Helping Small Business Think Big

Thinking Out Loud

Grandma’s Business Lesson

When I was 11 years old, I learned my greatest business lesson and I believe I will remember it all my days.  I didn’t know what it was at the time and really didn’t understand it until I was in my thirties but it is a strong one and has colored my belief in how to manage people ever since.  I told the story of Grandma’s Lesson on one of my videos on the Flying Shorts Channel.  You can check it out here (and try to disregard the part where I get all choked up!)

Do you do the 1 thing that most successful CEO’s do?

Studies have shown that the top rated CEO’s in the country all seem to have one characteristic in common.  Do you have it?  Would it surprise you to find out it is so easy to do that I call it the Lazy Manager’s way to motivate employees.  It is easy to do but far too few managers do it.  And it is so important, I am doing a 5 part series on it.   Check it out here:



THE 7 DEADLY SINS OF THE ROOKIE MANAGER – and how to avoid them.

During my days  of managing people (including managing new supervisors) I have noticed many new managers shooting themselves in the foot by getting off to a terrible start.  Let’s face it, managing people is hard enough without ticking them off right from the get-go.  Too many rookie managers are un-coached and simply thrown into a job with the expectation that they were smart enough to get it so they must be smart enough to manage people.  Far too untrue.  Managing people often has very little to do with the previous success that resulted in their promotion.

Most rookie managers commit one, two or more of the following people management career killers that could have been avoided with a little more coaching.

  1. ASSUMING A FAULTY POSTURE – Managers often fall into the trap of trying too hard to play the authoritarian – from Day One.  Using the ‘My way or the highway’ approach or simply not admitting they do not know everything is a sure road to failure.  This is especially true of rookie managers who are young.  It is hard to look a veteran employee who is 20+ years your senior in the eye and tell them that you think they are doing something wrong.  So the natural defense mechanism is to just be a tough guy and not discuss it with the employee – just bitch at them and tell them what you think and then return to your office.  The harder way is to have an open and frank conversation with them that admits to them that you are not sure if they made an error or not.  That way displays some weakness and no rookie wants to show that.  But the fact is, it is better to be humble.  Ask for input.  Gain collaborative effort from all your people.   Find common ground and then hold it.   Make work a shared journey not your personal victory parade.
  2. DELEGATING IMPROPERLY – Overwhelmed rookie managers will frequently delegate key functions to people they assume will know how to do them.  Vet people first, select the right one, and then hold frequent update meetings to make sure they are on the right path.
  3. MICRO MANAGING – New managers usually have a driving desire to see everything done as they would do it.  Get over that fast.  Agree on how the end product should look and then let your employee run with it – but follow up often.
  4. FAILING TO LISTEN – Newbies will sometimes fall in love with their newfound authoritarian voice.  Listen twice as often as you talk.  Let your people be heard and don’t be afraid to follow their lead.
  5. POOR CRITICISM – When a mistake has been made, rookies tend to focus on who is at fault.  Instead, turn your focus to ‘how did this happen.’  Criticize faulty processes or communication failures rather than people.  When you can turn every failure into a teaching opportunity, you gain respect and authority.
  6. INCONSISTENCY – Ok, this is a tough one for every manager but new managers need to be particularly vigilant that they are not perceived to be having one set of rules for one person and a different for another.
  7. LACK OF RESPECT – for your employees.  Nothing will sabotage a rookie manager’s people management career faster than the perception that he or she believes they are superior to the rank and file workers.  Listening well, giving credit openly, praising good work and being a bit humble will make sure you do not have to face that problem.

If you are a rookie manager heading into your first command, mold yourself carefully and get off to a good start.  If you are the manager of a rookie manager, spend more time coaching and make sure they have a clear shot at success right out of the gate.

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:


Or you can go to my new website,, 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.




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:

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.

Books by Gary