Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Customers the center of your universe

In our free-enterprise system, we say the customer is king. Those who satisfy the customer best win. This is true with external and internal customers. Those who satisfy their customers most will win. Great teams are always customer-oriented and responsive.

Maintain a touch. First you need to know what your customers want and expect. The best way to do this is to ask them. Then deliver what they want in a timely way at a price/value that’s justified. Find ways to keep in touch with a broad spectrum of your customers to get a balanced view: face-to-face, phone surveys, questionnaires, response cards with the products and services. Pleasing the reasonable needs of customers is fairly straightforward now we know what they are after. When customers contact us get them to the right person in the minimum number of steps.

Customers complain; it's your opportunity to delight them. Customers will usually complain more than compliment; you need to not get overwhelmed by the negative comments; people who have positive opinions speak up less. Be ready for the good news and the bad news; don't be defensive; just listen and respond to legitimate criticisms and note the rest as this is you opportunity to please them and make your self standout from the crowd.

Put yourself in your customer's shoes. If you were a customer of yours, what would you expect; what kind of turnaround time would you tolerate; what price would you be willing to pay for the quality of product or service you provide; what would be the top three things you would complain about? Answer all calls from customers in a timely way; if you promise a response, do it; if the time frame stretches, inform them immediately; after you have responded, ask them if the problem is fixed.

Design your work and manage your time from the customer view. Your best will always be determined by your customers, not you; try not to design and arrange what you do only from your own view; try to always know and take the viewpoint of your customer first; you will always win following that rule. Can you sell an experience, not just a product or service? A small firm took on larger firms through its easy access to no-charge expert information. Customers could turn to internal sources for free consulting, taking from a few minutes up to an hour.

Anticipate customer needs. Make a habit of meeting with your customers on a regular basis. Customers need to feel free to contact you about problems and you need to be able to contact them for essential information. Use this understanding to get in front of your customers; try to anticipate their needs for your products and services before they even know about them; provide your customers with positive surprises; features they weren’t expecting; delivery in a shorter time; more than they ordered. Show your customer you’re in it for the long run.

Plan to Succeed. Consider your business from the customer viewpoint – what are the three best things about dealing with you, now consider what are the three worst things. Now develop a plan to be rid of these poor performance issues and see if you can turn them into advantages.

If you can centralize your business experience in line with your customer’s expectations you will improve your business no end.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

How to improve your Decision Making

One of the major attributes of a good leader is our decision making skills. Good decisions are based upon a mixture of data, analysis, intuition, wisdom, experience, and judgment. Making good decisions involves collecting the available information, being able to ask for other people's opinions and thoughts and then making the decision. No one is ever right all the time; it's the percent of good decisions over time that matters.

What can we do to improve our decision making skills?

Do you hesitant to make a decision. Play out the consequences in your head to see how the decision would play in real life. Test out a number of scenarios to support your decision. You may be hesitating because your little voice in your head is telling you something isn't right. Good decisions are usually somewhere between the second and third decision you come to, as you explore the options.

Are you biased. Do you play favorites, deciding quickly in one area, but holding off in another? Do you drag out your favorite solutions to often? Be clear and honest with yourself about your attitudes, beliefs, biases, opinions and prejudices and your favorite solutions. We all have them. The key is not to let them affect your objective and cold decision making. Before making any sizable decision, ask yourself, are any of my biases affecting this decision?

Common mistakes in thinking: ? If sales are down, and we increase advertising and sales go up, this doesn't prove causality. They are simply related. Say we know that the relationship between sales/advertising is about the same as sales/number of employees. Do you state as facts things that are really opinions or assumptions? Are you sure these assertions are facts? State opinions and assumptions as that and don't present them as facts. Do you attribute cause and effect to relationships when you don't know if one causes the other. Do you generalize from a single example without knowing if that single example does generalize?

Analyze the situation? Thoroughly define the problem. Think out loud with others; see how they view the problem. Figure out what causes it. Keep asking why. See how many causes you can come up with and how many organizing buckets you can put them in. This increases the chance of a better solution because you can see more connections. Look for patterns in data, don't just collect information. Put it in categories that make sense to you. Then when a good alternative appears you're likely to recognize it immediately.

Learn from your history. Take an objective look at your past decisions, and what the percentage were good choices. Break the decisions into topics or areas of your life. For most of us, we make better decisions in some areas than others. Maybe your decision-making skills need help in one or two limited areas, like decisions about people, decisions about your career, political decisions, technical, etc.

Slow down. Life is a balance between waiting and doing. Life affords us neither the data nor the time. You may need to try to discipline yourself to wait just a little longer than you usually do for more, but not all, the data to come in. Push yourself to always get one more piece of data than you did before until your correct decision percent becomes more acceptable. Instead of just doing it, ask what questions would need to be answered before we'd know which way to go

Sleep on it. The brain works on things even when you are not thinking about them. Take some time, do something completely different, and get back to the decision later. Let a good night's sleep go by and re-assess the problem in the morning.

Use your network. You’ve taken time to create your network of colleagues, experts and task force, present the problem and all you know about it, and let the group help decide. Delegate the decision. Sometime others above, aside, or below you may be in a better position to make the decision.

Study great decision makers. Which great decision makers do you admire? Steve Jobs? Winston Churchill? Read the biographies and autobiographies of a few people you respect, and pay attention to how they made decisions in their life and careers. Take some notes on ideas they used that you could apply.

With some effort on our behalf we can improve the way we make our decisions to help us better develop as leaders in our environment.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Do you have plenty of Busines Acumen?

One of the skills we need to have in our pocket is business acumen. Do you know what is expected? Do you know what the business rules are?

As leaders we need to have a good understanding of business, so we can make the right choices with our team.

Below are some ideas how to improve your business acumen.

Read periodicals. These publications will help you for what you need to know about business in general:

  • Wall Street Journal,
  • Business Week,
  • Fortune,
  • Barron's, and
  • Harvard Business Review.

Look to see any items in each issue that relate to your business. Then look to find any parallels, trends that affect business now, emerging trends that may have a future impact, and general business savvy about how business works.

Study some business books. Go to any business book store and pick a couple of books on general business principles, one with a financial slant, one with a marketing slant and one about customer service.

Read them through and look for their themes that you can apply.

Watch the right sources. Watch the business channels that carry business news and information full time. They have interviews with business leaders, reviews of industries by business experts, as well as general reviews of companies.

Figure out the rules of the game. Reduce your understanding of how business operates to personal rules of thumb or insights. Write them down in your own words. Use these rules of thumb to analyze a business that you know something about. Then pick two businesses that have pulled off clever strategies—one related to yours and one not. Study what they did; talk to people who know what happened and see what you can learn.

Now apply these rules to your business

Need to know more about your business? Study your annual report and various financial reports. If you don’t know how, the major investment firms have basic documents explaining how to read financial documents. After you’ve done this, consult a a senior person in the company you know and ask him or her what he or she looks at and why. How does your team have an affect?

Broaden your knowledge within the company. Volunteer for task forces that include people outside your area of expertise. Work on some Total Quality Management, Process Re-Engineering, Six Sigma, or ISO projects that cross functional or business unit boundaries to learn more about the business.

Get close to customers. Customer service is the best place to learn about the business. Arrange a meeting with a counterpart in customer service. Have him or her explain the function to you. If you can, listen in to customer service calls or even better handle a couple yourself.

Learn to think as an expert in your business area. Take problems to inside experts or external consultants and ask them, what are the keys they look for; observe what they consider significant and not significant. List your data into categories so you can remember it. Devise five key areas or questions you can consider each time a business issue comes up.

Obviously this is not an easy set of learnings to accumulate. So set yourself a goal to tackle one each month and plan to review your progress in six months and see how well you've done. Do you have the persistence? I'm sure when you stick with this strategy to improve your knowledge you'll start to manage your team in line with the business for great results!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The strength of maintaining a scorecard

We have all heard lots about the balanced scorecard, for those that have them, however it is quite often so far detached from our day to day work that people find it difficult to understand in the context of what we do.
So what is the real world option - how can we make sense of it? How do we tell if we are leading our team in the right direction?

Try this for a few months and see how you go.

1. List the three major things your team does.
2. List every department internal and external that touch your team.

This should result in list of 7-12 items.

Now write a short statement that reflects perfection for each of these items. This will be your score of 10.
Write another sentence that reflects a fair result/action for each item. This will be your score of 5.
Write another sentence for barely acceptable. This will be your score of 1.

Now you have the framework for your own scorecard.

The next piece is the most difficult, take an hour to reflect on your list and give yourself a score. Look for any low scores and develop an action plan by the end of the week.
By the end of the month you need to solicit feedback against your list of items and confirm your score was realistic.

Next month review your scores and look for areas to improve.

The beauty of maintaining your scorecard is that you will have no surprises. Your scorecard also gives you a ready reckoner to describe the important aspects of what your team's job is all about.

If you can do this and keep it up-to-date with real scores your team and your leadership will flourish.