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Ladies and Gentlemen and Children of All Ages

circus tent

Yes, that’s the Ringmaster’s introductory call opening The Greatest Show on Earth. Remember the heartstopping thrill of seeing that tall, top-hat-and-red-jacket-wearing mastershowperson demanding quiet and awe from the crowd starting the grand parade with brass band blaring, clowns, animals, exotically clad performers waving and marching around the tent or stadium floor. Thrilling, wasn’t it? Gosh, I can still taste the cotton candy and peanuts. And when we create a marketing event, even if it is a very serious marketing event, it will be more successful if we can make, even one small part of it, seem like a circus.

I’ve been to far too many open houses, ribbon cuttings, expo’s, and trade shows that are so dull it seems everyone was an actor in a zombie movie instead of an energized, passionate, gregarious, ambassador of good will and an evangelist for the presenting business and don’t get me started on the sterile ambiance and generic, ordinary, blah food.

The reason I bring this up is because many companies and professional offices hold events – open houses, customer appreciations, etc. during the holidays and plans are being finalized right now. It’s not too late to think a little deeper and I beseech you to look at every aspect of your event with a question: “What can we do to create a lasting, positive impact from this event?”

Are you replicating last year’s event? Same decorations, same food selection, same layout of tables, chairs, and balloon centerpieces? What can you do that will surprise and delight your guests, fill them with awe, make them remember your company and your event in a couple days, weeks, and months? If so, congratulations! If not, then why are you bothering to have the event? “Because we always have this event” isn’t a viable answer.

Making your event memorable (for good things) will take a little brainstorming and creativity. It could be something as small as replacing those tired cheese cubes with a “tasting plate” of exotic cheeses. Yes, it will cost a bit more, but for just a little more you will bring a little of the circus to your place and your guests.

Do it (YAWN) or Strive for More!

I was writing an article and was about to use the word “strive.” As I typed, I wondered if I really understood the word and whether I was about to use it correctly. Chuckling that this would have made my sophomore English Composition teacher fall over in amazement followed by a thud as she fainted, I found that it means: “make great efforts to achieve or obtain something.” Satisfied that my definition was pretty close, I kept typing and then thought about the implications of “striving.”

“Striving” is more engaging than just “doing.” In order to “strive” we’ve got to have a goal, otherwise we are just “doing.” When a “doer” works on a task they get it done and it is probably done correctly, but the work is usually ordinary because they are just robotically going through the motions. There is very little passion or pride in “doing.”

When a “doer” goes home after work and answers the “what went on at work today” question they can say, “Same old stuff.” But the “striver” has a goal and is “striving” to accomplish it. They concentrate on their tasks investing something of themselves, adding creativity and passion to do it better. I guarantee that the “striver’s” answer to that question will be different – quite different.
• My team beat our previous record and made twenty extra widgets!
• I solved the design problem I told you about yesterday with an elegant and cost-effective solution!
• We argued over a strategy initiative and reached a great decision!
• I negotiated a purchase contract and was able to get most of what I needed!

Contrast the differences in enthusiasm and engagement, the voice volume and inflection, the posture and body language, the gestures and level of excitement between the statements of the “doer” and the “striver.” On top of that, if I were a betting man, I’d wager that the “doer” is bushed at the end of the day because of tedium and boredom while the “striver” is energized because of a (mostly) fulfilled day and is proud of the day’s accomplishments.

Do it or have a goal and strive to reach it.

For want of a nail the war was lost

We all know the parable about how a war was lost because a nail holding on a horseshoe caused a horse and rider to be lost which then caused the army to lose the battle and ultimately, the war. I don’t know if that’s a true story or not but it came to my mind after I wrote a column a few weeks ago about the architect Mies van der Rohe saying “God is in the details.”

The point is that there are no small details.

The O rings on the Challenger spacecraft were details compared to the size and complexity of the rocket and because of the faulty O ring a spacecraft and crew were lost.

The smile (or lack thereof) of a receptionist in an office is a detail communicating the mood of that office to someone walking in who immediately decides to buy there or somewhere else.
I could write thousands of paragraphs like the two above but I’m sure that you get the point. The fact is that everything you do, sell, and say (or don’t say) are like that nail holding on the horseshoe. If that nail holds, the customer is satisfied and the war is won (at least for the moment).

A great manager I know has a written checklist of every nook and cranny of the group he manages. It lists areas to inspect, reports to review, supply inventories, and much more. He has a certain number of these to check on every week. This list helps him oversee every detail in a timely fashion so everything looks good, everything runs smoothly, and this allows him and his staff extra time to market and produce their products and services and to deliver on their promises.
It took him years to create and refine his checklist and it is still a work in progress. He knows this has been worth the effort because the details are covered and he is not going to lose the war for want of a nail. Isn’t it time you check your details?

Good Things Happen When High Standards Are Set

The performance difference between companies (and sports teams, educational organizations, non-profits, professional firms, etc.) with high standards compared to those with lower, or no standards is amazing. It is visible to a casual observer and very obvious to customers and prospects. The difference is apparent when seen in person – like walking into a store, office, warehouse, even the parking lot. It’s apparent in the way the telephone is answered, by a smiling, engaged voice or with a flat, dull attitude. I could use all the space on this page to continue to list differences between high and low standard companies but you undoubtedly can list them also.
The real question is “How do “high standards” companies get that way and how do they maintain their standards?”
High standards start at the top. The leader sets those standards and communicates expectations to the key people who then communicate them throughout the organization, no matter whether the whole organization consists of one person or thousands. They train people on the standards, create metrics and review procedures to insure the standards are maintained and enforced. If, or when, it is found that standards are not being maintained, remedial action is activated. I know this sounds simple, but it isn’t. It takes a constant, never-ending effort to accomplish year-in and year-out. But the benefits are enormous.
In general, businesses (et al) with high standards enjoy higher customer satisfaction and greater customer loyalty, lower levels of staff turnover and a happier workforce, better reputations and more referrals, and higher profit margins which allows for greater investment in growth because customers are, typically, willing to pay a little more to get the results and benefits of those higher standards. The result is a more sustainable, more profitable, and more enjoyable business for all concerned.
All that said, assuming leadership is able to create and articulate those higher standards, it has to be realized this isn’t a “snap-the-fingers-and-it-happens” project. It takes patience, fortitude and gumption to get higher standards in place and achieved but when it works very good things will happen.

Published in The Northwest Indiana Times November 15, 2015

Does your car know the time?

The change to (or from) Daylight Savings Time is always accompanied with some trauma that comes from the task of resetting all our clocks. It seems that no two timepieces or appliances use the same resetting system (I’m sure that there is a conspiracy at work here to keep us confused at least half the year) and few people are organized enough to find the manuals that come with the microwave, DVD, and alarm clock. For some reason the conspiracy to keep us “Daylight Savings Time Challenged” is most successful at keeping us from being able to reset the clocks in our increasingly complex electronically enhanced cars. Continue reading

Think outside the cup and saucer

There were four of us at dinner. Three ordered “regular” coffee, the fourth requested “decaf.” Every so often a server, carrying two pitchers, refilled the coffee cups and knowingly poured three cups from one pitcher and one from the other. He never asked who wanted which type of coffee.

As we were leaving, one of us asked the server how he knew which of us preferred “decaf.” “Simple, the three of you drinking “regular” coffee have black cups with white saucers, we serve “decaf” in white cups with black saucers.” Inside thinking outside the box these people have been thinking outside the cup and saucer. Continue reading

Prove your commitment when they complain

Businesses like to brag in their advertising about quality of work, commitment to their customers, and excellent service. These statements are also proudly advanced in Mission, Vision, and Values Statements. They are foundational to success.

But, let’s face it we all occasionally make misteaks (misspelling intentional) and, even in the best of companies, anger a loyal customer. If we are lucky, we have built up enough “satisfaction-equity” with miffed customers that they will take the time and effort to complain, giving us the opportunity to correct the situation instead of them just silently defecting to the competition. Continue reading

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