The Weeds

(Image courtesy of Pixabay.com)

“You’ve got to stay out of the weeds.”

Leaders are told all the time to stay out of the weeds.

The more senior the position the more we hear this advice, and these words about the weeds.

“Let’s stay up at a 30,000 or 40,000 foot view on this issue.”

Then the advice switches to altitude and taking a big picture view.

Simple advice: stay out of the details and keep your distance.

This weed/altitude advice attempts to keep us from micromanaging the operation.

But over time, this weed/altitude advice keep removes us from the action.

Ironically, when we stay “out of the weeds” too long, weeds start to sprout, root, and take hold in our organizations.

Weeds of poor customer service.

Weeds of missed deadlines.

Weeds of a culture not focused on deliverables.

Weeds of excuses and justifying the lack of results.

We may need more balanced advice.

Sometimes get in the weeds and stay close to the action.

Sometimes you need to get your hands dirty. You need to get in the dirt and pluck weeds.

When should you get in the weeds?

When a pattern of customer complaints emerges?

When deadlines are missed?

When more time is spent justifying than solving?

Maybe regularly enough before patterns of complaints and lack of results can take root.

Gardens need regular weeding. Our organizations need regular weeding too.

If you don’t spend time in the weeds, those weeds may be the thing that chokes out your organization. Weeds make us vulnerable to losing market share, customers, and good employees.

Balancing time in the weeds and big picture thinking time will have to be a topic for another day. But for now, if you have been up at 30,000 or 40,000 feet and removed from the action; walk around, get close, and look for weeds. And when you find weeds, get rid of them.

First Place

There is something special about being in First Place. You worked hard, put in the time and effort, made sacrifices, and you took the lead.

This First Place status may be with your customers, your employees, your team, your family, or your relationships. They appreciate the work it took to get into First Place, and you are proud of your accomplishments and they are proud to put you in First Place.

But there is something tempting about being in First Place. Once you arrive, the temptation is to rely on the good will you built along the way. Your First Place status is like a trophy put on a shelf and keep pointing at when interacting with those same customers, employees, teams, family, or relationships.

Your over-reliance on your past actions can lull you into almost feeling entitled to be in First Place regardless of our current effort or actions.

“Look at what I did for you.”

Pointing to the past becomes your mindset, and your language.

First Place is not a destination.

First Place is not a trophy to place on the shelf and continually reference.

You are not entitled to First Place.

First Place is more of a journey, a continual effort towards something great.

First Place is the culmination of your daily work, effort, conversations, and progress.

Instead of focusing on, always being in First Place, try focusing on each day’s actions and ask yourself a few questions.

Did I bring value today?

Did I help others?

Did I connect with those who matter?

Did I focus on the important things?

Did I make a difference?

When you answer “YES” to these on most days, your status with those around you should take care of itself.

P.S. Sorry for the long hiatus from writing, I have missed connecting with you through words.

 

Balancing Processes, You, and the Customer

Creating and running a business is not easy work.

You have competing demands of your time, attention, and energy.

Success increases that competition.

Success increases the demands.

You start to grow.

You start to expand.

Things start to break.

The old ways are not enough.

Processes.

Processes are created and updated.

Processes start to build the right foundation: forms, agreements, and structure.

Processes are designed to make things more uniform, more streamlined.

Processes are meant to free up time and energy.

You.

You need increased capacity.

You start to discover and learn your own style, skills, and “highest and best use.”

You are good at some things.

You are not so good at other things.

You may need to give some things away to others.

The Customer.

The Customer likes what you have to offer.

The Customer still remembers when they took the risk on you.

The Customer likes how they used to connect with you.

The Customer wants to continue without a lot of disruptive change.

Balancing Processes, You and the Customer can be a challenge.

Some Processes can upset the Customer.

You may resist the Processes because it feels confining.

The Processes may put a little distance between You and the Customer.

The Customer may always want to speak directly to You.

Building and scaling a business is not easy.

Sometimes we spend too much time focusing on just one of the areas.

When we focus only on Processes – we unleash rules, policies, and procedures that can choke off flexibility and creativity.

When we focus only on You – we can get lost in self-reflection, doubt, and self-criticism.

When we focus only on the Customer – we suffer, compromise, and become spread too thin.

Balancing Processes, You and the Customer is even harder when you grow.

What Processes do You really need? Which make our jobs easier with the least impact to the Customer, and the largest return on time/energy for You?

Where should You be spending the bulk of your time?

What does the Customer really want from You and any Processes?

As you scale, remember to ask questions and regularly spend time thinking about all three.

Descriptions versus Reasons

canadian-bacon

Canadian Bacon.

It is a thing we are into at the moment.

Each week, I take a number.

I stand in the long line.

Numbers are called, I glance down at my number.

More numbers, more glances.

Don’t want to miss it.

Anticipation.

The Magic Number.

The description.

A pound, sliced medium.

A pound, sliced not too thin.

A pound, sliced kinda thick.

Each time the result disappoints.

Too thick. Too thin. Never just right.

But there was yesterday.

The description.

A pause and a question.

“Are you making breakfast sandwiches?”

“Yes.”

“Then I know exactly what you need.”

A perfect thickness.

A satisfied customer.

How often do we try to meet the customer’s description without understanding the reasons why they need something?

Descriptions are helpful.

Reasons are magic.

Tell Them

I got to connect with an old friend the other day.

We drove, we talked, we got coffee, and we talked some more.

We talked about new starts and changes.

We talked about career paths and work.

We talked about good times and bad.

Then we talked about organizations.

My friend watched an organization try to move forward.

The moving forward required some changes.

The changes would impact employees.

The organization forgot to Tell Them (the employees, the staff, the people that would be impacted), and their top talent began to leave.

After many people left, the organization learned a valuable lesson.

Tell Them.

Tell Them why the changes are happening.

Tell Them the larger plan.

Tell Them why these moves are so important.

There are so many excuses not to Tell Them.

“We were waiting until everything was perfect.”

“We were not sure how the news would be received.”

“We think it will upset our customer.”

The longer you wait to Tell Them, the more other stories build.

Stories that erode trust.

Stories that assume the worst.

Stories that will undo the progress you are trying to make.

There are always reasons and excuses not to communicate.

But there is a simple solution: Tell Them.

Even bad news is more widely accepted when you are straightforward, open, and transparent.

Instead of being afraid of what they will do with the information, we should be more afraid of what they will do without it.

 

The Signs

There are signs everywhere.

Literal signs.

Stop signs. Directional signs. Yield signs. For Sale signs. Parking signs.

You get the idea.

Signs are everywhere, so much so that you may not even notice how cluttered our spaces have become with signs.

My favorite signs to observe are in workplaces, because they are typically aimed at someone’s behavior that someone else is trying to correct.

“Please clean up your dishes in the sink, we are not your parents.”

“Keep this door clear.” That has morphed into, “Keep everything away from this door, boxes, carts, and supplies.”

These signs are sending messages. Messages about expected behavior. Messages about who you are as an organization.

I see these signs so often that sometimes their messages simply blend into the background noise of life.

Two signs recently caught my attention, but for different reasons.

Sign Number One: The Sink is Still Broken

Yes the sink is still broken

An example of a perfectly helpful sign: the sink is broken. However, I have now witnessed this sign for over a year. This issue and the sign have been here for more than a year now.

The message: We know something is broken, but we are not fixing it. Our solution is for your to do a little more work, but clearly we are not about to fix the problem we both can see.

Sign Number Two: Who Cleans City Hall?

Who cleans city hall?

The message: We take pride in what we do, enough to tell you that we are actual people who are cleaning up this heavily trafficked building. If you are not happy with the level of service, you know exactly who is responsible.

Take a look around your organizations.

Where are the signs?

What messages are those signs sending?

The Customer Experience

Field Notes Sweet Tooth

I recently found Field Notes as a way to regain the lost art of writing things down. Their designer, Aaron Draplin is an amazing speaker [see his Ted talk], and you can tell his philosophy and approach have permeated the company and experience.

[Let me be really clear up front, this is not a paid advertisement. I do not have anything to gain by writing about this product. I purchase them just like anyone else and I typically do not mention actual companies or products in this post, but the repeated positive experience has created an exception.]

There is something about writing something down, especially in an electronic age. The feel of the paper, the ink of the pen. Recent studies have found that writing things down (versus typing) may help us learn and retain more.

I have been filling up my own Field Notes memo books over the past years. Savoring each word, idea, and memory. They captured thoughts from random to sacred. Sitting on a park bench writing down dreams and ideas felt special and meaningful.

I have started giving them away to my close friends, inviting them into the experience.

Recently I subscribed to their quarterly shipment.

I expected to just receive the newest and latest colors/styles each quarter. But I began to realize it was more than just a few books.

Many companies sell you products.

There is something you need. You order it or go to the store and purchase it. You use it up. You purchase it again.

But a few companies invite you into an experience.

Something different, something unique. The more you spend time with them, the more you feel like you are part of something more.

As each quarterly shipment arrived, there was always something extra.

A pencil.

A pen.

A small gift.

When one shipment arrived, it even included candy to celebrate the “sweet tooth” edition.

They are also the company with the “who to blame” check box, to make sure the got the order right.

The experience continued.

I kept thinking to myself, this company is different, the experience feels different, and somehow special.

The other day another package arrived.

It was not time for another quarterly shipment.

It was something different.

To celebrate their 30th quarterly shipment, they sent along a bonus “Thank You” to all of the subscribers, customized to us.

Going the extra mile to make your customers feel important moves the relationship from a product to a customer experience.

What can we all do to move our customers from products to an experience?

To Field Notes: Thanks for leading the way.

Field Notes Carl Weber