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Managing Change

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The World Hidden Before Us.

Sunday night I swung by for Chinese takeout. I love chicken lo mein… Part of the joy of eating Chinese food has always been the fortune cookie. It’s not only the lightly sweetened taste of the cookie, but the hidden fortune inside.

I have begun to judge restaurants based upon the quality of these little treats – even shunning some while choosing others. The fortunes always give me a time to reflect upon the thought and ask questions.

Hokey, probably – but fun, most certainly!

When I opened the fortune cookie inside was a wonderful quote that really gave me some food for thought,

Technology is the art of arranging the world so we do not notice it.

At first glance, I was amazed at how succinct and wonderful this fortune was. In a previous post, The Heart of a Technologist, I said,

I see so many who seem to be on a quest for self-glory or the latest discovery, much like Ponce de Leon’s search for the infamous Fountain of Youth. Some may serve through discovery or creation, while some offer their service in the form of repair or maintenance. When at our best, we operate behind the scenes, unnoticed and under cover of dark, weaving our magic webs of security and five-nine’s availability.

In essence, I had thought the script read that when technology was working as it should, it was invisible.

However, as I rolled this around in my mind, much like tasting a great glass of wine, I began to wonder if it instead meant that technology got in the way of seeing the world for what it is. With communication coming at us in all directions and everything from coworkers to advertisers vying for our attention, are we too connected? Does the noise distract us from seeing the beauty?

These are all great questions for technologist and lay-person alike to ponder. Are you sure you walk your critical path in life? What gets in the way of you seeing life as you should?

Image credit: zzzack

Live It, Love It, or Leave It.

I have learned that each of us has a special gift that we do better than just about anyone else out there.Certainly, we all need to celebrate the differences we encounter with a spirit of gratitude. We often give of ourselves to help others, but like to know that our gifts are appreciated. Don’t you?

Think about what occurs when you feel most appreciated. Is it when your boss, mentor or account manager spends time with you; is it when he or she offers you genuine compliments, offers you gifts, says thank you by doing something for you or simply gives you a hug or firm pat on the back for a job well done*?

You know what makes you smile!

What if the shoe were on the other foot? What if you found yourself offering of yourself, be it advice, time or compliments – and not only were they not being received, but refused outright. What a dramatic hit to our self-worth! It can be stunning to be rejected, right? Eventually, you no longer feel like giving of yourself – your advice, time or compliments. You begin to think it is pointless and falling on deaf ears.

As I see it, there are 3 choices the professional has:

  1. Live it: Suck it up and deal with the situation.
  2. Love it: Relish what you do (ideally).
  3. Leave it: Walk away, knowing you gave it your best effort and that your energy and gifts are better spent elsewhere.

Which choice do you make when you are running on empty? Which message are you telling your customer to think about you?

*Methods of appreciation adapted from Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages.

 

Four Tips to Achieving Work Life Balance for Teleworkers

Work Life Balance For Teleworkers

Rumors and legends have long since swirled about the the mystical creature known as work life balance. Many hunters have sought its precious embrace, or to simply gaze upon its rare beauty.

While it is indeed rare to hear of work life balance in the workplace today, it is rarer still to hear the work-at-home professional extolling the virtues of a balanced life. But here are four tips to help you have a fighting chance of achieving work life balance.

Read more here…

How (NOT) to Gather Customer Feedback that Instigates Positive Change

Sometimes, if you really want to know what your customers are thinking, you just have to ask. I launched an experiment earlier this Spring meant to help three retail businesses garner these kind of insights. We set up physical comment boxes in all of their stores, and posted signs inviting them to “text the manager” (I was simultaneously testing a customer feedback service for a software buyers’ guide I write).

My overall goal was to see if the stores could receive enough feedback to instigate the following changes:

  • Workers would improve their behavior because customer feedback was more transparent and immediate.
  • Managers could use the feedback to create incentives (e.g. the store with the best, or most positive feedback would be rewarded).
  • The feedback would provide insights that could be used to make changes that would improve the customer experience.

I left the signs and comment boxes out for a total of four weeks. Between four bicycle shops, one ice cream store, and three burger joints we only received five comments. This wasn’t enough to affect anything. This bad news was worse when I started to read the comments.

“We love your store!” Nice to hear, but not really useful for any of the goals I wanted to achieve. After the experiment was over, I took a step back to try and find out what went wrong. I called customer feedback experts and asked for their ideas on how I could have garnered more actionable feedback. Here’s what they had to say.

Enforce a Customer-Feedback Centric Culture
One of the biggest reasons the experts thought my experiment failed was that I didn’t properly prepare staff. I interviewed several employees and managers for each store after the month was over. A few reported customers asking about the signs, but it was clear they did not have a process in place influencing these interactions. They were not invested in getting or using the data.

If the culture isn’t built in such a way that people know they are the first line of defense for customer feedback, just making the service available isn’t going to change anything. Management needs to enforce rules and expectations. This could be something as simple as verbally explaining the service to customers as they check out, or are walking around the store. And of course, responding to feedback when it is received.

Creating the appropriate procedures and culture for leveraging customer feedback isn’t exclusive to the in-store experience. Companies should make sure it is obvious for customers where on their website they can submit customer feedback, be that from a form, surveys or another request. Creating context is the most important factor. The customer needs to feel like there’s benefit to them in providing the feedback, as in you will take their feedback and implement real changes.

Correct Bad Experiences in Real Time to Increase Customer Loyalty
Customer feedback shouldn’t just be used as a data set. It can also uncover bad experiences in the moment, and provide an opportunity to correct them.

Think, for example, when you’re eating at a restaurant. A good waiter will ask a few minutes after receiving your meal whether everything arrived okay, and if there’s anything else they can do to improve the experience. If your order was wrong or cold, you could let them know at that moment and the waiter could correct the issue. This would not be the experience if the restaurant asked as you while walking out the door, or emailed you a week later. Sure, you could still let them know about the cold food, but they can’t actually do anything about it.

This same concept extends beyond the dining experience. In my experiment, for example, one comment we did receive in a text message said, “no one talked to me the whole time I was in the store.” The manager could have responded at that moment apologizing and emphasizing that that’s not how they want their customers to be treated. Then, he could have provided a coupon, or other incentive to come back and allow them to correct that experience.

Look for Opportunities Beyond Just Measuring Customer Satisfaction
When I started the experiment, I assumed that companies used customer feedback primarily to measure and benchmark satisfaction. While many companies do use survey and feedback technologies exclusively for this purpose, I learned that this kind of goal really limits the value of generating the customer feedback in the first place. After all, what do you actually gain from learning whether satisfaction is improving or declining if you don’t know what you can do about it?

To gain insights other than overall customer satisfaction, you have to ask more specific questions. In my experiment, the ice cream store could have asked “What kind of flavors would you like to see this summer?” Or the bike store could say, “What clothing brands would you like to see in our stores?”

Answers to these questions can provide more specific points of feedback the business owners could have used to change what they are doing. But you would also need to know if these suggestions actually improve the customer experience. Would more flavors or brands actually influence more customers to buy from you?

Instead, companies should work to determine the causal relationships and key drivers that lead customers to buy from you. Once those are determined, you can ask for feedback around those specific drivers in the right context, and to the right customers.

How does your company generate actionable customer feedback? Join the conversation with a comment here.

Do You Have the Heart For It?

Do you have the heart for it?If you were an artist, which would you choose: To create your own unique and inspired works of art (even if it meant scratching a meager living) or bring others’ inspiration to life as a well-paid, commissioned painter? In world of business, each of us makes this choice. The real question is whether you know it or not.

In high school, I was perfectly prepared to launch into a career as a starving artist. I could weave wonderfully twisted stories through oil pastels and water colors, but sadly discovered the business-side of “starving” wasn’t quite as glamourous as I’d expected. While some aspiring young artists make it in the big city, I had a change of heart. I knew it would be a long road to success (if at all), and most artists who could afford to put food on the table were commissioned. In other words, I’d have to paint others dreams to make a decent living.

While youthfully noble, I quickly inventoried my other skills and determined I would fair better in the world of technology — and actually enjoy it. So I pursued another of my goals in tandem and joined the United States Marine Corps. I became expert at  two things:

  1. Expert Rifleman: I was an expert marksman with an M-16 assault rifle, and could put a bullet in a man-size target 500 yards away in a 30 knot wind 9 out of 10 times. (Thankfully, I never had to use this skill in real life).
  2. Expert Technologist: I became expert with all manner of computer technologies, and got to work in some of the most challenging technology environments on the planet. (Thankfully, I got to use this skill a lot in real life).

Over the years, I’ve made my trade as a commissioned painter of sorts, painting beautifully intricate designs with technology for employers and clients alike. I’m especially proud of some of the things I’ve accomplished individually and as part of a larger team. My heart is always beating, leading me to new adventures.

Are You Lost?

I recently heard a speaker say, “The surest way to attract others is with a smile. Why? Because deep down, that lets others know you are passionate about what you do!”

Neither being your own artist nor being a commissioned painter is wrong. But as I look around, I see a world filled with people who want to be artists but are living off of the commission. They are desperately seeking fulfillment in a mismatched existence, falsely living the life of the other sapping their passion and joy. This ultimately leaves them impotent and dissatisfied.

Which choice have you made? Do you have the heart for it?

Are You the Boss?

Every one of your team members wants do good work. Most may not think of themselves as artists or commissioned painters, but that won’t stop you from seeing them this way. Take some time to look at yourself and your team. Seek out your hidden artists who want to be set free to create beautiful things for you and your customers. You may find that you’ve chained some too tightly, while others have unwittingly allowed themselves to become chained as a commissioned painter.

It takes a confident leader to recognize the signs, but it takes a true visionary to help others see the “right choice” in themselves. Do you have the heart for it?

 

Is MNS a ‘Hotty’ or a ‘Notty’? 10 Questions to Ask Your Consultant.

The cyclical nature of trends in the imaging industry never ceases to {amaze} amuse me. There’s fresh buzz beginning to sprout that “MPS is dead and MNS is what’s hot!” So the question is whether MNS (managed network services) or ITS (IT services) is a ‘hotty’ or a ‘notty’?

I can’t believe how many emails I’m seeing informing me of new MNS programs I just have to buy! Like moths to a flame, some “consultants” are hot on the trail of this new buzz — quickly turning their marketing engines to full volume in order to hock their ‘solutions’ for your problem du jour. It seems to me this is a similar craze that swept the industry when I was first recruited to join an independent office technology dealer, Kearns Business Solutions, in 2003.

You remember when everything began moving from analog to digital and hitting the wire for the first time, right? At the time, the so-called “expert consultants” were predicting that if you didn’t start or acquire an IT company you’d be out of business in [X] years.

Counter to the trend, we launched a longer term strategy to increase our focus on process-driven excellence as our engine, but fueled the engine with customer-centric passion. Over the course of five years, we invested significant capital in building infrastructure, expanding internal capabilities and sharpening the story we told our customers. During this time, I was amazed and humbled by the caliber of the team I worked with. We didn’t just want to help customers with their tech-problems, we made their lives better and more enjoyable.

While it’s true the dealers of the day needed to increase their ability to actually hold a conversation with the propeller-heads their customers had hired as IT managers, that decision scared a lot of dealers into over-spending. While I believe MNS and ITS are key components to any managed service providers arsenal, I would be willing to bet you that simply adding a “solution in a box” isn’t going to address your key motivators. More specifically, you are going to get drug through the mud if you aren’t careful about who you listen to for advice.

Here are a few questions you should be asking about your prospective MNS or ITS consultant:

  1. Has your consultant actually built and/or managed an IT-centered practice?
  2. Can your consultant carry on a conversation with a CIO or CTO about the day-to-day business and long term strategies?
  3. Does your consultant actively participate in any reputable, IT-centric associations (CompTIA, HDI, AIIM, AITP)? If so, how many?
  4. Take a quick look at their LinkedIn profile; are they part of an IT-related groups?
  5. Does your consultant understand the jargon (ERP, PSA, RMM, per-seat billing, infrastructure, architecture, cloud, etc.)?
  6. Does your consultant actually read any of IT-related media (CIO, InformationWeek, MSPMentor.net)?
  7. Does your consultant think a helpdesk technician is nothing more than a service tech without a truck (instead of an ambassador of customer goodwill and dealer profitability)?
  8. Does your consultant understand that IT has many sub-disciplines that require varying degrees of expertise?
  9. Is your consultant selling you a packaged program or shedding light on how your unique needs can be met?
  10. Is your consultant telling you more about what they’ve done for other people than what they will do for you?
Of course there are many ways to approach a go-to-market strategy for MNS or ITS. But before you spend a small fortune on costly consultants, here are my three recommendations that could save you a ton of money:
  1. Scout out and join an IT association’s local chapter: By doing this, you can sit quietly in the back and watch everything that’s going on. Pick out a few strong participants and offer to buy them all the coffee they can drink if you can pick their brain.
  2. Reach out to some of the software companies in the industry: I’ve been very impressed with some of the quick-start webinars these companies provide. Sure they are trying to sell you their software, but sitting through a few of these webinar series will give you an entirely new appreciation for what you are planning on stepping into.
  3. Understand the business model: While you may be thinking you are hiring a consultant to show you what you don’t know, don’t let them make a fool of you either:
    • Is it profitable or a distraction? Do your homework and understand where you expect to make money?
    • Who’s buying this? Where’s your market opportunity?
    • How will you support this in scale? Will you build or partner?
There are some great consultants to work with out there, and there are some snake-oil salesmen. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but after 15 years helping guide companies in their alignment of people, process and technology I hate seeing good people getting bad advice. Look hard and choose wisely. Meanwhile, I’ll be here working to shine a light into those dark places.

My Secret to Success in Goal Setting

It’s funny how much running imitates life. In the Marine Corps, we ran a lot. I’d usually run at least nine miles a week, and found that the key to staying the distance was simply keeping my hope alive.

After several years of running the equivalent of a 5k each time I ran, I picked up quite a few little tricks like pacing, breathing and how to build endurance. But the greatest lesson I learned was that to keep my mind active and engaged, I needed to set very immediate goals. You see, the more you run the more you realize you have to keep your mind focused on something. Otherwise, you wind up focusing on the pain and giving up or just getting bored and burning out.

I’d tell myself that I’d get to that tree, or this sign post or that curve in the road. When I did, I was already on the hunt for the next goal. Doing this made the goal more tactile and immediate, and kept my hope alive and well. It made time seem to go faster, and gave me a rush of achievement when I did. Over time, I developed goals that pushed me to pace faster and harder; running was always a race, and you are always in a race against yourself or someone else.

“Do you enjoy what you do?”

I once believed that simply looking forward to something (more than you didn’t) was the key to enjoying life. There are good and bad times, but the balance of good would outweigh the bad.

I bought into this as an employee. I told this to my team as a manager. I even subscribed to this idea as a husband and father.

However, there are two problems with this point of view:

  1. This view puts you in the passenger seat far too often.
  2. This view favors the destination over the drive to get there (when both are equally important).
Each of us has a spark in us. This spark is our hope, comprised of those dreams and desires that we cling to when all else is stripped away. It defines us and can often defy the cackling majority. But somewhere along the way we trade, sell or even give away our dreams in exchange for some shadowy wisps and wants.

 

But there is hope. The practical advice I can offer you is that you must view life like running. Find your tree, your sign post or your curve in the road. Set your sights on the clear and immediate goal that is the next small step in fulfilling your dream.

 

Take a deep breath and enjoy the feeling of hope once again.

Did You Make My List? My 10 Twitter Lists

Are you experiencing information overload? Are you using new media, especially social media like Twitter, as effectively as you can?

Everyone enjoys being on the in-crowd, in the know and on top of things. With all of the information floating around, it’s become a necessity to have a great filter to look through. In 2008, Clay Shirky gamed Alvin Tofler’s famous phrase ‘information overload’ by saying, “It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure.”

Indeed, the answer you seek clearly sits hidden in plain site. It is up to your filters (friends, experiences and media channels) to help you connect your desires and needs to the context of data relevant to that very end.

I decided to circle around and update my lists on Twitter. Why’d I do this?

I’ve been pretty slack on interaction over the past few months, and I realized that I’m not getting as much useful information out because I’m not using the filters to enhance the relevancy to me. I know you always share the most choice content on Twitter, but there is a lot chatter from everyone else!

Here’s the deal:

I want to listen to you more closely and find out what’s relevant to me today (and what will be relevant to me tomorrow)! To that end Twitter has a great option to create lists, or groupings centered around an interest topic, like music, love, or Bob Dylan.

You can add people to multiple lists, or an individual list. Others can then follow your list if they find the content useful (and you are now a curator).

Did you make my list?

I’ve created several lists around areas that I focus on. In other words, I’ve created little media channels to watch as well as engage with. I encourage you to check these out, and if you think you should be on here, follow me on Twitter and let me know. I’ll get you added in after reviewing your Twitter stream for some relevance and context to what I or my followers might find useful.

  1. Humor: Funny stuff and/or funny people. You take your pick…
  2. Business-Sales: Things relating to business and sales.
  3. Financial Times: Financial news and other little tidbits relating to money.
  4. Quotables: Folks who often offer quotes and things I like to RT.
  5. Marketing: Folks I enjoy reading on the topics of marketing, SEO and so on…
  6. Time Management Tools: Time management tools and techniques. Things to help you stay productive.
  7. Friends: Pretty self-explanatory, but this is the one list that I don’t just add anyone. I actually have to know you, and be friends with you.
  8. Tech Injection: All things tech…
  9. MPS-MDS: Managed print services (MPS) and managed document services (MDS)
  10. News-makers: Tweeters making or breaking the news.

The lists have been great so far, giving me the ability to digest chunks of my followers traffic. From their I can refine results by more customized searches. Oh, and the great upside to applying this simple method to help me be more productive and share better content, my followers have increased by close to 15% in the past week.

Hmmm… it’s pretty amazing that when you listen more, people enjoy listening back!

If like the content you read here, think about following me on Twitter.

Stay Focused: The Little Things That Matter

Do you ever feel a little overwhelmed – or a lot? Do the mountains of to-do’s seem overwhelming or the projects seem daunting?

Sanity comes from being able to maintain productivity in highly demanding environments. If you wonder about the magic of how people take on huge projects and complete them so effortlessly, there is a simple secret:

Take it apart and break your desired outcome into achievable parts, called milestones. This has three overall positive results:

  1. Sense of accomplishment: You feel like you are really in a zone of productivity when you can check off item after item you have completed.
  2. Ensures project success: By completing each milestone you take one step close to completing your quest while destroying possible obstacles to success.
  3. Lessen stress: In Aikido, I learned the phrase “Mizu no kokoro”, or mind like water. In simplest terms, the concept is that you react exactly like you should in the given situation. When you are able to focus and deliver results, it’s a great way to reduce the stress.

However, one key component of the “break-down” is that you maintain the context of your milestones in relation to your overall vision. That is, all of your roads (milestones) must lead you to Rome (your outcome). Get everything else out of the way, or set a time when you know you can focus.

“You’ve got to think about the big things while you’re doing the small things, so that the small things go in the right direction.” – Alivin Toffler

All too often, in our daily activities, we allow ourselves to lose focus of our vision and focus on the problems at hand. This causes us to replace our original goal with a smaller much less meaningful goal that was originally  stepping stone in our project; it just seems to find it’s way in!

It’s easy to get stuck in the proverbial weeds; When this happens, I’ve always found it best to step back and ask that clarifying question, “Why was I doing this again?”

Only when we overcome these tasks in the context of achieving our grander plan, do we feel as if we are truly progressing towards a path of accomplishment.