Sunday, August 29, 2010

Everyone is a Customer: Make it Right

One of the most powerful professional tools that I've been granted in my career is the concept that everyone - employees, colleagues, customers (readers), managers, candidates, executives and shareholders:  is a customer.

Moreover, when coupled with the concept of Customer Delight, which is a much more powerful state than just plain old Customer Service, you stack the odds of creating a business culture and philosophy that meets and / or exceeds the needs of all both internally and externally.

When taken and implemented authentically together, those two concepts are a powerful force.  You engender loyalty, retention and repeat business, which in turn engenders reputation and new business / customers.

Walking the talk of "Everyone is a Customer" and "The Customer is Always Right"  is clearly hard work.

The best and most successful professionals and organizations are in a constant state of discovery to in effect mediate the agendas of all parties and constantly create new and innovative solutions that meet or exceed the needs of all the "customers" involved in any business transaction.

Some brief but notable examples:

The deal-killer and consequently the career-killer is making the customers, internally and externally, wrong.  It's the misguided value system that dictates if you make the customer / colleague / employee / employer wrong, that it will help make you right, and consequently successful.   This behavior can manifest in the following brief but notable ways:
  • Berating a colleague at a team meeting;
  • Being an asshole to employees as a company leader;
  • Southwest Airlines;
  • The irate (and ubiquitously tiresome) Jet Blue employee and the equally rude passenger / customer who smacked him with her bag because she did not follow the rules (Whether we like it or not, rules are a necessity in our post-9/11 travel paradigm.  Vendors are also customers.)
If I make you wrong and myself right (or vice versa) in any given conflict or business transaction, someone always loses.

When we work together to create a solution that meets or exceeds the needs of both you and me, the possibilities of both joint and individual success are infinite.

Let's make it right for all of our customers:  present company included.

Go forth and prosper!

    Sunday, August 22, 2010

    Networking is About What You Have to Give

    I graduated from SUNY at Albany into perhaps the worst recession only second to the current one.  I was an English major (and a Women's Studies minor by accident -- I wanted to take Sign Language 101 but they canceled the course at the last minute, so I took Women's Studies 101 instead).

    I wanted to write for a living and there were no jobs available, much less a job where I could follow my bliss.

    During my senior semester, I had the good fortune to get accepted into the New York State Assembly Internship Program 3 days before the deadline.  My friend Portia, who was a Political Science major, encouraged me to apply because as she noted astutely, "The Legislature pays people to write."  She had me at hello.

    I lucked out with my internship assignment as well.  The Program assigned me to the most liberal and curmudgeony member of the Assembly at the time (I feared briefly that my punishment for daring to be a Women's Studies minor would be an assignment working for a severely Conservative member), who also happened to be the Assemblyman from my home district. He owned one tie, a shiny yet stained polyester striped blue-and-gray number, that lived in his top desk drawer.  He wore it grudgingly to the Assembly Chamber like a noose to conform with the dress code.   He was brilliant, always ready for a good debate (or argument), anti-establishment, an avid birdwatcher and could conveniently give me a ride south on the weekends to see my family occasionally.  We would often pull over on the shoulder of the Thruway to get a closer look at a hawk with the binoculars he kept in his car. Whenever I see a hawk today, (He passed a number of years ago), I think fondly of him.

    The internship required 20 hours of work a week in the Assemblyman's office; in return, I received 15 credits and a $100 a week stipend.   It was a great opportunity, even more than I knew at the time.

    Shortly after I started the internship, the Assemblyman hired Nan to be his Staff Director.  Nan was a natural-born connector, a great writer, and a lot of fun:  to this day, she is one of the best managers I've ever had.  I loved working for her, and I loved the work we all did together.  Before I knew it, I was working 40 hours a week or more supporting the crazy hours of legislative session work, attending legislative receptions with Nan, meeting new people and having a great time.

    As graduation neared and my internship was about to end, Nan asked me to work part-time through the end of the year (I also worked at Macy's part-time the rest of that year to approximate full-time work.)   Nan, before the era of email, cell phones and the web, worked her network and helped me get a full-time job for the upcoming Legislative Session in another Assemblyman's office. 

    I was sad to leave Nan's employ, and touched at how she had championed me in a tough budget and economy with her network to get me a rare full-time Assembly Session job.  "How can I ever thank you?"  I asked her.

    "By never saying 'no' when someone asks to network with you,"  she replied. "That will be thanks enough."

    Nan created a calling with that request.  As one friend recently noted, I collect people.  I find people in general fascinating, and smart and talented people particularly engaging.  I love matching up the latter vocationally and in business.  Yes, I network and have a large network, both virtually and here in SmAlbany, because I'm a recruiter by trade and a saleswoman by DNA.

    I have however experienced networking most authentically when I have something to give in the moment without expecting something in return.  Now, the laws of networking are not like the laws of physics:  for each "give,"  you do not necessarily receive an equal and opposite "get" from the person with whom you're networking.

    Rather, it is approaching networking with a generosity of spirit:  you're planting seeds that someday may (or may not) bloom into opportunity, you just can't predict the timing or the likelihood of that germination.  When I offer my subject-matter expertise (SME) without solicitation and give away some of the crunchy nuggets that other potential business partners need when the moment presents itself, that's when I receive what I need, in the form of new clients, new jobs, new colleagues, new friends. And not necessarily from the person who receives my crunchy SME nuggets.

    Interestingly enough, these SME nuggets planted in generosity of spirit also grow reputation:  another critical networking building block.

    During this last ride to the Recession Rodeo, when I was in search of both a new job and new clients as part of discovering the next enriching chapter of my vocational journey, I revved up my usual power networking schedule and presentation.   As I coached my son Noah several weeks ago, my daddy always told me that if you make 30 calls and you got one "yes," you were doing great.

    Daddy also set the bar high for prospecting:  at least 10 calls a day, at least 1 face-to-face meeting a day.  It's hard yet always satisfying work.

    Sure, there are the occasional days when I prepare for a meeting feeling like a needy supplicant, wanting the person I'm scheduled to meet to be my Mommy and fix it all for me.  Feh.  I don't even want to meet with me on days like that. If I can't get going for myself, what useful purpose will I have for the decision-maker who made the time to meet with me?  I take a page from the 12-Step rooms:  I fake it 'til I make it.  That is:  I rely on what I know intellectually about what I have to give that nice decision-maker until my feelings catch up with the facts.  And on those very rare days when I can't get it together, I know I need a break and take the necessary rest.

    I also know I'm in the networking zone when about 50% of the meetings end up being about the decision-maker's agenda, and not mine.

    However, I'm happy to say, my networking has evolved along with my subject-matter expertise.  At the end of each phone call, each meeting, as part of offering my thanks, I also genuinely offer to be an ongoing resource to the person kind enough to have taken time to speak to me.  It happened spontaneously early on in the latest discovery process, and the reaction was worth everything.

    After a jovial meeting where my decision-maker contact made amusing fun of the HR profession in general, in parting I said:  "If you ever need anything from me, even as a reality-check, please do not hesitate to contact me:  no charge."  From the look on his face, I could see that he was genuinely touched at my offer.  "So Deb:  if I have a weird HR situation, I can call you?"

    Absolutely.  I'm here for you.

    Happy Hunting:  Have a great week!

    Sunday, August 15, 2010

    Don't Mess Your Nest: The Secret to Employee Handbook Compliance (Business, Leadership and Career Success Too)

    The ongoing postmortem on the abrupt resignation and departure of Hewlett-Packard's former CEO Mark V. Hurd due to violations of H.P.’s standards of business conduct and an allegedly unfounded sexual harassment claim continues to fascinate me as an HR and Change Management practitioner.

    However, as a kid born and bred in New York City and the daughter of a Marine, a simple but visceral reaction keeps rearing its authentic head:

    Don't Mess Your Nest.

    My friend Carol, who had a successful career as a state government executive, helped me with this more polite version of what I learned early in life.  It was a classic NYS Downstate-kid/ Upstate-kid exchange.  "Carol, do you know a cleaner version of "Don't S*** Where You Eat?"  I asked recently.  "Yes," Carol answered immediately.  "Don't Mess Your Nest."

    I liked it.  It reminded me of an eagle's nest, and for me personally, eagles are great metaphors on several levels, not withstanding a symbol of leadership and business success.  Much more nuanced than my Lower-East-Side version.

    "Why do you want to know?"  Carol asked.  "Personal  theory I've developed over the years,"  I replied.  "Rather than writing a magnum opus of an HR Handbook and policies for an organization, I believe that one phrase covers it all.  And if all employees at all levels subscribed to 'Don't Mess Your Nest,' we wouldn't have to worry about an employee handbook,  and consequently work life would be a lot easier for all of us. Also, my 9 year-old son is an experienced Googler, and I have to maintain some decorum."  Carol chuckled.

    I know what you may be thinking: I earn my livelihood writing employee handbooks as well as intervening on and subsequently remediating all sorts of dysfunctional workplace behavior at all organizational levels. Some potentially (but never on my watch to date, thankfully) newsworthy, some annoying and frustrating, and some just downright sad.   I approach this part of my role as a mediator, and that's why it hasn't worn me down, so what am I complaining about?  Because it takes time and energy away from more constructive and strategic efforts to build business and organizational success at all levels.

    To the point I made in an earlier post:  in the dual role of HR executive and internal Executive recruiter, I would have to clean up my own mess (and credibility), HR-wise, if I inserted a candidate with the issues below into the hiring process and they were subsequently hired. It certainly motivates the drive on the front-end to place and promote quality candidates and leadership bench.

    It also helps when the organization's governance structure shares the same success values.

    In the latest New York Times article on Hurd's departure,  Charles House, a former longtime H.P. engineer who now runs a research program at Stanford University, in addition to his pleasure at Hurd's departure, makes this poignant observation about H.P.'s last 3 CEOs:  "What H.P. needs in its next leader is “someone with Carly’s (Fiorina) strategic sense, Mark’s (Hurd) operational skills, and Lew’s (Platt) emotional intelligence.”

    Amen, brother:  a snapshot job spec for leadership success.

    Sadly, a snapshot that Hurd did not fit.  He is further described in the NYT article as having the strategic sense of a gnat, and knew only how to cut costs. He was a cost-cutter who indulged himself.   His combined compensation for just his last two years was more than $72 million — a number that absolutely outraged employees since their jobs were the ones being cut. 

    Hurd's cost-cutting as reported in the NYT was for the short-term hits as well:  he cut back significantly on R&D (the article notes that H.P. consequently had no product response to the iPad); he dictated that H.P. executives had to resign from all civic boards, and he cut off many of H.P.’s philanthropic activities.

    In recent internal surveys, the NYT article reports, nearly two-thirds of H.P. employees said they would leave if they got an offer from another company — a staggering number. <Clearly> Hurd didn’t have the support of his people. He was also observed to be incredibly rude and demeaning, and relied on the fear factor. Although he was good at holding executives’ feet to the fire, he seemed to be the only one benefiting from H.P.’s success. He alienated himself from the people who might have protected him <Which would explain the decidedly odd publicity originating from H.P. about an allegedly resolved sexual harassment complaint.> One observer's summation:  Hurd lacked the moral character to be CEO.

    Yet he was allowed to carry on for 5 years, as the ongoing postmortem seems to suggest, because of his significant but short-term positive hits to H.P.'s bottom line.  And this has all played out publicly and widely, to former, current and future customers, shareholders and employees, bruising both the reputations of Hurd and H.P.  Ouch.

    Hurd sounds like a fictional character constructed to hammer home the authentic concepts illustrated by House's Stanford colleague Bob Sutton in his seminal leadership / organizational effectiveness book, The No-Asshole Rule (Sorry Noah, that's the title of the book).  But sadly, for Hurd, H.P. and its former and current employees, truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

    The Hurd saga is also a cautionary tale about an organization off-course.  Joe Nocera, who wrote this latest NYT article, summed it up elegantly:  "H.P. says its board should be applauded for not letting Mr. Hurd off the hook. But this is just after-the-fact spin. In fact, the directors should be called out for acting like the cowards they are. Mr. Hurd’s supposed peccadilloes were a smoke screen for the real reason they got rid of an executive they didn’t trust and employees didn’t like." 

    Worried about how to best follow organizational policies, guidelines and handbooks?  How to guide your employees to do the same?

    And moreover, build a foundation that will ensure career and business success?

    Don't Mess Your Nest.   

    Because it's especially damaging and discouraging when eagles do it.

    As always:  a successful week to all!

    Sunday, August 8, 2010

    Teaching My 9 Year-Old Son How to Sell (Or Interview. Or Recruit. Or Date.) Resiliently

    Our family had a wonderful time last Sunday afternoon volunteering for Spotlight Players Community Theater during the last performance of their Broadway-quality production of the musical murder mystery "Curtains." After experiencing their award-winning production of "Parade" earlier in the year, which we attended for free thanks to a grant obtained by the Spotlight Players, our friend Mike, who is a member of their Board, invited us to volunteer as ushers at one of the "Curtains" performances in exchange for free admission.

    These experiences with the Spotlight Players have re-awakened our family's long-standing interest in theater, closely related to our passion for movies. And I suspect that our 9 year-old son Noah, who likes to sing in Junior Choir; who is completely comfortable speaking in front of large groups thanks to the inclusive culture at The First Unitarian Society of Schenectady (FUSS); and who is the recipient of some sales DNA, might at some point be interested in performing in a theatrical production.

    Enough gifts for a family's Sunday afternoon, yes? There were more gifts to come in the form of the volunteer assignment that Noah and I shared.

    When we arrived before the show, Joanne, the volunteer coordinator, had enough ushers. "Are any of you interested in selling tickets to the performance or running the 50-50 raffle?" Joel, my husband, Noah's father and the ying to Noah's and my yang, volunteered to sell tickets for last Sunday's matinee to last-minute arrivals at the lobby table.

    Noah wanted to do the 50-50 raffle by himself. "You do need an adult to help you with the money, it can get quite busy," Joanne gently informed Noah. I chimed in. "It will be fun, we'll do it together -- it's just like the 50-50 raffles we do at FUSS luncheons after Sunday services -- half of the money goes to the winner, and the other half goes to FUSS." Noah agreed.

    Armed with a plastic bucket full of change and a roll of raffle tickets, Joanne gave us our instructions. "$1 for one ticket; $2 for 3 tickets; and $5 for an arm's length of tickets. You'll sell the raffle tickets until the show begins, and then during intermission. The winning ticket will be drawn at the end of intermission, before the second act begins." She smiled down at Noah. "However, it would be two arms' length for Noah." Noah outstretched his arms in a "T" formation, and smiled back. "Okay, we're all set," I said. "Now, as the customers come in, approach each one of them after they're done with Daddy, ask them if they'd like to buy a 50-50 raffle ticket, and tell them how the raffle works."

    The first couple left the lobby table and on cue, Noah approached them. And then he choked a bit. He looked back at me sheepishly. "I forgot what to say." I smiled back at him. "Not to worry -- why don't you listen to Mama a couple of times and then you can try again?" Noah nodded. I then smiled at the couple and explained the raffle, emphasizing the $5 option included the length of both of Noah's arms. They took the $5 option, enjoying the additional performance of Noah grinning and outstretching his arms as I measured the strip of tickets against them. "Okay, I'm ready to do it," Noah asserted.

    The next couple approached, and Noah ran his pitch like a pro. Amused, they also chose the $5 option and Noah's brief lobby performance. "This is fun!" Noah exclaimed to me as they walked into the auditorium.

    He approached the next couple, who appeared a bit harried. "No thank you, we're not interested," the woman said, unsmiling, to Noah. He turned to me, a bit crestfallen. "They said no."

    What a great coaching moment. "Not everyone is going to say 'yes,' and you can't take it personally," I said. Noah nodded, listening. "They seemed to be in a hurry. We can try them again during intermission. And I'd like you to remember what Grandpa Howard taught me a long time ago: if you talk to 30 people and you get one 'yes,' you're having a great day."

    Noah brightened. He got it. "We're already doing better than that," Noah calculated. "So we're already doing a great job!" Noah then proceeded to approach every person who entered the lobby both before the show and during intermission. And when he received the occasional "no, thank-you," he looked back and me and reasserted: "We have a lot of 'yeses,' so we're doing great!" I completely agreed, reveling in bearing witness to the lesson he was learning so positively and so early in his life.

    Just before intermission ended, Joanne and the director counted our take for the 50-50 raffle. "Noah, you raised the most money of any performance for this show," the director informed us. We were both proud. The director invited Noah up on stage to pull and announce the winning ticket.

    In front of an audience of strangers, Noah pulled the ticket and confidently announced the winning number.

    However, in this coach's (mother's) opinion, there was more than one winner that day.

    A wonderful and prosperous week to you and yours!

    Sunday, August 1, 2010

    Write Your Life: Write Your Career

    Disclaimer up front: as a serial and life-long reader and writer, I tend to focus on writing quality more than the average hiring authority, business partner, customer, colleague, friend or relative. However, I do not believe that I'm in the minority of potential decision-makers. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I do not claim to be a perfect writer or editor, with my solid B in my college Grammar 101 course. However, please do read on before you hit the send button on your next job application.

    Bottom line: I continue to consistently see unprofessional correspondence from job candidates. Cover emails and letters as well as job applications riddled with spelling and grammatical errors.

    The C.V. attachment that arrived with nothing but "Sent from My Verizon Wireless Blackberry" in the body of the email with the word "sex" embedded in the job applicant's email address is the most recent and memorable.

    Twice recently I have seen the mangled "oppertunity" (sic). Once in the email subject line. Ouch.

    The immediacy of error-ridden electronic job applications is perhaps even more heart-breaking than the old-fashioned hard-copy cover letters and C.V.'s sent to prospective employers via snail mail. That fading process at least, in theory, baked in some more time to review and proof your correspondence before you stamped it and dropped it in the mailbox (the red, white and blue metal ones). As a recruiter, just for the record, I do not miss at all managing hard-copy job applications.

    When a job candidate (or for that matter, anyone else who is writing with the intention of marketing a product) corresponds as carelessly as exemplified above, the telegraphed impact about you as a candidate on the hiring authority and / or decision-maker is deafening:
    • No attention to detail, does not proof their work
    • Makes frequent mistakes
    • Cannot write, perhaps cannot speak professionally
    • Poor judgment
    • Might have been impaired when they sent their email application.
    (Friends don't let friends email; text; dial; drunk.)
    • (Insert your own assessment here.)
    The 90-day performance review rated "unsatisfactory" writes itself in my head as I move the candidate's mangled application to the "regret" folder, as my experience in the dual role of inside Executive Recruiter and Director of Human Resources / Employee Relations guides me to manage the unsatisfactory performance in the hiring stage and not pursue such candidates any further.

    Managing poor performance on the front end (e.g., the candidate hiring stage) saves me and my organization a great deal of work and money on the back end (Payroll time wasted training, disciplining and making available to industry a substandard performer.)

    In other words, I had to clean up my own mess, HR-wise, if I inserted a candidate with the issues above into the hiring process and they were subsequently hired. Not to mention the poor reflection on my assessment skills. It certainly motivates the drive for quality candidates.

    There is so much information out in both the media and social media channels about the importance of accurate business writing in both the job application process and in the workplace, I'm once again at a loss to understand the substandard writing and grammatical errors I continue to experience in the work of others, especially in this competitive economy.

    And I'm not advocating that candidates with poor writing skills engage ghost writers to win the job. Because once you win the job, you still need to write at least emails. I had a manager who worked for me whose emails were borderline illiterate, and they had been in the workforce for almost 20 years. Intrigued, I checked their personnel file (I had not originally hired them). I was astonished to find a C.V. and cover letter better written than my own. Ghost-written. And, as I later found out, by their spouse. But their spouse wasn't there to help, post-hire, with their business email composition.

    My intention is not to come off as a writing snob. My own career Achilles heel is MS Excel spreadsheets -- they make my head throb. I winced and squirmed through Intro to MS Excel and Intermediate MS Excel courses. After nearly 10 years of formal and on-the-job instruction, I can for the most part use MS Excel at a satisfactory level. My next frontier is pivot tables.

    If writing is your Achilles hell (sic intended!), then please consider continuing education courses in business writing, and then please practice writing at every opportunity. In your volunteer work. Helping your children with their homework. Writing love letters. Facebook posts. If I can white-knuckle MS Excel, you can do the same with your writing for business.

    Before I send any important piece of writing out - proposal, job application, blog post - I let the best writer I know proof my work: my husband Joel. He just edited out a repeated word and pointed out two of my signature marathon sentences in this blog post, as a matter of fact. (Thanks, Hon!)

    If I'm at work: I read and re-read my work at least 4 times. And then I wait a while before I hit send, sometimes until the next morning. It's worked consistently for me.

    Sending in a job application is not a speed competition; if you send in your job application within the first week a job is posted, that is considered an expedient response.

    If yours is the first application I receive and it has multiple errors, I will continue to look at the other applications. Clearly, quality counts in this as well as other business writing scenarios.

    I believe writing is one of the ultimate acts of human manifestation: you can literally write your life. I have. And I love witnessing that act of creation in others.

    I have only one request: please don't write and send out crap. Because what's inside you is so much better than that. And decision-makers are waiting to discover and purchase the gifts you have to offer.

    A prosperous week to you and yours!