Helping Small Business Think Big

Thinking Out Loud

Catch someone doing something right!

One  of my favorite motivational techniques is catching someone doing something right.  I like this one because it is easy to do and creates smiles and its a very positive step toward creating the right work atmosphere for the employees.  I explain it in person much better than I can write about it.  Check out my latest Flying Shorts video:

My video channel is born!

OK, I’ve been bad.  Busy putting my new YouTube Channel together and have ignored my blog for too long.  I know, most people would rather view something than read something.  So I am adapting.  I will certainly post normal blog entries now and then but most of what I am doing now is spreading the word about employee management via my channel.

Check out “Flying Shorts – Business Lessons in Brief” by going to this link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=0ZNz_TImG78

 

Or you can go to my new website, www.flyingshorts.com, where I have all of my released videos in sequence and in their appropriate niche categories.  I am releasing as many as I can as fast as I can right now, but it will settle down soon and be just two or three per week.

Sometimes it is easier to understand a business management concept when you see it and hear it.  Check it out and take the quiz in Video #1 about the true cost of disengaged employees.

 

 

GOOD GRIEF! ROBOTS AREN’T PERFECT YET!

That’s right.   Now we are critical of robots!

Read an article in today’s Seattle Times business section about how the Honda Robot Guide at a museum in Tokyo had failed to discern between a person raising their camera up to take a picture and a person raising their hand to ask a question.

Good Grief!  Here we are in 2013 already expecting perfection from walking/talking robots as they interact with the public.  The article was quite critical and wasted no time making it clear that the robot’s debut was a disappointment.

So what is my point about all this?  My point is, hang on to your hats.  It’s going to be a bumpy ride.  The pace of change is occurring so fast that even before robots have had success in interactions with the public, our expectations have risen so far so fast that we are astounded when it doesn’t work perfectly.

As you manage your business, remember that everything will be affected by this ever increasing pace of change and by the ever changing expectations of your customers.  Stay fluid.  Be flexible.  And embrace the change or it will eat you alive.

The Power of One Employee!

Too often we feel powerless to make a difference.  But the reality is that every time you choose to go the extra mile (or even the extra block) YOU can truly make a difference.  My next book will include many stories about how one employee made a difference.  And it is truly amazing what one or a handful of people can do when they really feel motivated and engaged in their work.

Saw a great example in a short heartwarming and amusing video on YouTube today.  It’s about a family that went to a resort, left to go home and forgot a child’s teddy bear.  When I watched this, I saw a fantastic example of a customer service opportunity that was fun and rewarding for everyone.  When you go the extra mile for a customer, you never know when the result will show up in a viral YouTube video or a rave on a blog somewhere.  Either way, it is outstanding PR for your company and, let me tell you, it doesn’t hurt the employee’s career one little bit!

Check it out right here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aH90uzU5YUw&feature=youtu.be

And by the way, if you have any stories you would like to share with the world about something that someone at your company did, contact me and let me know.  If it is good, I will include it in my next book.  Free positive PR for your company won’t make them unhappy at all – and it might do a little something extra for your career as well.

 

The Power of “Thank You”

I know.  I know.   I’ve said this before but now I have the ultimate story to reconfirm it:  Saying “Thank You” is incredibly powerful.

I had to go in for a one-day operation in the hospital a few months ago.  I’ll spare you the details.  It wasn’t life-threatening (although, that would make it a better story so … nah, … I’ll just tell it like it really happened).  However, it was a bit tricky and there was no guarantee of success.  If it worked as my Doctor hoped, it would be noticeable rapidly and would really improve my quality of life.

Well, the good news is that it apparently worked.  And I did feel much better, almost immediately.  After about six weeks, I went in for a follow-up with my Doctor and he checked me out with all his machines and agreed that it appeared to work well.  As he was doing it, he asked me, “So, are you happy that you had the operation done?”  And, although there were some expected but minor side effects, I replied affirmatively.

About five minutes later, the Doctor asked me again if I was happy that it was done.   Again I said yes.  As we were finishing up, the last thing he asked me was “So you’re happy?”  By this time, I was thinking it was kind of weird that he kept asking me that.  But, since I am sort of a low-key guy, I simply replied, “Yes, I’m glad I had it done.”   Strangely, he seemed a bit let down but the appointment was over so I left.

It wasn’t until I was back in my car that it hit me.  He was fishing for a compliment.  He wanted me to thank him.  Yes, it was a bit of a tricky operation but, hey, I was paying him thousands of dollars to do it so, of course, I assumed that there was a reasonably high chance for success and he did get thanked in hard greenbacks.  What could be better than that?   But, today, I realize I never said THANK YOU.  It wouldn’t have been hard to do.  I was grateful so it would have been genuine.  And he needed it.  The power of those two words is enormous.  Never underestimate how big an affect you can have on an employee or any person with a heartfelt and genuine “Thank You”.  Even professionals need a pat on the back now and then.

 

 

Doing the ugly jobs

One of the things about keeping employees happy and enjoying their work is figuring out how to make even the worst job a little less painful.  In my business career I think one of the toughest things that an employee might have to do is handle an irate customer over the phone.   So how can we make that less painful?

During the last 30+ years I have dealt with many unhappy customers.  Well, that didn’t sound good, did it?  Sounds like all we did was go around ticking people off.  But the fact is, that my largest companies were always in the service industry and so we had a great amount of opportunities to “screw something up”.

One of those companies was Fleetfoot Messenger Service, a local small package courier in the Seattle area.  At our peak, we would do 1,200 deliveries in a single day.  Even at a 97% on time percentage (most deliveries had to be completed in 1 or 2 hours) that still would leave 30-40 daily deliveries on the late side.  Well, there is late and there is late.  A 2 hour delivery that takes 127 minutes is late but those 7 minutes probably were not noticed and probably did not cause a problem for the customer.  But sometimes, when traffic problems occurred or dispatchers made a blunder, a job might be late by an hour or two or more.  Sometimes, bids that needed to be delivered ABSOLUTELY WITHOUT FAIL before 3pm didn’t make the deadline.  Ouch!  That was a terrible situation and always resulted in an irate customer calling to talk to us … and rightly so.

After years of practice that I would not wish upon anyone, we identified the best ways to handle a complaint call and the steps were as follows:

1) LISTEN.  Above all, when a customer calls to complain, let them vent.  No matter how difficult it was to listen to, the best course of action was always to let them have their say first and when they ran out of breath, then our Agent could respond.

2) AGREE.  If they are calling to complain it is for a valid reason. Either we really did screw up and fail them or they perceive that we did.  Even if we did not screw up and they are wrong, this is not the moment in time to educate them.  Our Agent was always instructed to agree that it sounds like we let them down.

3) APOLOGIZE.  It won’t kill you to utter the words, just say it.  “I’m sorry.  This kind of thing does not normally happen (if it did, we wouldn’t be in business so you know that much is true) and we will do all we can to make it up to you.”

4) TAKE SOME ACTION.  This part is a bit harder to summarize.  Much depends on the circumstances.  At one end of the spectrum, the Agent may be able to take quick action to resolve the problem immediately – but that is rare.  At the other end of the range of all possible problem types, the only action an Agent can take is to say they will research the problem and get back to the customer by ____________ (then give a time that is realistic) and do all they can to rectify the situation.

And whenever possible, we gave all our Customer Service Agents the power to make on the spot discounts and/or no-charge decisions.  The customer has already been inconvenienced enough.  They do not have to be transferred to another department to find out if the charges will be discounted or eliminated.  Do it as soon as you possibly can.

Now, bear in mind, in some businesses you can replace a faulty product with a good one and that solves the problem.  But for most service businesses, and particularly for a delivery company, once a service is late … it is always going to be late.  Once with a particularly difficult and unhappy customer, I made the terrible mistake of saying what I was thinking rather than what I should say.  The customer kept asking me repeatedly what I was going to do about the delivery that was late by 45 minutes and because of that, he lost a big account.  On the fifth time that he asked “Well, what are you going to do about it?” I cleverly retorted “Well, my time machine is broken right now so I can’t go back and redeliver it.”  After about 20 seconds of dead silence on the other end of the line, I heard the click.  Just for the record … sarcasm does not go over big when you are dealing with irate customers.

The bottom line is that we found that how we dealt with failure was extremely Important.  In fact, on many occasions, we did research and discovered that it was not our fault after all.  We learned that even on those occasions, it was best to fall on our sword and take the blame.  Trying to explain it away was worse than having them think we did it.  Now we looked like weasels too.  Usually the way that we managed to keep the customers calling us even after a major service failure was to do the following:

Listen, apologize, accept responsibility, tell them how we will handle those incidents in the future, make the necessary procedural changes to make sure we really do that, charge zero for the delivery and apologize again.  As long as we faced the truth and dealt honestly and fairly with the customer, they seemed to stand by us.  Being willing to admit that you and your staff are not perfect; that you acknowledge that now and then you might screw up is a huge step and one that bonds you with your customer.  We’re all human and sometimes we actually have to admit it.

Having a plan and a rehearsed procedure for dealing with unhappy customers takes some of the fear and angst out of the task. It makes an ugly job slightly less ugly.  And following that up with internal procedure changes to decrease the odds that it will happen again, definitely makes your employees feel better about the process.  Less screw-ups = fewer complaint calls … and everyone likes that!

 

 

To all those who say that Money Does Not Motivate …

Many people have the belief that money does not motivate because they have not seen it work.  That is mostly because it is rarely done right.  The business world is filled with examples of poorly conceived bonus programs that were supposed to provide incentive but instead created enmity, envy and a new level of apathy.

Creating a well crafted compensation structure that pays more based on performance is difficult to do.  Many times, a manager will try and it will be a disaster (most are!) and then give up.  He will firmly agree that money is not a good motivator.  That is wrong.  It just wasn’t used properly.

Money is the very best motivator, when and only when, the compensation structure is designed well to be Tiered, Equitable, Timely, Simple to compute, Meaningful, Objective, Reinforced and Easy to qualify for.  I know.  I’ve been doing it for 30 years and owe my success to motivating thru money.  For the sake of brevity, I’ll skip over the part where I screwed up for 25 years figuring it all out.

But trust me, done right, Money truly does motivate.

RESPECT STARTS WITH THE LITTLE THINGS

I was asked the other day to write a story about some event that occurred that taught me a key lesson about managing people and providing motivation.  So, although I changed the names and dates to protect the innocent, this is the true story I wrote:

           It was Friday afternoon, the tenth of April.  I had just finished a difficult performance review with Wes.  I closed it by reminding him of the key steps he needed to take to improve specific skills and then telling him that I would be watching his performance.  I also told him that I would watch for ninety days and then we would talk again.

This was really a fairly standard review, much like all the rest but it hadn’t been a very pleasant meeting.  Wes disagreed strongly with my assessment but he handled it maturely and returned to his station to continue that day’s work.  As he left the room, I made a few notes to myself and then placed his review into his file.  OK, that was done.  Now back to some other routine functions.  It was just another day at my company, an 85 person courier service in Seattle.

As time went by I noticed that, to his credit, Wes actually made some special efforts and began to improve those weak areas that were holding him back.  His interpersonal relations with the other office folks became smoother and he fine-tuned his understanding of the computer system.  It seemed like our performance review discussion was having the desired effect.

Summer rolled around and suddenly it was July.  On the morning of the tenth of July, I was busy answering emails, meeting a client at 10, visiting our airport operations office in the afternoon and, of course, just dealing with the standard daily events that flew rapid fire in my general direction;  All in all, a busy but normal day.  Late in the afternoon, I drew a breath and looked at my desk calendar.  I noticed a note to myself: “90 days for Wes” was all it said.  That was enough to jar my memory.  I still had a lot on my plate and it would be close to 7pm before I left for the night … but I knew what I had to do.

I went up to Wes’s work station and said, “Wes, can you stop by my office and see me before you leave tonight?”

To my immense surprise, Wes lit up and beamed back at me. “I thought you’d forget!” he said.  And that was when I realized how many times in the past I had forgotten!  When I casually told Wes that we would talk again after ninety days, it had not occurred to me that we would be taking me quite so literally.  I didn’t realize that the employee is taking me at my word and he is counting the days too!

Wes met me in my office at the end of his shift and we had a very amiable conversation.  I applauded his efforts and commented on the specific things he had done to improve.  In contrast to our last meeting, there was much more smiling and laughing.  And I couldn’t help but wonder how different it may have been if I had failed to follow up with him that afternoon.

As a business owner or manager, you can only do so much yourself.  Your business grows and performs well when your employees are motivated and engaged and feel they are valued and appreciated.  Showing respect for people starts with treating them as you would like to be treated.  Keeping that deadline with Wes told him that I valued him and respected him as a person.  Keeping my commitment to him was a small thing but it was pivotal to our relationship.  Wes became a trusted and long-term employee and returned value to me and the business many times greater than the value of those few minutes I gave him that day.

Sometimes credibility can be won with the stroke of a pen; A simple reminder to keep your commitment to another human being.  Keeping your promises is a key to maintaining motivation and gaining loyalty and reciprocated respect from your employees.  And it starts with the little things.

THE FEAR OF BEING WRONG

Fear is a great inhibitor to progress.   As managers we deal with a variety of fears every day but one I see frequently blocking paths in business is the FEAR OF BEING WRONG.

There are few things harder to do than take a strong position on an issue, discuss it with others and then, over time, come to the conclusion that you are wrong.  What does that do to your status as a leader and manager?  Probably nothing good.

So how can you deal with that problem?   I have struggled with that issue for many years but finally became comfortable with this solution:  MAKE IT A SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH.

For example, say you are meeting with five supervisors who report directly to you.  Your problem that you are discussing is a distressing increase in sick time taken.  Your belief is that it is an aberration and a cyclical event.  You believe that it will pass and is not worth everyone’s concern.  You have seen that before so it could well be happening again.  You are quite certain.

The temptation is to announce your feelings to the group because later, when you are proven right, it will enhance your image as the see-all, know-all manager.  That feels pretty good.  So don’t do it.  Do you eat chocolate all day just because it tastes good?  NO.  You exercise some judgment.  Do the same here.

Start the meeting off with something like this:  “Ok, we’re all here to discuss this latest negative trend on sick time and I am sure most of us have an opinion about why it is happening.  I know I do.  But for now, in today’s meeting, let’s just keep an open mind.  All we want to do is find the TRUTH.  What is REALLY going on?  One or more of us might be right already but we also might be wrong.  Let’s not worry about who is right.  Let’s just figure out the truth.  Now, with that in mind, let’s hear each of your ideas on what is up.”  Then start around the room.  Save your own opinion for last.  By the time you hear everyone else’s you may want to change yours.  For example, Pete may say that he noticed that ever since management changed the PTO policy that morale has taken a dip.  Hmmmm.  That makes you doubt your own theory.

Then when it is your turn, set a good example.  Tell people your original theory and how certain you were and then admit that Pete’s point changed your view.  Now you are thinking there could be another reason for the problem.  If others counter that or change their original stance too (even if they disagree) praise them for keeping an open mind and focusing on finding the TRUTH rather than vindication of their original theory.

The fear of being wrong dissipates when your focus is on finding the truth rather than proving you are more clever than the others.  Fear of being wrong causes delays and wrong courses of action so change your focus and find the TRUTH instead.  And quit eating that chocolate!

 

 

 

Why do some manage via FEAR?

Kurt Nelson, an authority on motivation, writes about the 9 keys to motivating employees and his article is a nice addition to the motivation library.  One of the keys he discusses is the use of Fear.  He writes:

3.  Fear works for only a short time

Often the default motivation lies in the command and control management style that uses fear to motivate behavior change.  The problem with this is that it only works as long as it is monitored and does not produce long lasting change.  Even worse, it creates a lack of trust and loyalty so that people tend to leave the company or sabotage it more often.   It is important to understand that managers often create a fearful situation through ignorance and not on purpose.   This is done through managers actions (or lack of actions) and words (or lack of words) that could be misconstrued or interpreted in the wrong way.  Humans have the innate tendency to think the worse if something has any ambiguity around it.

Excellent points.  Number 3 is particularly intriguing to me.  We’ve all worked for someone who manages via FEAR.  And you are right … it’s not so much on purpose as it is out of ignorance.  They simply are not sure how else to do it.  No one starts out with the idea of managing via Bully Tactics.   Kind hearted, empathetic people promoted to management follow their instincts and seek a different way.  But the majority of folks promoted into management are placed in their roles with no discussion of HOW to act.  If they are not already pre-disposed to building trust and collaboration, they turn to using fear, because it is the obvious way to get short term results.  The solution is to employ clear and timely management training and, in the real world, that rarely happens.  Something to think about the next time you move someone up the ladder.

 

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