Is your front line prepared?

is your front line preparedThe street by my house was partially closed to traffic, requiring flaggers to safely direct traffic. No advance warning, just what appeared to be a weeks worth of utility work. While out walking my dog, I spoke with one of the flaggers. He was very friendly and happy to speak with me. The only issue was – no one told him what was going on. He didn’t know the length of the project, and could only guess based on what he saw. He probably received inquiries multiple times during the course of the day given the high traffic area.

Situations like this exist all over the place and your front line is the first window people have into your business. It’s a great opportunity to arm folks with useful information for customers, potential customers or folks that come into contact with your business. You know the difference when you have a great experience with a business versus one that leaves you left wondering. Is your front line prepared?

Risk Can Be A Good Thing

risk measurement and managementMany years ago, I worked with a man who said that people misunderstand risk. His perspective was risk is a variable – it can be a differentiator that creates tremendous value, or if not managed, can make things go very wrong in your business.

I’ve adopted his perspective over the years. And he is right. The critical factors are deeply understanding the nature of the risk, how it can be managed and if you have the capabilities to manage it or someone else is better off doing with that role. If you can’t or don’t have a perspective on what the entirety of the risk is, don’t take it on.

Successful businesses and people understand this. They take on risks that they have the ability to manage, but carefully evaluate those they don’t so as to not risk the entire ship if it doesn’t go the way they expect. Do you have a good grasp of the risks in your business and how to manage them?

When was the last time you stopped to smell the roses?

stop to smell the flowers

It was Sunday morning. A stunning 75 degree day with clear, bright blue skies. Summer was in full swing. Brunch was at a large vineyard in the Willamette Valley on the patio overlooking a small, man-made lake. Bees buzzed around the lavender, the sun glistened on the water. What a day! The 5 year-old yellow Labrador thought so too. She ran around with glee, welcoming each visitor as they arrived. After some time, she settled on the bark dust in the middle of the gardens. Just as the gathering was in full swing, she meandered through the lavender, pausing at the single hydrangea plant in the garden. She softly took in the smell of each blossom, pausing longer than she had for anything else all day.

Wow, did she have the idea! After several days of bouncing from one thing to the next, she reminded me about the important things in life. Stop and smell the roses! It is so easy to get swept up in the craze of the day, whether at work or in life. It is so nice to take a step back and appreciate what is around you. When was the last time you stopped to smell the roses?

Are you missing sales opportunities?

missed salesI love Starbucks. Yes, I’ve fallen into the wide swath of followers that pop in on a regular basis. The product is always consistent and I know that anywhere in the world, I can count on it. But, I’ve been surprised lately by how early in the day they run out of food. I regularly frequent five different locations and have found at each location the salads (as well as all fresh items) ran out starting at 2:00 and over a period of weeks worked down to stock outs by 9:00 am. I’ve inquired at each store about this and all tell me they regularly run out of food early in the day, leaving many like me to search for lunch (or other food options) elsewhere. Wow! What a missed opportunity.

That got me to thinking about why this is happening. Is it lack of understanding of the true demand of the product? Does anyone look at what time of day food runs out? Surely, the cost of goods potentially not sold is so minor in comparison to the number of sales they are missing. Is there a supply chain problem somewhere (the situation became a supplier issue with no fresh food for a week)? I don’t really know, but as a customer, I’m frequently disappointed. So, how are you making sure you aren’t missing opportunities to satisfy the demand for your product? Do you have mechanisms in place to understand what your customers want and when? Do you have a supply chain that works and can seamlessly address any supplier failures? How do you not miss that sale?

Are You Signaling?

signaling directionDriving around town lately has been an adventure. There are lots of people visiting to see the stunning sights. There are also lots of people driving around on cell phones or absorbed in other ways and not paying attention. Stopping in the middle of the street, turning left from the right lane across traffic, and slamming on brakes to make a sudden turns have become commonplace. All of these occur without warning or signaling. Aside from being the law, it lets people know what is about to come and safely prepare for to the change that is about to be made.

Signaling isn’t just important in driving, it is critically important in leading an organization. Abrupt changes in direction can create confusion and problems. The purpose of a signal in driving is to catch the attention of those around to say “hey – pay attention, I’m about to change direction.” So, why not apply that same philosophy in leading your organization?

The Platinum Rule

the platinum ruleA friend recently talked about the golden rule in one of his posts – treat others as you would like to be treated. It was a great prompt to talk about what people really want – is it the golden rule or the platinum rule? The platinum rule suggests you treat people as they would want to be treated, not as you would want to be treated. The point being, your preferences may be different than theirs. It requires a deeper understanding of the people you interact with, usually by asking them about their interests and observing their preferences.

On the customer side of the house, I’ve been on both the sending and receiving end of information about what customers want from the business. If done well, the business can draw a closer connection with the customer by understanding their needs and preferences and evolving accordingly. As a customer, there is nothing more frustrating than getting a survey, spending the time to complete it, never hearing anything back and seeing no change in the business. On the flip side, it is fantastic when the company takes the feedback and makes a change for the better.

From an employee perspective, great companies engage people. They understand that having a culture that encourages dialogue and fosters engagement is better for the company and for the people. For some people, regular praise is important. For others, it may be a promotion or a raise. And yet for others, it is actively participating in the direction of the company. By having an active dialogue, the virtuous cycle can emerge where people are excited to come to work every day and make an impact, and as a result the company gets better. Everyone gets what they need.

How are you engaging with your customers? With your people? Do you truly understand what they want and how you can deliver on it?

Bridging the gap from what to how

bridging from what to howA client and I recently got into a discussion as he was trying to shape the direction of his business. He knew he had a problem – things weren’t functioning well. He knew he could get people in to tell him what the end state needed to look like. What he wanted most to know was not only the what (future state), but the how (steps needed to get to the end state). Since that conversation, there have been a number of others where people were struggling with the same thing. They know where they need to be, but weren’t sure how to get there.

It’s easy to find articles and books that talk through best practices. Toyota and Walmart are a few of the companies that have had their differentiators well documented examples for any and all to see. And while they both have had issues at times, at the height of their success, their business was well documented. So, why was their success not replicated at the time? Some would argue that while what they did was generally known, how they did it was not (or at least not easily replicated).

Bridging the gap from what to how requires new skills and new approaches. The key is how leadership was able to develop a culture, engage the people and keep them focused on key priorities. In developing a path from current state to future state, new/different processes and technology may be employed. But they will only work if the right people are in place and buy in to the future vision.

How are you doing at engaging your people in making change? Are you able to explain the what of the future state, as well as the how and why? How can you take that leap to transform your organization?

Rushing Things

rushing thingsI was sitting at a red light waiting for it to turn green. Just as it was about to turn, a young man on a skateboard came flying into the intersection. He clearly didn’t want to wait and was moving quickly. As the light turned green, he flipped the skateboard over and rolled across the intersection. Luckily he got up unharmed. Everyone at the intersection was paying attention and didn’t move when the light turned green. Disaster averted.

But that’s not always the case. We have all had times when in haste to get something done, the results were less than optimal. Rushing can lead to setting sites on the finish line – like crossing the street, but not recognizing the hazards around. There is a difference between moving quickly and deliberately and rushing. The difference is that risks are identified and mitigated. Are you moving quickly and deliberately or are you rushing things?

Accountability = Getting Fired. No!

accountable, peopleHow many times have you mentioned the word accountability and looks of horror come across the faces of the people you are speaking with? I was in the middle of a conversation recently and the topic came up. Accountability. People are expected to do something, they aren’t quite clear what the expectation is, then get punished when the results don’t happen. Yikes! No wonder people hate the word.

I love accountability. To me it means shared expectations. Everyone knows what the goals are and signs up to make them happen. And like anything else, it is a two way street. The people involved have a dialogue, clarify questions, agree on what is achievable, what help might be needed to be successful, and what success looks like. Along the way, there are checkpoints to make sure alignment still exists on progress against the expectations. If done well, performance would be recognized in performance appraisals and annual salary increases and bonuses. There should be no surprises at the end. Good performance is rewarded and poor performance is corrected.

How are you establishing a culture of accountability? Is everyone sharing in the dialogue? What else can you do to get the results you desire?

Lessons in Business from the Gym

personal trainer businessI love my personal trainer, Babs. She always amazes me by how much she knows about form, fitness, anatomy, etc. She has an ability to keep on top of trends and incorporate the best parts in a seamless way into her own repertoire to keep it fresh. I’m surprised that no session is ever the same – even though I see her every week and have for years. And along the way, I learn something new every week from her vast wisdom on many topics. In reflecting on what Babs has taught me through our weekly sessions, while focused on fitness, they are great lessons in business.

Set the bar high and push the boundaries

Each week I feel like I’m in a better place than the week before. Over time, Babs has introduced heavier weights or more complicated exercises. Sometimes I’m not sure if I can do it. Her immediate response is that I can and I just need to focus on it and get my mind in the right place. And of course, she is right. She constantly pushes the boundaries on what I think is possible in the effort to make me better.

In business, great leaders do this. They set the vision and keep people focused on it. They know what the team is capable of and push the organization to achieve new heights. They set the bar high and push the boundaries is part of what is possible. All with the end goal in mind.

Get the basics right

Each time we embark on a new exercise or pull one from the repertoire, Babs demonstrates the proper form. Then it is my turn. If I get the form right, we keep going. If not, we start over with appropriate corrections. This is critical for injury prevention and for maximizing the impact of the exercise. All muscles are worked to ensure each is properly strengthened, so that there are no areas out of balance. If some are strong and others are weak, the strong ones pull the weak ones out of alignment and cause problems in the long term. By getting it right from the start, there is balance across the body, setting the foundation for the long-term.

Getting the basics right up front is critical to long-term success. Developing each area of the business equally creates balance across the organization and sets the platform for the long term. You can fix problems later, but it is much more expensive to do it that way than to get the basics right up front.

Have fun and appreciate those around you

Babs has unlimited energy and a positive outlook. It shows up in the form of having fun. People regularly talk about how much fun they have in Babs’ classes or in training with her. I look forward to our time together because we laugh hard and have a great workout. And during each session, she talks about how much she appreciates the people around her and what life has given her.

People want to have fun at work – that doesn’t mean goofing off. It means, enjoying what you do, enjoying the people you work with, working hard and getting satisfaction out of individual and team accomplishments. Business is all about people, so making sure people are having fun and appreciated is key to long-term success.

Lessons in business are everywhere. How do you find your inspiration?