December 16, 2008

So Focused That I Forgot To...

The other morning, I sat down to drink my coffee and write a bit before work. It was one of those sessions that come along when you least expect it, when you are in the midst of stress and chaos, with noise and distraction all around, and you struggle to hear yourself think. The words just seemed to flow from my fingers that morning. It was almost like I couldn't find the keys quickly enough to capture the train of thought that was carrying me on some journey to a destination that I always wanted to travel to, but never thought that I could afford the ticket. I hit a good stopping point, and looked up at the clock. Nearly thirty minutes had passed and I had not even thought of eating breakfast yet. Typically, my writing sessions are 10 -15 minutes long, with breakfast at some point during that period of time. However, the thought of eating did not even cross my mind. I was focused on being nourished in an entirely different, albeit just as important, way.

Have you ever found yourself so focused on something that you forget to do something that is a basic human need? Like eating? Maybe drinking? Sleeping? If the answer is yes, then you too have had the opportunity to glimpse into the life that is calling you into what you have been designed and created for. If your answer is no, then it is my hope that you will be divinely distracted to the point that food looses its flavor, that sleeping makes you uneasy, and that you find yourself so lost in what you are doing that you lose track of time.

December 15, 2008

Recruiting Leaders

Your mission is not as important to everyone as you might think that it is.

The trouble is, not many people understand or acknowledge that they have a mission of their own either. Find out what makes people come alive, that activity that they get so wrapped up in that hours go by, yet they don't even realize that time has elapsed. Find out what it is that stirs deeply passionate emotions in them. Help people to find out what their mission is, what they have been created to put everything on the line for, and then use that as a catalyst for the fulfillment of the mission that you have been designed for. In doing this, you will be gaining the most momentum for your cause, and will be ensuring that you are empowering new leaders with bold ideas, burdens, and passion to become committed to the cause that you are fighting for.

If you are not fighting for a cause, then why are you here? If you haven't yet identified who you are willing to sacrifice everything for, then I will would say that you probably haven't identified your mission yet.

Leaders are needed now. Step up, take some ground, become missional, and empower others.

December 12, 2008

Non-Conformity in Our Organizations

What do you do with the non-conformity in your organization?

While hanging out with my family last night, we watched a classic Christmas movie, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. The snowman, voiced by Burl Ives, stated that Rudolph's father attempted to hide his "non-conformity." His father, Donner, attempted to hide his bright shining nose from the world, rather than accepting it for it was. Even when he demonstrated that he had potentially superior flying ability, the arrogance and intolerance to his non-conformity made him the focal point of ridicule, and prevented him from being able to contribute to the efforts of the team.

This got me to thinking about how our organizations and tribes tend to treat non-conformity. Do we hide it, in an attempt to be more successful, or do we realize that the talents and gifts that each individual has been designed with will help us to achieve the strategic mission and goals that we have set out to achieve? Do we ridicule it and treat it as a hindrance, forcing it farther away, or do we cultivate and encourage people to have bold ideas that challenge the status quo, understanding that in so doing, we can possibly move farther faster than we could have otherwise? Finally, do our tribes and organizations attempt to break the non-conformity through the use of annual reviews, training initiatives, and growth plans, forcing each individual to break until they are tightly crammed into the box of our perception?

What would happen if our organizations, rather than breaking and molding our internal customers (remember, the people that get a paycheck from us are our customers too), took the time to identify their non-conformity and natural strengths and invested in developing and refining these unique gifts? What would happen if we actually allowed and encouraged the gifts of non-conformity and natural strengths to be used in our organizations for the benefit of tackling the mountainous goals and challenges (your organization has these I assume) that we have set out to take on?

When the stormy times arrive we may just count on this non-conformity to pull us through. It might be the one thing that we need in order to continue delivering on our mission and vision despite the clouds and darkness. However, if we have pushed it away, or have broken it to fit our own narrow view or focus, we might just find that the success and viability of our cause is cancelled after all, just as Christmas would have been if Rudolph hadn't been around to light up the night sky that night.

Identify the natural strengths and non-conformity in your organization. Encourage people to use the gifts and talents that they have given, and you will survive even in the most difficult of times.

December 11, 2008

Consider The Whole Customer

You can't please everyone all of the time, and you can't be all things to all people. Not if you are growing that is.

We could choose to attempt to deliver on each and every one of the unique expectations of all of our customers, modifying and tailoring each facet of our organization to accommodate their divergent needs. Of course, this would be ideal, if there were endless resources available. The truth of the matter is that we are faced with limited time, limited money, limited staff, even limited energy. The moment that we take this approach, inconsistency in what we have been established for is introduced. Our mission and vision become watered down, and the very thing that drew our customers to us in the first place becomes nothing like it was at the beginning, and is often times, sadly not what we intended for it to be.

We want to deliver tremendous, out of this world customer experiences on a daily basis. We need the people that we serve to come through the doors again and again. Most of us desire to cultivate experiences for our customers where they feel as though the service that they receive is tailored to fit them perfectly. However, this should come naturally. Our services and products should be vanilla enough that they fit the divergent needs of many while also being unique enough that each customer feels that their own independent needs are met.

What we can do is connect customers with a similar mission and vision together into Tribes and let them have a collective voice that represents the needs of their community. As a result, your customer base will grow organically, your customers will be engaged, passionate, and alive, and you will be better able to respond to the needs of the whole customer.

Establish your mission, tell the story of your vision, and let others connect.

December 10, 2008

Why We Have Ears

Sometimes, people simply want the opportunity to be heard.

Most people at some point during their lives, although it may not be apparent, have had big ideas and dreams. I would dare to say that there are probably cures for rare diseases that remain uncured. There are probably a lot of ideas that employees from a number of automobile manufacturers have had that could have resulted in either greater income or a reduction in expenses. Yet, these businesses are today relying on the U.S. government to keep them afloat, so that the other companies that have people with big ideas and dreams can stay afloat. Perhaps, there are even ideas that you have had that could have dramatically changed the world had they been put into action.

What must be noted is that all of these examples are past tense. They could have done great things, had they taken a shot at it. Of course, this comes down to personal responsibility. If I see something that could be done which could positively impact the world, or even more narrowly thinking, myself, then I should take action and responsibility for sharing these ideas and dreams with others. However, there are some people who have tried to share an idea or dream. They have even gone as far as doing their homework, coming up with a solid business plan and justification of how their ideas will substantially and positively impact the world. Where the failure often comes, is when they attempt to share the idea and see no return. Try this a number of times, and you simply stop sharing. At least, they stop sharing with those who do not listen. Those that realize that they have something that could be of real value and pursue putting it into action will find someone who is willing to listen. They will tell their story, and will pursue the idea.

As leaders, it is important to listen to the ideas from the people that we interact with on a daily basis. Regardless of position, there are people that have awesome ideas. Ideas that have been born out of their own experiences and observations. Dreams that stem from who they have been uniquely designed to be. We must encourage them to share the ideas that they have. We must be willing to listen with intent, weighing each idea independently and also putting it against other ideas. Or, better still, taking idea after idea and compiling them into something far greater than anyone would have imagined independently. Sometimes, the best idea is the one that is built from a couple of good ideas.

December 09, 2008

The Annual Survey

Yesterday, I received a survey, through email, from a software company. Apparently, I have been a customer for a year, and so it is now time for them to ask me to give them some feedback on my experience with them so far. I don't know why this bothers me so much, but it does. Sending an email at the mark of an annual subscription is not great customer service. In fact, this opposes great customer service.

It is far better to engage the customer throughout the year, understanding what it is that he or she needs and then providing for the needs of the customer rather than waiting to the end of the year. I have no context or relationship with this software manufacturer. I have no way of knowing that my concerns or opinion even count at all. Therefore, I am not going to answer this survey.

Engage your customers often. Provide and encourage your customers to work with other customers. Make sure that your customers are making the most of the products that you provide. When you do this, the sales of your product will explode, and your products will become more of what is actually needed.

December 05, 2008

Leading Responsibly

Being a leader requires more than simply taking charge and telling people what to do. Actually, that really isn't leadership at all. Managers tell people what to do. Leaders sell people the vision, mission, and goals that they have, and then step out of the way and allow them to get things done. Leaders must be willing to create more leaders.

If this is truly the case, if being a leader is about telling a story and painting a picture about what the future will look like, then it is important that the leader take responsibility. Not necessarily corporate responsibility, but personal responsibility. Actually, we all must do this. I don't care if you are sitting in the big cushy executive chair or if you are sitting behind the wheel of a big rig. All of us must accept responsibility for ourselves.

Here are a few of the areas that we must embrace and begin taking responsibility for today, if we are going to be all that it is that we have been designed to be:

  1. Use the gifts that you have been uniquely designed with.
  2. Share the experiences, insights, observations, and gifts you have been given with others.
  3. Pursue and grow in the area of the gifts and talents you have been given.
  4. Listen, learn, laugh, and love.
  5. Become a servant of others

December 04, 2008

Calm Urgency

In the midst of the storm, it is often difficult to keep in mind that remaining calm with a sense of urgency is one of the key fundamentals to bringing resolution to the issues that are before us. People around you are watching your every move, you can be sure of it. Those in your life, your co-workers, children, wife, parents, and even complete strangers are watching you, waiting for you to give them guidance about how they should react to a situation. Accept it or not, you are a leader, with people who are following you. If you act like the sky is falling all of the time, then do not be surprised to find that people around you will act like the sky is falling.

On the other hand, there is also a time when people need to see urgency in our actions. For instance, when an application that is responsible for supporting an essential business function becomes unstable, the immediate reaction is to run around freaking out. This certainly is not a reaction that will bring inspiration and hope to your team. However, your team needs to see that it is an important issue that must be resolved. They need to understand through your response and action that you are concerned because the needs of the customers are not being met, however, they must also know that you are confident that they have the capability and know how to resolve the issue.

Do not underestimate the power of your actions in the midst of tough times.

December 03, 2008

Excellent Customer Service?

Consider for a moment the organizations that are known to have some of the best customer service in their industries. These might include Southwest airlines, where flying is an experience, not just a means to get you from point A to B, Starbucks, or Walt Disney World. Whenever I hear stories about customer service that goes above and beyond the expected or anticipated, I try to identify why it is the case.

Is it because these organizations dictate a consistent customer service model to the front-line staff, ensuring that every customer experience follows a rigid protocol that is the same every single time? Or, could it be that these organizations cultivate in their employees and volunteers the importance that doing the right thing for the customer is far greater than maintaining the status-quo? Are the companies and non-profits (yes, you have customers too) that are providing the greatest service seeking empowerment of their employees, allowing them to react to the unique needs of each customer, as opposed to enforcing the dogmatic corporate culture of the organization?

My thought is that the organizations that are consistently delivering outstanding customer service are those that understand that people, regardless of who they are, have value. Each individual that comes through the doors (or visits a website), possess their own unique passion, gifts, and mission. However, as much as these organizations value the paying customer, they value the customer that they are paying no less. Everyone from the janitor to the highest paid executives has a customer that they are there each day to support and serve. Not only do they realize and understand that the customer is valued and important, they actually believe it. When it comes down to it, serving others is the key.

If we are truly going to deliver the best service possible to our customers, we must empower those that are getting it done to deliver that unique customer experience, even when it directly opposes the written laws of the enterprise. Sure, we can place strict guidelines in place, saying that every customer should be greeted by name, and every customer should be given some indication that they have entered the establishment within a certain number of seconds. However, the key to excellent customer service comes down to people. Treating people with dignity and respect. In reality, it is not so much a corporate thing as it is a human thing.

I respect you, not because you are going to give me money in exchange for a good or service, but because you are a person, just like me. I provide you service that is out of this world, not because you are an employee that deserves great benefits for the work that you do, but because you are a person who is giving your own time and energy to my cause, and as such, you deserve to be compensated. Treating people with respect and dignity. That is what customer service is in the long run.

December 02, 2008

Constructive Refinement

Implementing anything new and different is sure to meet adversity and challenge. In some regards, it is practically necessary for this conflict to exist. Without it, ideas and thoughts are not challenged, which builds the implementation plan on a foundation of soft, gooey, marshmallow fluff as opposed to real substance.

However, criticism must be constructive, if it is going to truly turn a good idea into a great actionable one. How does one ensure that her or his idea will be criticised constructively? The following are a couple of thoughts. Hopefully, someone smarter than me will look at this list and constructively refine it.
  1. Surround yourself with people that are not like you.
  2. Share your ideas with people that share a common vision.
  3. Avoid people that are negative for the sake of being negative.
  4. Listen, learn, read, teach, listen some more.
  5. Come up with ideas that appear to be unfeasible, and then allow them filter down to something manageable.
  6. Introduce the idea to a group of doers, and step back. Watch and see what happens.
  7. Do not put a filter on your ideas. Let them pour out with ferocity and intensity.
  8. Get started. Now.

December 01, 2008

Authentic and Meaningful Trumps Trendy

As an IT worker, I am astonished that so many people in my field still cannot see what the future of communications really is.

E-mail is the antiquated form of communication with the new generation of workers. It is antiquated not only for the new generation of geeky IT workers. I am talking about all of your lines of business here. Companies that understand this are going to make a MINT. However, businesses should be cautious as they approach this shift in collaboration. Many organizations are going to attempt to inject themselves into the world of Twitter or Facebook. Some may be successful, if they have a compelling cause, idea, or product that people are willing to put their personally credibility on the line for. However, many will fail. They will simply fade in this new platform of communication.

The key to survival in the new world of communication is a concept that is old. It is evergreen and simplistic. Yet, many businesses continue to miss it. Organization must cultivate authentic and meaningful relationships with their customers. How many times have we heard that to be successful, we must listen to our customers? Ironically, many organizations speak this language, but do not even understand who it is that they are seeking to serve in the first place. For organizations to be successful, they must understand their customers, what inspires and motivates them, and then seek to deliver quality to them each day. The technology doesn't matter. Giving people something to believe in, something that resonates with their goals and vision, does.

Convince people that what you have to offer will help them to achieve the mission and goals that they feel compelled to reach. Show them how their goals and mission align with the common goals of many, and then provide them the platform where they can come together to achieve those goals collaboratively. You may just change the world.