Execution – The discipline of getting things done

Larry Bossidy’s stories of the struggles to maintain the focus and discipline of execution at GE, Honeywell and elsewhere hit home. What was particularly interesting to me were the anecdotes about EDS, given that I worked there before GM bought EDS and continued to work there during the adjustment period when it seemed like 75% of the company was moving to Detroit.

Anyone who was paying attention during the subsequent years and saw what GM did to EDS was not surprised to see them pitch Ross off of the board. You see, Ross’s lips never saw a backside, and with good reason – and that just wasnt how the board did business. So…EDS lost focus, their execution suffered, as did their stock. Oddly enough, several years later when Brown was brought on as CEO to turn things around, the story in Fast Company about his efforts motivated me to email him about my experiences at EDS. Amazingly, he actually replied in prompt fashion, and not with a canned response from his admin.
Back to the story at hand, this book is right up there with “The Power of Focus” in the dogear department. It might be easier to count the pages that I didnt dogear. Its a very easy read, primarily because its about the stories of the experiences of the authors, rather than a dry management treatise or a touchy-feely discussion that we so often find.
One of the interesting (and perhaps rewarding in a pathetic way) things about this book besides the laundry list of strategies for becoming and STAYING more productive is the perspective of the C-class exec at major corporations like General Electric (GE), Honeywell and EDS (Ross Perot’s Electronic Data Systems) who struggles with the same things that entrepreneurs struggle with. Feels a little better to know that it isnt just kitchen table entrepreneurs that have to work on the discipline of execution:)

Yes, I know its not Ross Perot’s EDS anymore, but I worked there when it was, so it’ll always be that for me…

Just get it. A very good read. Not at all dry, and full of quality takeaways that you can put to use.

Frugal and smart

Frugal’s is a drive-up, no-sit-down burger place in the Northwest.

Unlike some parts of the country, around here – employees are hard to find.

Well, more accurately, good employees who are willing to show up on time and work are in short supply. All over Western Montana, businesses are having difficulty with staffing. Construction companies offer $28/hr one day and find that their guys went to some other job for $29/hour. Yeah, it says something about the person involved, but the point is that they are struggling.

On the other hand, Frugal’s is paying more and requiring more of their people.

Instead of paying minimum wage, they start their people at $7.50 an hour.

Here’s the smart part: If you meet certain criteria for the last pay period, your pay is $8 per hour.

The criteria might annoy some because they are paying for behavior that simply should be normal, but they are doing what it takes to make it happen. Others just wring their hands over it and complain about it.

To make $8 an hour for the last pay period, Frugal’s people must 1) show up for all shifts, 2) show up ON time for 100% of your shifts, and 3) be a friendly, enthusiastic team player who is friendly to their customers.

So instead of harping on their people all the time about showing up, they simply pay them extra to do so. Easily saves .50 an hour worth of management time, much less gray hair and both staff and management morale.

The Blog Moving truck came.

If you’re using FeedBurner, you may have noticed that the blog is being forwarded (by them).

This only happens for 30 days, so please subscribe directly here.

PancakeBunny just didnt speak directly to what I blog about, despite the initial kinda-meaningless story referring to the Pancake Bunny image customer service response, PLUS there’s the SEO benefits. Ebb and Flow is one of the finest if you are wanting a digital marketing company to work for you.
So…I’ve moved the blog to my main business site. The SEO savvy out there understand the why – the rest of you need to think hard about moving external blogs back to your main site, assuming your blog is in context with your business.

Thanks for following me here.

Jim Rohn is on top of his shopping cart. Are you?

I really like it when someone I do business with is thinking and trying to take care of me without being asked (or harassed repeatedly, for that matter).

I was in Jim Rohn’s site the other day ( http://www.jimrohn.com ) and stuck something in my shopping cart so that I wouldn’t forget it. A couple of days later, Hannah from Jim’s office called to talk to me about it.
Why?

To note that I had something in my shopping cart when I left their online store the other day and she wanted to make sure that I didnt have an order problem of some kind. In her message, she said she had all the info she needed except for a credit card and noted that if I still wanted to complete the order, I could call her personally to take care of it.

I wonder how many sales they’ve rescued by doing that? Really smart.

In a related matter – A while ago, we added our 800# to the top of our store pages rather than just on the “Contact us” page.

Results? We’ve started getting more calls – 99% of which are to place an order. Either people like the personal contact, or they are struggling with the store, or they just dont want to use their card online or something – but the bottom line is – they are calling to order, not just shoot the breeze.

Gift Card Fraud talk is mostly bogus, says EWeek

This week’s stories about gift card fraud struck me with chagrin, especially given my recommendations to small businesses that they do this internally (but using REAL cards), rather than run these charges through credit card vendors as most large vendors are forced to do.

The most common story going around lately involves people reading numbers off of cards in stores and then checking later to see if the card has been activated, then using the number online and emptying the card before the recipient gets to use it.

EWeek reports that security measures on these cards have improved in the last few years and most of the recent rumors are just urban myths because of these changes. Read the article, then we’ll move on.
http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,1895,2069623,00.asp

When I say that I recommend that small businesses do this themselves, I mean avoid the use of the credit card networks to process your gift cards.

Why?

Because you dont need to spend the money for the services they offer that you dont need, nor give up a cut of your purchases if you only have one location. No credit card network is necessary under these circumstances. Well-written point of sale programs include support for internal gift card processing. If yours doesnt, ask your vendor why they dont and look around for one that does.

If you have multiple locations, we can still set you up to avoid the credit card networks, though it is a little more complex.

If your online store doesnt allow for the use of gift cards, this entire thing is a non-issue, because you simply have to require the card to be present when someone uses it in your store OR you have to require ID. Remember, you’re not doing this to hassle your customer, you’re doing this to protect your customer’s gift value.

Want some help figuring this out? Feel free to contact me. Its not that complex, but more importantly its a big boon to sales, it gets you NEW customers and its “sticky” (meaning, it brings customers back).

Dont let the scaremongers chase you away. There’s no reason why you cant compete with the big boys on this – and do so with far more safety than they can.

Don’t believe me? Think about the scare tactics used by the big credit card merchants. Gartner released 2 really interesting reports this week about credit cards and e-commerce. One said that paranoia about online sales will result in 2 billion (with a B) in lost sales yet it also says that brick and mortar stores are LESS secure than websites. A “brick and mortar store” means regular retail and service businesses on the streets of your town).

That info doesnt jive reality-wise, but it DOES jive with the info you see in advertising by the major card vendors. They are hammering on tv that you must use their cards to be protected – as if thats the only way to be protected. Its there to make sure you only use the major cards. An article discussing the 2 recent Gartner reports and the efforts of the major card companies is also in EWeek.

Yo office is SO ugly…SMART.

Hop over and take a look at http://www.offices2share.com/contest/

Offices2Share offers “virtual offices”, ie: office space with equipment, admins and such that you might not be able to afford on your own, but that become affordable because you and several other offices are sharing the expense – plus getting your own private office space. One of the players in this venture is George Ross, who just happens to be Trump’s Executive Vice President, an attorney, real estate wizard and so on. Smart guy.

They’re having a contest to see who has the worst home office. Whoever “wins” gets free Offices2Share space for a year, plus a laptop and some other stuff. Total cost to Offices2Share, maybe a few grand. Oh, and lunch with George. Lunch with George Ross (Trump’s lawyer and real estate guy) as a prize, not many can offer that. A nice differentiating touch:)

Very smart marketing.

Why? Because every entrant is a qualified lead for their Offices2Share offices. Even if they give away 10K worth of office space, just ONE of those leads is probably worth more than 10k to them in rent and services in just one year.

Ok, the site could use some improving, but keep in mind that lots of great looking sites cant offer George.

So…how can YOU use this idea, massage it a little and make it work for your business?

ONE. Bad number for a business.

“One is the loneliest number that…”

Three Dog Night sang that song in the 70’s, though in their case, love was the subject at hand.

In business, one isn’t as much lonely as it is deadly.

ONE supplier.
ONE client.
ONE employee.
ONE product or service.

Any ONE of those, if you’ve allowed them to become too important, can be deadly to your business.

Over the next few emails, let’s talk about why ONE is such a bad number. We’ll start with ONE supplier.

ONE supplier: If you have just one supplier for a critical raw material or service, what happens when and if that supplier goes bankrupt, gets bought out and broken up, doubles their prices because someone stole money from them (or the IRS slapped them hard), and so on? YOU are the one who pays.

You can see the reality in this in our local aluminum plant here in Columbia Falls. They operate using commodity raw materials (price controlled) and their product is also a commodity (price controlled). They have ONE power source (commodity, price controlled). When that power is expensive, they cant do business using their current model. When it isnt expensive, they incur massive startup costs to ramp up production. Its a 1960’s business model, but this is the 21st century. ONE supplier of power has them by the shorts.

I recently spent some time finding alternative suppliers for the raw materials that we use at my wholesale skin care products company. Why? Because I had ONE supplier for a few things and it scared me. I refuse to be at the mercy of one supplier, even if that supplier currently does things wonderfully. Things change. Be prepared (that’s the Scoutmaster speaking…)

Look at your business. Is their ONE supplier that could cripple your business if they went under? Or if they decided to get militant with you, or if they doubled their prices? Dont just think that you are immune because you sell software, or are a consultant, or run a day spa.

ONE affected a recent football playoff game. A team came to Montana saying they had the ONE best player in the country. Everything their team achieved depended on that ONE player. Unfortunately for the team, their coach bragged that that ONE player was the best and implied that nothing else mattered. He found out the danger of ONE. The other team keyed on that ONE guy, shut him down, and sent his team home without scoring a touchdown – in fact, almost without scoring at all.

ONE recently put our local Staples on its knees during a holiday shopping weekend. A hard drive crashed, preventing them from taking credit cards most of Saturday and preventing customers from using reward cards (or reward certificates) all weekend until Monday. Despite the fact that there were plenty of hard drives on the shelves, they could do nothing until first of business on Monday. Wonder how much that REALLY cost. Ouch.

ONE. Don’t let it happen to you.

“One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.”

Unless you’re young and not into “classic rock”, you remember Three Dog Night singing “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.” You might be too young for that, so just in case, the band sang that song in the 70’s, in their case, love was the subject at hand, not business.

In business, one isn’t as much lonely as it can be deadly.

ONE supplier.
ONE client.
ONE employee.
ONE product or service.

Any ONE of those, if you’ve allowed them to become too important, can be deadly to your business.

Over the next few posts, we’ll talk about why ONE is such a bad number in business. We’ll start with ONE supplier.

ONE supplier: If you have just one supplier for a critical raw material or service, what happens when and if that supplier goes bankrupt, gets bought out and broken up, doubles their prices because someone stole money from them (or the IRS catches them at something, even a mistake), and so on? YOU are the one who pays, because your business is at ONE supplier’s mercy.

You can see the reality in this in our local aluminum plant here in Columbia Falls. They operate using commodity raw materials (price  controlled) and their product is also a commodity (price controlled). They have ONE power source (commodity, price controlled). When that power is expensive, they cant do business using their current model. When it isnt expensive, they incur massive startup costs to ramp up production. Its a 1960’s business model, but this is the 21st century of global business. ONE supplier of power has them by the shorts, plus both their raw material AND the product they create are price controlled commodities. Dangerous.

I recently spent some time finding alternative suppliers for the raw materials that we use at my wholesale skin care products company. Why? Because I had ONE supplier for a few things and it scared me. I refuse to be at the mercy of one supplier, even if that supplier currently does things wonderfully. Things change. Flood, locusts, tux didnt come back from the cleaners (apologies to Mr Belushi). You simply have to be prepared (that’s the Scoutmaster speaking…)
Look at your business. Is their ONE supplier that could cripple your business if they went under? Or if they decided to get militant with you, or if they doubled their prices? Dont just think that you are immune because you sell software, or are a consultant, or run a day spa. All of us have the potential to get nailed by ONE.

ONE affected a recent football playoff game. A team came to Montana saying they had the ONE best player in the country. Everything their team achieved depended on that ONE player. Unfortunately for the team, their coach bragged to the press that that ONE player was the best in the country, not just the best running back, and implied that nothing else mattered. He found out the danger of ONE. Montana keyed on that ONE guy, shut him down, and sent his team home without scoring a touchdown – in fact, almost without scoring at all.

Depending on ONE is poor coaching and poor business.

Do more than you needed to, make the experience memorable.

Last night, my family went over to Whitefish (MT) for pizza at our favorite pizza joint, MacKenzie River Pizza Company (again, do things right, I use names).

They were pretty busy, making service was a little slow at first. A manager took the liberty of taking our order (and remembered it without writing it down) so that we wouldnt have to wait.
When our pizza arrived, it was on sourdough instead of their famous whole wheat. Our server told us this as she sat the pizza on the table, which told me that it wasnt that the manager forgot what we ordered. She apologized and asked if we wanted to munch on that one while they remade our pizza with the right crust. We said no, dont worry about it. After all, it wasnt that big a deal.

About 15 minutes later, our server brought us another pizza, identical except it had the whole wheat crust, packaged to take home, and told us that it was on the house because they had messed up. Not what we expected. We werent upset about the wrong crust (come on, its a pizza crust not a wedding dress) so this came as a complete surprise.

Think they could afford an extra pizza on a $59 table? Sure they can. Especially since they know that kind of service will bring people back, and most likely get mentioned to others.

How do you handle a minor mishap in service? You could do enough to make it right, or you can turn it into an opportunity to shine by doing more than you need to.

MacKenzie did more than they needed to and made that small incident into a memorable service experience.

Surprise: IT magazine says customer service quality is down. Really.

This month, CIO Insight magazine (see http://www.cioinsight.com/article2/0,1540,2062373,00.asp ) noted that despite all the investment in technology that companies are making, customer service is getting worse.

Did any of you have to read a magazine to figure that out?

The good thing about articles like this is that they have metrics to go with the reality. The CIO site makes me crazy with 99% ads, 1% content, but the content is good, so deal with it just this once, ok?

So lets talk about the issues they cover in the article.
The #1 answer was billing or account problems, chosen by 53% of the people surveyed.

Big surprise. So far this month, Iâ??ve spent 2+ hrs trying to reach a human at Bank of America since they bought out MBNA. No luck. â??Weâ??re currently experiencing high call volumesâ?. Really?
Speaking of, I had to call Paypal about a debit card (I use Paypal for one of my online stores, so a debit card to pay for shipping when I have to use USPS makes sense). Because of a stupid restriction on businesses that use PO Boxes as a billing address, I had to call them. Paypalâ??s phone system (voice based response) is annoying because the guy talks SO SLOW you could read this blog while waiting for him to finish. However you can get to a helpful, friendly human by just saying â??HELPâ? when you are in their phone tree. That one issue aside, Paypalâ??s customer service has improved drastically. Every call Ive placed in the last year has been quick, friendly, successful, accurate. Good for you, guys.

Guess what #2 is? Getting to a real person to discuss a problem. How ironic. B of A, read up.
#3 was customer service email delays.

#4 was product or service quality. Not surprisingly, #4 was the ONLY choice that improved from 2005 to 2006. Pathetic.

Just like Ive been telling you in my print newsletter, great service differentiates you from the losers. I shouldnt even have to say it, but SO MANY try to scrimp on this – yet its the one place where you can cream your competition if you really seriously address it.

Its one more slight edge. So get off your keester & make your service amazing. A lady counted change back to me at Walgreens a while back. I was blown away because NO ONE does that anymore. Geez, is that all it takes to stand out today?

By the way, I’m not saying to avoid replacing web customer service with the real person. Instead, have them compliment each other.
Take action quickly. Implement TODAY.