Business Management/Sales

'That's the way things are' is about to change

Since the passing of business and technology guru Steve Jobs last October, his words have received a lot of attention. In an interview from many years ago, when asked how he learned to run a company, Jobs responded, “You know, throughout my years in business, I discovered something - I would always ask why you do things. The answers that I would invariably get are: “Oh, that’s just the way things are done around here.” Nobody knows why they do what they do.”

“Oh, that’s just the way things are done around here.”

Whether uttered as a response to a question regarding motive or a suggestion of an alternative method, if you hear, or say those words, it should serve as an important signal that "the way things are done" need to be more closely evaluated, and very likely, need to be changed.

Being able to explain the reasoning behind actions will help you identify processes that are done solely out of tradition and may be outdated. It can bring awareness to gaps in efficiency or misaligned practices. It can help you develop innovative approaches to almost anything.

2012apr14_changethingsYou should encourage your employees to be inquisitive and always thinking about the ‘why’ behind their actions, because a culture of curiosity can be extremely valuable to an organization.

I can think of a great example in one of our hospitals, where a new surgical technique for evaluating heart conditions has been implemented.

The technique, known as radial artery access led by Dr. Edward Zajac, allows surgeons to achieve the same diagnostic results as the traditional "way things are always done" method, but enables patients to have a much shorter recovery time, reduced complications and fewer complaints about pain.

Getting the same results while also increasing patient safety and comfort? Thank goodness Dr. Zajac took the time to ask “what if we tried it this way?”

In your organization, are there procedures or standard practices that could be done in a different, more effective way yet still accomplish the same results?

Promote open discussion and questioning from your employees. Someone who works for you knows where change is needed; they are just waiting for the conversation to be started.

Start the conversation, and your employees will soon be able to say, "That's how we used to do things around here. Now, we do things better."

- Bill Leaver

Will the real 'customer focused' company please step forward?

SCRTD - Del Amo Customer Service Center RTD_11...Image by Metro Transportation Library and Archive via Flickr

I ask business owners, managers, and sales people this question all the time. "Why do your customers do business with your company as opposed to one of your competitors?"

"It is our customer service!"

This is how far too many business owners, managers and sales people respond. But consider the logic. If five competing business all provide "great" customer service, the fact is that "great" is the new "average." Thus, if no one stands out on the basis of their "above average" customer service, no one can actually claim that their customers select their company (and de-select the rest) based upon customer service. The truth is that for most businesses, delivering good customer service is really means that they do their best to not deliver bad customer service.

So what does the REAL customer service company look like?

  • The company vision explicitly customer oriented.
  • The core values of the company are defined and congruent with a customer service focus.
  • Both the greater vision and core values are known and understood by everyone in the company.
  • In addition to past performance, these customer service oriented core values are key to all decisions having to do with hiring, firing, rewarding and recognizing.
  • The company is organized and structured around customer service.
  • Customer service goals are in place and are constantly measured and reported.
  • All the processes are designed around the customer, they are documented, and they are consistently followed.
  • Customer service guarantees are in place and honored.

Are these things true of your company? If not, it isn't a bad thing. It does not mean that you have abandoned the ideal of providing good service to your customers. It merely means that as a company, you have chosen on purpose or by default to differentiate yourself another way. Perhaps it is cheapest price, the best technology, the biggest brains, or the most choices.

If not customer service, to what does your organization have this level of commitment such that it is, or can be, the real reason customers choose to do business with you?

We would love your comments about what companies you think have clearly been able to distinguish themselves around customer service in Iowa.

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How to Become a Great Business Leader

The book "Good to Great" came out about 10 years ago. In the book, "Level 5 Leadership" is identified as one of those characteristics that separate GREAT companies from good companies. Although Jim Collins' research team uncovered that Level 5 Leadership exists, and they are able to describe what it looks like, it is stated in the book that they can't tell someone how to become that kind of leader.

In contrast, if you do a Google search for leadership training, you will see things like "Leadership Bootcamp: Insight, tools, skills, and growth in just three intensive days!"

Don't Step In The LeadershipImage via Wikipedia

"Leadership training" or "leadership development" is largely focused on skill development such as:

  • Communication
  • Delegation
  • Project Management
  • Problem Solving
  • Conflict Management
  • Meeting Management
  • Team Building
  • Coaching
  • Listening

These are all really important management skills and one would not likely be effective over the long-term without conscious development and improvement in these areas. However, does it make sense to say that we don't have very many great business leaders because those in leadership are unable to acquire these skills that are so easily attainable through hundreds of internal and external training programs?

On the contrary, I have observed over the years that these skills can be used to "manage" and manipulate people rather actually lead them. This is done even by the nicest of managers who are just trying to get people to do what they think is best.

So here we are back at the beginning. How does one become a great leader? The bottom line is that the ambition of great leaders is for their organizations, their teams and their customers. They are not suppressing personal ambition to serve the greater good of the company.

Their personal ambition and the greater good of the company are one and the same.

Can one change from the inside out in a workshop or a professional develop program? Of course not. However, one can identify, study and put into practice those universal principles that make one a great human being - for lack of a more humble term. Those, combined with great management skills practiced over time, will make one a great leader.

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Strategically Managing the Wave of Turnover

2010-04-22Image by bgottsab via Flickr

About 10 years ago, I gave a speech at a national insurance management conference in Seattle. At the time, the country was experiencing a serious economic downturn similar, but not as bad as we have gone though the last few years.

Ultimately, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped more than 40 percent before rebounding.

The topic was on the recruitment and retention of insurance professionals.

The main message was that the extraordinarily high employee retention numbers were not an accurate reflection of job satisfaction and that before the economy rebounds is the time to be proactive about handing the risk of high turnover.

During those economic times when companies focused on operating "lean," they naturally do not automatically replace employees when they leave. Instead, the burden of their work is spread among those remaining. Furthermore, despite the increased workloads, longer hours and greater stress, companies do not reward their employees with congruent raises and bonuses. In fact, management can project a "be thankful you even have a job in this economy" attitude.

From an employer/employee relationship point of view, the company is making some big withdrawals.

Well, history is repeating itself. A recent survey conducted by Right Management asked employees...

Have you been approached by another company with a job offer in the past year?

Yes      45%
No       55%

Given the high cost of turnover, perhaps this is a risk that needs to be strategically managed. Rather than salary increases across the board or any other broad stroke measures, consider these steps.

  1. Review and sharpen the focus of your corporate vision.
  2. Analyze your organization chart to determine if the company is structured appropriately to make the journey towards the vision.
  3. With a clear vision and the right structure in mind, begin and maintain an ongoing dialogue about the future with those whose retention is strategically important.
  4. Create retention strategies around their needs that are also congruent with the corporate vision and culture.

For some companies, the percentage of people whose "retention is strategically important" may be small. However, for those that are already structured well, every job is important. If successful hiring strategies have been in place, those people whose "retention is strategically important" may include nearly everyone.

What suggestions do you have for companies that are at risk of experiencing high turnover as the economy continues to recover?

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