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Archive for March, 2016

Style and Subtlety – Boom!

Yep – did it again.  Yesterday I fell into that all-to-common digital trap of our modern century – I blasted a colleague (and friend) on IM.  Ate those digital words this morning:

Pratter’s Prayer

Lord, make my words as sweet as honey, for tomorrow I may have to eat them. 

Unknown Sage

It was the usual setting:  I was digitally multi-tasking; fast and furious.  It’s quarter-end; a stressful time that comes around… oh… just every 90 days (funny how that works).  The combination meant I could, “double my pleasure – double my fun”:

I try to take one day at a time, but sometimes several days attack me at once. 

Ashleigh Brilliant

I texted him a question; he texted back an answer; I didn’t like his answer; he didn’t like my question; I asked for an alternative; he said not a chance…  A frequent, digital argument expressed with directness and written in digital shorthand; punctuated with emoticons; all behind the shield of our monitors.

Collegial banter?  Depends on who’s the banterer and who’s the banteree.  That type of typing can quickly cut to raw emotions lurking nearer the surface during stressful times such as quarter-end.

We were briefly embattled with a “my way or the highway”; “I’m right – you’re wrong”; “compromise is for sissies”; “I eat Marines for breakfast” blast-fest.  Totally devoid of style or subtlety.  U2?  Been there done that I bet.  Not one of my proudest moments, digital or otherwise.

Style and subtlety; certainly diminishing dimensions in today’s digital era.  It’s actually worse than that.

Seemingly gone are the days of subtlety, statesmanship, irony, even sarcasm.  Texts and emails are written in black and white; read as black OR white.  Intentions behind the expressions are easily misinterpreted; feelings easily hurt; and everyone seems to have barbed retorts at the ready.

Even our political process has degenerated into a continuous barrage of confrontational accusations and insults vs. the skilled and stylish statesmanship of centuries past.  Oh they were direct back in the day, but within the context of a statesmanship image coupled with face-to-face bravery vs. digital cowardliness:

A story is told of a Woman Member of Parliament who, after an extensive tirade at a social function, scornfully told the Prime Minister, “Mr. Churchill, you are drunk”, to which Churchill replied, “And you Madam, are ugly.  But I shall be sober tomorrow.”

Today, we don’t know if the statesman’s statement was sarcasm or irony having not been there to witness the state of his drunkenness nor the appearance of his accuser.  Because the event was face-to-face vs. digital, there could easily have been expressions of irony or sarcasm that dulled the barbs of the barbs.  Stylish statesmen of centuries past were able communicators and skilled in the art of avoiding black OR white confrontations.

Statesmanship, style and subtlety of the 20th century?  Boom!  Sacrificed for the sake of today’s digital age.  Replaced by the barrage of black OR white hyperbole perfect for IMs, emails, emoticons, and the evening news.

In business, should we even care?  Can we stop hiding behind our monitors?  Is subtlety mightier than the digital sword?  I think our favorite, Unknown Sage still believes so:

Subtlety is saying what you think, but then leaving before anyone really understands what you meant.

Digital communications technology can be wonderful – when used properly.  It can also be barbed weapons; hurting feelings; killing relationships when not.  Too easy and too often taken as black OR white.  Agreed?  Well, if not… I’m right and you’re wrong!

GAP

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Full measure…

Our favorite, Unknown Sage once said,

Life can be measured by the number of moments that take your breath away.

Based on that metric, I enjoy a very, full-measured life.  Last Saturday was my 43rd wedding anniversary.   The journey has actually been even longer – my future wife and I met in the 7th grade.  She still takes my breath away!

Over the years, I have occasionally rocked the foundation of our comfort zone – failed investments; family feuds; job changes; you know the usual stuff.

My wife is half Irish; and I know I have provided her ample opportunities to invoke that Irish Blessing:

May you never forget what is worth remembering, or remember what is worth forgetting.

So permit me to pause from the daily drum beat of my career coupled recently with her start-up business, and devote a few thoughts toward never forgetting what is worth remembering.

Relationships – husbands and wives; parents and children; brothers and sisters; colleagues; BFF’s; no matter.  Let’s pause for a moment to focus on those special people that have taken our breath away.  It’s time to give them a call (no voicemails please); write them a letter (texts don’t count – give them the ink!); and let’s offer a full measure of thanks to our pride and joy.

Relationships – family, friends, colleagues.  The currency of a fulfilling, meaningful life, don’t you think?  And like any other “bank account”, relationships entail “deposits” and “withdrawals”.  I have benefited often from the deposits the special people surrounding me have made.  And in so doing, each of these special people have enriched my life.

What did we do to celebrate our 43rd wedding anniversary?  We worked a 16-hour day at the Colorado Springs Horse Expo, of course.  You see, this year we have embarked on a new journey – that of a family owned company.  Stressful.  In January, we worked together for 16 straight days in a “phone booth”:

NWSS_Booth

OK, it was actually an 8’x 10’ vendor booth at the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo.  And to be fair, I wasn’t in her booth morning, noon, and night. During the week, I worked my full time job.  I attended to my second job in the evenings only – and then morning, noon and night on weekends.  8’x 10’; 80 square feet; working elbow to elbow in a family owned business; with differing points of business view:

The opinions expressed by the husband do not reflect the opinions enforced by Management.

Don’t get me wrong – I believe that business success is an important contribution to a healthy relationship.  It can be another source of pride and joy.  It’s just deciding to pursue a new business “adventure” this far into our marriage can be a bit stressful.  No worries though – after enjoying a lifetime together, we are up to it!

So today I’m focused on my wife of 43 years – staying married to me, she has certainly earned it!  I’m thankful for the good fortune to have her in my life.  Along with family, friends, and business colleagues – all have made me a rich man.

And I salute those of you who enjoy long-lasting, loving marriages, too.  Perhaps we would agree in Harold Nicholson’s revelation:

The great secret of successful marriage is to treat all disasters as incidents and none of the incidents as disasters.

Now let’s all go out and buy flowers for our wife, or send a handwritten card to those special people that have enriched our life – all deserving a full measure of our appreciation.

GAP

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Triangle – the conclusion…

This is the last little ditty devoted to the term “engagement” that is prominently used in Corporate America today.  I believe the term engagement has us surrounded.

Much has been said and much has been written about Leadership Engagement – that was my first post in this triangle series http://thequoteguys.com/2016/03/triangle-the-series/ .  Employee Engagement has also received lots of attention – that was the second corner of the triangle http://thequoteguys.com/2016/03/triangle-the-series-continues/ .  Today, let’s turn our attention to Customer Engagement.

I believe we can “feel” customer engagement when they are collaborating with us; i.e. actively participating with us in the pursuit of their solution (or problem resolution).

Alternatively, we’ve all experienced “that client” whose opinion of our company’s product or service wasn’t so hot:

After exhausting every possible way to assist an irate client for the past 45 minutes, and then concluding her phone conversation in the professional manner she had been trained for, the client service representative was heard to let out a pent-up, rhetorical question of frustration, “What does this customer want me to do about their problem, perform magic”?

Is magic (aka venting) the same as collaboration?  I don’t think so.

I’m referring to those customer interactions we have experienced where they help us help them.  I’m remembering situations where the customer wanted us to get it right.  And on those occasions when we strayed from what’s important – they offered us course-correction:

As a young, inexperienced salesman he was simply following the 1st call script he had been trained on.  Sitting in front of the Director of MIS of his largest prospect the salesman repeatedly emphasized his company’s outstanding customer service which he had rehearsed over and over again with his sales manager.  The sales rep ground on “service” and “servicing” to the point that the MIS Director finally interjected; 

“Gary, my family owns a dairy farm.  And periodically we take our cows down to a neighbor who has a bull so we can have our cows serviced.  You might consider not telling me how your company is going to service me.”

The young, inexperienced salesman course-corrected at his client’s suggestion and succeeded in securing a new account.

I suppose it can be hard to follow our customers’ direction at times.  I mean, we have invested all of that energy and effort becoming experts with our products and services – we’d like the customer to patiently sit there and listen to us spew all of our expertise, true?

Perhaps we can heed the advice Tom Sant wrote about way back in the 1990’s in his book Persuasive Business Proposals: Writing to Win Customers, Clients, and Contracts ©

“GYST”:  Don’t write anything until you “Get Your Stuff Together.”  Lots of gas-filled balloons are launched from word processors by people who began to write before they really knew what they were talking about, why they were talking about it, or to whom they were talking.

If we can get past the spewing; if we can get to the GYST; if we can listen to our customer’s input; more times than not they will tell us exactly how to sell them; exactly how to get it right.  Besides, though we may think of ourselves as experts, our clients usually know the truth:

Make three correct guesses consecutively, and you will establish a reputation as an expert. 

Lawrence Peter

So let’s stop guessing; invite customer engagement; stop talking at them; start collaborating with them; accept their course-corrections; and gain their business.  After all, the commissions pay the same, true?

GAP

 

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Triangle – the series continues…

This is the second corner of a triangle I’m devoting to the term “engagement” that is prominently used in Corporate America today.  (Missed the first one? http://thequoteguys.com/2016/03/triangle-the-series/ )

Much has been said and much has been written about the term engagement in our modern marketplace.  Employee engagement as spoken by human resource professionals; customer engagement as spoken by marketing professionals; leadership engagement as spoken by management consulting professionals.  Engagement seems to have us surrounded.

Last week we examined leadership engagement.  In this week’s segment of the series let’s explore employee engagement.  Employees serve a key bridge between our companies’ leadership vision and the actual experiences felt by our clients:

If you want happy clients, first make sure that your client services employees are happy.  Everyone has run into that disgruntled client service representative who hates his job.

I recently read a report about millennials in our workforce and their lack of overall engagement.  Troubling – isn’t this the generation that will lead us into the future?  If they’re not engaged, how will we compete?

The report cites five reasons blocking millennial employee engagement https://hbr.org/2016/02/motivating-millennials-takes-more-than-flexible-work-policies . When we look at these reasons each one seems easily addressed, true?  What are we all waiting for?  (Is it the leadership engagement I wrote of in the first part of the series?)

If employee engagement is critical to business success in today’s global, competitive marketplace we have to get fired up!  For example, one of the oldest American industries is littered with failed businesses – big failures too; wiped out by competition.  Yet one company has arisen from the ashes as analyzed by a leading management consultant:

“We have the hardest working steel workers in the world”, said one Nucor executive.  “We hire five, work them like ten, and pay them like eight.” 

Jim Collins

We all get it – engage us; motivate us; lead us; pay us and we will forge steel with a level of effort on behalf of our company never before witnessed.  We can do it; so what’s stopping us?  Is it all of those silly, little, internal administrative processes that disillusion and ultimately diminish employees’ enthusiasm?

An angry worker goes into her company’s payroll office to complain that her paycheck is $50 short. 

The payroll supervisor checks the books and says, “I see here that last week you were overpaid by $50.  I can’t recall your complaining about that.”

“Well, I’m willing to overlook an occasional error, but this is two in a row.” 

Paul Dickson

OK, it could be that our company “bigness” has begot internal inefficiencies that irritate our employees from time to time.  It could be these minor mistakes are milking our pride; making us think our company is being run by a bunch of monkeys.  Could be, but…

There are many companies that still remain a beacon of pride, whose brand beams quality – dare I say “ENGAGEMENT”?

Welcome to Nordstrom… Here, almost in its entirety, is Nordstrom’s employee handbook:

We’re glad to have you with our Company.

Our number-one goal is to provide outstanding customer service.

Set both your personal and professional goals high.

We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them. 

Bob Nelson

Hang tough millennials (and all generations in today’s diverse workforce), we too have great confidence in your ability to achieve your goals.

If we are a team of five, let’s produce like ten.  Let’s engage to make our company a beacon of pride.  Our customers will help us; as I will discuss next week.

GAP

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Triangle – the series…

Engagement is a word that gets lots of attention today.  Employee engagement as spoken by human resource professionals; customer engagement as spoken by marketing professionals; leadership engagement as spoken by management consulting professionals.  Engagement has us surrounded.

I thought I’d devote a ditty or two (or three) to the topic of engagement.  I call it, “Triangle – the series”.  Catchy; yes?

Being a Denver Broncos fan, let’s start the series reflecting on their recent victory in Super Bowl 50.  Prior to that game, the specialists, the seerers, and the sooth sayers suggested the Broncos were not the better team in the competition.  Many felt they weren’t even the best team to represent the AFC.  Well, so much for the sooth sayers:

It seems to me that no soothsayer should be able to look at another soothsayer without laughing. 

Cicero

The Broncos simply out-played their competition that day; and the previous play-off days leading up to the Super Bowl.  Not lucky I suggest, but prepared – and totally engaged:

Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. 

Joe Newton

So what lessons learned about the Broncos engagement can we apply to our business setting?  I think of it in terms of a triangle:

Leadership engagement begets employee engagement.

And employee engagement begets customer engagement.

I suggest the triangle triples the power of engagement in our competitive marketplace.

Being from Chicago I didn’t select the term “triangle” by accident.  The legendary coach Phil Jackson made that term synonymous with NBA Championships.  Lest you think it was simply a matter of Michael Jordon, may I remind you that Michael Jordan didn’t win a championship until Phil Jackson arrived; nor did Coby Bryant; nor did Shaquille O’Neil.

And nor were the Chicago Bulls an NBA powerhouse that Phil simply inherited:

Former NBA center and coach Johnny Kerr said his biggest test as a coach came when he coached the then-expansion team the Chicago Bulls and his biggest player was 6’8″ Erwin Mueller.

We had lost seven in a row and I decided to give a psychological pep talk before a game with the Celtics, Kerr said.  I told Bob Boozer to go out and pretend he was the best scorer in basketball.  I told Jerry Sloan to pretend he was the best defensive guard.  I told Guy Rodgers to pretend he could run an offense better than any other guard, and I told Erwin Mueller to pretend he was the best rebounding, shot-blocking, scoring center in the game.  We lost the game by 17. 

I was pacing around the locker room afterward trying to figure out what to say when Mueller walked up, put his arm around me, and said, “Don’t worry about it Coach.  Just pretend we won.” 

James S. Hewett

Nope – the Bulls were pretty bad before Phil arrived.  He however, was already an accredited champion.  He held two NBA championship rings playing for the New York Knicks; and another championship ring as a head coach in the Continental Basketball Association.

Phil Jackson is a winner; he studied, practiced and learned how to be a winner; and he also learned how to teach others – how to engage his players (even Michael Jordan) – so they could become winners too.

Nick named the “Zen Master”; he led his players to engage their individual talents for the interests of the team.  He retired with the highest winning percentage of any NBA coach.

How about your company?  Do your leaders lead employee engagement?  It is after all, the first corner of the triangle.

GAP

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