Get the Basics Right


Anecdotal feedback from many leaders in many sectors suggest Western Australia is currently facing challenging times. It seems that there is more effort required to secure a sale, and that buyers are more consciously looking for lower cost and/or higher value for their spend. Providing good quality and timely service is always important. In a tough market it seems to me that it is essential. Scrap that - I reckon it's essential all the time. I'm amazed at how ofter I hear of businesses not even getting the basics right. In a buoyant market, it may be overlooked, but in a tight one, it could be enough to get you side lined.

A good mate of mine supervises technical work crews. His role is to liaise with clients, ensure the work is done to spec and act as a technical/safety back up to his crew. He gets deployed all over the world. He has two skills that I reckon make him stand out from the crowd:

  • He's quick - His work rate is high, but more importantly he can get to an unfamiliar location and quickly get his head around the skillset of his crew, the issues on site, and build rapport with the people he needs to liaise with.
  • Great Communication - He'll make sure every one is in the loop. He anticipates issues and gets in front of them. And he's always on the look out for ways to improve the standing of his company and their reputation with clients.

As a result he often gets pulled off his main job to sort out potential issues, and it's amazing how often this is the result of the basics not being covered properly. Recently, the supervisor that was replacing him on the next shift did not have the minimum qualifications to supervise the job. If he had left without rectifying the situation the whole job would have stopped costing many thousands and who knows what in terms of reputation. It's a basic of the job. A fundamental specification that was either overlooked or ignored. That seems an unnecessarily high risk to me.

But it must happen a fair bit - I'm amazed at how often people tell me of clients who are grateful for something that seems pretty basic - like follow up, or customer service, or delivering on an agreement, or holding yourself accountable.

I'm sure we have all experienced the receiving end when the basics are not done well. My wife and I did an online booking for a restaurant a while back. We got the usual email confirmation. When we arrived we were told there was no booking. "On line" we said. The owner then proceeded to berate us for using the online system which was broken. We got a table and breakfast, but we haven't been back, and possibly neither have several other parties who were in earshot of the dressing down we got.

A warm greeting at the door is a basic. It is called hospitality after all, unless they changed it to hostility while I slept.

One of the easiest and most underrated ways to stand out, regardless of your job, position or level of ownership is simply to do what you say you will do. I my mind that includes the basics which are surely implied if not explicitly stated. 

If for some reason it is not possible to deliver on the basics, be courteous, accountable and professional while you negotiate a solution. It will help you stand out from the crowd, and often the only cost is discipline.

Focus - Broad and Soft vs Narrow and Hard

When I was learning to fly, I was introduced to the Air Speed Indicator (ASI). The ASI is the flying equivalent of a speedo. It tells you how fast you are going. Whether you are taking off, landing or just flying around there are important speeds to be aware of. You manage speed to get the best performance out of the aeroplane. Unlike a car, speed is managed by raising or lowering the nose, rather than adding or reducing throttle. Lift the nose and it slows down and starts to climb. Lower the nose and it descends and speeds up. There's a window of best performance speeds for different aspects of the flights. At each side there is an extreme that you really need to avoid to stay safe. Too slow and the aircraft stops flying. Too fast and you risk structural damage or loss of control. 

Like most trainee pilots my focus was fixated on the ASI. I would watch it like a hawk to get the right speed. My focus would become increasingly fixated and hard. Trouble is, it doesn't work that way. There's a bit of lag between what you do and the speed shown on the dial. Trying to control speed with your eyes glued to the instrument means you porpoise through the sky - nose up, nose down, nose up, nose down. The speed never settles and you literally chase the needle, and the plane all over the sky. When you get too fixated on the needle you can end up with a growing oscillation that is increasingly out of control. 

To fly well your attention has to be outside the plane, with occasional glances at the instruments to confirm what you observe. A broad, soft focus allows you to see how the plane looks relative to the horizon, how the controls feel, the sound of the engine and the wind over the wings. These things along with the ASI allow you to fly smoothly and well. With your head up you can also pay attention to other important things like other air traffic, weather, and where you are. Hard fixation is a dangerous recipe. 

There are times when a hard fixation is useful. Analysing specific and complex data, and some types of problem solving are good examples. You don't want to be distracted by a broad view. Other times we need to scan more widely to be effective.

A great example of this is in sales. It's easy to get a hard fixation on the features and benefits of whatever you are selling and start lashing a potential customer with what you want to sell, in the way you want to sell it. We've all experienced this at some point - a salesperson flat out answering questions about the product or service. Trouble is there's a disconnect, none of the answers are to the questions that are important to you. It's like they are not even listening. In a worst case scenario you walk away from something you would otherwise have brought. 

A great skill in business is to be aware of your focus and intentional about it. Consciously decide what sort of attention/focus is best for the situation you are in, and then choose tools to help you maintain it. 

The Business End of Gratitude

There are two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle.
— Albert Einstein

Gratitude is not a new idea. Many religions and positive psychology practices have gratitude as a central theme.

Even in the realm of science, leading thinkers regularly point to gratitude as an important concept.

Expressing gratitude daily for the both the big and little things in life helps us to maintain perspective and positivity regardless of the circumstances we are experiencing.

It is a simple act, requiring only a willingness to find something to be grateful for, and expressing that gratitude.

Research tracking people who expressed gratitude daily in a journal for just 10 weeks, showed they experienced a 25% increase in their happiness.

They became more:

  • joyful
  • enthusiastic
  • interested
  • attentive
  • energetic
  • excited
  • determined
  • strong.

Now to the business end! The list of qualities above is compelling from a business point of view.

What would the impact on your business be if you showed up with some or all of those qualities? People would certainly notice. Would a client or customer appreciate contact with your business if you were more energetic, attentive and interested?

If you manage a team, how would they respond to those qualities in you? In the competitive market place, these attributes in a boss, or fellow team members have a direct impact on staff satisfaction, retention, and productivity.

Imagine then the impact of creating a culture of grattitude across your whole business! The attributes above would become synonymous with your business, including its products and services.

The simple act of gratitude can and does equate to increased team effectiveness, increased customer satisfaction, increased well-being and therefore productivity of staff, increased reputation and ultimately increased revenue.

Gratitude makes good business sense!

Gratitude is just one of the strategies I teach in my business coaching sessions for leaders.  If you'd like a complimentary session call me on 0423 193 196 . Alternatively, you might like to pass the offer on to one of your customers or a member of your team as an expression of gratitude.

I'm grateful for your time - thank you.

Psychological Safety - Creating safety with staff and your customers

To create a psychologically safe environment requires at a minimum that you establish trust, boundaries, and a sense of control in the team or social environment.
— Robert J. Marshak

We have been there before, you and I. We have stood in that place of uncertainty. That place where we feel uncertain and therefore unsafe. 

The uncertainty can be created in many ways - attempting to learn or master a new skill, meeting someone for the first time, public speaking, a follow up call or a sales meeting, being in a new place or team, expectations not being met...

We all react differently to these situations.  Our past experience, knowledge and how we perceive risk, drive our response. But for most of us uncertainty leads to feeling unsafe.

It's called psychological safety because the actual risk and danger may be non existent.

Regardless of the actual risk we perceive risk and danger and interpret it as real.

Part of my work as a survival instructor was designing scenarios with a high level of uncertainty built in. I'd deliberately push people into feeling unsafe and uncertain - after all, they have came to learn how they react and respond, how to master their emotional turmoil and create a sense of control within the uncertainty they face.

Their reactions, just like yours and mine are interesting and often surprising.

In a business setting, staff and customers may feel unsafe for many reasons. The results are distraction, loss of trade, down time, confusion, defensiveness and/or aggression, people making their own rules, lack of vision and direction, poorly made decisions etc...

There are many actions you can take to create a sense of psychological safety for anyone in any situation.

These are my top three. Why not try them with your team and customers.

  1. Be clear about your vision. How do you see this situation or interaction working out? Visualise the outcome. Get as specific and detailed as you can.
  2. Clarify expectations. What is it that you and they expect? Be diligent in understanding their perspective and be prepared to meet or exceed expectations whenever you can. If that's not possible, be prepared to clarify further and negotiate some agreed expectations.
  3. Communicate often. Keep people in the loop. One of the biggest complaints within teams and from customers is that they just don't know what's going on. People have different preferences and expectations about how you should keep them informed. Be a student of this and meet or exceed their expectations. This is especially important in times of change or uncertainty. 

These key actions go a long way towards achieving the trust, boundaries, and sense of control  mentioned in the opening quote.

What's holding us back?

Over the last couple of years I've facilitated a number of conversations with not for profit organisations who provide care services to people. Many of them have a long history, being among the oldest charities in Western Australia. They provide services to people who are marginalised in our community. People with disability, folks who are ageing, others who have a mental illness. 

Across Australia, in all three sectors there is major reform - some of the most significant changes we have seen in 100 years. The primary thrust of reforms are that people will have more choice and say in the services they receive, and they will have some control over how their service funding is spent. For the first time, they will be genuine customers, rather than simply consumers of service.

It's no small change. It's taken years to arrive. It's major disruption. There is both excitement and trepidation in the industry.

In the past human services organisations have operated using block funding. Each year a "block" of funding was paid to the organisation to run its services. Measures of success were things like hours provided, or number of beds. People using services had choices, but they were limited to homogenous services that were mostly unresponsive to their voice. It's not that agencies didn't care. Most organisations and people in them are set up specifically to make the world a better place in some way. The nature of funding simply meant that they were more answerable to funding bodies, than the people they served.

Over the last 10 years or so, there has been an increasing move to individual funding. People were assigned an amount of money based on need. Funding was still paid to organisations and service offerings were in a fairly narrow band.

The new reforms actually place money in the hands of the people needing the service. They get to choose who they spend it with. Organisations are needing to be more efficient, more customer responsive and more commercially minded.

So what has this got to do with expectations that keep us here? Historically, many people who have worked in human services have done so precisely because it is not a commercial environment. Many feel that a commercial element is more likely to be cut throat and uncaring. Most of the organisations I have worked with have expressed an expectation that looks something like this.

If we do what it takes to survive in an environment of margins, cash flow and economies of scale we will be less caring to the people who need us the most. It will detract and distract us from our core purpose.

With this expectation, participation in the new models of funding is unappealing and feels like selling out. But as with many expectations, it's not a binary choice. It's not either/or. The best way around expectations that constrain forward movement is to ask better questions. "What would it take to exceed our expectations about caring, and be more commercially smart?" " What are some great examples of large, profitable businesses whose customers love their services, and the way they are cared for?" "How can we ensure that our commercial models have people at the centre, rather than costs?"

Providing a great service = happy customers. Caring about them deeply = connection. If the recipe is right you will have more customers than you can provide a service to, and business is likely to be pretty good too.




Systems, Expectations, Promises

Lessons from the Hospitality Industry

She looked away, and seemed to busy herself with other things. With what exactly was hard to tell. We hung in the doorway, wondering what the process was. The breakfast buffet was obvious in front of us, but being our first morning we had no idea whether to make ourselves at home and just get stuck in, or wait to be seated. There were some awkward moments while we hung there whispering to each other about what to do next.

Eventually we made our way to  a table where the experience continued. A notice at the table said we could order eggs ad coffees. The person we had seen earlier seemed to have vanished. We started to make a coffee at the coffee machine, which prompted a staff member to show up and take over. With a bit of a push we got her to take our egg order as well.

These are really small issues AND  they have a significant impact on customer experience. The following day, it was as if we were in a different hotel chain. We were greeted by name by 3 highly visible staff, who asked where we wanted to sit, and took a coffee and egg order as soon as we were comfortable. They took the time to find out what we planned to do for the day, and offered assistance to organise it if we needed it. Gentle music played in the background. 

The fundamentals hadn't changed - there were staff, and food, and furniture - but the second day was easier, much more pleasurable and more in keeping with the promises of a high end 5 star hotel.

Hospitality done well demonstrates many behind the scenes things done well. They have systems to let them know who guests are, and if they are returning, to record some preferences.  Staff put people at ease, and live up to the promises made by the chains reputation or star rating. They also do  great job of checking in with people to see if expectations are met.

So often, the businesses I work with or experience seem to regard it as the customer/client job to navigate their systems. Sometimes it's as if the customer is actually a hinderance. Some businesses have great systems, but use them sporadically, or not at all. Either way it results in an inconsistent experience for the customer. 

In a world where people are time poor, overloaded with information and decisions, businesses can deliver a sense of certainty to their customers, just by being courteous, consistent and committed.

Over the past few months I have been doing some work in partnership with The Bullshift Company. One of the explicit values of the company is "Be easy to deal with". We will work around our own internal issues and glitches to ensure that the customer experiences us as easy to deal with.

What can you do during the next 30 days to raise the level of consistency, certainty and comfort your customers experience? How will you ensure that experience continues beyond the end of the month?