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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The imperfectly perfect day

Yesterday started off imperfectly. Over the weekend, I felt some gripes -- about the three-wheeled (broken) office chairs, the fluorescent light not fixed by the landlord, the employees who seemed to be not quite doing the work the way they needed to do; and this blog, even, not working right -- some software glitch mucking up the design and making the thing less than readable.
But, waking up in the middle of the night, now, I sense joy -- not because everything ended up perfectly, but because the people around me surprised me (again) with their brilliance, insights, and shared ideas.
Our employees, collaboratively, developed some really effective marketing pieces. We know they work because within a few minutes of hitting the 'send' button on the email, we had two confirmed orders and at least a couple more inquiries. I know who took the lead in this initiative and appreciate the solutions he devised.
I also saw how I had rained on another employee whose hard work has helped create the "problem" we are facing now. With higher business/sales volume, things are getting stretched in the office; there is simply much more work to do, even in quiet periods, but our resources are limited -- I need to temper the hiring of additional administrative and support employees against cash flow and the regular Christmas holiday quiet season. But what about the employee who is stretched, needs a break, and planned and sought a day off, which I was about to deny. Bad move, I realized, when I read her email seeking clarification. We will indeed be inefficient for that day; work will pile up, some customers may not be served right, but I had agreed to the time off and really don't have the right to mess up her planned break.
Then I smiled at the thought of the voice mail message sent by one of the company's employees while I was otherwise engaged -- at an arena, sorting out an issue as manager of Eric's house league hockey team. I had tried some surveying resources to resolve a question about if/how to participate in a tournament, and (after making repeated mistakes in the survey structure) came up with the conclusion that we couldn't find a conclusion! But sometimes online surveys don't tell the whole story, of course. And as Eric and the other nine and 10-year-old boys practiced, I realized I needed to make things simple -- so I narrowed down two choices and, as the kids changed into street clothes, called for a vote on the choices. And, voila, we had a clear and decisive answer, easy to implement, and one which will work. (As I left, the coach and a couple of parents complemented me on my management skills. Ha!)
Then, finally, after a few hours of incredibly restful sleep, I woke up to read a book introduction titled "The Case for Customer Loyalty". Sonny Lykos (you can find him in The Contractors Club) sent it to me, and immediately I knew why the day had turned out so well
I'll wait until I have the entire book before citing the author, and some of the thoughts to follow extrapolate beyond what I read -- but the message is clear -- customer satisfaction and loyalty arise from our employees' satisfaction and engagement. And that process occurs, I realize, because they are respected as individuals, given honest and effective feedback, and are truly honoured for their contributions; not through flashy BS, tacky awards or gimmicks.
"One of the best ways of ensuring more of these precious dollars stay in-house is to implement systems and leadership practices that ensure your organization is dominated not by the dispassionate and detached, but by engaged and engaged employees who burn with a fire for serving customers," says the author of the book introduction sent to me by Sonny Lykos. Lykos adds in a handwritten note: "Fire those who don't and hire those who do."
I agree with Lykos -- the problem of course is that sometimes (maybe most often always) sloppy ownership and management; dedicated to processes, systems, and efficiency, destroy employee passion. (Also, perhaps equally more seriously, imbalance and insensitivity and cancerous 'bad apple' employees can really mess up the workplace environment.)
What to do . . . we need honest, effective, feedback, and the ability to recognize and hear it.
That in part is why I feel so good now -- I am receiving that feedback, sensing that passion, and am able to adapt my management style and leadership to suit the circumstances. Pretty neat, eh.

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