Categories
Business culture Employees Management

Self-healing teams

Last week we talked about applying self-healing tactics to the tools, systems, and infrastructure that are a critical path to a productive business day. We also discussed ways to make downtime less of a factor for the tools, systems, and infrastructure that can’t self-heal.

While these efforts are useful, creating resiliency and the ability to “take a punch” aren’t limited to tools, systems, and infrastructure. Your team can also benefit from self-healing approaches.

Preemptive self-healing

While self-healing is a valuable tactic for saving time & money, and improving productivity regarding your tools, systems, and infrastructure, people are a bit more complex. People are a bit harder to heal, plus the capacity for self-healing varies a good bit between individuals.

Teams, on the other hand, benefit a great deal from preemptive self-healing. Most of this comes out of extreme care taken when hiring. The same level of care is needed when making team assignments. If you look back over time at the problems you’ve discovered on your teams, you’ll likely find some consistency in the ingredients of the turmoil you dealt with.

You might have someone who simply isn’t a culture fit. Or they could’ve been a jerk. Maybe both.

You might have inadvertently mixed personality types that simply don’t work well together. There’s some value to “You folks need to figure it out”, but it’s still on you to monitor the situation and make sure the effort is being made. It’s not all that unusual to have two people on a team who are solid, qualified people who don’t jell well with one another for whatever reason.

Whatever drama that creates is not likely worth whatever you think you’re going to gain by forcing them to work together. Sometimes, one of them just has to go. These decisions aren’t easy. It’s not unusual to find that a top performer is also the one who doesn’t jell with the rest of the team.

Toxic top performers

To that end, if you have top performers who are creating problems with the rest of the team, and the problems aren’t something you’ve been able to resolve – sometimes that top performer has to be the one to leave.

We’ve all seen someone who is great at what they do – and lousy at teamwork, or arrogant, or disrespectful, etc. Remember how you felt when they did whatever they did and management did nothing because they were a “top performer”. Now that you’re in charge, are you going to be that manager, or that owner?

No one is irreplaceable.

Read that again. No one is irreplaceable. That doesn’t mean losing them will be a pain-free experience. It may not be. Even so, the damage these people can cause often negates their performance. They can drag down the rest of your team, destroy morale, and prevent others with similar (or even better) skills from blooming because those people simply don’t want to deal with your top performer.

They reveal management’s true self. When the top performer (at least metrics-wise) does things no one else could get away with, it sends a message about what’s important to the company’s ownership: “It’s more important to bring x to the table than it is to adhere to the company’s culture, rules, whatever.

Similarly, it also sends the message that if you can do X better than anyone else, you can get away with anything. Is that really what you want to represent as a manager / owner?

Self-healing performance

A real top performer doesn’t bring a bunch of baggage to work and spray it all over their peers. They don’t aggravate, emasculate, or reduce the performance of the rest of the team. Just the opposite, in fact. A true top performer not only produces like no one else on your team, but they also make the team better by making each individual better.

They teach. They mentor. Their behavior makes people want to work with (or for) them. People trust them.

On teams where this isn’t how you’d describe your top performers, you’ll often find people and/or teams pulling in different directions – even when trying to achieve the same goal. At some point, your company is going to pay the price for that.

Be very careful who you hire and how you build teams. Don’t forget to be the kind of top performer every team member wants to work with.

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Categories
Leadership Management

Entrepreneur, self-heal thyself

Have you ever gotten to the office in the morning and found a tool missing that you were planning on using that day? It creates some frustration borne in the inability to do what you’d been planning all along. For some, it might make your work more difficult to do, or delay the finish time. For others, the inability to use a certain tool might turn your day upside down.

Time is more than money

“Time is money”, you might think. “The inability to use this tool is costing me money”, you continue, and you’d be right. Now consider the cost when your entire team is unable to work. In some businesses, you might simply send the team home. While your team isn’t getting anything done, at least they aren’t racking up hourly pay. Small victories, I suppose – but every hour they’re down (even when off the clock), your backlog is growing. Customers who are depending on an on-time delivery based on work you intended to have done today might also find themselves in a pinch. It might be a pretty big deal.

It’s possible that the inability to use a tool in your business today could cost your customer(s) business. They might lose a strategic moment, a customer, or a valuable employee who simply decides they’ve had enough of the frustrating inability to do the work they love.

Do you want to be the vendor putting customers in that situation?

Customers aren’t the only ones

It feels like it might be worse if you do this to a customer. If the impact is solely internal and isn’t detectable by your customers, your team will just have to deal with it. Still, it has a cost. In frustration. In time. In “Really? this machine / tool / system is down AGAIN?”.

At some point, your team is going to lose patience. If the problem is bad enough or happens with enough frequency, you could lose key staff members. The folks you depend on most are likely to be the ones frustrated first. They’re the ones who may have the least tolerance for the working conditions caused by outages or downtime. They’ll perceive these issues as a lack of professionalism, or a lack of concern for their career or ability to make differential pay, or whatever. They simply won’t put up with it at some point.

Dial tones

Remember when you never doubted that when you picked up the phone, you’d hear a dial tone. If you’ve never had a landline, think of it as you do your expectation for electricity or running water. While those things do occasionally have problems, your expectation is that they will always be there.

That’s where notification of problems is helpful, but notification doesn’t make things significantly better. Imagine if you got a text message at 6:45am telling you that all the roads in and out of your town would be closed for 72 hours. Or a text that says “Sorry, no electricity until next Thursday“. Sure, it’s nice to know, but without a correction on the way, your day just got turned upside down.

If your internet is down too often and the vendors available to you are limited, are you going to choose one and simply tolerate the cost of downtime? Why not choose two or more who aren’t dependent on the same infrastructure? It may cost a bit more, but so does a few hours (or worse, days) of downtime.

Self-healing

Notification is old news. If a system can monitor systems, assets, working conditions (etc) and notify you of availability problems, why stop there? Why not enable these systems to correct the problem? Can your systems be setup to repair a failing systems, restart it, automatically dispatch service people, etc?

These issues should be part of your risk assessment. If power outages are a frequent thing, you’re need to weigh the cost / benefit of uninterruptible power supplies, a generator, or some other solution. If machinery / tool breakdowns are a significant impact, should you have spares on site? Can you work out an arrangement to have temporary replacements provided / rented? If there is a possibility of contention for rented resources, can you pay extra to make sure your needs take priority, get delivered first, etc?

Your team, your business partners, and your customers see your systems, equipment, & infrastructure as an extension of you. If they can’t depend on those things to be in place and working, they can’t depend on you.

Photo by Saad Salim on Unsplash

Categories
Employee Training Sales

Give your sales team a chance

Late last week I attended a pre-sales webinar for a major SAAS vendor. As a prospect, I’m somewhere in the “lead curation” stage. I need to learn more about the tool and the company. The presenter is reading the slides. They’re clearly unfamiliar with the presentation notes. You can tell when someone is reading text they haven’t read before, much as you can tell when they aren’t familiar with the material. They sound exasperated about it all – and I suspect they’re right to feel that way. I wondered if the presenter had been “pushed out on stage”.

Sales preparation matters

I felt sorry for the presenter because it seemed as if they’d been allowed (or forced) to present without sufficient preparation. Everyone involved was affected by this. The company lost out because the quality of the presentation distracted from the product’s content. The value of the webinar to the attendees was reduced because the presenter was stumbling over their words and speaking in a manner that didn’t convey their (presumed) expertise. Hopefully there was a post-presentation review with the presenter so they could practice, get more familiar with the notes / slides, and take the bumps out of their next effort.

While I’m not certain this was the presenter’s first time giving this presentation, we all have to have a first time. The importance of practice and presenting with others who can provide feedback is critical. As a manager / leader, you should be making sure that these practices happen, that constructive feedback loops exist, and that they are done in a way that helps everyone get better. These efforts benefit everyone involved, including the prospective customer.

We’ve all been injected into a situation on short notice. Thing is, we have to take it upon ourselves to make sure we’re well prepared. Perhaps the presenter was asked to do this at the last minute to replace someone who couldn’t be there, but that’s no excuse. It’s on management to make sure replacements are prepared to step in and keep things moving. Maybe your best presenter won’t be there, but you should be able to assure that a well-prepared presenter is available to represent the company. Likewise, it’s on professionals to be prepared for their time in the spotlight, particularly if they know that their responsibilities include taking on someone else’s role on short notice.

It’s just a neighbor calling.

A well-prepared salesperson from the webinar vendor called me a couple of weeks ago. They’re a Silicon Valley company, yet they chose to pretend they were from Somers. (For those reading this outside of Montana, Somers is a small lakeside town in NW Montana.)

The same thing happened a few weeks ago when I received a return call from an insurance guy in Nashville. Caller ID said he was calling from Billings (MT). Yes, this has been going on forever, but it puts your sales team at a terrible disadvantage. When I see a call coming from the Nashville area and I am expecting a return call from there (as I was this time), I’d pick up. If I’m not expecting a call from there, I’ll always let it go to voicemail because I handle almost all calls by appointment. When the insurance company called back, I ignored it because I wasn’t expecting a call from Billings. 

When I finally ended up speaking with the salesperson from Silicon Valley, I asked them point blank if they were from Somers. “No, I’m at the main office in San Jose.” Which of course prompted me to ask them why they fake their numbers and make it look like they’re from a place they’re unlikely to be from. He handwaved it off (nicely) by saying it’s just what the company does to try to get folks to pick up. What they don’t realize is that the reverse reaction is what they’re getting. In addition, the conversation starts with a topic like “Why are you faking who/where you are” rather than their product. 

Don’t set the tone for your interaction with a prospect with a lie. Prospects don’t need to be comforted by a local caller ID number, if that’s what you’re trying to do. It’s simply unbelievable that anyone thinks this is a good idea at time when robocalls are doing exactly the same thing. Is that the crowd you want to be associated with?

Photo by Epicurrence on Unsplash

Categories
Employee Training Leadership Management

Mental errors

So, this past weekend my alma mater’s football team visited Tuscaloosa. As with most guests of the University of Alabama football team, they came away with a loss. Despite losing by 41, it could have been worse. Really it could. The score didn’t really bother me – I mean, seriously – we’re talking about an unranked team vs the top ranked team in the country. We knew it was going to be ugly.

Coaching?

Even when you “know” your team is going to be clobbered, there are two things you don’t want to see. In fact, I spoke with a sportscaster friend from college about it shortly before kickoff. I mentioned that I’d like to see four quarters of motivated play, ie: no appearance of quitting or giving up, and four quarters without a bunch of stupid mistakes – ie: mental errors. Fortunately, we didn’t see the team giving up late in the game, despite a 40+ point deficit. Mental errors, however, were a problem.

We don’t generally expect major college athletes to commit mental errors week-in and week-out. If they’re a problem in a game, it happens, and you expect the coaching staff to spend some of the ensuing week’s training time to address them. It speaks to a coaching problem when these things happen repeatedly, particularly in consecutive games.

On two consecutive kickoff returns, two different kickoff returners made back to back junior high school football level errors – stepping out of bounds at the two yard line pursuing a ball they’d deflected, and catching a ball heading out of bounds inside the 10 yard line (rather than simply letting it go and getting it at the 20 yard line). Neither player appeared to be aware of their location on the field. I can’t recall the last time I saw this egregious an error of that type at the major college level, much less on consecutive kickoffs. It may not have affected the outcome this time, but it would against a different opponent. Unfortunately, these were not the only two mental errors – they’re simply the easiest ones to describe.

In a football game, you expect mental errors due to nervousness, fear, a pressure-filled situation, fatigue, and/or a lack of preparation. When you are down by 24 in the early first half, about all that’s left is the lack of preparation option. To me, that speaks directly to coaching. At this point in his tenure, there’s already the drumbeat of replacement – so fixing the preparation is essential. You can’t replace your team with better players (or players who fit better into your system) in the middle of the college season, but you can significantly impact their preparation. If you don’t, a lot of other things will likely go badly.

A tie to business?

Of course, there’s a connection to business. The situation speaks directly to hiring well, on-boarding, continuing education, mentoring, management, and leadership. Those things aren’t enough to eliminate mental mistakes, but they certainly help. The preparation that we didn’t see evidence of in last weekend’s game We all make mental mistakes in business situations.

The strategies that reduce or eliminate mental mistakes during the business day are the same ones as in football. Coaching, training, mentoring, and practice are all a part of preparation. Any one of them will not do the job. For example, you can stand at the front of the room and teach people, but until they get out in the field and do what they were trained to do, it’s extremely unlikely they will perform at a high level. Even when they do, practice and mentorship is essential.

An easy example? Your sales team. Some members of your team may not enjoy practicing sales calls with other staffers, or going over recordings of sales calls with a manager or an experienced, successful salesperson – but both practices have proven useful to developing expert salespeople.

It’s on the leader

While the team members are the ones making the mistakes, the responsibility rests largely with the leader. They set the tone and performance expectations, while deciding how much preparation of their team (or their staff) is enough.

Business leaders are all under some sort of deadline. Coaches can’t put off next Saturday’s game. Both have to field the team they have each day or each week. Both are responsible for making sure their teams are well-prepared. What can you do with your team to make sure they are better prepared for their next effort?

Photo by Mari Carmen Del Valle Cámara on Unsplash

Categories
Employee Training Management

Choose process over results?

Every time Alabama loses a starting skill position player (usually the QB), the world asks Saban the same question. Paraphrased, it’s always something along the lines of “Oh my, what a disaster. What can you do to avoid ruining your season?” Mind you, Alabama isn’t the only team that has this figured out, and they certainly aren’t the only team asked this question. As different as teams are, the ones who consistently succeed over long periods of time appear to have a similar solution. They recruit players that fit their system and they make sure every team member knows their system to the point that it’s second nature – regardless of the player’s skill and ability level. Every day, they choose process over results.

What that means is that these teams set the expectation that if you go into the game, you do the job you were trained to do. You’re trained. You know the system as well as anyone. As such, you aren’t surprised. You know the game plan. You don’t freak out when something goes wrong, probably because no one else is. You don’t panic. You simply use your talent and ability within the system you’ve learned. Like a successful business, these teams have built a system that isn’t going to fall apart due to a single point of failure.

Teams aren’t like businesses?

How different is that from hiring carefully and having good process management at your business? Of course, that’s a trick question. It isn’t different at all. The products and outcomes are different, but the work of coaching (training), process management, recruiting (hiring) and so on are roughly the same. One of the things that Saban always mentions is their process. Google “Saban process not results” to see what I mean. A lot has been written about their process and Saban’s often vague answers about what many perceive as a “secret”. Hint: Hard work isn’t a secret.

Some people think that these teams are like a machine, and that businesses that operate this way are as well. In some cases, you might hear comments as if the machine-like behavior is a negative – like all the team members are like robots and can’t think for themselves. That’s fear talking.

If your best salesperson gets the flu the day they’re supposed to fly out to your most important trade show or customer meeting of the year, is it a good thing that the rest of your salespeople know the product and the pitch as well as anyone? Or does that mean your people are bots? Does it mean your company is well-trained, consistent, resilient, or “a machine”? Maybe it means all four – none of which are bad in the right context.

The benefit of everyone knowing the process (processes, really) is that you’re rarely shorthanded. You might not have your best player on the field (or on the trade show floor, or on the phone), but you still have someone who works the same way and knows all the steps. That consistency is critical to improving quality from one end of your company to the other.

Teach / document to learn

The best practitioners of your process (or parts of your process) can teach it. If they can’t teach it, they don’t really know it. They might give you some chest puffery and get all “I don’t need to do that”, but that’s their ego talking. Every time you teach something, you learn it a bit more, a bit better, from a bit different angle. To move toward mastery of a subject, try teaching it. You may think you know it already, but as soon as newbies start asking foundational, basic, “topic 101” questions, you’ll likely realize that you don’t know it as well as you thought. It’s service to yourself, to your peers, and to your business.

Documentation has the same effect, but in a different way. When you document a process, you’ll find that the memorized steps are often left out in the first pass. When someone follows your documentation (think of it as “testing”), you’ll almost certainly discover little decisions or questions were omitted.

You may get some resistance to documenting your processes. Yet professional pilots who have flown for 30 years still follow a checklist. They do it for a reason. Under pressure or when we’re in stressful situations, we forget things. We’re human.

Categories
Employees Hiring

The best person for the job

You don’t have to look far to find someone lamenting that they can’t find good people. There are any number of questions you can ask to figure out why they’re having trouble finding someone. You might ask them about their pay, the benefits, or the stability of the work schedule. Depending on the job they’re trying to fill, you might ask them where their people live. I’m guessing they might not have been asked that question before – and it isn’t applicable to every business. Some businesses don’t have the luxury of hiring team members from a faraway place. They make things or must use equipment that’s here, now, so the people involved have to be here, now. However, these companies may have work that doesn’t have to be done by someone in the local office, and sometimes, the opening is for a role that’s not easy to fill with an experienced local person.

Look, I know you want to hire local, and I get that, but sometimes a great local person for a specific role isn’t available. This is particularly likely in rural areas – but oddly enough, the person you need may live in a different rural area. If you need someone with specialized skills, they may not be easy to find until you expand your search beyond your town or county. Maybe they live 100 miles south or 1500 miles east. Somewhere out there, a qualified, experienced person exists who needs work, and can work remote. In some cases, they’re dealing with a situation that makes it almost impossible to work under “normal conditions.” Maybe they can work all day, but they can’t leave the house until another family member comes home. Most of us know someone who has a family member who is aging or otherwise needs someone in the house with them. They may not be a constant 24 hour a day caregiver, however. Maybe they simply need to make three meals a day and help their relative keep track of meds. What kind of loyalty do you think is created when you give steady work to someone in that situation?

Where they are isn’t who they are

Stop using the word remote to describe people who work in a different physical location. It doesn’t matter if they work in a corner of their bedroom, or in a shop they created from a rented self-storage space on the other side of town. It doesn’t matter if there’s a cat on their lap most of the day, or a dog at their feet. They’re either part of your team or they aren’t. You didn’t hire them because of the cat or the dog. (Not entirely, anyhow.) You didn’t hire them because you could save $125 a month on additional office expenses (phone, power, 100 sq ft of office space, etc). They were hired because you needed someone to produce a result. You chose them because of their qualifications and specific experience to produce a result, so why undermine them with “Yeah, but they work remote, so….”. 

Do you call our in-office employees “Local workers” or “in-house workers” or “non-remote workers”? Of course not. Adding “remote” unnecessarily differentiates them from team members who aren’t. You might think this is nothing, but the things managers / leaders say about other team members aren’t lost on your people. They may not react around you, but I guarantee they heard what you said. These signals tell your staff how to think about these folks and their “situation”.

Is it really surprising that this would happen when you don’t treat all of your staff members the same way? Until you stop internally classifying these folks as different, lesser, “special”, etc simply because of their location, why would anyone else? The team members around you pick up on subtle comments (whether they are digs or not) about their peers who work / live elsewhere. 

Positioning them like that tells the rest of the team that we should feel differently about them. It serves no purpose, and in fact, such comments undermine them in the eyes of those who hear you make those comments. Why would Jerry trust a co-worker who lives somewhere else when you’re regularly making comments about Bill working in his underwear? Joking or not, it sends a message about Bill, no matter what he wears when he’s working – regardless of the quality of his work. Undermining Bill makes a subtle statement about your hiring judgement, if not your judgement as a whole. It doesn’t help build a unified team. Is that what these comments are designed to accomplish?

Working with remote employees can be different, but it doesn’t have to be. The best thing you can do to is treat your local and remote people the same and involve them in everything possible. Remote work is…. work.

Photo by Andrew Ridley on Unsplash

 

Categories
Business model Competition Management

Leg wrestling with fire ants

If you’ve ever leg wrestled, you know it can be fun (among other things), but only under the right circumstances. You’d never want to do it on a nest of fire ants. Their bites would hurt far worse than almost any outcome from leg wrestling. If you absolutely had to wrestle on that nest, you’d put it off as long as possible. When you finally got started, you’d get it over with as quickly in order to minimize the pain and suffering. Making major changes in your business is not terribly different.

Kicking the can

Have you ever put off implementing a major change in your business that you know you have to make? If so, was it because you knew it was going to be difficult? Did you kick that can down the road because you weren’t sure if the change was going to work? The thing is, if you know the change needs to happen – it doesn’t matter if you aren’t sure about its chances for success. The mere fact that you know it needs to be done is a sign that your business is at risk. What’s scary is that you know deep down that not making the change is riskier than making it. But still, you put it off, which has a tendency to increase the risk.

Decide

With difficult things, the first step is usually the toughest. Sometimes the hardest part is making the decision itself. Once that’s done, many of us will focus and start to execute. You may find yourself wrestling with the fear of “breaking” your company, but if the position you’re in has you thinking about this, it’s probably already broken (if not badly bent). In these situations, waiting long enough (ie: too long) will cause someone or something else to make the decision for you.

A good example of such changes can be seen in the volume of businesses that have to re-examine how they get paid. It was incredibly rare 20 years ago for a company to use a subscription business model – except for newspapers, magazines and the like. Changes in advertising such as the loss of traditional classified ads, and the rise of digital marketing changed those markets. That, combined with a lot of foot-dragging re: the process of migrating to digital publication destroyed or significantly weakened many of those firms.

Many of these same changes have spread to businesses with traditional business models. Today, it’s steadily getting to the point where a non-subscription-based company is a rarity in many markets. While not all companies fit that model, those that depend on an ongoing creative and/or maintenance effort have little choice. The economics associated with buy-once, support-forever business models simply don’t work well in many markets where content and/or technology changes daily. They never really worked all that well in software and other rapidly changing markets, but the expansion of these “new” markets from zero to cloaked the economics for years. There was always a new client around the corner because of the growth from ground zero to whatever normal market penetration was for that market.

Blow it up & build it again

Today, many companies that were built over the last 20 years are find themselves struggling with the idea of moving to subscriptions. This, despite the fact that the economics are clear. The challenge for these companies is not only to migrate to subscriptions (or something other than front-loaded revenue models like buy-once-support-forever), but also to adjust their operations to a regular, well-planned deployment of value in the form of updates, fixes, and features over time. Without regular production in some form that produces recognizable value your customers want and need, subscription businesses will struggle to keep subscribers, and find it difficult to grow, particularly when competing with companies using low friction, subscription pricing that makes it easier to buy.

The changes may seem insurmountable, but the choice is clear: If you don’t blow it up & rebuild on your terms, someone else will force you to do it on theirs. Decide whether to live or die, knowing that no decision is still a decision. You simply have to make the decision, plan your execution, and press the start button. It will be hard, but not as hard as watching your market share shrink because you can’t fund the product development work needed to catch up, keep up, or ideally, move ahead. You get to decide your path.

Photo by Stephen Radford on Unsplash

Categories
Employees Leadership Management

Do small teams need good leadership?

Smaller companies are seldom known for having good (or even great) leadership. This isn’t because small companies don’t have great leaders. Instead, it’s because they are rarely discussed. Someone might talk about the business owner with four employees whose home-grown consulting business is doing good work and growing steadily. But do we hear about her being an amazing leader? Not often. It could lead you to believe that very small businesses don’t need good leadership. Don’t fall for it.

Are YOU a great (or good) leader?

At this point, you might be wondering if you’re a good leader. It isn’t solely about having a good relationship with your staff. One way to see how effective your leadership is, is to leave the office. Does the office work better when you’re gone? Does the office get less done when you’re gone? Do the wheels fall off when you’re gone?

Some teams get more done when their leader is out of the office because the leader is a distraction. This usually takes the shape of interrupting the team frequently to check on project statuses. Sometimes it goes a bit further. If your people are regularly being asked questions about work you know they have the expertise to do, you’re probably micromanaging them.

Does your team understand the big picture? If a stranger asked them what their company does, would they represent the company as you’d hope? Would they describe the company in terms of their job? Would they describe the company in terms of the good they do and how they help their customers?

Does each team member understand why their work is critical to the day-to-day success of the company? Do they understand how less than ideal performance in their department impacts other departments and the overall success of the company? Do they know exactly what they are responsible for? Not “Oh, I’m sure they do”, but “Yes, they have specific deliverables, duties, and expected outcomes for each day, week, month.” Are these things discussed regularly with each team member?

Get rid of the gaps

If you’ve decided that you need to get better at leading your team – what’s the next step? Go back over the previous section. Become a much better communicator. Leave nothing to assumptions, which doesn’t mean “Be a nag.”

You might be thinking “My people know what they are supposed to do.” That might be the case, but the truth is probably different. I suspect if you sit down with each member of your team and discuss your specific expectations, there’s going to be some gaps between what you expect and what they think you expect. Is that fair to them? Does it serve you and the company well?

If you find yourself frustrated with a team member, think specifically about what’s frustrating you. Are you absolutely, positively sure that they know they should be doing whatever you’re frustrated about? Are you sure that they know exactly what your expectations are? “They should know”, you might think. If you’ve haven’t explicitly told them, they might have the wrong idea entirely. They might not even realize how critical a seemingly minor expectation is because you haven’t explained how their work fits into the big picture. Rather than stew about it, take a minute to discuss it with them.

Make sure your expectations match their understanding of the job. Be sure they understand how their work fits into the entire process. Make sure every department knows *exactly* what is expected of them. If even one of your expectations are unstated, that can fester into a bad situation. Unstated assumptions can kill a company.

Water that garden

If you plan to grow, you need to cultivate the crops you’ve planted. It’s no different with your staff. As your team grows, someone (probably multiple someones) are going to stand out as up and coming leaders for your team. The point is, this isn’t solely about your leadership skills. Your ability to grow leaders and get out of the way is key to your company’s future growth.

As you grow, I guarantee the team will eventually outgrow your ability to manage it. People who have studied leadership and management in the real world will usually quote numbers from five to fifteen direct reports as the limit of the number of people a single person can manage effectively. Don’t wait until things get crazy to make a move.

Photo by Jehyun Sung on Unsplash

Categories
Improvement Management Manufacturing

The benefits of speed

For years, Dan Kennedy has said “Money loves speed.” He’s usually referring to making decisions and implementing things quickly, rather than falling prey to “Good is the enemy of perfect” (among other things). This is not speed for the sake of speed, however. The benefits of speed in the right circumstances, under the right conditions, are worth examining. You may find that you can’t increase speed without negatively impacting quality or safety. In those situations, I’d pull back on efforts to increase speed. Below, I discuss a few situations and opportunities that I hope will spur some ideas that will help you find places to increase the speed of your business activities.

Military time… and yours

A tank that can be refueled in one hour is more effective against an enemy than a tank that can be refueled in two hours. The same can be said for equipment not used in battle, like your lawn service’s mowers, or a delivery truck – even though defeating an “enemy” is not your goal. Similar effectiveness can be gained from a mower that can run twice as long, either because it consumes less fuel per hour, or because it has twice the fuel capacity of a similar mower.

During World War II’s Battle of Britain, British pilots who survived being shot down in morning were frequently back in another plane and in the air defending England that afternoon. German recovery crews had to travel much longer distances to recover a pilot and get them back in action. In addition, they had to have long range fighters so that pilots could fly to England, attack, and return back to Germany. These speed, distance, and equipment requirements thankfully had them at a disadvantage.

Is there anyone who hasn’t been parked at a point of sale counter, hotel front desk, or similar as an employee waited on a computer to perform some task necessary to allow us to check in, complete a purchase, etc? Some companies seem to be on a never-ending quest to improve these experiences. They know that customers want the shorter wait times in line. They’ve seen customers get frustrated and leave a store due to long lines. Meanwhile, other companies seem to ignore these counterproductive point of sale speed and usability problems, much less the long lines they can cause.

Sometimes, you have to temporarily slow down in order to speed up. A wobbly wheel will shake a car (and its passengers) to pieces, make the car less safe to drive, and prevent the car from reaching higher speeds. Taking a few minutes to stop and tighten or change the wheel costs a few minutes, but pays off in safer, faster driving. A simple example, but it begs the question: What’s wobbly, sketchy, or less than dependable at your business?

Downtime

Downtime is a speed issue as well, since you can’t get much slower than zero. Every time you eliminate or reduce downtime, there’s a corresponding increase in speed. The great thing about downtime is that much of it is preventable, whether it relates to computers, processes, or boat trailers.

Downtime hides in places you might not expect. Electricity. Disk space. Oil. Anti-freeze. Drive belts. Spare drive belts. Tools in vehicles. Flashlights in vehicles. Better warehouse lighting. Better training. Prevention has a solid ROI. Ask your team about processes, situations, and equipment that fails. Remember – injuries count too. Your people know where the dangerous places in your business are. Ask them, not only for where these things are, but also for ideas on how to address them.

Supply chain problems have a way of creating downtime as well. When you run out of raw materials due to order errors, delays, mistakes, or really – any reason, production grinds to a halt. Zero speed, particularly in a production environment, has a high cost. If you send people home because you’re out of raw materials, you not only miss out on the work getting produced, you also risk losing skilled people who probably weren’t easy to find. Most supply chain errors are preventable. Your team can help identify ways to deal with these problems, so be sure to ask if they’ve seen these issues before and have been involved in resolving them. Either way, take advantage of their experience and insight.

There is one place where speed isn’t recommended: Hiring.

Photo by toine G on Unsplash

Categories
Management market research Positioning Product management Sales Setting Expectations

Increase sales by making deployment easier

Everyone wants to sell more, yet few ask what impacts it the most: deployment. I had a long overdue conversation to catch up with Richard Tripp this week. His “POV method” is the best process I’ve seen for refining & re-prioritizing product focus. It’s based partly on finding out the number one outcome that the majority of your actual paying customers care about. Tripp calls this group of customers a company’s “center of success”. To my knowledge, use of his process has been limited to software companies – mostly SAAS companies. It struck me during a long drive yesterday that it could be used to improve the sales of any team. Teams with a deployed service or shipped product might gain the most.

Involve the whole team

The not-easily-impressed folks might think “Wooo, talking to customers – that’s a super new idea” and they’d be missing the point. Having been involved in many such efforts over the years – my experience is that the POV method is different & better.

It’s different in part because it isn’t about a group of VPs sitting around pontificating about things they’re disconnected from. Why disconnected? Because most VPs no longer spend time customers in the trenches. Even if you’re a owner/VP now, you weren’t always one, so you know what I mean. It’s better for the entire team to discuss progress together rather than in a series of silo’d departmental conversations. When everyone hears from everyone who has data / experiences to contribute, a much richer, more complete picture is the result.

One of the outcomes is the reduction of the pain and suffering required to adopt a product / service and substantially shrink / simplify the timeline from payment to “we’re getting the benefit we paid for”. I remember years ago watching the discovery process unfold during the early stages of a POV conversation about a group’s (non-SAAS) product.

During the discussion, a normally quiet member of the service / deployment team who spent all of their time with customers during the deployment process blurted out something like “Do you have any idea how frustrating our installs are and how long it takes our customers to go live with our software? At least three months!!

The product team’s reaction was shock and surprise, as you’d expect. Because management was part of the discussion, the project got immediate momentum. A substantial and cooperative joint effort between the product and the service departments to substantially pare down install / deployment challenges was the outcome – a small but high impact improvement.

Assembling a grill

Software deployment challenges are common, but deployment problems aren’t limited to software. The longer that the time-to-benefit period grows for any product or service, the easier it is for buyer’s remorse to take hold. If it takes 90 days to get your product or service producing, customers can lose sight of why they wanted the benefit.

It reminds me of buying a new grill, getting it home and putting it together.

If you’ve assembled a grill in the last 20 years, you know that the grill business needs some work. People buy a new grill because the old one finally rusted out, they need more capacity, or they’re having an event & need a bigger one. Most people don’t do this weeks in advance. They might buy the grill a day or two before the big event.

The likely result is one of those “It’s 10 pm on Christmas eve and I have toys to assemble” experiences. Instead of fitting together plastic parts, there’s sharp-edged sheet metal & screws that look alike but aren’t. Meanwhile, two people must hold the pieces in position so the third person can turn a few screws. Eventually, this pile of parts becomes something that will eventually cook a meal. Does it have to be this much trouble?

Imagine if the team(s) responsible for packaging, instructions, & parts watched consumers muddle through this process on a third floor apartment patio. Enlightenment is guaranteed. When a developer watches an end user use their software, it’s often painful because what seemed obvious almost never is.

Whether you make software, grills, or campers – your development, packaging, and deployment staff will learn important lessons simply by watching a few customers unpack, assemble, & deploy your product or service.

Photo by Matthieu Joannon on Unsplash