Monthly Archive: July 2011

Deliberately catch people doing things right


Maintaining a world-beating culture can be as easy as doing a bunch of little things regularly.

Take for example the simple process of deliberately catching people doing things right.

None of us are total strangers to giving positive feedback. But generally, and rather sadly, we’re more given to voicing the negatives and letting the positives slide by. You might simply give one of your people a knowing wink and a nod when they do something right because they’re really just doing their job, but give them a solid dressing down when they do something wrong because you’re very focused on changing that behaviour.

Making the change however to praising good work, even when it falls within the bounds of the basic job description, can have a very motivating effect, as you can imagine.

But you can take it a whole lot further than that by making it part of your role to catch people doing things right, every day and having a regular weekly gathering where you thank them for that good work in front of the entire company or department or team.

It’s heady stuff and it can have some very sexy results.

People start to like it which is no surprise, but that carries into their attitude at work. The kind of place where they feel recognised is the kind of place people like to be.

They also start to see what the people around them are doing and develop a better understanding of their colleagues roles where they otherwise may genuinely have no real clue.

And you create a culture where encouragement, not censorship, is the norm. In that environment, it’s the rare person who is happy not to be regularly recognised.

But it’s advice that must come with a warning: you’re going to have to put in some work if you want to get the benefits and not suffer any negative results from this.

Catching people doing things right means finding EVERYONE doing something right at least pretty regularly. The person that is never recognised is going to resent the people that are recognised all the time … and they’re going to resent you too. Not everyone is so obviously easy to praise however; roles fulfilled by the admin clerk are never going to have the sex-appeal of the latest breathtaking commerical performance of your leading salesperson.

That means you’re going to have to really look; really pay attention to what your people are doing.

But that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

Culture Hero: Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos. ‘Happiness’s best friend is kindness’

Zappos founder Tony Hsieh has made around $500 million by some estimates, by being happy.

He even wrote a book about it. Not sure how much he made off that, but it hit the New York Times best seller list at #1 and stayed on the list for 27 weeks, according to Wikipedia.

You have to be impressed by that.

But to talk about his financial success is to fundamentally miss the point. Hsieh (pronounced Shay if you’re struggling) has been successful because he has focused on doing the right thing, being nice and encouraging niceness in others and putting customer delight ahead of every single other thing … including profits.

The results are what can only be considered a real-world slap-in-the-face to anyone who believes business success is best achieved through bullying, intimidation, scheming, power-plays or underhandedness.

I’m personally in love with that concept because in a working / business career spanning some 20 years now, I’ve seen almost every example of ‘management and leadership’ failure possible and have had occasion often to observe that those failures usually come about at the hands of one of the five sins listed above.

Hsieh suggests that if you want happy people, happy customers and other happy relationships, being kind is usually the best place to start. If you’re kind to people, they tend to be more reasonable and even perhaps, overtly kind back. That makes everyone involved happy and we’re all way more inclined to go the extra step for one another when we’re happy. It’s like a chain reaction of feel-good over-achievement waiting to be let loose.

The same can be said of course for being an asshole to people. If you’re wondering why it is you can’t get what  you want out of your people or why customers tend not to buy from you again, it won’t hurt to take a second look at how you treat each other.

An example from Hsieh’s playbook for how it can go right is that the Zappos call centre, a very fundamental part of the Zappos experience, never uses call scripts and never measures such things as average call times. His view is that  calls are not an expense the business should think about minimising, but rather its #1 branding opportunity.

“When someone calls in, you have ten minutes with them on the phone to really reshape their world and create an experience they remember for the rest of their lives, if you do it right,” he said in 2009, shortly before he sold Zappos to Amazon, having built it from zero to $1.2-billion in sales in just ten years.

In other words, you make a point of going out of your way – no matter how long that might take – to make the customer happy and you’ve got a real shot at a very successful business.

Sounds easy when you think of it … offers a seriously cool service

Thanks! Cheap? Maybe not. Not certain. But in two-and-a-half working days (I uploaded the artwork on Wednesday afternoon, got a message they’d been dispatched on Friday afternoon and the cards arrived mid-day today) I got (pic. 1) two very nicely packaged boxes of 50 cards each, brilliantly printed (pic. 2) front and back with a beautiful laminate and a really great feel. Seriously, they just look the business (pic. 3) and I am looking forward to spreading them around the world.

The boxes themselves are perhaps a little too big for your pocket, but they’re sturdy and will keep your cards nicely protected and come with an additional nice touch: ‘theirs’ and ‘mine’ dividers so when you exchange cards, you have somewhere to place the ones you collect.

Will I use again? You bet your ass. I don’t know what competing services offer so perhaps I’d benefit from shopping around. Frankly though, with an experience like this, I’m not going to bother. I’m really happy.

Just for the record, this is a totally voluntary and independent review and I paid cash for my cards!

Institutionalise the act of sharing

How well does your business share?

Not with the outside world, though I hope it does something to prove itself a brilliant and responsible corporate citizen.

I mean internally. Specifically, what is the process for making sure selfishness stays outside the door and information flows freely between you and the people you work with or even manage?

In my previous role as the Publisher of SALESGURU in South Africa, a company I still co-own, I used to wonder often about the processes companies had for bringing information back to the team once they had paid to send people to some of our live training events.

Often, to my dismay, there was an attitude that training was about fulfilling a promise to staff rather than taking an opportunity to improve the whole team. Ten out of 50 people would go to the event and when those ten people returned, they would go back to their desks with little comment other than that they enjoyed it and learned some cool new stuff.

All well and good, but fundamentally a lost opportunity, wouldn’t you say?

It’s probably true that no business can afford the fees or the downtime to send the entire team to an event or on training or to watch a speaker talk no matter how relevant the topic.

But regardless of how many people you send, you’re making an investment and not protecting that investment would seem to be undefendably wasteful. The more dwell on this, the more I am convinced that institutionalising the act of sharing should be a critical part of any company’s culture.

When you select people to go on training, explain they have a duty not only to learn, but to participate in teaching the team all that they learned while they were there. That you trust them to be the best people to confidently and competently report back on their new knowledge and share it with those who remained behind.

And share the wealth. Everyone gets a chance, everyone carries the same responsibility. By upping the ante, not only will those you send out to learn be duty bound to pay more attention to the new information they’re being given, you’ll create an opportunity for responsibility to one another.

That can only be good …

Why it’s time to chuck out the door

It’s one of the most over-used phrases in business: “My door is always open.”

It sounds inviting and encouraging, and to the uninitiated it’s even impressive. The first time I heard that as a young newbie in a business organisation, I was warmed from my toes to my head. What an organisation! What a place, where the boss makes a point of inviting you to come and have a chat whenever the need arises! How can you not be successful in a place like that?

Well as I discovered relatively soon, those were just words. Actually, his door was closed quite a lot of the time. Either physically, on its hinges, or by a gruffness in his voice and a look of withering disdain as you tried to approach.

As I have moved on to run teams of people and even found and develop business organisations of my own, I’ve discovered that it is sometimes desirable to just emulate that first boss of mine because otherwise your time can get sucked away very quicklty. And time is in high demand as an entrepreneur.

What I have never been able to get around though; what I have never been able to forget; is the sense of disassociation the entire team had with the ‘open door’ management structure simply because there were doors in the first place.

A door, whether open or closed, whether physical or imagined, is a barricade. Plain and simple.

Which is why I have never, ever had an office. As a leading partner in a business, as an entrepreneur, as the editor of magazines, I have always chosen to sit on the floor among the people. And there are several reasons for this:

1) I like them. I like the people, God help me! I am one of the masses, huddled and yearning to be free and I think they can do as much for me as I can for them.

2) I hear everything. Everything. When you’re on the floor, every snippet of conversation comes to your ears and the advantage that gives you in being able to sense when a problem might be arising or when there is an opportunity to praise someone for work that would otherwise go unnoticed is nothing short of monumental.

3) I can deal with things quickly. Very quickly. If you don’t have to walk up and knock and wait for permission to enter, you quickly get to the point where you’re happy to shout “Hey, Colin, how should I handle such-and-such a thing …?” from across the room. Since I don’t have too many phantom respect-issues, I really enjoy the familiarity. It doesn’t change the decision-making heirarchy one bit.

4) I love the energy of the floor. The organisation is all about its energy and I’ll be damned if I am going to let it fizz and pop all around me while I close myself away.

Now you may not be able to truly move your office to a desk on the floor or a cubicle in the middle of a farm. Perhaps that’s just more than you can do and maybe there are bigger reasons for your reluctance. But let me give every leader one piece of advice that I have learned and that I know to be absolutely huge: spend time with your people. Real time. Not just a quarterly monologue. Not just a weekly pep-talk.

Remove the door. It’s amazing when you do.

Exceprt from the upcoming 52-weeks to an enduring company culture (a guide for entrepreneurs) (working title) by Colin Browne and Daryn Basson.

Your best chance is to just do it …

I don’t know if there’s some great tumbling drum of ideas out there in the universe looking for a brain to land in or whether great ideas are borne of a collective observation of common circumstances. I do know however that many times in my life, I’ve witnessed great ideas that I thought were mine, brought to life by someone more proactive, inventive or just plain less lazy than I am.

Among the ideas I came up with first (no, but really!!!): pizza cones you can eat on the move (someone else made a fortune on these), round beach towels with an umbrella hole in the middle so you never have to move your towels around as the shadows change (I saw these in a shop last year … well done whoever made it happen …) and protein shakers with a spring ball inside to power up the mixing (I didn’t imagine it to look quite like the one I recently bought, but the idea is the same).

I guess most people can say the same sorts of things. What’s most irritating is when everything comes together so quickly; when you hit upon a great idea for a sure-fire hit movie and then see the poster for the same idea in the tube, 15-minutes later; the movie already made and the critics already celebrating it.

Being a little more down-to-earth however, I’m increasingly convinced that really excellent ideas are often less about the thinking and more about the quick execution. Ideas, it seems, are out there, brewing in the minds of other people equally as observant as you of a suddenly yawing gap begging to be bridged.

One of you is going to get there first and it probably isn’t the one that spends a lot of time thinking about it.

I’ve seen this in business a lot. What’s worse, I’ve witnessed other faster-moving entrepreneurs bring ideas to market first that my business partners and I have been bashing around, only they’ve done it far less well than we intended.

Sometimes that doesn’t matter however. First  is everything. At least for the initial, excited run of sales.

I’m not certain that speed is the answer to everything. I’m certain that constantly taking action is however. In business, in life, in love … in everything.

I guess the smart plan is that if you stumble upon a great idea, imagine that somebody else has done the same, and that the clock is running. If you sit on it, you can probably kiss it goodbye.