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Sunday, 18 August 2019

Are You Focused on Your Customers? If Not, Why Not?

Most organisations forget, or worse, don't even realise, that the customer is always thinking “what’s in it for me” and then go on to measure "what's in it for them" using lagging key indicators such as profit, sales and debtor days when looking at their numbers.

These measure what has happened in the past rather than what is going to happen in the future. 

Managing the business by focusing on past performance is much the same as driving a car by looking into the rear-view mirror. The challenge is to create value for the customer and find ways to measure "what's in it for the customer."

Remember also that performance is not necessarily linked to financial results.  An unsolicited telephone call before a delivery or a small something extra means far more and is more likely to be remembered.  That is the ultimate objective; to be remembered when orders are being placed and the unusual signifies more than the obvious.

There is a tale, possibly apocryphal, of a UK business that ordered some components from a Japanese supplier and for the first time.  When the delivery arrived there was a mysterious bag of components included and when this was investigated turned out to be a small number of rejected items.

On further investigation the supplier said that the specification had laid down an accuracy level of 98% so “we sent them to you in the bag.  We had to make them specially as we never send items that are outside accuracy limits.”  That is the way to be remembered.

Future customer-focused key indicators are by far the best means for determining the direction in which your company is going and there are many which can come under that heading. 

A typical example is on-time delivery that is an excellent indicator of how well your company is currently functioning. If all of the operations are running smoothly, there's a good chance that on-time delivery is within acceptable parameters. 

The key here is under promise and over deliver. In other words give a realistic and rather conservative estimate of delivery time, and then beat it. A neat point is to call the customer to say that you’re sorry but you plan to deliver a day or two early – will that be alright?

Another key indicator is the time you take to answer an enquiry. Customers and clients will take your speed of response as an indication of your interest in their enquiry and after all, their enquiry is what matters to them.

Professional firms can be noticeably lax in their response to clients’ enquiries and actually delivering on the “I’ll call you back in a couple of hours” is often a vain hope.

Remember that the client or customer assesses everything on the WIIFM basis – that is, What’s In It For Me? How will I benefit from this, not how will YOU benefit. Accordingly make sure that your Key Performance Indicators are not lagging but leading, that is, are customer focused not past performance focused.

It is, of course, essential that you measure everything and keep records of what happens. It will mean the collection of new forms of data as well as the normal monitoring of the financial numbers but the effort is well worthwhile. Do it well, and the financials will demonstrate the value of what you are doing.

Ivan J Goldberg, author, professional writer, content producer
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Sunday, 11 August 2019

Just Made a Dodgy Decision? Beware Cognitive Dissonance!

Life in business is largely a matter of how we cope with decision making situations, good, bad, difficult, simple no-thought and a very wide range of others. 

Whatever the rationale the process is essentially the same even though we don’t notice any variance mostly because so many of the decisions we make are inconsequential. 

Astonishingly research shows that, on average we make around 35,000 decisions a day so who says you are indecisive?   Of course a vast proportion of those decisions are made without much or indeed any deep consideration. You have stopped having sugar in coffee for long enough for it to become normal. 

What matters, of course, is the perceived importance (and sometimes the urgency) level of the need for a considered decision

Recently there seems to have been a spate of U-turns, changes of mind, “alternative facts” and even some downright falsehoods from a number of politicians all over the world.

Perhaps this isn’t unusual but it does bring to mind a problem of communication that can be very damaging in a business.

It is that situation where someone makes a decision or a statement, finds that it is incorrect or misleading but then decides to defend it to the death.

Psychologists call it cognitive dissonance that is the mental stress (discomfort) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values; when performing an action that contradicts one of those beliefs, ideas, or values; or when confronted with new information that contradicts one of those beliefs, ideas or values.

Got it?  That is the broad picture but it needs a little more depth.  It indicates a level of uncertainty in making a decision and this is compounded when subsequent to making a decision more evidence comes to light that changes the picture.

Normally one would expect to consider the evidence and then come to a conclusion; either change the original decision or maintain and justify it.

Changing the decision can be a very tough call.  It can bring on the fear of being regarded as indecisive, or vacillating, or worst of all, if you happen to be a politician, of committing the original sin of making a U-turn.

A leader needs to have and to exhibit humility and demonstrating that one can adjust one’s thinking and change one’s mind demands a good measure of it.

To accept that one has made an incorrect judgement and to change it and visibly needs strength of character and a lack of fear of the possible consequences.

It is all about how we care about what other people apparently may think about us.  If that is a dominant feature in your psyche then the likelihood is that you could descend into rigidly maintaining the status quo whatever the consequences.  In other words, cognitive dissonance kicks in and the decision is defended to all and sundry irrespective of the potential outcome. 

On the other hand, a leader who feels secure,  is comfortable and isn’t concerned with what people may think about him/her, will be able to change a decision and justify it logically.

It seems to me that cognitive dissonance is a potential blight on leadership and consequently on the activity in the whole organisation.  It implies rigidity of thinking and attitude when flexibility and agility are far more desirable and appropriate.

Fear not what others think or say about you.  In the end it is your true self-confidence, your attitude, behaviour and values as a leader that matters above all.  

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Ivan J Goldberg, author, content provider and leadership specialist
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Sunday, 4 August 2019

Want To Know What Your Employees Think About You? Try the Gallup Test ad Find Out!

A constant need of most leaders is to find out precisely what the workforce is thinking and how engaged they are.  The usual practice is to use an employee satisfaction survey, which generally doesn’t always ask the right questions.

We are not really concerned as to whether the employees are merely satisfied with their lot but rather what is it that is really important to them as an individual and part of a team.

It has to be said that results of some employee satisfaction surveys are very dubious mainly because even if the process is claimed to be anonymous, this can be disbelieved.  Additionally and even though it might not be thought to be totally anonymous, the temptation is to sound off and use it as a complaint survey.

An excellent book Follow This Path by Coffman and Gonzalez-Molina explains how the international survey company Gallup realised these shortcomings and developed a simple survey based on literally millions of responses they had over many years. They realised that there are only twelve basic questions that cover the needs of employees.

In other words rather than trying to discover employee satisfaction the survey uncovers employee attitudes and that is far more relevant.

The people were give a range of five options to enable them to rate the importance of each to them from Strongly Disagree through Neutral to Strongly Agree.  Because there can be a tendency for disinterested people to choose the Neutral option as a get out, there is a case for dropping it and offer only four alternatives.

The questionnaire was as follows:

1.    I know what is expected of me at work.
2.    I have the materials and equipment I need to do my  work right.
3.    At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
4.    In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
5.    My supervisor, or someone at work seems to care about me as person.
6.    There is someone at work who encourages my development.
7.    At work, my opinions seem to count.
8.    The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is   important.
9.    My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.
10. I have a trusted colleague at work. (The Gallup system uses special friend or best friend but I prefer this alternative)
11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
12. In this last year, I have had opportunities to learn and grow at work.

These are the twelve magic questions on which Gallup has spent millions of dollars and some 30 years in developing to assess the level of engagement of employees.

They have discovered that engaged employees create engaged customers and engaged customers are very loyal customers and therefore are more likely to be repeat buyers. The very satisfactory result is that they are usually very profitable customers.

Look at the reverse situation.  If you have employees who are not engaged, are bored, just come in to work to earn their pay, exhibit poor behaviour and have generally a bad attitude, do you really think that they will create engaged customers?

There is no question that engaged employees create engaged customers so the whole concept of improving attitudes and hence behaviour becomes manifestly important. 

The primary function of the leader is to ensure that the desired culture is defined, explained and transmitted to the team at all times and the Gallup questionnaire does just that.

Learn from the Gallup questions and develop a culture that will produce the employees and the customers that benefit the business.

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Sunday, 28 July 2019

Researching Data, Information and Intelligence? Now You Need to Take Action!

Of the many great speakers we have had to my Vistage CEO and Key Executive peer groups, probably more than 300 since the groups were formed, several stand out as truly memorable.

One of these was Herbert (Herb) Meyer who had been a journalist, an author and, later, special counsel to Bill Casey who was Director of the CIA during the Reagan administration. 

For perhaps obvious reasons, Herb was a genuine specialist in the assessment of information and he ran a superb session on the Information Overload. 

Herb made the point that the availability of information is growing exponentially but our ability to absorb all this growth is extremely limited to say the least. Search engines, led of course by Google, have made it very simple to find what we are looking for and this allows us to be selective in our searching and consequent absorption of the information. 

The question is, however, when we have the information, what are we going to do with it? Google is so all-encompassing that even a simple search will bring up literally millions of web pages and then what? 

Research shows that our attention span is so short that unless what we are looking for appears on the first page of the Google search and even more, in the top three, then we ignore the rest. 

What is needed, then, is the ability to transform the raw information into knowledge that possibly requires more “drilling down” research. 

And then what? 

Herb made the point that information and knowledge is no more than interesting and the real value lies in our ability to transform the knowledge into intelligence. 

In other words, what is the added value that we can derive from the research? 
 What outcome are we seeking from the research? 
Hence, what action can we take as a result of the research? 

In the intelligence community this is the most important factor.   It is a comparatively simple
exercise to gather a vast amount of data from published sources and then filter it to give us the broad basis of the information or knowledge that we are seeking.

As a matter of peripheral interest at least 80% of all information gathered by the security services is published in formation in the public domain with the balance being gathered from private sources.

I would guess that as the use of social media has grown to an extraordinary extent that 80% is probably an underestimate now.

The transformation from information and knowledge to intelligence is of paramount importance then and that takes a good deal of thought and imagination to determine just how what we have discovered can be used to its maximum value.

It is the area that causes more indecision and soul searching than any other but it is crucial if the value of the research is to be optimised.

In the days when I was involved in pan-European market research studies I found it very sad that companies would pay large amounts for the research studies and then metaphorically file them without doing anything more.

However, without action, the research has been interesting and possibly even valuable in the long term but all in all it has been just that, interesting and that is all.

If you don’t take action, then time, effort and money has been wasted.

The really important factor then is to understand what we have discovered, refine it into intelligence and then take the appropriate action. Then it has been worthwhile.

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