Friday, December 30, 2011

Shut Up and Listen

This may be a rather crass way to start a new year. However, it tells a critically important story. I have several children; I have learned a lot from them. One particular lesson continues to play an important role in my life.

Late one night one of the teens came home from a school activity. He was upset. I do not remember the situation. However, as a caring father, I tried to solve his problem. In a moment of extreme frustration he said to me, “Dad, shut up and listen!” I was stunned. My children never talked to me that way, and here I was trying to help.  My first reaction was one of indignation with a twinge of hurt. Fortunately, I was so caught off guard that I stopped talking. He then poured out his problems and his feelings. After getting it all out, he asked for my input and my help.

Through all of my experiences, training, and education, this advice from a child tops the stack. Through my observations of many organizations, this one change – leadership talking less and listening more – would mean the difference between marginal success and optimal success, or even between success and failure.

As I look around at businesses and organization, I want to shout that advice to them: “shut up and listen!” No, I am not talking about listening to me. I am talking to leadership about being willing to stop amid all of the “stuff” that goes on unceasingly around them. I am saying, as my son did to me, to just close the mouth long enough to hear what is really going on. With all of the really poor decisions  many American businesses have made in the past, they need to get out of the telling mode and into the learning mode; perhaps starting with their employees.

As a New Year’s resolution, perhaps we could all be more willing to listen and more willing to learn.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Base new action on a closer look

Although I continually complain that particularly in the business world – in training and practice – regardless of the talk, there is little change. Sometimes, I am wrong; I need to take a closer look of specific situations. I recommend you do the same – even of those things of which you are very familiar.

Let me give you an example.

I have a piano that is over 100 years old. I have had this instrument over 40 years. In that time, I have spent hundreds of hours playing it. The other day, I decided it needed to be cleaned. The edge of most keys was dirty. I assumed that was the result of deteriorating ivory. However, as I began cleaning those areas, I realized the reason for the dirt was paint.

On the edges of most keys was a strip of white paint. It very closely matched the ivory. A little scraping revealed complete, unworn key surfaces. How long had the paint been there? How many times had I cleaned those keys without noticing the paint? Perhaps, it had been there for my 40 years and more. What is the point?

If you are a MBA teacher, how closely have you examined what you teach and how you teach it, and compared it with what really needs to be in tomorrow’s business leaders?

If you are a business leader, how closely have you examined the potential of those who work for you? How closely have you examined your personal practices, and your reasons for them?

Although, I recommend standing back and looking at your practices, I suggest you also take a very close look. Sometimes, we accept what could and should be changed, even if it is in plain sight and under our very nose – even if we have used it for 40 years.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Fish catching, pony roping, and saber-tooth tiger bashing

I have observed trends in societies and perused a number of university and business schools, and have concerns about what is transpiring and what is being taught. Let me start with an illustration.

A long time ago there was a valley. In the mountains above the valley was a glacier. The glacier was slowly melting which produced a stream to the little valley. Because there was water running through the valley, fish developed. Because there was water running through the valley, little ponies came down to drink. Because that was a good place to find little ponies, saber-toothed tigers often roamed through the valley.

Related to these events, the local young people were taught how to catch fish, rope ponies, and bash saber-tooth tigers. This all worked  well for many, many years.

As time passed, the glacier got smaller and smaller. Finally, it was gone. When the glacier dried up, so did the little stream that went through the valley. When the stream was gone, so were the fish. The little ponies no longer came into the valley to drink. Because there were no little ponies in the valley, saber-tooth tigers roamed elsewhere. However, long after these events transpired, the young people were still being trained in fish catching, pony roping, and saber-tooth tiger bashing.

We have just come through a devastating recession. We are still feeling the effects of that, and will likely feel them for many years to come. Although the reasons are complex, a number of truths have become evident: (1) over emphasis on the bottom line of success being measured by money; (2) a lack of concern for those who might be injured by that emphasis;( 3) an increase in production, and the loss of buying power; (4) and, a stronger emphasis on financial gains on the short-term. Unfortunately, this condition has actually proven very profitable for a certain faction.

So, what are we teaching in society and business schools today? Is there a stronger emphasis on equity, on ethics, on sharing the wealth throughout the organization? Have we modified the curriculum to echo more the thoughts expressed by dear old Spock, that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few? Is the bottom line people or money? Is there a focus on service to others or profit for me? Are we still fixated on a past process that got us where we are today? Is that where we want to be?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Trick or Treat

Since this is the Halloween season. It brought to mind the difference between salesmanship and suckers-baiter, promoter and deal-cincher, tricker or treater. Ethics require that in dealing with others, regardless of our position, we play the game honestly. Let me relate a story.

A few years back, we moved from northern Idaho to the Boise area. Because the individuals purchasing our home wanted the sound system left, the new home we were building would be without one.

The old system was not very good. Since part of my work is in music, the system needed to be better.

We went shopping. After visiting a number of furniture stores and listening to their systems, we ended up at a stereo shop. When we informed the salesman of what we wanted and how much we expected to pay, his comment was that we had an impossible dream. But, he was willing to show us what he had.

He sat us down in the listening room, took the CD we had brought, offered to play it through any system. In the process, he also played the CD over a system he felt we had described. He was right. Instead of the very inferior sound we left behind, here was a bright, beautiful reproduction of what was really on that CD.

We bought his recommendation at a price three times more than we had planned on spending.

Was our salesman ethical? Was he honest? Was he merely after a higher price? Was he thinking of himself or was he honestly trying to meet our needs? Was this a trick or a treat? Seven years later, would I make that same purchase from that same individual?

The answer is absolutely, yes. It doesn’t always work this way. I have had individuals help save money by recommending the opposite – a less expensive remedy than the one I proposed. The key is in the effort to meet the needs of the client, customer, or employee.

It doesn’t matter whether you are advising students or selling horseshoes, Ultimately, paying attention to the people you serve – everyone – brings the greatest satisfaction, success, and loyalty. Remember, this is not about you; it is about them.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Talk won't make a tree fall

In the forest, it is important to pay attention to the trees to be cut. Figuring out where and how they will fall is critical to the safety of those who cut trees. It can mean the difference between life and death. But all of the planning doesn’t bring down a single tree. Is your organization like that?

We stress the importance of planning, determining focus, aligning goals, and setting up realistic timelines. Until you put the ax to the tree – actually do something – however, all of the other “stuff” is just “stuff.”

Most organizations have individuals who love to plan. Charts, diagrams, and presentations make them feel warm all over. But, as important, doers are needed; action is required.

You may have folks from the other side of the aisle – who act first and then think about ways of making the action fit a plan. They just want to get out there and do it – whatever “it” is. Their attitude is “give me and ax and show me a tree.”

The most productive organizations have individuals of both types. For optimum success, leadership needs to facilitate planning, focus, goals, and timelines. . . and . . . through it all, make sure you cut down the trees.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The two most critical factors for success

The future dictates the present – focus.
Actions speak (produce) louder (more) than words – where we put our efforts is what we get.

1. Write those two statements on the board for your next staff meeting.
2. Allow the first few minutes to be spent in silence while each individual evaluates his/her program,    and the program of the organization against those two statements.
3. Spend a few minutes of open discussion regarding the group’s observations.
4. Schedule a meeting in the near future to further examine and/or develop focus and effort alignment.

Focus is critical. If our focus is to be in Salt Lake City, we make that determination and then choose the roads that will get us there. If we do not have a focus, we merely wander.

We get what we put our efforts on. Generally, the weakest evaluation of our direction, is what we say – what we profess – talk is cheap. How we allocate our  money and time paints a more accurate picture of our real direction.

Where is your focus? Is it really where you want to be and what you want to achieve? Where is the focus of your organization? Are your goals and your efforts in line with your focus? Would an outside evaluator conclude that you are moving toward your focus?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Bleeding finger communication

Sometimes our communication has dramatic affect, even though it might be ineffective. The bleeding finger is an excellent example.

Steve, my cousin, and I started first grade together. At the end of each school day, we walked home together. One day as school dismissed, I noticed a scratch on my pointer finger – it had a little blood on it. As Steve came out of his class, I raised my pointer finger and said, “look, Steve, blood!” I was not prepared for Steve’s reaction.

Steve begin to cry. He then ran down the hall and out the door. I followed. When I got outside I could see Steve at the crossing. The crossing guard was examining Steve’s head. By the time I got to  the crossing, Steve had already started for home. I hurried after.

When I arrived at Steve’s home, I went in and found his mother examining Steve’s head. Steve was still crying. What had happened? As you have probably already surmised, Steve thought I was pointing to his head when I said blood. He thought his head was bleeding.

How good was my communication to Steve? Was it effective communication?

Steve’s reaction probably would not have been any greater had he actually had a bleeding head. But, he did not have a bleeding head. Although the communication was impacting, it was not the message I was trying to convey. It was pretty ineffective communication.

What can we learn?

First, remember that effective communication is measured by how well the message sent is the one received. Regardless of the method used – visuals, pictures, diagrams, examples, looks, expressions, written content, etc. – the only valid evaluation of communication is the fidelity of the message sent to the message received.

Second, be aware of how easy it is to be misunderstood, and do everything possible to ensure the message you send is clear. For example, if I would have just said to Steve, “Look Steve, I have a cut,” the misunderstanding would not have happened.

[This story and many similar discussion are found in The Wrong Bottom Line and How to Change It

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The invisible man

Perception is very important in successful conflict resolution. That brings up the story of my invisible experience.

There was a topic of high interest in the community. A forum was set to discuss it. Since I had considerable experience with the topic, I was asked to represent one side of the issue. I spent time thinking through the concern, doing a little extra research, and developing a list of questions and appropriate answers. I was ready – or so I thought.

The night came. I was first up and made a short presentation. However, as I was doing so, I noticed a very strange thing. Although their eyes were opened, it appeared that everyone was asleep. Throughout my presentation, it was as if I were invisible. No one questioned my presentation. No one asked for further information. No one even argued with my position.

When the individual representing the other side began, it was as if someone had snapped their fingers and awakened the crowd. It was not because he was a local; he was an outsider. I was the local. Was it because he was so much more dynamic or made a better presentation?

According to the leader who apologized to me after, this crowd had already made up their minds and had brought this outside individual into the community merely to sell their idea. Had I been aware, I would have operated differently.

Dealing effectively with conflict requires an understanding of the perspective of others involved. You  need to know who you are dealing with and what they think.

Here are some suggestions for success:
    First, do as much research on the group as possible.
    Second, at the meeting, start by getting their input – what do they think, what are the issues as they see them?
    Third, do this from a sit-down-with-them approach – don’t be the sage on the stage.

Had I known, I would have had a totally different approach. I would have put away my graphics and dumped my speech. I would have insisted that the other side be first. Then, I would have sat down on a table and started asking them questions. I may not have changed everyone’s mind. However, I would have stimulated some thought and lead them into a better examination of the issue. At the very least, I would not have been invisible.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Roy and Mark sock story – it is how you look at it

Perspective plays a part in solving and creating conflict. I have a son named Mark. As Mark grew, he wore the same size sock as I did. He also wore the same kind of white socks. This created a problem of identification – a small conflict – whose socks were whose. We had a solution that turned out to create a little humor.

The solution was to put an M on Mark’s socks and an R on my socks – simple and effective. However, occasionally, an R sock would be found on Mark or an M sock on me. One day, a visitor noted Mark padding around in a pair of socks with two different letters. He scratched his head and said, “I don’t quite understand. You have one foot labeled right and the other labeled wrong.” Obviously, from his view, the socks appeared to be labeled R and W.

It is all related to perspective. Like the man who was reported to have been  fired from the M & M plant because he kept throwing away all those candies marked with a “W.”

That brings up some important rules in conflict resolution as related to perspective.

1. Some ways of solving conflict may contribute to confusion or new conflicts (R and M – or is it a W sock?).

2. Everyone has a perspective of the issue that is often governed by his/her position.

3. Those perspectives may be very similar, partially the same, or even opposite.

4. Each of us tends to believe our perspective is the perspective..

5. Each of us operate from our perspective.

To be a successful negotiator or conflict resolver, it is important to understand the impact of perspective. It is also important to learn to be open, accepting, understanding, and even encouraging of the perspective of others.

Have someone retired or retiring? You might consider giving them a new little book: "I’ll Lie Down When I’m Dead – Stop rocking and start rolling”   Kindle and paperback

Monday, September 19, 2011

From communication to negotiation - dealing with conflict

We have been talking communication for several articles. Let us switch to another topic – conflict.

Although sometimes not recognized as such, we all live in conflict. It may be as small as a difference of opinion at home or a disagreement at the office, and as significant as war. It may be a father who is trying to provide adequate finances for his family, but cannot find a job. Workers who want better wages or benefits, but find their employer unwilling. Employers who would grant employees better wages and benefits, but can’t find the revenue. Conflict is often found in team members who have the same goals, but different opinions on how to reach those goals. Since differences – conflicts – are found everywhere, how do we deal with them?

First, it is important that we realize the positive and the negative sides of conflict. Individuals caught in conflict often have the opinion that whatever it takes, it would be wonderful to be rid of the distraction. They believe that without conflicting situations, things would run smoothly and progress faster. In fact, that is true. If everyone thinks the same way, things do move faster and usually smoother. However, there should be other considerations.

While smoothness and speed have their place, many differences don’t respond to quick fixes; fixes can be efficient but at the same time not necessarily effective.

Secondly, in many situations, without conflict, little progress is made. The conflict created by the increase in gasoline prices provided the pressure for more efficient vehicle engines. The conflict between two teams on the football field results in an exciting experience for many.

The critical point in the many conflicts we encounter is how we deal with them.

In the old west, the six-gun was a popular way to settle conflict. It was efficient, but not very productive. L. Randolph Lowry, past Director of the Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine University relates an amusing conflict-settling approach.

Randy was driving in Boston. He relates that a couple of drivers in nearby cars were obviously upset with each other. They were making hand gestures and shouting at each other. The cars proceeded until they reached a red light. The drivers got out of their cars and started beating on each other. The light turned green. They got back in their cars and drove away. Mr. Lowry noted that he really could not argue with the efficiency of that mode of dealing with conflict – we have this disagreement, and we are going to pursue it until the light turns green, and then we are out of here. A very efficient system. However, its application is limited.

Next week: ways of dealing with conflict.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Foster Cline's "Laughing In The Middle Of The Night

At 3:00 in the morning, old folks stir. Hermie gets up to take her Airbourne to stave off any possible chest cold, and I’m up to download some coffee in the middle of the night ‘cause that just what old guys do.

So, crawling back into bed, Hermie, asking about my coming to bed after she had turned in: “Honey, what time did you finally turn in last night?”

“About 12:00”

With slight reproach, she notes, “You probably watched a movie.”

“Yeah, I watched an old Star Trek movie.”

“What was it?”

Admitting it wasn’t necessarily worth a two hours out of my life, I admit, “It was about a ‘B’”

“About a bee?” she inquires.

“Yeah, about a ‘B’, I respond.

To me, she was showing surprising interest in a scifi flick and she asks, “Tell me about it!”

“Well,” I answer, it was about a possible clone of Captain Picard, and the clone’s threat to the Federation.”

“And it was about a bee?” My gosh, I think, she really is interested!

“Yeah, about a B”.

Surprisingly, she wants to know still more about a Star Trek movie of all things: “Well, tell me about it!”

I answer, surprised, “You want to know more!?”

Well, okay, “The clone was working with the Romulans, but they turned on the clone, so it all worked out and the Federation was saved.”

“But where does the bee come in?”

“Honey, it was an okay movie but it just wasn’t that great.”

“Yeah, but I still want to know about the bee.”

“Well, the special effects were okay, but the acting and story line….. I don’t know… It was just dated.”

With a little frustration, out of no-where, it seems to me, she says, “Just tell me about the buzzy bee.”

And all of a sudden the light of mutual misunderstanding dawns on us both, and we laugh and laugh.

Hermie says, “You ought to put this in the monthly contest about miscommunication.” And we fall back to sleep.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Communicating - understanding the culture

Ever hear anything like this?

Working with BNT is no picnic and I smell a rat. They always want an arm and a leg, and Joe, the lead man, always has a chip on his shoulder even though he is all bark and no bite. Sometimes, I think they need a taste of their own medicine, but there is no sense in beating a dead horse. Working out a deal will be no piece of cake, but it should be profitable.  I guess we shouldn’t count our chickens before they hatch.

In today’s world market, language differences are a common occurrence. Merely speaking another language does not ensure effective communication. According to David Boyd who teaches Mandarin Chinese at the United States Air Force Academy, it is critically important to understand the culture as well as the language. Professor Boyd spent two years in China, living, speaking, writing, reading, and studying Chinese history.

Obviously, we can’t all spend extensive time living in different sections of the country and of the world in order to communicate more effectively. However, there are some things that will help.

First, be sure that the message you send is plain and accurate. Say what you mean and don’t confuse it with idioms. It is always good to have someone review a hard copy of important communiques. If your administrative assistant doesn’t understand, chances are, others may have a problem.

Second, check for understanding. Don’t ask:” does everyone understand?” Do facilitate a short discussion regarding the issue.

Finally, if you are the recipient of communication that seems to be confusing, ask for clarification.

And, by the way, English is not the only language with idioms. Be aware, and beware. So, in dealing with this area, my only comment is: break a leg.

Monday, August 29, 2011

. . . it is what they hear (part 2) – speaking their language

Continuing the idea we started: the focus in communication must be on the message received, not the message sent, let us look at language problems – starting with ours: You will need a CDL. Are you filing VFR or IFR? Make sure you bring the IEP to the CST meeting. Did HR collect his I-9 and make him aware of COBRA?

Sometimes we think of languages as being tied to a country or people – Spanish or French, perhaps even Chinese. That can present certain obvious problems; we will discuss in a later article. But, do we realize that even within our own language, there are some pretty confusing components?

Each profession and line of work has its language. They range from pretty simple – CDL  (commercial drivers license), to very involved – special education services (IEP – individual education program, CST – child study team) .

Although it is impossible to be familiar with all abbreviations and acronyms, if we are going to communicate effectively, we have to be aware  they exist, and that everyone may not be familiar with the ones used. Even more problematic are different understandings of the same letters – like the example below: the story of the water closet.

A newly married British couple looking for a house in the country, found one they decided was suitable. On their way home, the young wife happened to think that they had not noticed a water closet (toilet) in the place, so she decided to write to the real estate man about it.

Being very modest she hesitated about writing the word ”water closet,” so she referred to it as the WC. The real estate man interpreted it to mean the Western Church near there, and answered as follows:

Dear Madam:
    I regret very much the delay in answering your letter, but I now take the pleasure of informing you that the WC is located about nine miles from here and is capable of seating 1266 people; this is very fortunate indeed.
    If you are not in the habit of going regularly, no doubt you’ll be interested to know that a great many people take their lunch and make a day of it. Others, who cannot spare the time, usually arrive just in time, but are generally in too big a hurry to wait if the place is crowded.
    The first time my wife and I went was six years ago, and we had to stand up all the time.
    It might interest you to know they are planning to hold a bizarre in the near future to raise money for plush seats. I might mention that it pains me greatly to not be able to go more frequently. It surely is through no lack of desire, but as we grow older it seems more of an effort, particularly in cold weather.
(The Wrong Bottom Line p.108).

To communicate effectively, be sure everyone understands not only any abbreviations, but also important terminology; not understanding may make funny stories, but not good businesses.

Next week: It is what they hear (part 3) but not what I meant.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It isn’t what you say . . . it is what they hear.

It isn’t what you say . . . it is what they hear.

●    “Turn right here.” said the local, sitting in the passenger seat. “Okay,” responded the driver, new to the area, as he began to make a right turn into a dark alley. “What are you doing?!” exclaimed the local. “I am turning where you told me to!” responded the driver.  “No, no! You can’t turn right here, that is one-way!” came the excited response! “You have to turn left!” “But you said to turn right!” exclaimed the driver.

●    You brought home chicken noodle soup instead of the desired cream of chicken. The order was for “chicken soup.” 

●    The philosophy was to treat the customers as special guests: give them a sample of candy.
    The server offered something the customer did not like or want. Instead of offering something else, she just withdrew the original.

Ineffective communication can be costly. You may want to review your practices.

First, understand that the responsibility for effective communication is the sender’s – the communication initiator. Effective means that what you send, they get.

Second, know what you want to communicate, not just what you want to say. We all know people who wonder around the point until the real message becomes obscure. The more vague you are, the more likely the message will be misread, misunderstood, or, in some cases, missed completely.

Third, know your audience – the person or people you want to receive your message. For example, powder means a different thing to a Mary K rep, a ski enthusiast, or an explosive expert.

Fourth, choose the method of communication that facilitates the message best.  Merely talking with the person or people, may suffice. For those ideas or requirements that are more important, or that might be misunderstood, written statements accompanied by your verbal explanation can make the difference.

Fifth, do a test run. Aircraft manufactures are required to test their planes on the ground and in the air, before commercial use. That allows changes to be made before the actual presentation. Have someone you trust read your material or listen to your proposal. Pay attention to their response and their advice. If the people close to you can’t understand what you are trying to convey, do not expect those farther removed to get the points.

Sixth, check for understanding particularly on critical points. Find out if the group or individual got the message. Do not use the time waster “do you all understand?” Do an upbeat test: “the point number one was . . .” The story about the girl at the candy shop is an excellent example of understanding the procedure but not the concept – the result of ineffective communication.

Effective communication is a skill that is critical to optimal success.

Monday, August 15, 2011

How effective are your hiring practices?

If you are in a leadership or HR position, or if you teach business students, make sure everyone involved understands and uses effective hiring practices. Good practices save money and time, and promote a positive reputation. Poor practices do just the opposite. Let me give you an example and some recommendations.

Recently, in answer to an advertised position with a well-known international company, an individual forwarded the appropriate materials. A couple of weeks later he was contacted and invited to come in for an interview. Although the distance was significant and would take a long day’s drive and an overnight stay, the applicant made the trip.

The interviewer was impressed and encouraging. However, the company was not quite ready to hire. The interviewee returned home. Approximately a month later, he was again contacted and requested for another interview. The company representative was very encouraging. Since the applicant was out of work, and would have to bear the expense of the travel and another overnight stay, and in light of the very positive response of the company representative, he decided to move his family to that area.

After the move, time passed – one week, two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, a month. While still encouraging, the representative related that they were just not quite ready to hire.

This is not a new story. Unfortunately, I am seeing too many of these. And, they aren’t about new businesses or those known to be inefficient or ineffective. On the contrary, these organizations have names recognized all over the world.

Here are some recommendations.

First, focus. Before adding to, or altering your organization, do a thorough review. Involve all appropriate sections. Determine exactly what you need and when it would be appropriate to fulfill that need.

Second, use the Canary principal (review: Getting the best ) have a specific list of required skills and attributes. That will enable you to be effective in evaluating applicants. This is particularly important at the interview stage.

Third, review with all interviewers, effective interview practices – specific questions, understanding glare, leading, etc. (review Glare  )(Who They Hired).

Fourth, have a timeline. If you cannot determine a timeline, you are not ready to open the position. That timeline should be shared with applicants.

Use appropriate hiring methods; everyone benefits.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Leaders, supervisors, teachers, and parents – a little knowledge…

We often hear the phrase “ a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” To that was added” and so is a lot.” Although, this often brings a smile, it should be taken seriously. Of course, acquiring and retaining as much knowledge as possible is a wise thing.

That is not the problem.

The problem lies in what sometimes happens to us when we think we know a lot. Management, leadership, teachers, and even parents are not immune to this problem. In fact, this condition can be more impacting at that level.

First, when we have a lot of knowledge, information, or experience, sometimes we stop listening and learning. We think we have the answers. We fail to listen to those individuals who may view things from a different perspective, or deal more directly with the issue.

Second, we can forget where the real focus should be. It can shift too much on us and our priorities instead of what is best for the organization or the individual.

Since the mere title of CEO, director, supervisor or boss often flavors the opinions of some of those who work for you – you sit on the handle bars while everyone else pedals – actions that illustrate a lack of tolerance or interest in their opinions, can negatively affect production. As worker knowledge and input is not solicited or accepted, the leader’s effectiveness diminishes.

Perhaps we should modify the saying slightly. Perhaps it should say:” any knowledge – a little or a lot –  is only a good beginning and gives us an opportunity to listen and learn.

If you are a parent or a teacher, this principle fits well. Adults tend to talk too much and listen too little; try reversing that.

(See “Leadership” articles in the list to the right)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Ethics in pricing. . . or. . . it is how much?

The little plastic lever that actuates the water dispenser on the refrigerator, broke. Of course, this little device is not necessary for the operation of the refrigerator itself, but it is nice to have. Instead of incurring a service call that I assumed would be more expensive than the item, I decided to take care of it myself. As in most experiences,  this precipitated a learning chain.

First, I needed the part. Looking online revealed a price ranging from $80 to $120. Eighty to one-hundred and twenty dollars!  There must be some mistake. What I wanted was only a little piece of plastic. Nope! After looking everywhere, the conclusion: the little piece of plastic with a little light embedded, shipped, would be at least $100.

How fair was that price? What did it cost to make the item? Raw material, development, labor, etc. all cost. However, in my wildest dreams, I could not come up with a price approaching the ones quoted. I also noticed that the little tray at the bottom of the water dispenser cost $25.00 to replace. It is a stamped, plastic piece. But the experience did not stop there.

We needed a rack for the top of the vehicle. The price of a carrier rack – two bars running parallel – was  over $200. Simple math says that is a hundred dollars each bar! And, if you want crossbars or have it installed, the cost goes up.

Nor, is this price problem relegated to “things.” Services jump in next.

The bill for an MRI was $1120.00. However, because the individual had insurance, the cost was dropped to $444.53. Without that adjustment, the bill for someone who could not afford insurance was the total $1120.00, or $675.47 more than for the person who had insurance.

Does an MRI really cost less to use on a person with insurance and more to administer to a non-insured?

Of course, it is easy to throw rocks. However, ethical business practices and pricing should be built around some important questions: (1) How much does the item cost to produce or the service complexity require? (2) What is a fair percentage of profit? (3) Is the price fair for everyone?

There are laws that protect consumers from gross price manipulation. However, everything cannot be legislated. It is important that organizations and individuals operate using moral and ethical practices. The old “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” could be a nice addition to the organization’s policy book.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Help Balance

Appropriate balance is a critical key to survival and success. Balanced tires create a smoother ride while lengthening the life of the tire. Our very existence relies on the balance of the earth and its rotation in the solar system.

While a certain amount of imbalance can be tolerated, gross imbalance creates a destructive scenario – tires fall apart, societies crumble.

Balance is critical in business, education, and economics. Currently, there is a significant movement toward imbalance in the business and economic world. There is a growing disparity between the rich and the poor. According to the Stanford Center for the Study of Poverty, that imbalance is becoming more significant.

In the current situation there are record profits, record salaries and benefits for top management, yet, high unemployment, and some of the worst wages, and poorest benefits seen in decades for the average worker. According to the Wall Street Journal corporate travel is up 6.2% over last year. And many of those jets are going to resorts. As reported in the Washington Post, the executive paycheck has increased dramatically while worker pay remains low. For example, recently, a job applicant was offered a position by his previous employer at the rate he was originally hired at five years ago. That was below the salary he was paid when he left the company.

Exasperating the situation is a destructive myopic focus by leaders. The desire to achieve the greatest income and profit is focused not into the future, but today. There appears to be an “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” attitude.

Not only is this situation destructive and dangerous for the low end, it is counterproductive for the rich and upper class.

In a tight economic environment, it is critical that people make purchases. Those on the lower end of the financial spectrum are the real purchasers. If they have higher wages and more money to spend, they buy more expensive food, electronics, cars, pay off credit cards, etc.

The rich, on the other hand, are already spending what they need to maintain their livelihoods. They have already paid for their cars and homes. Instead of putting their money back into the system through purchases of goods and services, they are more likely to invest and to an attempt to increase their wealth.

The irony is that if the populace does not purchase goods and services, cannot afford cars and homes, is unable to pay off debts, ultimately, as recently experienced, the economic system plunges. That plunge affects the rich as well as the poor.

Help! The wheel is out of balance. It dangerously wobbles. It is critically important that organization leaders and executives pay attention and accept the responsibility to make a positive difference. It is important that instructors in business teach future focus and responsibility.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Maximize Success - Deception or A Better Way

To maximize success, every organization, business, and individual ought to evaluate what they do, how they do it, and why they do it. My objective in these articles is to suggest philosophies and practices to be examined. Some of these should be encouraged, maintained and proliferated. Others ought to be changed or eliminated.

Disagreeing with my opinion is totally appropriate; not being willing to examine your situation, is not. Drop your shield and any defensiveness, and take a look. Are there areas in which you might improve? You probably have some ideas and suggestions that might be of benefit to others. Feel free to contribute them; I will be happy to pass them on.

Deception or A Better Way

The operations of organizations and businesses run a spectrum from the most reliable and honest to the dishonest and illegal. Obviously, there are a lot of practices in between. It is not necessary to push ethics aside. It is not necessary to use deceptive practices; doing things right is not contrary to success. In fact, it has been my experience that the more ethical and honest operations can also be the most successful.

Let me share a couple of examples of deceptions that could be changed and not jeopardize success, in fact might increase it.

Free software
You need some special software. Perusing the web, you find some free software that will do the job. The downloaded program seems to work. But to complete the work, you discover that you must purchase the program.
Why did they not provided that information in the first place? Some do. Would it hurt sales? Are customers really more likely to buy a product when they have been “tricked” into loading it? My response is that nothing has been achieved and they have wasted my time. I will not purchase from them.

Financial institution – small print
You received an offer from a reputable financial institution allowing you to pay off other debts for a period at 0% interest. What a deal! Well, maybe.

On the back of those little checks and somewhere on the letter, in much smaller print, is the information that you will be charged a 4% transfer fee. That means the $20,000 you are going to transfer will cost $800 right up front. It still may be worth your while, but why the small print?

A less deceptive way
Like the salesman who before he makes you an offer, looks both ways as if he is concerned someone might hear, both of the examples seem a bit sneaky. I am much more inclined to deal with organizations and individuals that are straightforward. There is a lot of software sold with the listed price. Some explain that you are downloading a limited version.

The financial institution might actually use the transfer fee to their advantage particularly if they can capitalize on it. For example, they could advertise their 0% interest with a “lower than other institutions 3.99% transfer fee,” and make that proclamation in a normal sized print.

No one likes to feel they have been deceived or misled. I use the word “feel”because like the software price and the transfer fee, it is not the number but the way it is presented.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Careful with Policies

In every business and organization it is important to have policies. However, sometimes policies can get in the way. Additionally, sometimes too many policies can be a problem.

I was asked to accept a position where there was considerable turmoil. That particular enterprise had a policy book approximately 3 inches thick. A procedure book that provided instructions on how to follow the policies took up another 3 inches. Obviously, no one could remember all of the policies and exactly how they were to be enacted or maintained, or even if there was a policy on a particular issue. Many of these policies were necessary and helpful. Others were not necessary and created a legal concern. Let me explain.

When a policy is created, adopted, and included in policy books or written contracts, it is assumed it will be followed. That applies to each and every policy. Should you not follow all of your policies, then attempt to take strong action on others, you make them all legally vulnerable. That is, in court, inconsistency in following policy weakens the argument in a policy adherence dispute. It can be successfully argued that because of the lack of consistency in following policies, it would be difficult for those affected to know which policies were seriously adhered to, and which were not.

Let me make a couple of suggestions.

First, determine those areas that need absolute control. For example, who is given the combination to the safe. What specific restrictions, requirements, and controls must be followed. In hiring practices, what is required of a new employee – I 9, etc.

Second, in those areas where specific legal requirements are not needed, general procedures will suffice. For example, in hiring, your usual process may be to include a number of individuals reviewing candidates. This process may also include the stipulation that the final decision will be made by the HR. Director. This process does not need to be in policy. In fact, in hiring for a highly technological position, the HR person may defer final decision to someone skilled in that area.

Perhaps it is time to review your policy manual and/or contractual agreements; there may be changes you would like to make

[Next article: Policy, Practice and Common Sense]

Saturday, June 25, 2011

All About People


Welcome to the blog  focused on helping people succeed, and  helping organizations succeed through people.  To those who have followed me on the Examiner, you will note that I will not be sending you any more Examiner connections; I am no longer with them.  I will keep you on my e-mail list for this blog. Of course, any time you wish to have your name removed, you need only ask.

The bottom line is that people are the key to  the success of every organization, business, and enterprise.  In fact, this philosophy  can be summarized in a simple formula: GNSP = HLOS.  That Stands for the Greater Number of Successful People equals the Higher  Level of Organizational Success. I have yet to find an exception to that rule. However, I often find practices and procedures that just do not line up with that formula.

I invite you to review the materials on this blog. You might take a moment and watch the YouTube presentation on The Wrong Bottom Line or read one of the articles on leadership or success.  The article I published in the Examiner a week or two ago called the Rich Get Richer was followed by a very similar  more lengthy article  in the Washington Post  published June 18 (
This concern is becoming – and should be – a national concern.

 I invite your input, suggestions, and opinions.