Wednesday, April 23, 2014

How a good orientation engages team parents

The bleachers were full of fresh faces - well, maybe not so fresh,
Swimmers at Central York Aquatics
but new to the team. The goal for the gathering was to orient new parents to the swim team that their children just joined.  During the session they learned about things like

  • Expectations for volunteering, donations for concessions, etc.
  • The differences between the types of meets
  • What to bring to meets, and how to prepare their children
  • Where to go to find relevant information 
  • How to sign up for meets and volunteer jobs
  • How to support their child's progress and attitude through the ups and downs of competing in the sport
  • How and when to interact with the coaching staff
The organizers of the meeting were swim parent veterans with multiple club experiences.  They started this club knowing what it was like to feel out of the loop, to feel like an interloper, to feel, well, stupid.  They knew what it was like to be new (in a bad way) themselves, and they didn't want anyone else to have to endure what they did.

This team communicates on a team website, via an email communication coordinator, and through periodic meetings like this one led by parents or by one or more of the coaching staff.  They have a new parent coordinator who is designated specifically to answer questions with parents of prospective and current swimmers.

The orientation for parents includes a practice meet before the season starts, where parents can learn to do jobs like timing and operating the computerized timing equipment. 

When meet day comes, the well-oriented parents are eager to volunteer to help run the meet because they'd rather help than sit for 3 hours.  Kidding.  Well, sorta.  They volunteer because they feel part of the group, they know what is expected and they know how to do it.  They wind up sharing a love of the sport, and a love of the herd of children who swim on the team.  They cheer for other parents' kids as well as their own.  And they stay for season after season.

Not a bad investment in orientation, eh?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Reports show your point of view

You might be among those who say, "In God we trust - everyone
else had better bring data."  Are you aware that the data you collect and disseminate reveal volumes about you, your priorities and that of your company?

During a coaching session  the other day a salesperson complained that there is nowhere in her CRM system that she can generate a report that tells her essential information about her prospects when she's not online.  She's gone through the time-consuming process of putting real data into the database, but has to look each prospect up to figure out when they were last contacted.

She theorized that the CRM system in her company wasn't primarily designed for account managers to use in serving clients.  Rather, it was primarily designed to help layers of management count the numbers of activities that the salespersons do in the field each week.  It included lots of ways to slice and dice the numbers of companies were at what stage in their first sales process.  The system was full of the kinds of reports that make sales managers froth at the mouth.  What the system didn't include - or at least she couldn't find it - was:

  • Open accounts with last date seen.
  • Prospect company, contact name, phone number, address, last activity date, notes from last activity.
If she had those two reports readily available she could prioritize, she could focus - heck, she could print it out not worry at all about finding wifi or running out of battery power on her company laptop.

This salesperson complained as many do that the bean counting for sales activity takes far too long, and takes the salesperson out of the field.  But it would feel more worthwhile if she was doing it for the purposes of doing her job better, rather than doing it mostly for her boss.

In this blog we've talked before about a prominent international tech company that had an interoffice mail delay problem.  When the process was analyzed it was discovered that the mail room was spending a large proportion of each day weighing the mail and then disseminating reports about the mail volume (in poundage) to seven layers of management.  Nobody was looking at the reports that were causing the delay in mail processing.  One can guess that at some point the mail poundage was important in considering whether more than X number of persons was needed to staff the mail room.  But nobody could remember for sure.

For whom are your company's reports generated?  For the people doing the work or the people who are checking the work?  What would be different if you changed your philosophy on this?  This, of course, begs the question of whether the reports are being used to make decisions.  In many companies they are not.

Monday, April 21, 2014

What the punishment is really about

A brouhaha was generated here in the local high school
Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri
when a high school senior (horrors!) asked the visiting Miss America to the prom during an assembly where she was the guest.  As a result of his grandstanding, the young man was sentenced to a three-day in-school suspension.  Factions have arisen on both sides of the administration's actions, with some saying, "C'mon, he's a kid and this is no big deal," and others asserting that "He was forewarned about the consequences and chose to do it anyway."  Miss America herself has said that it "was cute" and asked the administration to reconsider its punishment of the young man.

This isn't about Miss America.  This isn't about the prom.  This isn't even about this particular young man.  It's about the administration wanting to demonstrate that it means what it says, and that you had better comply once you are told to do or not do something.

How bad would it be if this young man were to be let off the hook?  He's a bit of a known trickster around the school, and he's probably not the only one whose teenaged combination of hormones and high spirits have gotten the best of him.  He's outta there in less than 40 days, graduated and on to the next phase of his life.  But the administration has to maintain some semblance of order, and if the students are not to overrun the facility the whole place has to operate under the ground rule that the administration calls the shots and you, young man (or woman,) had better comply.

What's to happen at next year's assembly if this deed goes unpunished?  Will some student stand up during an assembly and ask visiting naturalist Jane Goodall or some such other dignitary to the prom?  Or worse yet, to homecoming?

Authority is a funny thing.  It's there so you can exercise it, but when you exercise it in certain ways you can look silly, like you're overreacting.  Use it too often or with too heavy a hand and you lose respect right along with your sense of perspective.  Relationships really run the show, and interpersonal power and influence win over authority any day.  Look at this student if you want evidence:  the power of his peers' cheering him on was greater than the restraint applied by the administrator's warning.

Friday, April 18, 2014

How much do you want the result?

The leader of a membership organization said yesterday that
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the process of change for growth for which he was hired cost a lot of members.  His organization started with 375 members, and as the changes were implemented 300 of them left.  That's 80% of the original membership base saying sayonara.  Maybe this leader didn't know what he was doing.  How could he intend to grow and instead decimate his organization and not get fired?

The rest of the story is that the organization has since gained 700 new members.  Apparently the modifications the leadership of the organization decided to make were valid - they attracted more people. Was the pain of change worthwhile given the eventual outcome?

The leader said you have to know what your pain threshold is.  If on a scale of 1-10 you can only tolerate a pain level of 3 you should only make changes that aren't too uncomfortable.  He has experienced level 10.  If your organization needs major change and some of its members, employees, etc. aren't ready to sustain the degree of pain required, they are going to go.  And you need to be willing to see them go.

You might not have the opportunity to choose which ones will leave.  Some of the ones you like the most might not be able to take it.  Some of the folks who have made significant contributions to the organization's past might not be there to do their thing in the future, choosing to take their energies elsewhere where they feel more comfortable.

How much do you want the result?  How important is it to you that your organization, or your business, transform itself to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow?  Do you need to do like the snake and shed your skin in order to grow?

Only you know (and your senior team) know whether it's that important.  But know this - if you back off midstream you will lose credibility with your staff (or members, as in this case) and contribute to the entrenchment of the organization.  You will let people know that if they resist hard enough and long enough they won't have to change.  Until, of course, that day when you have to close your doors because you have become obsolete, or your key contributors and/or customers have died off and you no longer have sound financial footing with which to sustain yourself.

It takes courage to be at the point where 80% of your organization is peeling away and not reconsider your actions.  It takes fortitude to be in that place where you can see the cost but have not yet been able to count any benefits from the decisions you have made.  The outcome won't be instant and the transformation won't be immediately visible.  How much pain can you tolerate, and how much do you want it?  It all comes down to that.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Birthday presents for the guests

Last evening six women sat around a living room with the
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birthday girl and her three young daughters, munching on - what else? - chocolate dessert.  In celebration of her birthday, the woman cooked dinner for the friends and then gave each of them a present for her birthday.

The presents were not tangible things, but that's why you're reading about this here.  As the gathering settled in with stomachs full the woman went around the room one by one and told each friend the traits that she treasures about them, and the parts of them that she wants to emulate.  Some tissues were needed as eyes leaked a little bit.

Each person got to hear not only what the birthday girl valued about them, but about the other traits in other of her friends that she holds in high esteem.  Although some of the guests had only just met, by the end of the evening they felt as though they had known one another for a long time.

The guests reciprocated, of course, and returned positive energy to the woman of the day.  The nourishing, caring vibe in the room was palpable, and even the woman's young daughters followed suit and told their mom just how terrific they think she is.  They hugged her, and climbed on her, and planted smoochy kisses on her.

How often do you have the opportunity (or miss the opportunity) to tell the people who are the most important to you just how much they mean to you?  The affirming conversation last evening was spontaneous - it wasn't part of the plan.  But the moment showed itself like an open door, and the woman walked right through with full commitment.

Every person wants to feel appreciated and valued.  Sometimes effort and positive personal qualities go unrecognized, and some days it's not important to the individual that they be noticed in that way.  But some days the people around you especially need it, and you can't predict what days they will be.

Tell them now.  Let them know that they matter to you.  Give them specifics on what it is that they do that you especially appreciate or admire. Even if they don't need it today, a day will come when your words are the fuel that sustains them through difficulty.  That's a tremendous gift that costs no money, that requires no shopping, and no knowledge of sizes or favorite colors.  That's a gift that you can choose to give any time.  Like today.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tell your customer what you're doing

The patient sits on the exam table in the doctor’s office and
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the nurse practitioner says, “This is going to feel cold,” and then “You’re going to feel a little pinch.” The needle is inserted into the patient’s  arm and before you know it the immunization is over.

The tech support chat customer reads, “I’m going to check the settings on your account,” on his monitor and then refills his coffee while he waits for the tech support rep to come back with another typed update on her progress with fixing his account.

In both of the cases above the individual providing service included a step that helps to ensure customer satisfaction – each told the customer what was happening and/or what to expect in the midst of the service transaction.

In your business you have probably already forgotten more than your customers know about the work you do.  They don’t necessarily understand the inner workings of how things get done.  So when you have to “go behind the curtain” to do tasks they don’t automatically understand that it might take a few minutes – or a few days – to accomplish something.  You need to tell them.

Your customers might not know whether you’re technically superior to their other choices, or whether you are speedy or slow compared to your competitors.  In many cases all they know is what they are experiencing right here, right now.  And they want to know that you know that the experience right now is important, that they are important.

If you don’t tell your customer what’s going on, what you’re doing, they might misperceive that you are doing something wrong, or that you don’t know how to handle the situation.  Conditioned negative attitudes in people lead them to assume that when they don’t have information something might be going wrong.  They hope not, but they worry that it might be.

In a situation where a customer has recently come off of another bad service situation in your company or elsewhere, you have even less of an opening to prove yourself before the customer starts to jump to the conclusion that “Here we go again… (sigh)”.  The customer’s attitudes about Company X’s service (the lack of it) transmogrifies into attitudes about service in general.  That customer might be walking into your business with a chip already firmly lodged on their shoulder.  Their expectations are low, and while that means they might be looking for flaws in service, it also means that outstanding service will have impact, taking them by surprise.

When you do a good job with mid-service communication you can manage the expectations that the customer holds.  You can prevent the kinds of uncertainty and/or surprises that interfere with customer confidence.  Let them know what’s going on, how long you expect it to take, side effects to anticipate, steps you are going to go through to resolve their issue, etc.  You increase your credibility by demonstrating that you know what will be happening next (that’s not always a foregone conclusion) and you increase the customer’s feeling of control over the transaction.

You might think that it’s obvious that “I’m going over to this display case to retrieve the style you were asking about,” but it might not be obvious to your customer.  You might assume that “everyone knows” that you have to x,y, and z to resolve a problem.  But you would be incorrect in that assumption.

Talk to your customers.  Even if it’s bad news – actually, especially if it’s bad news – keep them in the loop.  Tell them what’s going on, while it’s going on.  They will love you for it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Another stupid plot twist

The only real difference between comedy and tragedy is
Google Images:  Spamalot -
the ending - the middle parts are quite similar.  The main character faces a series of challenges, and attempts to use his or her resources to overcome them.  Some of the funniest comedies ever have included events like:

  • Kidnapping
  • Mugging
  • Traffic accidents, some multi-car pileups
  • Unplanned pregnancy
  • Business failure
  • Death of loved ones
  • Murder
These events don't sound too funny when combined into a list, and the protagonist in the story isn't taking them lightly when they are occurring.  They suffer grief, fear, anger, sorrow, depression - the gamut of negative emotions as each incident and its aftermath is occurring.

Some of the best comedic moments arise after the put-upon hero has just sustained another blow, the one after the one you thought would surely put him out of commission and cause him to throw up his hands in defeat.  His reaction to the chain of events elicits empathy, and the writers' incorporation of absurd overreaction or unbelievably overstated consequences cause laughter to bubble up within even the most empathetic viewer.

In a tragedy it's the hero's strength taken to extreme that creates a fatal flaw.  In comedy the hero's weakness causes inconvenience and temporary upset, but he ultimately prevails over circumstances.

When you see a movie or read a book, the ending has already been written.  In your life it has not.  You're writing it every day.  How would you view your life differently if you saw it as a comedy and not a tragedy?  You could look upon every setback, every disappointment as just another stupid plot twist.  Then you would suck it up, deal with it, and move forward toward your happy ending.