Tag Archives: communications

Do “People Things” First


img_10981.jpg“Business would be easy if you didn’t have to deal with customers and employees.” A tired but true saying my father often muttered after coping with an unhappy customer.

“People Things” are the issues that arise out of dealing with people. “People Things” include daily interactions, but they are critical when dealing with customer
complaints, employee discontent or a colleague’s request for assistance.

Money concerns generate the most critical “People Thing “ issues. When someone says, “It’s not the money,” assuredly it’s the money. Pocketbook issues, such as payment disputes and payroll concerns, are “People Things” that need to be resolved promptly and discretely.

Because dealing with people is the most complex aspect of business, “People Things,” should be at the top of a to-do list. Such concerns are ones that cannot be put off—procrastination only worsens them.  However, decisions should not be made “on the fly.“  “People Things” require undisturbed time to focus on, understand and resolve issues and concerns.

Make the rest of the day easier by  placing “People Things” as the first priority on your daily to-do list.

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You Didn’t Need Me then; I Don’t Need You Now


Jobs GraphA national building supply firm decided to no longer solicit business from custom homebuilders. After the collapse of the housing market, when a salesman solicited a former customer’s business he was told, “You didn’t need me during good times and I don’t need you now.”

When I told my father our sheet metal shop was too busy to take walk-in business, he invited me to join him for a cup of coffee.

Over coffee he told of the difficulties involved in opening a business in the midst of the Great Depression: the phone not ringing; no customers coming through the door. He related how he drove around the county, looking for a job to quote; how he worried about making payroll.

He commented on the loyalty of once small, walk-in customers. How a smile and a thank you for a two-dollar order can result in thousands of dollars of business. He declared, “Every customer is precious; you never know where a relationship may lead.” Needless to say, we continued to accept walk-in customers.

During the housing boom, many building material suppliers erected signs discouraging walk-in customers: “Contractors Only,” “No Cash Customers,” “Customers Must Have a Trade Account.” The advent of the “Great Recession” resulted in many of those signs being removed, but the message, “We don’t need your business.” had been delivered. Gone was the opportunity to develop new relationships; lost was the opportunity to grow with customers; and lingering was the bitterness of rejection.

As with my father and the Great Depression, the lessons of the “Great Recession” are deeply ingrained within many business leaders. They have come to understand the relationships made during the good times, will be needed when the bad times come; and, today’s small customer, may be tomorrow’s prime account.

Tweeting and Posting


My dad told me, “Fools names and fools faces, always appear in public places.”  Advice to consider prior to tweeting or posting.

Potatoes On The Ceiling and Other Thanksgiving Memories


When I was ten-years old, my mother invited a local icon, our widowed neighbor Miss Mary, to join us for Thanksgiving. My mother was delighted with and panicked by the accepted invitation.

The preparations began a week before Thanksgiving. My mother, cooking side dishes and desserts, declared the kitchen off limits. When the celebratory day arrived, the house was in perfect condition and, dressed in our best, so were my father, brother and I. After a glass of sherry, my father was dispatched to bring the turkey to the table.  As he stepped through the swinging door that led to the kitchen he tripped and the turkey tumbled to the floor.

This was a major disaster. There was dead silence; then my mother said, “Don’t worry.  Jack, pick up the turkey; we’ll serve the other bird.” My father placed the turkey on the platter and accompanied by my mother, retreated to the kitchen. In a few minutes, they reappeared with a beautifully plated turkey. As I opened my mouth to comment on this amazing occurrence, I caught a look on my mother’s face that persuaded me to keep quiet. Later I learned there had only been one turkey and it had been dusted off, placed on the platter and served.

My wife, Terri’s first Thanksgiving after moving to Florida was her first away from her family. Our family’s traditional menu never changed: turkey, green beans, sweet potatoes, rice, dressing and dessert.  We ignored Terri’s request for mashed potatoes until she started to cry. My brother realized how homesick she was, rushed to the store, bought a bag of potatoes and assigned Terri the task of preparing them.

After she washed, peeled and boiled the potatoes, she placed them in a bowl, added a pound of butter, a cup of milk and asked where the electric mixer was stored. I explained that Southerners liked lumpy mashed potatoes, so we used a potato mashers. She responded that it wasn’t her problem that we didn’t know how to properly mash potatoes—she needed a mixer.

After  brother produced the electric mixer, Terri turned it to high speed and plunged the beaters into the potatoes. There was an explosion of potatoes: on the walls, floor, even the ceiling—all over the kitchen. The only sound was Terri’s sobbing. Suddenly my brother started laughing; not just laughing but rolling on the floor, uncontrollable, howling. At that moment, Terri and my brother became close friends and we had something else to be thankful about.

Thanksgiving was my brother’s favorite holiday; one he loved to share.  Before the holiday, he would canvass his friends to identify people who had no place to celebrate the big day. I can remember years when there were  40 or 50 people—a few of whom we never identified.

On Thanksgiving eve he would begin his preparations. He provided the turkey and two kinds of stuffing: cornbread, made from a store mix and an oyster dressing that caused more than one family dispute. His main contribution was the Thanksgiving punch.

After preparing his dressings and seasoning the turkey, joined by friends and family he would begin mixing the punch. The punch was cross between southern sweet tea and kickapoo joy juice.  To insure perfection, it would be tasted, and tasted again. After midnight, those still standing, would declare the punch ready.

Thanksgiving morning the punch would be poured into a ceramic crock, the turkey placed in the oven and the guests would arrive hours before lunch.  My brother loved singing. Before dinner was served, everyone held hands and with Kate Smith’s version blasting from the stereo, join in singing God Bless America followed by an a cappella Thank You For The World So Sweet, a prayer in a song.

In the mid-1980’s, Terri and I invited her sister, brother-in-law and their two children to join us for Thanksgiving. I told them that the temperature would be in the mid 70’s and be sure to bring shorts.

Thanksgiving morning the temperature was in the upper 30’s, with rain and a howling wind.  Forty people had accepted the invitation for lunch; including Terri’s freezing family, who hadn’t packed so much as a sweater. We planned to serve lunch on the front porch and lawn. However, with the wind and rain that was out of the question, so we decided to move to the garage.

My brother, into the Thanksgiving punch, was no help, so it was up to me to find chairs.  With the rental stores closed, I turned to our undertaker friend “Digger” Hiers.  He had plenty of folding chairs and was glad to loan them to us but we had to pick them up. Until you have done it,  you don’t know how many trips it takes in a four-door car to retrieve forty folding chairs.  We celebrated that memorable Thanksgiving sitting on chairs marked “Hiers Funeral Home,” in a garage, with a storm howling outside.

Thanksgiving is set aside for us to reflect upon and give thanks for the blessings we have been freely given. My wish for all: a bountiful feast, a wonderful time with family and friends and time to consider how blessed we are. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thank You For The World So Sweet

Thank you for the world so sweet
Thank you for the food we eat
Thank you for the bird’s that sing
Thank you Lord for everything

Technology Begets Technology


5’ 6”, shaped like a pear and possessing a bad comb-over; Mr. Lafferty was my father’s bookkeeper; and he and his adding machine fascinated me. His fingers would fly over the keys; after every entry, he would pull the manual handle, advancing the paper roll and begin the process again. He was a machine, not stopping until an entire column had been entered; then he would pull the adding machine tape close—he never tore the tape, he saved, reversed, re-rolled and used it again—check his numbers and start again. After at first refusing to do so, he would relent to my begging and let me tug the adding machine crank.

After graduating from college, I went to work for my father.  I had been on the job a few days when the general manager asked me to check an estimate. I began to check his math: multiplying, adding and totaling columns by hand. He laughed at my efforts and asked why I didn’t use the comptometer. At first, I had no idea what it was, but I soon learned how to operate the weird machine.

The size of an IBM Selectric typewriter—another ancient and rare piece of office equipment—our comptometer weighed about as much as a Volkswagen Beetle. Using the apparatus to multiply or divide, the internal mechanisms would clank and bang for what seemed to be an eternity before miraculously the results would appear. I thought the gadget to be a miracle of technology until we purchased our first electronic calculator.

Similar in appearance to a telephone, our first calculator had no printer and  a surge of electricity from a distant storm would destroy the display. When it first arrived,  I would enter a calculation and then check the answer by hand. For a mathematically challenged history major, the instantaneous calculation of a square root was a miracle. I was satisfied with the calculator and its successors until I discovered computers.

Drinking a beer with a guy I had played in a racquetball tournament, I asked what he did for a living. He responded, “I run a company that develops and sell small business accounting software.”

“Small business software: you had to be kidding! To run software, you have to own a computer and our company can’t afford a computer!”

Soon afterward he sold us our first computer.

The day they delivered our brand new TRS 80—Tandy Radio Shack—computer, I was as excited as if the governor had stopped by. We had purchased the top of the line: 64k of memory, a 13” black and white monitor and an expansion bay, with three 5 1/4” floppy drives. A machine so cutting edge that an industry trade magazine detailed a reporter to take pictures and gather information for a feature story. Our accounting was automated and with the advent of the first spreadsheet program, so was our estimating. I thought technology had peaked.

Now I own an Ipad. The size of a small notepad, it is a personal entertainment and business center. I can download and read books while listening to my favorite music; I am able to play a game, check email, write a letter or surf the Internet. Not requiring wires, external power or speakers: a miraculous advance in technology.

As I download applications to my Ipad, I sometimes think about Mr. Laferty: the advances in technology and how those advance have changed our lives.

25 years ago, if today’s technology had been available I might still be in the construction business. What were once onerous tasks, such as producing shop drawings, now take only minutes. Communications with customers, employees and vendors would be seamless and immediate; in many ways business is easier now: but, are things really better? Perhaps and perhaps not.

Always in touch, there’s a tendency towards making precipitous rather than well-considered decisions? The urgency of instant connectivity can result in reduced productivity, mistakes and damaged relationships. Technology also affects personal relationships.

Tablet computers, smart phones, video games allow for self-sufficient entertainment: we don’t need others to distract us from boredom. Yet, social interaction and boredom are important to our well-being: if our minds are always occupied, there is little time for creativity and the lack of interaction can lead to an acceptance of isolation from others.

It’s been an amazing journey with technology: from watching a comptometer chugging away to sitting on my back porch surfing the web. Technology begets technology; so, advancements are going to continue; I cannot imagine what tomorrow will bring. I do know that we must not become so enslaved to tools that we lose touch with each other.

 Quote

As industrial technology advances and enlarges, and in the process assumes greater social, economic, and political force, it carries people away from where they belong by history, culture, deeds, association and affection.” – Wendell Berry

Tighter Than Bark On A Birch Tree


“Tighter than bark on a birch tree;’ ‘He can squeeze a nickel so hard the buffalo screams;’ ‘He has short arms and long pockets” All of the preceding could be applied to the owner of the pizza restaurant where I worked. Hovering over a pizza, he would scowl if there was one extra piece of pepperoni; he limited salad dressing to a tablespoon and we poured 11 not 12 ounce draft beers.

Knowing how tight he was, I couldn’t keep quiet when he told me to put extra ingredients on a customer’s pie. “Mr. Styles, are you sure you want me to ‘load’ this pizza?”

He surprised me with his answer: “Yes. He’s a regular customer, spends a lot of money and I want to make sure he keeps coming back.”

Years ago, Terri and I regularly frequented a Winter Park seafood restaurant. They served good food and Freddy our waiter always took good care of us: on a crowded night, even without a reservation, we would be seated; occasionally a free appetizer or glass of wine would appear and he always knew when there was a special occasion. In Winter Park, there were numerous restaurant choices but we always returned to where we were welcomed.

I’m a creature of habit, on Mondays I eat at a local Wendys and Thursday is “taco day” at Taco Bell. Only once has the Wendy’s manager spoken to me and then to explain that they were charging me more than the listed price because the listed price was wrong. The Taco Bell manager treats me like I’m the franchise owner: he greets me with inquiries about my health; from time to time there is an extra taco on my plate and he checks to make sure everything is alright. The quality of the food and the service at the Wendy’s restaurant is better, however, I prefer the taco place.

People are confronted with a variety of options when it comes to almost everything: restaurants, stores, entertainment and relationships. With numerous choices, deciding what to spend money on is a challenge. Product, service and price are the primary drivers of the decision, also playing a part are intangible elements, such as demonstrating appreciation.

Gratitude is also important in personal relationships.

Tired, reading a novel and beginning to fall asleep, I only grunted in response to Terri’s account of dealing with a problem. Sensing her silence, I looked and found her staring at me with a hurt expression. She had spent her lunch hour tending to our predicament and my appreciation was an annoyed grunt. My response had hurt her feelings and dampened her excitement over a task well done.

Business people readily recognize that relationships are built upon a foundation of honesty, trust and service. However, they often fail to acknowledge appreciation as an additional important element. Gratefulness demonstrates a selfless willingness to recognize other people’s efforts and achievements.

In our business as well as personal lives, a generosity of spirit often determines the depth of our connection with others.

Appreciation

The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” – William James

Resilience


It was hotter than blue blazes, nowhere to stop and we were lost. Two days after Hurricane Andrew devastated South Dade County. along with an engineer who worked for Dade County, I was assessing school damage.

With downed trees, roads blocked by debris and landmarks blown away, the engineer engineer who had  been assigned to southern Dade for years, couldn’t locate the schools.

Block after block we passed heavily damaged homes: roofs blown off, trees uprooted and cars overturned. Some homeowners spray painted defiant signs on the sides of their houses: “We survived,” “You loot—we shoot” and “To hell with Andrew.” Others demonstrated their sense of humor: “Firewood for Sale” and “Used furniture—cheap.” Most frequently you would see the name of their insurance company: “Allstate—stop here,” “State Farm—where are you.”

In almost every yard home owners were cleaning up after the storm. No electricity, tropical hot—many without a roof over their heads—they continued working. Impossible tasks, that day after day, had to be undertaken one limb, one piece of debris one precious memento at a time.

People faced the heat, the lack of water and the endless clean up and they dealt with the fear of looters. Armed with pistols and hunting rifles they banded together to patrol and protect their neighborhoods. They told stories of gunshots in the night and despite a dawn to dusk curfew, strangers roaming the streets.

Exiting from an elementary school near Homestead I heard a loud noise. Walking to the sound I spotted people standing on the sidewalk, cheering and crying tears of relief as soldiers from the 82nd airborne marched down the street. Dispensed only to provide humanitarian aid, nevertheless, their presence provided a needed sense of security.

When I left the key in the ignition and locked the car, The 7:00 PM curfew became a serious issue. Not wanting to spend the night in south Dade, I waived down a passing deputy who unsuccessfully tried to Jimmy the lock. In desperation I shattered a ventilation window and unlocked the vehicle. A damaged window was the cost for me to leave behind the misery that hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were enduring daily.

Andrew taught me lessons about resilience, determination and community. I observed people pulling themselves up to rebuild and band with neighbors to protect their homes; I passed volunteers directing traffic in the brutal midday tropical sun.

I learned People are tougher than I thought.  In the midst of chaos and the absence of government they will do what is necessary to protect their families, homes and community.