February 19, 2010
When I used to contract for services or products on behalf of an organization, I always appreciated that over the long view both sides need to accrue value in order for a deal to be positive. Today, I am appreciating the details in new and acute ways.
I am learning quickly how to discern which clients want to take advantage of my integrity, work ethic, and desire to over-deliver and which ones are grateful and willing to fairly compensate me for my service, skill, and ability to add value to their organization. It is truly a pleasure to work with the latter. 🙂
Even in these times of extreme austerity for business and individuals, the world is bigger than any of our personal or business interactions. So, what is true immediately will not be true forever. Thus, actions taken today (in immediacy) that could be considered opportunistic, manipulative, or exploitive, will live on indefinitely.
Real value is created when there is synergy from collaboration. In an environment of opportunism, manipulativeness, and exploitation, synergy is extinguished and replaced by minimalism – what is required is delivered rather than what is needed.
My long view advice to clients:
- Leave enough on the table to ensure that the interaction is valuable to both sides. (If you squeeze the turnip hard enough, you might get what you wanted in the short-term, but not over the long-term).
- Recognize the bounds of your agreements and/or contracts. (Don’t scope weeks of work while contracting for a few hours of service.)
- Be gracious to those that provide you service, say “thank you” and provide constructive feedback when accepting deliverables. (You would be surprised how far a little graciousness goes in creating extra value.)
- Foster collaboration with external providers worthy of internal rapport. (Ultimately, if you can create real synergy, you can achieve much greater value.)
Before I finished my post, I read Seth’s post: more, More, MORE! – apparently we are channeling the same subject today! 🙂
In your interactions, are you considering both sides?
November 1, 2009
To celebrate my blogging success thus far (today’s post is my 50th), I am creating a tribute to the long view advice “if you like something and it works for you, stick with it.”
There are many things that fall into the works-for-me category: my husband, my friends, this blog, yet I choose to celebrate this milestone with a post about my long-term love affair with my Terry Bicycle Pro Racer Skorts.
I bought my first Terry skort about ten years ago. I loved the fact that I could act pretty unladylike yet still look ladylike! I have been collecting them ever since at a rate of about one per year. At this point, I have a terrific collection of brightly colored prints that are fun, uplifting, and playful. To date, I have eleven skorts (including a plain black one, not shown in the photo whirl). I share this whimsy, not because I need to have them validated by others, but rather it just happens to be a great example of something that works so well for me that I am planning to continue.
Skorts are versatile. They provide more coverage than just shorts, a zest of femininity, have great flexibility during spring/summer/fall, and they wash and wear like iron (my oldest one still looks great!). I wear them to work at my computer, ride my bike, rock climb, weight lift, run errands, and/or blog. I do avoid them for professional venues (except themed events such as a beach party). At the high end, I even wear the black one with a nice sweater, bling and heels – violà – dinner wear! 😉
The combined knowledge that I receive many compliments and that my teenage daughter tells me regularly that skorts are ugly and horribly out-of-style, ever encourages me to carry on with my non- mainstream skorts. Could it be any other way?! Although, I’m the only one at my rock climbing gym to wear skorts, everyone can readily identify me from the others: I am “Skort Linda.” Have you seen me?
After I purchased my first few (those early years), the fact that I did not really need any more (they last forever!) caused me to decide to wait for the post-season sale to purchase. I abandoned that strategy the year that Terry ran out of my size in the color I wanted most. Although I purchased the next size up that year, I don’t wear it because it is too big. Thus, I now buy immediately (at full price) when Terry Bicycles releases their new spring colors. Afterall, I have a collection and I can always work in a new color. 🙂
While I await the 2010 collection of Pro Racer Skorts…Are you keeping what works for you?
September 5, 2009
One year ago, as a result of a running hip injury and a prior history of a hip stress fracture (running), my doctor recommended a bone density measurement even though I am young, active, and have no significant risk factors for osteoporosis. Obediently, I went for a DEXA measurement.
Shortly after, my doctor informed me that the good news was that I had not lost any height, but the bad news was that I had osteoporosis. I was shocked.
This diagnosis was opportunity to adjust my lifestyle to improve my long-term skeletal health. As with any significant emergent problem, the long view response is similar:
- Assess priority – does it merit long view investment?
- Define improvement/success metric(s)
- Create a plan for improvement/success
- Execute: drip, drip, drip…
- Measure improvement/success
- Reassess priority (Celebrate improvement/success)
Establishing priority was easy. To ensure my long-term skeletal health, I was immediately committed to aggressively battling this silent disease. Complacency was never an option for an Off-the-Scale-Futurist.
Defining the improvement/success metric was also easy. I needed to increase my bone density to greater than -1.5 spinal t-score (low end of the normal range) as measured by DEXA.
With my doctor, I created a threefold plan for bone density improvement/success:
- Increase mineral availability: take calcium supplements 3×600 mg/day.
- Decrease demineralization: add drug therapy, Boniva 1x/month.
- Increase mineralization: add load-bearing exercise. This required a remix of my athletic lifestyle. My typical regimen of swimming, biking, running, and an occasional cardio machine provided limited load-bearing. Only running counted as load-bearing, and it only loads the lower skeleton. So, I reduced swimming and biking in favor of weight-lifting 2x/week, along with my usual running. After a bit, I realized the combination did not give me the joy of athletics to which I was accustomed, so I went in search of new load-bearing sports. I tried both yoga and rock climbing, both of which provide whole skeletal loading. Although I liked yoga, it didn’t like me (rhomboid strain). I loved rock climbing – it is so addictive that it became the clear winner! 🙂 I now mix a combination of swimming, biking, running, and rock climbing throughout the week, along with weight-lifting 1x/week. I still have joy, but I increased the amount of load-bearing exercise.
Since DEXA bone density is measured no more frequently than annually – I committed to a full year of execution. Keeping the faith, I impatiently and anxiously awaited my next DEXA results, drip, drip, drip, …
I recently received my results and I moved the needle! I went from a -2.6 spinal t-score to a -1.6 spinal t-score; a full standard deviation of change. Woohoo! Although I didn’t quite reach a number greater than -1.5, I certainly made a significant gain. Time to celebrate!
Because load-bearing is now integrated into my lifestyle, I no longer need aggressive focus. Time for a new adventure…
What are you doing to ensure your long-term health?
August 25, 2009
I am grateful that there are not too many instances of nonsense in the day-to-day interactions that I have with merchants and providers. However, when I run into bona fide examples of nonsense, I tend to be incredulous – just how does it happen?!
My favorite chain drugstore was purchased by another chain drugstore about a year ago. Since then, my favorite store has been undergoing renovation. Although I have been disappointed as they eliminated my favorite cleansing pads and adhesive bandages, and as they narrowed the aisles and increased the shelf height, I have been accepting of their progress, until recently. Last week, I went to the drugstore at lunchtime to pick-up a prescription and found the pharmacy closed!
Another patron watched me discover that the pharmacy was closed and stopped me as a departed to ask me how I felt about the reduced hours. Obviously, I was not pleased with the change. She told me that she had just asked to speak to the manager because she wanted to complain about the reduction in service hours. She was especially distraught because lunchtime was the only time she could get to the pharmacy. I decided to wait with her and corroborate her concern. When the manager finally arrived, we both expressed our displeasure at the reduction of hours under new ownership. The manager explained that there had been no reduction in pharmacy hours – the same staff schedules were being maintained. Really?!
So I pushed her explanation, how is it that I could previously access the pharmacy during lunchtime, but not this week with the same hours? She explained that the corporate policy of the new drugstore differed from the old drugstore such that pharmacists must take a lunch break mandated by law. When the other patron and I asserted that the old drugstore covered the lunch hour satisfactorily and that the laws had not changed, she replied that the old drugstore used a waiver to satisfy the requirement. Okay, we said, get a waiver or add staff to cover the lunch hour differently OR accept and acknowledge that there is a real reduction in customer service hours. The manager then began reiterating the party line, “there has been no reduction in pharmacy hours…”
Maybe from the employee staffing perspective there is no reduction in pharmacy hours, but that is irrelevant to the customer. What matters from the customer perspective are the available pharmacy hours. Although I would still be unhappy if she had acknowledged that they had reduced pharmacy hours, at least I wouldn’t be insulted. It is difficult to believe that she thinks customers will accept the nonsense explanation that there was no reduction in customer service hours. This is not a positive development in my long-term relationship with this drugstore.
It is apparent that the drugstore manager does not subscribe to the long view advice from my prior blog posts: Keeping Core: understand your customer’s perspective or Rocking Customer Service: fix what isn’t right without excuse and be grateful for the opportunity. However, in this situation, what really ruined the long term customer relationship (trust and loyalty) is the doublespeak defense against complaint. As such, I offer additional long view advice:
- Think critically – Does what you say make sense from differing perspectives? Are the arguments internally consistent?
- Banish nonsense – Do not claim something that is not. Correct problems, apologize for interim inconvenience, and avoid clever debate.
Are you banishing nonsense and thinking critically?
July 19, 2009
My husband is a wonderful guy, constantly giving back to the community in so many ways. One example, he donates blood – he knows that the community counts on him especially in the summer because there is always a shortage. Drip, drip, drip…yesterday morning, he got up early to donate blood.
When he returned from donating, he expressed frustration about the service. As he recounted a tale about the person who handled his “in-take” – they wasted his time, denigrated his offer of assistance to find his recent travel destination on the map, and was rude. I realized once again how lucky the world is that he is so calm, unflappable, and honorable. Had I been in the same situation, frustrated would not be the word choice to describe how I would have felt…
Considering the importance of keeping eligible donors returning at regular intervals to donate blood to create blood supply (the only source of raw material), it is simply shocking that the blood center does not ensure that donors have an amazing experience.
As my husband recounted his blood center tale, I recalled the advice I gave previously in Proverbial Zebra about the importance of knowing the organizational constraint and understanding the pivotalness of staff roles. That key advice came from Beyond HR: The New Science of Human Capital (Bourdeau/Ramstad) and applies directly to a customer service organization like the blood center. In fact, the authors use two different customer service roles at Disneyland to describe pivotalness – Mickey Mouse and the street sweepers.
At Disneyland, there is not too much differentiation from a “guest” point-of-view between the worst Mickey and the best Mickey – not pivotal. However, there is significant differentiation between the worst street sweeper and the best – very pivotal. Sweepers who go out of their way to help a lost guest or find assistance make a big difference in the overall Disney experience of guests and, thereby, the success of Disneyland. Thus, Disney makes a great effort to hire the very best street sweepers – those with initiative and courtesy. Pivotalness is determined by the attributes that relieve an organizational constraint.
In the bloody supply business that is in chronic shortage and in need of donors, the organizational constraint is recruiting eligible donors. So, if the Blood Center were to review staff roles relative to the constraint, there is not too much differentiation from a “donor” point-of-view” between the worst lab technician and the best lab technician (assuming baseline competence) – not pivotal. However, there is a significant difference between the worst “in-take” technician and the best “in-take” technician – very pivotal. “In-take” technicians that are knowledgeable of world geography (where has the donor visited in the last six months that might exclude them), charming (able to make comforting small talk through the finger-prick and blood pressure testing), and efficient (every donor minute wasted reduces the chance of return) make a big difference in the overall blood center experience and will affect the willingness of donors to continue to donate.
My long view advice to any blood center is that they need to be proactive about deploying excellence in “in-take” technicians. It is not an entry-level position that can be delegated to the lowest common denominator in the organization or the blood supply will suffer over the long-term. As noted before, pivotalness is determined by the attributes that relieve an organizational constraint — access to blood NOW and in the FUTURE. Do not count on a donor’s sense of duty or Oreo cookies to sustain donor returns. Select staff for “in-take” positions that are knowledgeable, charming, and efficient and then compensate them for doing these things well because it matters!
Do you know what staff positions are pivotal in your organization?
July 15, 2009
Jamba Juice is a frozen fruit smoothie franchise that has consistent taste, predictable service (both timing and quality), hip marketing, and friendly staff. As a process engineer, I have always marveled at the “process line” that Jamba Juice employs. It is simple, efficient, and allows for excellence in quality in pace and accuracy (so long as the vast majority of products being sold are smoothies).
Jamba Juice uses a register station, a prep station, a blending station, a finishing station, and a washing station. The “line” works because each smoothie gets a paper ticket with the smoothie identity (product) and the purchaser identity. The paper ticket sticks to the blender carafe when moist, so information flows along the line with each carafe. As the tickets flow, carafes are prepped and pushed down the line, creating an excellent First-In-First-Out (FIFO) process line. The “line” is usually well staffed to ensure flow through the series of stations and the register station can be used regulate flow. If needed, they can reduce the flow momentarily by ceasing to take orders when they get too backed up. It is easy to see your order progress in the line-up, making the wait very predictable.
I also like Jamba Juice because they are “hip.” They use colorful advertising, clean humor, and they have a “secret smoothie menu” that appeals to teens (my kids like the “Pink Star”).
When I went for a smoothie today (it was hot outside), I found that Jamba Juice had added many new food products to their menu. I watched sadly as the once simple process gave way to complexity and FIFO flow was no longer working. The woman in front of me in line received only one of her two smoothies. Even though she muttered about the error (such that I knew), she was not assertive in requesting a correction from the staff. On the other hand, when I observed that one of my smoothies had NOT been prepared at the prep station, I spoke up immediately, because it was clear to me that the new way the paper tickets and carafes flowed led to errors and a loss of system capacity.
Indeed the squeaky wheel (me) got the grease (my order was fixed ASAP). I left advising the woman ahead of me to speak up, even though I knew that more expediting would continue to cost process capacity. They had became caught in an eternal expedite situation – as each person found an error in their order, “flow” work ceased and “expedite” work filled the capacity of the staff. The line backed up more and more because complexity unintentionally increased the rate of error and no mechanism was added to compensate.
I lament the loss of the niche excellence that Jamba Juice once commanded. I am saddened because they have lost their core to the unintended consequence of what probably seemed like an “improvement” (revenue?). Maybe only this location was duly affected with the addition of food to the menu and maybe they can create a corrective action, but I am not confident.
Jamba Juice failed to see the long view value of their core competence from a customer’s perspective: consistent fruit smoothie preparation (tasty!), FIFO process (predictable timing), and high order quality (order accuracy). It is the experience that has value. The unintended consequence of their change compromised this core value. As my friend Greg (a marketing guy) points out, “Ask your customers why they buy your product and why they buy your product from you and not one of your competitors. You will no doubt be amazed at the answer.” In summary, understand your core and the potential for unintended consequences from your customer’s perspective.
Do you know what your customers think your core competency is?
June 23, 2009
- Relativistic comparisons: “How people feel about their situation is highly dependent on comparison to others. Thus, in order to achieve good staff (team) morale, it is important to consider how to minimize negative comparisons now *and* in the future.” (Relativistic Comparisons, blog topic from last week).
- Loss aversion: “Our aversion to loss is a strong emotion…one that sometimes causes us to make bad decisions.“ (Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational, Ch. 7, pg.134, see his YouTube video explaining the difference between gain and loss perspectives)
These traits lead to key long view leadership principles:
- Learn the strengths of the individuals of your team and leverage individual strengths to achieve team goals. Be fair from the perspective of your team. Be clear on expectations, reward excellence, and avoid marginalization.
- Strike a fair balance between competing goals and demands of multiple masters. Be fair from the perspective of your customer (whoever pays for the service is the customer). Be clear on deliverables, achieve excellence in customer service, and respect tiered pricing.
- Have a plan that considers likely contingencies to ensure balance. (Do not assume that you can achieve balance under fire.)
This past weekend, I found myself observing these leadership principles in a very different domain than technology development. I felt them as a soccer mom.
The goals of a U14 (under fourteen) Class 1 (highly competitive league) are twofold: win games and develop players. A soccer team fields 11 players at a time, but carries a roster between 14 – 17 kids to allow for substitution (rest and injury). The coach’s leadership job on game day requires allocation of playing time to effectively win games and develop players. Players sitting on the bench do not develop (get better), but playing the strongest players improves the odds of winning games. This creates the inherent tension between the two goals (win games vs. develop players) with “playing time” being the valued (and measureable) scarce resource.
My son’s coach is an excellent well-trained soccer player with outstanding credentials. During training, he provides excellence in drills, discipline, and development feedback. At game time, although he is well-intentioned to achieve balance between the competing goals, he can become loss averse with respect to winning – can’t we all?! Given the much stronger aversion to loss, it is no surprise that long-term needs for gaining player development become subverted for short-term loss aversion during games. Without discipline and planning, the long view suffers…
Although my son is an excellent soccer player, combining speed, agility, and accurate ball placement, he is small of stature and is considered less aggressive than some of the other boys. He follows the expectations set by the coach and works hard to receive as much playing time as possible. He is loss averse to playing time both because he recognizes the vicious cycle of dis-improvement and because he feels “unfairness” (relativistic comparison) when the other boys receive substantially more playing time. With each successive “loss” of playing time he is further marginalized, thereby jeopardizing his love and passion for the game – a serious long view consequence of many small seemingly insignificant slights.
This past weekend resulted in an acute amplification of the phenomena…
My son’s soccer team traveled over a hundred miles from home to play a several day soccer tournament. Since not all team members could attend the tournament, extra players were recruited to “guest” at the tournament for the team. The team had 16-18 total players available for the tournament games. My son averaged 12.5 minutes of playing time per game (25% of 50 mins/game) with ZERO in the semi-final. Guest players each received substantial playing time (>75%) in all games including the semi-final.
It was a very unpleasant 2-hour ride home after the loss in the semi-final. Although I am confident that my perspective differs from those who received adequate playing time because they did not suffer marginalization – they have the perspective of “gain” whereas I have the long perspective of “loss,” a line was crossed that prompted me to write this blog post.
From my perspective, there was an omission of long view leadership principles when substantial playing time for the guest players led to permanent team members playing ZERO in the semi-final (scarce resource allocation):
- Marginalization was allowed. Receipt of ZERO playing time in a semi-final is a vote of “no confidence” and is severely marginalizing in the context of the guest players receiving substantial playing time (relativistic comparison of scarce resource allocation).
- Tiered pricing was not respected. Although everyone incurred (equivalent) travel expenses, the guest players, who received “free” coaching and tournament entry (those fees were paid by the team) were treated the same as paying players. It would be reasonable (to me) to defer to those players who bear the costs of the salary, expenses, and tournament entry to ensure principle #1.
- Planning was insufficient. If principles #1 and #2 are compromised, then #3 is insufficient. Planning is the big differentiator for long view leadership success – if you plan for contingencies you can and will overcome instinctual tendencies.
I don’t want my son to lose his love for this game, which leaves me with the question on how to move forward and regain the positive when I do not have any real influence. Although I it would be helpful if the coach could:
- Acknowledge error to my son and commit to move forward positively.
- Explain to my son that the team fit is no longer correct and then offer to help place him on a team that will value him (before we pay the $1400 fee for the fall season!).
I am not sure that will happen spontaneously. I would love to be able to Teach Concepts, Explain Specifics, and Gain Acceptance (Relativistic Thinking), but I am not the one with the relationship with the coach.
Can a 13-year-old navigate this effectively? What is your perspective? Do you have advice?
June 4, 2009
The long view advice when faced with pettiness is to take the high road. No durable happiness is ever derived from succumbing to pettiness in others. Revenge is fleeting and often filled with long-term negative consequences. It is okay to channel the bumper sticker that reads, “Mean People Suck” to sum up our emotions and feelings from being taken advantage, but keeping negativity appropriately directed (safely venting only!) is the best course. I share this wisdom as I face down my own challenge with a backyard fence:
The shared fence between my neighbor’s home and my home is in severe disrepair. It has been that way for about ten (10) years. Five years ago, when a significant portion fell, our neighbor did not want to replace the fence and because we planned to redo our backyard in a few years time, waiting seemed like an acceptable option. We agreed to an unaesthetic functional repair. A few years later, when we redid our backyard and approached our neighbor to replace the fence, it became clear to us that he was an obstructionist. Unfortunately, what before seemed reasonable became precedent. With the fence failing again and the homeowner’s association notifying us that it needs to be replaced/repaired (to maintain the aesthetics of the neighborhood), we still cannot get our neighbor to agree to replace the fence!
Recently, my husband and I decided that life is too short to not enjoy our backyard more and have decided that we will shoulder 90% of the cost of the fence replacement (the neighbor would pay 10%, which is equivalent to half the cost of another unaesthetic repair). Shockingly, our neighbor is still obstructing by demanding terms of the contractor, timing, and more, before giving approval for the work to proceed. Aaarrgghhh…..
- The high road, the high road, the high road, the high road….my mantra to get me through those emergent thoughts of effigy burning.
- What else works is laughter to ease the frustration. Jim, my fence guy (who has quoted this job many times over 10 years, but never been given the go ahead to do the work), regales me with tales of much worse neighbors. He makes me laugh and it never seems so bad after I talk to Jim.
- Lastly, perhaps there is prayer? Yesterday, I attended a special occasion prayer service and learned that the psalm for Wednesday is a prayer for spiritual retribution: “…Judge of the earth, give the arrogant their deserts…destroy them with their own evil…”
Although I continue to take the high road, I concurrently pine for more Wednesdays!
Do you take the high road or pine for more Wednesdays?