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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

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Sorcerer’s Techniques

Over the years I have seen many examples of managers casting blame upon others as though they were sorcerers casting magical spells. Throughout my management career I have always conducted myself in two ways. One, everything starts and stops at my desk. Two, I take all the blame and none of the credit. When something goes wrong it is my fault. I am the manager, who else’s fault can it be? I own it, and accept the consequences. Then I make adjustments that ensure it won’t happen again. When things go well, or I am given a compliment, I pass it down to my team where it belongs, don’t thank me, it was John, or Greg, or etc., which did all the work! If more managers would accept responsibility and stand up for their team, how much stronger would the American workforce be?

Unfortunately, in today’s world, I see more sorcery and finger pointing than accountability. It seems that more people are concerned with self preservation than with doing the right thing. Many managers are interested in setting themselves up in a position with no accountability. When something goes wrong, they divert the focus to a team member and the blame game begins.

As a manager I try to make it very clear to my team what my expectations are and how they will be held accountable to those expectations. If ever I cannot apply accountability, then I know there is an issue with structure. So the question has to be asked, how do people get themselves into a position of power with no accountability? Unfortunately, I can’t answer that question, but I can help by giving advice on how to keep it from happening to you.

If you are in a management position be sure to check your structure. If there is no accountability to a team member, group, or division, then more than likely you have a sorcerer in your organization. Here are the basics: You shouldn’t have responsibility for something you have no control over, nor should you be held accountable to something that you have no control over. Same goes for your team. Take the time to think through your reporting lines and make sure that everyone has a way to be held accountable for everything under their control. Then make sure that all team members truly have control over all they are being held accountable for.

Recently I had a discussion with a good friend of mine (we will call him Jim for this story). Jim is a Sr. PM at a competitor’s electrical company. He was expressing to me some of the frustration he felt due to a series of events he was involved in and I felt this situation would help illustrate the sorcerer’s techniques.

Jim was called in for a meeting by Ken, the Operation’s Manager, to review some of the projects under Jim’s “control”. When Jim arrived, Ken sat him down in his office and began asking Jim why his jobs were losing money. Jim tried to explain to Ken that after he had done his own project analysis, he realized that the estimating department on one of the projects had left out an entire page of the plans, which consisted of the whole third floor lighting and associated labor and materials. On a second project the purchasing department had purchased the generators for the project for nearly $500,000, when the estimate only had a total of $130,000 figured for generators. When you actually looked into the projects they were in good shape considering, all the mistakes made outside of Jim’s control. Once Jim finished with his explanations, Ken was upset and blamed Jim for the problems. Ken went on to let Jim know that he is the Project Manager, and it is his responsibility to make the projects financially successful. He went on to say that, mistakes in estimating are not an excuse for a bad project, every project has estimating mistakes.

So who is the Sorcerer? Is it Jim or Ken? The answer might surprise you. Actually they are both sorcerers. Jim blamed the estimating department and the purchasing department, and Ken blamed Jim. I would be willing to bet that the chain of blame continued in both directions. More than likely the estimating department will say they weren’t given enough time, and the purchasing department would say they got a great deal; and Ken’s boss would say that Ken needs to figure out what’s wrong with his whole group.

If Jim had gone through the plans himself and done his own take off before they started the project, he could have brought this to Ken’s attention before the job went south, and then Jim wouldn’t have looked like he was making excuses since at that point the job hadn’t even started yet.

Ken should have a process in place to make sure that an estimate is right prior to submittal, or at least before accepting the contract, and not put all the responsibility on the PM. That way, if there is something missed, you know before signing a contract and have time to correct the numbers, or take the risk.

For this particular scenario our chain of checks and balances goes like this: as soon as a team is awarded a project, we name a project manager and a superintendent. The project manager, superintendent, and the original estimator take an entire new, and separate, take-off of the plans. Then all three get together to compare notes and only once they have all agreed that the take-off is correct, do we move forward. There is also a high level legal contract review done to avoid contract language pitfalls. This includes the PM, Legal Counsel, Division manager, and a VP. Only once all agree that this is a good project, do we move forward with contract execution. While some people may feel that this expense is unjustified, just think about the amount of money lost on the two examples above.

While there is no guaranteed solution to eliminate all blame, you need to do your best to make sure that everyone is working together to the successful completion of every project. If you can commit to your team and they can count on your support and integrity, you will win and lose as a team with little to no blame or finger pointing. The sorcerer relies on smoke, mirrors, and misdirection and eventually they are reveled for the frauds that they are. It doesn’t take magic to establish accountability but it does take a brain. And remember, thinking is hard work. That is why so few do it!

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Danger of Silence

If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Basic physics can prove the answer to this question, and it is Yes! It absolutely makes a sound. However when a customer is disappointed there is no way to be sure they will make a sound.

Many of us have seen the survey cards, emails, or call backs asking how a company did. Were you satisfied, etc…? I applaud those companies because at least they are asking. Furthermore they are taking an extra step to try and understand their perceived value, and if the customer enjoyed their experience.

The problem is that most people don’t want to be bothered by these surveys. They are way too busy to take the time to fill out a survey or comment card, or spend time answering questions. Many studies have been done, and the average is around one percent of patrons actually fill out a survey or comment card. If you dig deeper into that statistic you will find that, a majority of the surveys that are filled out are not complimentary. Therefore, you can reduce it down to approximately one out of a hundred people will actually take the time to tell you how you are doing, and usually it is only if they were dissatisfied. So what about the other 99 customers? Where they all happy? Of course not!

This blog was inspired by an experience I had this weekend. My wife and I went out to eat at a Mexican restaurant. Actually, it used to be her favorite restaurant. When we arrived we spent about five minutes waiting at the door with no one acknowledging that we even existed. Finally we had someone come over to and take us to our table. Then a waiter came up and took our drink order. About ten minutes later he came back with what must have been a very complex drink order, two waters and a diet coke! Then, before we could say anything, he said he would be right back to take our order.

As we waited for at least another 10-12 minutes, I couldn’t help but notice there were hardly any people in the restaurant. While the bar was pretty crowded, the actual restaurant was empty. What could cause such bad service at what used to be an excellent restaurant? The more I thought about it the more I realized that the last several times we had visited this restaurant the service and food had progressively lost the quality it once had.

Just then the waiter came over, and took our order. After we waited for what seemed to be an eternity, the cook actually came and brought us the food at last. I guess the waiter couldn’t be bothered? My food was not only a disgrace to Mexican cuisine, but the cook hadn’t even remembered to stuff the peppers I ordered. After two bites I pushed the food to the end of the table, and figured I would send the food back when the waiter came back to check on us. Roughly 30 minutes later the waiter came to our table and asked if we were done as he took up all the plates, completely ignoring the fact that I hadn’t eaten any of my meal. At this point I was so angry I figured I would just keep my mouth shut and leave.

My wife and I left and talked about how sad it was that they could let, what was once a great product, become such a disappointment. We will continue to spread the word to everyone we know that this place is a dive, and will never again recommend it to anyone. Once more we will never patronize that restaurant again.

So the question I put out there is how many customers do you have that are not saying anything to you, but are saying a lot about you? In the past if I came across this situation I would take the time to express my dissatisfaction to the manager. However, in the above case I was pushed so far over the edge that I was just done with this establishment. Most people are not going to say anything to you regardless of their frustration level. They will just disappear.

Today I have had a chance to calm down and I plan on stopping by the restaurant and letting the manager know what happened and why I will not be returning. Being in business, I feel I have that obligation. However, it will not change the outcome.

Too many companies in today’s world feel that ‘no news is good news’. I hope that this example helps illustrate how dangerous silence can be, as well as the importance of having a specific process and continually monitoring its success. That which is not measured cannot be improved. So how are you measuring your customer’s satisfaction?

The truth is that I love to hear from happy customers that sing my praises. However, I need to hear from the ones that are not as impressed. Every time a customer has a problem, I have the chance to excel. It is my duty to my customers to always be looking for ways to improve their customer experience and reward them for choosing our service over the hundreds of other options they have.

So if you don’t currently monitor your customer’s satisfaction, you really should start to think about implementing a plan. While yes, there will always be a small group that is willing to tell you where you went wrong, it is the silence that is the true danger to your bottom line.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Problem Solvers

It has been my experience that problem solvers hold the most value within a company. For that reason, I try to surround myself with team members that look for solutions. Since my first job, I have always felt that my duty was to make my boss’s job easier. I figured that it was my job to find ways to solve my superior’s problems. This same attitude flows over into the customer service side of business as well. No one wants to solve your problems, they want someone with solutions.

Yesterday, I was speaking with a colleague, and he was telling me that he is sick of people bringing him problems. He doesn’t need people to bring him problems; he can find them all by himself. In fact, problems will ultimately present themselves in almost every occasion. So why am I paying people to bring the problems to me? This was a very insightful view and quite accurate.

Over the years I have encountered many of these types of team members. Most of them fall into one, or more, of the following categories: gunslingers, time travelers, and tenants.

The Gunslingers will shoot holes into the best laid plans. They are only concerned in casting blame and showing where all the problems are in any given situation. You can spend hours trying to help them solve problems, but they will just continue to tell you why those ideas won’t work. Try to stay away from these types of people. They are rarely trainable, and I have only seen a few that could be converted from their pessimistic outlooks.

The time travelers are the employees that either want to know the future or can only focus on the past. A time traveler will always stay focused on what happened yesterday or what will happen tomorrow. The best way to deal with these team members is to constantly reinforce the fact that we can’t change the past, and we don’t know the future. I have found that if you can get them to start expecting the best but planning for the worst, you can break them of this bad habit. My experience has been that you can learn from history but you need to focus from this point moving forward. Finally you want to have contingency plans in case something does go wrong. However, you cannot afford to stop production due to fear of the unknown.

Our last category are the tenants. I call them tenants because I think of the relationship between a tenant and a landlord. All the tenants do is bring the landlord their problems to fix. While that might be the job of a landlord it is not the job of a manager. Over the years I have used the following technique to stop the tenants in their tracks. When I have someone who continuously brings me problems, I simply ask them the question, what would you do if this was your company? Based on their answer you will know if they are the right person for the job or not. If not, maybe some mentoring is needed? I will get into mentoring next. However, if they can handle it without having to come to you, then why are they coming to you? The simple answer is that they are afraid to make the wrong decision. I have a simple fix for this as well. When I get someone who constantly comes to me with problems or questions, and I know they are capable of handling it without my involvement, I tell them the following; “From this point forward I don’t want you to ask me anymore questions that I can’t answer with a simple yes or no.” For example, don’t come to me with a question about what do I think you should do about….. Instead come in with a statement. I was going to do this about ……is that ok? This will show me that the manager has at least taken the time to think through the problem and come up with solutions. Therefore, bring me one or multiple solutions to choose from. This will eliminate the fear factor and cut down on the interruptions. Over time the manager will also start to build confidence, and realize that they don’t have to involve you on every decision.

My last comment is about mentoring. This is a lost art. Many people today think that they can just hire the perfect employee, and that doesn’t work. While I have spoken about many specific problematic personalities, you have to be honest with yourself. This whole article only applies to skilled and seasoned team members. If you continually have people coming to you with questions, is this a personnel problem or a training problem? If you look back on your own career I am sure you will remember many people who took the time to teach you the skills you have acquired. Make sure that you make time to mentor and train others. I personally have time built into my weekly schedule for mentoring. You cannot just hire the perfect employee. There are too many differences from one company to another. However, if you spend the time to train them properly you will build a relationship with a valued team member that will solve your problems and in the end give you more time to train others.