When You Drive the Company Car…

You are the Company.

Since this is Winnipeg’s other famous season, construction, I spend a lot more time in the vehicle on my way to meetings. And because traffic is slow everywhere, I tend to notice good and bad driving.

And when you drive the company car, and it can be a government vehicle or private company, you are really easy to spot when your driving is bad or even dangerous.

Too many trades vehicles and government vehicles would not pass the basic road test. I am surprised, and grateful, that I have not seen any accidents. There is evidence of accidents when I see a number of these same vehicles with dents and other damage in the front of the vehicles.

I am not going to highlight driving improvements. I want to expose what a poor spokesperson you are for your organization when you drive like an idiot and put other people’s lives in danger.

Plain and simple I do not have respect for your organization. I checked the websites of a few trades vehicles and they all talk about their high level of customer caring and quality customer service. If you cannot even obey the rules of the road and drive to conditions I do not want you doing any work in my home. I don’t trust you.

Leaders in these organizations should take note. This is an easy fix. People have to provide a driver abstract when they use a company vehicle. The organization MUST reinforce that you need to be the best driver’s on the road. If you have to hurry and speed then the employees need to advise their leadership that scheduling must account for delays in transit time.

The sum total of these types of minor improvements will make your advertising more successful because people will believe what is stated because they see it in action. Otherwise you are wasting ad dollars. And hurting your bottom line.

Here is an example of a company that attends to the details. We get Green Drop to help control the weeds and keep our grass in good shape. They also spray the stones between the houses to keep the weeds away. The young lad who came the other day was just finishing when I asked him to spray a small spot at the edge of our deck. I noticed how he walked around the edge of the yard so that he wasn’t leaving big boot footprints across my lawn. I did not ask him to do it. I even tried to tempt him as I cut across and he stayed on his course. He very carefully sprayed and then essentially retraced his steps. Perfect. And he drove away safely, too.

Here are a few examples of how to improve your company image:

  • Make certain your employees know they are in the public fish bowl. Your actions and inaction can be easily identified when you wear a uniform or drive a company vehicle. Don’t be noticed for bad driving. Be considerate and set a great example. Be a real leader in civic respect.
  • Make certain that you don’t finish that cigarette just before you enter a customer’s home. Us non-smokers can smell it a mile away. I am not judging you as a smoker. I am asking you to respect mu home. When you are smoking while driving please refrain from flicking your butts out the window. It is my City as well and I am proud of it. Especially when it is clean.
  • When you are in a store or restaurant people can see your uniform. Be polite and considerate and other customers will remember. If you are rude or obnoxious other customers will tell their networks what type of inconsiderate dolt your company hires. The way you navigate and park in a crowded lot will also impact people’s perceptions about your organization.

Government vehicles should be held to an even higher standard as it is our tax dollars at work. Far too many government vehicles, from municipal to provincial and federal are driven by lousy drivers. Why would you want to reinforce stereotypes about government employees not caring about anything but their pay cheque?

We remember the few and apply to all. While this is unfair you and your organization are at fault for allowing the bad apples to spoil the whole bunch.

That which you permit you promote.

This coming week I will be calling some of those companies that have semis on the road. They state that you can call them about their driving and I will.I will tell them about poor driving. More importantly I will tell them about good driving.

Because reinforcing the right behaviour is as important as correcting bad behaviour.

And that is a great point to drive home.


The Talent Crunch

The NHL draft is coming up and there is always speculation and surprise at certain players that are picked at certain draft positions that may not be what the experts thought in their initial evaluation of talent.

The same situation just unfolded a couple of months ago at the NFL draft. Players stock rises and falls on the basis of a poor testing result or bad interview. Sometimes it is the game tape that causes teams to be cautious about the true potential.

You need talent to win. Period.

The talent must also be combined with a will to prepare, work and compete. Some pundits say that hard work beats talent. While I largely agree sometimes the talent gap is to great to bridge.

The Golden State Warriors are loaded with talent and that is why they won the NBA championship. The Washington Capitals won because they have been loaded with talent for several years and everything finally came together.

Every business needs talent to be successful. And the talent must come together in a team environment where everyone works hard and takes pride in their contributions toward the overall achievement of goals.

Most businesses claim (check their websites) that they have the greatest staff. Check any number of LinkedIn profiles or announcements of new senior level hires at major companies and then consider reality:

  • Our company has the best team (why isn’t that company constantly winning every sales opportunity?)
  • We are the industry leader (there can only be one leader)
  • I am a serial entrepreneur (and they might, perhaps, have launched maybe two companies)
  • She is a thought leader (and never published a book)
  • We have top-tier talent (but we could have had more if we paid a few grand extra for the best person that applied)
  • etc.

There must be a dose of reality and context injected into such hyperbolic claims. For example, there is no problem with striving to be the leader but you must realize where you actually stand and ensure that what you are delivering to your customers is serving them very well.

So how does one attract and retain this required top-tier talent?

Countless books and articles have studied this subject. And there are varying views on what works. Some companies provide a culture or environment that is what certain people are looking for. An example would be a very environmentally conscious company that is really an eco leader and certain people want to work for an organization like this.

Other companies truly have an outstanding core product or service and sales people may be attracted because of the total target compensation that is available based on their results.

Some companies are a bit smaller and the sense of family and care that the leadership provides is better suited for other employees.

Each situation is right in its context.

But then I question how some of the recruiting ads are written. Many are trying to cast a wide net when they should really bring focus. Since almost no organization or recruiter ever responds to all candidates I question why you want to fish with a net instead of a spear.

Great marketers use that spear to catch exactly what they want. They want these customers because the company can serve them very well and the customer provides an appropriate level of profit for the company to stay in business into the future.

Great companies write their recruiting ads to bring interested people to submit their resume. Yes there is a bit of the “sell” of the organization in the ad. But you should really be writing so that the person you really want to work for you will read it and say “this is me”!

This is how great sports teams draft or attract free agents. They showcase what the future is going to be like.

But athletes and employees are very perceptive and can smell when something is a bit off. Walking through an organization and watching other employees can tell a lot about the true culture. Does the company leader garner a friendly respect or is it fear-based? How are you greeted by the receptionist? How do people react when you ask them questions?

The talent crunch is not just about picking the most talented person. They must be able to fit into your culture and operating environment. When you interview that salesperson can you actually see them working with your most important client and bringing positive results? If not, I would dig a lot deeper and wider or move on to the other candidates.

Just like a pro sports team, you want your first round pick to be an all-star and future hall of fame candidate.

Most businesses cannot afford to have a steady practice of choosing first round talent that ends up as a bust and never coming close to their potential.

This weekend you will see some young men selected that will have great careers. Others will fall into a category called “where are they now”.

Are you selecting the first round talent?

Prove it and then I will believe everything you say on your website.

The Great British Baking Championship

I like food. Anyone that knows me knows I haven’t missed a meal.

Many of the Food Network shows are interestng, especially the Diners, Drive Ins and Dives. I have actually been to some and they are really great.

My wife switched on the telly (pretty good, eh guv?) and I joined her to watch a bit of this Great British Baking Championship (GBBC).

What does this have to do with business?

A lot!

The judges are pleasant. They provide critiques that are direct and truthful without being hurtful. They also provide encouragement. Their language is precise, descriptive and everything is not “awesome”.

And yes, some comments are sugar-coated.

Unlike most North American cooking shows (and other reality shows) that are just a lot of hype and bluster where the loudest or the one that cries the most can win. I am tired of this approach.

I like the British show. The judges also make the product that the contestants have to make. With care and precision and a good sense of humour they walk through the key steps and then present the finished product. The black forest cake was unbelievable!

In business, how do you treat your customers? And just as importantly how do you treat your employees. You know, the ones that you say on your web site are your greatest asset?

Often these are the same cranky people that cannot answer a basic inquiry. They have not been coached to help me buy. They have been coached to sell me. This happened recently with an alarm company and at two bike shops. The employees did not listen to my needs and went right to “the offer of the month that marketing created”. This is another reason marketing is broken. I’ll save that for another week.

Have you actually met with customers to really hear what they say about you? Have you then matched this input with comments from your front line people. Does the data, the sales numbers, support the findings of the first two steps?

How about the following approach:

  • In an angry customer situation do you actually know what led to the issue? You must be specific. Do not omit anything. Then tie the statements together.
  • Establish a single line of evidence first so you do not cross contaminate the sources and confuse the issue.
  • Make sure you question the elements of a situation where a person (customer or employee) is claiming a conclusion without the facts.
  • What do you know for certain? What are you assuming? And what supports the assumptions?
  • Don’t just ask the employee or customer what they believe ask them what they know.
  • You need to find out what did happen, not what could have happened.
  • If something is not known work through the known facts to assemble the picture and identify what is not known. Then you need to determine how important it is to find the remaining pieces or if you have enough information to know.

Leaders can increase employee commitment and customer retention by taking a structured approach to problem solving and looking for improvements. Just like the baking judges.

When judging baking the great judges on the GBBC follow many of these steps when reviewing the baking with a contestant. They use the approach for great baking and baking that is not so good. By following these steps the judges are helping the baker learn what worked so they can keep doing it. And they also learn what didn’t work so it can be fixed.

Your employees will provide accurate descriptions that are factual and not opinion to help them improve their performance because these questions take the person out of the mix and focus solely on the performance. Clearly, this is a developmental opportunity.

This is not just for front line situations. This approach can apply to a CEO working with her senior leadership team, too. And the VP of Sales working with the sales team.

And please remember to celebrate your successes.

And to celebrate this post I am going to have a snack!!!

Why Can’t You See an Elephant in a Tree?

Because they are really good at hiding.

And it seems that companies that value their customers are also hiding.

As are their “best people in the business”.

A dear friend contacted a Winnipeg company for information. The person answering the phone couldn’t answer the basic question and twice asked my friend to hold. A second person came on the line and said “all our contact information is on our website”.

Apparently this is how digital customer interactions are forced upon customers.

I have a similar experience with a current client where I am contacting companies for a short market study. Voicemail messages state “please leave a message and I will get back to you within 24 hours”.  Apparently the sands of time are running a bit behind.

Other messages are “your call is important to me and I will respond at my earliest convenience.” I suppose it is not yet convenient for them.

My practice in this blog is to not provide specific names of companies or people who are the creators of these lousy, hypocritical or vapid experiences. It does not serve me well in the long run. But I keep track.

I do like to mention people who truly do provide a customer-centered response. Case in point is Eric, regional sales director for a worldwide company in the food business. He called me back after I originally reached out to his VP. And he was able to answer all the questions and then some. On their website they state they are truly customer-focused. I asked him about this point. his answer was that as a family owned company they can do what is important for their customers. And he added that customers are recognized throughout the company as the reason for their existence.


When was the last time you talked to a customer?

Not to sell something. Just to talk and find out how their business was really doing? If you talk to a few key customers on a regular basis you will have a much better sense of what is actually going on in their operating environment.

When was the last time you did a ride along with a sales rep? Not to show her how to make the sale. To listen and support her interactions with the customer. And to show the customer that your organization truly values their business.

How about setting up a customer or key contractor panel? Dan, president of one of my clients told me today about how they brought all their key business partners in for a series of one hour meetings on key topics related to their industry. We had talked about this for a while and it was finally accomplished.

The result? These business partners are locked in. “No one else does this” in the entire industry.

This is real leadership.

And hard work.

Everyone’s calendar is busy. You know you can be stretched too thin at times. But if this is important then you need to prioritize ahead of some other activities. Your calendar entries will tell you what is important. Tom Peters had a brief video on this very topic related to his new book “The Excellence Dividend.” The email I received stated “The book stems from a simple proposition that an unabashed commitment to excellence in all we do is the best defense—and offense—in the face of overwhelming change”.

If you are interested in a bit more on this topic please check out this video where Anthony Iannarino interviews Tom.

Did I mention that it is hard work for everyone in the company? Not the latest fad. Old fashioned roll up your sleeves deep thinking and hard work. And making sure everyone understands how they fit in to serve the customer every single day in every single transaction to the best of their abilities.

There are tools to use like customer journey maps, net promoter score and MRI (market responsiveness index). But if you don’t apply new approaches to what you uncover then history will indeed repeat itself.

And you won’t see that cleverly hidden elephant fall out of the tree and squish you.