Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Earning Trust

How many times have you heard: "You have to earn trust"? I believe this bit of conventional wisdom has been ingrained into me since I was a child (you can probably relate to that). I also believe that this bit of conventional wisdom has held me back in more endeavours than I can count.

What this bit of wisdom should say is: "You have to earn more trust." If you start with the premise that someone starts out in your relationship with no trust, then how can they possibly develop any? If you don't trust them to some degree then what can they do to earn some? How hard is it to tell a new employee or co-worker that you are going to trust them with some things up-front, and allow them to earn more trust as time goes on?

How much trust you give will depend on the circumstances - how much you have to lose if they violate your trust - but there is almost always some level of trust that can be given at first. The reality is that you are doing this anyway to some degree. The really big difference is how it is presented. Telling someone they have to earn your trust is a negative. It will take you a long while to develop a strong relationship with someone if you tell them up-front that they are not trustworthy (at least you perceive them that way). On the other hand, telling someone you are granting them a level of trust up-front is a positive. If the person is truly someone deserving of your trust, they will work extra hard to earn more, knowing that you have stuck your neck out (to some degree) in the beginning.

Starting a relationship on a positive note. Wow, what a concept!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Data and Information

Way too often, I find there is confusion between the terms data and information. Put simply:

Data - A collection (or collections) of "stuff". It is either unorganized, or organized along a single dimension (e.g., the number of phone calls a customer service person handles in a day - the single dimension is the count of calls; nothing else is taken into account about the calls themselves, merely the gross number.)

Information - A collection of data that is considered together with other data collections, past and present experience, and a healthy dose of intuition. Information is organized, often along multiple dimensions (e.g., the number of phone calls a customer service person handles in a day, the amount of time each call took, the question being asked, the number of times a single customer called, and the number of times they called about a specific issue.)

A single piece of data taken in isolation can result in awful management decisions. Lets take the example I included in parantheses above. If the only metric you use to determine productivity or usefulness is the gross number of calls a customer service person handles in a day, you are losing out on a wealth of information: Is there a particular product that is causing a problem? Is there a particular demographic that is having a problem? Is the customer service agent that is taking more time on the phone more effectively helping the customer, or are they just wasting time.

Look at the reports you regularly review. Do they contain data or information?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Respecting your Staff

A good friend and mentor of mine, Deanna Tucci Schmitt, responded to my entry about customer service ("What an Attitude!"):

"One way to ensure great customer service from your staff is to treat your staff as well (or better) as you treat your customers. Do you agree?"

The short answer is a resounding YES!

Do you make it a habit to yell at your customers or make them feel inferior for getting in the wrong line or asking the wrong question? Why not? Don't you need to teach these people how to read signs or read the labels on the product?

No? So why would you treat your staff that way? Because you pay them? You pay your customer too. What you paid for the product, the advertising, the building and the time you spend to sell them, is what you pay your customer. In return they give you money for your particular product or service. Your staff you compensate with cash, facilities and resources, and they create the product, support the product, sell it. Whichever you choose, whatever you call it, they are providing the mechanism - or supporting it - that you use to generate income (or justify your salary if you are not the owner.)

Think about a time you were insulted or beaten down (c'mon it happens to all of us at some time in our lives.) Did you feel like jumping up and screaming "Thank You Sir, May I have another?!" or did you slink off plotting creative demises for the person that done you wrong? If the latter, remember that the person you may be demeaning now is going out to deal with your customers.

Isn't that a pleasant thought?

Thanks for passing that nugget on Deanna!

Rules of Hiring - Part II

Rule #2 of Hiring:

Always hire someone better than you at the job you are hiring for.

Sounds obvious right? However, too many times people are hired that are not as competent at their job as the manager (especially in the Tech world where the line between managing the work and doing it is often blurred - another mistake, but more on that later.) I believe the usual reason for this is fear. The manager believes if their group or department is staffed with extremely competent people, that the manager's boss will decide they (the manager) is no longer needed, or in the case where the owner makes the decision, they are afraid the new hire will outshine them.

The manager in the first case is driven by the fear of being made obsolete or useless. They miss the point that a manager is typically judged by the quality of their people's work, not their ability to rescue every project from the hands of their incompetent staff. If you hire only the best people to do the work, and remove the obstacles in their way, you should be recognized as the leader that you are.

However, if you find yourself in the kind of position where the bosses up the chain (and if there are a lot of those, you are already in the wrong company) share your fear, get out! What you are in for is a lot of frustration and an ulcer as your worry consumes you. Think about it. If you do shine because of your people, your boss (and possibly several bosses up the line as well as other managers in other departments) will either take credit for your work, or more likely, try to sabotage you. If you want to shine, but play the game and hire mediocrity, you will be frustrated as your department constantly looks to you to help out (which will feel nice the first 10 times but around time 100 is just plain infuriating.)

The second case is actually more ego than anything else. To those people I say: "Wake Up! You own the company! What the heck are you worried about?"

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Rules of Hiring - Part I

Rule #1 of Hiring:

Hire for chemistry first, skills second.

I have known and worked with several brilliant people in my time. Several of them however, never clicked in the organization and their contributions were minimal. Why? Because even though their resumes and demonstrable skills were impressive, they did not have any chemistry with the people they worked with.

Chemistry doesn't necessarily mean you want this person to be your best friend, or even that you want to hang out together. It means that your work ethic, your view of the job at hand, and the way you look at how to solve problems generally agree.

Skills can always be trained or enhanced. Having someone share your philosophy - about work in general and the specific work - is something that they will more typically come into the job with. Training attitude is much harder, and will take valuable time that person could have been producing value for the company.

Monday, March 12, 2007

What an Attitude!

Something I heard the other day jogged my memory about a CEO I used to work for. During a conversation with him he told me: "Customer Service is a necessary evil."


This same CEO was out telling prospects and potential investors that our customers were the most important thing in our business. Perhaps he was referring to the revenue they brought the company.

Do you find yourself thinking the same thing? The temptation is to think of Customer Service as a Cost Center, because it is difficult to gauge how much of your revenue comes from it. Wrong. Good Customer Service is not that hard, not that expensive, and the return on the investment shows up every day in referrals, references and repeat customers.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Fifteen Minute Solution

When I was a kid, my dad had this horrible ritual each Saturday in the spring and summer:
Yard Work

Yard Work entailed cutting grass, trimming hedges, cleaning up garbage thrown by passing cars and pedestrians, and anything else my dad could dream up.

To try and lighten the load, dad would always unload this nugget of wisdom on me:
"If you do 15 minutes of yard work everyday, then you won't have near as much to do come Saturday."

I never listened, I had too much to do during the week, playing ball with friends, bike riding, I could always find an excuse not to do 15 minutes of yard work. Then, come Saturday, I would howl about being trapped for the morning and often part of the afternoon doing things I could have done during the week.

We can easily apply this to taking over an existing organization.

The temptation is to jump in and prove that you know better than everyone else. Start barking out orders, making changes, and whip the group into shape. After all isn't that your job? Well, no. Your job is to get obstacles out of the way. To do that sometimes you need to push. To push, we need to convince people this is in their own best interests. You need to develop trust and rapport so that they will listen to you when you try to communicate (not TELL) why something is in a group's best interest.

You need to observe first. See what is going on. Try and understand why things have evolved the way they have. Then start making small improvements and changes. Don't threaten people with wholesale change, ease them into it. Do the 15 minute changes, which over time will become part of the culture. Save the big push for later, when you have a base to work from, when you have the support of the group. Some of the smallest changes can reap big changes in process and attitude.

Don't spend a week or a month planning a set of changes or new processes, and then dump it in your staff's lap at a Friday morning staff meeting and expect it to be implemented in the next 4 hours. Make the easy changes first, and make them gradual. You'll find you have less to do come that Friday morning staff meeting.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

As I get older, my parents get smarter

The title of this post touches on the difference between knowledge and wisdom.

Anyone can gain knowledge. There are colleges to attend, universities to get advanced degrees from, and more books, videos, and internet sites about everything you wanted to know about than you could ever review.

Ahh but wisdom is a little trickier. Wisdom tells you how to apply the knowledge that you have.

Wisdom comes from two places: your own experience, and the experience of those around you. How easy it is to dismiss those with experience when you are young, and overflowing with the latest knowledge. How easy it is to ignore those who have been there before you, especially in technology where "everyone knows" the latest knowledge is the best.

If only it was that simple. Read a book: be an expert. Unfortunately, the knowledge you can gain from reading a case study, or someone's opinion/system (even mine!) may not totally apply (or apply at all) in your particular management situation. This is where wisdom- the power of experience - comes into play; wisdom allows you to judge how much of your knowledge is applicable, and how to apply it.

But what about new knowledge? New techniques, new data? This is where the truly wise shine! Those who are truly wise do not rely just on their experience, but act like sponges when it comes to new knowledge, and adapt their thinking based on their experience and the new knowledge (including the experience of others).

So can only the old and experienced be wise? Of course not! The key for those who are younger and less experienced is to listen to the more experienced, and include that combination of knowledge and experience in their own thought processes.

You would be surprised how smart your parents really were!