One sentence can make or break a campaign

As we’ve discussed before, I still believe that well written direct mail works when it is done properly because I see the results. While much of it is “junk”, there are folks out there producing high-producing mail pieces. What do I mean by “high-producing”? I mean mail that survives a trip from the PO Box or the mail box to the kitchen table, then gets opened, then gets read, then prompts the recipient to take action.

If it works, keep doing it. If it doesn’t work, fix it, or stop doing it unless you’re willing to fix it. Many have taken the second option, believing that it no longer works.

Each of those steps must be successful for a piece to be high-producing. Otherwise, the piece gets tossed at the post office, or on the way home, or on the way from the street-side mailbox to the house, and so on. Even if it does make it to the kitchen table, it has to meet the smell test to get opened, and then again to get read and so on.

About that one sentence

That one sentence occurs in your mail piece multiple times. Anything that appears on the face of a mail piece can be the one sentence that either provokes someone to keep the mail or toss it. This same cycle occurs for the face of the mail piece, the back of the envelope, the headline and salutation on the letter inside, and every sentence thereafter.

Too many mail pieces (and emails) ignore this simple progression. It’s a conversation. If you’re standing in front of someone talking with them to both understand what their needs are and help them understand how you can help them, you’re doing the same thing. If you say something that breaks the trust you’re building with the prospect / client you’re speaking with, the conversation is effectively over – which is the equivalent of your mail piece going into the trash.

Remember, your email or your mail piece is no more than a proxy for you standing there. It needs to be in your voice, while reflecting your perspective and expertise. I find that reading these things aloud before sending helps me write them in my voice. When I read something written in a way that doesn’t sound like my voice, it feels terribly obvious as soon as I say it out loud.

Do your emails sound like your voice? Do the things you put in the mail sound like your voice? Sounding like you, i.e.: using the words and sentence structure you use is the easy part. It’s crucial to convey your message with your personal credibility and desire to help the client. Perfect it one sentence at a time.

What about the one sentence that can break it?

There’s always a risk that a mail piece will go down in flames at any point between the PO Box / mailbox and the kitchen table. The aforementioned smell test isn’t a one time thing – it has to be passed at every step of the way.

The one sentence that can break it and make all the effort and expense of sending that piece is the one that destroys your credibility.

I received a letter like this last week. Someone tried to be clever on the face of the envelope and trick the reader into opening the envelope. While it probably worked on some people, it will destroy the credibility of the sender with many other readers. At best, that piece will go straight to the trash, which is how I handled it. With others, it could create some blowback to the organization who mailed it. With some, it could make that organization all but dead to the reader.

You obviously don’t want any of these things to happen. It may seem like a waste to spend a couple of paragraphs to remind you of this possibility, and I simply do so to make it clear that every step in the process of reviewing, opening and reading the mail is an opportunity to both provoke interest and lose it.

These same challenges affect your email pieces, blog posts and any other materials you place in front of clients. In fact, the same can be said for a face to face conversation you have with a client or prospect.

Teamwork means… what?

Teamwork has been on my mind a bit lately, so I thought I’d organize a few thoughts along those lines.

Trust is leadership is influence

Every day of your life, people are doing a credit check on you…your trust
– Rick Warren

People learn to trust you when you are predictable. When they can predict how you will handle a situation, how you will care for a client, how you will advise or comfort an employee, how you will discipline an employee – as well as when or where, and how you will call out an employee for a solid or above the call effort.

Think about that not only regarding your service to clients, but your service to your team. What example do you set for other employees? How do you talk about clients when clients aren’t around? How do you talk about other employees when they aren’t around?

People trust those who are loyal to them. Loyalty demonstrated in others is often assumed to be the same loyalty one thinks they’re getting when they aren’t around. Loyalty doesn’t mean being soft. It means being consistent, predictable and thinking of everyone – including but not solely the company and its owner(s) in every decision and action.

Life’s battery isn’t self-sustaining

Remember, the employee’s job is one of many things attached to their “life battery”. Work, home, kids, spouse and many other things compete for and/or charge/consume the energy in that battery.

If everything is taking energy from the battery and no investment is made in recharging the battery, how long will it last?

I don’t have the right to be tired” – reality show producer Mark Burnett, meaning that he doesn’t have the right not to take care of himself.

You can probably identify things that drain your battery. Can you also point to the things done daily or weekly that recharge it? What helps your team recharge? Does your team know what saps your battery? Let them know. For me, drama and the inability to get focus time are major battery leaks.

Teamwork, motivation and ownership

Don’t expect every staff member to work at the same level all the time. Different work motivates at different levels. Energy levels swell and fade. You and other team members can impact the performance of others more easily than you think.

Don’t expect employees to care as much as you do, work as long as you do, work as hard as you do, or live and breathe your business like you do. Some will, but most won’t because they don’t own the place. For you, it’s an investment in your lifetime financial future. What is it for them? What have you done to make it more than a paycheck for them? Perhaps you have some sort of employee ownership program, but it has to be real or it may as well not exist. Employee owners have a skin in the game and they will view things differently as a result, just as you did before you were a business owner. Don’t expect people to act like an owner if they aren’t.

When team members show an interest in learning new things or deepening their expertise or skills, it’s not enough to get out of the way. Do what you can to help them get a running start. You can pay for the education, reimburse upon success, make time in their day for it, and find other ways to leverage their enthusiasm and interest. No matter what you do, don’t discourage it.

Affirmation and Appreciation

Management of mistakes is important. Perseverance, determination and endurance combine to create wins, but mistakes teach us what doesn’t work. How we recognize, debrief and analyze them to avoid repeat episodes is critical.

Make at least weekly contact with everyone. I don’t mean a wave or a smile in the shop, but a few moments or a pre-arranged chat, email or text conversation about the Weekly Four:

  1. I’ve made progress on …
  2. I’m having a problem with ….
  3. I need a decision from you about ….
  4. My goal(s) this week is ….

Keep in mind that presumption isn’t communication. Assuming that an employee knows that their long/late hours lately are appreciated isn’t appreciation. Be explicit to them and their family. A short handwritten note to the family to recognize their effort and the family’s sacrifice is more than a thank you.

What does teamwork look like to you?

Micromanagement… is there a cure?

What is micromanagement? I suspect everyone who experiences it has their own definition. Wikipedia describes it as “micromanagement is a management style whereby a manager closely observes or controls the work of subordinates or employees. Micromanagement generally has a negative connotation.

Closely observes or controls” could be good or bad, depending on the context. It’s a tricky thing but like some other creations, we tend to know it when we see it, or experience it. One person might say “closely observes” is good management and that “controls” is necessary when training new people or people in new roles, but experienced people might feel that controls is unnecessary. Is your waffle detection alarm going off yet? Good. Look, it’s clear that there will be differing opinions on this, particularly between managers and employees who naturally have different perspectives. I don’t expect that to change, but how we view these things can change, even if we aren’t able to “cure” it.

If we look at micromanagement like a cold or flu that we want to cure, we’ll naturally focus on the cause and on symptoms. We focus on symptoms to make life easier until a cure is found, and we focus on the cause because the origin can often tell us how to solve (or cure) the problem.

What causes micromanagement?

I don’t think there’s any one cause. Based on experience, research and discussions with a number of people, there are four things that I’ve heard as reasons why micromanagement is taking place (noting that managers rarely acknowledge it) :

  • Lack of data.
  • Lack of trust.
  • Lack of control.
  • Previous delivery failures.

If you look at that list, what you’ll probably read from it is that someone is frustrated. That someone is management. The things management does out of frustration with these things will almost certainly cause frustration among employees.

It’s important to understand the people we’re working with: entrepreneurs. One of the things that entrepreneurs seek when starting a business is control. Control over income, destiny, time, etc. With success comes an eventual realization that the entrepreneur can’t do it all. Success means that the entrepreneur’s business has to grow and hire people, or it has to stop growing – something that rarely pleases entrepreneurs.

Must. Have. Control.

The minute you hire people, there’s a loss of control. The entrepreneur is now a business owner, not just an entrepreneur doing and controlling it all. “Suddenly” they have to trust someone else to do what they do well. When your neighbor takes over your BBQ chef role at the quarterly neighborhood block party, letting go is difficult. This is no different.

Years later, it’s no different for the entrepreneur. The work of the business reflects upon the entrepreneur personally. The entrepreneur’s inability to know and control everything is a difficult beast to overcome, particularly if the business grows to a point where they no longer has the ability to “know” every employee personally. When the entrepreneur no longer hires every employee, another phase of this process takes place.

So what to do?

A prescription

How do we deal with the four causes?

Lack of data – A lack of information brings assumptions. Assumptions usually don’t go how you expect, so that leads to …

Lack of trust – Trust might seem like the wrong word here, but that’s likely what it feels like to the employee. Trust is built by publishing plans, milestones, deadlines and then HITTING THEM.

Lack of control
– Much of this comes down to treating the entrepreneur’s lack of control. It may be new to them or not, but feeding the other parts of this helps provide the opportunity to analyze how things are going at a high level, ask if any help is needed without having to drill down into the nitty gritty on every little thing for every project you have in progress – what most employees would view as micromanagement at a company of 20, 50, or 100 employees.

Previous delivery failures – When projects fail or are late, lack of data about the cause of failure leads to assumptions (and the cycle continues).

The big thing about this is freeing the entrepreneur to wear the CEO hat. No one else can do that work. If the entrepreneur can’t get to it because of time spent micromanaging, that’s not good. Help them escape the micromanagement trap by providing the data they need.

Hiring Millennials

Are you hiring Millennials? How’s that going? Some people love them, some do little more than complain about them and their penchant for selfies. The oft-parroted “party line” is that Millennials are entitled slackers with no work ethic who don’t take initiative, aren’t responsible, etc. Meanwhile, many employers say “We can’t find qualified people who want to work.”

If that’s the case, they’ve either eliminated Millennials by default, or they aren’t looking very hard – or both.

Slacking isn’t age specific

These behaviors are not generation specific. EVERY generation has people who fit one or more of those patterns. You probably know a few. Are they all 18-34? I doubt it.

If people aren’t worthy of your job, that’s at least partly on them – no matter what generation they’re in. If you hire them anyway and aren’t doing so in hopes that they grow into the job or as part of a training effort, then their inability or lack of desire to do the job is on you – and specifically, on your company’s hiring process.

Most hiring processes spend the majority of their effort determining if someone is qualified. Once candidates are considered qualified, gut feel hiring often takes over the selection process.

A critical aspect of the hiring process is filtering out the people who won’t fit in culturally. This isn’t about you being elitist. It’s about making sure the candidate fits your company and that your company also fits the candidate. The culture at Duck Commander is different than the culture at VaynerMedia, Flathead Beacon or Goldman Sachs – and that’s OK. What’s not OK is hiring someone who is a terrible cultural fit. It doesn’t mean they’re a bad candidate, it simply means they’re not the right one for YOUR company.

One of the benefits of exposing your company’s culture to candidates is helping them remove themselves as a candidate. You want to send clear, legal signals that help people figure out if they’re a good fit. Hiring a perfectly qualified person who feels like Quasimodo when they’re at work is a waste of your time and theirs. Both of you will likely have to start over and that’s not a good thing for you or the candidate.

Culture is a big part of attracting and hiring the right people to grow your company. Millennials aren’t the only ones who care about these things.

Your hiring process reflects your culture

Remember, it isn’t the generation, it’s the person and your hiring process. Make sure yours does a great job of selecting not only the right skill set, but the right candidate for the job, your team and your company. Your process should do a great job of showing the candidate what your company is all about – and what you’re not about.

This week I heard about a company that had to fire an employee because they didn’t show up for work. They didn’t show up because they were a registered sex offender who got caught and arrested again. If the company ran a pre-hire background check, would they have declined to hire a registered sex offender?

Would you?

Would it depend on who your clients are, or whether or not the person would have direct contact with clients? Certainly. What about their contact with other employees and their families? What about the desire to rehabilitate someone who has “paid their debt to society”?

Your next applicant is a parent with small children. They’ve got the potential to be drive 10X growth of your company. How would you explain the situation to them? What if they’re a non-violent ex-convict?

Not hiring Millennials? What might you be missing?

If you eliminate Millennials from your hiring process, what might you be missing? In the group of people from 18 to 34, do you believe there are hard working, smart, ethical, motivated people who have the potential to transform your company?

If so, will you ignore that possibility due to someone’s perception that all Millennials are selfie-addicted slackers who don’t have any goals?

If so, where will your company be in 15-20 years if you’ve decided not to hire, groom and train 18-34 year olds over the next 10 years? In trouble, I’d say.

What does not hiring Millennials say to Millennials who might buy from you? Remember, Millennials currently make 21% of U.S. consumer purchases.

Hire incredibly well, regardless of age.

Strategic Notepad: Take Ownership

Last week, we talked about the opportunity presented to you when you find yourself helping a client in a stressed, deadline-driven or other pressure-filled situation. You can either create a good memory or a bad one.

We’ve talked about how to make the best of these situations and we’ve talked about the opportunity created and what I experienced with a travel agent. Sometimes people act on your behalf because you have signed a contract with them to do so. For example, I have a client that owns a bed and breakfast and they are “represented” in some fashion by online booking agents, travel review sites (like Trip Advisor) and so on. If a reservation agent treats one of their clients rudely, you can bet it will reflect on the B&B.

Take ownership

Whether you like it or not, anyone who sells for you, advertises for you, reps for you or in any way helps you sell what you do REPRESENTS YOU. Make no mistake, if they do something wrong while working on your behalf, your client will associate you with the situation – and they should. While you can’t always control whether or not these situations occur, you can certainly impact what happens when it manages to roll downhill to you.

Here’s an example of the wrong approach:

When I contacted the car rental company about the situation I was dealing with, this was their response:

Hello Mark, I can understand how this experience would be frustrating for you. Expedia is an independent third party brokerage service that is not affiliated with Enterprise. If given the wrong information such as the address and pickup time, please contact Expedia for further investigation.”

Read that again… “NOT AFFILIATED WITH ENTERPRISE”.

While I have little doubt that this description is accurate from a legal / terms of service perspective, the reality is that I rented a Enterprise car via Expedia. Affiliated or not, anything Expedia does regarding that rental certainly reflects on Enterprise whether they like it or not. Expedia doesn’t own the cars. They’re basically a combination of Google (ie: a search engine) for flights, hotel rooms and cars – and a store that can hook me up with those time and location sensitive assets.

Keep in mind that this was the response vs. something like “Hmm, that’s unfortunate and I apologize that the site sent you to the wrong address. I will reach out to our Expedia vendor rep and make sure the rental location address is corrected.” Most importantly, there was no “Can we get you a car, or have you taken care of that already?” – remember, their business is renting cars, not tweeting. There was STILL a sales opportunity and more importantly, an opportunity to “come to the rescue”. That opportunity was squandered.

While it might seem like I’m busting on the support representative who sent me this message, that’s not the case. Almost certainly, the text of this was approved by management for situations like this. A few minutes later I received the same message intended for someone else. The only difference between the message addressed to me and the second message was that the second one was addressed to “Dan” and mentioned Travelocity rather than Expedia. I politely noted that to the rep so Dan would get his message.

Canned responses are a normal part of customer support. You wouldn’t want reps who handle hundreds of messages per day retyping them, much less authoring them on the fly. The rep did exactly what she was trained to do and in fact, provided the fastest response I received from anyone – but it didn’t help me get a car.

My response to the rep is the real message of this post:

I get that, but do understand that ultimately they represent you and I suspect, do so on millions of bookings per year. Its not solely on them.

If someone sends you thousands of purchases per day, for all intents and purposes, they represent you even if the TOS says otherwise. Take ownership. People are buying your stuff from you, even if someone else takes the money. YOU deliver.

The most serious error of this entire situation was the failure to close the sale and provide a car for me. That’s the business they’re in. NEVER forget what business you’re in, or your clientele might.

Strategic Notepad: Customer Service

Last week, I noted that how you should recover from a client’s poor experience with you is dependent upon the context.

For example, a four hour flight delay is meaningless if you have a six hour layover. It becomes serious if you have a three hour layover before an international flight late in the day, or if the delay causes you to miss an important meeting, a wedding, or a funeral. If the delay causes you to get bumped to a connecting flight later in the day, it might not be a big deal. If it causes you to get bumped to next Saturday…

Context matters a lot.

Serious context is a serious opportunity

When your client is under pressure, deadline, stress or similar, you have an opportunity to create a memory that can last a lifetime. Will that memory be good or bad? Whichever way it goes is likely to be how your relationship with that customer… unless you treat them like a client.

What’s the difference? A customer is a transactional thing. Customers buy and consume “stuff”. Clients are like patients – under your constant (or at least regular) observation and care. Which are you more likely to take better care of, based on that definition? My guess is the client. Despite the definition, it’s all about perception. If you perceive them as an asset to be cared for (and to extract revenue from for a lifetime), you’re likely to treat them differently than you would if you think you might never see them again. Thing is, if you treat them like you’ll never see them again, you might experience that.

The opportunity to save the day / be a hero in your client’s most stressful, pressured, awful moment is a gift – but only if you open it. Sure, you might push COGS a little higher for their transaction. You might take a little heat from your manager if you take the initiative to solve a client’s problem in a slightly unorthodox way – but not if they truly get it because they’ll know you’re protecting the business.

Are you encouraging initiative?

One of the things that seems to be getting being “beaten” out of employees these days is initiative. Evidence? The fact that people are so impressed when someone takes initiative to help them as if they read the Business is Personal playbook. Businesses have produced a generation of workers who fear helping clients in an appropriate manner (when context calls for it) because not adhering to policy and procedure is often considered as a firing offense, even if you acted in the client’s best interest.

Even if you can’t stretch, provide options

Last month, I reserved a car rental with a pickup at 3:00pm. The rental location address provided by the vendor was wrong – fortunately it was wrong by a few blocks (and across the street). However, the rental location closed at 3:00pm and the nearest open branch was about 50 miles away. After waiting on hold for 54 minutes, customer service basically said the whole thing was my fault because I arrived a few minutes after the pickup time. By the time my call came off hold, I was more than an hour’s drive from their only open location and due to my appointment schedule, I was unable to visit that location. I made it clear that I was more or less stranded but my comments were ignored.

How could this have been handled – even if the customer service person couldn’t spend a dime? They could have offered to send someone to pick me up – but at 5pm on a Saturday (which tells you how long I was on the phone), there was no extra staff at the airport to shuttle a car to me. Had they said they checked and couldn’t do that due to a lack of extra staff on duty, I would have appreciated it. They could have asked which hotel I was at and (because they are a travel agency), offered to rebook me at a hotel close to me and have the car delivered the next morning.

Instead, they chose to blame me for the entire situation. They were focused on shifting blame, rather than helping a client juggling business and family travel on a very important family day. I will not forget and neither will your (former?) clients.

Protect your business by protecting your clients.

Protecting your business

Business owners protect their business by reducing risk, managing cash flow, getting appropriate legal advice and insuring their people and assets properly. The thing is, you can do those all things properly and still leave your business open to damage that’s incredibly difficult, expensive and time consuming to repair. How? By providing out of context customer service.

Specifically, I’m referring to what tends to occur when you’re trying to recover from a mistake. The perfect time to show them you have their back… or to turn your back.

Which do you do?

Every once in a while, you make a mistake. Hopefully you learn from it. If it was caused by a systemic failure, you know by now to put a system (preferably automated) in place to prevent it from happening again and of course, integrate it into the rest of your systems. If it wasn’t caused by a systemic failure, then the problem might have been caused by a customer service flub, a product or service mistake, or a failure to deliver – regardless of the reason.

What happens next is where I see businesses repeatedly making a mistake: How they recover for the customer. That’s when context becomes critical.

Recovering FOR your client

When approached by a disappointed, angry, concerned, distraught customer, it seems that many businesses have trained their people such that their Customer Service Prime Directive is to protect the business at all costs.

Guess what. Recovering from your mistakes in a way that preserves the customer relationship IS protecting the business, but only if it’s done right. While protection of the business is essential in these circumstances – your legal paperwork and insurance should have already done that. The third leg of the stool is how the customer feels when the exchange is over.

Consider what happens if a flight attendant accidentally spills a cup of black tea in someone’s lap on a plane. The passenger’s linen skirt is stained (a bit embarrassing for now), but it could impact the skirt wearer’s day severely if they’re being met at the airport by an important new prospect. What if their next direct manager is meeting them at the airport for an interview? What if the flight arrives at midnight and the traveler simply has to grab their bag and drive home alone at midnight.

The subconscious loss of confidence in the client / employment situations could alter the airline client’s entire life. Maybe that’s good, maybe not. How the airline reacts FOR their customer can determine how that customer feels about them for the rest of their lives. People remember how they were treated – particularly in situations like this. The context the client provides (even if you have to extract it from them) is critical to the level of your response.

I’m reminded of a surprise Peter Shankman received in 2011 from Morton’s Steakhouse after he jokingly asked for a steak to be delivered to Newark airport. You might think that was an expensive response resulting only because Peter had a lot of Twitter followers at the time. I think they saw an opportunity to make a lifetime memory for a good customer, even if they knew that he’d blog/tweet about it. Five years later, where do you think he takes clients to dinner more often than not?

How you recover for the client in their current context is everything. If Peter was landing in Missoula (which has no Morton’s), then a clever tweeted response might have sufficed, though they could take if further if they had a connection to a solid steak house in MSO.

In Customer Service, context is everything

Sometime’s a “Sorry” and replacement / discount will suffice. Sometimes, the client’s context makes your $154 mistake a memory that could last for years. Imagine you had a romantic evening out of town planned with your significant other and when you arrived at the hotel, they didn’t have a room – even though you’d paid in advance. What if the town is booked solid because of a local event? There’s “no room at the inn”… ANY inn.

How you protect the business is everything at that point – keeping in mind that the wrong kind of business protection creates customer defection. If you’re going to create a lifetime memory, make sure it’s a good one.

Where’s the Maitre’ D?

When a new client arrives at your store and/or on your website, do they know exactly where everything is? Probably not.

If not, are there clear introductions to where things are, what the rules of the road are, how (and where) to get help, what the buying process looks like, where to find service help and so on?

Guidance needed

In a retail store, these things are somewhat common – at least the basics. You’ll probably see signs that say things like Parts, Service, Lawnmowers, Chainsaws, and whatever the other departments of your store are. Even so, is there guidance in any form that helps people figure out where they can get warranty, financing or delivery information?

Think of it like a website that you’ve never visited before. When you first get on a retailer’s web site, you often have to dig around a little to find policies and procedures, or how they handle refunds, delivery/shipping, etc.

You have two choices when onboarding a new visitor who will presumably become a client:

1) Guide them step by step in a logical manner and provide them with the tools they need to have exactly the experience you want them to have, and position them to be the ideal buyer.

2) Let them figure it out for themselves and explain where they went wrong when they find themselves painted into a corner, or stuck trying to figure out how to get service, delivery, refunds, exchanges, on-site help, upgrades / updates / improvements, financing and repairs.

Think of it like a restaurant

At some restaurants, you are greeted at the door, guided to your seat, provided with a menu, and introduced to your wait staff (or advised of their name). You might then have your expectations set regarding the arrival of someone to take your drink order, explain the menu, share the night’s special entrees and desserts, as well as any other information you might need. Later, you might be asked additional details about how you want your order, whether or not you want dessert, coffee, etc.

Obviously, this varies a bit depending on the type of restaurant, but I suspect you’ve experienced this level of guidance – all to do something you do every day: Eat.

The alternative, even in the same restaurant, might be to provided none of that guidance, have menus on the table, be expected to place your order at the counter, pick up your food at the counter and pay on your way out the door.

Neither of these is wrong, but both types of guidance are designed to fit the type of restaurant you’re in. Generally, you probably know what to expect when you enter the first restaurant vs. the second. If the experience is not in sync with the type of restaurant you’re in, the “system” seems out of place or the experience feels broken. When I experienced things like this with my dad, he would say “This would be a great place for a restaurant” – noting of course that we were in a restaurant at the time.

Restaurantize your business?

Now overlay those restaurant experiences onto your business. Think about each step of the dining experience (in both types of restaurants). Which one of these experiences is a better fit for a new visitor to your business (or your website)? Which is a better fit to a long-time client?

Before you decide which experience is best for an experienced client vs a new one, let’s back up a step… even when you go to a restaurant with a highly guided experience, does the maitre’d recognize that you’ve eaten there before? If so, do they hand you a menu and point at the dining room and leave you to figure out the rest, or are you guided through the process in a similar manner to every other visit?

Which of those experiences makes sense for visits to your store? Which experience makes sense for visitors to your site? Which experience creates a new client who is more prepared to purchase what they really need vs. what they think they need? Which experience produces the client retention you want? Is there a difference? How do you know? Testing helps.

Fine tune the experience for each stage of your client lifecycle in a way that creates an optimum client experience for them while producing the ideal client for you.

Let someone help

This past week seems to have been a perfect storm of paths crossing about getting help from coaches, mentors and teachers.

In the past, I have suggested a few times that you should seek out help from those who have been where you are, struggled with some of the same things – and let them help you overcome them. These stories are no different. The key is letting them in.

Three little things

In the elevator at a trade show, a guy tells me he got off the golf course that day – playing in a tournament at a trade show. He said he had a pretty good day on the links – was driving straight and long. Despite that, one of the guys playing with him was out-driving him by over 100 yards on every hole. They were on the same team, so the very long driver (who also happened to be a scratch golfer) suggested that the guy I shared the elevator with could improve his game by tweaking “three little things”.

Despite being a pretty good golfer, elevator guy said “Sure, I’ll give them a try.” Before that day on the course was over, these three little things made an almost-instant improvement in his accuracy, consistency and distance. His improvement before the round was substantial enough to mention it hours later in an elevator.

What three little things are awaiting your arrival at a place where you are ready to listen and learn?

Mister C

Recently in a local paper, the retirement of a long time English teacher was announced. A guy who was lauded for coaching oh so many state speech and debate championship teams, for making high school English the best class of the day, and for being far more than “just a teacher” to many students. When the story of his retirement hit Facebook, a number of students posted multiple paragraphs long thank yous about the impact this teacher had on them – in some cases, despite never having him as a teacher. One of the stories that went unmentioned was about a student who was struggling with a number of things – including some typical teenage angst with authority figures – and went out of his way to challenge the teacher via their work. Rather than handle this with more authority and repression as many of us might, this teacher created an environment that allowed the student to find their way, gain respect for the teacher and eventually recognize that teacher as their mentor – and a role model to guide them along with their parents. Eight to ten years later, the respect is still there. While Mister C is more than a coach to a generation of students, he’s very good at that too.

What would a serious coach with high expectations ask you to do to improve yourself? If you know these things need to be done – why haven’t you done them?

Sometimes you have to ask

People won’t always offer unsolicited advice – at least not the ones who you’d really like to get it from. Many of them are used to being asked for their help, only to see it go unused or ignored. Quite often, their help will come with terms. They might be living highly scheduled lives and will need a commitment from you to meet during the only time they have available. Consider it a gift that someone with this much going on is willing to let you into their sphere.

I’m doing ok, I don’t need a coach

Even if you’re the best in town, you might not be the best in the state. If you’re the best in the state, you might not be the best in your national market. No matter how good you are, there are always coaches, mentors and others to learn from. Most of them have a knack for observing things about your performance, methods and practices that you might not notice, or might not see the importance of. That’s what their insight is for – to help you see the things you can’t see on your own.

The things you pick up from someone who has gone beyond where you are will often be little, but transformative things. Prepare yourself mentally to let someone like this into your life so they can help you become an even better version of you.

Complete the important work

What are you not getting done? Why aren’t you getting those things done?

Does important work often go undone? If so, is that work truly important?

Delegation

Why aren’t you getting those things done?

Is it because of other things that keep you “busy”?

Are you busy because you aren’t delegating enough?

Are you unable to delegate?

Are you unable to delegate because you have no one to delegate to?

Are you unable to delegate because you don’t have time to document the task to be delegated?

Are you unable to delegate because the task requires skills that no one on the team has?

Do you have a system to develop people on your team? Is the system producing people that you can delegate tasks to?

If not, what should be changed so that the system produces team members who can take over the parts of your work that can be delegated?

Is it because you aren’t developing the “former” you in your team so that you can spend more time being the current you?

Systems

Is it because you don’t have an organized manner (system) of keeping track of what needs to be done?

Is it because the system (whether it’s paper, phone or computer-based) doesn’t work?

Is it because the system doesn’t work like you do?

Is it because the system doesn’t remind you of work that is scheduled or that needs to be done?

Is it because you don’t use a system that you have?

If you don’t use a system you have, why don’t you use it?

Focus

Is it because you aren’t giving yourself enough focus time?

What mechanism do you have in place to create focus time for yourself?

Does the mechanism work? If it doesn’t work, why is that?

Do others ignore the things you place in the way to allow you to have focus time?

If others ignore your focus time barriers, what have you done to clarify the situation or “discipline” those who ignore the barriers you build to create focus time? Are others aware of these barriers?

Classification

What is the cost of not getting these things done?

Is the cost, benefit or other financial impact what you use to determine the importance of a particular piece of work?

Does not getting these things done imply that they weren’t important after all?

Is the mechanism you use to identify work as “important” performing effectively?

If you look back at the work you considered important last month, do you still think it was important?

If not, how will you fine tune the system you use to assign importance?

Is there a system you use to classify work as important, not important, etc? One such system identifies work in four quadrants: “important and urgent”, “important and not urgent”, “urgent but not important”, and “not urgent and not important”. This system is often credited to “Seven Habits” author Stephen Covey, but there are also documents dating back to President Eisenhower’s use of the so-called “quadrant of work” system to decide what to do, what to decide upon, what to delegate and what to delete from the todo list.

Costs

Do sales or project goals depend on whatever you aren’t finishing?

Is the important work you’re not getting done tactical or strategic?

If so, is that a consistent situation? If not, have you recently been fighting through a situation that required you to focus on tactical?

Of the work considered important, is the cost of doing the work more than the benefit of doing that work?

If the cost exceeds the benefit, what makes that work important?

If the cost exceeds the benefit, should the work be done at all?

Turning that toward the less important (busy work?) that is consuming time best spent on the important work – if the cost of the busy work exceeds the benefit, should this work be done at all?

Do the important work

Consistently being able to identify the important and completing it while delegating what isn’t important IS the important work. The work you delegate may not be as important for YOU to do, but the fact that it can be delegated is the critical difference.

What’s the important work for you this coming week? What’s in place to make sure you get it done?

If you don’t have your system fine tuned yet… Does your staff?