Lucky's Blog

Friday, October 26, 2012

It's In The Bag

The other day my wife was telling me about an experience she had at the grocery store. She was checking out and noticed the special attention the bag boy was paying to her weekly purchases. She went on to tell me that he was very considerate in the way he took the time to organize the contents, keeping the cold products together, not bagging the bread or eggs under something heavy, etc. We all know that some of this is just plain common sense; however she went on to point out that he didn’t mix any of the cleaning chemicals with the food bags, and kept the chips from being crushed into bits. He also took the time to make sure that the bags were not overloaded or too heavy, just a little extra on his part went a long way with my wife.
My wife made it a point to tell the bag boy what a great job he did. He was very thankful and said he had just started there. My wife, being the person she is, went over to the manager to let him know what a fantastic job the bag boy did. The manager thanked her, then walked over and complimented the new hire on a job well done. Then to her surprise, that manager told her that he was going to hold a meeting with all of the bagging personnel to make sure that everyone understood the process this new employee had used, and to make it store policy from that point forward.
There are so many lessons to be learned here:
The importance of customer feedback: As I have explained in multiple articles, you have to know what your customers are thinking. You also need to react and modify your procedures to promote the best possible customer experience.
Catching your team members doing something right:  The manager could have easily waited to say something to the bag boy, or even overlooked such a compliment. But he didn’t! He stopped what he was doing and went right over to compliment him.
The power of NOW:  The manager made it a point to change standard procedure right then to enhance the customer experience. There was no waiting around, submitting ideas, waiting for approvals. He implemented something that had a direct effect on the customer without hesitation, a man after my own heart.
I am pleased to say for the record this was a Publix supermarket. Publix has a reputation for great customer service and this is why. They empower their managers to make decisions that directly affect the customer experience and help the bottom line. (No, I do not own any stock in Publix; in fact I don’t even have any friends or family that work there. I just believe in giving recognition where it is due.)
Everyone can learn from this story. It is not necessarily the big promotional events and advertising that makes the difference. It’s not always about the lowest price! The real difference is in the small things that you do for your customer to make them feel special and let them know you care. My father always told me that, “anything worth doing is worth doing right”. Luckily for Publix, this bag boy understood that also, and made a difference to a major corporation. While most people would think of a bag boy as a position of low importance, the fact is that anyone can make a difference, and you need to instill a culture where everyone can contribute to the best practices of your company. You need to immediately compliment your team when they do something right and you need to use the power of NOW. Why? Because, if you do, the rest will be in the bag!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Being the Conductor

Let me start off by saying, this is not an intended pun. In the title I said, “Being the conductor”, I am not referring to an electrical conductor, as many may think who are in my same industry. I am referring to a musical conductor. This article came from a conversation I had with one of my managers a while back. I was telling my wife about it and she mentioned what a great illustration it was, so I decided to share this with my followers, I hope you enjoy.
One business unit I had overseen continued to struggle financially, so I went to have a conversation with the business unit manager, to see how we could improve the fiscal performance of his group. For the purposes of this article I will call this manager Stan.
Stan was a dedicated hard working manager. He would work on average 75 hours a week, yet his division was still struggling. One thing about Stan was that he was not a conventionally trained business unit manager. What I mean by that is he didn’t have any formal college or professional training. He managed to work his way up through the field, a hard route to go no doubt, and a testament to his tenacity.
Over the past several months, when I would have conversations with Stan, he would always be out in the field or on projects with his guys. He was definitely a boots on the ground kind of guy. Who could blame him? The field forces are who he could relate with best, and it was where he felt most comfortable. His team respected him greatly, and the customers loved him. However, the financial performance of his group continued to falter.
I scheduled an entire day to spend with Stan. We started off by going through his paperwork and analyzing the financial reports to identify where the problems were, and to start brainstorming on solutions for improvement. Throughout the morning, Stan had some great ideas on how to increase productivity, and in turn increase profits. However, every time I would bring up metrics or processes to put in place to measure and reinforce the improvement, I would get the same answer, “I don’t have time for that”.  I explained to Stan that, “you have plenty of time if you would stop spending all of your time in the field.” I further told him it was time he realized that he had to put down his tools and start managing the outcome, not being a part of physical effort.
Stan told me that he couldn’t leave the field because nobody could do what he did. This is probably one of the most common statements I have heard over the years. The truth is, most anyone can do what we do, but most people will be happy to let us do it if they have a choice. That is to say, rarely will someone interrupt you from doing their job for them.
I asked Stan to come with me and take a break for lunch. As we sat eating lunch, I kept drilling Stan as to the real reason why he couldn’t let go of the field piece and start planning and managing. Finally, just as we were finishing up lunch he broke down and told me, “I don’t like the office part!” He went on to tell me that he likes the satisfaction of completing a project with his hands and when he is done, there is something tangible to show for it. The office work is an unseen, unappreciated, part of the work and when you are done there is nothing to show for it. At least not anything anyone will remember a year from now. He then looked me right in the eye and said, “You’re a musician, don’t you get a better feeling playing music rather than listening to it?” I was set aback for minute by this analogy. But then I thought about what he said.
I then said, “Stan, let’s look at the example you just gave. You are right I am a musician, and back in the day I loved playing music in front of a crowd. But if we are going to use this analogy, listening to the music wouldn’t be the appropriate parallel. You have to think of yourself as the conductor of a symphony. It is your job to get all of the musicians to play in perfect rhythm and harmony for a successful performance. No matter how great the individual musicians are, without a talented conductor to lead them, they will not come together and no one will appreciate the talents of the orchestra. Furthermore, you said that there wouldn’t be anything tangible to prove what you had accomplished a year from now. Using that same analogy, do people remember the name Beethoven, or the name of the third chair viola in his 5th symphony?”
To put together beautiful music, it takes the conductor, the musicians, the gaffers, the event staff, all the way to the parking attendants. No one job is more important than the other, because if one person doesn’t do their job well the whole production is at risk.
I believe that Stan left the meeting with a better understanding and a whole new outlook on his role as a manager. While Stan now works at a different company he is a very successful senior project manager and has developed in to a great leader. To this day when I see him and I congratulate him on his success, he still waves his hands around and tells me he is just the conductor of a great orchestra.

Footnote: For those of you who are in the electrical industry the same principle applies. How effective are electrons if they don’t have a good conductor? Just had to throw that in there…LOL

Monday, August 27, 2012

Road Trip

I can still remember the first vacation my wife and I ever took. We were just married and decided to take a three day weekend to Lake Okeechobee. We lived in South Florida, so it didn’t seem too far, and it should be easy to keep the expenses down. You see at that time we were, to say the least, struggling. We had a total budget for the trip of about $70 dollars, which for us represented an entire year of saving and cutting expenses.
My wife and I were so excited about taking this trip we were like two little kids eager with anticipation and excitement. Our plan was to leave right after I got off work on Friday, travel up to the Lake to set up camp, and stay through Monday, which happened to be a holiday. We had borrowed a tent from a friend since we couldn’t afford luxuries like hotels. I mean think about it, we had to borrow a tent.
I can still remember that Friday, the day went by so slowly, I thought it would never end. But, finally the end did arrive and I raced home. My wife had just arrived home from her job and we quickly threw things together and jumped in the car and set out on the three hour drive to the lake, to our very first vacation.
We arrived at the lake around 7:00PM and broke out the tent to start setting it up. The first thing we noticed was that we had no instructions on how to set up this monster of a tent. You see this wasn’t a modern day tent that sets up in 10 minutes. This was an old school tent with complicated pieces that had to go together a certain way, and in a certain order, or it would not work. After about 30 minutes it started raining to really complicate things. By 8:30PM the sun was setting and swarms of mosquitoes were draining us of quarts of blood by the minute. Completely aggravated and starving, we gave up on the tent and huddled in the car. Being that it was July in Florida, it was over 100 degrees in the car with the doors closed, so we decided it would be a good idea to start the car and leave it running with the AC on. It was pouring outside and all the food we brought needed to be cooked on an old propane grill we had borrowed from the same friends who had cursed us with the tent, and no instructions. Considering the pouring rain, we knew there was no way we were going to eat that night. We soon realized we had made one other big mistake! While we were trying to set up the tent we had left the car door open, now we were trapped in a car with 100s of hungry mosquitoes. As the car started cooling down we drenched ourselves with bug spray and tried to get some sleep, hoping tomorrow would be a better day.
The next morning we woke up, turned off the car, and stepped outside. The first thing we noticed was that our tent had become a nice little wading pool from the previous night’s storms. Frustrated, we decided that we would hit the showers and try to wash off the mosquito spray, only to realize that we had forgotten to pack soap, shampoo, or anything really needed to take a shower. Surprisingly, we did remember the towels!
The rest of the day didn’t go much better. We also realized we had brought cans of food but no can opener, fishing rods but no tackle box, and worst of all, a gas grill with no propane! By noon our stomachs had gotten the better of us and we packed it up and headed for home, only to realize that we didn’t have enough gas to get home since we had left the car running all night! Luckily we were able to get a hold of a relative on the campground payphone, who agreed to meet us at a gas station in Ft. Lauderdale and lend us enough cash to get home.
While I have always been the consummate planner, and always had two or three back up plans in place for everything at work and in life, in this case I let my enthusiasm for the trip get in the way of proper planning.
To this day I will never live that trip down. But it taught me a valuable lesson. Regardless of how pressed for time you may be, or how urgent a situation maybe, you cannot afford not to take the time to formulate a proper plan. As I illustrated in this story, failure to plan will have much worse consequences in the long run. The extra time it takes to put together a solid and well thought out plan will always bring rewards during implementation. So regardless of the pressure placed upon you, always take the time to think through your venture, step by step. What will be needed, what could go wrong, and how will I handle that situation? By going through all of the ‘who, what, where, when, and how’s’, you will have a successful and enjoyable road trip no matter where the road may be taking you.

HELP! The Four Letter Word

It is funny how many people will not ask for help, even if they are on the verge of a complete meltdown. As a manager I tell all of my team members I am here to help and serve them. I have always believed that a strong leader needs to understand that they are in that position to serve their team, not the other way around. However, even though I have expressed this many times, many of my team members treat ‘help’ like a four letter word. To be honest maybe I set a bad example because I am as guilty as everyone else about asking for help. I must say though, I will ask for help before it’s too late. Maybe it is years of conditioning that only the weak ask for help? I can’t answer why the culture exists, but only to the risk that exists, if ignored.
Too many people in today’s times are afraid to ask for help and feel that they are expected to ‘go it alone’. As many of you already know my football analogies, the truth is a Quarterback cannot score all by themselves, they need the help of the entire team. While it may be admirable to be a martyr, most martyrs end up getting sacrificed. You really need to ask yourself the following question, “Will my manager be more upset if I ask for help, or if I crash and burn?”
Let me start off by saying that if your manager gets upset about you asking for help, then you have bigger problems than just being overwhelmed. However, most true leaders will not get upset, or even bothered about one of their team members asking for help. In fact most leaders live for the opportunity to help others. When the waters get a little muddy, it usually comes from the way that the team member asks for help. If you go to your manager with questions such as “what should I do?”, or “I can’t do…” this can make a manager, who already has a full day’s work themselves, feel that you are asking them to do your job for you.
Throughout my career I have always tried to bring solutions to my manager, not problems, as I stated in a previous bolg. Now that doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help, but do give it some deep thought before you ask for help. One successful way to accomplish that is to try to follow a few simple guidelines:
1.       Whatever you ask your manager, should be able to be answered with a “yes” or “no”. This will show that you have put thought into your dilemma and have possible solutions; you are just looking for direction.
2.       The support you are asking for is equipment, or labor based. These requirements will come up from time to time and you should never feel that you are encumbering your manager with such requests.
3.       Specific information, policy, or advice. It is a manager’s job to help guide you in the right direction, so don’t feel in the wrong asking a direct question to help you decide the proper approach.
4.       Finally, asking permission. This is the one issue most people don’t have an issue with and will engage their managers with just to make sure they cover themselves before moving forward.
 As long as you respect the fact that your manager also has a large amount of work to complete, and you show respect for their time, you should never have to feel bad about asking for help. Remember that you are part of their team, and your manager wants you to succeed. However, they are not mind-readers and with today’s economy they are as overwhelmed as you are, so there is a good chance they may not ask you if you need help. If you don’t tell them you need help you can be assured you will not receive any. If you decide not to ask for help and your project crashes, you have no one to blame but yourself. The end result will affect your manager, your team, and your own morale, just because you were too proud to ask for help. Chances are if that happens, help isn’t the only four letter word that will be tossed around the office.

The Lumberjack’s Apprentice

Below is one of my favorite stories which contain multiple lessons. I have used this story many times to express the importance of staying current and always working smart. I was told this story by one of my mentors when I was just an apprentice and I have never forgotten it. I don’t know where it originated from and I would give credit if I did. I hope you enjoy!

A young man showed up to the towns’ largest saw mill looking for a job as a lumberjack. When he interviewed with the mill’s foreman, the foreman told him he wasn’t hiring anyone and to go away. The young man said please sir, just give me a chance. I have a very strong work ethic and I never quit. I know if you just give me a chance you will be happy with my results. The foreman told the young man, alright, here’s what I’ll do. I will send you out with today’s crew, and if you can keep up with these seasoned veteran loggers we can discuss you coming to work here. The young man said thank you sir and headed out with the crew.
The seasoned lumberjacks were teasing the young man as they walked out to the field. They called him scrawny, baby face, and asked him if he had enough diapers to last all day in the field. The young man just took it in stride and continued along the path as he focused on the task at hand. One by one the crew members were dropped off at their stations and started chopping down trees. When the young man tried to get off at a stop, they wouldn’t let him; they kept taking him deeper and deeper into the forest. They told him you have to earn the closest spots to the mill rookie, and they continued to laugh out loud.
Finally after the young man made it to his spot he started chopping away.
A little while later he came walking back towards the mill. All the lumberjacks were hazing him calling him a quitter, and saying that didn’t take long. However, they were bewildered when he came walking back by, heading back out to his spot.
About an hour later, here comes the young man again. At this point the hazing was turning into insults, calling him lazy, and saying “what, do you need a break again?” But again after a quick stop in the mill, he was headed back out to his spot.
This continued several more times throughout the day. The seasoned lumberjacks were completely beside themselves with anger, at the young man’s ways. But found solace with each other knowing that there was no way he would be back the following day.
Finally, the day ended and they all went back to the mill. The foreman pulled the young man into his office and closed the door. The older men were laughing and pondering about what was going on behind that door. You see, the Foreman had a bad temper and was known for really laying down a lashing when someone even just barely missed their mark of 4 cords in a day, and with all the young man’s lollygagging he would have been lucky to get a single cord cut.
After a few minutes the foreman and the young man came out of the office, both of them laughing. The entire crew was shocked to see the young man wearing a uniform, as the foreman said,” I want you all to welcome the newest member of our team.” The foreman went on to say he had never seen anyone able to cut 8 cords of lumber in a single day, and he was sure that this kid would be a great addition.
The seasoned crew was stunned. Then the crew leader shouted out, “No Way! That is impossible! We watched this kid walk back and forth to the mill at least 8 times throughout the day. There is no way he was able to cut down more trees than the rest of us.” The young man just stood there perplexed, then he said, “well how many times did you go back to sharpen your axe?”

I tell this story to illustrate that no matter how experienced you are and no matter how long you have been doing it ‘that way’, you should always look at things with a new set of eyes and be open to learning, even from the most junior members of your team. More importantly, you should always be analyzing and improving the way things are done. Change is inevitable, and new technology is developing every day. If you are not changing, you are getting left behind. So keep striving for information and keep your eyes and mind open for new ways to get things done faster, better, and more efficiently. In other words, always be sharpening your axe!

The Power of Now

This article is about the power of now and not putting things off. Many times I am asked, ” how do you remain so organized in the face of utter chaos?” The simple answer is that I don’t allow things to pile up. In previous articles I have explained the art of time management and planning ‘Murphy-Time’ into your daily schedule. While I will be the first to admit that lately my scheduled Murphy-Time has not been enough to keep up with all the events, without it, I would be sunk. Prioritizing has to come into play when you become overwhelmed but I don’t want to confuse prioritizing with procrastination.
The power of now is what I call not procrastinating, not putting something off, but jumping right on the issue without delay. I can’t tell you how many times I see managers have an issue come up, or a question they put off and say “I will find out”, or “I will check into that”. If somebody approaches me with a problem I solve it right then. I pick up the phone, shoot an email, make a decision, or address the problem right then. I don’t have the luxury to put it off or wait until I get to it. If someone was able to approach me with the question, then I obviously had the time to deal with the issue. If I were to say “Let me look into that”, I know that an hour from now I will have 20 other issues vying for my time.
All too often I have team members come into my office and say “when you have a minute”… They are always shocked when I say what’s on your mind? And ask them to come in and sit down. That is the power of now. Not only does it keep things from piling up on me, but it lets my teammates know that they are important to me, and I care about what they care about.
I will have a customer ask me a technical question that might require research. I will ask them if they have a minute, and will pull out my iPad and start searching the internet, or make some phone calls with them standing right there until I can get them the answer they needed. Again, that is the power of now.
Many times I will have a team member come in my office and say “I need …”. I will stop what I am doing and take whatever actions are required by me to get them what they need. That is the power of now.
Finally, when I have a thought “it might be a good idea if…” I immediately analyze the pros & cons, make a decision, and if I decide it’s a good idea, I take the actions required to implement the idea right then.
The true power of now comes down to the fact that in most cases you really do have the time to address issues when they are presented. Why would you put them off? Surely you are not going to have more time later. I can almost guarantee that there will be another issue requiring your attention later on, so why let things pile up? Resolve the issues or questions now!
If you are contemplating a career move, going back to school for a better education, or simply just considering a new marketing strategy. The time to act is now. Weigh the options, lay out the pros vs. cons and if it makes sense, then do it. If you have weighed out all the positives and negatives yet still can’t decide, flip a coin, and move on. There is no excuse for procrastinating, and it only leads to becoming overwhelmed down the road.
The power of now translates into everything you do both at work and at home. I hear people say I have this goal, or I plan to… However, if you ask them details about how, what, where and when, you quickly find out that they don’t have a plan or a goal, they only have a dream. A plan or a goal requires specific steps and processes to acquire the goal or successfully complete the plan. Be a doer not a dreamer. Don’t talk about how nice it would be if, or wouldn’t it be great if. Put together your plan and as Nike would say “just do it”. And when should you do it? NOW!

Enlightened Over Enraged

This article is about getting better with every mistake you make, something I have always implemented in my life’s effort. We have all heard the adage that it doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down, but that you get up and try again. While this may be true, in actuality, it takes quite a bit more than just getting up. If you get knocked down and get right back up, but do the same thing you originally did to get knocked down, chances are you will end up knocked down again. The trick is to understand why you got knocked down in the first place. As George Santayana said; “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.
I can remember many years back when I played football, watching other players that would get beat on the field and then get mad, waving their hands, cursing, yelling, pounding the ground, or many other foolish things to express their anger over the fact that they just got vanquished by the other team. To be honest, I never understood this behavior. Not because I never had been outplayed by another, but because when it did happen, I would stop and analyze what just transpired. I would figure out where I went wrong, make some adjustments and then try again, usually with better results than just getting mad and making disparaging remarks about the other person’s mother.
This application applies in all walks of life including work. Many times I see people blame others for their shortcomings, or blame other companies when things go wrong, rather than looking internally at what they could have done better. It seems that we live in an age today where everything is somebody else’s fault and no one wants to take responsibility for their own actions. Consider this your wakeup call if you are someone who likes to cast blame. If you find yourself in an unfavorable position, chances are you contributed to the chain of events and put yourself in that position. Take the time to learn from it and avoid those same actions again in the future.
The truth is that every failure, every mistake, every time something doesn’t go your way, you are faced with a teachable moment wherein you have a chance to analyze what went wrong, make some adjustments and get back out there and try again. It is your choice to become enraged and to continue making the same mistakes over and over again, or to take the time to understand where, when, and why things went the way they did-- and become enlightened.

That Dog Won’t Hunt

I have expressed many times my belief that you need to spend the time and effort to train your team members. I have also explained that too many people expect to hire the perfect employee and are too quick to fire someone. I am a firm believer in the fact that most people want to do a good job, they just lack the direction, support, or skills to do so. As I have stated many times, I feel that if you provide a team member with the proper training and support, and they understand what the expectations are, most will perform and meet or exceed your expectations. This article is not about those people. This article is about those few people who cannot be taught. While this is not meant to be a negative article, I felt it was important to help others understand that sometimes, ‘that dog just won’t hunt’.
Throughout my career I have always made an effort to provide as much training, and support as possible. When a team member stumbles, I try to catch them and help them understand the meaning of a teachable moment. However, you do need to know when enough is enough. Over the years I have spent hours trying to teach and mentor people that just were not willing to learn. In most cases it was due to the fact that they believed that they already knew everything. As you can imagine it isn’t possible to teach someone something if they already know everything.
Recently I had an employee that was technically as good as you could find. The quality of his work was as high as any other team member I had. However, he had the misconception that he already knew everything and was bothered by the training meetings I hold every month. He would be the last person in the room, he spent most of the time looking at his Blackberry while I would be going through the training, and when I would ask for questions he would only ask questions like, “when can we all get a raise or a bonus?”, or any other question that would cause discomfort amongst the team members in the room. Most customers liked the quality of his work but didn’t like his attitude. This combined with his combative nature towards authority commonly put me in a difficult position.
One morning I received a call from our insurance company informing me of an incident where this employee was charged with a felony reckless driving offense, and that he would no longer be allowed to operate any company owned equipment, including the service truck he was currently using. He had done it to himself now. His contempt for authority had caught up with him. I had no choice at this point but to terminate his employment.
Upon reflection I knew I needed to remove this employee from my organization prior to this point, and I could have avoided the risk if I had properly analyzed the situation. However, I tend to error on the side of giving people a chance to improve and grow, rather than just removing them at the first sign of trouble. With that said, there has to be a point where you realize, that ‘that dog won’t hunt’, and all of your efforts are in vain.
Due to this particular turn of events, I have taken the time to look deep inside myself and come up with a new method to mitigate the risk of such team members. I have implemented this method, and if you are on the fence about a particular team member I suggest you do the following steps as well, to see if they are worth the time to train. First, give them some simple clear objectives to complete, make it something that doesn’t require any real skill, just follow through. Once you have tasked them with these simple objectives; then gauge their performance on completing those tasks. Did they complete the tasks in a timely manner? What was the quality of their delivered product? How much support did you have to give them before they completed the project? Once you have analyzed the results, the answer should be pretty clear. If the team member cannot perform on simple tasks that require little to no skill-set, what is the use of spending time and effort in training them further? Think about it for a minute. If they couldn’t complete something that was well within their knowledge base, then all the training in the world isn’t going to change their work practices. The tasks you gave them, they already knew how to do, since that was a prerequisite of the task in the first place, so training wouldn’t have helped the final outcome.
I hope everyone understands that I have not changed my beliefs one bit. I still believe that most people, with the proper training and support, will turn into highly effective team members. However, there has to be a time when you stop banging your head against the wall, stop expending so much effort in trying to drag someone to success, and just realize that, ‘that dog won’t hunt’.
In closing, just because ‘that dog won’t hunt’, doesn’t mean that dog can’t be a good guard dog, service dog, or just a good companion. Even when you realize that someone doesn’t fit into your organization, it doesn’t mean they can’t excel somewhere else. So don’t put the dog down just because it won’t hunt, help find a place where that dog can feel special. Not because it is your responsibility, but because it is the right thing to do.

The Poor Mexican Fisherman

Below is a story that has a very solid meaning for everyone who has a job, a company, or any responsibilities in life really. It is called the Poor Mexican Fisherman and it goes like this;

A very successful American businessman was on vacation in Mexico.
As he relaxed on the beach, he noticed a poor fisherman coming in on his old dilapidated boat, with a small stringer of fish.  The American complimented the fisherman on his catch and asked him how long it took him to catch that many fish. 
“Not long” was the reply from the fisherman.
“Then why didn’t you stay out longer” asked the tourist?
“Because this is enough for me and my family” explained the fisherman.
“So what do you do with the rest of your time the businessman inquired?”
The poor fisherman said “I sleep late, fish for a while, play with my children, take a siesta and spend time with my wife.  Then in the evening, I go into the village to visit my friends, I have a few drinks, play the guitar and sing a few songs.  I have a full life.”
The American was surprised at the poor man’s ignorance.  “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you become very successful. You need to spend more time on the water fishing; then you can sell the extra fish, make more money and buy a bigger boat.”
“And after that, asked the fisherman?”
The businessman continued, “With the extra money from the bigger boat, you can buy two or three boats and eventually hire more people to operate a fleet of fishing trawlers.  Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can start to negotiate directly with the processing plants.  After a while you would be able to open your own plant.  Then you could leave this little village for Mexico City and eventually, New York!  From there you could operate the whole enterprise.”
“How long would that take,” asked the fisherman?
“20-25 years,” The businessman replied.
“And after that, asked the fisherman?”
 The businessman continued, “Well my friend, that’s when the fun starts.” explained the tourist, “When the business gets really big, you can sell stock in the company and make millions!”
“Wow, millions.  What happens after that,” asked the fisherman?
The highly educated man said “After that you’ll be able to retire and do whatever you enjoy.”
The poor fisherman looked perplexed and replied, “But, senor what I enjoy is to live on the coast, sleep in every day, do some fishing, play with my kids, take a siesta and spend time with my wife. And in the evenings I like to go out drinking and singing with my friends. Sounds to me like I am already...how do you call it.... retired?” And with that the fisherman turned and walked away.
The businessman with all his education and success was enlightened by the poor Mexican fisherman.
One of the biggest risks, we as managers’ face, is corporate burn-out. Since all good managers are highly involved in their operations, and hold a personal feeling of ownership in everything they do, they also have a tendency to never shut down the work side and keep balance between work, family, friends, and themselves. It is important to make sure that you include time for yourself along with the other big three.
While those that know me will call me out on this article, claiming that I don’t walk the walk when it comes to balance. Believe it or not I do feel that I have a good balance in my life. I really do love what I do, I consider the people I work with my friends and family, so in a twisted way I keep everything balanced.
Everyone’s idea of balance is different so it is up to you to decide what real balance is in your life. What works for me in many cases will not work for the majorly of the population. With that said you should take the time to understand where you have imbalance in your life and work just as hard to keep your life in a constant state of balance as you do to perform your job. You never know what tomorrow brings so enjoy every day as though you were ....how do you say it? .... RETIRED!

The Perfect Play

Many of my followers know that I like to adumbrate my lessons in football analogies. For those of you who enjoy that platform, great! For those of you who are not fans of this platform, I apologize, but as David Coverdale would say, “Here I go again”.
The Perfect Play:
It was a sultry evening. The sweat was pouring off the player’s bruised and battered bodies. The field had been reduced to a giant mud pit from the war that these two teams had battled over the last 59 minutes. It was the fourth quarter with only seconds left. The home team was down by 5 points and this was the last play of the game for the championship and they needed 45 yards for a score. The Head Coach had known that this was going to be a close game and he had also suspected the weather conditions would be wet and oppressively hot. So in preparation for the conditions, during the past two weeks, the coach had run his team through grueling practices to prepare for these conditions. He had also developed a play that, in his mind was un-defendable, if executed properly. They practiced this play hundreds, if not thousands of times prior to game time, and this was the culmination of all of their efforts. As the Quarterback approached the line of scrimmage, he surveyed the defense. As the Quarterback called his check downs he positioned himself in the shotgun position. He called out “Blue 32, Blue 32, Hut, Hut”! The Center snapped the ball perfectly into the QB’s hands, who handed off the ball to the Fullback. Just as it appeared the Fullback would be tackled, he tossed the ball back to the Quarterback, who threw the ball cross field to the Tight-end. The Tight-end had three tiers of blockers ahead of him as he sprinted down the sidelines, the 30, the 20, the 10. All the time the Head Coach sprinting down the sidelines screaming, “go, go, go!” Just as the Tight-end reached the 5 yard line he leaped into the air, where he was hit by the Strong Safety which threw him into a helicopter spin, landing in the end-zone for six points. The Head Coach looked up at the clock which read 0:00. They had won the championship!

Recently I have experienced many of my coached plays, if you will, being executed to perfection as in the example above. And just like the head coach in this story, I feel myself figuratively sprinting down the sideline with pride screaming go!
There is no better feeling than when you invest your time and efforts into a team or an individual, and then see them execute your lessons flawlessly. Furthermore, it brings great pride when you hear your words being repeated by your team in discussions with others. In my case it is phrases like, “you are the face of the company”, “provide plus one service”, or “if you don’t feel safe then don’t do it”. The true pinnacle of leadership is creating tomorrow’s leaders and when you can see that your team is running the plays you designed, you know they are well on their way. Just as in the story above it takes extensive practice and preparedness, but in the end to watch your team score that figurative touchdown, well there just isn’t a better feeling I know. So take the time to plan and prepare. Coach your team tirelessly and give them the tools to succeed. Then sit back and watch your team score the winning goal.

Cruise Control

As many of you know I do quite a bit of traveling for my job and this includes hours of driving on the interstates. I can’t count the number of times I have been thankful for the invention of cruise control, probably just as many times as I have cursed it when the flow of traffic continues to speed up and slow down. You have to wonder, are there that many people that don’t know how to use the cruise control feature? After all if everyone would just set the cruise control to the speed they want to go, traffic would flow much more smoothly. However, it wasn’t until last week that I realized how dangerous this feature can be.
As I traveled back to Tampa, I had set the cruise control at 70 MPH. I was getting to the point of extreme frustration with cars that would pass me then slow down so that I had to pass them. After this continuous battle back and forth for nearly an hour I decided to back the cruise control down to 65 MPH and just let everyone pass me. I turned on the radio and started to listen to an audio book to get my mind off the events that had me so stressed out.
As I listened to the book, chapter one, chapter two, chapter three, the miles seemed to just start flying by. I was becoming more and more relaxed and had long since forgotten the past frustrations. I started to yawn in succession but told myself that I wasn’t tired. My eyelids told me a different story as they continued to get heavier and heavier. At this point I knew I needed to stop and walk around a bit to get the blood flowing again. However, I wasn’t going to get off the interstate. I knew better than to pull off to the side of the road on an interstate and convinced myself to wait until the next rest stop.
As I continued pushing on, every blue information sign I saw was like a water mirage in the desert. I kept thinking when am I going to get to the next rest stop? Suddenly, I heard the thumping of the uneven road on the shoulder lane of the highway (you know, those annoying bumps to keep people from falling asleep at the wheel) and jumped up in my seat, then swerved back onto the road. I had dozed off. While it was literally only for a second, it was one second too long. At that point the adrenaline rush was enough to keep me awake for the next month. What could have gone terribly wrong turned out to be a wakeup call in poor judgment. Next time I will be sure to get off the highway as soon as I start the yawning.
So what the does my poor driving decision have to do with business? Once I composed myself and continued on the trip home I couldn’t help but start applying the lesson I’d just learned to business, after all, I have sort of a sick obsession with that, as most of you already know. How many of us are set on cruise control at work? How many of us have become complacent in our position and just think that all we need to do is show up for work and do what we have always done? I am afraid that many people get stuck on cruise control, not only at work, but in life as well. After all it is easy to do. The problem is there are dangers associated with falling asleep at the wheel, even if only for a second.
What are some signs that you may be on cruise control at work or in life? Ask yourself the following questions:
1.       Do you look for the easiest solution to avoid conflict or controversy?
2.       Do you stay away from activities that make you feel uncomfortable?
3.       Do you find yourself looking for things to do, or reorganizing things just to keep busy?
4.       Do you have open time on your calendar?
5.       Do you find yourself looking forward to going home?
6.       Are you watching more TV or spending more time playing video games or on social media sites?
7.       Do you allow others to perform tasks that you know are your responsibility?
8.       Do you avoid networking events or customer visits?
These are just a few indicators that you may be set on cruise control and if you are, turn it off and get back into the driver’s seat! If you are not constantly driving business and dominating your market then you are setting yourself up for a disastrous chain of events. In business, as well as in life, if you are not a little uncomfortable, then you are not growing and if you are not growing, then you are dying.
Today’s market is all about who is hungry, motivated, and constantly looking for better, faster, more impactful ways to provide the products and services that customers need. The companies that will be successful are the ones that are on the cutting edge of technology and products that serve their industry. You cannot afford to be set on cruise control, if you doze off, even if it’s only for one second; that could be the difference between life and death for your company.

Humble Pie!

One very important trait managers need to embrace is humility. Over the years I have had many managers and leaders tell me that they truly believe this but their actions don’t always reinforce their words.
I have tried to look at each day with a new set of eyes and I try to better understand the needs of my team, customers, vendors, and business partners. I believe that you shouldn’t focus on the way things have always been done, but to always search for better ways to do the things that have always been done. This is not possible if you get caught up in an ego driven environment. As leaders we need to keep an open mind and remember that great ideas can come from anywhere and/or anyone. We cannot afford to get wrapped up in titles or start to believe that we always know the best way. Get over yourself! And understand that many times the best ideas will come from your frontline team members, and more often than not, from some of the newest members that don’t know all of the learned behavior that has been followed by the team members with greater longevity within the company. Stop talking and try listening to what your team is telling you and find ways to support and reward their input.
I remember an old story I was told once that really illustrates this principle. You may have all heard this before but it is worth repeating. One day on a very busy road a large dump truck was traveling to a project to deliver his payload. As he went to pass under a bridge his truck slammed into the overpass and the impact wedged the truck underneath the bridge. The truck was just tall enough to wedge itself under the bridge but seemed to not really damage the bridge’s structural integrity. So as traffic started to pile up the police, emergency crews, and the city’s top engineers showed up. They were all trying to come up with plans on how to get this truck out from under the bridge. One suggested that they bring in a crew to cut the bridge up, and then pull the truck out. Another engineer said that it would be better to get some cutting torches and cut the truck out. Just then an eight year old boy sitting on his bicycle yelled out,”Why don’t you just let the air out of the tires?” This story shows the power of looking at things with “New Eyes”. Sometimes the years of experience we have can cause us to overcomplicate things and obscure the obvious solution.
One of my mentors, and hands down the greatest leader I ever worked for, once told me ‘if your mouth is moving you cannot listen, and if you cannot listen you cannot learn. So shut up and maybe you will learn something’, a little rough, but very true. One key to success is the constant pursuit of knowledge. So, if you are not learning every day, your chances at being successful are greatly reduced. The key point I want to make is that you can learn from everyone around you. Don’t only look to your superiors, books, classes, and the like. You can learn more about your business and how to make it better by listening to your team members and customers than you will ever be able to learn from the latter.
Finally, step down off your ivory tower and ask for your team’s input. Treat them with the respect they deserve, and remain humble. Remember that your team determines the level of your success, so show them respect and listen to their advice. As Ozzy Osborne once said, “You better be nice to the people you meet on your way up, because you will meet them again on your way back down”.

Customer Service Squared

Customer Service is my passion. For over two and a half decades I have spent most of my career trying to provide the Ultimate Customer Experience to my customers. Whether you call it the WOW factor,  plus one, blowing your customers away, or any other of the latest trendy catch phrases, it all comes down to one thing. What are you going to do to make your customer feel special? If you don’t know the answer to this, you better start figuring it out. Competition is stronger now than it has ever been and if you are not willing to take the time to make your customers feel special, your competition will.
Many companies put their focus on new business, profits, production, or a whole laundry list of other metrics that affect their bottom line. However, the most important thing you will ever do to help your bottom line is to make your customers feel special. A legion of customers who are as dedicated to your service as you are to their needs, will result in an army of satisfied customers singing your praises from the mountain tops, which will bring in more new business than a team of sales people and a huge marketing budget.
The sad part is that very few companies take the time to exercise this very impactful process. In fact, quite the contrary seems to be the norm. It seems that most companies take their customers for granted. It is like, “Got-em, who’s next?” There doesn’t seem to be any focus on creating cost effective solutions, getting to know your customer’s business model and how you can help them be more competitive, or taking the time to listen to what the customers are saying. If you want to provide a better customer experience, the first step is to stop selling and start listening. The second step is, make them feel special!
Just the other day I was in Virginia doing a QC check on our team members. I walked into our customer’s store (a National big box home improvement chain) and asked to speak with the manager. A man named Trevor came out and asked if he could help me. I explained to him who I was and that I was there to perform a QC check on the work we had done in his store. Trevor looked perplexed as I started asking him questions such as, did our technicians introduce themselves? and did they let him know what areas would be effected before they started their work? As Trevor nodded his head in affirmation, his affect changed and he said “Stop!… Let me make sure I understand you correctly. You are here just to check on the work your technicians did?”
I said, “Correct.”
Trevor then asked if I was trying to sell him something, I said, “No, I am just making sure that my team members are performing to the standards I have set for them and that you are happy with their performance.”
 As he continued to look at the business card I had handed him when I introduced myself, he said, “And you traveled all the way from Tampa to inspect their work?” I explained that I had many other stops, but yes, I was here to check on the work my Virginia team is doing. Trevor’s face started to relax and he began to smile. He said, “Do you realize that I have been a manager with this company for over ten years and in that time I have dealt with literally thousands of companies who came out to perform service on our store? Not once in the ten years I have been here has one company ever sent someone back to check on the work that was done, let alone someone of your status in the company, or from as far as you have come.” We then continued to walk the store together and look at the work my team had performed. Trevor was very complimentary about my team members and went on to tell me how impressed he was with the respect they showed the customers and how little impact they had on the store’s operation. Once completed Trevor told me what a pleasure it was meeting me and thanked me for my visit. I told him the pleasure was all mine and was on my way.
As I was driving to my next QC location, I couldn’t get Trevor’s words out of my head. How is it possible that such a high level customer has never had another company do a follow up visit for such an extended period of time? While I felt pretty confident that I had made Trevor feel special, that wasn’t the original intent. We have several steps we have included in our overall process to insure that our customers feel special as well as some steps that result in unexpected admiration. But the truth is that we really do care and there is no trick or process that can have the same results. Either you genuinely care or you don’t.
Take a minute and really think about this course of events. If a customer of this level, that has such a high level profile, is not getting even the basic care of a follow up, what does that say about smaller customers? If you are looking for a place to differentiate yourself from the rest of the market, customer care seems to be a place with plenty of room for new players.
When you consider the amount of effort, time, and money, it takes to land a customer, it boggles my imagination why you wouldn’t use everything in your arsenal to keep them. While I am the first to admit that I am a little OCD about quality and customer service, and I hold my team to a much higher standard than the industry trend, I will never understand why companies don’t put their primary focus on building the customer relations they already have in place. As long as it takes to earn the business of your customers it only takes seconds to lose them. So stop running specials and start treating your customers like they are special.  Remember there are multitudes of your competitors just waiting for you to slip up so they can get their chance. The long lasting effects of actually caring for your customers and making them feel as special as they truly are will propel your business through the rough times and help you soar long after our economic recovery.

Stage Right?

One thing that all people in the service industry must remember is that you are on stage. I just finished reading a book by Lee Cockrell called Creating Magic. It is an outstanding book that I recommend to anyone who is in the service industry or has any interest in building a successful team. In this book he quotes his wife as saying that “Everyone is watching and judging you”. This parallels the same guidelines I have expressed to my team; that you are always on stage so you better get it right.
In a previous blog post “First impressions” I speak about a company that got it wrong when they were on stage. I expressed the importance of making sure that all team members understand that they are representing the company’s brand every minute that they ‘fly the company’s banner’, through a shirt logo, truck signage, or just plain conversation. If you are connected to the company in any way, either at work, or on your own personal time, you are representing the company brand and people are watching.
I have shared a story with my team members over the years that will demonstrate this better than I could ever explain it: There was a young man, we will call him Bob, who had started his own electrical company at the very young age of 19. Bob had struggled for the first year trying to break into the construction world and make relationships with contractors in the area. He had done everything right. He spent time on branding and marketing to make sure his name was out there and that everyone knew what his company was all about. He spent time at the local associations getting to know everyone and waiting for the chance to bid the right project that would catapult his company into the big leagues. You see Bob wasn’t looking to just put numbers on the street. He was looking for partners in the industry.
Finally he got his chance. A local company that had a reputation for only hiring quality contractors had contacted Bob about getting together a price for an upcoming project. They sent him a huge pre-qualification package to fill out prior to receiving the plans to make sure that Bob’s company fit into the mold of the type of contractors this GC dealt with. This company had a great reputation for never using low bid contractors, and was focused on building long term business partners to work together building quality high value projects, the exact customer Bob had been searching for. Bob spent quite a bit of money putting together the perfect prequalification package that would illustrate his commitment to quality and value. The company was impressed and signed Bob on to the bid list.
Bob spent nearly three weeks putting together this bid. He build this job several times over in his head to make sure that every value was considered and had pages of notes on ways to improve the efficiency of the project as well as many ‘value engineered’ portions to get better performance out of the overall design. Bob knew this was his shot to not only impress the client, but also to become a real player in the industry. This was a high level, well known project that many long-time contractors wanted, and only the best would have a chance at getting.
Once Bob completed his entire proposal package he made the call and to his delight, the customer told him to come in on Tuesday for a meeting and a short presentation of Bob’s vision for this project.
Bob was nervous. The gravity of this presentation would set forth the entire future of his company and would set Bob up for many more opportunities with this client. On Tuesday morning Bob got up early, put on his best suit, and spent time rehearsing his pitch in front of the mirror. Bob looked at the time and realized he needed to get going so he wouldn’t want to be late.
As Bob headed out he hit the usual traffic on the expressway. Today seemed more congested than usual and Bob was stressing out. As Bob headed up to a toll plaza he waited in line like everyone else. As he approached the toll booth another car came flying up next to him and cut him off. Bob blew his horn and the other driver made an obscene hand gesture. Being that Bob was already stressed out this set him over the edge, and Road Rage set in. He rolled down his window and started yelling profanities at the driver. As the driver pulled through the toll Bob paid his toll and raced up to the other driver. Bob rolled down his window side by side with the other driver, and was still screaming and swerving at the man who cut him off. Finally, the other driver, realizing that Bob had lost it, made a quick exit and left the highway.
Bob was furious and seething he was so upset. He turned on the radio and tried to cool down. Bob arrived at the client’s office about an hour early and decided to go get a cup of coffee and finish calming down and preparing. After recomposing himself he went into the office and told the receptionist he was there for a meeting and she asked him to take a seat and someone would be right with him. After waiting a few minutes a man came out to meet with Bob. To Bob’s utter horror, it was the same man that had cut him off at the toll booth. The man took one look at Bob, and said I have decided that you are not the type of person my company would like to do business with, “Good Day!” And he turned around and walked away.
Put yourself in Bob’s position. Did he need to act that way? He had left in plenty of time to get to his appointment.
The fallout from Bob’s actions were even worse than just not getting this job, he had destroyed everything he had worked so hard to build, in one moment of rage. And the person he lashed out at was a person of great influence in the industry which would have long lasting effects.
Always remember that you never know who your next customer is, or where they might come from. You are always on stage and should act accordingly. While we can all agree that Bob’s actions are wrong in any walk of life, sadly for him, his story quite clearly illustrates the point that you are always on stage, and you are always being watched, so you better get it right!

Process versus Persecution

Throughout some recent experiences I have had, I am seeing a disturbing trend in the way managers are implementing rules in their organizations. Fear seems to be more the norm in today’s market for enforcing company policies. The idea being that if someone is afraid of losing their job, they will be more apt to follow directions to the letter. In my opinion, all this does is instill a profile of an abused personality.
If we stop to think about it for a minute you will begin to understand my view on this type of philosophy. I can remember a long time ago a friend of mine had a small Dalmatian dog. The dog was not very well behaved and my friend was not a very patient person. Every time the dog would go to the bathroom in the house he would hit the dog with a rolled up paper and scream at him, “Stupid dog”! Eventually it got to the point that when my friend would come home, the dog would run from him urinating across the floor as he retreated in fear. A perfect example of how fear and negative re-enforcement doesn’t work on animals.
People will respond in the same way if you use fear in an attempt to control them. If you constantly degrade your team and keep them in fear for their jobs, there is a limited amount of possible outcomes: One, the team member will look for a new place to work where their talents are appreciated. Two, the team member will try and hide or cover up mistakes, to avoid reprisal. Or three, the team member will seek out the negative attention, since that is the only acknowledgement they receive, similar to the behavior of a long abused person.
You should never attempt to control people. The best way to get results is to catch them doing something right and reward them for this behavior. The reward doesn’t have to be money, or anything that costs the company money. Most people would rather have their leader say “good job” than receive a small token of monetary compensation. Be clear on your expectations, hold them accountable for their performance, and give as much positive re-enforcement as possible. You will end up with a much more efficient team who understands the importance of following company policies and procedures. Support and training will always have better results than fear; and a ‘team’ culture will always be more effective than a boss /employee relationship.
If you continue to have issues with policies being followed you need to analyze the process. More than likely there is a breakdown in the process itself. Ask yourself; are there steps that can be implemented to insure proper procedure is followed? Many times, if you reach out to your team they can help you develop the steps to mitigate the exposure of a process that is not being followed. Asking them for help will have a profound effect on your team. It shows them that you don’t have all the answers and that you need their help. It also lets your team know that this is important to you and not just another policy or procedure. It reinforces the team mentality overall.
There may be circumstances, when policies are not being followed, where you just have a rogue team member. In those cases you have to take the time to analyze the situation and make sure that this is an employee issue and not a process issue. Otherwise, you may make the wrong decision, and that could have adverse affects to your entire team. However, once a rogue employee is identified, you need to remove them from your team as quickly as possible. Once you have removed that employee make sure that you take the time to explain the circumstances to your entire team. Rumors fly fast and furious when someone loses their job in any company. You do not want your team thinking that this employee was removed due to a mistake or a hole in the system. You do not want your team to start being afraid for their jobs. They need to understand exactly what that team member did wrong and why that person was removed.
In the end you want your team to feel comfortable coming to you with issues and making suggestions to improve processes. If you use ‘the fear factor’, all that will happen is that your team will become introverted and start trying to hide, both literally and figuratively, and the last thing you want is to have things being hidden from you. As I always say to my team “I can’t fight what I can’t see”. So make sure that a culture is set forth to encourage unity and collaboration and you will never have to resort to using fear. If your team understands the expectations and processes, has a culture where they can question without reprisals, and believes that you are committed to their success, you should have a team that is dedicated to following the company policies and processes, which leads to everyone’s success.

Pushing Through The Pain

Last weekend I ran my first half-marathon. It was a great experience, but I realized some things along the way that translate to everyday life and business, so I felt the lessons learned would make for a good article this week.
Over the past several months I have been running every week pushing a little further each time in preparation for this race. As some of my followers already know this all started with the Triathlon I did last year. So I guess now I am addicted to the adrenaline? Obviously this race would test my determination and commitment even more. In the weeks leading up to the race I had run the full 13.1 miles several times, taking roughly 3 hours each time. While this is not a great time, for someone who has never done this before and doesn’t have a history of running, I felt good about just being able to complete the overall distance and time wasn’t my primary concern.
On the morning of the race it was very cool with about a 25 MPH wind. It was still dark out and a slight rain began to fall as we were all standing at the starting position. I was shivering and asking myself; ’what the heck am I doing here?’ As I looked around I could see some of the same perplexed looks on other faces. Then, in what felt like only seconds, but in reality was nearly an hour, I could hear the National Anthem being sung in the distance at the front of the starting post. I could feel my adrenaline start to build. It was as though I was a kid again on the football field waiting for that first hit! Before I knew it we were on our way and the journey had begun.
Once my blood started pumping I had forgotten about the cold and the wind was refreshing. By mile 3, I was feeling great and passing people by the dozens. By mile 5, I realized that I had set my pace way too fast and was already starting to feel fatigue setting in. At this point I knew it was going to be rough to finish. Once I had reached the mile marker 5, the course spilt. On the left was the race route heading out and on the right was the race course heading back, with a turnaround at the 7.5 mile mark.
By the time I hit the half way mark I noticed many people cutting across the median and heading back on the right side return path. I can remember thinking to myself, what are they doing? They are only cheating themselves. I mean why even sign up for a race if you are going to cheat yourself? I further thought, now they will show great times they didn’t even earn. Either way this had nothing to do with me or my goal so I shook my head and continued on. I learned a long time ago not to judge what I do based on other people. While my main goal was to just finish, I was hoping that I would be able to at least match the three hour times that I had been setting during my training.
Despite all the training I had done, by the time I hit mile 10, I was in enough pain to question why I ever considered doing this. It felt like f o r e v e r before I came across mile marker number 11, and I was ready to quit and start walking, as many others had already done. However, “quit” has never been in my vocabulary, so I continued on pushing through the pain.
I started thinking about how earlier I had seen people cheating, and all of the people who had given up and started walking. While I knew that there was no way I was going to meet my goal of finishing at the three hour mark, I definitely was not going to quit. I stopped thinking about how much pain I was in, and the fact that I still had over two miles to go before the finish line, and started thinking about other times in my life where I had to push though the pain.
Throughout my career there has been many times where I thought about quitting. I have had some pretty painful personal experiences as well that I have had to endure. However, I have never given up and I have never run away. I spent the remainder of the race thinking about all the trials I have been through and what I have learned from the experiences. I thought about how much richer my life is due to pushing through, and what would have been lost had I ever given up.
Before I knew it, I could see the finish line! The adrenaline kicked back in and I sprinted across the finish line. I had done it! I finished the race, and to my surprise I crossed the finish line in 2 hours and 34 mins. Nearly a half hour faster than any of my training runs.
In business, and in life, there are many times we can all feel like we are not appreciated, that we are not doing a good job, or that we should just quit. Sometimes when you think you are doing poorly, if you keep your head down and push through, you may just surprise yourself and find out that you actually rocked it out. Remember, it is true that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, and that true leaders in this world don’t quit. They push through the pain. In the end you will have more enriching experiences and be a better person for what you have endured. As I have said before, it is only when faced with adversity that true character is revealed, and it is your decision to be a cheater, a quitter, or to push through the pain and find solace in the fact that you have done your very best.
[Side Note: In the race when I got to the turnaround point there was a marker that read your timing chip. So all of the people who decided to cut across and cheat, ended up with a “disqualified status” next to their number on the board for all to see when they got back to runners row. Now that is Justice!]

Let the QB Make The Call

One thing that continues to shock me is the amount of micro management that happens inside businesses today and it only seems to be getting worse. Maybe I am mistaken, but throughout my career I have tried to make sure that I have the right person assigned for the right job. Or as one of my colleagues so eloquently put it, ‘there is a butt for every seat!’
Many of you already know about all the parallels I use between football and management. I do this to help illustrate internal structures and responsibilities. Even when somebody doesn’t really follow football, they do understand the basic principles and usually this helps to simplify the same rules that apply in business. So to continue along that theme this blog is about Micro Managers and their effect on a team.
I have always believed that you need to hire the right person for the position, train them on the policies and procedures, give them clear direction of your expectations, empower them to make decisions, and then hold them accountable for their performance. However, while this is all common sense, it is rarely common practice. It has been my experience that too many managers feel they have to get involved with everything their team does. While it is important to have spot checks and evaluate progress, micro managing will kill a high performer’s drive. It will also cause you to have an increased amount of workload, because you have instilled a sense of fear and dependency amongst your team and everyone is afraid to make any decision without your counsel. One easy gut check is to ask yourself these questions:
1.       Do I have team members asking me how to do their job?
2.       Do my team members come to me to make decisions for them?
3.       Do I have team members coming to me with everyday simple problems?
If you answered yes to any of these questions then there is a chance you are micro managing your team. While all managers could answer yes to all these questions from time to time, if you are constantly being bombarded, you are probably a micro manager.
In football a head coach will put together the plays, the game plan, and probably even script out the first several plays. However, after the huddle breaks and the quarterback surveys the defense, he has the ability to change the play and call an audible. In other words the coach has empowered him to make a last minute decision based on his experience and training. Now don’t take this the wrong way, the coach and the quarterback have spent countless hours reviewing tapes and planning for required adjustments prior to the game, but when it comes down to it, the coach lets the quarterback make the call.
There are times that you will want your team to come to you for instruction or to make decisions, but that should be spelled out in your expectations and only apply to things that will have a substantial effect on the task at hand or the successful completion of a project. If you are handling, or getting involved in, day to day activities, then what purpose does that team member serve? Either you have the wrong butt in that seat (such as a linemen playing QB) or you have not provided that team member with the proper training & expectations nor empowered them to effectively own their role on the team.
Over the years I have seen many great managers, employees, and even interns ruined by micro management. As our economy continues to struggle, large corporations are putting in more policies and procedures (red tape) to try and have more control over everyday decisions that should be trusted to management. They are taking everyday decision making duties and “streamlining” them into corporate mandates, taking away any power the manager had to help influence his customer base, vendors, and team. They are taking away the ability of managers to make decisions that affect the bottom line and the profitability of their group. I have been slowly watching companies turn managers into figure heads for nothing more than to be a lamb led to the slaughter when the balance sheet dips into the red. If you want to lose your top performers, then this is a perfect way to do so. However, if you want to retain the best in the business you have to empower them to make those decisions and then hold them accountable. Real leaders and true managers want that power, and embrace it. They understand that they will be held accountable, but that they also control their own destiny. The best way to kill a strong leader or manager is to start holding them accountable for things they have no control over.
In the end it is all about job satisfaction and your team members wanting to do a good job. As managers we need to make sure that we are empowering our teams to be self reliant. We should all be taking the time to make sure that we hire the right butt for each seat. Train them and empower them with responsibility, and then hold them accountable to those decisions. All in all, let the quarterback make the call.