Sunday, July 31, 2011

When You're an Employee, You Only Have One Customer

Ever since my father took me to the office one Saturday morning at the age of 4, I wanted a job.  It dawned on me:  so that's where the quarters and dollars Daddy doled out to me came from.  Cool.  Sadly, I was not invited back, as my fascination / love of technology with buttons also began with that visit:  I destroyed a large electronic adding machine by pressing too many buttons at once.  It was exciting, especially when it started smoking and whining.  I gained the reputation from that toddler experience with the male members of my family of being unreliable around machinery, which was totally unfounded and unfair.  Ask my husband Joel:  I am End-User Support for our house and can resurrect even the most hopeless computer fiascoes, most of the time.

So while most of my contemporaries in high school were wringing their hands next to the phone waiting for a boy to call for a date (or not), I engaged in the exact same ritual with a potential employer.

I asked my father for advice, as he was (and still is) a whiz at getting jobs.   It's always the same advice, it just took several decades to sink in:  "If you make 30 calls, and you get one sale, you're doing great,"  he'd dictate.  "What does that mean, Dad?"  I asked, confused.  "I'm not selling anything, I'm not a salesman."  Dad smiled.  "Yes, you are:  you're selling yourself.  And you know how to do it, because you're my daughter. You're just not concentrating."  I still didn't get it, clearly befuddled.  Dad spelled it out for me.  "Don't focus on one company:  apply to as many companies as you can.  That way, you increase your chances of getting a job, and you don't drive yourself crazy waiting for one guy to call you back and hire you.  Don't put all of your eggs in one basket."

Communication gap bridged, I got it.  It involved a lot more work applying and interviewing at many other companies, but it sure beat the soul- and energy-sucking anxiety of sitting next to the phone waiting for a call from just one potential employer.

Recently, as I was in the middle of a career coaching session with a good colleague, I took my father's advice one step further.  The presenting challenge was how to best frame a proposal to their manager (Read:  Customer) on their next career step up the organizational ladder, with the accompanying increase in compensation.  I coached Good Colleague that the proposal should meet both their needs as well as the profitability needs of their organization.  "What if my manager rejects my proposal?"  Good Colleague asked.  "Well, then maybe you've outgrown the organization, and it's time to look outside the organization,"  I replied.  Good Colleague was dismayed.  "But I don't want to leave the organization, I love it there," they said.  Good Colleague, like Dad, is in Sales / Business Development.

I thought for a moment.  "If that's the case, then you only have one Customer.  And from a business development standpoint, we all know how dangerous it is to bank your success on one Customer."  Good Colleague nodded.  "You don't have to necessarily leave the organization right now:  but there's nothing wrong with reaching out to colleagues in your industry, to ask their advice and grow new and existing relationships,"  I continued.  "At minimum, you'll make some great connections and build your reputation if your current manager ends up accepting your proposal, and at maximum, you'll be prospecting for new potential Customers.  It might be a job; it might be a project; or it might be a business that you'll start and grow.  The Customer potential is only limited by your willingness to try."

How many Customers do you have?  And are you keeping those Customer relationships warm and mutually rewarding by meeting everyone's profitability and success needs?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Banish Bitter and Blotchy From the Interview (Sales Call)

Several years ago, I sat at my company's booth at a large job fair. I was alone covering the booth as the other members of my recruiting team were out on a break.  

A job-seeker approached the booth:  a gentleman with salt-and-pepper hair, dressed in a nice navy suit, red silk tie, polished shoes, equipped with a leather portfolio and linen paper résumés.  On the outside, he looked great, quite hireable.  On the inside:  he was a mess and he proceeded to over-share with me (A career-long occupational hazard for me:  I'm a recruiter, among other SME gears, yet candidates more often than not mistake me for their therapist, whether it's on the phone or in person.).  "Hi!" he chirped, slapping one of his résumés on the booth counter.  "Need an accountant?"  I smiled back.  "Not at the moment.  However, I'd be happy to have your résumé in the event we need one in the future."  

His face fell, and he was visibly annoyed.  "It's because I'm 53, right?" he insisted.  He shook his head.  "It's why my boss let me go, and it's why I can't get hired:  no one wants to hire anyone over 40."  He began to walk away before I could even respond.  Usually, I'd let bitter-and-blotchy candidates like him go their miserable way.   The first candidate contact is like the first date:  candidates are (theoretically) on their best behavior, and hiring bitter-and-blotchy usually doesn't end well.   But he was clearly discouraged and clueless, not a winning combination.

"Excuse me, please don't walk away," I requested.  The job-seeker turned around, surprised.  "Are you talking to me?" he asked.  "Yes please, if you don't mind:  I can't leave the booth right now," I replied.  He came back to the booth, clearly curious.  

I leaned over the booth counter.  "I know why you're not getting hired.  Are you interested in hearing why?"  He nodded.  "You need to move past how your last boss hurt you, and let it go," I confided.  "And if you can't do it yourself, ask someone you trust to help you work on it, so you won't ever speak to a hiring manager like that again."  He was a bit stunned.  "I am hurt," he said, sadness replacing anger.  "I know," I replied gently.  "And it's stopping people from hiring you."

He paused for a moment.  "I've never had a recruiter speak to me like this before. I appreciate the feedback, but why are you telling me this?"

I smiled.  "Because you have a great résumé, and I just hired a 73 year-old last week."  

He laughed, and thought for a moment.  "Well, I have a good friend who's a Vice President of Human Resources:  I could buy him a cup of coffee and talk it through with him."

"Perfect, please do!"  I said,  extending my hand.  "Good luck."  He shook my hand.  "Thank you for telling me."  he said. "I appreciate your honesty."

I know what you're thinking:  how could this candidate not know the impact he was making with his bitter-and-blotchy presentation and baggage, especially spewing his grief and anger all over a hiring authority / decision-maker?   It's pretty simple:  a lot of folks are so verklempt over their losses and challenges that their feelings are driving the bus instead of their common sense and sales ability.  They're not focused on consciously managing their changes.

Change Management SME's emphasize that in order for people to effectively manage change, they must achieve some closure with the past and let it go, so they can move forward and resiliently embrace change.

Whether you're selling yourself in an interview, or selling your product to a potential customer (same thing in my reckoning),  leave the past and the bitter-and-blotchy attitude behind:  so you can move forward, close the sale and build your success.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Get a Job (Or Find an Employee, Customer or Vendor) on LinkedIn, The New Career Frontier!

After only 5 months after their layoff from a slowly dying organization, Recently Laid-Off Colleague #1 got a great job offer this week at a growth-economy firm, at a salary higher than their last job.

The only place their new job was posted was on LinkedIn.

#1's new boss called me for a reference.  She already knew about my background and relationship to #1, because she looked up my profile on LinkedIn before she picked up the phone.  A new network connection was born, and I look forward to meeting #1's new boss in the near future.  We both agreed that #1 was a great find, given their esoteric skill set and how difficult, in any economy, to source talented candidates like #1 in that particular discipline.

Yet another reason why I love LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is like a multi-dimensional Rolodex (and much more!) for me:  I grow and keep track of my network and my business on LinkedIn.  It is a wonderful tool that perfectly complements my in-person networking / connecting, as I network for both fun and profit.

How is LinkedIn working for you, and how are you working LinkedIn?  Connect with me here or on LinkedIn, and share your LinkedIn experience, strength, hope and success! too.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Stay SME Competent Through The Snakes and The Storms

One of the reasons I like Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark so much is that the good Professor Jones knows his stuff.  He has his faults and quirks:  he hates snakes, he has issues with his personal relationships, but he is a consummate subject-matter expert (SME).

Most importantly, Indiana Jones is the best kind of SME:  he is (almost) terminally curious and a life-long learner. And he's not afraid to take the risks to move his competence constantly forward.  Even though everywhere he goes there are inevitably snakes to spook him, he pushes through his phobia(s) to satisfy his curiosity.  His competence, consequently, is of the highest caliber.

Case in point:  his quick thinking and counsel to Marion to keep her eyes closed after observing the opening of the Lost Ark of the Covenant (with apologies for the quality of the clip):

Even as the Nazis scream, melt and vaporize around him, Professor Jones knows when to keep his curiosity in check and modulate it, in order to preserve his life and that of his equally formidable love interest, Marion.

How will you modulate your curiosity and phobias to support your commitment to build your SME competency, while successfully navigating your particular snakes and storms?  Keep your fedora on: it's always a bumpy yet rewarding ride.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Skin-in-the-Game Customer Service at the Skyport Restaurant in Scotia, NY

At least once a month, my husband Joel, my son Noah and I have lunch at the Skyport Restaurant on Freeman's Bridge Road in Scotia, NY after we attend Sunday services at The First Unitarian Society of Schenectady, where we have been members for several years.

It's the type of diner where my father, a career salesman, would buy me breakfast as a treat in Queens, NY when I was a little girl.  Good food at a reasonable price.  Run by blue-collar folks just like us.  Nothing fancy, but clean, satisfying and good.

Each time we arrive, we're greeted by an upbeat sprite of a waitress who is a cross between Cyndi Lauper and Joyce DeWitt from Three's Company.  She is the best waitress I've ever met in my life.  I feel like I'm welcomed into her home every time we eat there.

On our first visit, she brought Noah his hot chocolate in a special extra large cup with delightfully too much whipped cream and chocolate syrup flourished on top.  She had Noah at hello.  She calls us all honey and has a megawatt smile.  She's not a normal waitress:  she acts like she owns the place.  I've been wondering about her status for several months:  if she owns the place, why is she waiting on tables?

I found out why today.  My good friend Lisa and I both like the Skyport and decided to have our slightly overdue lunch there.  We sat for 2 hours catching up.

Our waitress approached us.  "Where are your boys today?"  she asked me.  "Amusing each other at home," I smiled back.  "Mine too," Lisa chimed in.  She looked at Lisa.  "Where do I know you from?"  she asked Lisa.  They wondered aloud together for a few minutes.  As they both caught their breath, I jumped in.  "You know, you're a great waitress.  You work like you own the place."  She beamed.  "Thank you, it really means a lot to me, I work really hard at it." 

Her name is Joanna. It turns out that her father has owned the restaurant for 52 years.  He's 91 years old and sits in the back, chopping the potatoes and onions up for the delicious home fries and the homemade corned beef hash.  Joanna's two sisters buzz around the kitchen and cook all the food.  A younger brother or nephew always brings our coffee and cleans the tables.  "Well, we love coming here and you're a big reason, thank you," I said.  Joanna beamed again and bustled to other customers.

Lisa and I closed the diner this afternoon, along with a couple from California, who stopped both Joanna and I.  "She's right, you are wonderful," he said to Joanna.  "Thanks!" Joanna beamed one last time.  We all wished each other a good week.

Now, I've worked with and for family businesses for a good part of my career that employ family members.  Sometimes it works, with all of the family members pulling their weight.  Sometimes it doesn't work. When family members don't pull their weight, it's painful.  Painful in that it's both morale- and soul-sucking.  Like working with no-show colleagues.  Everyone gets paid, but they don't work, you do.  Just because they're family, it doesn't always equate to having skin in the game of the family business.

And I'll submit that employers can't buy that kind of skin in the game:  e.g. mitigating an employee's base salary (and more often than not, their dignity) with the carrot-and-stick of the bonus-plan-of-the-month.  Skin in the game is the equity of partnership, either through blood, or through investment (financial or sweat), or optimally, both.

At Skyport, they not only have skin in the game:  they're all in the roles that play to their respective strengths which in turn support the success of their business.  Joanna is the customer service expert / fan in the family, so she waits on the customers.  And we customers love it.  Her skin in the game is that she does what she loves, partnering with her family to make their living and make us diner foodies happy. 

A customer service best practice, great company and a good brunch:  business, and life, is good.