Monthly Archives: August 2017

Objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear 

The other day as I was driving home, a car in the nearside lane pulled out as I was alongside it. I don’t know how they missed me!

I was reminded of the legend you often see in car door or wing mirrors: “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear”

The same is true of deadlines; they are always closer than you think.

If you plan to complete something that will take five days work and you want to complete it in 6 months time it is very easy to think “Ok, I’ve got plenty of time to do that” and do nothing.

Before you know it the deadline is only 3 months away. Apparently, half the available time has disappeared but progress on the project is still zero.

If you factor in the other commitments on your time – the things that you have to do every week, and every month – the time you have available for this project can be very limited indeed!

Take your six-month deadline and deduct from that any holidays – personal or public. That’s a couple of weeks. Then take away your normal committed hours – for the sake of ease let’s assume you have one day a fortnight available for the project.

Six months is 30 weeks or 150 days, but you are on holiday for 10 days and busy for 135 days.

Your available time at the outset is 5 days to complete a 5-day project, so you don’t have a moment to lose!

Completing a project on time and on the budget – whether that is a time or an expenditure budget – requires, first of all, a sensible assessment of the available resources. If you really don’t have the 5 days, you are not going to complete the project. You may have to reduce other commitments to make the time/free up the resources.

A really useful second step – especially with more complex projects – is to have milestones that have their own deadlines. You can review progress on an interim basis and adjust the project plan based on those reviews, either by additional resource or by extending the timetable.

Satisfied customers can be bad for your business

What do your customers think of you – do you know? Have you asked them?

If they think you are great and rave about you all the time, that’s perfect.

If your objective is to satisfy your customers you may fall short from time to time, and even if you don’t you are vulnerable to losing customers to competitor activity.

A satisfied customer is some proof that you met expectations. You satisfied them. You could probably replace satisfied in their responses with “OK” as in I am OK dealing with them

If your customer is only OK dealing with you, they are only one bad experience away from leaving you. You were OK until you messed up this last order, so now I am going to go and find someone else who is equally OK in the hope that they won’t mess up.

Equally, if they are only satisfied with you, how much of a special offer or an incentive will it take for a competitor to poach them? Probably not that much of an effort, after all, your customer thinks you are only “OK”.

How different is the situation when your customer is a raving fan?

You are in a much better place. Competitor activity will not attract them – they probably won’t even notice it – and because they are your fan they will forgive the occasional mistake.

How do you create raving fans?

First, set the expectation in the business – in every department – that you are always going to go the extra mile for every customer.

Second, talk to the customer. Ask the customer “What can we do better?” and “What will it take for you to become a fan?”

The things that you think matter to your customer may not matter at all and things that you don’t even notice may irritate and upset your customer. You will only find out if you ask!

Not every question needs an immediate answer

There’s a temptation to give an immediate answer to any question that comes your way. If you can answer quickly and completely, that’s great. The person asking can get on with whatever it was that they were dealing with and you can go back to dealing with what is on your desk.

Or is it great?

You’ve been distracted and it takes some time to regain your focus and get back to where you were. That’s especially true if you are dealing with a complex issue.

The person asking the question has also been distracted – possibly for even longer that you were, as they’ve given the problem some thought and tried to resolve it themselves before looking for assistance – or have they?

Some questions are just laziness.
Some questions are just seeking reassurance.
Some questions are just social interaction.
Some questions are serious questions around difficult problems.

If you are interrupted with a question, which category is it? If you can answer it immediately, it is probably one of the first three.

Laziness is when the information is available, the person has previously asked and had the answer. They can’t remember or have not referred to the previous example.

Reassurance is something we all need from time to time, but if this is a long established well-trained person, it may be time for you to “look in the mirror”. They don’t feel empowered to make that decision and need your stamp of approval.

We’re all social animals and there will always be a level of interaction, but it should not be a cause of distraction. If that becomes a pattern, make a point of giving the questioner some additional time in the coffee break or over lunch.

If it is the last category – a serious question around a difficult problem – you probably should not be answering it immediately.

If you can answer the question immediately, did it really need to be asked?

Was it a productive use of your and the questioner’s time?

Giving Feedback

There are few things more important in running a successful business than the review and feedback you give the team around you, yet many business owners are guilty of doing the minimum possible.

I think it’s a fear of confrontation, or perhaps of causing offence

If you don’t give your team their reviews you are not just following bad practice, you are damaging the business.

If you are not happy with someone’s performance and you don’t tell them, it is never going to get any better. On the other side of the coin, if you are really pleased with what they are doing and don’t tell them, don’t be surprised when they leave for another job where they feel more valued!

You can and should use the review process to set objectives and measure progress towards those objectives. I like to set objectives that are measured on a weekly or monthly basis – if you like the objectives for the day job – and set some that are more strategic, probably cannot be achieved overnight but will benefit the business longer term.

The review should not be confrontational and you should not be giving or causing offence but we are so used to concentrating on the negative and the things that need improvement that we dive straight into them. That’s where it is easy to be in a review meeting where the reviewee is defensive and the reviewer frustrated. When we become defensive we close up, physically, and mentally. We stop listening!

You can adapt a model we use in the speaking world.

Use a feedback sandwich. Very simply, say something nice to start with. It will relax the reviewee and they will be open, attentive and listening. You can then move on to the things that need improvement, and if you treat it as “needs improvement” rather than “you did that wrong” you’ll have a better chance of keeping their attention.

Finally, close with some more positive messages. Don’t worry, the reviewee will remember the negative far longer than they do the positive – so you don’t need to rub it in.

It’s not about Fred

Is there a bit of your business that you hate, yet it seems to come around more and more often? Is it the same problem in a different guise?

I often see businesses that have become reliant upon an individual’s knowledge, yet that knowledge is being applied to the relatively mundane. It’s being used to resolve problems and issues that quite frankly should not need that level of attention. They keep reappearing and take valuable time and resource.

People are like water and tend to take the path of least resistance. You know that Fred has the knowledge to solve the problem, so the easiest thing is to go and ask Fred. He obliges, you solve the problem and the world goes on.

Then comes the day when Fred is not available. Perhaps he is on holiday – or perhaps he has retired. All that knowledge and know-how has left the business.

If you had taken the slightly harder path and worked with Fred to create a process to deal with the problem, you can still deal with the problem when Fred isn’t there. Yes, it takes a bit longer the first time but the benefit can be significant. You are spreading the knowledge, probably training others, and giving them a more interesting job all at the same time.

Fred finds he has time to apply his knowledge to something other than problem-solving. He will feel less pressured and more valued – and he will be contributing at a different level.

Making things part of a process or procedure is not about compliance or about forcing individuals to follow rules; it’s about best practice and continually improving your business.

You might even find that Fred’s way isn’t the only way. Once the process is set out, others can see the path, and perhaps they will improve on it as well.