Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I’m In Voicemail Hell

Voicemail. Oh, don’t get me started . . . too late. I just dread pushing those couple of little buttons on the phone to get my messages because I just KNOW that at least one of them is going to have me wanting to shoot myself in the temple before the caller has finished his message.

Voicemail was invented in the late ‘70s by Gordon Matthews. I’m sure he thought he was contributing something really spectacular to the business world. But I don’t think he could have imagined the abuse his little office miracle would be getting 30-some years later.

There’s a good chance that you, and everyone you know, has been in a voicemail nightmare. It’s not a place that you want to get to know. Leaving messages should be a very simple and SHORT process. They’re not meant to get everything off your chest. Be PREPARED, prior to making your call, to leave a coherent and concise message if the person doesn’t answer.

When leaving messages, have mercy on your listeners and do the following:
1. Speak slooowwwly and clearrrly and leave your phone number at the beginning AND the end of your message. Please save us from having to listen to the whole message twice in order to get your number.
2. Limit your comments to one or two quick subjects.
3. If you find yourself rambling, for the sake of my sanity (and your reputation), stop yourself and re-record the message.
4. If you need some type of action, simply state what you need. Voicemails that simply say, “call me” are just plain irritating . . . and may possibly be ignored. Give a short sentence or two about WHY you want me to call you.

And while we’re on the subject (soapbox) of phones, you know that little speaker button on your phone? FORGET you have one. If I wanted to call you AND everyone in your cube farm, I would have made a conference call.

When used properly, voicemail can improve communications dramatically. It can be a great asset. Just think about what it would be like if YOU were getting your message.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wah - Get Over It

We all have at least one person we work with that just crawls under our skin (and slowly eats away at our very being – did I write that out loud?). It ends up affecting the morale of your other employees who get tired of having to constantly hear and see the skirmish. What’s worse are the two employees that come to you "telling" on the other one. Don’t you just want to say “Wah!” sometimes? It takes up a lot of time to deal with them. But you have to deal with them a bit more judiciously.

You – the leader – have to take control of the situation BEFORE it gets out of hand. While conflict in any environment is inevitable, when it goes unchecked and effects the workplace environment, it’s getting to be too late to deal with it quickly. It’s always easier to resolve the disputes before they become problems.

Here are a couple of things that you can do to help the situation turn around:
1st, Bring the two employees together so you can:
• show them how their behavior is affecting their colleagues and workplace,
• advise them that anything that’s interfering with a nice pleasant workplace (that you’ve tried so hard to develop) must be resolved,
• remind them that they’re both valuable employees and that you’re confident that they can resolve their differences and be able to work together (give them the benefit of the doubt),
• get their COMMITMENT to work out their differences so they can work together, and
• ensure that they understand the seriousness of the problem and that – here’s the KEY - while they don’t have to like each other, you do expect them to learn to work together.
And don’t forget to DOCUMENT everything – just in case.

2nd, Review the options with your problem children employees:
• They can work it out on their own.
• You can meet with them to address the issues.
• You can bring in a mediator to work with them to resolve the issues.
• They can refuse to work on the issues, in which case, you will be accepting their resignations in the morning (tough love).

It’s never easy, or desirable, to have to deal with these types of issues. But a good leader is going to be ready for it. This is something that you can plan on happening at some point in time. Stash this little checklist away and be ready to pull it out at the earliest onset of a problem – don’t let it get to the full on problem stage and you’ll have a much easier time dealing with it, all the way around.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Try These Words On For Size

Knowing the right way to communicate is important because, as the good leader that you are, you coach, coordinate, counsel, evaluate, and supervise through it. It’s the chain that keeps you connected with the members of your team. It’s not really all that hard either, no matter what you may think.

Often leaders shy away from simple lists of suggestions and guidelines. They’ve seen it all, heard it all, and know it all. Yet by following a few basic suggestions we can become better leaders and enhance our communication skill tremendously.

Most managers try to get “buy-in” from their staff. Try this for a change – rather than getting buy-in from people, get them engaged by allowing “input”. Instead of spending your time trying to influence them, help them to feel more a part of the organization or process by making them feel like their opinion matters.

I recently read the following countdown to the most important words you can use as a leader but unfortunately the author is unknown.
- The six most important words:
"I admit I made a mistake."
- The five most important words: "You did a good job."
- The four most important words: "What is your opinion?"
- The three most important words: "If you please."
- The two most important words:
"Thank you,"
- The one most important word:
- The least important word: "I"

Effective leaders recognize the importance of good – and honest – communication (like admitting fault). Communication problems can cause bottlenecks in the organization. The next time you’re tempted to blame staff for bottlenecks, stop and examine a bottle. Take a little note of where the neck is. HINT: It’s not at the bottom.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Delivering Happiness

This week I’m breaking with “tradition” a bit in order to write a review of a new book. Like I’ve mentioned before, I received an advance copy of Tony Hsieh’s (CEO of upcoming book – it’s actually released today – Delivering Happiness: A Path To Profits, Passion, and Purpose. Let me just tell you this – it’s a must read.

Many books on business jump right into the business at hand without a lot of early background. Tony takes us on a journey from his early childhood entrepreneur beginnings to the billion dollar success of He tells us about his money making ideas as a child, including making buttons (which he advertised in Boys Life) and selling greeting cards. He manages to take us “mid-agers” right down Memory Lane.

We get an inside look at how Zappos grew, following Tony’s sale of LinkExchange (to Microsoft) in 1989 for $275 million dollars. Eventually all of the money would be gone as a bunch of friends tried (and succeeded) to keep afloat a company they dearly believed in. During that time, Tony would grow a relationship with a friend that may be seen accompanying him, to this day, to “breakfast, lunch, and dinner”. That friend being a little drink called Red Bull.

The ups and downs that the Zappos team went through prior to becoming a real success story would have been enough to cause most mere mortals to give up. Not so here. Zappos has a close, family-like, relationship that embraces every employee. They work together, play together, drink together, and basically have fun together.

Zappos’ main focus has always been on customers. The customer experience is literally number one on their list. I challenge you to find another company that allows returns, with free shipping - for an entire year. Do any of the internet companies you work with automatically upgrade to next day shipping? Free of charge?

Sure Tony and friends have made mistakes along the way. But they learned valuable lessons with each one of them. Most notably was that you “never outsource your core competencies”. If you want the best warehouse – run it yourself. If you want the best customer service – take the calls yourself.

Probably the best example of all of how important and transparent the customer experience is, is the Zappos Culture Book (I have one). They put together a hardbound culture book that includes comments from employees, customers, partners and even vendors. Included are the good AND bad comments. Again – how many companies do you know that would do that? Needless to say, most comments ARE good. The book is described as a short-term expense for a long term investment. Get one for free at

Now I could go into so many more examples and stories, like the 10 Core Values, or the leadership training available to everyone, but I don’t want to take anything away from your reading experience. If you’re interested in employee motivation, leadership development, corporate culture, or just Zappos in general, do yourself a favor and head out to your local bookstore (or go to and pick up a copy. Then grab a Red Bull, sit back, and enjoy.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

So. How Am I Doin?

This is a question that your staff shouldn’t have to ask you. If you’re “managing by wondering around” (MBWA) and giving clear concise FEEDBACK, they shouldn’t have to. But many leaders do put off giving feedback to staff even though they know that giving and getting honest feedback is essential for growth and development of successful staff and organizations. Hmmm. Maybe it’s because there are so many ways to mess it up and people just don’t know the most effective way make it right.

I know, I know. You’ve heard all the tips and common mistakes for feedback. Well, you must be an expert then. Wrong. I’m continually finding new and interesting twists. And here’s one now. In an article by Brian Ward called "How To Provide Feedback", he gives these five easy tips:

1 - Never just 'deliver feedback'. Feedback should be part of a larger process which includes coaching for superior performance. Feedback is ONE step in that process.

2 - Provide feedback to the whole person. Treat each person as a whole person, not just the part that you observe that needs attention. The person receiving feedback isn’t broken, and they don't need to be fixed. Provide praise and reinforcement when you catch them doing something right, as well as feedback when they are off track.

3 - Make feedback a conversation, not a lecture. Keep it conversational. If a conversation does not happen naturally, then back off and ask yourself and the other person a simple question "what are you feeling (or thinking) right now?"

4 - Think about their goals as well as yours. Discuss the feedback in the context of what will make the person more successful. Don't just concentrate on your goals or the company's goals. That makes the conversation too one-sided. If the person has no goals, then . . . that's what you need to address first.

5 - Finish on a positive note. Okay, so some feedback sessions may not finish that way. But you have to ask yourself why that's so . . . is it because you've let the issues compound, and perhaps it’s gone too far? Either way, offer support to the person as a way to stay in the picture. Never let them struggle alone . . . stay close to them and coach, coach, coach!

If you’re not doing these things then who is? Probably no one, I’d imagine. You OWE it to your staff, yourself, and your organization to make good feedback part of your continuous development regime.