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
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
Employees Hiring Leadership Management

Where to find tech candidates from underrepresented groups

Earlier this week, someone asked on a local Slack group about where they could find a more diverse set of candidates for a tech job opening vs. what they might find at the standard “big” job sites (Indeed, Monster, etc). The job sounds ideal. Good company, almost everyone working remote, Kubernetes expertise needed (ie: not stale technology).

I reworded the question a little and passed it along on Twitter. The response was pretty decent, so I thought I’d document it here in case readers have a similar desire to expand their reach when seeking out candidates. The responses below are in the order I received them and link to the author’s tweet in case you have questions, comments, etc. As I receive additional replies, I’ll add them here.

Note: A reader pointed out that there is a significant recruiter fee to place a job ad on techladies, so be a good consumer and read the fine print as the reader did.

Update: 2019-08-07: An AWS-related grant passed by me, so here’s the details: https://reinvent.awsevents.com/community/we_power_tech_grant/

Categories
Employees Hiring Sales

Been ghosted or simply ignored?

Being ghosted describes a conversation where one of the participants simply stops communicating without saying “Bye”, etc. They simply go silent, or disappear. Amazingly, the place it’s easiest to find is during job hunting (or hunting for someone to fill a position).

Back in the age of the dinosaur (or at least the fax machine), it was common courtesy to tell a Human Resources person or recruiter that you were no longer interested in their position. Even if this happened by email, you did it. If they treated you well during the process, you might even tell them why you’re heading another direction.

Likewise, it was also common courtesy for a recruiter or Human Resources person to tell all their candidates that their position had either been filled or they’d closed the position for some other reason.

When a job candidate decides they don’t want or need your open position, many simply stop communicating with you. The same behavior has become common for recruiters and HR people when they lose interest in a candidate, fill a position, or decide not to hire. The ghosted party hears “radio silence“.

Rude, inconsiderate, selfish, stupid, etc.

I find this simply remarkable, not to mention rude, inconsiderate, selfish, stupid, lacking in vision … you get the idea.

You’ll hear excuses from both groups including these:

We don’t have time to connect with each candidate to tell them the position is filled.

I don’t have time to contact each recruiter / company to tell them I’ve taken another position or have lost interest in their opening.

Horse biscuits. Weak, lazy, excuses.

When ghosting is a good idea

Here’s where it might be a good idea for a recruiter / HR person to ghost someone:

If you never want to have a conversation with that candidate ever again, nor a business they might someday own, nor with anyone they know.

Why? Because many of them are going to tell all of their family, peers, and friends that they were ghosted – and who did it. You can presume that the reputation of your recruiting firm or your company are going to be stained by this behavior. In the meantime, unplug the resume scanner and start working with candidates like a real person – if you want to hire real people rather than the presentation version of someone.

Here’s where it might be a good idea to ghost a recruiter or HR person:

Never.

Even if they did things during the selection process that were illegal or stupid (ie: “Are you and your spouse planning to start a family?”), wave good bye. If you feel particularly gracious, tell them why. Remember, the person you’re dealing with might be forced to perform in that way. While it doesn’t mean it’s right, they may need that job for now. You never know where your paths might cross again in the future.

In the best of situations, if you explain why you don’t feel the position is a fit, at least they’ll know. Depending on what you tell them, you may find that they have another opening that makes more sense.

Why do they ghost you?

Sometimes, we get ghosted even if we didn’t seem to do anything wrong – or so we thought.

Does someone call & leave a message? Call them back. If you email them because you don’t like to talk on the phone – you’re asking to be ghosted.

Did they email to ask a question about your product? Email them a reply that fits their question. If you call them, “handwave” their question, then dive into your standard pitch, expect to be ghosted.

Solution: Return the communication using the medium they used unless they specifically ask for something different.

People do sometimes email or text and ask you to call. Maybe they remembered they want to talk to you and don’t want to forget to ask for a call, but can’t talk right then. They could be sitting at a long stop light and suddenly realize they need what you sell (so they quickly send a text before the light changes, asking you to call sometime).

When you first connect with a contact, ask them what their preferred method of communication is. If it’s by phone or text, ask them the best time of day. You want to ask for a phone appointment during that time, not when you feel like it, or when your tickler went off.

Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash

Categories
Employees Management

Accountability starts with you

Are you holding your team members accountable for their work based on key performance indicators (KPIs), key process areas (KPAs), and/or key result areas (KRAs)?. It’s common for firms to weave these metrics into job descriptions so that each employee is clear that “hitting their numbers” is central to meeting the progress expectations of a particular role.

All the numbers are connected

If marketing hits their numbers, they’re generating at least the minimum number of leads that sales needs to maintain their monthly sales quantity. This assumes that they have sufficient advertising budget, the right people in “skill positions”, and the company’s chosen market is large enough to consistently produce those leads month in and month out (a KPI for upper management?). Sales has to hit their number using the leads marketing provided to them so that the company’s finance team can make its monthly goals. At the least, this means making payroll, paying the bills, retaining some earnings for future purchases, and hopefully generating some profit.

You need manufacturing (whatever that means for you) to hit their numbers so that the delivery promises made by the sales team (hopefully in cooperation with manufacturing) can be met so that delivery / deployment / installation dates are achieved. Customers don’t like missed deadlines, often because they’ve made their commitments to their customers based on delivery dates you promised them.

Your customer service / support team has to meet response time and ticket closure numbers so that customers aren’t waiting too long for the help they need. A customer who is dissatisfied with service and support might decide to hold your invoice for an extra week, or month. That impacts your financial team’s numbers.

If anyone misses their numbers, it can impact other teams and make it difficult (if not impossible) for them to hit their numbers. That makes for a not so awesome management meeting between team leaders. Do you have a KPI for finger pointing? Is your leadership solid enough to prevent that train wreck?

What do the numbers mean?

Avoiding that train wreck is critical to the morale and productivity of your team. Poorly chosen numbers, or numbers that don’t reflect your culture and values are eventually going to create trouble.

If your KPIs (etc) are chosen well and carefully explained to your team members, they will reflect the desired output and behavior of your team members. Collectively, the numbers reflect a team effort to achieve suitable progress.

“Chosen well” is critical. It’s not terribly difficult to pick a number that seems to identify a desired level of performance, only to find that someone has abandoned a cultural expectation in order to hit their number.

These numbers are intended to make it easy for your team to understand the most important parts of their role and to know what level of productivity is needed to support the company’s needs – ultimately the needs of another department or team. They also need to make sense.

Quality matters

A KPI of “Make 50 sales prospecting calls a day” might seem reasonable, but does it make sense? 50 calls in an eight hour day requires making six calls per hour all day, every day (plus two more). Does your marketing team produce enough leads to satisfy this need each month? 20 business days a month means marketing has to generate 1000 new leads every month per salesperson. Alternatively, your sales team has to do their own lead generation (Do they have the tools for that? Do they know how to use them effectively?)

Averaging 6.25 calls per hour means that your sales team averages no more than nine minutes and 36 seconds learning about each prospect during each call. Time consumed by travel, meetings, prospecting, follow ups, trade shows, etc might shrink those sales calls further.

None of this speaks to quality. If hitting numbers is all that matters, 50 calls is 50 calls, no matter how qualified the lead. The quality of leads & sales calls will likely decline as the deadline approaches. The It’s tough to create a relationship and assess a prospect’s needs in under 10 minutes. Using that time on a poor lead is doubly costly.

Now imagine that you’re expected to make 100 sales calls a day, because “that’s what ‘real’ salespeople do”. What will suffer?

Unfortunate performance measurement choices can negatively impact any department. Be sure the numbers you ask your team to hit make sense holistically for the entire business. Accountability for that starts with you.

Categories
Employees Management

Taking initiative… is it risky?

Remember the first time you convinced your kid to jump into the pool? Even though they trust you in a litany of other ways, you might have had to coax, sell, and maybe even coerce them to jump off the side into your arms. The child probably had thoughts like “What if mom or dad doesn’t catch me?“, “What if I go to the bottom?“, and “Everyone will make fun of me if I mess this up“, even if they would, you wouldn’t and they wouldn’t. Sometimes it took a lot of convincing to get them to make that leap. Maybe they were scared, but it’s likely they were more scared of the unknown outcomes they’d dreamed up, or the ones they hadn’t even thought of. The first time they take that leap, they’re simply unsure, despite your assurances that it’ll all be OK. They’ve probably never seen you pretend to miss their brother when he jumps into the pool – even if that’s a game you and the brother actively engage in.

Employees have similar fears, but they learn differently. They learn from the behaviors they see over time and from stories they’ve heard in the past. Perhaps even from stories told during on-boarding and training.

Scared to take initiative?

In some companies, showing initiative is lauded. However, if management says “We love when our teams take initiative!“” but only “show the love” when the initiative succeeds, fewer will risk taking initiative. People take initiative only when they know it’s safe to do so. I don’t mean safe in a “I can’t stand up for myself” way. We’re talking about job security.

If your team members have the tiniest inkling that taking initiative might cost them their job, many will avoid doing so. You might think employees who worry about their job security are snowflakes, wimps, etc. You might never have been called on the carpet for taking initiative and failing. You may never have known the fear of losing a job. Maybe you never had a manager that treated you poorly. Maybe you never had a job and always worked for yourself. What’s the employees’ perspective?

It’s possible your employees need their job so badly that they aren’t willing to risk losing it. Given that 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, it’s clear lots of people can’t afford to lose their jobs. All of us probably know at least one person in that situation, and it’s clear that there are far more in that mode than we realize.

What does failure feel like?

How are failures are handled at your company? Do team members get “beat up” verbally, privately or publicly? Are snide comments made in group settings, like “guess we’ll never trust Sharon again“, even if said jokingly? Is the joke truly a joke, or is there some real meaning to those words? People notice when promotions (etc) go to people who perform steadily but never take initiative. If the comfort zone is where promotions & raises come from, would your people leave theirs?

If you want your folks to take initiative, show it. Make it clear who has this sort of leeway (and how much), whether they are “front line” staff members or executives. You may think your execs don’t worry about job security, but some almost certainly do as exec jobs are harder to find. Make sure they know the boundaries (or that there aren’t any) in areas where you want to see initiative taken. Give them examples of successes and failures. Show them how these efforts are handled, win or lose.

Be sure that failed efforts get attention in a way that won’t cause others to pull back on taking initiative. Thank those who stepped out and stepped up, regardless of outcome. Initiative taken with the intent of helping the company is a positive thing. This isn’t a participation trophy. It’s reminding everyone that taking initiative in the context of their roles is a desirable behavior, whether attempts succeed or fail.

After initiative is taken, deconstruct what happened. Let the team help diagnose it and suggest improvements. The failure discussion shouldn’t be about the person, it should be about the work & how to give initiative a better chance next time. Share the lessons learned from the wins *and* the losses so the next initiative has a better chance of success.

Photo by Lavi Perchik on Unsplash

Categories
Community Employees Entrepreneurs

Why Business is Personal

14 years ago when this blog got the name “Business is Personal”, you’d occasionally hear “It’s not personal, it’s just business.” I found the idea repulsive, transactional, and most importantly – the opposite of everything I’d been taught. The phrase later became part of pop culture thanks to a TV show. I even had a business partner say this to me back in 2006. Because I never believed it wasn’t personal, it marked a turning point in that business relationship – which soon ended. “Business is Personal” was true when “it’s just business” was said to me in 2006 and it’s still true today, perhaps more than ever.

Sales and marketing is personal

The marketing messages that touch us and do some part to convince us to make a purchase are effective because they touch us. I recently heard of a study of a man who had an operable brain tumor. When the tumor was removed, it required removal (or damaged) a part of the brain that controls emotion. There was speculation that he would be more capable of making decisions than most people, since emotion would no longer cloud his decision making. It turned out quite differently. Without the ability to use emotion, he was unable to make even the simplest of decisions. Unable to decide between salt & pepper, or between red wine & white, he required extensive care, rather than becoming a highly logical decision-making juggernaut.

To excel at sales, we must become experts at listening to prospects. We must “get inside the head” of people to learn what motivates them, how they are thinking, and often, what their deepest wants and needs are. My dad used to tell me to “be a good listener”, a phrase which changed meaning from decade to decade. Today, “listen to understand, rather than to respond” has become the catch phrase of many who are figuring out that listening to respond completely misses the point.

We’ve all been subjected to a salesperson who is focused on their quota, or on their sales process, rather than on our wants and needs. It’s frustrating. Transactional. Many avoid businesses with this type of sales team. Eventually, some businesses figured it out and started using non-commissioned salespeople. Despite that, I still get calls and meet salespeople who start the conversation about their quota and the need to close a deal by some irrelevant date.

The sales our companies make are very personal. They allow us to hire people who support their families, which support schools, charities and entire communities. Those sales fund salaries that are spent at other local businesses, that fund infrastructure and schools, and allow our employees to get their kids into schools, sports, outdoor activities and more. In communities where a business is a substantial employer, the impact of that business ripples across the economy of the entire community.

Employment is personal

For many people, their job or their chosen field of work is a part of their identity. It may be what motivated them to go to college or trade school. It might be what got them to spend Gladwell’s perhaps-discredited 10000 hours to achieve mastery, and/or to seek out the mentor who would teach them the ropes. For some it’s a bit bigger piece. Ever spoken with someone who’s unemployed? Would you even begin to tell them that experience isn’t deeply personal? For some, it digs at them to their core and they might never forget it. It might even drive decisions they make for the rest of their lives, simply because they never want to be in that situation again. “It’s just business” doesn’t begin to describe it.

It’s personal when you get the job you’ve worked years to be qualified for. When you get the job of your dreams, it’s personal. It’s personal to take out massive student loans while becoming a doctor, lawyer, engineer, teacher, etc. When someone tells you that you aren’t good enough at a job and fires you, it’s personal. It’s personal when you come home and explain to your family that you were laid off or fired. When you have one of the greatest business successes of your life, it’s personal. If you have to humble yourself in front of friends, peers, and the people you love because you were fired, it’s personal. When tough times threaten the faith they put in you and tarnish the promises you’ve made to them… it’s personal.

Ownership is personal

That business you built from scratch, the one that almost now one knows how much time, mental strain, money and work you invested in, it’s personal to you. The sacrifices you made, the jobs and financial opportunities you gave up to build your dream, they’re personal too. The dream is personal. It pushes you to work, sacrifice, get your life out of balance, struggle to get it back in balance, only to work harder the following month to keep it that way. Your business is personal to you, no matter how it feels or appears to someone else.

You chose who you wanted to be a hero to. It was a personal choice. There’s probably a reason for it. I think back to how I advise people to take care of their customers, and it surely goes back to watching my grandmother make butter and riding around in my granddaddy’s truck to deliver eggs, milk, butter, and chickens. Even though the world had all those things at the corner grocery store, people paid still paid them to deliver these items to their door. My grandmother’s butter wasn’t simply a round of butter. She milked the cows. She churned the butter. She hand-formed the rounds and then personalized them with a design she hand embossed on the top with a wooden spatula that someone had carved for her.

How is your craft any different from that? How is it “just business”? Please.

For some, it’s who they are

Like it or not, what we do and how we earn a living is quite personal to most of us. Even if you’ve arrived at a point where “it’s what I do, it’s not who I am“, the fact that you had to do some introspection to get to that point is evidence that your business is personal. It doesn’t matter what you do. If you deliver firewood that you carefully chose, cut and had the patience to season before selling it, do you toss it over the fence and leave the pile for the owner? Or do you neatly stack it where they asked and cover it with a tarp so it’s dry and ready to warm their home? If you do the latter, is it really “just business”?

Taking your business personally doesn’t mean you’re emotionally fragile. It doesn’t mean you hate your competitors, or that you’re angry at someone who decides not to buy your product. It means your customers’ success is important to you. It means the work is important to you. How you help them achieve success, how you deliver the work, how you care for them over the years. These things tell people what kind of person you are. The people you rescue and the effort necessary to rescue them is important to you – no matter what form that rescue takes. If it’s “just business”, it shows. If it’s “just business”, you’re just a vendor that can be replaced by the next lower priced option. There will always be a vendor that’s cheaper – and it shows. There will always be someone who takes their work personally. That shows too.

If your business is personal to you, that’s OK. It’s your choice. Don’t let someone else take that away from you.

Photo by Benjamin Suter on Unsplash

Categories
Employee Training Employees Management

Do they know they work for an airline?

A recent graduation had both sets of grandparents, an aunt, and an uncle flying from the Midwest into two different airports, converging on Spokane. On the morning of my mother’s flight through Dallas, a thunderstorm with a tornado-like attitude stretched from Austin to Missouri. My mother’s flight to Dallas took a circuitous path around New Orleans, past Houston, into Austin. After an hour in Austin, her flight left for Dallas and landed there too late to allow her to catch her connecting flight to Missoula. A re-route through Seattle changed her arrival in Missoula from 11am to midnight, making a 22 hour travel day. Her baggage was a different story.

We all have baggage

After all that, Mom’s bag didn’t make it to Missoula. Given that her rerouted flight terminated on a different airline & was booked to Kalispell by the original airline (later corrected by Alaska in Seattle), it wasn’t surprising.

I called Alaska baggage in Seattle the next morning. The data said the bag was in Missoula the night before, but that didn’t seem right. Even so, it required a visit to the airport – and that’s where the magic started.

Shawna (an Alaska gate agent) in Missoula took my details & filed a claim. She said the bag was en-route to Kalispell. Shawna sent instructions to return the bag to Seattle on the next flight, then forward it to Spokane since we were heading there to meet the rest of the family. Then Shawna took the first of several unexpected steps. She gave me her direct number in Missoula, telling me she’d be off in a few hours but someone else (whose name I forget) would help me if I called after she left for the day. She also wrote them a note to make sure they checked on the bag. Then she gave me the direct number for her peer in Spokane’s Alaska baggage office and the direct number for the Seattle office, just in case.

Expectations

My expectations were mixed. I’d had re-routed luggage before. Eventually, it finds me. The process is frustrating until the bag arrives. This was different. About noon, my phone rang. Trevor (Alaska baggage) said the bag was en-route to Spokane. He asked if I wanted to pick it up or have it delivered. He took my delivery address and said “Call me if it doesn’t arrive by seven” then he texted me an additional number as a fall back.

About six pm, I received a call from Alaska’s Spokane baggage office. The woman said the bag was out for delivery and would be delivered soon. About 15 minutes later, it arrived.

My bag delivery expectations were met. Despite having flown a good bit, I’ve never lost a bag. Today, a bag’s barcode is scanned so often that it would take odd circumstances to make one disappear without a trace.

My expectations of the people were a different story. I had never experienced such attention to detail and effort to make sure I always had a local phone number and a name to ask for when tracking down a bag. I was never on hold where “my call was important yet they were experiencing unexpectedly high call volumes” repeated incessantly. Instead, my calls were answered in a ring or two & always handled well.

Uncle!

The uncle arrived at midnight on the evening of the arrival of my mom’s bag. He came in on a different airline (not Alaska) but his bag didn’t. He spent much of the next day on hold with his airline’s central baggage office. They didn’t seem to know where his bag was or when it’d arrive. After dinner, I suggested he call Alaska’s Spokane baggage office. What could it hurt? He was skeptical, but called them anyway and, unlike my experience, had to leave a message.

Five minutes later, he received a return call from Alaska baggage. Even though his airline was unsure where his bag was, the woman said she had his bag. He could come pick it up or she would have it delivered. He’d have clean clothes for graduation in the morning.

I don’t know what Alaska does differently, but their people don’t seem to know they work for an airline. Does your team act like they work in your industry, or do they provide service to a higher standard?

PS: the Monday after all this happened, Mom received a discount code for a future flight “for her trouble”.

Photo by Calle Macarone on Unsplash

Categories
Employees Management

Knowledge loss – The pain of brain drain

I had a conversation about “brain drain” with an old friend this week. “Brain drain” is the loss of business-specific and/or industry-specific knowledge suffered due to employee attrition. When experienced people leave a company, they take their brains with them – including all their knowledge and experience. Losing specialized knowledge can be painful even when someone isn’t moving to a competitor or starting a competitive firm.

My friend’s customers tend to be large, with thousands of employees. He has a tool for collecting data about the workflow, business structures, and processes in these organizations. The data becomes a logical representation of the business – a model. That model (database) describes the company’s jobs, work, roles, “work products”, etc. It’ll eventually help you identify connections between those components of the company. Collecting the data is a significant effort, but this is understandable. Large, complex organizations are extremely difficult to fix, much less keep running on their own. Having a reference for what the company does, how it does those things, and how it communicates is essential. A model or reference allows you to create consistency. It identifies the systems and tools will help the company improve their performance. It serves as a lens that brings the company’s inner machinery into focus. The effort and payoff both grow as the organization size increases. This effort (and it’s price) also mean it’s something a small business would almost never do. 

Small business brain drain – a foregone conclusion?

Brain drain can create nightmares for small businesses as well, but you don’t need massive processes and expensive tools to tackle it. How do you protect yourself from this? Use the same type of process, without the expense.

Identify the roles your team has. In a small business, people tend to wear multiple hats. Each one of those is a role. If you’re small, you might have someone who fills five roles during their work week. What skills and training will a future new hire need to successfully perform this role? What processes and tools will be involved? Is experience and/or training required? Someday you might be big enough to make that role require a full time person. For the processes they must perform in that role, is there a checklist? Is there a form?

Experience hides

Lots of knowledge is buried in undocumented business processes & related timelines. When finally documented, you’ll find innate knowledge that’s been seared into the team from unknown people or situations. There will be “we do it this way but I don’t recall why”. You’ll learn about long-held (possibly valid) assumptions passed down among team members that no one’s documented. Information hides inside experienced people who for years have done their job, refined processes, and trained a new co-workers. Many lessons go undocumented, despite being learned over many years of work. They came from the impact of many small refinements over time, thanks to lessons they learned along the way. This “what and how but not why” is unintentionally hidden from management, carefully sequestered in unwritten job descriptions.

We hide this knowledge in forms and their workflow. It hides in unwritten, but known expectations, and in undocumented metrics that someone here probably understands. Sometimes there’s data available, sometimes there isn’t. Some of this data is never used because we didn’t have the time, tools, or desire to learn from it. Much of this data is documentation of what we and our team members do every day.

Once you identify each role, follow the paper trail in your business. It’ll tell a story. Follow the data. Ask why of your data, your forms, your processes, and your people. Document the answers, the reasons, the surprises, and the gaps. This information has real value, so keep it up to date.

What the hurt looks like

If an experienced team member retires, quits, spends a week in the hospital, or takes a leave to care for a family member this month, how will you…

  • Get their work done.
  • Recover the knowledge of what they did and knew not to do.
  • Meet the deadlines they own.
  • Maintain their contacts/relationships inside/outside the company.
  • Deal with vendors & internal/external customers who are suddenly not being attended to / hassled appropriately / held accountable / cared for / paid / billed, etc.

Someone will leave sooner than you expect or hope. Get ready.

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Categories
Employees Management Small Business

Retiring business owners

I consistently meet business owners who are about to retire, considering retirement, just retired, or are somewhere between those places.
I suspect this happens because I’m on the north side of 50. No matter the reason for these encounters, I wish retiring business owners planned a bit more for the run up to retirement. They tend to have the personal side of things handled. On the business side, my experience is that the typical retiring business owner plans to either close the business down, pass it to family, or find a buyer when they decide it’s retirement time. In some cases, there isn’t a lot of advance thought into the approach to this possibly massive change in the business.

You might be thinking that you don’t necessarily care about likely changes that can occur after the sale – no matter their nature. Thing is, buyers do care. Buyers write a check or get a loan for a presumably large sum of money. Getting a good return on that investment is always on their mind.

Employees also care about the changes that can come with a buyout. Things that create concerns among new owners are staff morale, the staff’s surprise to find that there’s a new owner, the staff’s concerns about the viability of the business, etc. “Why’d they sell it?” “Are we going to lose our jobs?” “What about the redundant positions between the two companies?” “Will there be staff cuts?” As a retiring business owner, your mind is elsewhere. This may seem like it isn’t worth worrying about. Even so, these concerns are quite normal. Think back to the days when you were an employee.

Employees and changes

Employees always have concerns when a business changes hands. It’s not hard to find stories broken promises made when a large business is bought by a new owner or merged with another. Everything is champagne & roses at the press conference in an effort to keep everyone calm & avoid disrupting the business. Employees aren’t dumb. They’ve seen friends & family deal with these situations. They’ll be understandably concerned that they’re in for the same. If you don’t have experience with this, ask around. I doubt it’ll be hard to find someone who’s had a bad experience with this. Anyone from Columbia Falls can explain it.

Morale is always a concern. New owners bring a new culture to the business. The change may or may not be positive. If your staff doesn’t have to worry about that once the sale is announced, they’ll be less distracted & concerned. They’re less likely to be involved in gossip about what might / might not happen with the “mysterious” new owner. This may seem silly to worry about, but people work for you for a reason & money isn’t all of it.

If you’re nearing retirement age, your team has already wondered what you’re doing with the business at retirement. They just haven’t asked you. You might think it’s none of their business, but they often ARE your business.

Before finding a buyer

Finding a buyer sometimes happens quickly. For some, it can take years, which can be excruciating to a wanna-be retiring business owner. There are so many dependencies. Sometimes it comes down to luck. Someone happens to know someone who is ready to buy and things simply happen to match up.

Make sure your business is truly ready to be sold. That means it’s ready to buy, take over, and run. Processes are documented. Job descriptions not only exist, but they’re up to date. Accounting is clean and tightened up. Marketing pipelines are reasonably consistent. Sales conversion is predictable. Supply lines and vendor relationships are solid.

Make sure there are as few “bodies” as possible. When I say “bodies”, I mean “bad things I’m going to find if I dig enough”. You might have heard this phrased as “I’ve been here long enough to know where all the bodies are buried.” It’s a perhaps roughly toned way of saying that you know the good & the bad of a business. The strengths, sure. But also the weaknesses that few know, much less talk about.

The fewer bodies that exist at “Hey, we’re for sale” time, the better. Most prospects won’t see them. The truly interested? They’re exactly the ones who will dig deep enough to find them – the last ones you want to give a reason to walk away.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash