Saturday, February 25, 2012

Find the candy!

There’s a potentially high demotivation factor when you feel like your job makes little impact in the larger scheme of things. Truth is, seemingly mundane jobs stand to make critical contributions to an organization’s success. For this to be so, however, the people that have the supposedly “non-critical” positions have to take the lead.

A start-up building supplies manufacturer had the problem of making a big splash in a crowded market and their brand needed attention.  To get that attention, the company invested in all the right advertising and marketing stragegies, and hired a crack team of managers.  But what really made the biggest splash with new customers was a big surprise:  It was the team that shipped pallets of tile from the warehouse every day.

How did they do it? 

They put candy in every shipment of tile that they sent from their distribution centers to their customers.  

When asked why, the team in the warehouse said, “Because we thought it would be fun to do.”  It was not long before warehouse teams in the customer base were thrilled when that company’s shipments of tile arrived!  If five deliveries from five separate companies arrived simultaneously at the dock, guess which one got the handled first?  To put my own spin on a Jim Gaffigan joke, “When you put candy in a pallet of tile, it’s not a pallet of tile any more.  It becomes a game of “find the candy in the pallet of tile!”

What happened next was most surprising.  The delight delivered by the candy opened relationships with customers at the operational level, at a point where they almost never happen.  Those interactions, in turn, provided a wealth of information and insight for the manufacturer. And as they acted upon what they learned, it eventually set them far apart from other competitors.  That’s because being a “supply chain champ” depends more on relationships and less on expensive information management and supply chain solutions. That’s what a McKinsey survey showed and who am I to argue with them?

So what’s the lesson here?  Ask your whole team, “Where can we deliver candy these days when people think we are only going to give them Product X or Service Y?”

You may be surprised by the number of ways you discover to sweeten the deal for your customers.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

How to demotivate your best people

Before you delegate that project sitting on your desk to your top (and presently overwhelmed) employee so you’ll sleep better at night, you need to consider whether your actions will have that same affect on the person who receives your gift.

Many top achievers get much of their personal work satisfaction (ensoulment) from doing a worthwhile job with a high degree of quality.  They actually define personal success by the quality of the work they do.  What happens when you pile too much work on them?  Their sense of achievement slips.  They experience anxiety.  If they bring up the subject with you and you respond by instructing them to “prioritize better” they will feel invalidated because your response does, in fact, invalidate them.  And if you persist in not hearing their pleas that you understand them better, you may just lose them altogether.

So what to do?

Really get to know the people who work for you.  How are they defining “success?” Cater to their definition as much as possible because the degree to which you can change that internal value is limited.

Be sure the workloads you delegate are really fair. Don’t assign every tough and high profile project to your top achievers. Give others a chance to shine and give your top dogs a break from the frenzied pace of the hunt.

Instead of telling someone to “prioritize,” help them to prioritize by telling them what work needs to be done at the highest quality, what work can be simply completed rote and what work can be killed altogether.

Stop being a coward. Say ‘no’ to your own boss. Or at least, “not right now.”  Too many managers simply let unreasonable, stifling workloads flow downhill instead of speaking truth themselves.  If you are whipping your employees and piling on the work because of your own personal internal stress, chances are you are also acting cowardly so you need to step up and first apply these principles to yourself.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The physics of humility

When two identical objects are launched from an identical point, with identical initial velocity and at identical angles, in identical conditions, they will follow an identical trajectory and land on an identical final point.  Vary any of those elements and the objects will follow different trajectories and land in quite different places. 

And that is all you need to know in order to stay humble.

We don’t all start from an identical launching point in life.  Date of birth, place of birth, gender and family of origin vary to a great extent from person to person. We don’t all have the same identical initial velocity either. Our DNA is unique and our personalities, gifts and socio-economic backgrounds also vary widely. We don’t have identical trajectories at the start of our lives. For some, it is a major achievement for a child to be the first in their families to graduate from college. For others, the expectation from the beginning is to be yet another doctor, lawyer or PhD.

I once told an audience, “The 19 year-old woman named ‘Maria’, working in a flower factory outside of Bogota knows something that you do not know about yourself.  She knows you are lucky.  She knows she is just as smart as you.  She knows she works just as hard as you do.  But her point in her trajectory and her final landing point in her career will be very different than yours.”

Embracing the advantages and disadvantages of our starting place, our initial velocity and angle of launch creates gratitude in our hearts and makes us realistic about our successes and failures.  Hard work and good stewardship of those things creates a good sort of satisfaction in our souls.  Gratitude and satisfaction are the antidotes for narcissism and they create abundant humility.  Embracing those same elements in others creates an environment of empathy in the workplace where people are less concerned about titles or the division between cubicle or corner office people.

When a workplace overflows with humility, people are able to celebrate everyone’s victories, accept their share of the responsibility in failure, recover from failures without blame, improve performance, and grow closer together.