Are you a smart manager?

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“If you are the smartest person in the room then you’re in the wrong room”

Anonymous

Michael Dell founder of Dell Computers has a similar quote “Try never to be the smartest person in the room. And if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people……..or find a different room”

As managers, what does this mean?

Logically the smartest person in the room should be the manager. After all, who will provide the direction and manage the organisation?

Quite clearly this is wrong. Why?

The people who think they are the smartest person in the room tend to have the last say and rarely listen to or acknowledge different ideas or opinions. Many show their distain or disinterest by interrupting others in mid-sentence or displaying negative non-verbal traits such as rolling their eyes, looking away or checking their phone. I can remember organising a leadership training program for our Rotary Club for local businesses and organisations. A local council put up several candidates and one refused to attend stating “I have an MBA so I don’t need leadership training”

It would have been a waste of time and money for them to attend, not because of their MBA but because of their attitude.

However, learning should continue throughout your life, both at work and outside work. Learning does not stop with finishing school or a degree. People only learn and grow when being challenged. Being the smartest person in the room often means that you will not be challenged. Great managers surround themselves with people who challenge them as they realise that to continue to be relevant and innovative, you must be open to new ideas and concepts. By valuing other’s opinions and accepting that you are not always the smartest person in the room, healthy, constructive and sometimes heated debates will help your organisation and help you.

A business owner I know, who would be very smart and is well qualified academically, has failed to grow his business as profitably and quickly as planned. While he is a pleasant, polite and intelligent, he is rarely challenged and appears to not listen to others.  He claims he has little time or interest to read books. It would seem that these circumstances had adversely affected his staff turnover and business. Staff initiatives and ideas appear to be stifled. Being in charge does not mean you have all the answers. I have found that some of the smartest people can be found anywhere in an organisation, you just need to find and develop them. Many years ago, while working for a transport business I found a driver who had the attributes and energy to become a qualified driver trainer. Despite initially being hostile to management. he turned his experience into a new position, where he greatly added to the business by training drivers, thereby reducing accidents, injuries and fuel consumption. Furthermore and probably more importantly this improved his motivation and morale, and his own self image.

As managers we probably all have the tendency to act as the smartest person in the room.

The challenge is to resist this temptation without of course, abdicating your responsibility as a manager.

Here are 3 suggested approaches:

  1. Ask more questions and listen for the answers. Questions are powerful leadership tools (Questions and Answers) Resist telling people what to do and respond to ideas with questions to help you and others better develop their ideas. Seek first to understand before offering your own perspective.
  2. Have the courage to remain silent and help others decide. This does not mean that you cannot veto an idea or approach. Through using open questioning techniques ideas can be modified or adapted in a constructive way to get the best outcome.
  3. View ideas as a ‘glass half full’ not ‘half empty’ as it is a positive approach. People respond to the positive rather than the negative. Negative discussions should only centre around risks.

As a manager can you resist the temptation and follow these approaches?

These approaches often challenge us as managers, although they highly likely to engage and motivate our subordinates, make them feel part of a team and allow new ideas and approaches to surface. You will be challenged.

Why don’t you ‘give it a go’?.………………….

Using visual symbols to communicate…..

82 Overcrowded Bus.

“The best leaders… almost without exception and at every level, are master users of stories and symbols”

Tom Peters – Business Author

I have just arrived back today from travelling in Africa so my blog is late this month…..

We often hear business leaders and politicians trying to communicate messages unsuccessfully. Why?

Are they using too many words, the wrong words or just words? Communication is not just verbal. It is estimated that over 65% of all communication is non-verbal. Eye contact, facial expressions, appearance and gestures influence how you interpret the message.

This is where the use of symbols become important in communicating. This can be used in the workplace.

Recently I was confronted with trying to express the importance and urgency of cultural change to an organisation that was underperforming. Presenting to the Board I realised that the use of symbols or visual imagery would help communicate the issues and how to manage the change.

The visual imagery I decided to use was taken directly out of Jim Collins’ management book, “From Good to Great – why some companies make the leap and others don’t” (http://www.jimcollins.com/article_topics/articles/good-to-great.html)

I used the symbol of a bus. The symbolism was very easy to understand and is very clear.

From a PowerPoint slide showing a red bus presented to the Board, the concept developed to using a model of a toy bus. The bus had the company’s logos on the side, and on the roof was an arrow pointing forwards indicating progress and moving ahead with the Jim Collin’s quote:

“Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats”

The toy bus sat on the meeting room table for all to see. Later we added Lego people getting on and off the bus – normal people getting on, and pirates, wizards and clowns getting off the bus. The toy bus was regularly referred to when explaining a person’s performance or suitability and became a clear way of communicating.

Staff were often asked: “Are you on the bus?” and ‘Are they on the bus?”

It became a powerful visual symbol. When management spoke about what needed to happen it was described in terms of being on the bus. It was a clear message and was understood from the managing director to the staff on the shop floor.

We implemented daily ‘toolbox’ meetings with staff. We called the location ‘the bus stop’ further reinforcing the message.

Using symbols in business as a tool is a very important part of communicating, both with your current and prospective customers and staff. If the symbol is compelling enough it will become part of the organisation’s culture.

Can you think of a symbol used by an organisation that is easily recognisable and understood?

What about your organisation?Communicate using symbols

Business Storytelling

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“Storytelling is about two things; it’s about character and plot”

George Lucas

I apologise for the lateness of my monthly blog. I aim to release my monthly blog on 21st of the month. I have just been trekking in the McDonnell Ranges near Alice Springs in Central Australia. A bit hard releasing your blog in the great Australian Outback! What an amazing scenery ranging from spinifex and mulga covered hills to gorges of ferns and white river gums…..

Well might you ask what has a quote from a famous movie director got to do with business story telling?

Using stories in business as a communication tool is a very important part of communicating with your current and prospective customers. If the story is compelling enough or inspiring enough it will become part of the culture of the business demonstrating your values and where the company came from. More importantly it helps sell your products and services.

Everybody likes a good story and like what George Lucas says the plot and character are vital. I find stories about how businesses start as the most compelling and fascinating. Hewlett-Packard was started in a garage (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HP_Garage) by Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett in 1938 and the garage is now part of company culture. What an inspiring story!

I once worked for a company where the owner in his mid-50s lost his business his father and uncle had established after fleeing the Nazis in Europe. He and his daughter commenced a new business in their rented flat on their kitchen table – it later became the largest supplier of sleeping bags in Australia. What a compelling story for staff and customers…..

People whether staff or customers warm to stories of success from hardship – a plot and character just as George Lucas suggests. It’s emotional and uplifting. However the story must be authentic – if you are not authentic it damages you and your business or brand.

I visited Nepal just over 2 years ago with an Associate to assist a locally owned and managed travel company to improve their business. It was a both an exciting and rewarding experience and hearing how the business commenced was inspiring and a great story.

As a young boy, the founder watched groups trekking through his village in northern Nepal. He had a vision and decided to create his own future. Whilst in his early teens he went to Kathmandu to high school without his family (in Nepal high schools are only in the largest cities). From there he worked in a hotel as a porter, before moving into hotel reception. To gain practical experience in trekking he became a guide, completed his university studies before establishing his own tour company. All this was less than 15 years ago. It is now one of the largest trekking companies in Nepal. As well as offering employment and training in a comparatively poor country, he also has a mission to give back something to the people of Nepal. He instigated school building projects in poor and remote areas as well as making significant financial donations are to schools in these areas.

Both are good examples of stories that can inspire staff because they explain where they came from and help embody the values and provide the foundation of the culture and vision for the company.

Do you have some great stories you can tell your customers and staff?

……………it will help give colour to your communication.

Is marriage like running a business?

Leonard (Linky) Jensen I (1887-1979) at the wedding of Daisy Jensen (1892-1986) and Francis (Frank) Joseph Woods (1891-1972) in 1918 in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois.

“A successful marriage is an edifice that must be rebuilt every day”
Andre Maurois – French author

Today is a very important day for me. It is my 30th wedding anniversary – a time for great celebration and reflection. I am truly blessed having shared the past 30 years with my wonderful wife in a great marriage with all its joys and challenges.

Can lessons can be learned from a great marriage that can be applied to managing a successful business?

Yes, there are many………

Here are just three lessons from a successful marriage that can be applied to business.

Lesson 1: Communication

Continuous two way frank and honest communication is the hallmark of a successful marriage. Problems can be aired, solved constructively and the future discussed. It is the same in business – communication with staff, between departments and with customers provide the mechanics of a successful business. Goals and successes can be shared and problems solved. Communication is about caring and sharing. Customers and staff do not want to be left ‘in the dark’. Two-way continuous communication helps ensure staff and customers feel valued and are committed to you and the organisation. Too often we become complacent and fail to communicate regularly. I can remember some years ago a situation where I increased the rates to a customer without communicating the reasons. They immediately sought competitive proposals and then advised us they wanted to leave. Luckily our Operations Manager was able to remedy the situation by discussing the reasons for the increase only to find that the order and customer profile had changed significantly and the rate schedule was now no longer suitable. Frank two way communication had not occurred, we did not know the profile had changed and we had not advised the reasons for the increase. It was a lesson learned.

Lesson 2: Commitment

Any relationship or partnership is not all smooth sailing, whether it is managing a business or a marriage. For example, challenges are thrown up on the marriage journey that must be faced. Many are outside our control. Reflecting on the past 30 years of our marriage we had to face the challenges along the way. Whether the challenges were family issues or geographic isolation from family and friends, we were committed to making it a success. The same can be said for businesses. If you are committed in managing a business effectively or growing a business you need to meet the challenges as they emerge. Often in business we face crises that could destroy the business. I can remember a situation when a customer owed us over $350,000 and claimed they could not pay. If they failed to pay, our business would probably have been destroyed. Luckily through commitment in enforcing a payment plan we were able to get the money owed and save the business.

Lesson 3: Celebration

Too often we do not celebrate what is important, whether in business or in a marriage. Celebrating our marriage success such as anniversaries or milestones.

Business is no different. Looking back in our business we rarely celebrated successes such as winning a new contract. Later we found out that staff wanted to know our success and suggested we should celebrate with a BBQ or luncheon. However we did recognise staff service and made a big deal about its importance. Our business had staff that had been with us from the beginning and were still there 15 years later. We celebrated this by presenting awards and a gift at our annual management conference.

As the quote from Andre Maurois suggests success in marriage is about continuously rebuilding. The same goes for managing a successful business.

Communication, Commitment and Celebration is a good start. Complacency leads to stagnation and more often than not, failure.

What are your plans to continuing improve your organisation and business?

Customer Service – how much do you care?

“Your customer doesn’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”
Damon Richards

Customer service is about showing how much you care – actions speak louder than words. How often have you been annoyed or angry about being shown indifference by people in customer service roles? There are 10 customer service actions – note the words ‘service’ and ‘action’ that I think all people in custom service roles should use. I will use an example that was the subject of and earlier blog (https://5-dimensionz.com.au/2014/12/22/managing-customer-complaints/).

Many years ago I was managing a vehicle transport company in regional Australia. A transport manifest arrived by fax at 4.00 pm and upon reading it I learnt that there was a car arriving within the next 2 hours that was due in Brisbane that night. Brisbane was 1,200 kms up the road (14 hours drive away). To make matters more complicated the car was needed by the customer in Cairns in 2 days time (a further 1,700 km away or 20 hours drive away). The vehicle was for a customer to use on his tropical beach holiday a further hour’s drive north. There was no way of physically getting the vehicle to Cairns for the customer.

1. Calling back when promised

The customer was called back. After initially alerting him to the problem the customer was called back within the 24 hour period as promised.

2. Explaining what caused the problem…………..in simple language

I explained that it was our fault and we would have a solution for him not having his car on holidays.

3. Letting customers know who and what numbers to call

He was given my phone number and the Brisbane branch manager’s phone number.

4. Contacting customers promptly when a problem is solved

As soon as the hire car in Cairns had been arranged he was advised.

5. Giving customers full access to speak to management

I stated that if he was not happy with our solution he could contact my General Manager.

6. Telling how long it will take to solve a problem

He was assured that we should be able to solve the problem before he left for Cairns within next 48 hours.

7. Offering useful alternatives if a problem can’t be solved

As we could not physically get his car to Cairns on time, we offered him a hire car at no cost.

8. Treating customers like people, not account numbers

Self explanatory.

9. Advising customers on how to avoid a future problem

It was suggested that he advise the depot next time he required his vehicle to be transported that it was “IMPORTANT” and needed priority.

10. Giving progress reports if a problem cannot be resolved

Whilst we solved his problem by offering him a hire car, he was contacted at every transport leg where the car was delivered to Cairns.

A seemingly impossible situation was solved using these 10 customer service actions. The customer was happy and continued to be a client for many years. As the quote implies, I could have told him it was impossible to get his car to Cairns in the time frame required (“how much you know”) Instead, customer service was demonstrated (“how much you care”) and he was happy.

These 10 actions are so fundamental to good customer service that in our logistics business I had them framed and placed in every office.

Managing Customer Complaints

“Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets out of it”

Peter Drucker

As business owners, managers or supervisors some of the worst moments in your working experience can involve managing customer complaints (note the word ‘manage’ rather than ‘handle’?)

The experience is often stressful, uncomfortable and unpleasant isn’t it?

Customer complaints have serious ramifications for your business and if not managed well can seriously damage the business. Customer complaints do however provide an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive and enable you to retain the business.

Remember it is estimated that less than 10% of customers complain about customer service, they just go elsewhere and we rarely know why. Don’t dread customer complaints, but instead view them as an opportunity to create a long term customer. A complaint gives your business a second chance!

There are 6 steps in managing a customer complaint:

  1. Let the customer vent their anger

Remain calm, try and keep personalities out of the situation and allow the customer to vent their anger and listen attentively.

  1. Make ‘I’ statements and apologise

Build rapport and build empathy by using ‘I’ statements: “I can understand………..I would be angry” show that you are taking sides WITH the customer. The anger is addressed at the problem and not you.

  1. ‘So what you are saying is…’

Try and understand what the problem is by using effective listening techniques – paraphrase what the customer is saying and ask clarifying questions so that you have a clear understanding of the issue.

  1. ‘This is what we can do….’

Take responsibility for solving their problem and let them know what you can do. It is important to use positive language and offer solutions, options or a course of action. Make sure you gain agreement from them.

  1. End positively

Thank the customer and explain what you intend to do, when and how.

  1. Just ‘do it’

Just like the Nike advertisement ‘just do it’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCJ7G-vY4vA) means providing updates, following up within the agreed time frame and communicating with them (personally is best) when that action has been completed.

This is an example from a few years again when I was managing a vehicle transport company. A transport manifest arrived by fax (yes many years ago) at 4.00 pm and upon reading it I learnt that there was a car arriving within the next 2 hours that was due in Brisbane that night. We were in Wagga Wagga in country New South Wales Australia 1,200 kms (14 hours away) from Brisbane. The car then had to be loaded onto a truck north for Cairns (a further 1,700 km away or 20 hours away).The car was needed by the customer in Cairns in 2 days time for him to pick it up from the airport and drive to his tropical beach holiday destination a further hour’s drive north.

This was Mission Impossible!

It was a physical impossibility to have a car in Cairns nearly 3,000 km away in 2 days even if it was driven there.

Flying a car was not an option!

Should I be like Corporal Jones in the BBC TV series “Dad’s Army” and start panicking?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZR6wok7g7do

What happened?

I called the customer (with extreme dread) and explained the situation 3 hours before he was due to board a direct flight from Melbourne to Cairns.

His reaction (Step 1) was dismay although not overt anger – how was he going to get to his holiday house?

I apologised (Step 2) and asked him again (Step 3) what his requirements for transport for his holiday were. He needed to have a car to travel to and around his holiday destination.

I then gave him several options, one being that we would provide a hire car at no cost for his holiday or until his car eventually arrived (Step 4).

He agreed, I thanked him for his understanding (Step 5) and said I would arrange this and get back to him.

A hire car was organised, using my personal credit card to be available at the local Cairns airport lounge for his arrival (Step 6). I then phoned him back just before he boarded the plane. He was very happy with the outcome. He continued to be a client for many years.

Even the most difficult situations can be solved using common sense and the 6 Step approach to managing customer complaints……………

Compare this approach that described in one of my earlier blogs (https://5-dimensionz.com.au/2014/03/20/customer-service/).

It is quite a contrast isn’t it?

Never Never Say These Things………..

 “Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first”

Mark Twain


Too often, unfortunately when service providers, managers and staff fail to manage in a pro-active way, and things fail or do not go the way they expected, they come up with excuses.

What are differences between reasons and excuses?

The measurement for success in business today is performance. Whether you are a pleasant person, honest or related to the boss or is not, is irrelevant if you are not contributing to the business’s performance in a positive way.  Too often we hear about employees being unfairly treated when a business folds or lays off staff, however perhaps rather than blaming ‘someone else’ whether it is the owner, managers, the market or customers the employees could have taken effective action that may have prevented the current situation.

I call this ‘discretionary effort’; the difference in the level of effort one is capable of bringing to an activity or a task, and the effort required only to get by or make do. In other words “going the extra mile”………………

Here is a list of phrases to avoid which are excuses, not reasons:

“They didn’t get back to me” – so you did not follow up?

“I thought someone else was taking care of it” – so you don’t take responsibility in your job”?

“No one ever told me” – so you don’t communicate with those around you?

“I didn’t have time” – did you have time to talk around the water cooler or photocopier?

“I didn’t think to ask about that” – so you don’t  think about your job?

If there are roadblocks in the business whose job is it to remove them?

Yours or ‘someone else’s?

Sometimes in business , there are too many people  talking  about their rights (what they think they are entitled to) rather than their responsibilities (taking initiative and being pro-active).

Good business owners and managers love employees who remove road blocks and are positive and pro-active.

My observations over 30 years in business is that if you use excuses like those above then you are the road block! Everybody learns from experience and learning is a ‘state of mind’ – so don’t be a roadblock…………………..

Customer Service

“Thank your customer for complaining and mean it. Most will never bother to complain. They’ll just walk away.” 

Marilyn Suttle

I recently experienced not one, but three examples of appalling customer service from a major Australian retailer which has prompted me to reflect on what really is “customer service”. I ‘phoned 2 different stores and got the same result – the ‘phone was transferred through to the appropriate department until it rang out. I then ‘phoned head office to seek assistance and was transferred to one of the stores again and after waiting for at least 5 minutes, a counter staff member picked up. He was most embarrassed and offered to get the department to call me.  I refused! I had had enough. My complaint via email to head office went unanswered.

Did that surprise you?

Recently I had a business colleague tell me the story of why, after 12 years he had decided to sever the relationship with a major service provider and partner. Despite being a loyal and longstanding customer who always paid within terms and his company being one of their largest customers, he had never met the CEO. When problems arose over service, they the customer, were  accused of being inefficient and unreliable. This certainly appears to have been management denial as covered in one of my earlier blogs: https://5-dimensionz.com.au/2013/11/21/denial-is-not-a-river-in-egypt

To cap it off, when the service provider finally met to discuss the less than satisfactory service with the wronged customer, she was told how busy he had been with other customers.

As a customer, do you care about a supplier’s other customers and how busy they have been?

No!  You only care about your own requirements as you are the one paying for their services. You are not interested in their excuses (they are not reasons).  Such excuses make you feel as though you are not to be important enough to generate a relationship with.  You certainly don’t want to know that they were too busy taking care of another client!

Let’s put it another way, no man (apologies for being sexist) would come home late for dinner and use the excuse:

“Sorry I’m late for dinner dear, I just caught up with a girlfriend for a quick drink”

Like all relationships, whether family, social, personal or business, the principles of common courtesy, respect, manners and decency apply.

They are just as important in the professional or commercial world.

So how are you going to prevent this occurring in your organisation…………..??

Being Late. Is it good business etiquette?

“Etiquette means behaving yourself a little better than is absolutely essential”

Will Cuppy.

Manners is about respect for other people, whether in business or in a social setting. It is not old-fashioned to have good manners. It has nothing to do with ‘fashion’ or ‘generation’.

Is it OK to be late for a meeting or an appointment?

Too often in business, people run late for meetings and when they arrive, are often ill prepared. They think nothing of drifting into a meeting, 5, 10 or 15 minutes after starting time.

Professional managers do not find this acceptable.

I was recently at a meeting where 6 people were kept waiting in a meeting for 20 minutes, until one team member idled their way in, unprepared and 20 minutes late. That equals 6 people times 20 minutes each or 120 minutes wasted. Yes, 2 hours wasted. How much has that cost the business?

The best thing to do to prevent this wastage is to start the meeting without them. They are unlikely to be late next time.

Although cost is a factor, it is the lack of respect for the other six people in the meeting that is also important, whether you are their manager or the business owner is not relevant.

This lack of respect can flow through the whole organisation and it can tell you a lot about the values being promoted within an organisation.

There are other actions in meetings that are NOT acceptable and show lack of respect:

Making and taking phone calls during meeting. It is both rude and disrespectful.

  1. Checking emails or texts during a meeting.
  2. Not being prepared.

If you can’t give the meeting your time, don’t attend. It is as simple as that.

This manifests itself in other ways. Failure to return phone calls or reply to emails is just plain rude. It is like someone saying good morning to you and you ignoring them. In my experience, most of the people who are late for meetings are generally the same people who are not prepared for meetings and check their texts and take and make phone calls during the meeting.

With important meetings, I always try and be 5 minutes early just in case there is a problem. If you are unavoidably late, call or text 15 minutes before the scheduled time. Its good manners and also shows respect. Much more can be achieved when you show respect. If you show respect, in most cases it will be returned not only making your job easier but by achieving a constructive outcome for the business.

Before I went into business I worked for a business owner who was extremely successful and wealthy. He always opened the door for you, allowing you to enter and leave first and was never late for meetings. Even when we had company team gym sessions, he always made sure he was the last person to take a shower. It goes without saying he was highly respected and managed an exceptionally successful business.

We all lead ‘busy lives’. It’s a cop-out to use that as an excuse. Do you really think that your time is more important than someone else’s?

Apparently much of the success achieved by Nelson Mandela in finally toppling apartheid in South Africa was his ability to treat everybody with respect, including his prison guards on Robben Island. I can remember watching a TV documentary program on Mandela, where he was described as giving people his undivided attention and time. It made people feel valued and important. In the TV program there was a section graphically showing Mandela publically chastising the then President, Thabo Mbeke when he showed a lack of respect for arriving late to a meeting he was to address where Mandela was also a guest of honour.

Remember good etiquette and manners pays off………….so as a business owner, manager or supervisor are you showing people adequate respect?