Passing The Ball

When I hear someone say they are passing the ball, I think of the game of Basketball.  In basketball no one person is in charge of winning the game, it is a team effort.  The same would go for a relay race where the runners pass the baton.  Each decision on when to pass is the key to winning, and in the world of business we should take the time to consider when to pass too.

“I think we’ll pass…..” is an over used reason not to consider an alternative method for getting things done, or for accepting help.  It says to the receiver that for some unknown reason, (or one I’m not sharing with you) that we are not interested.  At times it makes sense to pass up an idea or help if you cannot afford the different path.  But what happens when there is no cost involved.

Every once in a while I feel generous with my time because I see a company struggling with something that I know I can fix, and when fixed it would allow them to move forward.  Kind of like knowing how to unplug a dam in the river to get the water moving again.  So I offer my assistance without any fee.

Recently I noticed a local bank trying to hire a training manager.  They have been looking for over three months, and in southern California it should not take that long with our high unemployment.  I offered to talk with the HR Manager by phone so I would better understand their needs, and then find among my many contacts people who could fit their needs.

The response was, “thank you for your kind offer, but I think we’ll pass…….” which of course means we are not interested and we are not telling you why.

Now I’m not upset at losing business because I wasn’t going to charge them anything.  I just know that when the decision was made to hire a training manager, at the same time the decision was made to develop employees.  The longer it takes to find a training manager, the longer the delay in developing the staff.  I wanted to help them remove the dam blocking the flow of the river.

I guess the idea of helping people pro bono is thought to only occur in the world of attorneys, so when others do it there must be an ulterior motive.  My motive was to build goodwill, and maybe get business in the future or a referral.  Neither is guaranteed and this HR Manager should have taken me up on the free help.  She has nothing to lose and everything to gain.

“I think we’ll pass” allows the hiring process to linger.  My guess is there is no urgency to hire a training manager, which is too bad since a lot of employees lose out the longer this process takes.

The next time you are all set to pass on an idea, or assistance from someone, please take the time to reflect on how you win or lose.  In basketball, knowing when to pass the ball or hang on to it can make all the difference to who will win the game, and in business the results are not all that different.

Being Polite to Strangers

Everyone reading this blog knows that I am an independent consultant.  That means that I am a small business owner, that makes my living providing services.  It also means that as an individual I am a consumer too.  I tell you all of this as what may appear obvious, but has escaped a lot of my recent interactions with local bankers.

I launched a campaign to introduce myself to several hundred senior leaders in banking in my local geography.  I used a low threat message that invited people to learn more in a 15 minute telephone conversation.  In most cases my message went completely unanswered, although I could confirm all messages had been delivered to an inbox and not a junk folder.

So first off, a majority of bankers were not interested in what I had to offer as a service, which of course was expected from such a campaign.  But what a majority of bankers also said by completely ignoring me was that I did not matter to them as a potential business and/or personal customer.

Now out of those that did respond, I was expecting responses that engaged with me, or at the very least were supportive.  And yet I discovered that people respond in a positive and negative way.

  • Most were polite, and gave me a credible reason why they were not interested in what I had to offer, and some just took the time to thank me for my information.
  • One Bank as a whole responded that while they had these services in-house, they wished me well with a worthwhile service.  I received over 15 such responses from the same bank!
  • One Bank was the polar opposite of the last one, has the same market as the other, and also specializes in small business banking, but their tone was dismissive and that I was bothering them.  In 90% of those responses I was told in several different ways I was an interruption to their day.
  • Lastly, a single CEO of a small bank said things I will not repeat here, safe to say he was over the top rude.

Now while all of these people have every right to respond the way they want to, I was puzzled that only a single bank was focused on service, and random others overall saw me as a potential customer someday.  Most probably would be interested in me if I walked through their doors, but that will never happen because when they had the chance to treat me with respect they failed.

How do your employees treat the people that they meet?  Are your employees focused on customer service 24/7 or only when they are on the clock?

Learning From Observing

I’ve often said that most people develop their leadership style through a combination of what they like in their relationships with other people and from what they don’t like.  Some of the most caustic and ego-centric people have taught me more about how I don’t want to act over some of the best role models I’ve encountered.

In the world of training consulting, I would die happy if I could ever achieve the star quality of Ken Blanchard, especially with his gift for connecting with people.  He is probably the brightest and best role model I have had since I entered the training field some 22 years ago.

And although I use Ken as a measuring stick for my own performance, I still seem to learn more from observing those I’ve met that I hope to never act like.  The speakers and authors with the oversized egos that seem nice on stage, and then treat you like dust under their feet when you meet.  Or the manager that talks about being accessible, until you need their time.  The type that talks a good talk and walks in the other direction.

I recently parted ways with someone who I had really admired for her dedication to her topic and her success.  Yet I was told that I wasn’t at her level, and thus we could not associate in a professional capacity.  I was not really her peer, and yet when I achieved more success I was free to contact her again.  My Mom would be proud of what I didn’t say in return.  (“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”)

Nothing like getting kicked in the gut to gain your attention.  I am no longer inspired by her, and I have renewed energy about staying true to myself and for not getting too big for my britches.  (Another Mom saying)  If there was ever a polar opposite of Ken I had just hung up the phone with her.

So when you blend a Ken Blanchard, with someone like this other example, I see the person I want to be.  It forms an outline of what works best for me.  And when you blend all of the good role models, with all of the bad role models I think you come up with something that really fits you best.

If you don’t already have a list of qualities that you desire, and a list of qualities you want to avoid, I suggest you start one.  Learn from observing all the people you interact with from your past, present and future.  Become the best you can be from the best and worst around you.


Poor Performance Management

I’ve discovered a new way to manage performance being practiced in a lot of retail, and restaurants these days, and is working well with the current Y Generation that is unaware of the manipulation being played on them.  It has its roots in a tactic called “Forced Resignation” and yet is so sly it is passing under HR radar all over the place.

We all know that most “first jobs” are part-time jobs.  The retail industry and the fast-food industry employ a lot of first time workers and many are providing a great working environments, and yet more and more a darker technique for performance management is being used instead of traditional methods.

Let’s begin with a framework that describes one of these traditional methods.  We call it a conversation with the employee about their performance.  Maybe it is dress-code, customer service, sales results, or attendance standards.  Managers will sit down and discuss the requirements, their observations and get the employee’s feedback.  A performance plan and agreement is in place and we all go back to work.  Simple and straight forward, good performance management.

Enter the poor version used by many managers today.  The process begins by over hiring of part-time staff.  Each is promised something like “up to 20 hours a week” and for several weeks they all get close to the 20 hours.  Over time if the hiring has been productive, there is a natural slacking of those hours because too many people are sharing the available hours.  But how does a manager explain cutting a dozen or so to 3 hours a week all of a sudden, and permanently?

One manager told me just last week that it is the easiest way to cull out the bad performers.  In fact, scheduling no hours is faster, but often raises a flag to corporate if it goes on for more than a few weeks, so the better technique is to just give the employee a reason to seek employment else ware.  Although I should have been shocked, I have witnessed this technique many other times.  This guy was just brash enough to share it with me.

Management justifies having 10 employees working 4 hours a week, over 2 employees each having 20 hours as a way to manage staff needs.  When business gets crazy they can yank on all of these chains and in come the employees.  With unemployment numbers still high (and 3 hours a week counts as an employed person) the feeling is that there are plenty more people to hire if everyone quits.

This poor approach does not work with the Baby-Boomer or X Generations.  Why?  Because these folks know the rules, and push back when abused.  Management knows better than to expose themselves to lawsuits and a public relations nightmare.

Not only is this an HR issue, it is a Senior Management issue.  Any operation that allows these tactics to go unaltered deserves to be exposed.  And someday there just might be someone brave enough to publish a list of companies our children should avoid working for, and we should avoid patronizing.

What are your thoughts?