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Not on my watch!

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Most everyone I’ve talked to who really cares about their work has that one thing that brings meaning, context and (as my kids used to say) “give-a-care” to the work they do.

You might have heard it described as “Not on my watch”, a reference to pulling watch duty on naval ships.

The best way I’ve heard it described is this:

What do you feel strongly enough about to say “That isn’t going to happen while I’m here.”

Whether you own the place or are working for the weekend, it’s that thing you just won’t rest about if it isn’t done right. It might be that thing you first notice when you visit someone’s home or business.

Are any of your employees working jobs that have little to do with their one thing? If so, they may be doing their assigned work while watching in frustration as the work involving their “one thing” is done at a level of quality or expertise that’s below their expectations.

Sometimes their response will be to take another job – one that leverages their one thing. Sometimes their response will be to take ownership.

Own it

You may see this when someone takes ownership of some part of your company – without being asked. It might be all or part of a process, a product’s quality or craftsmanship, a customer or a customer group. They take ownership by making the quality of that area their responsibility, perhaps going beyond your company’s standards. It’ll often happen without them being asked.

If you have employees, have you asked them (or put them in charge of) their “one thing”? If not, the signals will be there if they’re interested. They’ll make suggestions – often good ones – about how something is done. They may volunteer to help on projects that require expertise in their one thing.

If your company has people who seem less motivated than they should be, ask them if they’re doing their ideal work for you. If they could do any job in the company, is the one they’re doing the one they’d choose? If not, a pilot project can show you if they’re qualified to do that work.

If the pilot works out, you might find yourself with a newly motivated employee who really cares about the work they’re doing. New blood has a way of asking questions about things that’ve been forgotten, fallen in the cracks or weren’t considered previously – all because that new staffer (even if they’re simply new to that job) cares about that part of the business because it’s their “one thing”.

In the shadows

You may have departments within your company doing their own thing because they can’t get that work done any other way – at least not to their satisfaction and/or within the timeframe they need.

At a recent #StartupWeekend, I spoke on this topic with people from several different business sectors ranging from retail to light manufacturing. Each of them knew of a department within their company that had a “Shadow IT” group.

“Shadow IT” is a small departmental group (or a person) building technology solutions for themselves that they couldn’t get from their company’s IT (Information Technology) group.

One person from a large national retailer (not *that* one) is doing their own thing because they felt it was the only way to get the solutions they needed. Rather than wait or do without, they built it themselves.

This isn’t unusual – but it’s a sign of someone’s “one thing”.

That person doing the Shadow IT work might be the person who needs to take on that role (or join that team) in your company . Perhaps they become the official Shadow IT group for projects that don’t yet have an IT budget and haven’t appeared on management’ s radar.

As an employer, do I care?

You should. The under-served “one thing” staffers may not be disgruntled, but they may not be fully engaged. If you’re unaware of people (and their “one thing” assets) within your organization who could serve your business goals in ways you haven’t considered and at a level of quality that you might not have thought possible – what are you missing?

Ask them privately if there’s a project or job in the company that excites them. You never know what you might find. Having little startup-minded groups inside your business isn’t a bad thing.

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Start the right things

A while back, a friend sent me a link to an old blog post called “30 things to stop doing to yourself“.

It struck me that while the list was intended for application in your personal life, the list could also be applied to your business – with a tweak or two.

Rather than talking about 30 things to stop doing, I decided to discuss a shorter list of things to start doing. Yes, lists are old school – but the things on the list require pigheaded determination to keep folks tending to them. A reminder never hurts.

Start spending time with the right kind of people. – This includes customers, mentors or other leaders of the right sort. What’s the right sort? The ones who spend their time trying to improve, grow and bring the rest of town and/or your industry with them. Don’t forget to start being the right kind of people.

Start tackling the things that challenge your business rather than waiting on them. – Few business challenges get better over time. The rest tend to fester like an untreated wound.

Start being transparent. – Not “politician transparent”, but really, truly transparent. Faux transparency is as useful as horse biscuits – yet that’s exactly what we get from most businesses. You’ll be amazed what can happen when you simply stop pretending, stop hiding, stop manufacturing spin and stop playing games. Think you aren’t doing that now? Think about it. Consider what a frank, win-win conversation with your staff, your suppliers and your customers could produce. Opportunity, for one – which will start with the next list item. Worried about the reaction? It’ll be no worse that the reaction if everyone figures out for themselves that the business they know isn’t the real business after all.

Start putting your customers’ needs front and center. – As Zig Ziglar said, if you help enough others get what they want, you’ll get what you want. If someone moves your cheese and you whine about it – you’re focused on the wrong things.

Start being what you are rather than what you aren’t. – Deliver the value you love to deliver and the right customers will love *that* business. I don’t mean the well-worn or often misguided/misinterpreted “do what you love and the money will come”. I mean do what your customers love to get from you. Not sure what that is? Ask them. They know what you rock at and they know why they value it more than anyone else’s. What do they see as the work you have the most enthusiasm and insight for – particularly that which no one else brings? Yes, I know you can do the other 37 things that everyone else in your market does. Remember that “focus on customer needs” thing?

Start making mistakes. – No, I don’t mean start goofing up intentionally. Your customers need your business to stretch so you’re ready for the place they’re going. They either go with you, or without. If you aren’t messing up, you either aren’t doing anything or you aren’t doing anything interesting or new. Your best customers are the ones who will leave you behind if you’re on cruise control.

Start having higher standards. – Seek out customers, employees, products and partners who force you to improve your processes, people, products and services. If you accept what you accept now, you may as well hit the complacency cruise control – which is all too easy when things are going well. This doesn’t mean not doing anything until you can do it perfectly. It means having a constant focus on improvement, including learning from the mistakes we just talk about.

Start accepting that you aren’t ready. – Nobody is. Start anyway. They call it comfort zone, but it has another name – the place your company was before it woke up, before it doubled our sales, before it started working with better customers, before it raised its standards, before it discovered that new market, and so on. The way it used to be that you’d never go back to if you could help it.

All of these things are going to impact your culture, processes and much more. Some employees, customers, vendors and partners will not be ready for that. Plan how you’re going to deal with that and communicate well.

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I know this sounds awful

Franjipani Maldives
Creative Commons License photo credit: Badruddeen

On a late afternoon errand run, I stopped into a local hardware store for a bag of potting soil.

I asked the woman at the counter if they had any left. She stared back at me as if I had asked her for a date (she was at least 25+ years younger), responding “Anything we have is on aisle 5”.

A few minutes later, I’m approaching the register.

As I take my place at the back of the line (now 2 people long), a car pulls into the parking lot as the guy in front of me asks about another possibly out-of-stock item. After answering him, she sighs and comments about another customer coming in 10 minutes before closing time.

Another employee approaches the front of the store and while ringing me up, she suggests to her peer, “Can you flip the signs to closed so they’ll stop coming in?”

Then she says “I know that sounds awful, but I have another job to go to.”

Yes, it does sound awful.

While I will think twice before burdening your employer with my business again,  I do appreciate your moxie at doing whatever it takes to make ends meet.

Sometimes that voice in your head should stay there.

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Maybe I mislead you

Speaks for itself.

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Do you manage perception or reality?

Screen Shot 2013-04-07 at 10.55.46 AM

This “Sorry” image is what you see on YouTube when you’re prevented from viewing a video because the uploader decided not to make their content available in your country.

In this case, the video was a seven minute news clip from 1970.


I understand how allowing a viewer in another country to see 43 year old content of historical interest would seriously undermine that organization’s ability to sell advertising, much less how it would damage their credibility in the news market.

I wonder if the decision to limit this company’s news footage to their home country was considered long and hard in policy meetings and with legal. Was much discussion dedicated to finding reasons to limit access? How about efforts to find reasons to not to?

Was the cost of making that decision higher than the cost of letting anyone in any country view the video?

It reminds me of people who put more effort into controlling the public’s perception of their company than they do into taking actions that actually impact the company’s public image. The irony is that attempts at perception control tend to damage their employer’s image more than the truth would have.

We often ask the wrong questions.

Every day that you look the other way in your business when faced with perception vs. reality issues, your business becomes less personal, easier to hate and easier to replace.

Is that really what you want?

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Our terrible economy

Creative Commons License photo credit: chefranden

Recently, a friend posted a simple exercise to help her clients see that no matter where they live, there are lots of people who need what they do even “in our terrible economy”.

In summary, her suggestion was: “Next Friday or Saturday, go to the most expensive restaurant in town and get a table (if you can get in). The room is probably full of people enjoying themselves and spending $100-150 or more during their meal.

She invited their comments. I wasn’t surprised by them, but I was a bit disappointed.

If they were down on their luck, homeless, unemployed or starving, perhaps (just perhaps though), I might have more easily understood their negative view of what they saw.

But her clients aren’t down on their luck, unemployed, starving or homeless. They are highly-paid professionals with advanced degrees. They seem to have more going for them than most.

Yet their views of the exercise didn’t reflect that.


Some viewed it as an illustration of the state of the restaurant business and that the lesson was to buy a restaurant or pursue restaurant owners as clients.

Some argued that their neighborhood has no expensive, fancy restaurants and that most/all of those kinds of restaurants have closed due to the economy.

Some said this fancy expensive restaurant full of people only exists in limited quantities, and in someone else’s town – not theirs.

Some used their perceived limitations of their chosen niche as an excuse to say that the restaurant exercise proved nothing because people only need their help in limited situations and even then, only briefly.

Some discussed the 1%, 47%, 99% or whatever percent. Yet this is not about a percentage group that you were “assigned to” with the Sorting Hat.

It’s about their attitude they’ve chosen and how it colors how they view their surroundings and opportunities.

Vision is more than what you see, it’s also how you see

A simple exercise produced many different reactions from people with at least seven years of college education. The reactions came from practicing attorneys.

Despite professional success at some level, most either saw the negative or made excuses why the exercise meant nothing.

Long ago, my mentor said “A bad lawyer will tell you all the reasons why you can’t do something. A good lawyer will find a way to do it.

This isn’t an indictment of lawyers. It’s an indictment of attitude.

“But I’m just a…”

“But I’m just a waitress”, you might say. How’s the service at that restaurant? Would you prefer the tips from a $30 or $150-200 tab?

Some might prefer to wait on ‘regular people instead of snobs’ (irony anyone?), while others would invest some time to learn more about wines or whatever their local high-end restaurants specialize in so that they’d have something to (pardon the pun) “bring to the table” when applying for a wait staff job.

“But I’m just a … ” says more about your mindset than about what you do for a living.

This isn’t some “think about what you want and it’ll magically come to you” thing. It’s about how you see and think about what crosses your path.


What do you do with proof when it’s right in front of you? Use or ignore it?

Somewhere close by, there’s proof that someone in your town is capable of being your customer. Through their actions, habits and so on, they repeatedly demonstrate that they can be your customer. Some need what you do. Some own, manage or work at a business with those needs.

During prime time at that fancy restaurant, there’s a room full of people who are someone’s customers for what you do.

Even if you don’t own a restaurant, why aren’t they your customers?

Do you deserve their business? Really truly deserve it? Have you asked for it. Is everything about your business well-attended to?

Is your place the kind of business where “those kind of people” (whatever that means) do business?

Your business is what you want it to be. It’s what you make of it. It’s what you do and what you leave undone.

It’s what you see and how you see it.

PS: In mid-January, @ManageWP marked their first year in business. They have 45,000 clients in “our terrible economy.”

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On Unicorns and Clouds

Our clients are so stupid!

Is that your company’s vibe?

If you aren’t sure, ask the people who staff your front desk, sales department and/or customer support/service positions.

At one time, the majority of my software customers were studio photographers.

Their industry was making the massive shift from film to digital. Prior to that, many (if not most) of them had a love/hate relationship with computers. Digital *forced* them to deal with computers and business growth pushed them there as well.

It wasn’t at all unusual for a photographer to apologize for being “stupid” (their words) when asking for help, because they weren’t “experts on computers”.

I reminded them that we’re all stupid about something, noting that I’d look pretty stupid if they started asking me questions about posing, lighting and other technical things about their business. Photographers back then (late 1990s – early 2000s) usually weren’t computer experts and didn’t need to be. Today, technical expertise is a necessity in their business thanks to digital photography and videography.

Unicorns and Clouds

One of my first duties in the technology business was “dealing with users”. I was trained early on that the people on the other end of the phone paid the bills.

Fast forward a few years… A small handful of people are discussing various technology topics and one says “How does one explain to a customer that there is no ‘cloud’? There is only someone else’s remote server. There are also no unicorns.”

Naturally, the wiseguys call this person out for claiming that there are no unicorns, but soon the conversation resumes in technoworld.

At first, this person was reminded that, technically at least, a remote server isn’t the same thing as a cloud.

One tried to keep the conversation civil, wondering aloud if the easiest way to explain it was to ask the customer to “define the word ‘cloud’ as if you could find it in Webster’s dictionary.” He continued noting that a cloud is a group of servers and that the number and location of those servers could vary.

The original questioner remained in “my customer is stupid” mode by commenting that the customer’s data “lives” somewhere and that it isn’t just floating in space, following that with a comment that perhaps a cloud is a “server with blue spray paint and cotton balls.”

It was noted to this person that a cloud and a server are far from the same thing, offering that “a cloud is multiple redundant servers with the ability to fail over, load balance, etc. not just one box in granny’s house out of state”.

That got nowhere and was quickly rebuked by “This customer isn’t that smart. Says he doesn’t want his data on a server, he wants it “in the cloud”. I think he’s watching too many television commercials.” followed by “As I sit here at home backing up my entire website via FTP before updating our shopping cart software, bored silly while it takes forever. Considering how long it’s taking me to back up my website, I can’t imagine why this guy wants ‘cloud’ storage”


At this point, I’d heard enough and said this situation shows why he needed to have established a position as the “expert” in his market. His response: “That’s what I like about my other business. The customers don’t presume to know anything about it.”

It was painfully clear at that point that he wasn’t interested in hearing legitimate reasons on his customer’s behalf. He just wanted to whine about a customer others would be glad to have, but I wasn’t done. I noted that his customer’s business might require travel and thus need access from anywhere.

He didn’t care.

I then suggested (with a touch of sarcasm) that his customers might have picked up an airline magazine (which often discuss business topics, given their market) and that he could have defused the whole thing by educating his customers with a pre-emptive “This is a cloud and why you might (or might not) want to use one” blog post.

Your customers want your leadership, not your disdainful, disrespectful scorn. Be their expert, but never underestimate them.

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The can that’s hard

Orion constellation panorama
Creative Commons License photo credit: write_adam

As I look back over the last 12 years or so, I’m convinced that Scott Dinsmore is exactly right.

None of us have least bit of a clue what we can really do. Not the faintest idea.

On the contrary, we’re all fairly sure what we can’t do. But the whole “can’t” thing is really way too easy. It’s the can that hard.

“Can too”

Remember when you were a kid and your best friend or your brother or sister would get into a silly argument? One of you would say “Can too!”, to which the other would reply with an insightful “Can not!”?

While it sounds a lot like most modern-day political conversations, the same thing goes on inside our heads all the time.

Have you ever put any thought into which one of you wins? I mean the yous inside of you.

Rather than get you all weirded out with touchy-feely stuff, here’s an example.

Except for a couple of months when in Tennessee, I’ve been running several times a week since sometime early this year.

I’d go to the place where I run and get after it on the elliptical or the treadmill (usually both, back to back) until I’d run two or three miles. On a big day, I’d go five. As I got back in the groove from my time out of town, I managed to get 12-20 miles in every week.

Those miles were chipped away at what seemed like a decent enough pace until I was done. Despite the drenched clothes and sometimes grumpy knees, it hit me one day that I was slugging along at a rather generous pace of 11 to 14 minute miles.

Faster than your grandmother, but not what I expected after months. Something bugged me.

Kinda like Monk

It was that danged Nike+ smartphone app.

Like most running/hiking tracker applications, it has a GPS and a motion sensor so it can record your pace and distance.

The troubling part is that there’s a records display and the 10k one was empty. I’m one of those undiagnosed sometimes OCD types about some things (we all have “those things”, it seems) and that empty spot just made me nuts.

One day, I couldn’t take it any more. I decided to fill that box one Wednesday a few weeks back.

Took me 90 minutes the first time. Pathetically slow, but the box was filled with nowhere to go but down (in pace/time). In over 50 years I had run a 10k once.

Two days later, I ran another one. Then a weird thing happened.

My regular run pacing started to shrink like a fat guy locked in a sauna. Instead of 15 minutes on average to do each of slightly more than 6 miles, I started seeing my long run fastest-mile-pace dropping from 12 or 13 minutes per mile to nine and change.

Because I didn’t know I could do that, I guess I just did. The Nike slogan suddenly made more sense than ever before.


Not all that long ago, a guy told me I couldn’t do something. Said I’d be back in 6 months.

So I did it anyway…12 years ago.

The specifics don’t matter. The lesson is simple: Start. Then don’t quit.

I know…it’s a platitude you’ve heard 1000 times. Have you heeded it?

If you’re going to invest your time, energy and money in something, put it into something impossible, insane, unprecedented, life-changing. Don’t waste all that energy on something that isn’t worth darned near losing your mind over. Do something that’s so killer, so incredibly difficult, so rewarding and yes…so profitable that you don’t have any idea how you’ll make it work.

That hunger has value you can’t imagine.

Start. Now.

Maybe you’ve already started

Your business might be stuck at that 15 minute mile type of plateau. What do you do? How do you go faster, better, stronger? Every week I write about strategies to break through business plateaus.

Is your plateau breaker sitting there like that empty 10k record box?

Sometimes you just have to do something you’ve never done to learn the potential of what you really can do.

Anyone can just plod along. Why not do something impossible?

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What’s your plywood?

“When youâ??re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, youâ??re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. Youâ??ll know itâ??s there, so youâ??re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.” – Steve Jobs

What’s your plywood?

PS: Thanks for raising the bar, Steve. Be well.


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Pushing You Starts The Whispering

Whispering Grass
Creative Commons License photo credit: Rob Gallop

Earlier this week, I wrote about breaking down Chet Holmes’ “Dream 100” list of prospective customers into 10 lists of 10.

What I didn’t tell you was why I break the list down.

Asking you to name 100 random prospects would like result in an impact focused on one thing – “just the sales”.

This set of lists takes you well beyond that. Instead of having to think of 100 ideal prospects, you have only 10 of a specific type to come up with and each one has a context.

More importantly, each of the 10 groups has a specific purpose.

  • The 10 testimonial prospects need to be well-known in your market. Influencers. People or companies that, when mentioned, make people think your company hits home runs.
  • 10 CEOs you’d learn the most from – Obvious. Good to have their business, but great to have them, effectively, as business partners.
  • The 10 biggest upsides will make great turnaround / rags-to-riches stories. Powerful stuff.
  • The 10 clients to test your strengths are there because your strengths needed to be pushed – they ARE your strengths, after all.
  • The clients to expose your company’s weaknesses are there because you need to be reminded of them and decide whether to let them be or eliminate them.
  • Clients with a demanding nature are there to make your team better. Like your strengths, they too need to be pushed.
  • The transformational wave of revenue is going to be needed if you get these other things right – because a lot of change is going to come one way or another.
  • The 10 clients who need what you don’t have really need YOU. The fact that you don’t yet offer what they need will force you to stretch in your market.
  • The 10 clients who wouldn’t likely survive without your help are there for several reasons. They’ll remind you of the small fry you might be ignoring. Maybe they shouldn’t survive without your help. What will you learn from that process?
  • The 10 clients who would make you wake up in the middle of the night and think to yourself “I canâ??t believe I got those guys” are there for all the above reasons. They’ll push most of the buttons the other 90 clients will push – but in different ways.

The real reason that last category is there is to push you and your business well beyond your current boundaries as you see them.

You need to be pushed. You need to realize that you have another level inside your business that you’ve yet to discover.

PS: Getting these 100 clients will establish you as the leader in your market. Other prospects will notice you success, notice who they are and notice what you did to get them. And they’ll want some of that. Which is why you needed to be pushed.