Lucky's Blog

Friday, December 27, 2013

The World’s Greatest Teaching

This week's article is about the greatest teaching of all time. It is the one teaching that transcends religion, income level, political standing, or any other possibly separating ideals or background. It is one of the best teachings for leadership, parenting, internal happiness, and any other motivating force. This teaching will make you richer than you could ever imagine, yet costs nothing to obtain. So what is it? The answer is to: “Do on to others as you would have them do unto you”.

In the spirit of the holiday season this article is all about giving back. If you live your life according to the principle of ‘do onto others’, you will have a substantially positive impact on other people's lives and will reap a greater reward than any monetary gains you could ever achieve. All the greatest leaders not only knew this principle, but they practiced it every day.

Too many people today focus on what they don't have and follow more of a ‘do onto others before they do onto you’, philosophy. You will find a much more fulfilling life and be a much better leader, spouse, friend, parent, etc... If you spend more time counting your blessings and paying it forward. This time of year is not about spending and what you will receive. It is about giving and how you can make other’s lives better.

While the people who really know me, already know the amount of time and money I dedicate to giving back, it doesn't have to be an all or nothing decision for you. However, there are no excuses for not giving back. Just start out with baby steps. Instead of walking by the ringing bell in front of the stores, go ahead and drop your spare change in the little red pail. Instead of scowling at the homeless person sleeping in the park, stop by a local drive-thru, and give them a meal.

It doesn't have to be about money. In today’s economy many people are strapped for cash, but are blessed with talents, and time. Donate your time or talents to a local charity or to your church. Again, baby steps at first, just plan on spending one hour a month making someone else’s life better. Come on, anyone can find one hour a month, right?

Heck, sometimes something as simple as a smile and some encouraging words can completely change another person’s day. You have been given the greatest gift there is, life. So why not exercise the greatest teaching of all time and pay it forward?

Thank you and Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it, and Happy Holidays and Best Wishes to those who celebrate another way, or not at all.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

What Is Your Succession Plan?

In my previous article I spoke about delegation and the importance of having internal succession plans in place. In today’s article I wanted to quickly expand upon succession plans and the importance of always training your replacement.

It has been my experience that having a succession plan in place is a key factor missing amongst many companies. However, there is no greater value for internal structure. A strong, well defined, succession plan allows your internal team to clearly see the path to career advancement. It allows everyone to know what is required, and what needs to be accomplished in order to move up the company ladder. Furthermore, it allows team members to transition from one position to another, rather than being thrown into the pool and left to sink or swim with little to no training.

While there are many internal benefits to having a well defined succession plan, the largest benefit is with the customer experience. In many companies account managers are left in charge of an account with no backup. This requires them to be on-call 24 x 7; I even heard a story about one account manager that was taking calls on his wedding day! Eventually they will burn out and you will lose them. Meanwhile the customer still has needs and you are scrambling trying to fit someone into an account manager’s position with no training for that account. This causes stress on the customer’s side as well as adding to your daily anxiety. By having a well defined succession plan and having multiple people cross-trained with each position, you take the pressure off the single account manager, allowing them to reboot and take needed time off. This will avoid the burn out stage and hopefully keep them happy in their position and more productive. However, if an account manager does decide to leave for another reason, you will be in a good position to continue the same level of service and the entire transition will be invisible to your customer.

I am not going to get into specifics on how to build a succession plan, there is plenty enough information on the web if you are so inclined. However, hopefully this article has expressed the importance of building and implementing such a plan. If you do not have a plan in place and you are not currently cross-training your managers, you will eventually find yourself in a very difficult position and franticaly searching for a replacement, at which point you will remember this article. While it takes months, even years sometimes, to win a new customer, it only takes seconds to lose them. So take the time now and prepare a succession plan for your business. You will be in a much better place structurally, your customers can continue to receive the same level of service they have come to love and your team will be much happier and more productive.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

To Delegate Or Not To Delegate?

One question I receive quite often is; how are you able to get so much done when there are so few hours in the day? I usually answer with; I don’t waste any time sleeping. There will be plenty of time to rest when I am dead. While yes I do spend many hours working on all the different hats I have in the ring (usually about 16 hours a day), I spend little time being non-productive. I don’t waste much time watching TV or reading fiction. If I do watch TV or read it is usually something non-fiction or based on factual information that I can use to improve an aspect of my life. However, even though I do have a few weaknesses for mindless TV entertainment, I try to keep the time sitting in front of a TV to a minimum and am still trying to cut it out completely so I can gain a few more hours a week of productive time. I have often wondered if there has ever been a study done that correlates the relationship between hours of TV watched and a person’s average income and/or success. If anyone does know of such a study please share it with me, I would love to look at that research.

Now don’t get me wrong and please don’t start posting that I am missing out on life and family. Part of what I call productive time includes personal and family time that I schedule in the same as any other important tasks. I spend a lot of time with my family and several hours a week on myself. I have always tried to keep a well balanced life. But enough about how I schedule my time, let’s get to the meat of this article.

One reason I am afforded the luxury of being able to accomplish so much in short amounts of time, is because I don’t major in minor things. I have a phenomenal team around me, whose talents are exceptional. I have made it a point to surround myself with the best team in the industry and I know they have my back and the company’s best interest at heart. So I make sure that I delegate many things to this team and allow them the opportunity to shine. By empowering my team I allow them to feel the experience of hitting the homeruns and keep them striving for more. Also, by delegating tasks it leaves me more time to focus on places that I feel need my special attention.

So how should you decide what gets delegated? Good question! I don’t claim to have the perfect formula, however, I will share my method of deciding what to delegate. While there may be many more reasons, below are the three basics that I have used over the years to decide on what needs to be delegated.

  1.        Don’t do any job you hate doing. You will only get frustrated, put it off until the last minute, and do a bad job once you complete it. Delegate it to someone who loves that job and is an expert. They will enjoy doing it and the end product will be exceptional.
  2.        Don’t waste time doing something someone else can do. Too many times I have seen examples of executives spending time on tasks that anyone can do. You should only focus on things that require your level of expertise and experience. Just the other day I was speaking to a VP who told me he was delivering materials to the job site. This is a perfect example of wasted talents.
  3.        Is what you are working on going to improve your business, the customer experience, or your team’s work environment? If it doesn’t encompass these areas then you are getting involved in the day to day operations and spending your time doing the job of your operations manager. If you spend time working in your business, no one is working on your business.

While I realize that these rules apply to business owners, the same logic can be used for whatever position you hold. You need to understand your role and make sure your time is invested in the tasks required to be successful in that role. Unless the job you are doing can only be done by you, you should consider delegating that task and focus your time on efforts that require your special skills.

Over the years I have had many managers that didn’t want to delegate tasks. In part they felt they had better job security if they were the only ones who knew how to do those specific tasks. I can tell you from a senior manager position, that is extremely frustrating and the easiest way to get on my bad side. Nothing in a business should be dependent on one person. As I have mentioned in previous articles, you need to have cross-training built into your standard processes. Your ability to properly build and implement a solid succession plan will gain more value than anything else you can work on when it comes to internal structure. It will also take a lot of pressure off your team and give a clear career path to each team member, which in turn, will make for a better work environment and better team morale.

So don’t get caught up in fear and stop putting the weight of the world on your shoulders. I believe that the true sign of a great manager is the ability to know what and when to delegate. So if you want to be successful and still have time for balance in your life, then you need to learn when to delegate or not to delegate, that is the question!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

You Never Know Where Your Next Customer May Come From

In my previous article I mentioned how important it is to act professional because you never know where your next big opportunity may come from. In this article I wanted to dig a little deeper into that statement because it is about more than just being professional.

Don’t ever kid yourself, you are always on stage and you are always being judged, as I pointed out in two previous articles “First Impressions” and “Stage Right”. In those articles I expressed the importance of always acting professional because of the fact that you are always being watched and judged. However, another key reason is; that you never know what circumstances may lead to winning the trust of your next customer.

I have developed many lifelong relationships with customers. However, I never knew where I was going to meet them or where the next one may come from. In many cases they were referrals from relationships I had made, but one outstanding customer that comes to mind, came from an unexpected source.

I have always loved my job and for one specific reason. I am in the business of helping people. Whether it is helping internal team members accomplish their career goals, or helping customers by providing them with solutions to their problems, I have always loved helping others.

The one area most people over look when it comes to helping others, is other businesses. I have always made it a point to do what I can to help other businesses succeed. Not just businesses where I can gain a benefit, but anyone I can help, in anyway. This held true with a salesperson I met who was with Stanley Steamer Carpet Cleaning. Now in most cases, an electrical services provider would just grin, nod and move on when they met a carpet cleaning company sales person. However, staying true to my personal commitment to try to help everyone, we connected, and I was actually able to really help him out by sending him a lot of work when I had customers that needed those services. (Let me clearly state, this was only after we had a serious talk about how important my network is and how I will not jeopardize the trust of my network by recommending someone that doesn't follow the same guiding principles to which I strictly adhere.)

Once he had earned my trust I was able to freely recommend his services knowing that he would do what he promised and provide an excellent, quality service. I did that in an effort to help him and the company he worked for, not ever expecting that there would be any return on my efforts. However, as it turned out, nearly a year later, this particular sales person ended up having a relative that received a job managing two 40 story towers in the downtown area. He recommended us to his relative and it has now turned into a great relationship where we provide electrical and systems services to both buildings. I have many examples of similar circumstances where I received a recommendation from an unexpected source, yet I am always pleasantly surprised when it happens.

I have attended more networking functions than I care to admit, and I always see the Feeders working the rooms. However, I believe, that you must give four times as much as you take if you want to build a meaningful relationship. So if you stop “selling” and start helping you may just find an unlimited amount of true partners within your network, singing your praises. If not, at least you helped others, and there is no better feeling. So stay honest and try to help others every chance you get, because you never know where your next customer may come from.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Do What You Say

Over the years I have had many people ask me for tips on how to be successful and how to be a great leader. I am always humbled by these types of requests since I have always felt that my accomplishments are not as much about me, but about the team that I have around me. I have been blessed with the opportunity to work for great mentors and had the support of some amazing team members. However, I can say that there has always been one common thread to the way I was taught and the approach I have always implemented. If I had to condense it all down to one word, it would be easy, SINCERITY!

Maybe it was the way I was brought up by my parents, but I have always believed that actions speak louder than words. I have never been one to brag about my accomplishments, nor to spew out a bunch of ideas without some serious preparation and thought. I can remember from a very young age always being told, “Do what you say you are going to do!” So before I make a promise or a statement of what I will do, I make sure that I understand the situation and that I can deliver on any promises I make.

Do what you say you will do! In today’s world of over promising and under delivering, these words have never rung more true. People’s appetites are much larger than their stomachs and they tend to take on more than they can handle. This puts them in a position of not being able to deliver on their promises. Maybe, it is because of how tight the economy has been and no one wants to lose any business, maybe it’s easier to make promises just to get a signature on the dotted line. Regardless, when you tell someone that you will do something, they are depending on you to come through. In fact, they have more than likely made successive plans based on your promise. This translates to your internal team too. If you tell one of your team members that you will do something, they need to know that you will get it done.  Otherwise not only have you put doubt in their minds, you have compromised your integrity.

I am a firm believer in building long-term, meaningful relationships with my customers and my team members. However, if they cannot count on me to do what I say, then their trust in me will be broken. The fact is that you cannot build a relationship without trust. Not personal, not with your team, and definitely not in the business world.

It never ceases to amaze me how many times I see hypocritical behavior in people. A parent will tell a child that it isn’t okay to lie, but then in front of the child will be dishonest during a negotiation. What do you think the child will learn from that? More than likely they will learn that their parents are inconsistent and they will lose trust in the strength of their teachings.

 I also have had people talk my ear off about how honest they are, but then they will cheat when we are playing golf. If you will cheat during a friendly game of golf with your friends, colleagues, or business partners, what will you do when money is involved? Don’t kid yourself. You are always being judged by others based on your actions and eventually your true character will shine through.

Anyone can say the right thing. However, you are judged by what you do, not what you say you will do. You need to make it a point to be honest and sincere with your team and your customers. But it doesn’t stop there. You need to be sincere with everyone you come into contact with. You never know whom you are talking to or where you next big opportunity may come from, so acting professional is important, but being sincere is the key. If you are sincere and put yourself in other people’s shoes and stop the judging, you will be opened up to a whole new world of kindness. Your relationships will become much deeper and your life will become much richer. I make it a point to try and help anyone I can with all the knowledge and experience I have at my disposal. I always make it a point to try and pay it forward. For if someone wasn’t willing to do that for me, I would never have achieved what I have in my life.

So the point I want to make in this article is, stop pretending and acting the way you think people want you to act. Be open, honest, and sincere, and you will gain more valuable relationships as you continue through your life’s path. And if you are really lucky you may change someone else’s life for the better. All by doing what you say you will do!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Can You Be Wrong?

Yesterday I was brought in to mediate an issue that had gotten completely out of hand, and both parties had irreconcilable differences in their minds. This situation took weeks of battling before they finally got to a point where neither could move forward. For the purposes of this example we will call them Ted and Bill.

When I walked into this meeting you could feel the tension in the room. You could see on Bill and Ted’s face, they had come prepared to do battle, and both were ready for the fight. Like two ultimate fighters right before the bell rings.

The meeting started out with each side presenting their problems, and quickly turned into a heated argument, and finger pointing session. Bill was determined to show where Ted was at fault, and Ted was bent on proving that all the issues we caused by Bill. Each side was so determined to prove they were right; neither took the time to listen to the concerns of the other, a simple action that would have avoided all of the conflict in the first place.

At one point during the argument Bill said to Ted “you made me feel like you didn’t care whether or not the project got done”.

Immediately, Ted responded, “that isn’t what I said!” Each one was so determined on proving they were right they had lost sight of the project goal.

At this point I jumped in and said “wait a minute! Something very important just happened here. Bill explained how you made him feel, and you dismissed his feelings and stayed focus on what you said.”

 I went on to explain to them that neither seemed to be concerned with the other’s position or problems and that there is no communication happening if neither one is listening.

Things calmed down and we were able to move forward from there, because each person was able to verbally express their concerns while the other truly listened. As the meeting progressed I pointed out that both Ted and Bill had the same goal in mind and there was no reason for them not to work together and achieve the best possible results. Once each of them let go of who was right and who was wrong, and focused on the main goal, they realized they had common ground to build on.

I am sure that as the months roll forward they will start to build a relationship and learn to trust each other, all while producing a quality product.

The lesson to learn from this example is that you must listen first and answer second. It is really more than that though. You not only have to listen, but you need to understand. Put yourself in their position and try to understand their perspective. Once you truly understand their point, focus on the goal and see where you have common ground. Once you both understand what you have in common communication becomes easier.

Don’t worry about who is wrong or right, it doesn’t really matter. You have been wrong before and you will be wrong again. Next time you are wrong do you want somebody pointing it out? What really matters is the end product and how to get there. One of my mentors used to say “yesterday is gone and we may all be dead tomorrow, so let’s just focus on today”. While funny, it is very true. When dealing with a problem, you can’t allow yourself to get all caught up in how you got to this point. You need to be focused on the path forward. You should personally take time to reflect on what got you there, so you don’t make the same mistakes again, but that will not help you get out of the current situation. You need to use forward thinking and rally the team to come up with a way to get out of the current condition and back on schedule.

It all comes down to communication and to effectively communicate, you must listen. There is an old saying that ‘you have two ears and one mouth for a reason, so shut your mouth and start listening’. When talking with others, don’t spend the time they are talking thinking of how you will respond. Open your mind and listen to what they are saying. Then give a true response based on the information you have gathered while listening. This will have tremendous positive results for your business and your quality of life.


Special management note:

It has been my experience over the years that there are three critical parts a manager has to deal with:

1.       The task (project) itself. The time-line and schedule, as well as all commitments

2.       The customer’s satisfaction

3.       The profitability of the project or task

My experience has been that most people will focus on one of the three critical parts. The problem is, to be successful; you have to have a balance amongst the three. If you focus only on getting the project done on time, you will usually have a happy customer, but in many cases will lose money. If you only focus on the profitability, you will make money, but chances are the schedule will get blown and you will not earn a repeat customer.

The truly great managers are the ones that can balance all three critical parts on every project. The managers that keep their focus on the end result, all the while listening and helping the customer are the great ones. Keep your focus on all three parts, that way in the end you will meet the deadlines and make money and keep your customers happy.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Customer Always Wins

Last week I received another overwhelming response to my article “Educating The Customer”. I thank everyone for their support and comments. It seems that many of the comments I have received relating to the customer being right, come down to negotiations. One person, who actually commented on the blog itself (which is greatly appreciated and helps promote discussions), explained that they were “A non-confrontational person” and had trouble when it came to educating the customer. While the example I gave in my story was based more on a safe and professional installation, those comments conflated with many other comments from my previous article “Who’s Your Customer”. So I thought I would share this story with everyone. This is an actual event, from when I worked on a hospital remodel project.

I was the project manager on an emergency room expansion project to an existing, well established, hospital in Florida. We had been working on this project for approximately six months and the overall project had been broken down into twelve different phases. We were just starting the third phase which was building out an old storage room into a new pharmacy.

Prior to starting this phase the GC had a pre-construction meeting with all the sub-contractors to discuss the plan. I had put together our electrical plan and our schedule for the execution of this phase and was well prepared for the meeting. The meeting went off without a hitch. Everyone seemed to be on the same page, and it looked as though this phase would run as smoothly as the previous phases.

The following Monday the GC’s superintendant came up to me and asked why we hadn’t started work in the storage area yet? Confused, I looked at him and stated, that I thought we had just discussed this at the meeting last week, and they were supposed to start the demo today. The superintendant said, “Yes, exactly, why aren’t you in there removing the fixtures?”

I tried to explain to the superintendant that the demo work was not in our contract and that all we were supposed to do was disconnect the power to the storage room for the demo crew. The super flipped his lid and started screaming at me and calling me some less than flattering names. Rather than become emotional and take it personally I sat there and listened to him, and allowed him to vent his frustration. I then told him, I understood his frustration and maybe I was wrong. I invited him back to my office trailer to check, and if indeed it was in my contract, I would get people in there immediately to start removing the fixtures.

I will not bother to go into the details of the contract but we were at a standstill. After looking over the contract the super was convinced that it was my responsibility, and I was convinced that it was not. At this point the super and I went to discuss this with the Project Manager for the GC. The Project Manager, again not letting emotion get involved, sided with me on the fact the there was a note on the electrical plans that said: “all demos by others”. The problem was that there was a note on the demolition plans that said: “fixtures to be demoed by others”. This was clearly a mistake and now we had to get it resolved.

The GC brought in the owner to discuss the situation and the owner was very adamant that they were not going to pay any money out for something that was in the contract, regardless of how unclear. They believed that it was not an acceptable reason for a change order and that the problem should have been found before this point in the project.

Again, I am not going to get into details but in the end the owner realized that since the architect was hired by the owner, and the architect drew up the plans and wrote the notes, that the liability lies with the owner, and if they wanted to they could go back to the architect for compensation.

Now in most cases this situation would have resulted in a change order, and the only person coming out of the whole process with a positive experience would have been my company. However, as I have said many times, I believe in giving the customer the best possible value.

What no one else knew was that I was also doing a project for a small warehouse facility. This warehouse had minimal lighting installed and the owner was planning on adding shelving and was in need of additional lighting. However, his budget was extremely limited to say the least. Keeping in mind that I am always looking for a win/win situation for my customers, I asked the owner of the warehouse facility if he cared if the lights to be installed where used. The owner quickly replied, that he didn’t care as long as they worked. I asked him to let me check on some things for him, and I would get back to him.

I went back to the hospital and spoke with the GC. I told him that if the owner was willing to let us keep the lights, that I would remove the lighting for free. The GC went to the owner and then the owner and I discussed it. I told the owner that if I could keep the fixtures we would not charge for the demo, assuming I could get the other customer to buy the lights from me. The owner was thrilled and in full agreement.

I went back to the warehouse owner and told him that I had the opportunity for him to buy 400 fixtures at $40 each. I explained that I understood he only needed 275 fixtures, but at $110 each that would cost him $30,250. Some of the used fixtures would not be working or usable, but I promised that we would get 275 working fixtures out of the lot, and for much less than buying new fixtures. He agreed and thanked me for helping him with his tight budget limitations.

In the end the Hospital got what they wanted, the GC was praised for hiring us, the warehouse owner got a great deal, and I walked away with three customers singing my praises all while taking a little coin home in my company’s pocket. If I had gotten caught up in the battle, and not stopped and listened to what the objections were, then I would never have come up with this solution.

When faced with a customer who is unhappy, stop! Listen, and try to find out how you can make everyone a winning proposal. It is not a battle, it is not an argument, and it’s not even a confrontation. What it is, is an opportunity for you to help your customer, and earn a reputation.

I have told this story to illustrate that you cannot get caught up in who wins and who loses. The fact is that if your customer doesn’t win every time, then I promise you, you are the one who has lost.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Have We Lost The Ability To Communicate?

Today’s article is about communication. It is amazing to me that in today’s high tech environment we still cannot find a way to communicate better with our teams and customers. Just about every day I hear the statement “well I didn’t know about that”. With the abilities to call, email, text, tweet, blog, etc… how is it still possible that so much communication gets lost? Have you ever wondered how offices ever got anything communicated before this Technological Age? Easy, they actually spoke to one another! I know this is a strange concept, but believe it or not, when somebody had something to say, they got up out of their chair, walked down the hall and said, “Hey Joe….” When you are face to face a funny thing happens, you also talk about things outside of the subject you came in to talk about. Maybe it is personal, or maybe it is just, “did you hear about….?” Either way, it causes people to communicate.

I can’t count how many times I have asked one of my team members over recent years, “Did you talk to them?” The response is usually, “I sent them an email but they haven’t responded.” Why is it so hard in today’s world to pick up the phone or walk down the hall? When I have asked this question to clients and team members alike I usually get a response that is similar to, “in an email you have time to choose your words and think about how you want to answer the question.” It’s funny, in the times before technology you had to be quick on your feet. A defined skill set that demonstrated how you were able to handle the pressure and being put on the spot. It is my opinion that all this new technology is destroying those skills that once set apart the average individuals from the superstars. While email has its place, there will never be a replacement for personal contact.

One problem that seems to happen a lot when emailing is that what you put into writing is taken the wrong way. It is easy to mistake a statement as condescending or sarcastic, when in reality it was never meant that way. When someone is reading an email they do not have the luxury of hearing the inflection of your voice, or seeing the smile on your face, so something that may have been meant as a joke could be completely offensive. It is also easy to lose that personal relationship when emailing. Emails tend to be short, direct, and to the point. Rarely does someone take the time to ask how someone is doing, or how did things work out with the problem they last discussed. This is a personal touch that many people base their buying decision on. There are also issues with grammar. Most people count solely on spell check and don’t bother to reread the email before hitting send. This can also cause problems and misunderstandings, not to mention make it look like you have poor writing skills.

Texting is a whole different topic. In the world of texting it is all about acronyms. When you consider spell check there are hundreds of examples of inappropriate texts that have gone out due to spell check. (Just Google “texting errors” and you are in for hours of humorous reading.) Once again, texting is usually very direct and people don’t take the time to make things personal.

While many of these issues I have spoken about illustrate problems with emails and texting, one of the biggest problems comes when there is a conflict. In the office community people tend to be very brave and confrontational through written communication. However, should they actually have to pick up the phone, or be face to face, they are often much more cooperative in finding a quick resolution to a situation. Also most of the time, these argumentative emails will start to build a large amount of CC’s with every reply. When it is all said and done there has been multiple people brought into a simple conflict that could have been settled with a two minute phone call between two people.

The most valid point I have heard from people on why they prefer to use emails and texting is for documentation. When you use emails and texting as a form of communication you have written record of what was said, and who said what, throughout the conversation. While this is true, you can also accomplish the same thing by picking up the phone, having that conversation, and then sending an email or text recapping what was discussed and the details of what was agreed upon during the phone call. That way you still have the personal touch, avoid any misunderstandings, and have documented the whole conversation in writing.

Another issue I have is that we are becoming too dependent on these devices. Just the other day a good friend of mine lost his cell phone and was unable to call his girlfriend to come get him. He had to call me because he knew my number by heart from years of friendship and before our new phones were a staple in everyday life. He actually didn’t know his girlfriend’s number of several years, since all he had to do was look her name up in the phone and press send. How many of us would be in that same situation with our business contacts should we lose our phone?

However, all the other points combined do not add up to the biggest problem with today’s technology. It is the safety factor! We all know about the lady who walked into a fountain because she was too busy reading her email and texting, while funny to watch on Youtube, it is sad that we have become so distracted that we are putting ourselves and others in danger. All of us have also experienced the person swerving all over the road trying to text and read emails, or talk on the phone while driving. It’s hard to imagine a time when people could just wait until they got home to make a phone call. But In today’s world we are all at risk because somebody’s texts, emails, or phone calls are more important than our safety.

In closing, I think that technology is a great thing. In fact I am an ‘early adopter’. I always have to have the newest gadget that comes out. However, I don’t want dependence on these gadgets to do my job and live my life, to cost me my life. While I continue to watch the ways of communication grow, I can’t help but notice that everyone’s heads are down reading or typing on their phones or they have headphones in their ears everywhere I go, but yet little is being said. It is imperative that while technology continues to give us tools to be more efficient, that we don’t lose the one skill that has allowed us to invent the technology in the first place, communication! So do us all a favor and hang up the phone and drive, and when the opportunity comes to have dialogue between a team member or customer, once and while, just pick up the phone, or walk down the hall, and say hello. You might be surprised at the improved communication that will follow.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Process Or Purpose?

In previous articles I have mentioned how important process is to hold together a vision and a brand message. However, I wanted to make a point that sometimes, there can be too much process implemented, which can have an adverse effect on your ability to serve your customers. I use the word serve your customers for a reason. We must always remember that our primary function is to serve our customers. If that message gets lost then it is a downhill ride to the unemployment line.

In today’s troubling economic environment it is easy to get lost in implementing processes to help with daily functions, such as cost captures, timekeeping, collections, and other parts of our business that effect the bottom line. However, the question must be asked before implementing any new process, is the cost of this process outweighed by the benefit? I have seen too many examples over the years of processes that have been put into place with little to no benefit to the whole organization. To implement a new process and capture information that has little to no value, is really just inflating your overhead. What I mean by that is you must remember that for every process that you implement, you will need the following support to ensure you are capturing the proper data. First, you will have materials, additional hours, and indirect unseen costs (office space, electric, coffee, cleaning services, etc…) to document this new process and enter the information required. Second, you will need space to collect all the new information and documentation. Third, someone will need to analyze this information and put it together in some kind of format that shows the gain/loss/target, etc...  Finally, you will need to review this information with your team and figure out how to achieve the goals and/or target you want to meet. All of this costs time and money!

Now don’t, get me wrong…processes will help you evaluate, adjust, and implement change. The metrics you receive in return may help your team grow and improve, but will the results be worth the price tag? Also, will it interfere with your primary function of serving the customer? I have seen several cases where too much process gets in the way of a company’s purpose to serve the customer.

So, after costs vs. benefit, the second thing you need to evaluate is that your processes won’t get in the way of serving your customer. I have always told my team members that a service group must operate at the speed of light. In order to set ourselves apart from the competition we have to be quicker, safer, and smarter. We have to be able to respond and resolve our customer’s problems in a more efficient way than our competitors, and we have to make it as simple as possible for them find and use our services. With that said, any process that you want to set in place needs to stay invisible to the customer. You cannot afford to have any processes slow down your ability to respond to your customers needs.

In the end it is all about serving the customer. You have to make your customer feel special. They should feel like they are your only customer. Once more, you should make it easier for them to do business with your company than any other company. That is a competitive edge that will win market share every time. It’s all about added value. While processes are nice and can help your structure, you don’t want to bog down your operation with red tape. If you are in the service industry you have to be able to move fast, respond quickly, and jump into action when your customers need you. If you have processes that impede your ability to respond quickly, then you may need to reevaluate those processes and find a better way that will not affect the customer. You must never lose sight that we exist to serve our customers and without them, we have no purpose!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Unified Vision

This article is dedicated to my good friend John, who asked me specifically to discuss some of the processes I have instituted to help maintain our brand. While I will apologize if this comes across as a promotion, it is not intended as such. I am very proud of my team but I am not using this as a platform to promote our service. I am hoping that everyone will gain insight into how important process is to being successful.
You cannot develop a brand without a unified vision. You must understand what your brand message is and build processes to ensure its successful implementation. A unified vision is the cornerstone of your brand’s foundation and everyone must understand and buy into it. As I have explained in my book, only once everyone knows the main objective, the play or plan that will be executed and their role, do you have any chance to succeed. The more clear and detailed your vision, the better chance you have to build a unified team and the better chance you have at implementing a solid brand message.
As I have stated in multiple articles, my main brand is quality and customer service. While many companies and individuals will promote these same key factors as part of their core principles, this is not a slogan, it’s a way of life for me. I spend my days looking for exceptional examples of quality and customer service, what I can learn from them, and as many of you know, I write about them as well. I also make note of the less than stellar examples and believe me, there is no shortage of examples.
My team is built around a brand message of the highest quality and the ultimate customer experience. I have also instituted many processes to ensure that the message is heard loud and clear.
It starts with the hiring process. When we plan to bring a new person into our team, we have a very extensive interview process that includes multiple tests that will reveal the candidate’s skills as well as their character. We make it a point to have several different people interview the candidate to get multiple opinions and then share our findings. You see when someone becomes part of our team; it is not something that is taken lightly, in fact, less than 5% of candidates actually earn a position on our team.
Once an individual makes it past the interview process, they go through a thorough back-ground check. Once they have passed through all of this up front evaluation and we are still considering them for our team, we put them through orientation. This is a weeklong orientation process where they go through multiple training sessions on safety, skills, specific processes exclusive to our team, customer experience, and quality. Once they have completed this training they are then scheduled to do a three week ride along with one of our senior team members who will train them on all our processes in a hands-on environment. Only once they have completed this training, and the senior team member recommends them for a position with our team, are they able to move on to the next stage. The final stage is a one on one interview with me, where I make it crystal clear what it means to be part of our team. I also cover what my expectations are and have some detailed conversations about what they have learned over the past several weeks. Only once I am convinced that the new candidate is a good fit and will promote our brand message do we bring them aboard to our team.
While this is a very detailed process, if I were to stop there, the brand message would be lost in a month or two. To capitalize on the huge upfront investment of training we have monthly continued training sessions in every office, where all the team members come in and we continue to discuss what we are doing right, and where we can improve. The brand message is constantly being promoted on a daily basis to all of our team members. We are continually coming up with new ideas and better ways to serve our customers.
Once again, if I were to stop there, the message would still end up being lost. We also have implemented a very structured QC program. This includes follow ups with our customers to get valuable feedback on how we are doing and how we can improve, as well as site inspections to verify that the highest possible quality is being supplied on every job every time. As a very wise man once said, “you must inspect what you expect to fortify a congruent culture”.
In closing, this is just a quick snapshot of some of the processes built around my team to ensure our brand message is solid and unwavering. That is probably the most important part. Once you build the process and brand, you can never let it slip. It is easy to cut corners, or skip around some of the process once you have built it, but that is the first slippery step to losing your brand message and becoming another historical failure. I hope this article has been helpful and got your mind churning. I know that it may sound like too much to take on, but just use baby steps. Remember that a journey of a thousand miles starts with that first step. Good Luck and best wishes.

Friday, May 3, 2013

What's In A Name?

What’s in a name? Your brand- and your brand should mean profit! Over the years I have made a point to push for excellence within my team. I know that everybody would like to make this statement, but few really implement a structure that will hold up to the test of time. In previous Blogs I have touched on the difference between stores that truly put the customer first and those that put the price first. One thing I can say without exception is that if your sole focus is to be the lowest price, you will never build a brand name for quality.
I am not knocking anyone that focuses on being the cheapest option; in fact that is their brand. There is a place for these products and services. However, it is a blood-bath market place to compete in, and not for the faint of heart. I have spent my career building a brand based on quality that will carry on for years after I have dropped out of the race.
So why do I focus on a brand of quality? As I said before, profit! People are willing to pay for quality and there is much less competition offering true quality service. If customers were not willing to pay for quality, places like Nordstrom’s and Best Buy would not have any customers. People know when they go to these places they will be treated with great customer service and assisted by knowledgeable staff.
Once more, think about cameras, clothing, watches, etc… If people only cared about price then Nikon, Halston, and Rolex would have no sales. Why would people be willing to pay more? because of the brand. Consumers know that if they buy a Rolex they are getting the best made watch available. Yes it costs much more than an average watch, a lot more! But it also costs a lot more to produce. However, consumers who appreciate real craftsmanship and quality are willing to pay the extra money.
I use this example in my training to get across the point that we want to be the company that everyone else aspires to emulate. We want to be known for true craftsmanship and quality. This starts with an extremely strong process, training, and a continued improvement plan. We are constantly setting the bar higher and higher. We are never complacent and always finding new ways to offer better value to our customers. That is what it is all about, value! You can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars building a brand, but if there is no real value, you will not last long.
So building a brand means a complete dedication from yourself and your team, it requires total ‘buy in’ at every level. You need to take the time to understand your market, know where the gaps are and build your brand to fill those gaps. It may have nothing to do with quality (even though that is part of what you strive for) it may be about speed of service, availability, ease of use, etc… Only after a solid market analysis can you determine what branding message would be the most profitable and fit with your core values. Once you have developed what your brand message is, you need to build the structure to support that message and adhere to it. Under no circumstances can you make an exception or waiver off from the original message.  It is easy to get off track when the market changes or the economy shrinks. However, you must stay true to your brand, even under the worst of circumstances.
Don’t get confused with a mission statement. A mission statement is not a brand. Most companies write a mission statement, get everyone to sign it, and then hang it on a wall to collect dust. A mission statement is just that, a statement. While in many cases a mission statement may be a rough outline of what you want your brand message or core principles to be, a brand is a way of life. It is something you live every day. A true brand message has structure and process built around it to ensure that it is being carried out to every customer or product, everyday.
You also need to continually touch on that message with your team. One piece of training at orientation will not support a true brand. Your message has to be spoken multiple times a day, and your team needs to have continued training as well as periodic inspections to ensure that the brand message is always at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
As I said, a true brand is a culture. It is a way of life for you and your team that if followed, will bring not only profits through the door, but it will also help in maintaining a harmonious work environment, because everyone understands what their mission is and how to get it accomplished.
So the answer to the question:  “what’s in a name?”- is simple! It is what people think of when they hear your name. When you hear the name Rolex you think of gold, quality, precision, etc…, when you hear the name McDonalds, most people think of the golden arches or golden french fries, when you hear the name Toyota you think of value and dependability. So what will people think of when they say your name? If you have an answer to that question, you have taken your first step to building your brand!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Tax On Milk

Today we are going to take a trip back in time. I was in my early twenties and was convinced that I had this whole ‘life thing’ figured out. I knew it all, and everybody else was just in my way. I had little patience and was always in a hurry. One particular day, my wife and I were on our way to meet some friends for dinner. We had reservations for 7:00 pm and we were running late. Back then I used to smoke cigarettes (glad I gave up that habit), I was completely out of smokes and in the middle of a nicotine fit. So we stopped in at an Eckerd’s Drug Store (I am showing my age there as they are long gone…lol) to grab a quick pack for the road. We walked in and I immediately noticed that there was a long line, and was instantly annoyed that all these people were going to make me late!
 As we waited in line for what seemed like hours, we finally only had one more person in front of us. It was an elderly man who was buying a gallon bottle of milk. The cashier rang it up, and the total was $1.31. The elderly man told the cashier she was mistaken, the sign said the price was $1.25.
 The cashier replied, “Yes, but with tax it is $1.31” (again showing my age…).
The elderly man became irate and told the cashier, “ You are not allowed to charge tax on food!”
 The cashier tried to explain that, Eckerd’s was a convenience store, so their entire inventory is considered convenience items and therefore subject to tax. The elderly man started arguing with the cashier and said he wanted to speak to a manager. By this point I was seeing red! I slammed down a nickel on the counter and said, “I’ll pay the stupid tax just to get on with my life!”
The elderly man just looked at me and said, “It must be nice not to care about money.”
Then he went along his way. I was able to buy my smokes and get the heck out of there. For several years I told people about this petty old man and how ridiculous he was being over a nickel.
Jumping in the time machine and heading back to modern times… my wife and I were at a Burger King a couple years back (glad to say I have also given up fast food now). We were standing in line and when we got up to the cashier we placed our order. I ordered a Whopper with cheese, no pickle, no tomato and extra onions. As the lady rang up my order I could see it totaling up on the screen. When she punched in extra onions it showed a charge of ten cents. I immediately asked the lady why are you charging me ten cents for onions? She replied that was the way that the register rings it up.
 I exclaimed, “Are you kidding me? Where is my twenty cent credit for removing the pickles, and tomato then?” The cashier gave me a perplexed look and wasn’t sure what to say. I asked to speak to the manager. Suddenly my wife, without missing a beat, slams a dime on the counter and says, “The onions are my treat; shall we get on with our lives now?”
Looking back on that situation, the elderly man was right. He shouldn’t have had to pay tax on the milk. Also, I was the only one to blame for my being late, and the poor planning I had done that evening was the reason for my frustration. So the next time someone is in your way, or cuts you off in traffic, or jumps ahead of you in line, just remember you have no idea what is happening in their life, and although you may think you understand the situation, in reality you can’t possibly understand what they are experiencing.

I am constantly reminded of this moment because it was a real moment of clarity for me. Whenever I reflect back on that elderly man, I am reminded of several life lessons.
1.       We really should respect our elders. It takes a long time before you start to understand how the world works, cause and effect, and how to effect real change in the world.
2.       There is life outside your own world. It’s not always about you!
3.       Even when you think you’ve got it all figured out, someone moves the cheese and you have to start all over. (ref. “Who Moved My Cheese”, by Spencer Johnson, M.D.)
4.       You should never judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.

Out OF Touch

Hello all! I apologize that I have not been posting lately. I have been overwhelmed with work and unfortunately blogging is one of the first things that get sacrificed. I hope to get back to my weekly posting moving forward. Hope you all enjoy!