You’re a natural!

you're a naturalIt was one of those flattering moments when a peer said I was a natural. The reality is, I’m not. It had taken hard work over years to get to the point where I was ok. But it was a good reminder of a conversation I had years ago. I was speaking with a gentleman who was responsible for investor relations for our mutual employer. He was incredible to watch! He always greeted people warmly with their name and was solely focused on them. He was welcoming, always in command of facts, and never seemed to be ruffled. One day I asked him if he came by it naturally or if he had to work at it. He shared openly how hard he had worked over the years to develop his skills. Once he developed the skills and made them habit, it then became easy to continue them.

The reality is operating a business well is the same way. It takes a lot of hard work to make things look natural and easy, pleasing customers, partners and employees. Once the hard work of getting to where things work well and become habit, it is then easy to maintain and becomes second nature. What steps are you taking to make things look natural in your business?

The silent message

the silent messageHave you ever walked into a mission critical meeting? Things need to change in the business to course correct to be successful long term. You go there thinking that decisions are going to be made to drive progress. To get that many senior people in the room says that this is important, right? And then it happens. Everyone walks in, sits down and pulls out a computer, a mobile device, or both. Fingers begin pounding away on whatever the topic of the minute is. There you have it. The silent message that says we are required to be here for this meeting. The topic is not really that important.

Meetings happen in business, sometimes way too often. Study after study concludes that multi-tasking is not effective. Sitting in a meeting and doing something else degrades the effectiveness of both. Meetings should have a specific purpose – the bulk should be for action and decision making. Information should be sent in advance to allow for debate and conclusion with a path forward. Leaders should agree that the focus of the meeting is the focus, and other sidebar activities should be handled outside of the meeting. By setting the tone by example, the entire culture will change. If the meetings are not effective, that should be resolved such that meeting quantity declines and meeting quality increases. How are you driving the meeting culture in your business?

How well do you see around corners?

see around cornersDuring the recent snow storm, huge amounts of snow sat on trees for a week weighing down the limbs. At one corner, the limbs were so heavy, they drooped across a fence and sidewalk blocking the view. That would not normally be a major issue, except the road curved just before the fence making it impossible to see if cars were coming if you were trying to turn at this particular intersection. A slow creep into the street would either reveal a clear road or a car racing toward you. At that point, your choice was either to wait or punch the gas. There are no mirrors like you see in buildings or parking structures to let you know what is coming. Rather, it is up to your skill, timing and luck.

In uncertain times, the ability to see around corners will let you outpace your competition or be left behind. Developing the signals to let you know what is coming, such as the mirrors in a parking garage, will give you insight into when to take action and when not to. Additionally, developing the skills to react quickly when it is time to move will allow you to outpace your competition. How are you developing the tools and skills to see around corners and move quickly?

Do your people understand how customers use your product?

do you know how your customer uses your productYes, I’m a bit old fashioned in one area – reading the newspaper in hard copy. There is something satisfying about sitting down and feeling the paper and smelling the print that you can’t get online. Recently, the delivery person changed. All of a sudden, the paper started coming rolled tightly. Presumably the approach made it easier to toss the paper. I’m all for driving efficiencies, as long as they don’t create a new problem. In this case it did. The paper was so tightly rolled, that it would curl back on itself when attempting to read it. My guess is the delivery person had never tried to read a paper after it had been rolled like that. The focus was on delivering the papers as quickly as possible.

Changes in business happen all the time. Sometimes the impact of the change is fully thought through, other times it is not or there are unintended consequences. A critical element in making change is ensuring that the product or service still meets the needs of the customer. A first step to doing that is ensuring your people understand the needs of the customer and how the product or service is used. How are you making sure that your customers needs don’t get lost in the shuffle?

Are you letting your lack of progress get the better of you?

Don't let lack of progress get the better of youWe all like to make progress. And when we don’t, it can be incredibly frustrating. That has been incredibly apparent over the last few weeks with snow filled roads that have not been drivable. The anxiety has been building up with people and you can see it in how some are driving. The reality is, the road conditions are not conducive in many areas to high rates of speed. But for some, the desire to make progress gets the better of them, resulting in the road being littered with cars in the ditch or on the embankments. They just want to get out of the house and are tired being stuck on a slow moving road making no progress.

It’s easy to get frustrated with making slow or no progress. As a leader, it is important not to let that frustration get the better of you and make mistakes by taking reckless risks. There is a difference between moving quickly and moving too fast for the conditions and not recognizing the risk. How do you ensure you are making rapid progress, but not taking unnecessary risks?

Are you getting the behavior you desire or the behavior you reward?

Are you getting the behavior you wantIt was the most recent round of attempts to confirm appointments. Dentists, doctors, hair salons, restaurants, etc. The forms of contact vary. Postcards, emails, texts, phone calls. They keep coming until you actively confirm your appointment. And if you don’t, your appointment will be canceled. I’ve been told the level of not showing up for appointments/reservations has reached new heights. Businesses now invest money in technology to get you to confirm your appointment, or in people making calls and following up to make sure you are coming. You now need to spend your time to confirm an appointment (rather than calling if you need to cancel). Your time and that of the company you intend to do business with is now consumed because the people who don’t show up aren’t penalized. The business loses revenue due to a person not showing up, and higher administrative costs focused on trying to get people to confirm appointments. And the behaviors of the offenders don’t change because there is no penalty for behaving badly.

There is a local restaurant that has two seatings for dinner. It is small, so important that seats are not open because the hit to revenue would be significant. They implemented a policy that requires a credit card to be provided when you make the reservation. It holds your spot. And if you don’t show up, the charge is nearly $100. Guess what. They don’t have a problem with people showing up for their reservations.

In business and in life, you teach people how to treat you. If you desire certain behaviors and you get them, reward it. If you don’t get the behaviors you desire, design a mechanism that corrects the behaviors you do not want in a targeted fashion such that only those who are offenders are addressed. When you get it right, you’ll start seeing the behaviors you desire. How are you getting the behaviors you desire in your business?

How Many People Walk By?

Easy vs Hard - do people walk by?Last week I wrote about a water leak at a house I walk by on a daily basis. After two weeks, two calls to the water department, three attempts at knocking on their front door, and knocking on three neighbors doors, the water is still flowing heavily down the hill and down the drain. This house is on a fairly busy corner. Many people walk by at all times of the day. So it raises several questions: do people walk by and not do anything? Do they walk by and not notice? Or, do they attempt to reach the people, like me, to no avail?

All of these situations are problematic and not what you would want in your business. In business, it is important that people are paying attention and notice when things go sideways. They are engaged in the business and care. They do notice and raise the flag to get issues corrected. And when the red flag goes up, there is a mechanism such that it is easy to resolve and the person is recognized for doing the right thing. Do you have a company culture where people are engaged and it is easy to get things done? Or is it hard to resolve situations and people just don’t care? How are you creating the culture you want in your company?

Is the solution right in front of you?

the solution is right in front of youYou know those embarrassing moments when the solution is so obvious, but you have somehow overlooked it? I had one of those moments recently. My dog decided it would be entertaining to shred both ends of a bag of potting soil and spread some of the soil around the garage. It was a brand new bag. And with both ends opened, I needed to figure out what to do with it. While it was not a priority, it would annoy me every time I looked at it. There it sat for several weeks, until I looked six or so feet past the bag to a pile of empty tubs. All I had to do was carefully pick up the bag and dump it into the tub. It was an obvious solution. And it had been there the whole time.

Many times the solution to the issue you are working in business is already there. It may be the experience of a person somewhere else in the company, or it may be right there staring you in the face waiting for you to look up. The solution presents itself when you declare the issue and are open to the solution. By doing this, it opens the conversation for the people with the knowledge to come forward. Or it shifts your focus to resolving the issue. How are you making sure you don’t miss the solutions that are right in front of you?

The Truck Blockade

truck blockadeEver since the port closed in Portland for cargo shipments, the volume of trucks on the road has increased. It makes sense – if the goods aren’t going out on ship, you’d expect the rail and truck volumes to increase. The highways are three lanes each way, sometimes two lanes. The trucks typically travel in the middle lane, in very close proximity to each other. I call it the truck blockade because it is incredibly difficult to get from the right lane to the left lane as the trucks are typically too close together and too many of them to maneuver easily. After a bit of research, it turns out that the reason for this is safety (being in the center lane – more opportunity to maneuver) and fuel efficiency (driving close together – drafting).

It may or may not be obvious why certain actions are being taken based on your background and experience. Within a company, helping people understand why actions are being taken can help keep efficient, forward momentum. At the same time, it is important to understand if there are unintended consequences to the actions being taken that rise to the level of needing to make tweaks to the actions to keep efficient, forward momentum. How are you making sure that you the actions in your company are intentional, efficient and effective?

Are you diverting people without notice?

are you diverting peopleThe economy is coming back. You read about it in the papers, see it on the news. It really becomes apparent when you experience it in the form of increased traffic and construction. Driving to an appointment recently met me with two unexpected adventures in the form of road closures. While many times there are signs down the road indicating a closure is ahead, in both cases, there were no signs. In the first case, the closure was temporary as construction was being performed on the road and flaggers would periodically let people through. The second closure was for an extended period of time. Looking ahead two blocks, I was able to see the closure and make a turn down the appropriate one-way street. Had I not seen it, I would have been on an adventure going the opposite direction.

In the grand scheme of things, the adventure was not a big deal. It was 15 extra minutes. I plan for the unknowns – something will come up, I just don’t know what it will be. But many people do not. And in business, the diversions down different paths and adding difficulties into the lives of your people or your customers in an unexpected way can strain the relationships. If only once, it may not be a big deal. But if people are diverted from the objective regularly, you may lose them. How are you making sure you don’t divert people without notice?