Category Archives: miscellaneous

Three More Ways to Make Work More Like Sports

Euro 2012 concluded yesterday. For those not into soccer that’s the European championship. It happens every four years, kind of like the Olympics or the World Cup.

Spain won as predicted and although Italy lost, they showed up in the finals as a complete surprise to most folks. They made a fantastic run and came up just short when all the luck, ans skill of the Spaniards, seemed to turn against them.

During their run to the finals I was captivated by Gigi Buffon, the Italian goalkeeper and captain. This guy has been around for quite awhile and is still considered one of the top keepers in the game but what impressed me most was the man beyond the play.

  • Camera’s couldn’t stay off him during the Italian national anthem and commentators kept coming back to the passion with which he sang his countries song.
  • During their semi-0final penalty shoot-out against England he could be seen slapping hands with Joe Hart, England’s keeper, between penalties.
  • After the loss in the finals the cameras followed him as he comforted his teammates and even his coach.

Back in January I posted “What’s the Difference Between Life and Sports?” where I explored some of the ways in which our work environments often conspire to make life a whole lot less exciting than following sports. As this summer wends its way though Euro 2012 and the Olympics more and more Gigi Buffon’s are going to come across our radar screen.

So what can we learn from Buffon’s example?

1. We like to play for something bigger.
That’s why Buffon belting out his national anthem is impressive. He gets that, he connects to it, he’s proud of his country. How often in our work places to we as managers try to instill in our people a sense of something bigger than just a paycheck?

The opposite is true in sports as well…we don’t care for the selfish player who is just in it for the money. How much heat, pun intended, has Lebron gotten for that?

2. We like a class act.
Even in the tension packed moment of a penalty shoot out Buffon makes the effort to connect with the opposing keeper, a guy who he openly respects as an up and comer. That’s class.

How do we create an atmosphere of class even in the midst of competitive tensions in the work place? How do we reward “class”? Typically I find we don’t. We like it, we applaud it, but we hope it doesn’t get in the way.

3. We like team guys who lead.
I watched this world class athlete who had just loss put aside his own grief long enough to comfort guys who may well get a second and even third chance at this tournament. This was a captain leading his men even after the battle was finished.

How many leaders in business have you seen take that approach? We more often see them focused on responsibility and blame for the loss. How do we instill not only this level of teamwork, but leadership in our people?

I wonder who we’ll see emerge from the Olympic games in a few weeks time. I wonder what lessons we’ll be able to take away from these games about how to create more passion, more life, in our work environments.

How much of this connection to class, leadership, and a connection to something bigger is cultural? Do you think it is the same for people outside the US?

You Are What You “Eat”

The events of the week here in Colorado Springs have been traumatic for a lot of people. The impact on the area will be felt for quite a long time. Of these things there is no doubt.

Having spent the last few days OUT of the area though I think I have experienced some immediate, tangible evidence of what we probably all already know. Our daily attitude can be, and for many IS, drastically shaped by the media we ingest.

Between our social media connections, email, texts, 24 hour news channels, tweets, grams, pins and pokes we’re bombarded by information and if we don’t turn it off from time to time it works like a hammer and chisel slowly shaping us into some sculpted form we may or may not have chose on our own.

Being in Southern California the last couple days took me out of the direct of influence of media about the fires here in Colorado.  Sure, CA has it’s own problems, but I was on a limited diet of media due to my schedule.

The mood that had pervasively taken over my psyche while I was here at home was decidedly lifted, even though circumstances at home hadn’t changed, my perspective was given a moments rest from the constant barrage of images and messages and I began to emerge from the funk I had been in.

As I watch our nation become more or more polarized around issues of politics, religion, and money I wonder if the constant hum of media in the background isn’t largely responsible. After all isn’t it the job of every new producer to turn molehills into mountains?

I’d like to suggest three practices, habits I’m going to try to build for myself, that I believe will help us take a few steps back from the brink that is eroding at our feet through constant media bombardment.

1. Disconnect from media inputs
Easy to say, harder to do. In this case though I don’t mean some sort of media fast for a few days. I mean regular scheduled intervals during the day where you just disconnect from media input for a minimum of three hours.

I choose that amount of time because I find that if I take a 3 hour flight somewhere my brain starts to think creatively on issues OTHER than what I’ve been hit with in media. It also cracks me up how fast people dive for their cell phones when a 3 hour flight hits the tarmac.

2. Develop a hobby
Yeah, sounds trite I know. What I strongly believe though is that when we engage in acts of creativity we turn on different parts of our brain. Rather than just analyzing information, chewing media stories down to the grisly bone, thumping away with the analytical side of our brains we need to engage the rest.

Developing a hobby that results in something tangible, a picture, a song, a poem, a cross-stitch, a doodle, a wood carving of a toothpick…leaves you with a reminder of the creative process. Sure, hobbies like running, biking, hiking etc are good but I’m after something that leaves me with that tangible evidence, that shareable fruit of my labors.

3. Dialogue with someone
This doesn’t mean argue and it doesn’t mean commiserate it means honest discussion about topics that interest you. Dialoguing broadens our perspective and opens up the possibility for new points of view. It also build relational bridges, far too many of which are being burned daily from what I can tell.

I really believe this combination can work as a prescription for changing moods and finding some relief from media created stress. I’ve gotten somewhat regular at 1 and 2 above. I need to practice 3 more often…any takers?

How much do you think media inputs effect your daily mood?

Thanks to all those who’ve been praying for Colorado. The last few days have brought some stability, we’ll see how we go from here.


Colorado is Burning

It’s hard to think of much else this evening.

There are currently 10 or 11 wild fires burning in Colorado. This one has already forced 32000 people out of their homes.

We’ve got friends on their way to stay with us here. At the moment their home is alright but just a 1/4 mile away from their house homes are burning. We’re a safe distance away from the flames here at our house but it’s hard to imagine what life will be like the next few weeks, even months, here in Colorado Springs.

With temperatures in the triple digits and winds gusting above 50 mph this fire has been burning for several days and the last report it was only 5% contained…tough to say how they calculate that.

Please pray for the fire fighters and decision makers.

Please pray for the folks whose home’s are threatened but still ok.

Please pray for the folks who’ve lost everything.

Please pray for rain.

There seems to be some possibility that this fire was started by arson. What would even be a suitable punishment if the person were caught?

When Your Brain Hurts: Reflect, Laugh, Create

I’ve been under a ton of self imposed stress the last couple weeks. Several deliverables due all around the same time for work, teenage boys with traffic court appearances to wrangle, trying to sort out multiple schedules between now and August, booking flights, canceling flights…

It’s made my brain hurt.

One of the things I find happens when we get under stress is that our focus, our thoughts, tend toward the negative: “I can’t do this”, “I can’t possibly get this all done”, “This is killing me”, “I just need a break”…and it can start to spiral downward from there.

A lot of time I’ll exercise when I hit that kind of stress level. Endorphins are our friend and they can really help. But it was over 100 degrees yesterday and there is a LOT of smoke in the air from wildfires in Colorado just now so exercise wasn’t a great option.

Thus requiring an indoor pursuit, after completing one of the major chunks I needed to get finished, I took some time to “goof-off” in Photoshop. I’ll confess this is one of my favorite pass-times, but I stumbled across a combination that relieved stress incredibly well.

I randomly decided to create a series of pictures based on the theme, “The music I grew up with.” This resulted in several things happening all at once:

1. I had to think through music genres. Music ALWAYS sparks memories so while listening to some of the music I grew up to I was taken back through some great memories. Taking that time to reflect on memories from my younger days helped me to relax greatly.

2. I had to go through pictures to find head shots I could cut out and use. This meant finding funnier facial expressions which meant I was looking at pictures of fun times. Looking at the pictures reminded me of those good times and pretty soon picture after picture caused me to laugh out loud. Fortunately no one was home to wonder which deep end I’d gone off.

3. Once I had the raw material I started to create the pictures, one of which is above, and found myself in a cycle of reflecting on good memories and laughing at past adventures. Suddenly life didn’t seem so stressful or negative, suddenly thing were going to be ok.

Is this a prescription for 100% stress relief? Not sure, but I do know I’ll try it again because it worked so well this time!

What do you do to relieve stress and the negative spiral that often times comes with it?

Three Guidelines for Carpe Diem

My soon-to-be-college-freshman son Nathan had a job interview this past week with a major retailer. From his perspective this was ok, from his parents perspective this was crucial!

He cleaned up nicely, made it to the store on time and was asked to wait in one of the back rooms for his turn. Following the directions he was given lead him to a room empty of people. He found this odd but didn’t panic. He simply waited.

While he was waiting he noticed a sign on the wall, an acronym that described in this particular retailers approach to selling. He memorized it.

Some fifteen or twenty minutes later someone came looking for him and explained that he’d been given the wrong directions, he needed to go to a different room. No worries, we went and waited with the other candidates.

When his turn came the interview went as most do, standard questions about background, hobbies, why he wanted to work there etc. until the interviewer asked how Nate might approach selling to a customer. In his own words:

“Dad, I did a quick mind thesaurus, changed up a couple of words, made sure I didn’t use the exact acronym and basically told him what it said on the poster.”

Twenty minutes after he got home they called and offered him the job.

Other than just having a major proud dad moment I was struck by a couple things that Nate did that we can learn from when it comes to seizing opportunities that present themselves everyday.

1. Relax
He could have easily panicked at being in what was obviously the wrong room. He didn’t. Instead he looked around and found the opportunity, in this case the poster.

It is often that moment when things seem to be going the most stray that we need to relax, look around and see what opportunities our sidetrack off of the beaten path might provide. When we get off course we see things we wouldn’t have seen had we stayed on course. Relax.

2. Observe
He didn’t just sit, hands folded, and wait for someone to come looking. He didn’t scurry back out of the room and go in search of some more direction. He looked around…and found a gold mine.

Even when we’re off into the deep weeds if we can relax we then get the chance to look around in detail. Not a rushing blur as we race back to our intended path but a slow, deep breathed, survey of what is around us.

3. Capture
Nate didn’t panic and rush out, he didn’t just notice the poster and make mental note, he captured the information and that made the difference.

When we find ourselves outside the normal course and we relax, we observe we then need to make the effort to capture the opportunities that present themselves. How many of us would have gotten to the point in the interview where we WISHED we had looked more closely at that stinking sign?

Opportunity presents itself everyday, especially when we’re off the beaten path. Don’t panic. Relax, Observe and Carpe Diem.

What opportunities might be around you right now? What opportunities have you missed by not relaxing, observing, or capturing?


International Travel: Caught by Customs!

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had the chance to travel internationally a fair amount. I’ve been pulled aside a time or two, once even directed to a closet sized room by a gun toting Russian military officer, but nothing prepared me for Monday’s encounter.

I confidently approached the last stop at customs, you know the one that comes after you’ve had your form stamped and reconnected with your luggage, prepared to answer the final round of questions already trying to sort out in my mind whether I’d need to rent a car or catch a cab to my hotel.

“What’s your purpose here Mr Fletcher?” the officer asked, her accent thick and suspicious.

“I’m here for work. Just coming in from the UK”, I explained that I was here to do some software consulting with Compassion. “No” I said when asked if I was directly employed by them, “I work for Hitachi Consulting and we’ve been doing this work in Australia and the UK and now here.”

“Did Compassion buy the software from you? No? Did they purchase this consulting as a part of the licensing agreement? No? Do you have a signed contract on your person? No?”

“I see. I’ll have to ask you to step into this room to your right.”

Somewhat surprised I stepped into the small cement room, walls bare but for a poster that warned against trying to smuggle drugs, and was confronted by a second officer. This one in body armor, eying me suspiciously, “So what kind of work do you do?”

I must have looked somewhat bemused because that attitude coming back at me from the officer was not one of a guy having a pleasant chit chat. Especially as he began menacingly snapping at the cuffs of the blue latex gloves he was wearing.

I tried to explain once again that I was working with Compassion on a three country assessment of some software they were using, but he seemed to want to press me into saying I was a management consultant. I finally capitulated and said, “Yes, I’ll be working with management to sort out how to best use the software.”

With a brisk nod and final snap of his gloves he stepped into another, smaller room where I couldn’t quite overhear the conversation between four customers officers. The other three having stood silently by as I was interrogated by body armor man.

Finally they reached a decision. Body armor man came back and in a thick accent advised me:

“You see Mr. Fletcher we don’t allow just anyone to come up here and do work. You need to prove that you have some special education, a unique skill set, OR you must provide a signed contract. In lieu of having any of those you must be prepared to either obtain a work permit or be turned back from the border. As there are no further flights leaving here for the US today you’d be detained over night in jail.”

SO…to make a long story short…I paid the $150 for a work permit and as a result, between now and July 2nd, I am permitted to work here…in Canada.

What’s your customs story?

How Would You Rate THIS Customer Service?

I am currently in residence at The Ship in Weybridge, England where it is costs, with exchange rate, just under $250 per night.

This morning there was no water. None.

All the guests received the following:

Dear Guest,

Please accept our most sincere apologies for the inconvenience caused to you this morning by the lack of hot and cold water within the hotel.

Further to investigation it appears that the main external supply had been interrupted overnight, resulting in the storage tanks on the property running dry. This was resolved as soon as we were able;however it did take considerable time for the water tanks to refill and heat. Please rest assured that the system is now functioning normally again.

It is extremely unusual for The Ship to encounter an issue such as this, and I appreciate your understanding with the disruption experienced.

Should you require any assistance for the remainder of your stay with us, please do not hesitate to contact either myself or a member of my management team, who will be delighted to help in any way possible.

Kind Regards,
A. S. ( name omitted out of kindness)
General Manager

You make the call, customer service success or failure?

If you would like a hint look here.

When Should You Delight Customers?

Perhaps it seems like a bit of an obvious question. “You ought to delight customers ALL of the time!”

Funny thing is the research seems to go against that. You see, there are times when customers just want things to be easy. Hence, the rise in the idea of customer effort.

But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. While most folks still see customer delight as a problem solving, customer service approach, as I discussed in Customer Delight Revisited, there are plenty of opportunities to delight customers outside of trying to make up for a mistake.

But if customers want to be left alone sometimes and delighted at other times how do you know when to delight them and when to let them be?

Let me suggest a possible perspective, in terms of a siple mathmatical analogy, that you can use to determine when you ought to delight customers. If we think of customer delight as a multiplier we can start to look across any product or service offering and start to make educated guesses about where to apply effort in delighting customers. It all starts with the customers expectations.

ALL customers come to the table with a set of expectations, even if they can’t clearly articulate them. Let’s view those expectations as being characterized by four levels of effort:

  • Level 0: I expect this part of my experience to be seemless, the provider should make it effortless.
  • Level 1: I’m willing to expend some effort here
  • Level 2: I expect I will have to exert a moderate amount of effort to accomplish these kinds of tasks.
  • Level 3: I expect some faily significant effort

By way of example, paying my cell phone bill ought to be seemless. I want NO effort in interacting with the provider, however; when it comes time to configure my cell phone service I expect that I am going to exert a moderate amount of effort in determining which plan is best for me.

If we think of delight as a multiplier then where is the best opportunity for delighting the customer? Certainly not in the bill paying, the mathmatical equation, where D= delight,  would be D x 0 = 0. On the other hand if we try to delight them in the configuring service scenario we get D x 2 which yields some significant gains.

In this simple example we start to see that where a customer anticipates no effort I need to leave them alone, customer effort IS king. But, when the customer expects to do some level of work I can look for ways to surprise and delight them that will provide some pretty good returns. Some examples of the different levels of customer expectations might look something like this:

  • Level 0: bill paying, continuing service, renewing service, basic troubleshooting.
  • Level 1: Adding a service, purchasing complementary products, upsell or cross sell of products, locating a vendor web site OR locating a brick and mortar location from that web site.
  • Level 2: Configuring service, choosing from multiple product options, bundling, creating re-order templates, troubles hooting
  • Level 3: Customizing a product or service, complex configuration, design

In order to discover the best opportunities to delight your customers you can take three simple steps:

  1. Begin by mapping their experience in interacting with you from discovery to purchase, to service.
  2. Assign each step in that experience an expected level of effort. Not YOUR expectation, the customer’s expectation.
  3. Focus your efforts on the higher levels.

What ARE the steps a customers goes through in moving from discovery, through purchase, to service with your organization? Where are your highest multipliers based on expected effort?

Leadership: Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

We have family in town this week for Nate’s graduation. We’ve all been involved in sports for years as players from the time we were young, as coaches when we got older, and in the case of my father-in-law, even as administrator in athletics at the university level.

We’re were stunned this week to hear yet another story of a university that has failed a long time coach. By allowing a small group of disgruntled players who didn’t get the playing time they “thought they deserved”, backed by a group of helicopter parents who have collected their children’s participation trophies for years, encouraged by a athletic department that just wants smooth sailing, to run off a coach with 25 years tenure the university has failed.

To be clear this is NOT a Penn State situation. This is just a group of people who have gotten used to having their way at the youth level and now think they can run the show in college. Apparently they can.

We’ve heard this story a few too many time in the last couple years. When a coach consistently delivers wins and graduation rates, when a coach has developed a group of alumni fully willing and capable of funding the program, when a coach has multiple decades of investment, this is not a failure by the coach. It is a failure by the university athletic administration.

It is a failure of leadership.

How can we, as leaders, avoid looking just as ludicrous? By remembering a couple simple rules for keeping the main thing THE main thing:

1. Define it
What does success look like?
For a college coach it is wins, graduations, and fund raising. For a corporate executive is might be about top line growth, bottom line efficiencies, or people development. For a Pastor it might be nickles, noses, and congregational maturity.

In any case it is important to define success. THAT is where you should be headed. If you don’t know where you’re going you’ll never get there.

2. Defend it
Once you’ve defined success you need to be willing to stick to that course when the road gets rough. That isn’t to say we can’t change to a different target for success mid-stream, but that course change needs to be deeply considered before being made. Too often leaders change course quarterly or yearly in response to some temporary set of circumstances.

If you want to keep the main thing THE main thing you have to be more concerned with where you’re going than you are with how things are going.

3. Deliver it
Once you’ve put a stick in the ground to define direction and success, go after it with gusto! Performance reviews can almost become fully objective, did we deliver or not? The better you’ve defined success, the better you’ve stayed the course and defended that direction the easier it is to measure progress…or the reason progress has been inhibited. Deliver the main thing validates that it ought to BE the main thing.

In the case of these coaching stories the schools in question forgot all of that in favor of smoothing out the waves. The funny thing is, as any sailor knows, if you perfectly smooth out the wind and waves, you wind up becalmed and you never get anywhere.

Where have you seen leaders either fail or succeed at keeping the main thing the main thing in the midst of stormy circumstances?

Personal Note: All the best to Coach Gary Podesta. The lives you’ve changed cannot be measured solely by the number of individual players in the program. It is multiplied a hundred or a thousand fold by the lives we’ve each gone on to touch. Thanks Coach. You kept the main thing the main thing.

Denver Broncos: The Thrill and the Agony

Show of hands how many of you can actually hear Jim McKay’s voice when you read these words:

“Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport… the thrill of victory… and the agony of defeat… the human drama of athletic competition… This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports!”

I grew up with that show. It was part of Saturday afternoons. Too bad there was no good way to record it back in the day!

This past week Denver Broncos fans experienced BOTH, the thrill of victory AND the agony of defeat as we learned that, amazingly, we’d won the Peyton Manning sweepstakes and then quickly discovered that Elway had sent our beloved Tim packing.

Before I go any further let me say this, I love both guys. I think Manning is one of the best if not the best NFL QB of all time. I think Tebow has a lot to learn about being an NFL QB but he is one of the classiest acts of all time, at least to this point.

My personal prejudices having been acknowledged let me say that I now firmly believe John Elway is an idiot. Ok, perhaps too strong on the language there but I think he’s made a HUGE mistake.

Football is, at its core, entertainment. Yes, it is a sport. Yes it is about competition. Yes, it is some weird imitation of medieval warfare boxed into a 100 yard field once a week with men playing a boys game. But it makes money because it is entertainment. So just a couple questions:

  • What Jersey sold the most last year in all cities? Tebow
  • What was the ongoing biggest story in the NFL last year, bigger than the Packers run at perfection? Tebow
  • Who was responsible for Denver being the most entertaining team in the NFL? Tebow

So if entertainment is about merchandising, marketing and market appeal and you have ALL of that in one guy, why do you trade him? And worse yet, why do you trade him for some nondescript future picks?

In week 4 last year the majority of Denver fans had given up. The cry to put Tebow in was not because we thought he’d win a bunch. It was because it was time to start rebuilding, the season was a bust. And then the ride began. It was insane. It was fun. It was ENTERTAINING. And at the end of the day it was some good football. Granted only about 6 minutes of good football out of 60 but MAN was it fun to watch.

So how do you top that?

You bring in the best QB in the game. You start him. You use him to mentor Tebow because Manning is great in all the places Tim needs work. You include some of that option package in your game plan as a change of pace. THE PRESS AND FANS WOULD EAT IT UP BECAUSE IT IS ENTERTAINING!!

Of course I’m sure those who support the Elway position will say that winning is the ultimate entertainment. I probably don’t completely agree with that but even if I did the Broncos have to make it to the AFC championship game at a minimum next year or the gamble doesn’t pay off. Anything less is a wash. A 95 million dollar wash.

I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like for a defensive coordinator to have had to prepare for an offense run in the classic Manning style AND the possibility of a Tebow style game IN THE SAME WEEK. Now we’ll never know because Elway forgot that football isn’t just about winning, it’s about entertainment.

That sound that you hear as you drive through Denver is the sound of opportunity scrambling off John Elway’s lap and disappearing into the woods.

What opportunities are sitting in your lap at the moment disguised as difficult choices?