations, but it is normal. Respond appropriately.

    Show Off

    It’s a good thing. It’s a mindset. The true show off is often the quiet one who consistently performs with a sense of style. Remember the old saying about the duck: Above the surface, be calm and elegant. Below the surface, paddle like hell.

    Executives and managers rate “consistency of performance,” “performing under pressure,” and “delivering results” as the top three employee attributes. Achieving these attributes is not a matter of rocket science. Choose how to respond to each and every situation, challenge and opportunity.

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010

    The Coffee Cup As a Management Tool

    An unobtrusive tool for employee development

    As a manager, we are tasked with making our resources do the most, perform at the best possible rate, get the most return for our investment. Employees are an organization’s most valuable resource. Interestingly, one of the best tools a manager might find to gain the greatest access to an employee might just be a coffee cup. The simple act of taking someone to coffee gives you an opportunity to sit with him or her, listen, and learn. It is this kind of conversation that might be one of the most powerful motivators – the biggest bang for your buck. This simple act can head off conflict and violence. Sharing a cup of coffee is simple but it gives you a great opportunity to learn important information about yourself, your employees, your company, and even your competitors.

    Coffee with Your Employees

    Meeting with each key employee and direct report is certainly very important. However, these meetings are frequently interrupted because both you and the employee are so busy and someone always has a “crisis” that needs one or the other to deal with it. You know you’d get a lot more done if you could just do it without interruptions. So, get out of your office, take the other person out for a cup of coffee.

    While I worked in Monterey Park, California, there was a small sandwich shop across the street. Although the trip across the street was like a very life-like and human form of frogger, the shop provided an excellent and close place to have a short one-on-one discussion. The options weren’t limited to this one shop, there was another just up the road. Still, your cup of coffee doesn’t have to be outside of the building. Sneaking off to the breakroom to “buy” that cup of coffee and sit at one of the tables is certainly sufficient. Additionally, there’s no chance of getting too close to an errant car.

    Coffee is not Always Coffee

    “Grabbing a cup of joe” doesn’t have to mean coffee, which is very good since I don’t even drink the stuff. If you or your employee is like me, or just wants a break from the stuff, there are plenty of alternatives. This isn’t about consuming coffee. The whole point is about getting away from all the distractions for a little bit, so the beverage doesn’t really matter at all. Bottle water, sports drinks, fruit juices and sodas are all acceptable. It should be something relatively inexpensive that is readily available, can be served quickly and something you can linger over while you talk.

    Coffee Has no Alcohol

    You certainly want to avoid alcohol. Regardless of the time of day, going out for a “beer” or “having a glass of wine” makes it more of a social event than a business meeting. Additionally, you are not going to be nearly as productive if either of you is impaired. The temptation to get the other person to relax a little so they’ll be more open with you through alcohol is unethical and dishonest. Being open and honest with your employees will produce the same results without the potential legal problems.

    Listen. Really listen.

    OK, you’re at the coffee shop instead of your office. It is very important to remember why you’re there. You’re there to learn something from the other person. Your purpose or the information you’re after might be one of many different things. It might be just as important to check their temperature as it is to check the coffee’s – find out if they are overstressed and why. The one common thread to all of these goals is keeping your mouth shut and letting him or her talk. Your mouth needs to be shut for your ears to be open.

    Remember you left your office so you could focus all your attention on what they are saying – don’t let distractions interrupt you here either. Occasionally repeat statements of theirs back to them to show you are listening and encourage them to keep talking. Interestingly, the Japanese have a word for this. It is aizuchi.

    Manage the “Coffee Cup”

  • A coffee break gives you a chance to get away from the distractions and interruptions.
  • Coffee, tea, soda, or water. The beverage doesn't matter.
  • Pick a beverage that is inexpensive and quick, but that you can linger over.
  • Cell phone and pagers should be turned off or at least ignored.
  • Alcohol is out.
  • Actively listen to the other person. That's the purpose for this getaway.
  • Monday, September 6, 2010

    Benefits of Employee Recognition

    You’ve seen the star of the week boards at your local fast food restaurant. The service industry seems to have grasp onto the employee recognition plan while other industries fall behind. Yes, employee recognition is limited in most organizations. In fact, one of the chief complaints among employees is a lack of regular recognition. Managers seem to ask why recognition should be given for people who are just doing their jobs anyway. And, we’re always so very busy. Put those two factors together and you have a work place that fails to provide recognition for employees.

    Why Employee Recognition
    Managers who prioritize employee recognition understand the power that comes of recognizing achievements. They know that employee recognition is not just a nice thing to do for people. The strength of employee recognition is how effectively it communicates reinforcement, rewards people for important outcomes people create for the organization.

    Recognizing people effectively reinforces the actions and behaviors you want to see repeated. Certainly, an effective employee recognition system should be simple, immediate, and powerfully reinforcing. Implemented correctly, employees will feel they are appreciated. People who feel appreciated will work better and produce more.

    The Good Boss makes other people feel important and appreciated, excelling at creating opportunities to provide rewards, recognition and thanks to his or her staff. He creates an environment in which people feel important and appreciated.

    Employee Recognition Suggestions
    Here are a few suggestions for powerfully reinforcing the recognition you give:

    Put it in writing. Lay it out there in black and white. It doesn’t have to be huge and outlandish – a gaudy display. Write out the recognition – what the employee did, why it was important, and how the employee’s actions helped your organization. Give a copy of the letter to the employee, the department head and to Human Resources to file in their employee file. You can reference the recognition during your next Performance Review.

    Leave ‘em A Note. Write a personal note to the employee. You might have your supervisor sign it, too. Be sure to make a copy to place in the employee’s file.

    A Gift? Engraved plaques, Company Logo emblazoned merchandise, even a certificate of appreciation reinforce the employee recognition.

    Money, cash, bread, lucre, dough. Everyone likes cash or something like it – gift cards & gift certificates. If you use such a form of employee recognition, it’s best to include some kind of note or letter. You want the employee to remember the recognition long after the money is gone.

    Make It Public. Show the recognition in a place and at a time when others will see. Even if the employee is uncomfortable with the public recognition, you won’t get the full benefit of employee recognition without others seeing it happen. You want the other employees to know that due recognition is being offered.

    Effective Isn’t About Expense
    A simple “thank you” counts as employee recognition. It’s also the basic consideration everyone should be able to expect. You can make employee recognition as elaborate as you want. It doesn’t have to be elaborate to be effective, though. Recognition should not be a scarce resource. You can’t run out of it. You don’t need a big budget for employee recognition but your returns will be great.

    Thursday, May 13, 2010

    Customer Satisfaction: Job 1

    It’s quite incredible, really. One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard from the workforce have been about the most important piece of the puzzle – the customer. It is absolutely true. Customer-induced stress is the one thing many employees will list as one of their biggest concerns. Sad. Without customers, we would have no business. Whether they are internal or external, customers are the reason we go to the office every day. If a business does not have enough customers, they focus on finding more. Keeping customers happy is the key to retaining customers.

    There is actually a real bottom line benefit to keeping the customer happy. Companies with the most-satisfied customers have a track record for increasing their stock values over the past few years. Additionally, these companies have seen less volatility in their stock values, had lower turnover and are able to generate more cash, bringing products to the market faster. The link between customer satisfaction and a company’s stock values is stronger than you might think.

    Looking at the information found at the American Customer Satisfaction Index website, you can find plenty of information on customer satisfaction for more than 200 companies. All this information is free too. The rankings were developed by the National Quality Research Center at the University of Michigan business school.

    Conducting around 65,000 phone interviews a year, the National Quality Research Center asks consumers if they’ve used certain products or services recently. They follow up with the consumers to determine their satisfaction with levels of quality, reliability, and whether the good or services met their expectations. Further, the surveyors seek information about whether the consumers have had any complaints and the likelihood they will be repeat customers. The answers are ranked and tallied, creating an overall score for a company on a scale of 1 to 100, 100 being optimal. These scores are posted with company rankings and averages for industry groups.

    What is really interesting about this survey is the correlation between happy customers and the firm’s stock prices. Investors should be very interested in this as well. Some of the reasons for the correlation between happy customers and happy shareholders are obvious. Satisfied customers tend to be more loyal. They share that loyalty with their friends. Fewer complaints from the customer means the employees have to devote less time to putting out such fires and warranty costs are lower.

    Other reasons for this correlation are not so readily obvious. Companies with happier customers have lower employee turnover. There seems to be a pretty strong relationship between customer satisfaction and employee attitudes, which affect customer satisfaction – a doubled edged blade.

    Happier customers also tie in with greater cash generation. Interestingly, a 1-point increase in the customer satisfaction rankings relates to an increase in cash flow into a company’s coffers of about 7%. Happy customers means more predictable cash flows and lower borrowing costs.

    Better relationships with the consumers provide the company with greater flexibility on pricing. They can typically get away with price increases, which helps the bottom line. H.J. Heinz (HNZ), which has a 4-point lead over its peers in the University of Michigan customer-satisfaction rankings, was able to increase prices by 6% in the first quarter. This is far beyond any other large-cap food company.

    Companies with high customer-satisfaction ratings seem to have an advantage when launching new products as well. Loyal customers are readily willing guinea pigs. Take Apple (AAPL ) for example. Because of the user-friendly design of the iPod, happy iPod customers have been buying other Apple products – iPhones and Macs. Although priced higher than comparable products, the happy consumer is willing to pay the price.

    Customers are the very life-blood of any for profit organization. They are the reason there is a cash-flow in the first place. Customer satisfaction is built on a foundation comprised of many aspects. Indeed, it is hard to compensate for poor quality, just as it is difficult to overcome other missed opportunities. Still, the large picture of the customers’ satisfaction level should be forefront at every level of the corporate chain.

    Thursday, March 25, 2010

    Old or Seasoned?

    I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with people of all ages. One thing I have noticed, however, is the work force is aging. Some are closer to retirement than others. In fact, one thing a manager needs to learn is how to motivate and manage the talent pool regardless of the age of the employees. The manager needs to take the lead and create a climate in which all workers will remain productive and engaged. Here are a 10 tips to managing the generational gap.

    1. Throw out all assumptions. The older worker is not necessarily the harder worker or more difficult to train. Each employee is an individual and should be treated as such.

    2. Remember the range of ages. A 21-year old directly out of college requires different guidance than the seasoned 35-year old. The 15 year gap is no less important for the older workers. A worker at 55 and 70 have different goals and needs. As a manager, you may need to look at groups getting ready to retire (55-62), retirement age and still working (62-70), and older worker who wants to keep active or who needs to work (70+). Each group presents different management challenges.

    3. Communication cannot be over-emphasized. Never assume the older worker knows what you expect of them. They do not have the same background as you. The importance of clear communication never changes. Saying, “Bill, take care of that for me” is not enough. Explicitly state what the measurements of completion and success will be.

    4. Value life experience. The older worker has been around. They have seen a lot. They have done a lot. Recognize the value of their experience and learn from it. Encourage the younger members of the team to learn from it. Lessons from the “school of hard knocks” are invaluable.

    5. Training and Guidance. Older workers need training as much as younger workers – just as much, just as often. The subject of the training may be different but the need is the same. Do not believe that older workers cannot be trained. They are just as receptive as their younger peers.

    6. Security. Older workers probably need benefits more than the younger workers. They need medical coverage, vision care, and financial planning. Make sure your company’s benefits plan meets their needs too.

    7. Motivation. Any manager’s key job is to motivate their employees. Older workers have different motivational “hot buttons” than do the younger employees. Opportunity for advancement is probably less important than the recognition of a job well done.

    8. You don’t have to “be the boss”. The older workers grew up in a hierarchical society. They know you are the boss. Most of them were bosses at some point too. Get on with leading the department and don't waste time posturing. It won't impress them anyway. They've seen it all before.

    9. Be flexible. Your older workers, depending on age group (see #2 above) may want flexible hours or a shorter work week. For those of them that need that, be willing to be flexible. You need their talent and technical skill so do what you need to to keep it available. Do not, however, assume that all older workers want to go home early. Some may be motivated by working the same long, hard hours that they have always done.

    10. Use them as mentors. Let them coach and encourage the younger workers. Most older workers have a wealth of knowledge and experience that they would love to pass on. Give them the opportunity to do so and your entire organization will benefit.

    Monday, January 4, 2010

    Remember Who Actually Makes the Money

    I like to remind myself that a manager doesn’t do the work. It is the work of the people that get things done. Most managers are simply overhead and are only worth their wage if they are able to make a good team work better, more efficiently, and faster – whatever it takes to make the cost lower and the profits higher.
    “I believe in the honest craft of workmen. Take a look around you. There never
    were enough bosses to check up on all that work. From Independence Hall to the
    Grand Coulee Dam, these things were built level and square by craftsmen who were
    honest in their bones.” – Robert A. Heinlein

    Mr. Heinlein wrote these words in 1952. He delivered them to a national radio adience in a broadcast interview by Edward R. Murrow. Later, Virginia Heinlein read them when she accepted NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal on Robert Heinlein’s behalf on 6 October, 1988. The award was awarded posthumously. The rest of his statement about humanity and this great nation is posted here.

    Saturday, January 2, 2010

    Ten New Year Resolutions

    A change in the calendar year seems to be a good place to start with some new goals; personal as well as professional. There’s also a good chance some of the old dreams will make a come back with renewed vigor. Whether the New Year is bringing on new goals, new plans and new dreams or a reemphasis on some important old ones, here are ten resolutions for the professional side of life.
    1. Do something just for you every single day. Seriously. People tend to get caught up in doing for others every minute of the day. If its not at work, there’s home life and other responsibilities keeping that focus shifted away from you. Resolve to set some time aside for self every single day. Exercise, relaxing, reflecting, eat an ice cream, write in a journal, garden, walk a pet. Anything that is for yourself. Make sure, however, that you’re doing something that is different than what you’re already doing all day long. This will help you feel a renewal.

    2. Learn something new every day. People can get bogged down in the same old pattern of waking up, going to work, coming home, going to sleep. We get into a comfort zone and tend to forget the excitement of something new. Read an article; talk with someone about a new process; look into what others in your industry (or outside your industry) are doing differently. The opportunities for learning are grandly available due to the internet and other sources in this information age.

    3. Listen. Do it more than you talk. Interesting how others will offer you “penny for your thoughts” but when unsolicited advice is offered, you’re throwing in unsolicited advice we often value it at “two cents”. That old adage about one mouth and two ears is generally true. Plan to listen more this year. Listen to all your coworkers are saying. Most of the time, people are seeking a sounding board, not advice or problem solving. When people feel completely heard out, they really feel like someone has listened to them, they’re more likely to realize action rather than feeling stuck.

    4. Do something you love to do, that you do best, every day. Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman of the Gallup organization explain how important this is in their book, First, Break All the Rule: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. The intereviewed 80,000 managers, narrowing down the questions asked to the twelve most clearly defined happy, motivating, productive workplaces.

      The first three were this:
      1) Do I know what is expected of me at work?
      2) Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
      3) At work, do I hav ethe opportunity to do what I do best every day?

      Those who could answer these questions positively were more likely to be happy and productive. This is a good sign of the benefits of being passionate about your work and doing something you do best everyday.

    5. Don’t be so self-important. Striving for success can cause us to get bogged down in the serious, leaving no room for levity. Take the time to laugh. One of my best mentors taught me the importance of having passion for something other than work. Find pleasure in the little things. Smile when you hear stories about what all your crazy employees are doing – we don’t have to be the work-police all the time. Enjoy their little quirks and differences. That mentor once told me, “it’s all about the food.” We didn’t have to eat at the more expensive and “nicer” places. He would look for opportunities to eat at “good food” restaurants. Where the locals ate.

    6. Give yourself credit and a pat on the back when you deserve it. In the Gallup study cited in #4, this was one of the questions that defined the most productive workplaces. People who had received praise or recognition for their work in the past seven days were more happy and productive.
      Employee empowerment is the mantra of our age. It seems odd, however, how infrequently employees are actually recognized for the work they do. In Benefits of Employee Recognition I talked about the importance of recognition. One way to help yourself with this recognition is to open a file of positive notes, thank you letters and reminders of success. I have one. I call it, “life’s bonus”. OK, that’s pretty weird but it is a good place for me to go to remind myself of the things I’ve done well. Assess your success after each project is completed.

    7. Step out of your comfort zone. We all know when we’re in our comfort zone. We also know when something is happening that makes us a little less than comfortable. When you start making those excuses about “why” you don’t need to speak, or “why” taking a stand on an issue will just cause “trouble”, that’s when you need to find a way to step outside the comfortable box. Start by just once stating what you are really thinking. After the shock wears off, you’ll find people will admire you for doing it. Honest feedback is very important for your organization, your products, your customers.

      Added bonus: once you’ve started to break through these self-imposed barriers, it gets easier to do it again. You might find your carrier thriving because you left your comfort zone and made a move toward positive change.

    8. Read! Reading is the key to learning and growing. Staying ahead of the curve doesn’t come through osmosis or by just doing what has always been done. Learn what is working in other places. Learn how to implement that in your workplace. Try to read widely and broadly. Learn about other things than just business too. Interestingly, reading on other subjects will many times enhance your ability in business too.

    9. A new hobby. Doing something that intrigues or piques your interest adds a whole new dimension to your world. Maybe this is the year of a new train collection? My wife enjoys scrap booking. I enjoy writing.

      OK, this is so very important. It’s so important that I had to make it last:

    10. Develop a method to track your goals. Use a planner. It can be electronic, on your computer or phone, or it can be the traditional calendar. Tracking your goals, daily engagements and to do lists will help you make them happen. So many people start out a new year with great ideas for improvement. Most fail because they do nothing to track their success. Using tools to track your goals provides the opportunity for your mind to do other more important thinking. It’s tool to help you get things done.

    I wish you a most successful new year – happy, healthy, prosperous and outstanding. Make it happen, though, through your own actions. Don’t rely on luck or others to do it for you.