Why Simple is Often Better

I have a love/hate relationship with McDonalds.  On one hand I love the fact that I can stop off on any long car trip in the morning and get a decent (albeit unhealthy) breakfast with pretty good coffee.  But as an organization, I hate that they can’t seem to embrace what they really are:  cheap, unhealthy comfort food.  Their latest gimmick is artisan sandwiches that are supposed to help them compete with Panera (sort of like a Smart Car competing with a Chevy Tahoe in the heavy hauling vehicle category).  Nothing new here.  In the past we’ve seen offerings with salads, all-day breakfast, fancy coffee, and wraps.

But in olden days, McDonalds owned what they were.  I found a photo of an old menu.  Take a look:

FB_IMG_1501460984780

 

First of all, the pricing dates this.  But notice the simplicity.  And, since it’s so simple, the menu can add helpful descriptors that make me want to purchase.  Yeah I know McDonalds makes money hand over fist but I wonder if they stuck to simple then maybe their operations costs would lower enough to match today’s profits.  Sometimes simple is just better.

 

Which brings us to my lesson today.  Sometimes simple plans with clear communications give us a great chance for success.  Military planners, known for their complex plans that don’t translate well into an actual battle made this mistake in the ill-fated Operation Eagle Claw hostage rescue attempt back in 1980.  The complexity and overplanning of this operation resulted in multiple aircraft lost and eight servicemen killed…all without ever confronting the Iranians.  Simple, yet not simplistic strategies with significant training to run that simple plan might have led to success.

 

So what about you.  What about your business?  Is the presentation you’re planning to make full of jargon, complicated figures, and wordiness that’s sure to put an audience to sleep?  Is your customer acquisition strategies so complex that it requires the lining up of the planets to make it work?

It may seem counterintuitive, but I’m convinced making your plans, presentations, strategies, and initiatives simple and uncomplicated eliminates confusion and results in a better chance for long term success.  Maybe McDonalds should ditch trying to be cool and trendy and on a par with Panera and Chipotle and go back to what they really are.  Cheap, unhealthy comfort food.  I might even become a raving fan then.

What do you think?

Why Being FIRST Sometimes Makes You Best

copyHollywood seems to be in full-bore reboot and sequel mode.  Where Summer and Thanksgiving used to be the launch of the big blockbusters, now they seem to be nothing more than a couple of new ideas but many more sequels and more recently, the reboot – a remake of a remake…of sometimes another remake.

Up until just about 10 years ago, there was the Batman movies which built on the original TV series from the 1960s with Adam West (with several different actors) and the Superman movies (with Christopher Reeve).  Then came The Hulk and Spiderman.  Then nothing.  Then of course came the multiple other superhero movies and then the phenomena of multiple Hulk movies (reboots) and to date, two more Spiderman reboots, another Batman reboot, and then of course Batman vs. Superman.

It’s not just superheroes.  Since the original Jaws movie in 1975, there have been four sequels and several other killer (really insane killer) sharks in movies.  Just when you think it’s safe to go back into the water…

What does this all have to do with you?  Well, how original are you?  How groundbreaking are your ideas?

There is a risk with being first and with being original.  You could of course be wildly successful.  That’s what happened with the original Jaws movie.  Even though the shark looked fake, the terror kept people in real life off the beach.  Sequels tried to recapture that same magic but aside from more realistic sharks and bloodier human feedings, they just didn’t have the same effect.  There was always a comparison to the original.

On the other hand, you might fail.  It’s possible.  But here’s the thing.  Even if it failed, you were the first to try.  Even if someone builds and perfects your idea, they still keep YOU in the conversation.  Someone else is trying to improve what YOU started.  YOU started.  You’re still memorable.

Hollywood seems to have lost its creativity.  And the more it happens, the more we think about and miss Adam West, Christopher Reeve, and the robotic fake shark Bruce.  The more you copy the original, the more the original shines.

What new idea have you been thinking about proposing?  What new direction have you been contemplating in your current career path?  Instead of waiting for affirmation from what’s already been tried, why not be the pioneer that will be remembered for no other reason maybe than it was simply the first…

 

 

The Simple Secret to Providing a Great Customer Experience

eyesI always find it interesting that when I drive my truck down the two-lane back roads near my house and a vehicle passes me, 99% of the time that driver raises a pointed index (index, not middle!) finger off the steering wheel in simple acknowledgement. It took a while for me to get used to it, but now I do the same thing.

Satisfying customers is a never-ending task that seems to be focused on an ever-moving target. I’ve created and facilitated programs for multiple industries and they are all different and special in their own way. However there is ONE THING you can do that guarantees a better customer experience for your customers. Do this ONE THING and the rest of the experience will be much better. What’s the ONE THING? Read on…

Recently I went to a pool and spa store to buy some chemicals and test strips. The counter was busy with clerks running around, bumping into each other. Customers were waiting in line and the scene was pretty chaotic. Finally I was next in line. I put the products on the counter and waited. And waited.  And waited some more. Until I got tired of waiting and walked out of the store, pulled up my Amazon app and ordered the same chemicals and test strips at a slightly higher price with free shipping and drove off. The problem? Nobody acknowledged I was standing there at the counter. For 10 minutes!

Now before you call me an arrogant, entitled SOB, keep in mind I didn’t yell at anyone. I stood there patiently waiting. Nobody looked at me and said, “We’ll be with you in just a moment.” That’s what I was looking for. Just SEE me.

So, fresh off that experience I drove down to our dry cleaners to pick up my daughter’s bed spread. When I walked in, I saw the clerk was doing a fitting on a customer. I was in a hurry and figured this was going to be another long wait. THEN, the Korean guy who was ironing in the back of the shop saw me and ran, RAN up to the counter to tell me they would be right with me. I waited maybe 3 minutes and then the clerk handed me the bed spread and I was on my way, ironically to teach a customer service workshop at a local health care organization.

In my experience, what separates great organizations like Southwest Airlines, National Car Rental, Hilton Hotels, and the local dry cleaner in Clarksville, TN from losers like United Airlines, Enterprise Car Rental, and the DMV is the simple act of acknowledging the customer. Everything else springs from that event. Whether you can or can’t help the customer, that initial acknowledgement sets the tone for what happens next.

Just like that simple raising of the index finger on the steering wheel, acknowledging someone lets them know that you, at a minimum, value them as a fellow member of the human race. Imagine if you went out of your way to make that customer feel like they’ve been SEEN?

This week, make an effort to acknowledge your fellow humans, especially the ones you call your customers. I know it will make a difference.

Worst Things First

fish headsHave you ever had one of those days where you knew you had an unpleasant task to take care of but didn’t want to do it?  It may have been a call to return with an unhappy client.  Maybe an uncomfortable conversation with an employee.  Perhaps it was a sales call that you were terrified of.

If you’re like me (or most people for that matter) you probably lost sleep the night before and once at work, began to barricade your time with busywork that would occupy every corner of the day and prevent you from the task.  If you did this correctly, you could honestly say that you would have made that call or had that conversation but were slammed with crisis after crisis.  That bought you some peace, until you came home and realized that unpleasant item would now be waiting for you the next morning…only now the situation would be even more difficult to deal with.

Pain avoidance is normal.  Most of us hate pain and our nature is to do anything to never have it.  Sadly, avoiding just won’t work in most cases.  I’ve learned over time that the best way to deal with it is to use a variation of one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits for guidance.

In 1989, Stephen Covey authored one of the most popular business books of all time,

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  In this book, he detailed principles for personal and professional success.  One of them, First Things First, was clear guidance for priority and time management.   I modified that one into:

Worst Things First

Like ripping off a Band-Aid, eating your Brussels sprouts first, or doing things like making the scary call or having that dreaded conversation, getting stuff out of the way is the best way to power through.  The longer an uncomfortable task is avoided, the harder it will be to recover from it.

Years ago, when stationed overseas at NAVCOMMSTA Harold E. Holt in Western Australia I befriended a group of SEABEES, the Navy construction folks that ran the public works department on base.  Their division officer was universally hated by the group and after enduring him for two years, they came up with a fitting farewell gift.  The night before his car was crated to be sent on the two-month journey back to the States, they stuffed a bag of fish heads under the front seat.  Imagine what that would have smelled like when he retrieved it?

That’s what happens the longer one of your uncomfortable goes unaddressed.  Fish heads are nasty, but it’s better to handle them on Day 1 then on Day 60.

This week, think about those “fish head” tasks you’ve been avoiding.  Why not get busy doing the Worst Things First and free up your time, energy, and emotional health?

 

 

 

Enough with the Quotes Already!

As a big user of LinkedIn, I am seeing certain trends that concern me.

  1. Putting stuff on it that really belongs on Facebook (political opinions, “can this WWII veteran get 1,000 likes?” and religious stuff).
  1. Self-congratulatory aggrandizing (“Honored to be the keynote speaker at the Colonoscopy Coalition Annual Meeting”)
  1. 3 photos of self or a book cover asking strangers to pick which one looks best by selecting A, B, or C.
  1. The Boss/Leader graphic depicting bosses driving slaves while the leader is pulling them forward on a rope (and other boss/leader comparisons).
  1. People straying from their lane of expertise while positioning themselves as experts (Tony Robbins now becoming a financial and investing expert or Dave Ramsey pitching pre-packaged meal plans – this being different than a regular endorsement)

Yes, you probably think I’m arrogant and opinionated and maybe I am.  Or maybe I’m just someone who expects quality content from my network.

Which brings us to my latest pet peeve:

The cliché quotes with incorrect or assumed attributions.

Take a look at the following:

lincoln quote

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

jesus quote

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) on 5 Pounds 1968 Banknote from Israel. German born theoretical physicist regarded as the father of modern physics.

Which one is legit?

Actually, if you picked Einstein you might be correct but even this attribution is not 100% confirmed.  What’s more worrisome is the fact that people look at these, nodding as if there is some pearl of great wisdom here and spreading it throughout their network.

If you ask me (and you are since you’ve read down this far), I’ll tell you my recommendations for establishing credibility and sharing wisdom via the quote.

  1. Make sure the quote is accurate.
  1. Make sure the quote is attributed to the right person.
  1. Make sure the context of the quote is correct.
  1. Don’t quote anyone. Develop your own wisdom and expertise and blog and write on it.

Sending out clichés is the lazy person’s way of attempting to inspire an audience.  You have an amazing brain in your head.  Develop and share your own wisdom.  There is always room for more in this world.

How to (Credibly) Sell Something

That being the case, I’ve found that people who aren’t trained sales or marketing professionals prefer to do everything BUT address pain points.  None clearer than the billboard I saw in Clarksville, TN this week.

Now if you look at it, you’ll probably have several questions:

  • Who is Mr. Murples?
  • If he’s the baboon with the big glasses, what does he know about buying a car?
  • If he does know about buying cars, how do we know that their prices are the lowest?
  • Why is Mr. Murples so huge when the car that has the low price on it is dwarfed?

Does this billboard do anything to convince anyone they should buy at this dealership?

Now I have nothing against this dealership or Nissans for that matter. I even like baboons (but I’m not a fan of bow ties, on humans or baboons). I do have something against spending hard-earned cash on crappy advertising.

And because I do, I’d like to offer up some suggestions for the next time you’re trying to sell something (or yourself) to someone.

  1. Identify Your Potential Audience. Who are they? What do they like? How do they think? In the case of a car buyer, think about what demographic might be interested in a Nissan. Everyone loves buying at the lowest price. Do Nissan buyers like baboons with bow ties and glasses?
  2. Identify their “Pain.” In the case of car buyers, low price is certainly important but what about a buyer-friendly experience where there is no haggling over the price? We want to attract the right people to the lot. Not sure what you’d attract with a bow tie-wearing baboon.
  3. Figure Out the Best Way to Reach Them. Billboards might be great when marketing to people on the road. That may be where your buyers are. Possibly having a baboon on the billboard gets attention in a sea of other car dealer, law firms, and insurance agencies who seem to dominate the billboard methodology. But does this really work? Which leads to…
  4. Measure Your Results. I’m not sure how one would track who comes in based on seeing Mr. Murples. If the dealership actually polls potential buyers, they’d be wise to count just how many were drawn in by the ad. If Mr. Murples is driving up sales, keep him around. If not, move on and maybe try NOT using animals.

These lessons work in sales and in interviewing for jobs. Take some time this week to reexamine your sales and marketing strategy. Mr. Munro thinks it’s a great idea. You’ll have to ask Mr. Murples his opinion.

The Secret to Getting Great Critiques on Your Presentation

Lavatory sinks

This is where your presentation gets REAL critiques. Prepare for this audience and the rest is a breeze!

When I’m in town, I like to attend my local Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) chapter meetings.  These are a great place to network and you can certainly learn from the topics that are presented.

At the end of each session, there is a little card on the table that you fill out with feedback for the speaker and the event.  Most people scribble a few notes and check the boxes and then head out the door.  I’m sure the cards are useful, but what really matters is what people say about your presentation in the bathroom shortly after.

I’m always amazed at the critiques speakers get when audience members are in the safety of the bathroom.  I hear criticism of the topic, the slides, the speakers themselves, etc.  People feel a bit more candid I guess when in this unique, sacred place.

Now you can fear this phenomenon if you’re a speaker or you can simply use it as a tool to better prepare for your next presentation.  Here are some of my suggestions:

Your Topic:  If you’re going to present, be sure to present on a topic that’s timely and relevant.  Of course you need to know your audience for this one.  Find out their experience level.  Inquire about some of the “pain” they experience.  Then deliver solutions with a “how to” theme.  Make sure they leave with tangible takeaways.  Avoid subjects that are dated (Generations in the Workplace), stereotypical and divisive (Generations in the Workplace), fads (Generations in the Workplace), or that have been beat-to-death in numerous other presentations (Generations in the Workplace) – You see a theme here don’t you?

Your Command of the Subject:  Make sure you present on a topic where you are either a recognized authority or at least a strong, proven subject matter expert.  If you can’t intelligently answer hard questions at the end of the presentation (and this is common criticism in post-presentation bathroom critiques) then find another topic to present on.

Your Visuals:  Be different and ditch PowerPoint® or minimize the amount of slides you need.  Use relevant videos and debrief them clearly.  If possible, use a flip chart and talk while writing down your points.  Even consider tools like Prezi for a different visual approach.  AND, have a backup plan if you can’t get Internet, sound for videos, or a correct connection from your laptop to the data projector.  Just so you know, I’ve never had a person complain that I didn’t have a PowerPoint® presentation.

Your Style:  Have someone evaluate your style before you present.  Pay attention to the amount of times you use fillers such as “um” and “ok.”  Don’t start off every statement with “So” (“So today we’re going to talk about how to deal with generations in the workplace.” “So you know all those Millennials want a trophy for just showing up.”  “So you know you should always tell Gen Z how their job relates to a clean environment and workplace harmony”).  Unless of course you’re pitching a product on Shark Tank.  Then you look weird if you don’t start off every statement with “so”.

Your Appearance:  In my experience, women don’t have issues here but men do.  Guys, spend some money and get a suit that actually fits you.  Shine up your shoes.  Brush the dandruff off your shoulders if you wear a dark jacket.  Take a long look in the mirror before leaving the house.  If you look there and see Andy Rooney staring back, take a beard trimmer and shear those eyebrows.  Start with the highest setting and work your way down.  Don’t ask me how I know this.  Look up your nose and trim out all of those nose hairs.  Then look at your ears.  Same thing here.  You want people to talk about your amazing presentation, not your lack of style and personal grooming.

I know this is a lot to think about but it’s the little details that make your presentation a success.  Plan out the presentation and prepare for those inevitable bathroom critiques.  They happen whether you like it or not but preparation before will certainly give them something positive to talk about, while they’re hopefully washing their hands.

The Old Lady in the Freezer

panic buttonBack between 2005 and 2009 I taught quite a few military-to-civilian transition classes up at Fort Meade in Maryland.  Since the traffic was horrendous, I’d leave my house really early and arrive on base at 6:30 AM.  Class didn’t start until 8 so I had some time to kill.  Most mornings I would drive to the Class 6 Shoppette (a gas station that sold groceries and alcohol) to get my Red Bull and a 5-Hour Energy shot.

One morning I was in the Shoppette and heard a woman’s muffled screams coming from the back of the store.  I went back there and saw an old lady in the beer cooler.  She was pounding on the door trying to get out.  I grabbed the handle and opened the door.  She hugged me and said I saved her life.

Then she asked me, “How did you manage to get in here?”

I told her I just pulled the handle.  She told me that she was desperately pulling the handle from the inside.  I guess she didn’t realize she had to push it.  The harder she pulled, the more stuck she became.  Then she panicked and when she did, she thought she was trapped.

I never forgot about that old lady in the freezer.  Some of us are a lot like her.  When trouble comes, we panic and when we do, we do some dumb things.

Today I got an unsolicited email from a gentleman wanting work as a proposal manager:

Good afternoon,
I am available immediately, and have a lot to contribute to your organization.
I have extensive experience in government proposal development.
Recently came off a four month effort, rested a bit, and I’m available immediately.
Also, recently responded to 8(a)Stars, Sources Sought, and IDIQ submissions.
I’m looking for full time or contract work – rates TBD.
My resume is attached for your consideration and phone review.
The pleasure of a reply is appreciated.  Call or write.
Thank you.

He attached his resume to this email.

Now of course he has no idea about what I do so how would he know he has anything to contribute to my organization?  When I read it, I thought of the old lady in the freezer.  Desperation makes you do dumb things, like shotgun a resume to as many email addresses as you can find.

And yet we’ve all been in the same predicament, haven’t we?  Stressed, facing a deadline, needing resources and having lots at stake.  How can we prevent ourselves from looking desperate and also solve our problem?  Here are some suggestions.

  1. Take a deep breath.  Yeah I know this is somewhat of a cliché, but taking a deep breath causes oxygen to flow to our brain.  Your solutions will start in your brain so don’t starve it!  Take a deep breath (or several) and focus on the solution.
  2. Take charge of your self talk.  Start speaking rational language rather than emotional language to yourself.  When you do that, move on to steps 3 and 4.
  3. What is worst case scenario?  It may seem like a stress-increaser but if you at least own what could happen, you know where your solutions need to focus.
  4. What is the most likely scenario?  This is where your thinking brain has to override the emotional one.  Emotions will push you towards worst case scenario but the rational side of you should look at the most likely scenario.  Often this is far better than you can imagine, but you won’t know that if you’re pulling the handle in the freezer rather than pushing it.
  5. Find yourself a support team.  Facing an ominous scenario alone is like finding yourself in a bar fight against four other people.  You need backup!  At least find someone you can call to bounce ideas off.  They might be able to give you a suggestion or point you to a resource.
  6. Take one positive first step towards solution.  Don’t worry about the huge problem.  Focus on just one small step.  It will give you confidence and move you closer to the bigger problem. “One step, one punch, one round at a time.” (Rocky Balboa to Adonis Creed).
  7. Finally, remember Satchel Page’s famous words “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”  Or pulling on the handle.  Or shotgunning your resume to everyone with a pulse and an email address.

None of us are going to be exempt from a crisis but how we handling it well gives us confidence for the next one and gains us a huge amount of respect from the people around us.  Take a deep breath and think about that this week…

 

 

It’s Time to Broaden Your Knowledge

Man reading red bookProfessional development is critical if we want to grow into highly-valued consultants, employees, and athletes.  It’s not a one-time deal either.  We need to constantly seek out new knowledge and capability if we want to remain useful and viable.

My business requires me to know a lot about management, process improvement, leadership development, and team cohesiveness.  I learned most of this on the job, built on the foundation of my graduate studies in organizational leadership at Chapman University, with quite a bit from constant reading.  I can humbly say that I’m pretty good at my trade and craft.

But that’s not enough.  Certainly not enough to differentiate me from any of my competitors.

About two years ago I realized that I sucked at sales and marketing.  I was afraid to sell, had no idea how to properly promote my products and services, and was operating on the backs of a few steady clients and some cheap-ass contract work.  Reading more books on leadership, management, and strategy was useless.  What I needed to do was SELL!

That was the shift that really made last year a year of significant growth.  I read every book I could find on marketing, sales, and promotion.  I developed a new sales strategy, implemented a CRM system, partnered with my admin staff to help me run it, and got comfortable asking for the sale.  Broadening my knowledge was the key.  I’m sure some of my competitors get frustrated when they can’t seem to land any new clients but then decide to read more books on leadership development.  Find the area you’re weak in and shore it up!  Maximizing your strengths only applies when you do that StrengthsFinder 2.0 stuff.

But what about you?  Have you maxed out on your current level of knowledge?  It’s possible.  Even some wise king in ancient days said something to the effect of “What has been will be again. What has been done will be done again. There is nothing new under the sun.”  If your craft is coaching, quit reading coaching books and start reading sales books.  If your trade is woodwork shift your strategy to getting more clients rather than trying to outsmart your competitors with old tactics.

And one caveat.  While there is nothing new under the sun, don’t abandon staying current in your field.  It’s all about professional balance.

If you’re serious about career development, success, job security, and winning, be sure to make professional development a priority.

The Problem Is…

Angry and tired schoolgirl studyingLast week I attended a party with a group of people in the consulting field.  They all work in a very competitive industry and gaining new clients is a struggle.  As I worked the room, talking with many of them, I noticed a very common response when I asked them how business was going.

“It’s tough.  The problem is…”

And then they proceeded to tell me a list of reasons why they weren’t successful.  I noticed that none of them offered up steps they were taking to overcome the challenges.

Now I know this industry well and I also know the clients they seek.  They have valid complaints.  What they don’t seem to realize is that if you have a challenge and choose not to work at overcoming it, then the problem is…YOU!

I work with lots of different companies and usually my number one job is to help them solve problems.  I’ve learned that when you have a problem, the key to solving it involves defining the REAL problem (sometimes referred to as the root cause) and then looking at it systematically to solve it completely.  The tool I use is the Force Field Analysis.   If today YOU are wrestling with a problem, why not consider using it?  Here is what it looks like:

force_field_analysis2

 

 

 

 

 

Now use following steps:

  1. Figure out what success is and what happens when you get it.  Put this in the column labeled Driving Forces.  List out what life would be like if you achieved your goal, signed that client, or acquired that piece of business.  Be sure to list not only the tangibles (dollars and numbers) but also the feelings and emotions you’d get too.
  2. Identify what’s holding you back.  Put this in the column labeled Restraining Forces.  Write down everything that’s preventing you or holding you back from achieving success.  Put in actual and assumed constraints.
  3. Identify your top 3 restraining forces.  Rank order them from least to most.  You want to identify the biggest barrier.
  4. Break down your top 3 restraining forces into processes and identify areas where things break down.

Get busy fixing those areas!

Here’s an example:

I have a great product or service that would benefit people.  If they used it, they would:

Driving Forces

  • Be happy and successful
  • I would make lots of money
  • My influence would increase
  • I would get more clients
  • They would be happy and successful
  • I would be happy

Restraining Forces

  • The benefits of my product is hard to communicate
  • My target audience is hard to reach
  • My ideal client is hard to identify
  • My ideal clients have lots of choices

Key Restraining Force

  • My ideal clients have lots of choices

Solutions

  • Focus on how to differentiate why my product and service is different and better for them.

The alternative to all this is to lament the fact that business is slow right now.

And to tell everyone that “The problem is…”

Because unless you choose to identify the REAL problem and take deliberate, active steps to overcome it, then the REAL problem is YOU!

This week, take some time to reframe the problems you’re facing and take some steps to move from victim to winner.