Are We Having Fun Yet?

Since our last few posts have covered a number of serious and heavy subjects, we thought this one should be a bit lighter, while still providing some useful information.

As the title suggests, let me ask you two questions.

1. Is your organization having fun and enjoying participating as part of the team?
  2. If not, what can you do to make the culture and the environment more enjoyable for everyone?

If you’re not having fun and enjoying what you’re doing, chances are that your organization isn’t either, and will be less effective, productive, and successful over the long run.  Since you and the team spend most of your waking hours at work, you should enjoy the time that you’re there, otherwise, why bother?

Many articles have been written about this subject, and some have a “formula” to follow in order to improve the organizational culture.  But, when you come right down to it, there are a few things that you can do that will make all the difference.  Oh, and by the way, I’ll be the first to admit that it took me a long time to learn them, and learn them I did, mostly the hard way.

  • Loosen Up

Operations are serious, no doubt, especially when things aren’t going particularly well.  However, rarely, if at all, are the issues or decisions that you are facing, life or death (although at times they may feel that way!).  Yes, there are times to be serious, and there are times when you can lighten up and keep your team loose.  In the long run, this will improve decision making, and the organization as a whole.

  • Have Patience

 Stuff happens in every organization, maybe in some, more than others.  The question is how you deal with it. If you approach the issue/mistake calmly, with a  desire to learn for the future, there is a very good chance that it won’t happen again.  However, if you’re yelling, and/or looking for someone to blame, you’ll create an atmosphere of fear, and the organization will run scared, trying anything to avoid making a mistake, and/or being taken to task or blamed for that mistake.  At the same time, two other things will happen: 1) mistakes will increase because everyone is trying too hard not to make a mistake, and 2) the organization will stop taking “prudent” risks to improve the business because it is afraid of being blamed if something goes wrong.

Note that I’m not suggesting that the organization lower its standards.  Quite the contrary, set high standards, be very clear about them, and make sure the organization lives up to them, which leads to my next point.

Talk with your team about the organization, direction, performance standards and improvement, and what is required to succeed in your market.  People want to know where they stand, and why, and you should be communicating that to them, clearly.  At the same time, ask for their help in resolving issues and improving performance.  Nothing works better than an organization that has active participation and engagement, at all levels, and is moving in the same direction.

By communicating both ways, you’ll find out all sorts of interesting things, including ideas to improve the organization from the people who are actually doing the work.  This will make for a much happier and productive organization over time.

  • Have Fun

Have fun while you’re there.  Organize some fun, inexpensive events that get people involved, and lighten things up.  Doing this consistently will improve participation and engagement, and the overall environment of the organization, and becomes infectious over time.

While these things may not seem difficult, they are a challenge to do, and do consistently.  However, by doing these things, you’ll have a much happier, effective, committed, and participative organization ready to take on anything.  And that’s exactly what you want!

“A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts.” – Richard Branson

“Find a job you like and you add five days to every week.” –  H. Jackson Brown

“If you don’t do it excellently, don’t do it at all. Because if it’s not excellent, it won’t be profitable or fun, and if you’re not in business for fun or profit, what the hell are you doing there?” – Robert Townsend

Are You Taking Care of Your Customers?

As we work with our clients, many of them believe, rightfully so, that their particular organization is unique, and requires a number of complex processes, procedures, and reporting for their operation to work efficiently.  However, while there is nothing wrong with being unique, too many organizations make their operations much more complicated than they need to be.  As a result, the organization gets bogged down in the process, procedures and reporting, and loses its focus on the most important goal of any organization – Taking Care of the Customer, in the most cost efficient way.

Let me give you an example from my sailing days.

Tacking a sailboat is basically a four step process including turning the boat to the new course, releasing the sheet on one side, pulling in the sheet on the other side, and trimming for speed.  All a straight line process to accomplish one goal.  Yet, I have seen this simple process become very complex when there are too many hands involved, and/or too much talking and direction, resulting in a very inefficient process and a bad tack.

If we apply this straight line concept to an organization, there are really only three major steps for the entire customer fulfillment process, regardless of the organization, service or product lines.  These steps include:

  • Receipt of a customer/client order, or request
  • Taking action required by that order or request, which could include:
    • Ordering material
    • Processing that material
    • Performing a service
  • Delivering that product or service, cost effectively

That’s it.  Now I realize that the list is oversimplified, and that there are a myriad of details and actions required for each step, but the question is – Are all of those details and actions required to fulfill the customer’s request as efficiently and effectively as possible?  Probably not.

As you look at your organization, ask yourself some key questions:

  • Do you have processes and reports in place because this is the way it’s always been done, or just in case?
  • Is your organization getting bogged down following the processes and procedures, or filling out reports?
  • Does your customer see value in all of your processes and reports?  Are they willing to pay for them?
  • Can you fulfill their request in a straight line, or have detours grown up over time that are inefficient?

Depending on your answers, you may need to take a hard look at your operation, and update the processes to make them more efficient and effective.

Successful organizations have the following attributes:

  • Processes move in a straight line, with as few steps as possible
  • Processes, procedures, and reports have perceived value for the customer
  • The processes and procedures are cost effective, and efficient
  • The client/customer experience is the best it can be

It all comes down to just two objectives:  A great customer experience at the lowest cost.

It’s all about the customer.  How does your organization compare?

If you have any questions, or would like more information, please give us a call at (727) 637-4666, or email me directly at Don@HuttlinAssociates.com.

“Reduce the layers of management. They put distance between the top of an organization and the customers.” –  Donald Rumsfeld

“Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets out of it.”Peter Drucker

“The single most important thing to remember about any enterprise is that there are no results inside its walls. The result of a business is a satisfied customer.” – Peter Drucker

Leadership Principles – Volume 2

In this week’s post, we discuss the next three of George Marshall‘s Nine Leadership Principles, including:

  • Speaking Your Mind: The Principle of Candor
  • Choosing and Rewarding the Right People: The Principle of Fairness
  • Supporting the Troops: The Principle of Caring

These three principles relate to how leaders communicate with their organization, establish a culture that rewards straight talk and candor, have the right people in place, and finally, take care of those people.

Let’s look at each of these principles and how they may apply to your organization.

Speaking Your Mind: The Principle of Candor
In many organizations, speaking up, straight talk, and candor are frowned upon, even at the highest levels.  While much lip service may be paid to these attributes, the organizations either penalize those individuals that speak up by labeling them as “troublemakers”, or, in the case of bad news, “shoot the messenger”.  These organizations also tend to obscure the information behind “corporate-speak” to avoid having to deal directly with contentious issues, “breathe their own exhaust”, and make decisions that may not be in the best interests of the organization because the culture does not allow debate or dissent.

Effective leaders that apply straight talk and candor, in all of their communications and relationships, create a culture of trust that promotes open discussion and debate, and in fact, rewards it.  As a result, not only are these leaders trusted and credible, their organizations openly share information, are aligned in the same direction, make good, well thought out, decisions, and execute on those decisions.

Choosing and Rewarding the Right People: The Principle of Fairness
There are actually two parts to this principle, which should be considered one of the primary tasks of a leader.  In his book “Good to Great“, Jim Collins calls this “Getting the Right People on the Bus”.

The first is identifying, and recruiting/promoting, the best person for each position and/or assignment based on the requirements of the organization, cultural fit (as applicable), and individual attributes. The element of fairness comes into play when the person is considered and selected on the basis on proven performance and attributes, and not necessarily because they were the “next in line”.

The second part of this principle is that once the right people are place, the leader and organization must actively support their efforts, and reward them with loyalty.

Effective leaders make these decisions, not on popularity, favoritism, or seniority, but on the basis of integrity, performance, judgement, and the ability to speak their mind for the good of the organization.  Having the right people in place improves delegation, organizational decision-making, information flow, and the overall performance of the organization.

Supporting the Troops: The Principle of Caring
Now that you have established an open culture, and have the right people in place, the final principle is to take care of them.

Morale is another key task of a leader, and one that cannot be delegated.  People want to know that their leader,and organization, has their best interests at heart, respects them as individuals and employees, values their efforts, and actively demonstrates that support and concern.  In many instances, it will be the little things that count, and work to demonstrate that support and value.

Effective leaders demand top performance, get out and talk with their people, tell them the truth, listen to their suggestions and concerns, and take action where possible.  Organizations that have good morale, and show respect for their employees will be more successful.

Utilization of these principles requires leaders that have a strong set of personal values, moral courage, and are secure enough to listen to and accept dissent for the overall good of the organization.  Those leaders can apply these principles to establish a high performance culture that speaks candidly, rewards performance, and values and supports each individual leading to the long-term success of the organization.

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” — Jack Welch

“A real leader faces the music, even when he doesn’t like the tune.” – Anonymous

Leaders who make it a practice to draw out the thoughts and ideas of their subordinates, and who are receptive even to bad news, will be properly informed.  Communicate downward to subordinates with at least the same care and attention as you communicate upward to superiors.” — L. B. Belker

Good Leadership = Good Communications

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been discussing the importance of organizational communications.  In our last segment, we’ll focus on Leadership Communications, and sending the right messages to your organization to promote trust, increase engagement and alignment, and improve performance.

One of the key attributes of high performing and successful organizations is the effectiveness of their internal communications.  These leaders share as much information as possible with their teams so that everyone understands the vision, values, direction, performance expectations and standards, and culture.

Effective leadership communications are:

  • Regular and Timely
  • Clear
  • Understandable
  • Open and Transparent
  • Informative
  • Reinforcing

In a Harvard Business Review post, John Baldoni recommended three additional requirements:

  • Courage – Talking straight about what your team wants to hear
  • Innovation – Encouraging creativity and innovative thinking
  • Discipline – Accountability to tell the good and bad news

I’ll add one last requirement to the list – Active Engagement.  A truly effective communication process must be a two way street.  Although you are providing information, you must actively listen to insure that the information and message are clear and understood, and openly solicit team opinions and input to really improve the organization and performance over time.

If any of these elements are missing, then your organization will make assumptions and use rumors to fill in the blanks on their own, increasing the risk of making poor decisions, and will not be engaged, committed, or aligned. Also, if you are not willing to share information, the assumption may be that you are hiding something and the culture will suffer.  Finally, some leaders continue to take the position that sharing information will result in “losing control” of the organization if the team knows too much, or that the shared information will be leaked to the market and competition.

In my experience, leaders that choose to communicate regularly, openly, and actively with their organizations can expect the following results:

 

  • Improved performance
  • High level of engagement and commitment
  • Continuous improvement
  • Motivated team
  • Improved decision making
  • Good organizational culture

As the leader, you can decide now to open up your organizations communications, share information clearly and transparently, and get your team fully involved and committed. The result will be a high performing organization that is capable of accomplishing great things.

Communication is the real work of leadership.” – Nitin Nohria

“Developing excellent communication skills is absolutely essential to effective leadership. The leader must be able to share knowledge and ideas to transmit a sense of urgency and enthusiasm to others. If a leader can’t get a message across clearly and motivate others to act on it, then having a message doesn’t even matter.”  –  Gilbert Amelio, former President and CEO of National Semiconductor Corp

 

What Does Your Customer Want?

In last week’s post, we discussed the importance of an effective communications process to your organization’s success.  The next logical question is –  “How effective are your customer communications?”

Good customer communications are the key to building a solid base, retaining customers for the long term, establishing strong relationships, and making their experience the best it can be.  Organizations that communicate well are generally rewarded with loyal customers, and steady and consistent growth over time.

Most successful organizations generally know and understand what their customers want.  However, in his recent article in Inc. magazine, Geoffrey James listed six attributes that every customer wants, regardless of the organization:

 

  • Preparation –  Doing Your Homework
  • Simplicity –  Making it Simple to do business with you
  • Creativity –  Identifying New Solutions
  • Loyalty – To Their Organization and Requirements
  • Accessibility – Making Them Feel Special
  • Accountability –  Not Passing the Buck

I’ll add two more to his list:

As you look at the list, note that many of these issues revolve around communications in one way or another.  Regardless of the form, all customer communications should meet the following criteria:

  • Clear and Simple
  • Build trust and confidence
  • Emphasize their importance to your organization
  • Demonstrate your understanding of their need
  • Timely

To do this well, however, requires discipline, focus and being proactive.  Too many organizations, however, either don’t understand the importance of this communication, or pay lip service to this process, and don’t make it a priority throughout the organization.  As a result, they are surprised when a customer leaves after feeling ignored, or taken for granted.

In my opinion, there is one final part of the process which is to establish and maintain a regular and consistent dialogue with your key customers.  This dialogue will build strong relationships, trust, loyalty, and credibility as a valued supplier, leading to an increased share of their business, where possible.  In addition, you will want to expand your relationship to as many levels of the customer’s organization as possible to reduce the risk of losing business if your key contact leaves.

By having this regular dialogue, you accomplish several objectives:

  • Build strong, long term relationships
  • Demonstrate your understanding of their business and requirements
  • Promote the value that your organization provides
  • Identify areas for improvement in your performance

Customers are the sole reason for the existence of most organizations.  If you communicate clearly, simply, and timely, throughout your customer’s organization, and make their experience that best it can be, you will be well on your way to having both long term customers, and consistent growth.

“Every contact we have with a customer influences whether or not they’ll come back. We have to be great every time or we’ll lose them.”  – Kevin Stirtz

“Spend a lot of time talking to customers face to face. You’d be amazed how many companies don’t listen to their customers.” – Ross Perot

“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises, he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.” – Mahatma Gandhi

 

Is Your Organization Communicating Effectively?

Organizations that communicate clearly and effectively, both internally and externally, are much more successful than those that do not.

Let me give you a simple example of a clear communication process.

For those of you that may not be sailors, or have not watched a sailing match, racing a crewed sailboat properly requires great teamwork, and very clear communication so that each crew member can perform their task in a coordinated way to successfully complete the maneuver.  The captain communicates with the entire crew prior to, and during, each step in the maneuver so all of the crew has the same information, and knows what to do and expect as the maneuver proceeds.

The communication process for a simple tacking maneuver may sound something like this:

  • “Tacking in 2 minutes.”
  • “Ready on the sheets.   Trimmers and grinders into position.”
  • “Ready to tack.”  “Tacking.”
  • “Speed is down – trim the sheet in.”
  • “Speed good – watch the trim.”

As you can see, the captain communicated all of the information his crew needed to do their jobs, kept them informed throughout the process about the status and performance of the boat, and identified where additional action was necessary to stay on course and meet the objective.

This same type of clear communication is necessary for any organization to operate effectively and efficiently, and can take many forms, including verbal, written, formal and informal

In any organization, communications play a key role in the following areas:

  • Motivation, including task information and methods, and performance standards and expectations
  • Source of information for decision-making
  • Molding the culture of the organization, and individual attitudes toward the company and customers
  • Managing and controlling the organization
  • Improving teamwork
  • Establishing strong relationships with outside entities

In the absence of such communication, employees are left in the dark about their performance and that of the organization, overall performance is reduced, the culture is poor, mixed messages are sent, rumors abound, and assumptions are made, generally with bad results.  Clear communication eliminates these issues and promotes a consistent flow of information through the organization to keep it moving in the same direction.

By communicating clearly, the entire organization understands the strategy, direction, expectations, performance requirements, culture, and the message that the organization wants to send to outside entities.  There are generally very few surprises.

Organizations with a good communication process exhibit the following attributes:

  • Strong performance at every level of the organization
  • Clear level of performance expectations and standards
  • Cost efficient
  • Good teamwork
  • Great customer service and relationships
  • Good culture and understanding of direction and requirements

A good communication process includes:

  • Consistency
  • Clarity
  • Understanding
  • Sending a clear message about the vision strategy and direction of the organization
  • Facilitating a smooth flow of information between functions to meet customer expectations and performance objectives

The leader of the organization is ultimately responsible for the communication program, and setting the tone for that process throughout the organization.

“Skill in the art of communication is crucial to a leader’s success. He can accomplish nothing unless he can communicate effectively.”  – Unknown