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
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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.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Is price the real issue?

"Your product or service costs too much."  The salesperson's heart sinks.  
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After all of the work of building rapport, discovering wants and needs, and structuring a plan that will fulfill the client's requirements, now the money objection is being raised.  
The salesperson knows that his products are not priced at the bottom of the market.  But there are valid reasons why:  his company uses the best quality and up to date components they can find, they invest extra dollars in their customer service resources, and their delivery is on time 99.6% of the time.
If the salesperson had worked through an analysis of the benefits with the prospective clients the value might be clearer.  And this assumes that the benefits the salesperson discussed are the ones that matter to the prospect, not the ones that are important to the salesperson.
No matter the price, the "too high" perception can be clarified by determining "compared to what?"  If the prospective client says the price is too high, the real meaning might be:
  • They can't afford it, even if they see the value.
  • They don't have the cash right now, but would be willing to buy if there were some extended payment terms.
Or their real objection might truly have nothing to do with the numbers:
  • They feel pressure from the salesperson, which makes them feel defensive and suspicious.
  • They aren't certain that they trust the salesperson enough to be comfortable investing in an intangible.
  • The company doesn't have a good reputation in the marketplace.
  • They have a number of high intensity projects going on right now and can't imagine adding one more to the list.
  • When push comes to shove, they aren't certain that they have the stomach for change and all that is associated with it, no matter who is selling it or how good it is.
The smart salesperson will ask questions to clarify what the real objection is.  You can have answers to objections and comebacks all day long, but if your answers are not addressing the prospect's real issues your well-honed techniques are not going to get you the yes that you want.

If you as the salesperson are patient and listen attentively you can open opportunities to solve the prospect's problems and move forward in the relationship.  You might be able to solve all of their issues - except the ones that they never share with you.

In order for you to have the opportunity to field the real objections instead of the canned ones, you have to establish trust and credibility.  In the sales process it's the only part of the process (way up at the beginning of the conversation) where a mistake on your part can taint the entire process and make it difficult to recover, or even gather enough real information to create a reasonable recommendation.

What you've got, even if it's an incredible innovation, isn't as important in the process as what the prospect wants.  If you're focusing your energies on finding out what they want rather than on what you want them to have, you'll have a better shot at hearing them say, "Yes, let's do it."  And the price won't be an issue.

Friday, April 11, 2014

In search of trust

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All you need is a little bit of trust to make it better. Your marriage improves, your workplace becomes more sane, and your friendships become more nourishing to your spirit.  All you need is trust.

Often the T word is invoked when it is absent or in short supply.  Leaders invoke it as the missing ingredient in higher performance.  But is trust something you do, or is it instead something that is the result, the reward that is generated by what you do?

Trust as something you do
You might not know whether the other person is going to come through for you, but when your default position is trust you give him or her the opportunity to demonstrate that they will follow through as they said they would.  There are certain personality types that are more likely to trust more people more readily.

If you want to build an environment of trust, you discuss your expectations up front (so the other person doesn't have to guess what you want).  Then you back off, resist the urge to hover or micromanage, and let them show you what they can and will do.

You might find trust easier to give when you have no track record of disappointment with a particular individual.  It's important to acknowledge that over time it's likely that you will be disappointed by another person's behavior.  You might be disappointed by almost everyone at some point or another.  But if you are determined to establish a habit of trust you will provide them with new opportunities to come through for you.

Trust bumps into intelligence or at least common sense when an individual lets you down over and over again.  You can choose to have a "number" after which all bets are off with you trust-wise, a three strikes rule or something along that line.  Or you can try to discover the other person's intentions.  If they are trying to meet expectations but failing they might need training or some other support from you.

Trust as something you earn
You can't tell someone to trust you and be assured that you'll have free reign to do whatever you want.  That other person might be inherently trusting of other people, but regardless of whether or not you have been given the benefit of the doubt from the outset, if you want to be trusted you have to be trustworthy.

What are you doing when that person isn't looking?  How are you handling their expectations?  Are you working to demonstrate that you can and you will?  If you consistently work to meet expectations you are contributing to an environment of trust

Some individuals will try to determine your intentions in order to decide whether to trust you again if you've fouled up in a particular situation.  You might get a second shot, even if you have not fulfilled the requirements of a trust relationship with them.  But you might not, especially if they believe that your infraction was serious, dangerous, or intentional.

You can only control your own behavior.  So if you want to establish more trust at work and/or at home, you need to work on both sides of the trust relationship.  You need to give it, and you need to do what's necessary to earn it.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Who cares for the caregiver?

You're the caring type, who by job description or sense
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of purpose looks out for other people.  You sometimes, perhaps often, put your own goals and preferences on the back burner to make sure that other people are receiving top priority.  You have embodied the aspects of servant leadership.

Perhaps you're not the all-around people person.  Perhaps you're simply a parent in the throes of crazy child-rearing and activity schedules.  Or perhaps you're an adult child who is stretched every day making sure your ailing parent is safe and as comfortable as possible.  Maybe you're both of these things - and you wouldn't have chosen for these roles to play out this way.  You're frazzled and fried - and yet you keep on going.

Who cares for you, the caregiver?

Who knows that you need it?
Sometimes the reason why caregivers burn out is that they don't let anyone know that they could really use a bit of help.  When was the last time you asked a friend, relative, or neighbor for a hand with something, or for a bit of a respite?  It could be as simple as child care for an hour so you can go for a run, or a cup of coffee with Mom or Dad so your parent can have company and stay safe while you do some errands.

Have you been reluctant to ask?  Or is it more of a pride thing, proving to yourself and everyone else that you can handle it all, no matter how hard it gets?

Why do you do it?
Sometimes caregivers (and I'm not talking about the professions here, but rather the life roles) get into the habit of placing themselves in last priority for so long that they forget that they need to be their own best friends.  Are you placing your own interests on the back burner and focusing elsewhere because there is something in your own life that you are avoiding?  Are there problems that you should be solving for yourself instead of expending all of your energy on others?

Caregivers deserve care too.  If you ignore your own needs on behalf of everyone else's you could wind up in a condition that makes you incapable of providing the service that you love to give.  You need to make sure that you sustain the inner resources that you need to continue, and that might mean that you need a break, a mentor, some additional knowledge, or a shoulder to cry on from time to time.

Are you not one, but know one?
If you know someone who has a high intensity caregiving role, ask what you can do to help.  They might not ask, even if they sorely need it.  Consider giving that break or being that shoulder that the caregiver needs.  It's an important role in the process of being a connected human.  When you pitch in you make it possible without incurring undue damage on the person who's taking the lead.