Information is Asymmetric

information is asymmetricOver the few weeks I’ve been in a series of meetings and conversations where a decision was being pursued or communication was seen as lacking. In all cases, it was clear that a significant level of discussion was ongoing. The challenge was that key information was not being distributed evenly. In other words, some people had a lot of information on the topic and others had very little. Or, there was an even level of information, but the information was different. As a result, getting to a desired conclusion was difficult. People walked out of the meetings and into side discussions feeling frustrated and unclear as to what was trying to be accomplished. The reason – information is asymmetric.

These situations occur regularly in business. Being clear with the desired outcomes and decisions needed in the meeting, communicating key information ahead and making sure the right people are in the room can help get to the desired outcome. Most importantly, don’t assume people know the background information. Recap it quickly or in detail depending upon the circumstances. Information is asymmetric. How are you keeping that front of mind when trying to move forward?

A Lasting Impression

make a lasting impressionNine years ago, I was working on my MBA. The mergers and acquisitions class was about to start and we were all excited because a classmate was able to convince the CEO of his company to teach the class. This was the CEO of a public company, on boards of other public companies and was on the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. In addition, he was involved in several ongoing mergers and acquisitions. Not a busy guy at all!

As each of us walked into the room for our first class, he greeted us by name. All 50 of us. There were no nametags, no name cards. He had clearly taken the time to look at the class photo book and learned each of our names and faces. I was impressed!

It has been nearly a decade and that experience is a hallmark for me in the impression and impact simply learning a name can have on the receiving end. While I aspire to be as good with names as Jim Hackett, I have a long way to go. What kind of impression do you want to make with others?

Never Assume Anything

don't assumeOver the weekend, we got together for a very special event – the funeral of a family member. Everyone was under the impression there would be a chaplain, a nice but brief service, and then a get together to celebrate the life of the family member. To our great surprise, there was no chaplain, no words spoken – only a moment of silence, and then interment. The whole thing was less than five minutes. Looking around, everyone was surprised but didn’t know what to say. The discussion later indicated that everyone made the same assumptions about the service, except the person organizing it. Assumptions happen all the time. Are you making assumptions explicit so you don’t have important misses?

Perspectives – Seeing through the eyes of others

it is all about perspectiveA conversation recently took an interesting turn when it came to a space that had just been remodeled. And by remodeled, it was really only a change in the flooring. The interesting thing about this change was the amount of discussion it generated. For some, the focus was on the floor – by going to a lighter color, the room seemed larger. For others there was discussion about the clash of colors with the existing furniture and the new flooring. Depending upon the perspective, people either really liked the change or really didn’t. It was all a matter of perspective.

Situations like this take place in business every day, only the stakes are much higher. Depending upon the perspective of the people, differences in perspective if not discussed can create conflict in an organization. Creating an environment where people can openly discuss their perspectives can lead to creative and innovative growth in the organization. Is your company culture supportive of discussions about perspectives?

You caught my attention. Now what?

you got my attentionAs I was walking my dog through the nearby university campus, a young man crossed our path. He wore a large hat – almost a foot tall, had a beard, and was wearing a coat and tie. He had a striking resemblance to Abraham Lincoln. My mind immediately went wandering. Was he giving a talk on leadership? Did he intend to dress like Abe Lincoln or was it just a coincidence? And just then he jumped up on a short wall and then right back off. My dog let out one loud bark as if to say: “You got my attention”. And just as fast, he was gone leaving me to wonder.

How often do you grab the attention of others in your business? Are potential customers intrigued by you, but left to wonder now what? How can you translate those moments into business?

Taking the Initiative and Providing Extraordinary Service

Extraordinary ServiceThe other night I was on my way to an informal dinner party. With a few stops on the way, I needed to pick up one item from the store for dinner. The thing was, it was not my regular store and the layout was a bit different. A woman was standing at the front of the aisles helping people find what they needed. I obviously looked like I needed help given I was clearly looking at the overhead signs. She pointed me in the right direction and I came back with my one item. By that time, she had shifted into the mode of directing people into the shortest line. She grabbed me and opened up a lane to help me get through quickly. This was Safeway! I was impressed by how this woman was empowered to get customers what they needed quickly, then quickly checked out and on their way. How are your people empowered to shift priorities and provide extraordinary service to customers?

The Perfect Storm or the Last Straw

perfect storm or last strawI was recently in conversation with a group of folks talking about a business that was struggling financially. One of the folks commented that the company was experiencing a perfect storm of events, the last of which was a downturn in the market. And while the comment seemed to resonate with people in the moment, it wasn’t actually the case. There weren’t several events happening at the same time that caused the issue, rather the market downturn was the last straw.

It is important to understand the difference between a perfect storm and the last straw. In business planning, it is difficult to plan for a perfect storm- it is an unexpected and difficult to predict scenario of multiple independent events that happen at the same time, so developing a response in advance is nearly impossible. The last straw, on the other hand, is possible to plan for if management is actively looking at the company’s risk profile, cost structure and market presence. How are you doing at looking at the risk in your business and avoiding the last straw?

Where do you fall on the cash management spectrum?

cash managementI was on a call recently and the focus was cash, my favorite topic! We were talking about how much is the right amount to have on hand, looking forward at investments in the business, etc. Then, one person said: cash is either focused on in businesses that are in dire straights or high performing businesses. It was a great comment! Companies tend to focus on how much cash is on hand when they are about to run out and manage receipts and disbursements closely. On the other end of the spectrum for a very different reason, cash is managed daily to maximize the cash flow in the business.

I’ve favored the daily cash flow report. If distributed to key managers and key personnel, people become engaged in increasing how much cash is generated in the business. Conversations arise about significant expenditures and how much inventory is needed. I’ve seen people in different parts of the business work more closely together because they understand the interconnections in the business. At the end of the day, everything turns into cash. Where do you fall on the cash management spectrum?

Do you believe?

Do you believe?Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a number of conversations with people about whether it is necessary to believe in and support the products or services that a company provides in order to work there. On one side of the argument, people take the position that as long as you have the skills that the company needs, it makes sense to work there. Fulfillment can come from bringing a perspective the company doesn’t currently have. The other side of the argument is that you must believe in the company’s products or services as a prerequisite to working there. There is an essence of believing that is necessary to really do your best work.

My perspective is aligned with the later. It is that intangible element that makes the difference between high performing and average companies. When people believe in what they do and get satisfaction from providing a good or service that they believe in, the company does better and the people are more satisfied. It is a virtuous cycle because the people and the company are providing a product or service that is valuable to its customers. It is meeting a need that has not been satisfied without it. Ultimately there is alignment between the needs of all the stakeholders. Where do you stand on the continuum?

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?