Thursday, November 13, 2008

Support your managers

My job as a VP in our company is governed by four rules which are constantly handed down from above. Here are the rules:
  1. No one in the company is hired or fired without his personal approval.
  2. No one can exceed a budget number without the approval of the CFO. (this one's OK)
  3. No one does anything with an employee without HR's approval. (this one really sucks)
  4. No one does anything with technology without the IT VP's blessing. (depending on the situation this can suck a lot too)
We need to add a fifth rule.

5. No decision made under the first four provision is final until it is approved by the VP of Sales and marketing.

All of the items in the top 4 have a potential to significantly impact customer's and revenue. 1. Undermine the authority of a manager by over ruling a hire fire decision can easily impact revenue. 2. Fail to spend over budget when necessary on a key product, sales or service items and revenue can suffer. 3. Getting tangled up in HR policy and procedure can kill initiative undermining revenue. 4. Finally, make the wrong technology decision and customer can have a miserable experience with the company motivating him or her to shop for a new vendor.

It all rolls back to me or should I say revenue. It only stands to reason that I should have the final say on all matters related to people, money and technology. Without such authority how could we possibly succeed in our quest for fame, wealth and power.

Thanks for reading

Lester

Here we go again

I've been absent for a while with not much to say. A lot of the energy for my cause took a little time off. The angry well employed white guy took a little hiatus. I've been trying to balance things out and go with the flow. It just doesn't work for me all the tension is sitting just below the surface ready to erupt at the slightest provocation. I just can't get comfortable sitting back and doing the wrong thing and pretending it is just part of the game. I really don't see it as a game. I see it as life and we have a contribution to make based on our unique talents and skills. Getting comfortable with doing the wrong thing means I am squandering my talent and diluting the contribution I am here to make in this short life.

The edginess that accompanies this mindset is still there and it's not going away maybe ever. I once had someone tell me that if you wanted to find a sales guy who is happy with his results go find one that is retired. That's probably me. But I am sure I will replace my professional crusade with a personal one that is just as critical and worthy of total dedication.

My dad taught me above all things to have integrity and do the right thing. I wish more people would do the same thing. The world would be a better place.

Thanks for reading.

Lester

Monday, October 6, 2008

Reader Comment on How to Manage Sales People

A reader wrote:

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU HAVE TRIED ALL THESE PRINCIPLES AND STILL NOTHING, WEVE CHANGED STAFF FROM OLDER TO YOUNGER FROM YOUNGER TO OLDER AND STILL NO RESULTS, WEVE IMPLEMENTED INCENTIVES FOR GOOD PERFORMANCE, AND STILL THE SALES TEAM MESSES UP HOW DO WE CHANGE THIS AFTER ALL ELSE HAVE FAILED.

If you have, created an environment of respect and dignity, trained, hired properly, offered fair compensation and supported the sales team at a reasonable level in terms of tools and guidance there is only one element that remains. Product, service, price and value. There is a flip side to having a viable sales force and this is having sufficient numbers of viable buyers. You must have a competitive product in a market with sufficient buyers to generate sales at a level that will support your activity. You must have buyers, you cannot just sell. In my opinion, product viability must come first.

In general, your product must have some wow factor in a competitive market space or be visible and serviceable in a segment that is more mature or has become a commodity. Your sales people can do very little for you if you cannot reach these basic product thresholds. The best sales people in the world can't sell a product that has no market or fails to respect the basic competitive standards for your industry or key needs of your customer base.

If this is the case for your business stop spending money on sales and start investing in your product. Or would it be better to say start investing in our customers other wise your just fooling yourself?

What is it "they" say? A pig in a dress is still a pig. If your product or service is a pig in a dress even the best sales people won't be able to sell it in satisfactory numbers.

Thanks for reading,

Lester

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I'm back

Sorry for the absence. I have become obsessed with with the subject matter in the last post. There are few things in life more engaging than a serious intellectual challenge. If that challenge includes the opportunity to positively impact the lives of others it is all the more engaging and motivating for me. I have been obsessed with my mission to change my environment and make all the stakeholders winners. Me included.

In my time away I have proven my case that the negative sales culture in my company is costing us $1 million dollars a year in lost sales. This is the result of high turnover and the lack of experience in our sales force. As is true in most professional sales environments it take three years to bring a sales person to full maturity in selling our product. We lose too many people at the 10 to 14 month point. As soon as they understand the job, the pay plan, the product and the environment too many good people chose to leave.

I won. Now the ball is in my court to deliver on my assessment and more importantly my ideals. Change the culture, move us forward, accept the risk, create the reward. I'm there, let's go. Life is going to get better for a lot of people. Done deal.

Thanks for reading, thanks for waiting. Much more to come on this subject.

Lester

Monday, August 25, 2008

How do you get sales people to produce

Treat them with respect and give them generous helpings of dignity on giant silver platters. No one else they talk to during the day does this for them. At the very least they deserve this from their employer.

As it turns out if you, the employer, can swallow your ego and bone deep urge to control others and lift your sales people up (even the one's that don't deserve it) you will attract the brightest and the best sales people in your community. Here's another secret you will pay them less than you think and they will work harder than you can imagine. I typically characterize this by saying they will walk through fire for you.

The reason for their commitment is that no one treats sales people with respect and dignity. NO ONE. When you do they know it, value it and appreciate being respected and dignified at work more than you can imagine.

That's the secret. Treat your sales people with respect and dignity. Then watch them work their butts off. By the way, this works with all people in all jobs just the same. That'll be $5,000 for my consulting fee.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Michael Phelphs

Michael Phelphs, 8 Gold Medals.

After a couple of years Michael's coach went to his mother and told her that they needed to start preparing him for the Olympics. His mother was dumbfounded and resistant as we all would be at such shocking and unlikely news. Coach Bowman at some point in the conversation asked "How are we going to stop it?" He knew they couldn't and it would appear they didn't try. Thank God.

This is one example were no one got in the way of a divinely inspired or installed, OK, God given, gift of talent beyond imagination. The person who usually interferes the most in developing a gift like this is the person with the gift. I think the vast majority of the gifted people out there self destruct unable to cope with being so glaringly talented and obtusely unique. They stand out from the crowd like a white guy at an NAACP convention. It's not comfortable for most of us.

It's hard to deal with. Add, how differently they must see and respond to the world through the filter or attraction of their gift. Think of how many things mean nothing to them that are so important to us. Could you train 8 hours a day and spend the rest of your time eating and playing video games and do this for years and years. Could you do this in pursuit of your favorite thing in the world and ignore everything else?

These folks are odd balls, brilliant, gifted and iconic miss-fits. This makes it all the more incredible that a Michael Phelphs ever arrives at his deserved place of honor and celebration. The weird kid who does nothing but swim and eat gets his due. The world celebrates his gift and his sacrifice of living in his own very different world and finding peace and joy there. I'm sure it's not easy and then there's the swimming and a demanding couch he has to deal with too.

We all have our gifts. How many of us truly honor and exploit them to the point of being truly different and blissful in our unique nature? People like Michael Phelphs remind us that we do have our unique gifts and there are rewards in taking the risk and showing them to the world. We need these reminders, thank-you and congratulations Michael Phelphs.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

How to manage sales people

I am highly motivated to fairly reward the time, talent and effort it takes key sales people and their similarly talented and committed colleagues to do what they do. I am more than willing to pay them a fair value for their results at the time they produce them. But, as is often suggested I am not willing to treat them as if they are anything special in any way that is not directly related to their current production. Certainly, high production sales people are important to any organization but there are great dangers in creating monsters who begin to demand special treatment. This is a fast road to no where littered with bodies and missed sales projections based on these key players continuing to produce.


My focus is always less on individuals and more on the aggregate group. Sales teams always have a bottom 20% a middle 60% and the always focused upon top 20%. The specific individual in each group will change each month. Therefore we cannot predict what specific people will in a specific month with an reliability but we can predict what there group will produce with some accuracy. We can create an environment that lifts the performance of each team and as a result we create improved results for the company. We can never bank or count on specific individuals to deliver our success. This is why I am reluctant to become engaged in any discussion regarding strategies that will only be applied to a selected individual or small group of individuals. Rarely do these ideas or concepts respect or consider the full context of the business issues and most likely will fail to address the root cause of the problem. These solutions generally revolve around getting Joe or Steve to sell more and we will be OK. What happens when Joe and Steve quit or don't sell more?


Selecting certain people based on any criteria and deciding that they are key players then by default leads to a decision that there is another group in the organization that are not key players. This is the fastest most effective way to fragment and destroy any sales team. I see no benefit in creating an elite class in the sales department by management decree based on any criteria. I only see the potential for division, animosity and conflict.


I can assure any manager considering this idea that once appointed to the special class a portion of these people will become unmanageable and their productivity will decline. After all their special now. I think it is best to focus on the results we want to achieve, the opportunity or incentive we can afford, and then design the best possible program. If we’ve done a good job the best people will surface based on their effort and both the company and the sales people will be generously rewarded for doing so. If the people we thought were the best show up great. If not we just avoided a big mistake. I can also assure you there will be surprises in who shows up as top producers. In my experience, I have learned there are no common characteristics in successful sales people. They come in all shapes and sizes and prejudging people can be a huge mistake.

Creating a system that welcomes any sales person to ascend to the top at any time and enjoy all the benefits of being on top is the key. A sales person may achieve top ranking in their first month and it lasts for 2 months or it will happen in their 5th year and last 8 years. I don't care who or how long as long as the opportunity is open to all. The important part is that anyone can get there anytime and stay as long as they perform.


The standard must be fair and reasonable. Nothing will kill the program faster than making them dive through flaming hoops hanging over snake pits. The reward must be commensurate with the effort and the skill it takes to achieve the goal. The reward must also be in line with the talent and skill required to accomplish the task in a professional and skilled manner. We can have no preconceived notions as to who can or cannot be in any group at any given time. They must choose for themselves and get there based on their talent and skill. Those who get to the top must earn it on level playing field.

The solution is really very simple, not easy, but simple. First, you must make it financially unappealing to be in the bottom 20%, a new sales person or experienced sales person who falls into this category must be financially encourage to leave or do better. Second, you need to get comfortable with the idea that the middle 60% is going to float between a very average monthly production level, this is who they are, this is what they do. However, it is critically important to establish acceptable average performance levels that are profitable for the company. Yes, Joe could and should do better but, we do make money on his production and he is incredibly consistent. Pay them a living wage, provide an incentive to do better and help them improve their skills, upgrade when you can. Open seats or territories at this level will kill you if you take into account the time it takes to recruit and train a rookie. Better somebody than no body. Hire the replacement get them trained then remove or change the role of the under performer in the middle 60%. Never stop upgrading this segment. Third, put a great big incrementally increasing carrot out there for the top 20% group. Let these people make a lot of money if they generate a lot of sales. You will have to define what a lot is for your business.


Use a sliding commission scale where the more the rep sells the more he or she makes. To encourage sales growth each year raise the break points so they have to sell more to make the same money or add more sales people increasing your capacity. Sales people love it when you don't raise goals or raise them modestly. They will sell more when they realize you are not trying to manipulate and control their behavior.

Why would I terminate a sale person? Having no talent, poor work ethic, poor attendance, a toxic attitude, failure to respond to direction, poor sales vs. minimum standard, poor sales vs. peers, poor sales vs previous performance. Use good judgment - be exceedingly fair, always error on the side of the employee. Treat each case individually and fully documented your actions and the sales persons actions so you stay out of trouble. The rest of the group that is still with the company is watching how you treat these people. Your sales team will work harder for you when the see you are exceedingly fair and reasonable. If it's a tough or fuzzy termination offer a severance in exchange for a release. Usually a couple of weeks salary and a month or two of commission from sales that come in after they depart is plenty to get this done. I think there is a huge ROI on this decision.

This is how the best sales programs in the world are constructed. They built upon human nature and the intrinsic need for all of us to feel a sense of pride from our accomplishments. In this system the sales people chose to be successful and this success breeds, the choice to be more successful. I am confident in the vast majority of the cases you can trust your sale team to response in an unbelievably positive way to this type of program.


We've all heard the joke "If you want to see the dead come back to life, come back here at 5 o'clock." If you want to see a dead sales department come to life, manage by these principles and they'll never go home. I think if you are switching from a fear and intimidation system you can expect a 20% to 30% revenue improvement by changing to this system.


In this program the horse is led to the water hole and he finds it is littered with sugar cubes and the water is delightful to drink.

Thanks for reading.



Acquisitions


I've had the good fortune of being involved in several small acquisitions in my career. My company a relatively small business was buying much smaller mom and pop businesses. These are fun because the acquired business is usually not all that sophisticated so there are lots of surprises and opportunities for improvement. This view is from the perspective of the acquiring company. The view is always different from the perspective of the group being acquired. The first company I was with that did these acquisitions was very good at it. I led the integration team and we had some great people, we did our home work and I think for the most part it was a good experience for both sides. This was the result of diligent work in the planning and implementation phases.


My current company is not so good at all this which led me to craft the following email to a family member today. We are acquiring a company and I will be making a trip to one of the facilities on closing day to begin the integration process. I was relating my trip and its purpose in the email. You will note that my very active cynical and sarcastic nature is clearly at the forefront here. It is also pretty entertaining if I do say so myself. If you're language sensitive you may want to pass this post by and check the next one.


Excerpt from my email:

Me: Today is the start of a great new era for our two companies.

Sub Text: You guys are fucked.

Me: We acquired your company because there are so many wonderful synergies that will make both companies better.

Sub Text: You guys are fucked, get your resume’s ready.

Me: We look forward to learning in great detail all the wonderful things you are doing so we can learn from you and improve both businesses.

Sub Text: You guys are fucked, you will soon be doing everything our way even if your way was better.

Me: We of course are a much larger company so you can look forward to all the benefits of our size.

Sub Text: You guys are fucked, we bought you so you are meaningless.

Me: We will bring knowledge and efficiencies to the business that will allow us to grow and prosper together

Sub Text: You guys are fucked, you will make less money and our private equity partners are now a little closer to becoming much richer than they already are. Doesn’t that make us feel all warm and fuzzy?


Maybe it would be more efficient just to send an email telling them they”re fucked and save the trip. Honestly, we are well intentioned we just don't plan and execute very well because we are going in too many directions at the same time. Welcome to the new economy.


Thanks for reading.



Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Horn tooting allowed, it's my f/#@%ing blog


I've written recently about the difficult economy and the impact on our home values. Of course this has impacted our businesses as well. I don't know many people who are not struggling mightily to sell the same amount of product this year as last. I am proud to announce that I can personally claim and document improved sales at our company year over year as of July. No I did not sell my soul to the devil......at least not for this result. But if you have a ski-in, ski-out chalet near the gondola in Vail to trade I'll give it some thought.

In fact, based on our July YTD numbers all the graphs I use to track our progress are going in the right direction. This is a rare occurrence indeed. There are always one or two out of the 8 that are going the wrong way. Sales are up but commission expense is up more or God forbid sales are down and commissions are up, stuff like that. You know the game. But this July is different. Sales revenue and rep productivity are up and costs are down. We're a little short of a totally impossible, alcohol induced, altered universe, delusional CEO budget, which I don't count, but all things considered we're in very good shape.

Now if I only worked for a guy who understood what a phenomenal achievement this is. Well, at least we know. You'll see my adds on Monster.com, genus sales guy available, unreasonable rates, impossible demands, incredible results. Call me we'll talk. 1-800-NOW-SOLD. I bet somebody really has that number. It would be fun to call. Probably some down on their luck real estate agent in Vegas whose ready to drive his Ferrari off a cliff.

It's fun to be so friggin good.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The economy II

What's the answer to our economic problems? We are seeing one encouraging development in the price of crude oil and gasoline. The bubble in commodity pricing appears to be bleeding off some of its pressure. This will help us all cover our obligations and hold tight to our undervalued homes for a while longer. We can hope that a bit more money flowing into the till at Kmart rather than into the gas tank will support more economic activity that will provide a broader benefit to the wage earners in the US and around the world.

But we are still left with the pesky problem of a owning a severely depreciated housing asset. An asset that we have pinned a lot of hope to. Regardless of our personal status, own it free and clear or mortgaged to the rafters we're frozen in place. We're shocked at the decline and unwilling to acknowledge the loss by immortalizing numbers in a closing document which becomes a public record. "Can you believe what Lester sold his house for? If he'd just hung on we could get more for ours." We can hang on a little longer until things get better. Who wants to upset the neighbors and lose a lot of money at the same time?

Here is my prediction, things will get better when:

  1. The foreclosure inventory stops growing.
  2. Big money investors start buying single family homes at deeply depressed prices in really nice neighborhoods and renting them for a song.
  3. People with mobility and reliable incomes, maybe they have been foreclosed on, or did not own a home, or sold at a loss to escape a bad mortgage but they start renting these homes.
  4. Other investors will see this activity and begin to buy single family homes at not so deeply depressed prices and renting them out too.
  5. Home prices will begin to rise responding to this demand.
  6. Individual buyers and small investors not wanting to miss out on the housing bargains will enter the market.
  7. Home prices will begin to rise more rapidly.
  8. At this point people like you and me will wonder when to sell? Do I sell at a small loss, hold out for a small profit or sit tight and wait for the big score?
The answer to question 8 will depend on personal income growth and the financial resources available to your prospective buyers at the time. The answer will be different in different segments of the the housing market and in different parts of the country. I am thinking if you have a $5 million house you don't have much to worry about. If you have a $500,000 house your potential buyers may be somewhat scarce. There will always be a market for the "starter" home that part of the American dream isn't going to die any time soon.

As we see this recovery in the housing market we will see a broader based improvement in the over-all economic environment. Housing drives pretty much everything in this country.

So, my guess is 5 to 10 years for all this to shake out. We have 5 to 10 years to think about whether to sell at a small loss or hold out for a profit. My advise for you is don't even think about the payments you'll be making between now and then. You have to live somewhere and hopefully you like the place you chose. I know I do.

You can be comforted knowing this post comes with the Lester Sez guarantee firmly established when my kids were little. If I don't know anything about the question at hand I will gleefully make something up. You be the judge on this post.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The economy


I haven't written anything about the economy to date but I think it's time. I am motivated by the knowledge that our esteemed leader told our board of directors last week that his business is well positioned to benefit from the current economic difficulties. Now being the CCBW (Chief Cook and Bottle Washer) of Sales & Marketing I should take this as high praise. Or since you folks don't know what we sell you might assume one of two things. We sell crack cocaine or our CEO is on crack cocaine.

I will tell you that we are weathering the storm better than most and I do have my bosses wild optimism and willingness to throw money at nearly any idea as helpful ingredients in this out come. These factors, some intelligent choices, dedicated managers, a decent product and committed sales people and we do have a good chance of coming through this in reasonably good shape if it doesn't go on too long. Yep there's the rub. How long will it last???

I think we are in this for the long haul in terms of today's email driven nano time culture. The window for me is less than 10 years but more than 5 years. The next question what is the measure? It's housing. It's not getting the balance sheets of every financial entity in the world healthy. It's not bailing out the worst case home owners, that's a drop in the bucket. There is not enough money in the world to reinstate the lost equity and net worth for the millions of people who have been severely hurt world wide. We love our quick fixes but there isn't one here. They can bail out the investment bankers that caused this and the Banks, GM and Ford, toss in private equity owned Chrysler, that would be interesting, but there is no bailout for us. This will not end until millions of John Q. Public home owners are made whole. Which means values must begin to approach pre-crash levels. If that's possible in view of other pressures.

Two and a half years ago I felt lucky sell a home and leave one of the most depressed area in the US. I also felt lucky to purchase a home in one of the most sizzling hot real estate markets in the country. I had a choice to lease or buy. The market was softening a bit and I saw this as an opportunity to buy (best not to take investment advice from Lester). The home was part of my retirement plan. It was a lucky break for me to find a great job in a good real estate market, save my money for my fast approaching elder years and hopefully pocket some profits from my home.

The house part is a full blown disaster. To date I've lost my 20% down payment and if I could attract an offer for my home here my sense is I would need to bring another 10% to 20% of the original value to closing to satisfy my mortgage holder. That's a 30% to 40% loss on a beautiful home in a highly desirable resort community in 2.5 years. If I am able to sell this home within the next 5 years for what I paid for it I will consider myself a very lucky man.

People have lost money on their homes in the past. The great depression comes to mind but the level of home ownership by the masses was less then. There are also the examples of urban blight driven by the abandonment of the cities in favor of the suburbs. We also have localized housing declines driven by natural disasters like Katrina or isolated environmental disasters like Love Canal years ago. We've never seen anything like what we have across the US now.

My sense is many people are thinking the housing problem is limited to just the housing market. I think the growth and vitality of the economy is closely tied to our mobility. Our economy is driven by people wanting bigger, better and more. The inability to trade up severely limits the fuel that feeds our economic engine. People can't sell a house to buy a bigger one in the same city or sell a house to take a better job and buy a bigger house in a new city. This hurts our economy. The business in the new city is deprived of needed talent and skill the local builder loses the opportunity to build a new housing unit creating down stream job losses literally around the world. The movement of people fuels every segment of the US and world economy in some way. It's less than it was now, a lot less.

Part of the answer to this is for the speculators to return to the housing sector. But they are waiting for the bottom which will be indicated by a reduction in the foreclosure rates. Unfortunately, high energy costs are putting greater pressure on mobility and consuming discretionary income further suppressing economic activity. Less economic activity leads to higher unemployment and lower personal incomes feeding less economic activity which will feed more foreclosures. This is not a good cycle and I don't believe there is anything that any one can "DO" about it. It must run its course and this is going to take a long time.

Enough for today, more later.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, August 1, 2008

I am boring

I am mono dimensional if you haven't noticed I talk, think and spend a lot of time at work. The challenge to solve the complex business issues I deal with is really consuming for me. I am always in hot pursuit of some answer to some puzzle. I ruminate on this stuff constantly. Thank God for the people who love me and understand this is how I'm built.

I read a story today about a study in Europe that indicates people who do this have a 40% less chance of suffering from dementia in their later years. Now my only worries are a mishap related to my alligator wrestling hobby, or the remote possibility of suffering an unfortunate naked hang gliding accident. Oh yea, and that little problem of being boring and mono dimensional.

I know because I read USA Today.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Smart people and yes men

I work with some really smart people. I really mean it by all measures and indications they are highly intelligent and gifted at grasping complex concepts and situations. They can crunch data with the best of them. I've posted in the past on what they do with this data which is related to today's post.

These really smart people who like to manipulate the data have one more trick up their sleeves. They like to hire "yes" men. It only stands to reason they need to limit the number of people they surround themselves with who are independent thinkers with the gumption to express their opinions and press their case. This makes them very uncomfortable. These people hire experts and tell them how to do their jobs.

I am working to hire a person in our marketing department and my instructions are. First, its totally your call. Next, you need to find some one who can make it happen. Tell them what you want Lester and come back in 90 days and it will be done. From my perspective these projects are very involved and have a high degree of complexity and cross department interaction that pushes the job beyond the grunt level. It is a leadership position that requires keeping a varied group of contributors on the same page moving in the same direction. The next instruction goes like this. But, Lester we have plenty of people around here who know what needs to be done. We don't need to hire anyone who wants to create any plans or strategy. This is code for we don't need someone who can think. I am thinking this is probably not going to be a real strong leader.

In other words Lester don't hire anyone who is going to question my instructions, like you do. I added the last part.

How did these guys with such fragile ego's get so powerful? Sometimes I think their intelligence and discipline is a disadvantage because they do have the ability to carry enormous amounts of information in their heads. They are quick thinkers, fast on their feet and impressive communicators. I think they fall into a trap of feeling that because they can think it, remember it and communicate it faster than others they in fact have better or maybe the only ideas. Perhaps they begin to think after years of this experience they are the only ones with any creativity.

Or maybe their just too weak and insecure to share the spot light and risk knowing that someone else in the room can think and create solutions. I can promise you this, the business suffers with people like this in the leading roles. Their not that smart. A solid team of committed people with time and adequate resources to solve a problem scares the hell out of them. That's fun to watch if you can shut get Einstein to sit down and shut-up.

Thanks for reading.

PS, no yes men allowed on this blog. Oh yea, and I think our resident genius thought I was one. Surprise!!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Having a bad day, watch this

It doesn't get any cuter than this folks.



Have a great day. By the way I just offered this guy a half a million for his house if he throws the moose in for free.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Don died today


No joke he really did. Don worked for us as a sales rep for 10 years or so. He was in his mid 50's and basically, I am told, went home from work and pretty much dropped dead an hour later. Don was a crafty expert sales person who did the job with half the work, in half the time and made twice the money most of our sales people do. Knowing Don he would probably be quite pleased with that tribute.

The sales director found me at Kentucky Fried Chicken stopping for a fast dinner before an evening meeting. He asked me to wait there for him and drove over to give me the news face to face. I called my boss in New York and broke the news to him, he committed to fly down for the service, thanked me for the call and asked me to keep him posted. We all expressed our shock, surprise and regret at Don's passing. There was a flurry of phone calls in a burst of urgent energy as we sat there in the car, in the KFC parking lot. Then it was quiet. We are all about the same age, Don and us.

This happens, its happened before, it will happen again and we know the drill up until we get to the quiet part. Once we've done our duty, offered our help and condolences what do we do next when the news is so fresh?

We went to dinner at the mall, to a place with a bar, this day truly qualified as a tough one. We shared stories about Don, his talent, his peculiarities, wondered about his family then slowly drifted off to more general and comfortable topics. We finished dinner and went our separate ways. I bought two pair of shoes 25% off at Dillards as if to say, how convenient that Don died on shoe sale day and I needed some.

I was fourteen when my mother died. It was Saturday, I was home alone. I knew something was wrong because the hospital had called looking for my dad after he left for his regular visit. I heard the creaky garage door open and my dad burst in the back door coming from the hospital and he shouted out "your mother's gone, she's dead" this had happened to him before. I was in the bathroom and he was crying, I had to be strong. I hadn't seen her in weeks, but I made the calls to the family for my father that day. I can only imagine now what they thought and felt with me, a child, making those calls. They were nice.

After that I went to George Frishe's house with another guy to fool around with George's drum set. My dad said it was OK, Mrs. Huth the neighbor lady and some other people were at the house by then. I told my friends my mom had just died. It got quiet for a time then we went on. It was weird, but it was something to do when I didn't know what to do.

What do we do when someone we are close to dies? I think something pretty mindless and easy with people to quell the fear and the pain. Like play the drums, buy shoes or write a blog post and pretty soon it passes and we know what to do again.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, July 21, 2008

What are your motives


I spend a lot of time trying to figure out why people behave the way they do. But I don't do it directly I do it indirectly. Here's the scenario I spend hours doing research coming to a carefully considered conclusion based on the data and my wealth of professional experience. Are you with me? I present my findings to my boss or the management team or the HR people and they come to a completely different conclusion rejecting my findings often with little discussion.

My next step is spending minutes (if I'm lucky) or weeks trying to figure out how I got it wrong. What am I missing? Where did I turn the wrong corner? What part of my brain is missing that brings me to these crazy conclusion? Guess what? It ain't me it's them. I'm not trying to figure me out I trying to figure them out. Things don't add-up but it's not me with the bad calculator it's them. The batteries are fine the brain waves are flowing perfectly and most of all the intentions are pure.

The difference is not the interpretation of the data or the assessment of the situation. The difference is motive. I would say goal but the word goal lends credibility and respect to an area were its not warranted. In my book the application of goals in a business setting has to do with the good of the whole most of the time, in most healthy organizations. What I'm talking about is motive or the application of one's own desire and self interest ahead of all else. Any decision or conclusion that starts with the "what is best for me here" thought is driven by personal motives not organizational goals. I call is management malpractice.

A few weeks ago a dear friend of mine who I have known for almost 20 years informed me that there is something I have no clue about. I asked what? He said most guys in jobs like yours think about themselves first and the business second. He knew what a foreign concept this is for me having never approach my corporate responsibilities from this vantage point. With my awareness now heightened I can see motive thinking all around me. Suddenly really goofy stuff makes sense in a stupid and irresponsible way. It's not me, it's them, yep.

There's more motive based decision making out there than you realize. People build an entire career with it. Just take a minute to notice and you'll be quite surprised by what you percieve. Start looking at things through the motive filter and a whole lot of stuff starts making sense and you clearly see it ain't you it's them.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Padraig Harrington won the British Open today for the second time in a row. He played one incredible round of golf today given the conditions. With all of this taking place in the motherland of golf it reminded me of one of my favorite Robin Williams bits which I have linked here.

It would have been fun to see Greg Norman win. Last night he was the man to beat and today Harrington stepped up and beat him. Sounds familiar. It was a great achievement for Greg and tons of fun to watch.

Enjoy the video.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

My best teachers

Just a quick note. The people in your life who bring your greatest challenges are your best teachers. They are in your life for a reason and you are truly blessed to have them. Trust me I know I've learned from some of the best.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

I didnt think it was going to turn out this way


I didn't think it was going to turn out this way. How much time do you spend mulling this thought around in your head? Remember this can include serious self examination of life events or being irritated about not getting the pickles you explicitly requested on your tuna sandwich.

I thought things would be different this weekend. Well, what things in life do turn out like we think they will? Virtually none. But we have a mechanism for dealing with this. Dan Gilbert wrote a wonderful book on this subject titled Stumbling on Happiness. In this book Dan details his research into happiness and how we fool ourselves into thinking we are getting what we want and this is making us happy.

This is because we can think and dream and we're the only animals that can do this. This means we can anticipate outcomes and create elaborate movies in our heads detailing how wonderful things will be. We envision the house, the cars, the promotions, the perfect wedding, the perfect tee shot, bowling a 300 game the idyllic retirement. We can conjure up anything in our heads and make it a perfect creation.

How can real life ever match the perfect creation of our mind. And what would life be like if we couldn't dream in really big and wonderful ways. How would we know what to strive for?

Trouble comes when real life does not match what we have imagined. Some people manage this better than others. We all drop the ball here from time to time.

I think the happiest people I know are big dreamers who also fully appreciate the realities of life. They are unfazed when things don't workout just has they planned. Many are delighted by the surprises. I recently went through a period when I felt privileged and joyful to go to work in the morning and simply have the opportunity to use my talents to solve challenging and interesting problems. It was the same frustrating and aggravating job but I was able to see the purpose and the richness in the experience. I was able to adjust and adapt when things didn't turn out as I had envisioned them.

I think the simple concept of going with the flow is grossly underrated. Along with take things as they come, roll with the punches, things will work-out, ride the wave, etc. There is value in these statements. In the end how much do we really control? Scary thought isn't it? According to Dan Gilbert things will workout just as we imagined, because we revise is dreams and plans after the fact, others would call it living in the moment, still others would refer to just getting by. Call it what you want but I can tell you it feels peaceful when I can get there.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Mountain hiking, two perspectives


I love the mountains so as life would have is I live close to the ocean where the land is as flat as a silver dollar for as far as the eye can see. There is nothing better than a spectacular mountain vista. When I discovered skiing out west I quickly learned riding the chair-lift up the mountain was the fastest and easiest way to enjoy the view from several peaks in one day. The beauty and recreational opportunities in the mountains are endless.

I read a story in the paper today about some guys who went hiking in the mountains. They started early, packed their gear, brought plenty of water, maps, navigational aids and some other stuff. This was kind of a bonus hike because their trip had been unexpectedly extended. But they were making the best of it and being extra careful not to get hurt this close to the end of the trip. There had been only one injury so far and that member was able to rejoin the team.

Starting before sunrise they were climbing some new terrain hiking up the first ridge they expected to see a settlement below but found only a valley and another ridge before them. They climbed the second, third and fourth incline as well with the same result. Fortunately, the fifth assent was the charm and when they rose above the ridge the village came into view nestled into the dusty and rocky terrain. The men determined either their maps were wrong or they had been given incorrect GPS coordinates for the trip. They saw some fellow mountain adventurers on the road below as had been planned and heard objects flying overhead. They heard a few popping sounds at a distance but their concern passed quickly. Eight hours later they were back at their camp safe, hot, tired, dirty and dusty. They all hoped this was the last hike for a while, they were anxious and more than ready to get home. Unfortunately, word came later there would be time for one more walk in the mountains.

These hikers weren't in the Rockies. They weren't a bunch of young studs out for a week of fun in the wilderness soon to head home to cushy professional jobs. It was a Marine patrol of 12 men serving in Afghanistan. They were on what they hoped was their last mission sprung on them while they were cleaning their weapons and packing there gear getting ready for their chopper ride out on their first leg of the long ride home. I get upset when I can't get a tee time within 30 minutes of my desired time. These Marines have been doing this for 14 months each time facing the risk of death or life altering injury. They were carrying 30 to 50 pounds of gear, including weapons, ammunition, communication equipment, explosives, medical supplies, food and water. Rather than wearing the latest in high performance outdoor apparel they were wearing Marine fatigues and body armor or maybe better described as mobile sauna suites. It's hot there.

The impressive part of this is the commitment and professionalism these young men bring to their duty. If we saw these "kids" mostly in their late teens and early twenties, at the mall we would think they were disruptive twerps. In Afghanistan they are focused, disciplined, obedient, committed, respectful and oh yea incredibly courageous professional young men. Each trusting the other to watch their back, to help them stay alive. This awareness helps me better understand the military culture and why so many of our finest citizens are so deeply committed to our military services. It doesn't get anymore noble or personal than this.

These young men have earned my respect and admiration and I don't think I'll ever look at a mountain in quite the same way now.

Hats off to Michael M. Phillips, and his front page story, The Last Patrol, in the Wall Street Journal, Saturday, July 5-6, 2008 this was a wonderful piece of writing from the front lines. This story reminded me of what the Journal used to be but that's another story.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 4, 2008

If you think anything is possible, you're right.

There are people in this world who transcend seemingly impossible limitations with incredible joy, courage, grace and dignity. I offer the following video as an example.

If you're unfamiliar with Professor Steven Hawking here is a link to his website.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What is leadership and where did it go?


In general, leaders gather information run it through their filter or archive of personal experience and understanding then make a decision. Great leaders do this in a way that is inspiring to those that they lead. The decisions resonate and followers are inspired to take action to create the leaders vision through their own personal effort and sacrifice.

It is widely thought that charismatic or inspirational qualities possessed by these leaders play a critical role in their call to action and the outcomes they create. No one can argue that an idea or concept that is well communicated is more likely to succeed. However, a crummy idea is still a crummy idea even when it is expertly communicated. It is the quality of the thinking and the synthesis of the information into a sensible and inspiring solution that motivates a commitment to action.

So what is it that undermines our ability to take action to solve our most pressing problems. We have some smart and engaging elected leaders. Let's take just one issue, energy. Why is it that our "Leaders" are unable to gather the data, filter it and develop a solution that will inspire us to take action and solve the problem.

We have many alternatives available to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and be less harmful to the environment. With strong leadership we could begin a wide scale implementation of alternate energy sources. Our only need is for some one to create the vision and motivate the action. So what's the hold-up? Where are the leaders? There's a problem and it's called the Constitution.

I was listening to public radio a few days ago and the "evil" electric utility company in Florida wants to erect 6 or 8 wind turbine generating units on company property adjacent to a fossil fuel generating plant. I thought how great is this but then the story continued. It seems the environmentalists are attempting to block the plan. Let me run that by you again, the environmentalist are attempting to block the plan. It seems an environmental group fears the wind turbines will be harmful to wildlife in the area. Now I can see birds but they listed lots of other animals including nesting sea turtles. I have an idea, let add Santa's Reindeer just for good measure. So a really good idea has been side tracked and will probably be derailed because the wind turbines might hurt the animals. Has anyone thought about what the fossil fuel plant might be doing to the animals and on a wider scale our air and our water which we breath and drink. Would it perhaps occur to them that the wind mills might be a good interim step to cleaning things up? Take a minute to add-up how may solutions to our environment problems have been opposed by the environmentalist. Go figure, they can't even agree.

I can only suspect that this happens thousands of times in this country each month. This country has come to a screeching halt in finding meaningful solutions to serious problems because our Constitution gives voice and power to tinny little competing self interest groups. These freedoms are critical to our society but the resulting gridlock produced by all these competing voices is crippling our country. They certainly have the right to speak but do our leaders have to listen? Yes, yes they do and our electoral system makes it necessary.

Our leaders have become closely aligned with special interest groups and detached from their constituents or one reason, money. It costs lots and lots of money to get elected to any office in this land and the special interests are eager to contribute. Take all the people in special interest groups and add in all the people who are not in a special interest group and you have the constituents. For those of you who were taught the "new" math in school that totals up to all of us. All of us is the group our elected leaders are charged to serve and they are not doing it. They owe their office to a multitude of tinny special interest groups, their votes and their money. The rest of us don't have much influence. There is nothing new here so If you're looking for "new" news I'd suggest you check-out the CNN blog.

There are intelligent people in both political parties. They are brilliant at working out compromises, that's what politics is. But even these smart people cannot come together to find meaningful solutions to the tinny groups with the great big voice that have frozen our country problem. The result is been a limited freedom for our leaders to articulate meaningful ideas that would motivate us to become part of the solution and strengthen our country for the future. They can't be the leaders our country needs them to be because of the promises they have made. They can't serve their constituents (all of us). The system is broken and we're making very little progress for our children and grand children as a result.

There is an overriding good for all of us in this that must be found and articulated into a sensible and inspirational solution by our leaders. They are not getting it done and we are losing ground as a nation as a result.

This is about as idiotic as it gets in my opinion. It's like thinking we can get rich by borrowing money from foreign governments. Crap, we're doing that too. Keep reading I'll be offering other gross over simplifications of major problems and issues in the future. None of this is easy.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Art of Racing in the Rain

My daughter sent me a book for Fathers Day last week. I am a book person but it is always a risky venture to give a book as a gift. I know I used to do it all the time. Add, she had not read the book, instead taking the recommendation of a friend. I am thankful that she did.

The book is pictured here and titled The Art of Racing in the Rain, written by Garth Stein. This is a great story about life and all its challenges, pain, love and joys. There is an interesting twist the story is told by Enzo the family dog.

My hat's off to Mr. Stein it's been a long time since I've read a book that touched me so deeply and reminded me that the full fabric of life is what makes it all worthwhile.

I have two favorite thoughts from the book. The dog Enzo believes, from watching TV, that the best dogs are reincarnated as humans. So he is working very hard to be a great dog so he can become a human in his next life. At the end of the book we wonders if he as squandered his present moments as a dog trying so hard to become a human in his next life? And in the racing world the only losers are the people who don't race because they are afraid. Yep all this and more in a great really touching story.

I am so thankful that I gave all those books to my daughter which taught her to give this book. What goes around comes around for sure.

Thanks for reading.

Another week in the can


I wasn't actually in the can all week I went to work and did all the normal stuff like usual. I am always happy to see Friday arrive. There is a level of bone tiredness and emotional fatigue that I drag home with me on Friday and plant in my recliner hoping to shake by Monday morning. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't.

This week is a little different. The week was as challenging as ever and still emotionally draining but I still have something left. I'm not as bone tired. I have enough energy left to seriously consider doing some house work and having a little fun this weekend. Maybe some weeding, a little repair project or clean-up, I might even get my guitar out and do a little strumming. I only play for the dog and he is known to howl.

I came to this job a little more than two years ago. I replaced an executive who was terminated and my suspicions that I was entering a serious mess were quickly confirmed. If you are ever offered a VP or CEO position where a person has been terminated to make room for you get ready its going to be a bumpy ride. This is always a last ditch choice. It's an open admission of how desperate and hopeless the owners and leaders are feeling. The good part is if the product or service is viable the situation is probably not as desperate and hopeless as they think. Fresh eyes, patients and talent can bring it out. I've been through this twice now and in both cases this has been true.

I need to be perfectly honest though I will complain, I relish these experiences. I am a drama and adrenalin junkie who wants to make a difference. Becoming involved in a turn-around situation is a great way to meet these needs. Through this I have become well acquainted with variety of medical professionals and a wide assortment of pharmaceutical products. I call it better living through chemistry most of the time or simple survival at others. I have also come to understand how patient and understanding my family and friends have been through all of this. Some people bungee jump for the shot of adrenalin others do crossword puzzles for a mental challenge. I do business.

At some point in the turn-around process the environment changes. The panic and chaos yields to a sense of greater calm and order. A sense of greater focus and community starts to develop among the leaders and the job gets a lot easier. The balance between being reactive and proactive begins to shift to being more intentional. A greater sense of control begins to emerge. The emotional investment begins to subside and the intellectual challenge becomes less fragmented more focused.

I think we are moving into this phase which is a welcome change following a few years of disappointments and uncertainties. It won't be too long before things start to get a little boring and the adrenalin itch starts up again. Maybe this time bungee jumping would be a better choice.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

May be


When I feel I'm having a bad day or something doesn't turn out to my liking I try to remember the following story.

There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. "Such bad luck," they said sympathetically.

"May be," the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. "How wonderful," the neighbors exclaimed.

"May be," replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

"May be," answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

"May be," said the farmer.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Sales tools that work

I received the following post from one of my readers yesterday. He sent this out to his sales managers over the weekend. I'm thinking getting this first thing on Monday morning would brighten up my day considerably. I hope you enjoy this first ever guest writer post on Lester Sez.

Thanks for reading.

Guys:

In our on-going quest to improve productivity we are always looking for ways to keep the sales people motivated. The photo below (above) will give you a little preview of our latest idea. I have to give Bob Johnson credit for this stroke of genus. Seven Eleven is using these chairs in Michigan to motivate the clerks to sell more slurpy’s and slim jim’s. Business is really tough up there. Try not to get too excited about this we are in the earliest planning stages. There is a lot that can happen to derail this idea so we are a long way from implementation. This is just a sneak preview.

The plan is to get new chairs for the sales people and wire them into the order entry and the phone system. IT is working on the interface. We’re going to program the daily goals for calls and sales into the system and if the rep starts to fall behind, a brief alert will sound warning people to clear the area then, BANG the ejector seat goes off, the system automatically calls 911, alerts local air traffic control and we send a search party out into the parking lot to find the under-performing rep.

We had originally planned to use a light explosive charge but then we realized there is one floor above the sales department so we need enough power to push through the ceiling, the floor above, the ceiling (again) then finally the roof. We’re thinking providing helmets for the rookies and more inconsistent performers is probably a good idea. I’m betting a rep only let’s this happen once then we don’t have to worry about them anymore. It's really too bad we don’t have time to install these before the slow summer selling season this year. One added benefit is I am pretty sure the copy machine repair guy can do the maintenance the tech support on these chairs. It can’t be that much different can it?

There are some budget concerns even with the ejector seat glut on the world market since the collapse of the Soviet Union these babies are still running about $30K each but really that’s just 15 J23098 unit sales when you think about it. The Chinese are making one for $25K but I am told they can activate randomly. We don’t need that distraction. I’m thinking once the chairs are in place we have an ROI of maybe 6 weeks. If a reps falls a little short and one happens to fire off in the first week or so the ROI could fall to 2 or 3 weeks. I know what you’re thinking and I’m not sure about the color either. We’ll see what happens with the funding then we’ll get into fabric and colors.

Talking about funding, I noticed someone left the light on in the men’s bathroom last Thursday at the end of the day. Come-on people everyone was gone and the light was on. Electricity costs money folks. Do you know how many Q430's we have to sell to cover that cost of the light being on all night?

As I said this idea may or may not work out for us. So try not to get your hopes up too high.

You can count on your senior executive team to continue to help and support you guys in every way we can. We know you're thankful that you can count on us to keep these kinds of great ideas coming. Have a great week.

I thought you guys might like starting your week off with a little laugh. Let’s have some fun this week. All things considered we’re doing very well in a difficult market keep up the great work. I am very happy all of you are on the team and I am pleased with your efforts. Let’s keep pushing and get as much in before the July 4th holiday as possible.


Friday, June 13, 2008

Tim Russert


There are people I experience in life sometimes face to face other times at a distance that strike me as being exceedingly gifted and special beings. Tim Russert is was one of those people. These are souls who are so clearly and affirmatively doing in life exactly what they were born to do. What a blessing it is to enjoy their glow and bask in their joyous energy so perfectly applied.

Thank you Tim and prayers for your family. We were all truly blessed.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Hammer time


Keep the facts handy folks you never know when you're gonna get the chance to hit someone over the head with em.

I don't care who you are that there's fun!!

Yes indeed it was a good day today. The best part is she never saw it coming. The pure, honest, indisputable facts crushing long held and deeply ingrained false beliefs was greeted by a silent acknowledgment of the clearly apparent truth.

My delight is sourced in the fact that these miss conceptions have had a negative impact on some important people in our company for far too long. My pride and delight swell from the prospect that my intervention may result in these dedicated leaders being treated with more respected in the future. They deserve it.

Keep your facts handy folks you never know when you might need them..........to help somebody.

This message brought to you by Lester the made-up numbers and false belief avenger.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Questions Questions Questions

Do you have any questions for the great Lester? I have received an inquiry about questions, will I answer them if they are asked?










Yes, yes I will. As you can see from the above white space I will answer after giving careful thought and consideration to your question. Leave your question as a comment with your email address and I will gladly answer as quickly as possible. Just as a warning I will publish all questions and answers in my blog without the name or email address of the contributor unless you specifically ask me not to.

Here is the standard disclaimer. In order to be consistent with what I have told my children for all these many years understand that I do know a little bit about a lot of stuff. It is my personal rule and commitment that if I do not know the answer to your question I will probably just make something up.

OK the lawyers and happy now. I'm waiting.....................................................

Thanks for reading

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Made up numbers just as good as real ones #2


Business Week's June 9, 2008 edition page 66 has a great article by Jane Porter on Coach feeling the pinch in the luxury brands market. The esteemed Chairman & CEO of Coach, Lew Frankfort (that's Lew on the right) decided to change the revenue reporting. In the past the regular store and outlet store sales were reported separately. Makes sense to me. However, sweet Lew decided to combine the two numbers in his latest report. Hummm I wonder why he would do that just now? Is it possible there is something happening the shareholders may not be too pleased with?

This is one of those meetings that I would give my credit card debt to be a fly on the wall in that meeting. OK, I never claimed to be a great negotiator. Anyway, this reminds me of a great bit done by the British comedian Eddie Izzard where he imagines the meeting when record executives decided singer Jerry Dorsey's name should be changed to Engelberg Humperdinck. Eddie re-enacts his version of the brainstorming secession including Jerry's protests along the way. This is funny stuff. A link to the video clip is below.

I would love to see the trial list of reasons sweet Lew's team came up with to rationalize the change in Coach's revenue reporting. Bob in accounting was on vacation so we didn't have time to run the numbers separately. The satellite feed merged the numbers and we couldn't separate them. We decided to go "Green" and save paper by printing one less column on the reports. We're running Windows Vista, what can we do? We are selling a lot more in the outlet stores -- no, no, no, that will look very bad. My favorite and the one they finally settled on is, the combined number better represents the business. Is this really what they think? Probably not, I think they had very few choices.

Obviously things aren't looking all that good for Coach and sweet Lew and he knows it. This last little maneuver is probably just the latest in a litany of moves used to stem the tide, spin the data and control the message. The economy is tough and luxury goods companies like Coach that sold down the market will struggle while people who used credit cards and home equity loans to buy their products struggle to recover. Is it really Lew's fault? The shareholders wanted growth, he delivered growth with the retail and outlet store strategy. Can we blame him for holding on for dear life? Chairman and CEO at Coach has to be a great gig.

I think Lew should hang in there we never know what is going to happen. After the Bear Stearns deal Ben Bernanke may buy a few million Coach briefcases and give them away free to anyone who buys a house and takes out a mortgage in 2009. In which case Lew will look like a hero and comes out smelling like a rose.

Thanks for reading and enjoy Eddie.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Typical team personaltiy components

If you want a typical mix of personalities on your management team here's the formula.

Start with one descendant from a Nazi concentration camp guard who will follow and implement the rules and guidelines without question or regard for human life, respect or dignity. Next add a process freak who measures their banana slices for uniformity before adding them to their cereal in the morning. After that you need a wild idea person who knows no bounds and has no sense of limitations human or financial. For good entertainment and balance there must be the resident surfer dude or good time Charlie who never met a challenge that could not be delegated or avoided completely. Finally, to have a prayer of making any progress at all you must have one or two painful realist who are pretty sure everything you do will turn into crap before next Thursday. If you like paralyzing debate you will love hanging around with this group.

If you want to be wildly successful I would suggest you find a bunch of visionary, paranoid, optimists with an intense fear of failure who almost finished college. Then call the bank and tell them to get ready for a large deposit into your account. It will be hard to tell if they are running away from failure or towards success but who cares there will be intense movement in a positive direction.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Sometimes out of formula is the formula,


We have an extraordinarily qualified and productive person in our department who is in need of a financial consideration for a reason that is directly related to their employment with our company. That's all I can tell you.

It's really a pretty simple decision. The process in making the decision and the communication required goes like this. First listen to the facts, then... Yep, that makes sense. Nope, we wouldn't want to lose him or her. No, we don't want to be unfair. Yes, no doubt about it we need to give em a raise. Who wants to put the paperwork through? That's it.

Why does it always degenerate to 25 emails, sent by 6 people, a geographic study of comparable wage rates, worrisome discussions about what Joe will do if he finds out, BUDGET!!!!, Blah, Blah, Blah. Why is it the living, breathing, productive, important, inspiring and profitable person in these discussions always becomes a commodity? We leaders behave as if there are perfectly qualified people waiting in the parking lot with resume in hand ready to start work on demand when we have openings. Better yet no training or orientation is required and an instant fit in the organization is guaranteed. Here's the kicker we find data indicating a new person will work for a wage in the lower 30% quartile of the random Smith slide wage scale or for cat food which is 1.7% less than we are paying the current person in the job. Hey, who approved the incumbents exorbitant rate of pay in the first place? We need to investigate. Someone didn't follow procedure here. Was HR in the loop? Was the attorney general consulted? Get the UN on the phone.....

Now I know what happened to my morning.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Here's a change of direction


This blogging thing is very new to me but its has been enormously satisfying. I've learned one big secret to blogging is it must be satisfying to the writer to have a prayer of being read or noticed by others. So if I stopped blogging right now I can say it has been a personally satisfying experience.

There are a number of things I like about blogging. First, I can go back and change any post I write anytime. How many times did you turn in a term paper keep a copy, re-read it and then find a thousand things you would like to change? I can change my blog anytime not that anyone would notice. It is a little embarrassing that even with this flexibility I still miss typo's and spelling errors. But, I'm more into thoughts and ideas than mechanics, my brain just doesn't work that way, I'm not detail oriented, blah, blah, blah. Here's the reason. My grade school teachers were not nun's, nuf said. I do love the ability to reconsider my thoughts and amend.

One of my favorite quotes is by Ralph Waldo Emerson, "I wish to say what I think and feel today, with the proviso that tomorrow perhaps I shall contradict it all." I LOVE that. I love that quote and I love the person who turned me on to it.

But, there is one dynamic I can't get over. People actually read this crap. I vent my spleen disguised as learned business wisdom and people read it. Well......they also see through it and offer their own observations and wisdom in very insightful and instructive ways by commenting.

Thank you C. You got me. I think this will not end soon however. It will only change with lessons learned and the passage of time. As you well know already, I have a lot to say and it will only get better as it mellows. Oh yes, and I am trolling for teachers, caught one. Very glad you're there.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Do you want exceptional customers?


What things do you buy that you really rave about? We buy a ton of stuff every month most of which is pretty utilitarian and warrants little fanfare. But once in a while someone comes along with something that could have easily been considered unremarkable that rises to the top and we tell people about it. How does that happen?

One product I can think of is Netflix. When this company arrived on the scene I thought this was the neatest thing I ever heard of. I signed up just to see if they could really deliver as promised. They did and I told everybody. Video rental was a pretty mundane business and Netflix reinvented it. They added a twist, they didn't revolutionize the industry in the sense that they invented the DVD they changed how we acquired them. They were very creative in making it convenient for us to enjoy the DVD's we wanted. In computer jargon they improved the user interface. They created an exceptional product.

I think in many respects Google has done the same thing. I am very new to all this internet stuff in terms of being a hands-on user. Google may not be the premier provider in all segments of online services. They seem to provide a supermarket of online services that meet my needs right now which makes them a standout in my mind. I am sure this will make me a loyal customer well beyond the time that I need more sophisticated tools as my needs expand. Or maybe not because I am sure they will keep moving with me to meet my needs as they grow. Once again creating an exceptional product.

I don't feel nearly the same loyalty to the vast majority of the products I buy. When I think about it my loyalty and word-of-mouth advertising is probably based more on my emotional attachment to the company or the product than it is the product itself. Don't get me wrong the product has to be very good. But something has to happen to motivate me to talk about it. That something has to make them exceptional.

What is exceptional about your product, service, company, image, reputations, values, integrity, creativity, responsibility or humanity that attracts exceptional customers to you?

As for Lester that's easy. As you can see he has exceptional buns....or he did anyway.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Clear goals and expectations


Following on the Dilbert theme in the previous post let's talk a little about clear goals and expectations. I really like truisms as you can probably tell. I decided a few weeks ago that I was not going to subject myself to a burden of proof or provide serious documentation in this blog. This is going to be about what I've learned in a practical sense of life and business. These are knowings that have passed the smell test over and over again and worked for me. I don't need to check the references at this point.

Having clear goals and expectations in every relationship personal or otherwise is critical. Virtually all conflict stems from the disconnect between the realty and the expectations in any relationship. Now think about how bad it gets when the realities of a situation are present but the expectations are virtually non-existent. We're disconnected at step one with no hope of ever finding a path to a common understanding or a future moment when we can have a wild celebration marking our tremendous success. We have no milestones, no check points, no markers along the path to tell us how we're progressing. We only have the daily drone and the nerve racking vulnerability of being directed, redirected and redirected again into infinity. Does the fun ever start?

If football was played this way on each down the official would come to the line of scrimmage and arbitrarily decide how many yards the offense needs to gain for a first down on this play. Now that would be fun. "Gentlemen, on this play you need to gain 12 yards for a first down". On the last play they needed to gain 3 yards to get the first down and on the next play it might be 35 yards. If you think there are too many fights in hockey wait until they play football using these rules. Welcome to a lot of families and work places my friends.

The problem here is, things become very subjective and the balance of power shifts radically to the party who is setting, or should I say, not setting the standard. Many of these people are just plain incompetent but some are very slick manipulators who enjoy limited accountability and a world of flexibility. They enjoy the power this gives them. Someone is paying a price for this in goodwill and productivity and this group is large. It impacts businesses, schools, governments, families, marriages and friendships.

Is it really so hard to say .... this is what we want to accomplish and this is the time frame that has been set to achieve this goal. Mid-course corrections are expected but here is were we are going and this is when we expect to get there. Now let's get to work. For some this is impossible.

Thanks for reading.