Tag Archives: Management

Missing the Most Important “Why”

Simon Sinek’s golden circle and starting with “why” has been a popular framework for a few years now. I enjoy the TED Talk and have try to apply it as much as I can, in a broad sense. Though recent discussions, however, I’ve come to start thinking that while it is a very inspiring talk, and I’m sure his blog gets many more hits than mine, Mr. Sinek may be falling into the trap of reverse-engineering.

It’s easy to cherry-pick great leaders and success stories and point out that they spoke about “why” and not “what” or “how”. His evidence is very hard to refute. All I’m saying is that it’s easy to start at the end and know that those stories are worth telling. The true test is, however, how accurate this theory can be at predicting success.

I would suggest that it’s lacking.

Starting with why is great and all, but when push comes to shove if no one can relate to your why, then it’s worthless. In other words, if you let your freak-flag-fly and no one is saluting, how could you truly be a great leader or a great company? You won’t have anyone selling or buying.

Nope, the first why isn’t why you do things, but rather why those who believe in you (customers, subordinates, on-looking well-wishers) are attracted to you in the first place. That is the single most important message you can broadcast.

Not only this, but a company or leader who is aware of what draws customers / followers in is one of the best predictors of success that I can think of. I’m all about self-awareness and understanding motivations of others, but you have to be prepared for what you find out.

You may have one idea as to why people choose your business over the competitions and hearing something else can be tough. Especially when you own the business. That’s the one think that Mad Men really go right in my eyes; the scenes where clients were told something that is true, but they can’t get past their emotions and egos to use the knowledge to their advantage.

If you can embrace why your loyal fans have chosen you, however, you have the power to keep them and grow. So rather than starting with the “why” from within, it’s likely better to understand the “why” according to others.

Kill Business Plans?

Maybe it’s just my feed and the websites I frequent, but there seems to be a growing movement to encourage new businesses to scrap a business plan. While I’ve actually written about how a “business plan” with the structure that the bank wants to see or we learn about in school may not be the answer, I think it’s a disservice to be advocating forgoing the plan entirely.

The major reason that I say this is that typically those who are advocating leaving the plan in the mind of the entrepreneur and barrel forward are those who have seen a level of success in their business. So while it’s good for them that they’ve made it and maybe they never had any sort of plan down on paper (which I would contest in many cases is likely a romantic lie), run-away success stories unfortunately don’t make up the majority of businesses.

I would be more interested to hear from failed business owners who never did any business planning. I wonder what they would say in hindsight. Whether they thought that a bit more planning would have given them a better chance at success or maybe prevented them from taking the leap in the first place.

I’ve had a lot of conversations with people about business ideas and a large number of them end with a quick Google search and the realization that there are a huge number of companies doing the exact same thing already. Either that or after trying to write down a rough plan for the business (even a one-pager in bullet points) you realize that the idea looks pretty weak at second glance.

Whenever I see an article, Tweet or whatever about how business plans are worthless, I tend to think that the author means in their current form. I couldn’t agree more that a business which doesn’t yet exist trying to forecast five years of sales is a pointless, but the backing information that gives some legitimacy to your assumption that people will buy what you’re planning to sell is never a bad thing. At the very least it can be a thought exercise for you to explore as many aspects of your idea as possible.

So don’t dismiss creating some form of business plan in order to chase the image of being some sort of renegade entrepreneur who doesn’t play by the rules and makes all the right calls from their gut. While planning should never get in the way of action, taking some time to determine the right action to take will go a long way.

Can You Service a Startup?

I’ve noticed something recently that everyone seems to have the ability to service startups. At least that’s what they would have you believe. A listing of skills on LinkedIn got me thinking about why this is.

The profile I was viewing was of someone who was no doubt very intelligent. A double professional who, I’m sure, has forgot more than I will ever know. Regardless, though, none of the experience listed had anything to do with startups, but there it was listed in the skills section.

Why were they so comfortable putting it there, though? I have a couple guesses and would love to hear yours, too.

First, I think that it has to do with size. They had done a lot of work with bigger businesses, so how tough could a new, smaller one be?

Maybe it was because this individual was relatively young and young people all have an inherent knowledge about startups, seeing as they’re the cool new thing.

Honestly, whatever it is, I think that there is a healthy level of ignorance mixed in, whether unintentional or not.

All small businesses, startups in particular, can be a different beast. My guess the “my skills will scale down” theory goes out the window once you start setting up corporate structures, funding rounds, personal finance implications, grant requirements, fast growth, etc. These are likely all things that wouldn’t be experienced to the same extent at an established business.

I have first-hand experience with this.

When I was first setting things up with the business, I happened to be with one of my account friends one evening. Since it was top of mind, I started asking him 101 questions about finances, taxes, company structure, you name it.

He wasn’t really answering my questions in any great depth and I finally said, “I thought you were supposed to be an accountant. What gives?”

He looked at me as replied, “Kevin, I’ve never dealt with a company anywhere near as small as yours. The amounts you’re talking about are so immaterial for the companies I work for that they wouldn’t bother looking for them if they were missing from the books.”

First, sobering thought. Second, that was a breath of fresh air.

Although he could have impressed me with a bit of knowledge and likely made it up as he went along, he had enough confidence to simply state that he knows nothing about the subject we’re talking about. If I really wanted answers I should go to someone who specializes in small businesses.

So I did.

Driving Offline Action

This is actually something that I’ve written about before and I’m still on board with what I said, more or less. My thoughts are now just a little more refined, especially since I’ve been having conversations / reading about this idea in different contexts pretty consistently the past little while.

I have said, and will continue to say, that start-ups that aim to rely on the “find a user-base and then advertise to them” revenue model have a very steep uphill battle ahead of them. I’m not saying that it doesn’t work for some companies, but being successful at it is definitely the exception, and not the norm.

By virtue of that, the business idea development process of “Here’s a cool app, we’ll get a lot of people using it then sell advertising,” should be dying much quicker than it is. It’s likely better to rethink your idea or come up with something better than chase that unicorn. To reiterate, I’m not saying that there isn’t success out there, but to paraphrase from He’s Just Not That Into You (great chick flick, def in my top 5) it’s a crime when people cling on to the hope of being like the exception and not the rule.

To put it a little less 17-year-old-girl, the premise of Blue Ocean Strategy is basically that instead of trying to enter the shark-infested “red oceans” where there is huge competition, go where there is no competition. A “blue ocean” if you will. Side note: I know that’s a huge simplification of what is actually going on in that book, but this isn’t an essay about why Blue Ocean Strategy is awesome. I would suggest picking up a copy.

Where I truly think that the opportunity lays with all the online connection tools that we have is the intersection between where social technology influences or even facilitates our future decision and actions. No longer will it be able documenting what we have done online, but meaningful interaction will be taken based on information that we didn’t have before.

It’s important not to confuse this with the internet as an advertising medium. I know that technically the marketing that we see on an every day basis has the opportunity to influence us, but that’s not what I’m referring to. I’m talking about meaningful, online interaction resulting in real-world outcomes that would not have happened otherwise.

When thinking of an example of what I mean, I am honestly hard-pressed to think of a better one than online dating.

Before the internet, dating was fairly limited to your immediate network and lucky timing. Either you met someone through someone else or you happened to be at the right place at the right time to meet someone.

With online dating those barriers are broken. You don’t need to know anyone in order to participate and since profiles are 24/7, you are literally actively dating in your sleep. And every other time of the day for that matter.

Not only that, but the level of online dating is growing in sophistication. If you can believe the ads you see, they have systems running that help match you to more comparable people. That sounds way more efficient than starting the relationship with, “You like this bar? I also like this bar!” or based on what shared interests your aunt thinks you have.

The genius of online dating is that it didn’t just take something existing in the offline world and move it to the internet. Rather, it uses the technology to expand and enhance the experience. That’s what companies should be aiming for when developing their products.

I don’t know what the specific applications are, but this is something that is always top of mind for me. I just hope that I can come up with a great idea before the next guy!

Cornelia Bean

My family is all about the tea and I’m not afraid to admit it. I don’t do the coffee thing too often, but do enjoy a warm drink, especially in the winter. Tea is the logical step and with the huge number of flavours out there, the possibilities are endless.

My favourite local place to get tea is Cornelia Bean. Not only because it was close to me when I lived in River Heights and isn’t too far still, but because it was a product of theirs that opened my eyes to the wide world of tea available to me.

For the longest time I was an earl grey and green tea kind of guy, never really venturing too far from those. Then I received the Cornelia Bean screened tea mug as a gift. Thanks to this product I was no longer confined to the tea bags that I had grown tired of.

Going into their shop and seeing the volume of product they have on display is awesome. Not only that, but you’re able to take a look and smell of what you’re considering before you buy it, giving you some peace of mind before you make a purchase.

One of the major reasons I like this shop is that it has got me out of a gift buying pickle more than once. Knowing that what they sell is quality and the service is great makes it an easy no-brainer if I’m out of ideas for a birthday or other holiday. So thank you for that!

Price Industries

Next on my list is Price Industries. I’ve been fortunate enough to had the opportunity to go on a tour of their facilities, and they are quite amazing. But I’ll take a step back before I get ahead of myself.

Price is a worldwide supplier of HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) units. Basically those metal boxes you see on the top of buildings that have fans in them.

Not only is being a world leader impressive enough, but the values that Price practices are almost exactly like any company that I would want to grow. This, of course, is no accident and takes years of careful action. While it may not always be easy, Price is an example of when the correct values are instilled properly into a company great things can happen.

First, Price’s is commitment to innovation is commendable. By investing in projects that may not see any direct cash inflows for many years, if ever, Price does what many companies refuse to do. Not focusing on quarterly profits, but rather the long-term future of the company is, in my mind, the best way to ensure the success.

Being a privately owned company, it is easier to make these decisions. Public companies can often fall victim of focusing on short term gains, rather than worrying about what’z going to be happening 10 years down the line.

What I appreciate most about Price is the fact that they started a Manitoba company and have stayed a Manitoba company. By operating here they bring skilled labour jobs, which is a great thing for our province! While it would likely make more financial sense to move operations to the US (or even next door to Saskatchewan for that matter) by staying here they can keep Manitobans employed with meaningful work.

I’m so sure that it would be less expensive to operate elsewhere thanks to the payroll tax. A company the size of Price has to deal with the Manitoba government taxing them for employing Manitobans. If that isn’t the most backwards thing I’ve ever heard, I don’t know what is.

So thank you to Price for staying in Manitoba and leading by example. in my mind they are exactly what every company should aim to be in their respective industries.

What’s in a Title?

After my last LinkedIn post I’ve had a few conversations with people about the LI community in general. Something that keeps coming up in that conversation is the level of importance placed on titles, rather than the description of the jobs. This isn’t something I had thought too much of before, but after my friends mentioned it to me, it was hard not to notice.

Other than the person’s name and picture, the job title is the highest importance in a LinkedIn profile. Company, education and actual experience is all secondary or lower. While this may be appropriate when comparing apples to apples, considering every company has a different culture and titling standards, the title could be very misleading.

I can use myself as an example.

Having a side business means that I can make up any title I want. My dad once joked that I should call myself CEO, because all “real” companies have a CEO and there’s no one who could stop me.

When “giving” myself a title, which appears essentially only on LinkedIn and my resume (don’t have titles on our business cards because we’re progressive like that) I settled on President. I a little reluctant to admit, but I did this for essentially the reason that my dad joked about: A company should have a president and why the hell not?

I didn’t really give the decision a second thought, until I said the title out loud. It sounded fake to me and I felt like a phony even saying it, but since it came up so rarely I didn’t do anything about it and it stayed like that for years.

What got me thinking about it again was when I started getting LinkedIn solicitations for other president jobs and services a president of a company may consider. To me it’s just a joke, but at the same time I was getting irritated by the irrelevant information that was coming my way.

I’m happy to say that at the time of writing this I’ve changed my title on the all important LinkedIn to simple Co-Founder. While it may seem like a bit of a demotion, I can assure you I will be performing the exact same duties as I was as President. The other little victory in this one is that I have set a goal for the company before we give out official titles, so there is now something to work toward.

As a take-away from this is to take titles with a grain of salt. I’ve stated before that human relationships and interactions are complicated and short-hands like titles can make it easier to be able to classify people we meet, but if there is a possibility of this person coming to work for or do business for you, it’s probably a good idea to dig a little deeper than what it currently says on a business card.

Credit Where Credit Isn’t Due

I really want to post a specific story from a few months ago, but I can’t seem to find the courage. I don’t want to use this as a forum to go into too much specific detail about myself or any other person, but I really think I learned a lot from this experience. It may be best to skip the story part and keep it general…

Have you ever dealt with a person who seems like they go out of their way to be unhelpful? As in, it would likely be easier for them just to do what you’re asking of them, rather than giving you the run-around, just to get upset in the end? Well, I have.

For whatever reason, this person was not wanting to help forward something that was in their best interest to complete. I’m not going to waste time speculating as to why, but I suspect that this isn’t the first time he has been like this to someone.

What was amazing in this case was the ability to deflect blame from himself onto everyone else around him, belittling them at the same time. I could almost appreciate the skill it took to do this, and maybe would have as an outsider looking in, but being in the thick of things it was just a headache that I wanted to be over with.

What was more frustrating was, as a firm believer of doing things right the first time, this guy seemed completely oblivious to the fact that if he just help out from the get-go there would be no need for future interaction.

At the end of it all, he ended up doing his job and I hopefully never have to talk to him again. Even at the end, though, once he did the thing he is paid to do, he managed to make it clear that he was the “hero” and should be celebrated as such. Like I said, could almost appreciate his skill in manipulation.

Be Adaptable

Apparently I’m on a bit of a roll this week with the posts that can be applicable to one or more of my categories. I don’t know if that means I’m thinking holistic or being lazy…

First, I have a confession: I’m terrified every time I go to a booking with the booth. The most anxious I’ll ever get, in fact. I used to think it was because I worried whether people would like it, but after doing close to a hundred events, I realized that isn’t the reason.

What it is, I now recognize, is that the setup is never the same twice. Even if I’m going to a repeat venue, or even a repeat event, there’s something that I different that I have to do and I just have to roll with the punches.

This can be said about any aspect of business ownership. Never mind stressing about how set up will go, I don’t even want to get into the non-event related mini heart-attacks I’ve had, but it all comes with the territory. If I can say so myself, I’m getting better at dealing with these, and dare say able to have some fun. It’s important to remember that no one is going to die. Maybe business pain is like physical pain; we don’t have the ability to actively recreate it in our minds.

This bleeds into the need for individuals to be flexible. Things come up at work and in every day life. Nothing’s worse than when you realize the person you’re needing to solve a problem is a “freaker outer” or even worse, the person who lashes out when they get stressed. Every time this happens I want to remind them that they’re not important enough to be freaking out as much as they are, but usually resist the urge.

And now the bit of a reach, but I think it’s applicable: marketing. Especially with the reduction of advertising lead time and venues like social media, being able to adapt is moving from a smart tactic to crucial.

The example I like about this is how Oreo handled the Super Bowl blackout. While a number of companies reacted on social media, I think Oreo took advantage in the best way.

The short version of the story is that when the the blackout occurred Oreo sent out a tweet saying, “Power out? No problem.” The following picture was sent as well:

Oreo Ad

The reason I love this ad is that it is not trying taking a jab at the competition, not is it making a cheap joke at the expense of the Super Bowl. It is making a simple statement, which is obviously true, based on real time events and it wasn’t a hard sell. If someone had Oreos in the house, I would have to think it made people think about going to grab some.

By Oreo, a small business or an individual showing that they are adaptable inspires confidence and respect. It is the thought that if they are able to handle this, then of course they can handle something else. That’s why I’m going to keep trying to be as much as possible in as many aspects of my life.

Put the “C” in Customer Service

In this case the “c” stands for crabby. You can let your imagination go on the word that I actually though of after the encounter I’m about to describe.

Normally I think I’m ok when it comes to useless customer service representatives. They usually have no power to make a real difference and are usually discouraged from using their brain, instead following narrow scripts that don’t really address the issue you have. Note: For an excellent book about the opposite of this method and how all customer service should be read Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com.

For the reasons stated above I keep my cool and tend to let CSRs off the hook, but an encounter today (June 11) set me off and I’m now compelled to dissect it to come to some sort of peace. I’ll recount my story, marking the sections that pushed my buttons and explain why below. First some background:

I have two Visa cards. My primary and a secondary with the lowest limit possible. I use the secondary for parking meters, online purchases, etc. Basically any transaction that is higher risk, so if the card is compromised, I only have to worry about a $500 limit, not the one that’s higher than that and has all my bill payments coming off of it. The secondary card has been a bit spotty lately, but I use it so little that it didn’t bother me too much and I didn’t think much of it.

Today, however, I tried to make a purchase over the phone, which didn’t go through. I thought to myself, “enough is enough,” and tried calling CIBC Visa. The following recounts the call.

Started pleasent enough, getting my verification, asking what was wrong. As I started to explain I was interrupted (1) and asked if it was an issue with entering my PIN incorrectly. I said no and tried to explain, but was interrupted again with the same question (2). I said no again at which point I was told that I needed a new card, one was on the way and asked if I needed anything else (3).

At that point I was finally able to spit out that this happened with a telephone transaction. Taken aback I was told there were no notes on the card’s file and I was wrong (4). I’ll admit that at this point I was frustrated, I said goodbye quickly and not to worry about it. In my mind it was clear she was going to be no help, so I was just going to hang up.

As I was taking my phone away from my face I heard her yell that she was going to cancel my credit card (5). This obviously got my attention and I stayed on the line. I got yelled at that I’m not allowed to hang up (6) and if I did my card would be cancelled.

I, as calmly as possible, asked her what she was getting so upset about. She repeated that I can’t hang up and asked if I still wanted a replacement card. I declined and informed her that she essentially said that the card not working is my fault and there’s nothing she can do, so that’s why I was hanging up. At that point she said a quick “bye” and hung up on me (7).

So, here’s the way I see it:

  1.  This is the first time I was interrupted, but it wasn’t the last. A good CSR should hear the whole story before trying to help.
  2. Reasking the same question, especially when you haven’t allowed for me to tell the whole story AND the question implies fault on my end is a huge no-no for me. Never try to make the customer feel stupid. (Side note, this happened to me a month or so ago when I called 311 to report yard waste pick-up being days late on my street. I was asked no fewer than three times each if I put it in the right place [yes] and if my neighbour’s was still out [yes].)
  3. Jumped to an answer, still without fully understanding.
  4. Telling me I’m wrong about the issue I’m reporting. Again, don’t try to make the customer feel dumb.
  5. The customer can hang up at any time. There is no reason to make a threat, just chalk me up as an asshole and let it go.
  6. Yelling and again ordering me around didn’t help her cause.
  7. Hanging up on me, especially when I was told that “wasn’t allowed” isn’t the best way to finish a call.

Always trying to take some sort of positive from an experience, I think that I now know how not to treat people. Seriously, though, I think this is a case for better CSR training and allowing your people go go off script (but not in the way she did).

Being as this is a bank we’re talking about here, I’m guessing there isn’t a lot of empowerment of front-line staff. This person was likely doing everything she was allowed to, which is stay on a script and try to get me off the phone ASAP. I have to say this didn’t make me feel good as a client of over eight years, and a former employee for that matter.

Without empowerment there is frustration and that frustration may be directed at your clients, which is not a good thing for your company. Give people the tools to actually help.