I was told to water the sod

A friend was telling me a story a month ago about when they moved their son into his dorm room at university for his freshman year.

They were carrying all manner of bags and items for his room and walking up the sidewalk to the dorm entrance. Except they had to take a wide berth from the water covering the sidewalk as the sprinkler watered the lawn and sidewalk.

My friend asked the university staffer if he could please adjust the spray so the sidewalk, and all the people using it, would not get wet.

The worker answered with, “I was told to water the sod.” After briefly suggesting that it would not harm the sod too much, my friend asked for the person’s name. It was not provided. And when he asked for the supervisor’s name, the worker walked away.

This is almost like the big US DIY store that leaves its sprinkler system on when it is pouring rain. I believe this because I saw this.

Here is another example of a poor message and an employee not taking the best action for the customer.

Another friend and his wife were going to a bank (you know my rule about not pointing out companies that are not doing well) for a meeting with a financial advisor. The sign at the counter when you first walk in said:



“bank name”

Please See The


Directly Behind

For Assistance

There was nobody sitting behind this sign at the front desk. The teller stations are a few steps away. On the way out of the bank, my friends saw that the sign had been placed upside down.

And a third situation was brought to my attention. A friend was returning his towel to the young lad at the front desk at his gym. He was asked for his name so the staff person could retrieve his card. He has a Ukranian last name and spelled the first few letters to help out. After a brief search, and without looking up, the young man asked, “Do you have another name?”

Folks, you cannot make this up.

In both cases, successful organizations can be undone by simple messages or actions that are what people really remember.

The senior leadership likely have no clue that these types of situations arise on a daily basis. And I am not even looking hard for these stories! Can you imagine what can be uncovered with a disciplined review of all customer touch points???

Whatever happened to MBWA? For the uninitiated this is “Management by Walking Around.” Not aimless meandering, but a specific route and with open eyes to really see what happens in their business. This can also be a visit to a customer or a ride-along with a sales rep. It might be sitting in on an IT planning session – listening, and not saying anything. What does your ad agency discussion with the marketing team really sound like? Have you spent time on the loading dock or been a passenger on a transport run?

The key is to listen and observe. And if you schedule your time you will actually make it happen. Talk is cheap.

If you really believe your people and customer service are what sets you apart from competitors, I suggest you take a second look. I also suggest some mystery shopping of your services in every department. And the capper will be a review of your customer culture.

I have the tool 🙂

Once you know what customers really think, internal and external customers, then you can look for weak spots and areas to reinforce because you are doing well in these areas. Build off your strengths and address a weakness on a secondary basis, unless it could be, or is, debilitating. In this case you must address it immediately.

Do you then advise your company what you saw? Will you involve your staff at all levels for input on getting better? All great solutions do NOT only reside in the C-Suite.

This is all marketing. It is the sum of activities that can help gain and keep, or lose, a customer. Argue with me about the semantics of whether it is marketing, or if you think it is customer service, strategy, or whatever. I won’t get fussed. The main objective is to conduct the activities and get better every day. You know, use common sense.

But, since common sense isn’t so common, figure out what makes sense for your customers, and make sure you help your employees understand that they need to make good, common sense, decisions. And sometimes this means calling an audible and adjusting the sprinkler.

Or bringing an umbrella for the new students and their families walking into the dorm.






Describe the colour red to someone who is blind

When the alarm rang this morning at 5:45, I eased out of bed because Trappar was laying beside it and he wanted some scratches and belly rubs. Lucky dog.

As I checked the temperature (two apps and always two different readings by a couple of degrees) a thought popped into my head. I was dreaming about presenting, or speaking to a small group, or something, and I was struck by the fact that no one could talk coherently. When I awoke, the question “how would you describe the colour red to someone who is blind?” was stuck in my mind.

A Scottish shower didn’t even freeze the question out of my mind. So I wrote it down, knowing I would come back to it for this post.

So many messages, articles and reports are poorly written.

Politicians cannot answer questions and often blather on about their talking points without answering the question.

And this Twitter-verse of abbreviations, and CAPS, and #$%*, leaves me wondering about the ability for people to communicate properly and with impact.

I saw a sign for bananas in Target in Minot, ND, that said “.29 Bananas by the each.”

Who talks like this?

If you are in sales, and we all have to sell a product or idea, then you must carefully consider the words you use.  For example, do you:

  • talk to customers in “tla” and “fla?” These are “three letter acronyms” and “four letter acronyms” that you know, and your customer may not
  • assume your customer wants to know all about you? Hint: they don’t. They want you to solve a challenge, problem or issue, that they have
  • get on the phone and just start talking without letting the person you are calling say anything? I call this Foghorn Leghorn syndrome – “your gums are flapping, but you’re not saying anything.”

Telemarketers are famous for this. What kind of manager puts their staff into these scripts and thinks they will work? I had a call yesterday from a 204 area code (Manitoba), so I answered. The lady launched into her script and I let her talk for about 23 seconds before politely interrupting. I asked if she knew what kind of business I had – she didn’t. I asked if she at least looked at my website – she hadn’t. So I suggested that she learn a bit about me before calling back – she hasn’t.

I know too many people in sales that do not really appreciate that the transaction is not about them. Jeffrey Gitomer famously said, “people don’t like to be sold, but they like to buy.” You can apply this concept in any transaction with another person.

You can even use it within your company. Let’s say you are in IT. The marketing department wants to get access to important customer data so they can analyze it in different ways. If you ask, “why do you need it”, you are probably thinking that it is too much work for you. Or even, “gee those marketers are needy.”

IT does not analyze and manage the products or services that your company provides to your customers. This is marketing’s role. IT could ask, “what format do you need it in?” IT can also ask if this is a one time or regular request so you can set it up once to be rerun many times.

Do you see how easy it is to be customer -focused with great language?

Many sales people think they have, or need, “the gift of the gab.” When in fact they cannot properly present a coherent thought. How many sales reps do you know that can describe the colour red to someone who is blind?

Think of other ways to test your ability to say a thought in a more memorable way. How do you describe your product or service? Features and benefits? Not at first you don’t. If you do not establish a rapport and connection you cannot position your message.

This all takes practice. With your peers, your leaders, and on your own. Think back to something that you needed to describe that was a challenge because the other person did not know what the object was? Now try and think of new ways to describe it. It is up to you, not your customer, to be able to clearly describe what you are selling.

And you should always ask “so what?” for anything you are writing or presenting. In my first job out of university I was working for a management consulting firm. The Principal, Martin, reviewed my first report for the first project I ever worked on.

It was humbling, to say the least.

Every second paragraph had “so what” written in the margin. I was devastated. And yet, in his great coaching manner, he described that I was writing for the client, and not for me or him. What was important for the client to know about what we uncovered during our interviews? Putting this into context is something I have tried to keep in mind over the years. There have been some successes and there are still improvements I have to make.

Red is a colour that is actually slightly different in each of our minds. To describe a colour is impossible to someone who does not have context (always been visually impaired). If you start talking about emotions, you are describing feelings, intangibles. This approach does not describe the tangible colour. Maybe you need to ask a clarification questions like, “I can describe the range of feelings red can present to me.”

And this simple clarification can result in establishing the base of your discourse.

The Economist had a phenomenal campaign, “Well written and red.” Start here.



Last week I wrote about the roles and responsibilities of a good coach. And also added a couple of thoughts on what not to do.

And as I so often use Coach Wooden as the best example of a great coach, he is also one of the best examples of what players must also do to be successful. You can substitute employee for player and I believe everything holds true.

In sports the coach cannot play. By comparison, the manager sometimes has to do work to aid her employees. This may be covering for a sick employee, or just helping when it is very busy and there is a crunch to properly serve customers.

However, let’s focus on what the player/employee is truly responsible for. Here is my list, and it includes some elements from the Pyramid of Success:

  • You are responsible for your own preparation.
  • Be the model of effort. Good effort that is focused and not just activity with no purpose.
  • Be friendly with colleagues. I don’t mean you have to go out for dinner or drinks. I mean there is true comradeship towards the common goal or purpose.
  • Be loyal. If you cannot be loyal to your company then you need to change. Unless you truly believe you can change the company/organization.
  • Do not be a distraction. Holding out for ridiculous contracts when your teammates are doing all the hard work in training camp and then getting ready for the season does not speak to true team focus. Yes, we are in a capitalistic society and you can me this decision. I happen to think it is selfish in the short-term and detrimental in the long-term.
  • You are responsible for your ongoing condition. You must know your personal development plan and work with your leader to make it happen. This might mean some dedicated after work investment. I am not talking about hours each day and weekends. I am suggesting that you must do what is necessary to separate yourself and allow yourself to perform at a higher level. Notice I did not say “compared to others.” This is all about you and must be based on what you are capable of achieving based on your talent, ability, effort and willingness to push yourself.
  • You must be poised and confident. If you always overreact, swear incessantly (yes, I have some of these moments), and dramatize the situation you will be only seen in this light. Your composure will carry you through and allow you to focus on the problem and not create additional problems.
  • You must demonstrate initiative. While you are focused on yourself and your efforts, they must be driving towards the overall team/company goal. You don not show this level of commitment to be better than others. You do it because it is what you are capable of and what is required. When your best is required you must deliver. Your best is required every day.
  • You must have balance. Your family, church, sports, and other hobbies allow you to be a well-rounded person that is interesting to be around and allows you to enjoy everything that life has to offer. All work and no play…

And I know there is a lot more. Let me know your thoughts.

We have all read stories of people and companies that have done extraordinary things that have created something good. Look at JJ Watt, Houston Texans defensive lineman, who raised over $40 million for the Houston area and the recovery from the hurricane last year. He invested in his community. He didn’t see it as a sacrifice. He saw it as the right thing to do.

Flip the question of “would you work for you?” As an employee, “would you hire you?” This can be a difficult question to answer because we always believe we are the best employee. We must be honest with ourselves. It is human nature to not always be at 100%. It is our imperfection that provides opportunities for us to get better each day. Get a bit better each day and make tomorrow your masterpiece!

Martin Luther King said, ”

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

John Wooden also had some great quotes to support the importance and responsibility that all players/employees have:

“Your opinion of yourself begins on the inside with your character. What do you believe in, and are you willing to stand up for it despite what others may think or say?”

“If you spend too much time learning the tricks of the trade, you may not learn the trade.”

“No one is an overachiever. How can you rise above your level of competency? We’re all underachievers to different degrees.”

And there is something fitting about this Coach Wooden quote to close today’s post.

“I believe ability can get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.”


Given that football season is now fully underway in all leagues, and that football is my favorite sport, it seems appropriate to write about coaching.

Anyone that has played sports has a favorite coach.

My first football coach, Larry, was one of my favorites. Why? It is not just because he was a really nice guy. In fact, that is one of the last reasons I would consider someone a great coach. He pushed me hard. And that sometimes made me dislike him at that time. He would get mad when I made a stupid mistake. Gee, just like my Dad would when I was a moron.

Most importantly, he taught me the basics. And he drilled me on the basics. He encouraged me and that drove me to do prep work on my own.

I firmly believe that this became an important part of me as I progressed through University football and into my brief CFL career.

Thanks Coach Larry!

And I saw plenty of really bad coaching as well. I was relatively blessed in that I didn’t have someone who destroyed me. In one case, the head coach simply needed to change. And someone made that decision for him. Other than that, I was fortunate.

How does this relate to business?

Have you been asked to coach colleagues? Have you been asked to be coached by someone? How did you react in either situation?

To be a great coach you must be prepared. John Wooden was voted as the best coach of all time. Not just best basketball or college coach. He was the BEST EVER! In our current life I don’t believe we will see another person like him. I hope I am 100% wrong. But the focus on winning, and the watchful eye of social media and everything that you do and say being under the microscope, taken out of context, and then thrown back at you, I just don’t see how someone will have a chance to develop a program with the level of consistency that Coach Wooden did.

As I thought more about what a great coach is, I came up with the following traits and I believe they can apply to a business or sports coach. I have also included some things that a poor coach does – please do the opposite. In no particular order, a Coach:

  • Cannot “do”. They must prepare the athlete/employee to perform to the best of their ability
  • Focuses on you – the athlete or employee. It is not about the coach
  • Holds you to account for your personal preparation and ongoing training
  • Corrects and applauds your performance
  • Changes players – substitutes or removes from the team
  • Can inspire, encourage, exhort
  • Can belittle, yell and demean (see previous point)
  • Can show care, love, and compassion for their players/employees
  • Can accept blame for the result in public
  • Should praise the players in public
  • Must adjust their approach or performance requirement of players or employees if they are not able to perform their role or duties
  • Can be a goodfinder…or not
  • Can make good or bad decisions in the moment
  • Must review decisions and learn how to improve the way they make choices in future situations
  • Must make tough decisions
  • Needs talented players to win a championship. Finding and keeping talent is a priority in sports and business. NOTE: an underdog that wins a championship at a high level of sports has talent AND heart, /perseverance, resilience, etc. And very likely a great coach who got them to pull together to the best of their ability
  • Must get the players to use their talent. Players and employees must be ready to be at their best when their best is needed
  • Know when players need water breaks. You cannot go hard all the time
  • Be quick, but don’t hurry. This applies to prep/practice and “going live”
  • Knows their choice of words is key (yes, I have a big voice when I coach, right boys?!)
  • Are confident in their knowledge and ability and they can impart the knowledge to their athletes/employees
  • Also knows they need to continue to learn and build from the basics. Just as in business, basics are critical and innovation can take you over the top
  • Have a sense of humility without being timid

There are obviously more characteristics and I welcome any additional suggestions to share with the other readers.

I have seen senior business people be asked to “coach their team” with a specific training program. And these folks have never coached, and in some cases never been coached, in their life. That is an unfair expectation to place on anyone.

As you look at this list and consider your own situation, I leave you with two final thoughts:

  1. If you are being coached, you now have some new suggestions about how your coach can help you improve your performance
  2. If you are the coach, and you consider this list, would you like to be coached by you?