Tag Archives: management

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.

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.

It Resides Between The Ears


Annie

Annie

I noticed our dog, Annie, was avoiding our home’s wood floors. Being a cold day, I thought she was warmer standing on a rug.  However, there was more than a chilly floor on her mind as she danced nervously on the rug’s edge, instead of making a mad dash to her food dish.

A strange thought had taken residence between her ears: she is frightened of wood floors.  You can see her trying to figure out how to maneuver from one area to another.  To get to the kitchen she will run from the family room rug to another under a game table, only to realize she is further away; return and try again.

For some reason, the hall between the dining and living room is dangerous but the one from the dining room to the kitchen is okay.  Entering through the front door she rushes to the dining room rug; from there, through the “good” hallway, to the rug in the kitchen; then to the rug under the breakfast table; to the rug in front of the door to the utility room and finally to the utility room and her dinner dish.  With a pause to build courage at each stop, it is a somewhat sad but hilarious process.

Annie is not alone in being afflicted by unshakable thoughts.  My golf game was pretty good until I shanked a short-iron shot.  I realized, not turning my shoulders occasioned the problem so I became conscious about making a good shoulder turn.

The next Saturday, I met my buddies on the first tee and foregoing any warm up, hit a good tee shot. On the fourth hole, while swinging my sand wedge I wondered if I was turning my shoulders.  At that time, I should have quit and gone to the clubhouse for a beer—stick a fork in me, I was done.  Like Annie and the floors, I couldn’t get the thought out of my head.

Fears and beliefs, residing in the mind, can prevent success. Ideas—such as the fear of failure or the mindset of there being just one way to do a job.

I have an acquaintance who hates his job. He complains about his boss, pay, hours and lack of advancement.  He has developed a plan for a new business venture—one I believe will succeed—and funding is lined up. However, as much as he hates his job, he fears failure more.  He hasn’t recognized the misery accruing from failure, could be no worse than the unhappiness he is enduring.

It took drastic action to convince an employee there was more than one way to a job. A mechanic in our sheet metal shop invented excuses not to use a new piece of equipment. Accustomed to the old machine, he did not want to change. To no avail, I begged, I cajoled and I threatened.  One night, using a length of chain and a padlock, I rendered the old machine inoperable; forcing him to use the new device.  A few days later, he thanked me for making his job easier.

Behavior, how someone responds to problems, challenges and opportunities, is part nature and part nurture. Some people are bold and fearless; while, others are timid and cautious. A bold/fearless person, might have a tendency to make precipitous decisions; while a timid/cautious person might miss out on opportunities.

An understanding of behavior, allows one to adapt his or her responses: a person who understands his tendency to make precipitous decisions will be cautious; conversely, a person who understands he might miss an opportunity due to his tendency to be cautious, will be bolder. An understanding of one’s behavior can be obtained through experience. Another, and often less painful than experience, is through a behavioral analysis, such as a DISC profile.

Success in life, work and relationships stems from understanding and having a sense of self—of deeply comprehending who you are, what you do and how you do it.

For more information go to www.e3-consulting.net.

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.

Leaders Are Not Retreaters


Annually, we would gather at a local restaurant for a holiday celebration that resembled a wake.  Over drinks, our boss would recount the terrible year coming to an end and how he believed our company would not survive another.  The current year ended in defeat and we faced the coming one with dread.

As director of marketing, I was challenged to keep our salespeople motivated.  A tough task with the fear we weren’t going to make it.  Our boss’s answer to falling sales was to retreat: lay people off and cut expenses. We were spiraling down the drain our ever-worsening level of service drove customers away.

Overwhelmed, our boss  resigned his position and took a job delivering phone books—not as much pay but a lot less stress. In contrast to our Ivy League educated former boss, his successor had only a high school education and little experience in our business.

His first day, he gathered the staff and announced we were going to upgrade our computer system.  A new computer system!  Why would you make a major investment with the company going out of business? Maybe, things were not as bad as we thought.

He presented a positive view of the future and employee morale soared, as did productivity and sales.

More important than a college diploma, he possessed a can-do attitude.  He provided hope, while setting an example of hard work and resistance to adversity.  He was a leader rather than a retreater and the company prospered under his guidance.

When the confederate army surged through a gap in the union line during the Civil War battle of Chickamauga, the northern troops and their officers panicked and ran.

General George Thomas wasn’t running.  He assembled a defense line that held long enough for the retreating army to make it to safety.  Thomas saved he Army of the Cumberland and became forever known as the “Rock of Chickamauga.”

George Thomas was a leader.  In the midst of panic he rallied his troops and held his ground.  In contrast, a retreater is prone to retreat.  At the first sign of trouble he or she gives up the fight, runs for safety. As the leader goes, so go the troops with them all hope of success.

In advance of a Japanese victory, general Douglas McArthur was ordered to flee the Philippine Islands. A pragmatist, he knew the battle was lost but he was determined to win the war.   When he arrived in Australia, he made a simple statement that rallied resistance and offered a vision for the future: “I shall return.”

Like McArthur, a leader is a realist.  He or she understands retreat is sometimes necessary; but when required, it is an organized withdrawal, giving way while maintaining morale and setting forth a vision of an ultimate success.

Even when facing failure, leaders continue to lead: presenting a positive view of the future; standing firm in the face of adversity; and offering hope.

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

I Was Part of the Problem


With a prayer for a check in the mail on Saturday, on Friday I would hand out paychecks.

In commercial construction, to ensure subcontractors finish their work, general contractors typically retain 10% of monies due until the job is complete. That’s where our cash was, retained until the cows came in or until our customers no longer needed the money to finance their operations.

Daily, my blood pressure would rise as I passed a manufacturing plant for which we had not been paid for our work.  Fed up, I asked my attorney to notify the contractor, owner, architect and anyone else he thought of, that we were going to file suit to collect; the threat got everyone’s attention and the owner called for a meeting.

We met in the plant’s conference room. The owner’s representative opened the meeting by asking the contractor why we hadn’t been paid. He answered, “They haven’t repaired the damaged fascia metal.”  My roofing department manager replied, “What damage?” The contractor stood, puffed out his chest and exclaimed, “If you had listened you would know!”  I grabbed the department manager as he lunged across the table, trying to grab the man by the throat.

When calm returned, the owner suggested we view the damaged fascia. With the contractor and my manager safely separated by the owner, architect and myself—we trooped to the far side of the building.

The contractor stopped and pointed to the fascia some 20 feet above the ground and said “There.” We stared until the owner’s representative said, “Where?”

“There, where I’m pointing!”

“I don’t see anything.”

“Wait until the sun is a little further up; then you can see it.”

“My goodness, you mean you’ve been holding $50,000 of this man’s money on a defect you can only see when the sun is a particular place in the heavens!”

He turned to me and said, “Mr. Tucker you’ll have a check by tomorrow afternoon.”

Soon after I made the determination to sell the company.

I recognized that I was part of our collection problem. I was a square peg in a round hole: I had tried to do the best I could; spent a lot sleepless night and kept long hours but I wasn’t detail oriented or tough enough to survive in the construction industry.

To assure happiness and success, it is important to recognize, admit and accept your aptitudes and talents; to know and focus on what you do well.

 Ability

Knowing what you can not do is more important than knowing what you can do.” – Lucille Ball