Sunday, June 26, 2011

Success with Customers and Employees is a Matter of Trust

I just finished reading Gary Vaynerchuk's The Thank-You Economy.   Great nuggets there to consider.

While Vaynerchuk as he usually does explores several cutting-edge concepts involving social media reputation that all entrepreneurs should consider, his musings on trust caught my attention:
  • Building, sustaining and growing the trust of your customers (your employer is your customer, too:  my trope on Vaynerchuk) is the key to success, in good times and bad, and most importantly, whether they're happy or unhappy with you;  
  • It's critical to engage and respond authentically with customers especially when they're unhappy with you; ironically, you gain loyalty by being present when they have problems more than when everything is peachy.  Think of the bank run scene from It's a Wonderful Life;
  • Demonstrating that you authentically trust your employees to do the right thing (and hire employees in the first place who reflect your "success" DNA to build, sustain and grow customer trust) will in turn not only result in higher customer satisfaction, but will also engender trust and retention in return from your employees.  (I also love Vaynerchuk's vision of a Chief Culture Officer or CCO, charged with ensuring the trust culture that grows the business.)

Vaynerchuk also reminded me of the great mediation training I experienced with Duke Fisher and Mediation Matters.  Duke emphasized all throughout our training to stand our ground, gather our courage and listen for the needs underneath the yelling:  that the source of all human conflict is needs met and unmet.

    Troping further on Duke's coaching and Vaynerchuk's trust concepts, I assert that the source of all business struggle to succeed is our customers' needs met and unmet. And that when we, as their vendors, listen to and respond authentically, with genuine care and human connectedness to the needs underneath our customers' yelling (even when there isn't an answer, and all we can do is commiserate as peers and offer other ways to meet our customers' needs, a la Miracle on 34th Street, when Kris Kringle sends a harried mother to Gimbel's for the toy that Macy's no longer has in stock), trust, which engenders reputation, which in turn engenders business growth:  is inevitable.

    Or as Billy says:  it's a matter of trust.

    Sunday, June 19, 2011

    They Adapt, They Shoot, They Score!

    I'm in the middle of reading Now...Build a Great Business by Mark Thompson and Brian Tracy, thanks to the new releases rack at my local branch of the Mohawk Valley Library system.  On pages 3 - 5, the authors describe how Disney, HP, IBM, GE, FedEx, Google and Charles Schwab all started in miserable economies, with false starts and failures.  What they all shared in driving their success against these odds was persistence, innovation, character and competence.  Their fearful competitors ran for safety and survival.  The founders of these companies instead focused on their customers (unlike their cowering and less-unimaginative competitors) and consequently met / exceeded their customers' needs.  And clearly thrived.  A true antidote to the adage "you miss 100% of the shots you never take."

    Dear Colleague, after reviving their business practice while talking to 3 different organizations for almost 3 months, got the job offer they wanted this week.  Making more money than they did working the organization who laid them off just before last Christmas.  It had been the first layoff of Dear Colleague's admirable career, courtesy of this last and particularly grinding recession.

    None of the 3 jobs Dear Colleague considered were advertised.  They heard about all of them thanks to their network, who in turn validated their excellent professional reputation with their support and referrals.

    Last December, Dear Colleague didn't know how to network.  But they were open to learning, and they adapted and learned.  And because they adapted and learned, they now have a new job.

    Last December, Dear Colleague didn't know how they were going to keep the cash flow steady.  After some lively chats with their network (including but not limited to, a few chats with me), they realized they could revive their former business practice, work as a 1099 contractor, and stoke the cash flow until they either built up their business practice to a full-time, 4-day-a-week level or get a new job in a new field, broadening their skill set and marketability in their willingness to adapt and learn.  The latter happened first.  The former is a great ongoing source:  professionally, economically, emotionally and spiritually; and is a textbook example of how Dear Colleague -- not their past or future employers -- is indeed the source of the cash flow.

    Simply put, Dear Colleague adapted, learned and practiced a new game, took a surprisingly small number of shots, and scored.

    May your shots be as fruitful this week, and beyond.

    Sunday, June 12, 2011

    Show Up. Get a Job. Belong. Be Successful!

    About a month ago, I shared the vocational / entrepreneurial adventures of some of my good colleagues as they discovered new opportunities just by shutting off their computers, putting on and out their networking best, and showing up at decision-maker events:

    Recently Laid-Off Colleague #2 picked up not one but two job leads sitting at a dinner meeting, as we all playfully bantered at considering an impromptu auction comparing the compensation / benefits packages of the two hiring authorities at the table.

    The Rensselaer County Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner at Franklin Plaza was an ingenuous myriad of activities designed to maximize the business interactions of the attendees with each other.   It was like Networking in Wonderland, with great food and great company.

    So here's the uplifting update on one of them:  I called Recently Laid-Off Colleague #2 this week to let them know that they needed to formally apply for a position that interested them first before I could forward their resume' to the decision-maker as a pre-recommendation.  "Thank you anyway, but I already have a job!"  they exclaimed gleefully.  With a competitor, by the way.  I was thrilled for them, as Laid-Off Colleague #2 is both talented and a good soul. "Fabulous!!"  I replied.  "How did it happen?"

    "At the Rennselaer County Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner," Recently Laid-Off Colleague #2 continued, a bit incredulous.  "It was the 3rd job lead that night:  I had already applied to the job, and my mentor introduced me to the decision-maker.  I interviewed and I was hired within the week!" 

    Textbook.  Imagine if Laid-Off Colleague #2 had decided not to show up at the RCCC Dinner?  Talk about gratitude for opportunities seized!

    There's also gratitude for organizations like The Rennselaer County Chamber of Commerce, their great staff and members.  Clearly, these folks have been a contribution to both me and to my colleagues in so many ways.  Business is sown, nurtured and grown through association with this vibrant Chamber, and I (and now you!) have witnessed the recent proof!

    The next day (reinforcing my belief that there's no such thing as coincidences), I was strolling with another dear friend and colleague after dinner, and I was introduced to one of their friends and colleagues.  Who happens to be Laid-Off Colleague #2's New Boss.  "You're lucky to get them, they're great," I shared.  "I know!"  New Boss replied.  "And I got the referral thanks to the Rensselaer County Chamber dinner!"  I smiled in delight.  When I hear the same nugget twice in the same week, I definitely take note.

    Where have you shown up recently to connect with the decision-makers who are going to move your career / business forward?  Do you belong to an organization like the RCCC, where the people, the events and their connections make it all happen?

    I hope to see you there -- as well as at other decision-maker events -- soon!

    Sunday, June 5, 2011

    Avoid a $290k Hit to Your P&L By Paying Less Than $1,000 for Sexual Harassment Prevention

    In the local news this week (and all over the web) was this report:

    Local Franchise to Pay $290,000 to Settle EEOC Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

    Teens Among Victims of Store Supervisor's Abuse, Federal Agency Charged

    According to the EEOC, the manager engaged in unwanted touching and hugging and made lewd sexual comments to the female employees.  The EEOC argued that the owner allowed the manager's illegal conduct to continue even after two employees had complained about it a year before.  The manager was finally fired after the employees reported his conduct to the police and he was arrested.  The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

    In addition to paying $290,000 to the former employees, the company will be bound by a six-year consent decree enjoining it from engaging in further discrimination or retaliation.  The decree calls for the appointment of an equal employment opportunity coordinator and training for all employees and managers on sexual harassment prevention.  The company will issue a letter of apology to the women; revise its anti-discrimination policies and complaint procedures; post a notice to employees about the resolution of the lawsuit; and never re-hire the manager responsible for the harassment.

    Rather than walk you through the whys and wherefores of my standard Sexual Harassment Awareness and Prevention spiel, I'm going to bottom-line it for you:  investing about $1,000 or less to proactively have a qualified HR and/or Legal Subject-Matter Expert (internal or external to your organization) to:
    • Ensure that your anti-discrimination policies and complaint procedures exist and are compliant with state and federal law;
    • Train your employees and managers annually on sexual harassment prevention and document it;
    • Take violators of your compliant anti-discrimination policies and complaint procedures through a progressive discipline (and if warranted) termination process;
    will save you the $290,000 the above-mentioned franchise owner will now have to pay as the EEOC settlement.  That doesn't include the lingering cost of the reputational damage inflicted by the negative publicity of the compliance violations.

    A $290,000 settlement is a huge bite out of an annual small-business P&L such as a franchise store:  in this tight commercial lending environment, unless the owner has a large cash reserve, that large a settlement can effectively shut down a small business.

    In contrast:  $1,000 or less invested proactively in Sexual Harassment policy compliance, training, discipline and prevention by a qualified internal or external HR SME is a much smaller bite of a small-business P&L, and will pay off in positive legal and reputational dividends for years to come.

    Pink donut with a bite missing

    Pink donut with a bite missing (clipped to