Accepting change: How can you help?

New technology is full of emotional change. Everyone finds their own pace when it comes to accepting the changes that come when adopting new technology. With brand new technology, the differences in adoption rates widen even more. Some folks won’t touch new technology. Other people prefer to wait a little while and let someone else take the punches that “first implementers” must often withstand. There are those who consider how the new tech can help them, and if it can, they’ll dive in wholeheartedly. Finally, some chase the Bright Shiny Object (BSO) – no, not the eclipse. The BSO distracts them just like a randomly reflected spear of piercing sunlight off a car windshield grabs your attention while driving.

This isn’t limited to technology

Segmenting the speed of accepting change isn’t new. A series of books by Geoffrey Moore, starting with “Crossing the Chasm“, examined this in detail. However, the phenomena isn’t limited to technology. Anything in our lives that introduces change tends to fit into these segments of how much (and how early) we’re willing to dive in. We’re creatures of habit, even in how we change. Our hesitancy or comfort to try new things impacts every purchase – including the uptake of anything new or different. Some of us love change. Some hate it. Most are somewhere in the middle. Many occupying the “fat part of the (Bell) curve” need a reason to change. Maybe not a big reason, but a reason all the same.

Ever tried to get a young child to try a new food? If so, you probably didn’t give them an adult-sized serving the first time you had them try it. As with the kid and that broccoli they (at first?) loved to hate, it’s often best to ease people into a new thing. Sometimes, you have to offer them something they crave (like ice cream for dessert) if they’re brave enough to choke down their broccoli.

It’s no different with adults. Try to convince a pickup driver to change from Ford to Chevy or Dodge. Ask a golfer to change clubs. Ask a frequent flier to change airlines. In each case, you’ll probably face substantial resistance.

How is that different from you wanting them to switch to your restaurant, hardware store, dinner menu, or IT company from the one they’re comfortable with?

IT ISN’T.

Risk reversal reduces friction

If you need someone to make a change in order for your venture (or career) to succeed – you need to figure out where the friction comes from. Whether you’re trying to work with the pickup driver, golfer, or frequent flier, what creates the resistance that keeps them from considering a change? Risk is a common source.

When we wanted people to change to our software years ago, almost everyone had a 30 day money-back guarantee. A few had a 60 day one. We changed ours from 30 to a full year. The difference in refunds is trivial between 30, 60 and 365 days. The perception of who takes the risk, however, changes completely.

I was on several car lots over the weekend. Of maybe eight different dealers, I met one salesperson who was hustling. He clearly understood that the goal was to get a new customer, not simply to sell a car. Almost anyone can sell a car (or whatever you and I sell), a real salesperson is looking to create customers for life.

Anyhow, this guy offered to send a car home with me for a few days to make sure it fits. Sure, I know how this works. It’s like a test drive on steroids. If they get you to test drive it, they know how much more likely it is that you’ll buy (trust me, there’s lots of data). “Take the car for a few days and see how it fits” is the next step up from a test drive. Even so, it’s a proven risk reversal strategy. We know we’re likely to miss something on a test drive. When our neighbors see the car, when we see that it fits in the garage, & when the rest of the family reacts – it’ll be tougher to return it.

Your challenge: Determine what’s necessary to reduce resistance to the point that your prospects will consider making a change. What risk(s) must you take off the table? “Change” in this case means make a sale and get a new client.

Photo credit: Frank Winkler

Where is the friction in your business?

What do you repeatedly force your clients to do that they simply shouldn’t have to do? Put another way, how does your business frustrate your clients? When dealing with your business, what drives them crazy?

What’s friction?

Can’t open the package without a Jedi sword? Can’t read your boarding pass printed in that microscopic font? Have to do this and this and this and that to buy or pickup a purchase, only to have to start over again? Can’t find out when something will be delivered? Have an appointment window that stretches from sunrise to sundown? Press one because your call is important to us and will be answered by the next available agent?

Yes, those kinds of things. They aren’t the sole domain of the cable company or that big company that’s easy to despise. Small businesses do these things as well, so we have to be vigilant and chase these things out of the building.

Sometimes these things are simple and inexpensive to fix, yet failing to address them creates a point of aggravation between you and your customers. These points of aggravation are often the tiniest of things. Like a grain of sand in your shoe, they could be the start of something much worse if allowed to fester.

Should it fester, you may lose a customer. Losing even one customer to one of these little things will transform that friction-creating “little thing” from inexpensive to very expensive. Remember, losing a customer usually isn’t losing a single sale – it’s losing all future sales from that customer. Friction is expensive.

How do I find these aggravating things?

Ask.

But what to ask? No matter who you’re talking to, poke around in their experiences with you regarding installation, deployment, service, customization, billing, paperwork, repairs, upgrades, financing, returns, shipping, etc. Ask questions about these things using different terms. Repeat yourself until you get the details you need. Using different terms in your questions will provoke different reactions and prod different memories from your customers.

Ask your best customers.

They’re the ones you’d hate to lose. The ones you know by name when they walk in the door. The ones whose names are familiar to your bookkeeper – and not because they don’t pay their bills. They’ll tell you different things than your newest customers, but that’s OK. There isn’t one frustration that fits everyone. Your business has many components. If you sell a number of products and services, you’ll need to ask the best customers of each. You’ll likely get different answers for each product and service.

Ask your newest customers.

Because everything is new, they’re quite likely to be more sensitive to oddities and more observant about every little thing your company does. Listen carefully to these folks. They may mention things that you’re vested in. You might get defensive. Fight that urge. There may be a perfectly valid reason for doing whatever it is. Brainstorm with the customer how you could accomplish this result in some other way.

Ask lost customers.

Did you lose a customer to another vendor? Give them a call, or see if they’ll set a time to visit in person. Make sure they understand that you aren’t there to sell them, but instead, you want to know what went wrong. What could you have done better? How did you frustrate or annoy them? This lost customer probably isn’t alone. Follow up with them once you’ve addressed the things they mentioned. A handwritten card thanking them and briefly describing what you’ve done to correct these things will both thank them and tempt them.

Preventing the growth of friction

Bear in mind that these things aren’t often created intentionally. Most of the time, “they just happen” and we miss them long enough that they become systemic. Once they become systemic, they seem normal and we have to battle a little harder to identify and evict them from how we do things.

Create a culture of ownership for finding and fixing these things. When your team has the permission to fix these things on the spot and bring the situation to your next process improvement discussion (ie: lunch), fixes don’t have to wait. Set boundaries as needed, but be careful to encourage improvement without waiting for seven signatures and a wax seal.

Photo by theilr

They don’t want to work & they don’t care like I do

Human resources. Human capital. Two terms that I really don’t care much for (especially the latter one), yet they attempt to describe what is usually the most important part of your business: employees.

You might think your customers / clients are the most important part of your business, but without good employees who want to take care of your clients, one of two things happens: Either you won’t have any clients or you’ll be doing all the work yourself – which sounds more like a job than it does a business. Two complaints I hear most often: “They don’t want to work” and “They don’t care like I do“.

They don’t want to work

If you have people working for you who don’t want to work, it’s not their fault. It is your company’s fault because the company hired them.

They may be lazy. You may be exactly right about why they are lazy, but it doesn’t matter. The fact that they are lazy and the reason(s) for that laziness are irrelevant. It’s relevant that the company hired them before figuring out they were lazy. Your job as the hiring manager is to find a way to figure out who is lazy (etc) and be sure not to hire them.

Repeatedly complaining (for example) that “all millennials are lazy and don’t want to work” is not only incorrect, but a waste of time. If the millennials your company hired don’t want to work, blame the broken process used to hire them. If three of every 100 applicants show the right stuff, then make sure your process finds the three.

Hiring people is easier if you put a process in place that makes it all but impossible for someone to join your team when they have the attributes of someone who can’t be successful at your place. This process doesn’t come in a box from Amazon. You can’t simply open the box and plug it in. It requires ongoing attention. It’s work. It takes time. It isn’t easy. The process needs to involve the people a prospective employee will work with, and those they will work for.

There are people who shouldn’t work at your place with your people. Your job is to eliminate them before you hire them. To eliminate each attribute that you don’t want working at your business, you add steps to the process that identify those attributes. “Drama queen” is a one of the attributes I eliminate, noting that these folks are both male and female.

Do you want to hire passive aggressive jerks who will tick off your customers? If not, your hiring process needs a way to filter out those people. Sometimes, it isn’t easy, but if you wanted “easy”, you shouldn’t have started / bought a business.

Attributes like lazy, passive aggressive, or any other that cause you to wish you’d never hired someone are no different than “must be able to lift 70 pounds”. They are a minimum qualification for employment. It isn’t the job prospect’s responsibility to apply only for jobs that they are ideal for. That might be nice, but isn’t realistic. It’s your job to sort them.

They don’t care like I do

Of course they don’t. Remember, they aren’t owners, so it will be rare that they will care like you do. They don’t have as much at risk as the owner and they sure don’t have as much potential upside as the owner.

Expecting someone to act like an owner at $10 an hour is silly. Training them to think like an owner and then giving them more responsibility (and more cash) when they act that way is a whole different thing. Some will still work hard, but won’t think like an owner. Some will work hard and think like an owner once they are trained and learn that there are things to be gained by doing so.

A rare few will act like an owner, at least to the extent they can. “These people” will start caring when they figure out that you do. That starts at the hiring time. If you find a way to stop adding lazy, crazy, and dazed to their department, they will notice. If you ask them for referrals, they won’t suggest you hire their dodgy, lazy friends. It simply makes more work for them. Instead, you’ll get the friends they trust to do their part.

Photo by jonny goldstein

Listen to clients. They say the darndest things.

I love polarized lenses. Sunlight reflected off snow or water is brutal on my eyes. Polarized prescription shades make it all better. They aren’t inexpensive, yet the payoff in improved vision and eye strain is huge. These special lenses help me see things in a way I can’t otherwise experience. Taken further, consider the special lenses available for folks with color blindness. Many YouTube videos show a thrilled & tearful reaction to wearing these lenses for the first time.

You need special business lenses for the same reason.

A special lens filters out glare, distractions and visual “noise” while making it easier to see what’s not normally apparent. This is why  I repeatedly suggest the use of dashboards. Trends and intermediate figures stick out on a dashboard. They don’t typically become apparent (or appear at all) on an income statement – or they’re buried in other numbers.

One of the best lenses for viewing your business is the lens your clients see through. You might see things that you might not normally value – at least not how your client values them.

New clients vs. long-term clients

One area where it’s easy to miss this data is in the difference between your newest clients and the ones you’ve had forever. I visited a long-term client a while back. When I asked “Where do you the value in what we do for you?”, they mostly talked about how (and why) the relationship started. Eventually, the discussion turned to the feeling that they felt protected and that we had their best interests at heart, even after all these years.

I felt like I wasn’t getting “the dirt”, so I asked what makes our stuff critical to them day-to-day. What affected them more than anything was being on time, every day. Not 15 minutes late. On-time meant six figures of difference in their daily cash flow.

While new clients may have bought your stuff because of the latest, greatest thing you’ve done, not everyone fits that mold. Long-term clients may not need the newest stuff you’ve done because whatever you do inherently has more impact on their business day-in and day-out.

The new stuff we’d done was designed to deal with issues that didn’t exist when we first started working together. Even so, those issues paled in comparison to the impact of not being on time. Anything that can affect a company’s cash flow by six figures each day is pretty important (British understatement). It might allow them to avoid hitting a line of credit that week, or even having to have that line of credit. It might be what allows them to take that “month off” each year that many lines of credit require.

Ask openly

When you listen to clients, you have to be careful what you ask, and how. I don’t know if I would have heard about the daily cash flow impact if I had asked about a particular feature, service or product.

Instead, I simply asked them to tell me how (and why) they felt they benefited from continuing to do business after all this time. You could drive an airport snowplow through the opening I provided. Not only did that allow them to tell me about something super critical, but to do so outside of the product / service context.

Cash flow has nothing to do with what’s sold to them, at least not directly (as I learned). What it clarified was that a slower than normal response from customer service could cost them $100K+ that day. To some clients, that hour isn’t important. Getting a quick response at a certain time of day was huge to these folks. Setting up with a special rapid response service would likely benefit them greatly multiple times per year.

Listen to clients without an agenda

While your clients may not have that kind of time-bound value tied to certain hours of the day, there are things to learn from asking open-ended questions that don’t necessarily point at product / service topics – and then listening intently to what they say.

When you listen to clients openly and without an agenda, the value of what you learn can be huge. Questions intent on confirming what we think we already know serve no one. Instead, ask better questions.

Photo by mattlucht

What about the prospect list that isn’t a list?

Last time, we talked about your prospect list (or lack thereof). What about the prospects that aren’t on a list: the folks who have decided to get their info about you via one or more social media platforms. You may feel that the list discussion doesn’t apply to you because your prospects get their product info without signing up for anything. They follow you on Twitter, Instagram and/or Snapchat, they’ve liked your business page on Facebook, or connected on LinkedIn. In most of those cases, you don’t have their contact info other than perhaps the ability to direct message them (don’t, except to reply to their questions).

Like your prospect list members, social media oriented prospects also fit the profile of “a friend who needs the information and advice they’d ask of the friend and expert (you) prior to making a decision about a possible purchase”.

Tracking is different

On a list, you can monitor responses and segment the list into sub-lists so that the people who are clearly showing more interest will be the ones who get the next piece of info you’d typically provide. On social media, there are tools that can make that easier, but you will often find yourself having multiple public-facing conversations at once. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you need to be prepared for it. Without being a robot, you need to have “canned” responses to the most frequently asked questions and comments about the products and services you sell. You’ll want to post this sequence of thoughts, advice and questions via your social channels.

You might be thinking that you don’t have a list of questions like that, but I suspect you do. It’s in your head, perhaps taken for granted because your responses are so ingrained in your mind that you can answer them as easy as you can turn a doorknob. It’s like muscle memory. We all have those questions that we can answer well, even if someone wakes us up at two am. I suggest transcribing those responses from your head onto paper or perhaps better, into a centrally available document that your team can use even if you and your expertise have gone fishing for the day.

As an example, what are the common sales objections that you have to address? Those things go on the list. Objections aren’t always reasons why people don’t want your stuff, they’re more likely to be an entry point into a discussion that addresses why your product or service fits their needs better than the other options they’re looking at – or why yours don’t.

On a social channel, you’ll attract prospects and buyers. Encourage the formative signs of a helpful community. Be the cheerleader, recruiter and mentor. Your presence when the community is small will be critical to its growth.

Think about the buying process

In order to prepare a series of postcards or emails for your list (or a series of social posts), you need to think deeply about the evaluation and purchase process. If you were to write a guide to buying whatever you sell, and that guide was the only resource you could provide to someone looking to buy – what would it say? What would it talk about first? What process of evaluation and selection would it take the prospective buyer through? What questions would it ask to help them choose the standard item in the warehouse vs. the special order or custom-built item? What installation and delivery questions should someone ask? How do your processes for delivery, installation and service after the sale vary? How do they compare to the “industry norm”?

What happens after the sale?

After the sale, the buyer still has questions. The questions change to care and feeding, update, maintenance, cleaning, re-use, deployment, training, replacement, refills, etc. These same questions are ideal topics for both your prospect list and your social channels. Many times, they’ll help a prospect learn of an important facet of the purchase and ownership process that they hadn’t considered. This is an ideal use for video, even though all of the stages from prospect to seasoned user benefit from help that’s best suited to a specific media type. Video is great for how-to info, for example.

Whether the message gets to your prospects and clients via old school media, new school media, or both – the important thing is that it matters to them.

Photo by p_a_h

Leads : Like a friend who needs advice

Your list. Do you have one? List of what, you say? Fair question. Let’s step back a bit. I’m talking about leads, prospects… ie: interested parties.

Does every lead buy the first time they encounter your products and services? The late Chet Holmes always talked about three percent who are ready to buy “right now”. Your business might “meet” 100 people this month who haven’t encountered you before. Using Chet’s numbers, there’d be three who are ready to buy and 97 who aren’t. Yet.

Your prospects might be different than his were, but there’s a percentage that applies to your business and your prospects. You get to analyze your prospects and how long it takes them to work through the lead process and figure that out. There isn’t one number for you and every other business.

That said, if your numbers match Chet’s, then what are you doing with the other 97% of the people you meet? If they don’t match his, that’s OK. The same question remains… what are you doing with the rest of them?

If you know who they are and can reach out to them to educate them (ie: provide them with info to help them learn more about what they said they’re thinking about buying), then you have a list. If you can’t do that, then you don’t have a list.

“People hate being on a list”

You’ve probably heard that. Or said it. Or lived it. Actually, what people seem to hate is being on a bad list.

A bad list is one:

  • ..where everyone gets the same thing, every time they’re emailed, mailed and/or called – regardless of age, gender, income, marital status, history as a customer, or time as a prospect.
  • ..that gets emailed, mailed and/or called with hard sales pitches about things they haven’t shown an interest in. For example, if I stop in to look at a four wheel drive diesel pickup, I don’t expect you to bug me about the latest hybrid two-seater you received. The reverse is also true.
  • ..that’s all about them and rarely about you (the prospective buyer) & your needs. Generally speaking, we don’t care about your end of month sales quota, or your boat payment coming due.

Political campaigns are a good example of a bad list. You get…

  • Mailings whose message resonates only to already-decided voters. See above.
  • Mailings that are all about the candidate’s party and not one iota about the voter they are trying to convince.
  • Mailings that think they can get you to change your mind because someone is, or isn’t wearing a cowboy hat.

If you want an example of what it’s like to be on a bad list… register to vote. If your mailings treat prospects in a manner that’s even close to the way parties and PACs treat their mailing lists, it’s time to reboot.

A good list serves leads

“Lead” is a somewhat impersonal name for these folks – after all, they are real people who have shown an interest in what you do. Leads is just a word. Don’t let it distract you from the purpose of your list of them. Treating them as if they’re all the same is a bad idea.

Why didn’t the other 97% buy? Maybe they’re waiting to get paid. Maybe they need to complete a few other tasks before they can buy. Perhaps they’re starting to learn about something they know they need or want, but they’re far from ready to buy. Maybe they have to wait until their new budget year starts. They all have a reason (want or need) and each one has a timeline. Some are more urgent than others.

You probably know 100 (often taken for granted) things that’d help the 97 (or whatever) percentage of people who didn’t buy figure out what to buy and when. These are the people who, if treated intelligently and kindly, would benefit from being on a good list.

“What do I say to make my list good?”

Imagine that one of your friends decides they need to buy what you sell. What questions would you want them to have the answers to before they make a buying decision? How would you advise them as they navigate the learning & purchase process?

These are the things a good list says. A good list treats leads like a friend who needs advice.

Photo by ccampbell10

The Value of Trust

In personal relationships, trust is something we generally have a handle on. We know whether or not to trust a family member or friend (and how much) based on their behavior over time. In a business environment, things may not be that simple. Think about it… If you have employees, do you trust them? If you have people working under contract, do you trust them? If you work for someone else, whether you’re considered an employee, team member, associate, or staff member, do you feel as if the business owner (or your manager) trusts you? Likewise, if you’re an employee or working under contract, do you trust your manager / the business owner?

Brick by brick, we build trust over time, yet it can be lost in an instant. What creates that trust? Your pile of bricks grows as time passes based on your consistency, dependability and/or responsiveness. And what else?

What owners need to trust a team member

What do owners see in team members that provides the faith to trust them? Owners like to know you have their back. They’d like every employee to behave and think like an owner at some level. Note that I said BEHAVE and THINK like an owner.

The best employees think like an owner, even if their responsibility is limited to coffee machines, ice machines, and floors in your building. When you think like an owner, you want the machines to be cleaned and disinfected regularly so no one gets sick, even if they don’t get sick enough to take time off. Clean, puddle-free floors are safer than cluttered floors that occasionally have puddles like the one that your peer slipped and cracked their elbow on.

When you behave like an owner, you don’t walk past that puddle because you aren’t the one in charge of the floors. You mop it up before someone gets hurt.

What team members need to trust a business owner

Some owners work 80 hours a week. When owners think “behaving like an owner” means their employees should also work 80 hours a week, they aren’t really looking for people to behave like an owner.

Owners: What trust doesn’t mean

If you are thinking “I can’t trust my employees because…”

  • they don’t work as hard as I do.
  • they don’t think like an owner.
  • they don’t take ownership of their work.
  • I have to monitor everything they do.

Ask yourself if you worked as hard as the owner did in your last job. Rather than expecting them to be as vested as you (assuming you have everything on the line and everything to gain), consider your last gig as an employee. How’d you feel about it? What’d you like? What’d you dislike? Did you trust the owner? Did the owner train you to think like they did?

If your people don’t take ownership, do you encourage them to take responsibility and own their work? More importantly, do you reward them based on those actions? Do you “over-manage” them? Some might call it micro-management, but over-manage might be more descriptive.

MBWA (management by wandering around) isn’t micro-management. Training isn’t micro-management. Good hiring, middle managers, documented work processes and management systems take the place your innate need to “monitor everything they do”. It’s an adjustment as your company outgrows you – which it should do. Employees expect owners to focus on strategic work that prepares the company for its next challenge(r), not over-managing.

Employees: What trust doesn’t mean

If you are thinking “The owner doesn’t trust us because…”

  • they installed a security system, digital access keypads for some areas, etc.
  • they installed security cameras.
  • they ask us to have a peer confirm bank deposit before we head out the door with the bank bag.
  • they ask us to have a peer double check the shipping list before we close a box going out to our largest commercial customer.

… you aren’t thinking like an owner.

When you complain about these things, it sounds like you aren’t interested in protecting the company’s assets or reducing the company’s risk. The value of double checking deposits or shipments to an important customer is obvious. Mistakes happen. Security systems limit access to assets by those with no business need to access them. Increased risk increases costs. These systems impact insurance costs & provide evidence gathering capability that protects good employees from bad ones.

When a family member threatens their ex who works with you, your spouse or your kid, it’s the owner who worries about whether or not it’s safe to allow people to come to work. Before you doubt that, bear in mind that I’ve lived that situation and had those thoughts. You can’t install security cameras and harden your business overnight. You have to be “a bit more ready” when you can afford to be.

Put yourself in the other person’s place, no matter what your role.

Being ready for a new customer

In a sport, when a player isn’t ready when the play starts, bad things tend to happen. In some sports, a penalty. In others, the opposing team gains an advantage, sometimes big, sometimes a few points. In business, being ready when “the play starts” means you might get the business. Not being ready may mean you don’t get the sale. Sometimes this means a lot, sometimes a little. Worse yet, not being ready may mean you don’t get the customer. Not getting the customer is a critical failure. Few of us have a business where we can afford to miss out on customers. Some of us have businesses where if we miss out on that chance, we may never get another chance to sell that customer.

Being ready times lifetime customer value

Never having a chance to sell to the customer you missed can be costly. Any car dealer worth their salt can tell you how often (on average) they see a repeat customer. Do the math, and you’ll know how many cars they can sell that person’s family over a lifetime – assuming they don’t mess up the relationship. Factor in the relationship habit that often creates in children, referrals to friends and referrals to other family members and before long, you can see that the value of establishing that first relationship can be sizable. The same can be said for real estate, legal and financial assistance, among others. A relationship created by being ready when a new customer steps into your world as a real estate agent, attorney, lawyer or similar can result in a lifetime of steady, lucrative business, despite having the possibility of having years pass between transactions. Again, the family and friends referrals can mount up in value.. if you’re ready.

However, this type of substantial lifetime customer value creation isn’t limited to big ticket businesses. Retail, restaurants and many other businesses benefit from long-term relationships created by that first transaction or event… if you’re ready.

What does not being ready look like?

Not being ready comes in many shapes, colors & sizes. Are your people trained for the job you sent them to perform? Do they have the tools they need? Do they have the training to do that work? Do they have the materials needed? This includes brochures, business cards, safety gear, proper clothing, etc. These may seem like obvious questions, until if you ask your customers whether or not the people they work with seem prepared. I suspect you will find that they encounter ill-prepared staffers more often than you would like. Ask them if they encounter unprepared people at other businesses – without naming the business. This eliminates their desire to avoid embarrassing someone on your team, but provides examples you can use to check on your own team’s state of readiness.

Training your team is part of being ready

Making sure your team is trained is critical to making sure they’re ready for the opportunities they encounter. One of the areas I often see untrained team members is in front line positions that senior team members don’t want to staff. A good example is a real estate open house on a weekend. The listing agent can’t be in more than one place at a time when they have multiple houses open simultaneously, so the team members they book to staff the other homes is critical. If you’re the listing agent sending untrained or barely-trained people “into harm’s way”, consider the possible cost. If you send an ill-prepared team member to staff an open house, their lack of preparedness and/or tendency to act more like a house sitter and less like you can be costly. Will they collect leads? Will they follow visitors around the house like a new puppy? Will they have the home info learned well enough to answer questions without having to read the spec sheet for visitors? Make sure they have a process to follow.

A similar situation arises when a restaurant’s wait staff comes to the table not having tasted the food, wine, and other things their restaurant serves. While this might seem surprising, it happens frequently. Part of training your team is tasting the things you want them to sell. Recommendations from your staff matter.

Think about your encounters over the last week. Were they ready to serve you? How did their level of preparation make you feel about that business?

Photo by Leo Hidalgo (@yompyz)

Being prepared for employee turnover

There’s an old saying that you’ve probably heard about employee training. “What if I pay to train these people and they leave?”, the short-sighted one asks. “What if you don’t train them and they stay?”, responds the sage. One of the most expensive activities your business can experience is employee turnover. When employees leave, a piece of the company leaves with them. Their knowledge of work processes, clientele, things they do without thinking due to “muscle memory” and so on. Then there is the act of replacing them.

Hire too fast and you risk getting a culture mismatch, someone with the wrong work habits and/or someone who can’t step into the role and be reasonably productive. Sometimes you might feel “forced” to hire solely based on culture fit, which means you’ll have to give them time to grow into the job. Even when you find an experienced person who can step into the role, the expense is substantial. While working that process, there’s work that isn’t getting done, isn’t getting done as well or as quickly, or it’s getting done by someone who is already doing their fair share. The process of properly finding, vetting and eventually hiring a replacement for a lost team member is expensive when done right. When done wrong, the cost can skyrocket.

Sometimes, a place is so toxic for one reason or another that it is literally a revolving door. A couple of years ago, I visited a logistics warehouse that was losing 100% of their workforce every 30 days. Read that again and consider how a situation like that would impact a business. They weren’t losing the warehouse managers, but they were having to replace the entire staff every 30 days for positions actually doing the “real work” in this warehouse – that is, moving pallets around, driving fork lifts, dealing with the related paperwork and trucks. None of the people there on June 1st were there on May 1st. It was impressive that they managed to keep the place operating at all, particularly without sharply increased injuries. The investment in interviewing, on-boarding and training time had to be unbelievable.

Imagine being in that situation. It’s difficult to process the pain this would cause simply dealing with it one time, much less having to deal with it month after month.

Being realistic

While that warehouse was a real situation, it’s not normal. The turnover you experience is troubling enough. You hate to see it happen, even if you’re happy for the opportunity your quality people found. Even so, they were accomplishing something at your business, leaving you with a hole to fill. Do you really know everything they do? Do your people really realize everything they do? In some roles, it isn’t unusual to find work that gets done intermittently that can be forgotten. What work at your business is undocumented?

Even if someone doesn’t leave, they might get sick for a week. They might have to travel out of the country for two weeks. They might go fishing in the backcountry and spend a week in places with no cell coverage. How will your business survive that week? In my experience, a company can easily take a punch that only affects them for a week. Where you get into trouble is losing someone permanently, or even for a month. A parent gets sick, or someone has to have a knee replacement. If this happened to someone at your place, how would it affect production? Day to day operations? Management? If you had to replace your administrative person (assuming you have only one) for a month, would the replacement be able to step in and find documented processes and a list of all the things that must be done each week of the month?

Now extend that to your highly skilled people. Is their work documented? I know, I know. It seems like busy work… until you lose one of them. Or two. Or three. The timing of these things never seems to be kind even when it isn’t malevolent.

Extend that thought to your key employees.

Finally, there’s you. What doesn’t happen if you disappear for a month? Who makes sure people get paid? Who can sign checks and manage company funds? What else doesn’t happen? You get the idea.

Being prepared for employee turnover isn’t solely about being ready to deal with losing employees. It’s about building resilience for the situations that life brings.

Photo by stu_spivack

Consistency vs. inconsistency

Consistent behavior, delivered consistently, is looked upon by your clients as a good thing. Even if your consistent behavior is patently customer antagonistic (yes – such companies do exist), at the least, the customers who continue to tolerate such behavior will know what to expect from you. On the other hand, inconsistent behavior consistently drives customers away. Think about your favorite restaurant. Why is it your favorite? Is it because the food is sometimes hot, sometimes cold and sometimes just right? Is it because the service is sometimes friendly, sometimes unfriendly? At your favorite hardware store, is the staff helpful on some visits and inane / incompetent / ambivalent during other visits?

Why does consistency matter?

Customers like a predictable outcome. They provide comfort when customers aren’t comfortable. This is particularly common when they are out of their element – such as during travel to an unfamiliar place. You’ve been flying all day, you’re tired, and you’re famished. You have a big day tomorrow. You may want some comfort food, but you also want a high level of assurance that you aren’t going to end a long travel day with a bad meal or an disconcerting experience.

One of the primary reasons that franchises do well (and that customers revisit them) is that they have an operations and training program that’s consistent across all locations. This includes a common and frequently updated operations manual that documents each job process in the business. However boring they may seem, you can generally depend on the consistency of behavior, service and product whether you’re visiting a franchise location in Springfield Illinois, Springfield Missouri, or Springfield Georgia. Franchises don’t have sole rights to having documented operations processes or a consistent training regimen for their teams. Your small business can create and use those things as well.

Over the past 20 years, there are two places where I have seen the most obvious differences in these areas:

  • the employee on-boarding process after a new hire
  • process documentation for day to day jobs.

Interestingly, these are connected, since one of the first things a new hire often encounters is a lack of process documentation for a job they’re expected to do. This doesn’t mean they don’t receive training, but without a documented process, the training they receive will be inconsistent from trainer to trainer. Each employee is likely to perform the task with slight differences and train differently as well. One of the best things about documenting a process is the discovery of nuance and surprises that occur when producing the documentation. The process being documented rarely manages to fail to produce something that the person documenting it will not be told by anyone who performs the task. There will be dependencies on materials, staff and/or timing. There will be gotchas, both known to management and most likely unknown as well.

Left undocumented, these differences in business process performance and execution become dependent on the attitude, experience and wherewithal of the staffer performing them. Consider your business. Do processes exist in your business that, when performed differently, can substantially alter customer experience? Does that experience depend on performance trifecta of attitude, experience and wherewithal of the staffer? I suspect it does. What tools or systems (even a checklist counts as a “system”) do you use to assure that quality standards are consistently achieved by your staff?

These things don’t have to be perfect on day one. Start small and implement incremental improvement, both to your processes and the documentation and training intended to improve them.

“Without a leader, there are no standards. Without standards, there is no consistency.” – Chef Gordon Ramsey

Remaining: On-boarding

One of the single biggest differences between most small businesses and high-performing businesses is their new employee on-boarding process. One of the best assets for your on-boarding program is the process documentation discussed above. While it shouldn’t be the only component of on-boarding, it’s a critical one. On-boarding needs to include delivery and configuration of work equipment, internal IT systems, mundane work space gear like phones and staplers, facility familiarization, emergency training, process training, culture (which should have been part of hiring), and how to deal with various human resource-related functions. You can probably think of others. If you’ve ever held a job working for someone else, think back. What made joining a new company stand out at the best companies? What made it regrettable at the worst of them?

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