Providing The World With The Ultimate Customer Experience

Lucky's Blog

This blog has been created to keep our customers, partners and friends up to date with pertinent information relating to our industry, technical or otherwise. It will also keep everyone up to date with M.C. Dean's ever expanding capabilities. Thanks to all my followers and I hope you find this blog both helpfull and informative. Best Regards: Lucky Drake

Friday, September 30, 2011

Expectations of Management

In previous writings I have given instruction on the importance of clear expectations and accountability when it comes to dealing with team members. So in turn, what expectations should your team have of you? What is a fair expectation from subordinates, and do you understand those expectations? How are you held accountable to your team?

As a manager you need to communicate with your team and make sure you understand what it is they need from you. As a manager you will always be held accountable by your team, even if not to your face. By understanding what each team member’s expectations are, you can begin to try and offer a tailored level of support to each team member that fits them and their specific needs. While no two people need the exact same support structure, I will address the two most common complaints I hear when asked, what could their manager do better?

Number one is: Support. As managers, sometimes we get caught up in all the day to day activities and forget that our team counts on us for support, guidance, or sometimes just as a sounding board. We need to understand that at times members of our team may be drowning, but may never ask for the proverbial ‘life preserver’. I have always been someone who tells it like it is and is never afraid to say “I don’t know” or “I need help”. However, it seems more and more common that people today don’t want to udder those words.

You need to take the time to understand what personalities exist on your team. Once you understand who will always ask for help when needed and who will not, you can start to put together a communication plan.

You will find that some team members will require constant assurance that they are doing well, or guidance due to lack of training. Others may be 90 percent of everything you need, but are afraid to ask for help. If you do not spend time communicating with them, by the time you find out who they are, it will be too late. I am not saying that these types of team members are any less valuable, just that they need more support in the day to day operations.

Some team members require very little support. They are highly motivated, well trained, and their views and philosophies run a close parallel to yours. These team members will require very little support from you but they are also the most dangerous. The reason being, that it is easy to forget about them. They don’t call you and they don’t require much direction. You just point them at the goal line and they will score every time. However, if you don’t take the time to let them know how appreciated they are, they can quickly become disconnected and possibly disgruntled. They may start to feel taken advantage of and begin to look around for another career path, which brings me to the second biggest gripe from subordinates: Feedback.

Lack of feedback is the number one reason employees will jump ship. Once again, as managers, we get bogged down and lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with people, not machines. I never give much thought to what people think of me, and I am very confident of my abilities. However, even I can start to question my worth to the company if once in a while I am not thrown a bone. It is not required to pat someone on the back every time they do a good job, but the more often you do, the happier you will make your team. And a happy team is a profitable team.

Most managers have the misconception that money solves everything. I know of companies that give raises to employees without ever even talking with them. No review, no communication, just all of the sudden more money in their check. This blows me away! I will never understand giving anyone more money without having them sit across my desk and the two of us going through an entire evaluation process. I make sure they know what they are doing outstanding, what they are doing well, and where they need to improve. Only after a new set of expectations and accountability are in place will we discuss an increase.

Stop! This doesn’t mean that money is what matters. In fact when over 40,000 people were polled in a National study about what motivates them at their job, money placed 7th. That’s right! 7th.My colleague Dave Cloniger, wrote a great blog detailing ways to motivate your team. http://mcdean-charleston.blogspot.com/2011/09/employee-relations-steps-to-success.html. In this blog he hits it right on the head. Most people just want to know what to do, when to do it, and did they do a good job? There are multiple ways to do this without spending money. I share everything with my team and therefore, they all understand the financial constraints we are up against right now, and have stepped up their efforts, with no compensation. I never hide the financial picture from them. They know when we hit a home run and when we strike out. This fosters a win-together/lose-together mentality. I never let them forget how much their efforts are appreciated, and I look for small ways to reward them for their devotion to the company.

It’s all about feedback. Letting them know when they do something right as well as when they do things wrong. Let them know what the expectations are and what will happen if they are not met.

In the end, if you can conquer providing individual support and feedback to your team, you will have made it to the red zone and then across the goal line. It’s only fair that your team holds you accountable to their expectations the same way you expect them to fulfill your expectations.

Friday, September 23, 2011

No Fear!

Throughout my life I have given little thought to whether or not people like me, or what their conception of my abilities were. When in football, music, and business I always felt that what other people thought of me had little to do with the overall mission. I never spent time afraid of what was being said behind my back. In fact most of the things that were said were probably true, so why would I get mad. I am honest with myself and not afraid to admit my faults. Nor am I delusional and think that everybody is my best friend. I know I can be harsh and that my aggressive tactics cannot be received well at times. However, my conviction is clear and when things go south there are few people that would not want me by their side in battle.

Now the first paragraph of this piece could be misconstrued, and paint me as a maniacal narcissist. However, I am trusting that my followers already know by now that I truly understand the importance of a team and how to foster great business relationships. But that shouldn’t get drawn into making business decisions.

Be honest with yourself and ask these questions:

1. Am I afraid to deal with confrontation? (subordinates and supervisors)

2. Do I let what other people think of me effect my decision making?

3. Am I afraid to lose my job?

4. Do I fear what an employee will do in retaliation of a reprimand or termination?

5. Do I allow others to take blame for something I knew about?

6. Am I afraid to take on my superiors for the good of my team?

7. Am I unwilling to fight for change that will benefit my team?

8. Do I prefer to take the backseat and let others take the risks?

If you can answer yes to any of these questions then you need to be honest with yourself and realize that you are not a leader. That doesn’t mean that you cannot be an effective manager, just that you need to find a leader to put on your team and offer them the support required when problems arise. Do not just automatically say no to each question, but dig deep and do some soul searching.

Over my years in business I have seen multiple examples of managers that allow fear to get the better of them. They complicate situations by worrying about what an employee might do in retaliation of a reprimand or termination. This is in direct conflict with everything I believe in, from a managers stand point. When conflict arises, and decisions have to be made you do what is right to support your team, and your top performers. You do not waste time in fear of their retribution. If an employee is insubordinate you cut him off at the knees. You make sure he understands that type of behavior will not be tolerated. You need to deal with the problem employees with the same veracity you compliment the good team members.

I already know that I am going to get hundreds of emails from HR folks telling me the liability that exists when terminating employees. Please understand that I am not suggesting that you do not follow HR guidelines. I am also fully aware of all the HR implications when terminating employees. But if we continue to allow employees to hang on to their jobs because they file a complaint with HR, safety, or legal, when they get wind of an impending reprimand, then we are breeding a culture of squatters.

Just like in the rental housing industry, there are squatters that have figured out how to work the system, and can remain living in a house for years without paying any rent, with little concern to the path of destruction they have caused to the owners. There are employees that have figured out how to use the same guiding principles in business as these parasites have done in the housing market. These business squatters make accusations about managers to take the focus off their paucity in an attempt to save their jobs. To avoid HR, safety, or legal issues these problem employees get moved around the company from group to group, keeping their jobs for years and causing irreparable harm to the reputations of the managers they have attacked. And it is all due to fear!

I have never allowed fear to have any control over my actions. I don’t believe that any true leader can allow fear to play a part in their judgment. All business decisions need to be exactly that, a business decision, and let the chips fall where they may. The truth is that we have no control over what a disgruntled employee will do, and keeping them as part of your organization is just moving the risk to a different department. It is time that all companies take a stand against these business squatters and extricate them permanently from their organizations. Follow HRs guidelines, but start building a case to rid yourself of these destructive freeloaders once and for all.

In closing, you should never let fear run your business or affect your decision making. Whether it is with employees, customers, competitors, or any other outside influence you must persevere. Stay true to your core set of values and make decisions based solely on business principles and do not let emotions play any part. In the end you will be much happier and have a much stronger team around you, if you just do the right thing and leave fear where it belongs…out of the business world.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Slow Your Swing

As many of you know, I love the game of golf, but unfortunately I have never really gotten proficient at the sport due to lack of practice. Being a perfectionist I have many internal arduous battles when I hit the ball and it doesn’t land exactly where I wanted it to land.

As any golfer knows if you don’t put the time into practicing you will never see any sustainable improvement in the game. With that known fact, and my schedule, I may as well sell my clubs and take up a sport I can handle, like dodge ball. At least that way I could alleviate some of the stresses from work. Haha!

The other day I made it a point to go to the driving range since it had literally been months since the last time I hit a golf ball. I was afraid to see how much my game had deteriorated over the past several months. Next to me was a man that had to be in his mid seventies, as I set up I noticed him crushing the ball off the tee. I warmed up and proceeded to tee up myself. The first strike was my usual slice. Nice to know nothing had changed since the last time I struck a ball. I dialed in a little better and started to keep them with-in sight. Every time I hit a ball, the older man next to me would hit the ball 60 or 70 yards past mine.

I guess my ego started playing with me, so I was starting to swing harder and harder. I noticed that the harder I swung the club, the shorter my drives were getting. The older gentleman just sort of chuckled. After it was obvious I was getting more and more frustrated, the man came over to me and said “You need to slow your swing down. It’s not about how hard you hit the ball, it is all about the groove, the plain, and where the ball strikes the club.”

The man took my club stood up and just effortlessly struck the ball. “Crack” it sounded like someone shot a gun. The ball flew down the range an easy 260 yards perfectly straight. While the things he said are all things I have heard several times over the years, I had never made the connection before with work.

It seems with today’s economy we are all trying to do more with less, which means less time for recreation and such. As we continue down this avenue, the stress begins to pile up and we lose our patience. This starts a domino effect of spending less time teaching and more time telling.

I continue to see more and more examples of managers taking on tasks that should be delegated to others, and less time spent working on the business. In other words, yes, we are ‘working harder not smarter’. Take some time to reflect, think of what the best solution is to complete a task and “Slow your swing down”. In the end you will reduce your stress and be more efficient at your job.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Obstacles To Customer Service

Are there obstacles between you and your customers? Are you putting processes in place to slow down or muffle your ability to provide a quick solution to your customers? If the answer is yes; then Stop!

Too many companies get caught up in checks and balances at the expense of their customers and their own ability to respond to a customer’s needs. I see this everyday in the business world. CEOs and CFOs are so worried about setting processes in place to control their own employees that they retard the ability to react in the event of an emergency. Please don’t misunderstand my point. Checks and balances are important, so is safety, internal controls, inventory, etc… However, if you have any processes in place that will stop you from being able to quickly resolve a problem for a customer, then you are missing the mark. Furthermore, all these processes cost money. From the personnel and time required to manage these processes all the way to the material costs of paper, ink, storage, etc… I have seen companies that have internal services that charge as much as 33% of the hourly bill rate. When you consider this, added to the division’s overhead, direct costs, direct and support labor, you can quickly price yourself right out of the market, building new processes and policies that do little to improve the overall operation of the company.

I have seen examples of companies that require Managers to get approvals for special purchases, overtime hours, safety requirements, even things as simple as stopping in at a local hardware store to purchase a two dollar item. While I understand internal controls, these need to be invisible to the customer. If we develop processes that require approval, while a technician is on site, this is slowing down our reaction time. If we require technicians to wait, or go off site, for specialized materials or tools, this is also impeding the process. Over and over again I see examples of reduced resources for the front line in order to have some fallacy of control.

I subscribe to the thought of putting the right person in charge and empowering them to make decisions that are within their skill set, then holding them accountable to the decisions they have made. I believe that if you hire the right team and provide them with the right training and support, then the rest will take care of itself and you will not need all these policies to police them, you will be able to trust them to make the right decisions based on experience and education. You still need controls in place but these are done on the back end where there is zero impact to the customers and zero impact to the team’s ability to react.

One needs to really look at the risk to reward when it comes to policies and processes. What is the real liability and what would it cost to implement this process. When I say cost I don’t just mean dollars and cents. What impact will this have on our ability to provide immediate and superior customer service to our clients? What psychological impact will this have on our team? Don’t be fooled! Trust is a big deal to most people and if they feel that they are not trusted by their employer they will move on. Finally, once you have balanced out this evaluation, if it makes sense to move forward, do so with zero impact to the customer. If this process or policy doesn’t pay for itself, then it probably isn’t a very good idea. Therefore it shouldn’t cost the customer any more for you to implement. Once fully implemented the new policy or procedure should not slow down your response time or the ability to handle a customer’s request on the fly, it should only improve your overall operation and support providing your customers with a better overall experience.

The service industry is about exactly that: “SERVICE!” When a customer has an emergency, or even just a need, it is our obligation to satisfy their need as quickly and efficiently as possible. We cannot afford to have obstacles and barricades in place to slow down or even stop our ability to respond. We need to react at the speed of light. We must never forget that it is because of the customer that we exist!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Learned Behavior

The other day the AC stopped working in my truck and I had to use my wife’s car to get back and forth to work while my truck was being repaired. That particular morning it was raining outside and as I went to turn on the wipers, instead I turned on the lights. Over the next couple days I kept trying to put the key in the steering column rather than the dashboard where it belongs on my wife’s car, flashing my high beams rather than using my turn signal, etc, etc, etc.

This got me thinking about how many bad habits we get into as service providers. For our technicians this learned behavior could result in safety risks. For our management this same behavior could mean less responsive customer care. Let me explain.

With our service technicians, which can also apply to other industries as well, they get into situations where they are performing the same functions over and over again. This repetition causes them to stop thinking and just perform the learned behavior (trying to stick the key into the steering column). The reason this becomes a safety risk is that every job is not the same. Every job is unique even if it is the same action but in a different location. As an example, I have a technician that is on a job replacing wall packs on the outside of a building. The technician starts out on the back side of the building. In this location there is little outside influence. They are working in a dead end alley with no people around. As the tech goes up and down the ladder and back and forth to and from their truck they start a learned behavior. Moving along as the day progresses the technician starts to work on the side of the building. This side of the building has an entrance from a side street and parking spaces. If the technician is not careful they could come down off the ladder and walk into traffic, or drop something on a pedestrian walking to their car. Furthermore, they need to be more aware of cars that are backing in and out of parking spaces that could hit them, their truck, the ladder, etc. This is just one simple example but you can begin to see the danger in a learned behavior.

As managers we also get into learned behavior that can be dangerous. We continue to get more responsibility lumped onto us as the economy continues to shrink. We sometimes get into a rhythm of handling our daily activities. While this is beneficial to our efficiencies, when a problem arises, or a customer has a need, we can use this same learned behavior to brush over the problem or the needs of the customer. It is imperative that we never lose focus of the customer’s needs. We need to understand that every customer is different and every need they have is unique. Just like the technician scenario, if we get into the habit of dealing with every customer the same way every day we may figuratively get hit by a car.

We need to continue to stay focused on the task at hand and give it the attention it deserves. Let go of the learned behavior, and avoid repetitive thought processes. I am reminded of a story I read about a child who visited the circus with his parents. The little boy was in awe at the huge elephants being washed by the trainers. The little boy walked up to the trainer and asked her, “excuse me, how does the little chain around the elephants leg work?” The trainer said “why what do you mean little guy?” The little boy said “that elephant is huge, and I have seen in movies where elephants can rip trees out of the ground with just their trunk. It seems to me that the elephant could easily break that chain, or rip out the small wood peg the chain is attached to, couldn’t he?” The trainer chuckled and said “he sure could! But you see, when the elephants are little babies we chain them up like this and they are not strong enough to break the chain or rip out the stake we drive into the ground. When they are small they try over and over again to break free but they cannot and eventually they give up. The elephants have great memories and because of that, they never try again. They are convinced that they have already tried to break free but it is impossible.”

This story was retold by Ken Blanchard in one of his many great books on management and customer service. I am repeating it yet again because it has a valuable lesson about learned behavior. Not only are there risks involved with learned behavior as stated above, but what else are you not achieving because you have been convinced it is not possible through past experiences or years of others telling you so. Break free of the chains that bind you, and stop thinking as you once did, and start thinking of what could be. Only then you can eliminate all risks and open all possibilities.