The Only Constant is Change

Author Peter DeHaanBy Peter DeHaan

As I look back, I see how things have changed. I have changed, my family has changed, technologies have changed, my business has changed, and the industries I work in have changed.

In today’s business environment, a culture of change is essential for every organization. In my younger days, I would recommend change for the sheer fun of it. Now, older and wiser, I only advocate change when there is a real reason to do so.

For most people, change is difficult. Change takes something familiar and replaces it with something unknown. Each organization has people who are change resistant. And each leader, manager, and supervisor knows exactly who these people are. With such folks, their aversion to change varies from unspoken trepidation to being overtly confrontational. Regardless of the manifestation, we need to be compassionate, realizing that these reactions are merely their way of responding to fear – fear of the unknown.

To establish a change-oriented culture in our organizations, the first step is to minimize employee fears towards change. Generally employees can accept change if 1) the change is incremental and small, 2) they have a degree of input or control over the change, and 3) the change is clearly understood.

The key is communication. Address change head on. For every change, employees wonder how it will affect them:

  • Could they lose their job?
  • Might their hours be cut?
  • Will they be asked to work harder than they already are?
  • Will they be made to do something unpleasant or distasteful?
  • What happens if they can’t learn the new skills?

These are all worries, worries about the unknown. As with most worries, the majority will never happen. But with a lack of reliable information and top-down assurances, these irrational worries take on a life all their own.

Successfully orchestrating change requires effective communication. Not once, but ongoing; not to key staff, but to all employees; not by one method, but by several: group meetings, written correspondence, and one-on-one discussions. A true and effective open door policy helps, too. Also, it is critical that a positive attitude is set, at the beginning, from the top of the organization, which never waivers. Celebrate milestones, generously thank staff along the way, and provide reasonable rewards at the end.

Successfully taking these steps will send a strong signal to staff. Even though the change may still concern them, they will be comforted knowing they have accurate information and the assurance that they are safe and will be protected. And for each successful change, the next one becomes easier to bring about.

We will know we have successfully created a change-friendly organization when our employees – all of them – get bored with the status quo and begin seeking change on their own. They will ask for more challenging work, seek to expand their job, and want to add new technology. At this point, the potential of our organizations becomes unlimited; the personal growth of our staff, unshackled; and the future, inviting. We don’t know what that future will entail, only that things will change for the better.

So, sit back and enjoy the ride, fully confident that the only constant is change.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

 

The Power of a Compliment

Telling others that you appreciate them can make a huge difference

By Peter DeHaan
Author Peter DeHaan

In the years between high school graduation and my first real job, I took on a variety of part-time work while being a full-time student. During one such vocational transition, the placement advisor at school knew of an immediate opening for an audio engineer at a TV station. I arrived to find out it would be a group interview, not a group of people interviewing me, but rather one person simultaneously interviewing three candidates.

Stan was an odd-looking guy, with clothes and a hairstyle emanating from the previous decade. Despite the powerful magnification of his Coke-bottle glasses, he still squinted at everything. Stan led us candidates to an open room and the interview quickly fell into an awkward pattern. Stan would ask a question and we would respond in order, with me going last. With my classmates embellishing many of their answers, I struggled to honestly present myself as the desirable candidate.

After a while, the classmate who went first blurted out, “I have a Third Class FCC License.” “This position doesn’t require an FCC License,” Stan responded. “I have a Second Class FCC License,” the second one boasted.

Then all eyes turned to me. Should I let them know that my credential was even better, although equally irrelevant? Or would my silence communicate another deficiency in this game I was losing? Opting to avoid further silence, I informed the group that I had a First Class FCC License.

Of course, this meant nothing as far as the job was concerned. Everyone was uncomfortable with this exchange but as the last one to speak, I felt it more acutely. Seeking to defuse the tension, I changed the subject. “When do you want us to start?”

“As soon as possible,” Stan replied.

“I can start in two weeks,” volunteered contestant number one.

“I can start in three days,” bested contestant number two.

“I can start tomorrow,” I asserted confidently.

“Okay,” Stan replied, “be at the station at 6:30 tomorrow morning.” I was hired!

The first day I watched Stan work and did a lot of listening. As he explained it, the job seemed simple. There was lots of idle time, four live broadcasts and on some days production work in between. However, he was more interested in regaling his glory days as a radio DJ than in training me. It turned out that Stan was also a silent partner in an out-of-town enterprise; his presence was urgently required to protect his investment. As soon as my two weeks of training were completed, Stan would be gone.

On my second day, Stan let me touch the control panel, and I did the first live segment. It was a 30-second weather report. I turned on the mike when the weatherman was cued and turned it off when he was done. There was a mike check beforehand and I monitored the level as he spoke. I did the second live broadcast, too, a one-minute news segment. Stan did the third segment: news and weather – two mikes!

The half hour noon show, however, was overwhelming. There were a half a dozen mikes to activate, monitor, and kill, recordings for musical bridges, an array of possible audio sources, and a live announcer, plus an abrupt change in plans if a segment ran long or there was time to fill.

On the third day, Stan called in to tell me he would be late. He reviewed expectations of the first two segments, and I did them solo. He called later, before the third, and we talked it through; he promised to be in before the noon show. I did the third segment by myself.

Stan called to say he had been watching, and I had done fine. Could I do the noon show by myself? “No!” I asserted. “Okay, he assured, “I will come in, but let’s talk through it just in case.” I never saw Stan again; my “training” was over.

With sweaty palms and a knotted gut, I muddled my way through the noon show, knowing that thousands would hear any miscue. By the time the show ended, I was physically exhausted; my head ached.

This pattern repeated itself before each noon show for the next several months. If only I had received more training to boost my confidence.

On-the-job training was fine for production work. Time was not an issue and retakes were common, expected, and accepted. If I lacked training in some area, the director instructed me.

The live shows were a different story. It was tense and nerve-racking; they expected perfection and didn’t tolerate errors. This produced an incredible amount of pressure and anxiety.

This stress was partly due to my lack of training, but more importantly a result of the directors; I worked with three. My favorite was nice and kind; he remembered what it was like to do my job and was empathic. Unfortunately, I seldom worked with him.

The second director was aloof and focused only on the broadcast, not caring what he said or how he treated others. Fortunately, I didn’t work with him too much.

Most of my interaction was with a third director. During live broadcasts, he became verbally volatile and abusive. He yelled – a lot. When he was mad, he yelled louder – all laced with expletives. Management via intimidation was his style. My goal was to get through the noon show without a verbal tongue-lashing; usually I was unsuccessful. Of course, this made me even tenser.

Although most of the work was fine, my angst from this half hour each day caused me to despise my job. Thankfully, my remaining time was short, as graduation neared. I grabbed the first job offer and gave my two-week notice.

Ironically, the day after I submitted my resignation, the volatile director asked, “You should be getting some vacation, soon, shouldn’t you?”

“I haven’t put in enough time, yet,” I replied. “Besides, I just gave my two-weeks’ notice.”

“What!” He slammed some papers on the table with a curse. “I can’t believe it.” His face turned red. “We finally get someone good, and they don’t pay him enough to stay.”

I was dumbfounded. “Good?” I questioned. “I’m not good.”

“You’re the best audio engineer we’ve had in years.”

“What about Stan?” I asked.

“Stan was an idiot. He was always making mistakes. We couldn’t get through a broadcast without him screwing it up. You did better your first week than he ever did.”

“But, I make mistakes every day.”

“Your mistakes are trivial,” he disclosed. “Few viewers ever notice.” As he picked up his papers and left the room, I contemplated what he had said. I am good!

Not surprisingly, I had a new attitude during the noon show that day. My nervousness dissipated, I made no “mistakes,” no one yelled at me, and most significantly, I enjoyed it. My job was fun.

On my second to the last day there, I met the weekend audio engineer. She was thinking about taking over my shift. She wanted to see what was involved in the noon show. Unfortunately, that day the show was one of the most difficult I had encountered. There was a live band, with each person and instrument separately miked, plus there were a few unusual twists. I would need every piece of gear in the room and use the entire audio console. Although it was stressful, it was a good stress, because I was a good audio engineer. I performed my part without error, earning a rare compliment from my critical director. At the end of the show, I leaned back with the knowledge of a job well done.

My protégé shook her head. “I could never do that,” she sighed and left the room.

My last two weeks at the TV station were most enjoyable. As such, it is with fondness that I recall my time there. How might things have been even better if someone had told me sooner that I was doing a good job?

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

Providing Quality Service

Author Peter DeHaanBy Peter DeHaan

Growing up, I remember a radio commercial with the tag line, “Service sold it.” Even as a young kid I was able to grasp the concept that providing quality service was a great way to close more sales and gain new business.

Over the years, I have heard this mantra repeated, again and again, either verbatim or conceptually, by various local, national, and international companies. Yet I now give this platitude only passing consideration. This phrase has a hollow ring; it seems a disingenuous assurance, holding an empty promise. What was once good business turned into good ad copy and now gets lost in the clutter of promotions that we no longer believe.

In fact, the louder a business trumpets this claim, the less credence I give it and the more I assume their quality is lousy and their ad campaign’s only goal is to convince us of the contrary. To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, “He who can, does. He who cannot, talks about it.” It seems that no one provides quality service any more.

Recently, I placed a series of calls to my computer vendor. They offer a quality package at a good price, provide fast shipment, and facilitate ordering. Yet the quality of their service is rotten. Two prior interactions with their customer service staff resulted in one failure and one partial success. My latest episode, requiring a dozen or so phone calls over the span of weeks, ultimately resulted in a satisfactory outcome.

But it required great patience and persistence, long hold times, being transferred to the wrong departments and back again, and talking with English speaking reps who could not effectively communicate in a language I comprehended. One humorous example was a representative who said, “Excuse please the silence while I hold you.” To accomplish my objective, I had to escalate my call, invoke their “100% Satisfaction Guarantee,” and insist that they accept the return of my entire order – not just the computer in question. As you might suspect, I deem it a waste of money to buy their extended customer support plan.

Next I attempted to resolve an ongoing problem with my caller ID. The feature that sold me on the product was the promise that, working in conjunction with call waiting, it would display the number of a second caller while I continued talking to the first. Unfortunately, it never worked. I called repair and reported the problem. The rep gave me the time and date of the repair. It was not. I reported it again. No change.

I pulled out the multi-page manual and found a small-print footnote, which said that the feature I desired needed to be installed separately. Thinking I was on to something, I called and ordered it. Again, the promised due date came and went. I called again, only to learn the desired feature was not available in my area. Four “service” people decided to take the easy way out, pushing me through their system or hoping I would give up, rather than simply check to see if the feature was available.

On to cable TV. With the escalating costs of cable, it eventually became less costly to switch to satellite. Now I get hundreds of channels and still don’t have anything to watch! The installation and support of the satellite system was excellent (more on that later), but the simple act of canceling my cable service took months. With each passing month a new bill would arrive, announcing an escalating monthly balance. I would call the cable company; they would assure me our service was indeed cancelled and they had no idea why we kept being billed. This went on for over six months. I seriously doubt any company can be that incompetent, so my cynical nature speculates they were intentionally doing this to pad their receivables.

Years ago when I installed DSL, the big challenge came in disconnecting my now unneeded dialup line. Because of a previous service debacle, my Internet line had become the billed number and my listed number became secondary. The representative, fortunately a knowledgeable one, apologized that the only solution was to cancel the entire bill and then reinstall my main line. This would only be a billing function and my phone service would not be interrupted.

However, there would be side effects. First, I would need to call their DSL division to make sure my DSL wasn’t cancelled and to update my billing arrangement. Apparently, this was common, because the DSL representative immediately understood the problem and knew just what to do. Then I would need to call my long distance carrier to make sure that when my service was “reinstalled” I would be put on my same rate plan and not their higher default plan. I had to make a third call for my white page listing. Surprisingly, each call had its desired effect. But imagine the turmoil that would have ensued had the first representative not fully informed me of all the ramifications and exactly what I needed to do. Exceptional customer service, however, would never have put me in the position to make those calls in the first place and even good customer service would have done so for me. Quality service didn’t sell it, being the only game in town did.

We all know someone who left one company because of poor quality and then subsequently left the new company for the same reason. Eventually, they try – and then reject – all available alternatives. They then have to return to a previously unsatisfactory company. Their new goal is simply to pick the least bad provider.

Does anyone provide quality service anymore? Fortunately, yes. In previous columns, I mentioned my mechanic and optometrist, both stellar success stories. In concert with this, it is noteworthy to mention that the authorized agent for my satellite television is a local company. Is being local then, the key for my satisfaction? Not entirely. My local credit union, bank, and doctor have all caused me repeated consternation. Besides, there are also good service examples that are not local.

To publish my magazines – Connections Magazine and AnswerStat – the sales, graphic design, and editing are all handled by extremely competent individuals who are not local, yet provide an exceptional level of service. The common thread here is that they are all small organizations. So then, is company size the key? No, there are many other small organizations that have demonstrated the ability to disappoint.

Although being local and being small are two elements that allow the potential to provide quality service, they are not requirements. The real key is the personal touch. With each unfavorable example I gave, I dealt with a department, not an individual – not really. The representative had no accountability to me and no stake in the outcome. With subsequent calls, I would talk to a different person. To them I was not a customer; I had no real value. I was just another phone call – a problem – one to get rid of in the shortest time, so they could go on to the next call, and eventually punch out for the day.

However, with each positive example I cited, it was a specific person who made the difference. This was someone who genuinely cared and had a real interest in the outcome, someone who was willing to make me his or her priority and do what was required.

Every company claims they offer quality service, but is this a reality or a fantasy? Is a one-on-one personal relationship provided to clients? Can you honestly say, believe, and prove that your company provides quality service? If not, what changes do you need to make?

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

The Pursuit of Perfection

Do you want a staff of perfectionists?

Author Peter DeHaanBy Peter DeHaan

Some managers say “yes,” whereas others respond with a resounding “no.” The informed answer is, “it all depends.” Here’s why:

Of that portion of the populace who are perfectionists, some are blindly or proudly so. Others are self-aware of possessing this characteristic and informed about it; I call them recovering perfectionists. A self-aware perfectionist understands this condition, knowing how to tap into and celebrate the many strengths and benefits of pursuing excellence. At the same time, they know to guard against its limiting, self-defeating, and even paralyzing facets.

Doing research on perfectionism reveals a host of debilitating traits, starting with compulsiveness and going downhill from there. However, knowledgeable perfectionists can tap into the positive aspects of their natural tendencies when appropriate, that is, when it is to their advantage to do so. At the same time, they can usually avoid being handicapped by perfectionism’s alluring snares.

For a perfectionist, there are many traits which provide great value in the workplace:

  • Produce quality work: Perfectionists tend to produce high quality work. They take pleasure in excellence and find satisfaction in a job well-done.
  • Exceed expectations: If the boss expects a short summary, the perfectionist will submit a report. If achieving a 99% rating is admirable, the purist will aim for 99.9 – and then 100. Being above average is not good enough; being the best is a self-imposed requirement.
  • Go the extra mile: Perfectionists often give more than asked. If a report needs to be five pages long, they will turn in six. If a product needs to have three new features, they will add a fourth and maybe a fifth. If they set a record last month, they will strive to better it this month. In sports, this results in shooting free throws while the rest of the team showers or taking 30 minutes of extra batting practice – every day.
  • Set high standards: Another trait is that perfectionists set high standards, both for themselves and others. As long as the standards are reasonably attainable, it is acceptable, and even admirable for the perfectionist to set a bar high – for him or herself. (However, foisting faultlessness on the others does little more than establish the groundwork for future frustration, disappointment, and conflict between the precision-minded and the rest of the world.)

Of course, there are counterparts to these traits. One is procrastination. It is said that the perfectionist subconsciously reasons that the results of their work will never be just right – no matter how much time is invested – so why start? In fact, the project is often delayed until the last possible moment, so there is a plausible excuse as to why it’s not perfect: “I didn’t have much time to work on it!” Taking this to an extreme, some perfectionists miss deadlines and blow past due dates, often agonizing over some trivial or irrelevant detail.

Another side-effect associated with perfectionism is having problems in making quick decisions. Sometimes, they need to “sleep on it” to be assured of the correctness of their judgment. Other times decisions can be agonizingly difficult for them to reach. They fear making the wrong conclusion, that is, a less than perfect one. They delay a decision, while awaiting more information, so they can conduct an informed analysis. Unfortunately, this mental paralysis is seldom cured by amassing more data.

Over the years I have often interviewed perfectionists during job interviews. As it becomes apparent that I am talking to a perfectionist, I segue into a special interview segment, just for them. “So,” I inquire, “Do you consider yourself to be a perfectionist?”

Their responses fall into one of three categories. The first one is shock or denial. If a person who has just exhibited several perfectionist traits is taken aback at the thought of being called one or disavows any connection whatsoever, I judge them to either be disingenuous or lacking in self-awareness. Neither are characteristics that I seek in an employee.

The second type of response to my perfectionist query is unabashed pride and total satisfaction in possessing this quality. To make sure I am not rushing to a snap judgment, I give them one last chance for redemption. “What,” I ask, “do you see as the weaknesses of being a perfectionist?” Occasionally, they will comprehend the importance of that question, using an astute answer to move them from this category over to category three. Usually, however, they give me a blank stare, as if my inquiry was nonsensical, responding that there is no downside or that they don’t understand what I asked. In similar fashion, I don’t want to work with a perfectionist that has failed to realize the turmoil and trouble they can produce by their proclivity for perfection.

The third type of perfectionist applicant smiles at this question and begins to share their self-awareness about the shortcomings of how their version of perfectionism is manifested. They openly identify the less then admirable ways that it reveals itself in them and often proceeds to communicate how they guard themselves and others from this tendency. This is a person I want on my team. Yes, they may require a bit more management effort from time to time, but doing so is worth the extra energy as the results will be an employee who produces quality work, frequently exceeds expectations, goes the extra mile, and sets high standards for him or herself. Isn’t that who you want working in your organization, too?

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

Watch Your Attitude

By Peter DeHaan

Author Peter DeHaanOn a weekend trip my wife and I found ourselves at a fast-food restaurant for breakfast. “I’ll have a number 10,” I decisively told the perky teenage girl at the counter. She acknowledged my request and smiled pleasantly. This encouraged me to make small talk while my wife contemplated her choices. Not fully awake I said something apparently mildly humorous, causing her to laugh and brighten her smile. “What a pleasant way to start my day,” I thought, glancing at her name tag; it said, “Amber.”

My wife conceded that what she wanted wasn’t part of a meal deal, nor were the items listed individually. Amber was helpful. “Tell me what you want and I will see what I can do.”

My wife listed three disparate items and Amber began pushing buttons on her cash register. After a series of thoughtful keystrokes, she announced she had accomplished my wife’s request. We paid for our meal and stepped aside to wait for it.

As the people behind us placed their order, Amber’s friendly demeanor continued to capture my attention. Suddenly she saw someone out of the corner of her eye. Her smile widened as she looked up and her face beamed, “Good morning, Jimmy,” she excitedly called out. In the split second that it took for my glance to move from Amber to Jimmy, I anticipated whom I might see. Certainly, he would be her peer, perhaps a jock or maybe a prep, possibly even her boyfriend.

I was wrong. Jimmy was an older man with a weathered face, worn clothes, and a considerable limp. He moved forward with deliberate effort, alternating between a herky-jerky lunge followed by a short shuffle. As he made his way across the room, he did not attempt to get in line but headed straight to an open space at the counter near Amber.

With considerable effort, he produced a handful of coins and cupped them in his twisted hand. He tipped his hand forward and with careful effort, gave it a little shake. Two coins spilled out onto the counter and then a third. As if not satisfied with his progress, he poked his gnarled index finger into his open hand and moved it around as though stirring a pot. Then he flicked a fourth coin onto the counter, stirred some more, and released a fifth. With the last coin still rattling on the counter, Amber was there. She picked up the change, rang up an unspoken order, pulled a dime from the cash drawer, and carefully dropped it into Jimmy’s still cupped hand.

What happened next made me curious. Amber reached under the counter and pulled out a handful of supplies. Then she turned to the coffee pot behind her and laid the contents of her hand on the table – two containers of cream and several packs of sugar. This seemed backwards and inefficient – pour the coffee first, then get the additives. Amber grabbed a coffee cup and filled it half full. Even more curious. Did Jimmy only want a half of a cup? She then picked up one of the creams, gave it a brisk shake, meticulously opened it, and carefully emptied its contents into the cup. Then she repeated the procedure with the second cream.

Amber glanced around the room to see if anyone else needed her assistance. Assured that she was not neglecting another customer’s need, she picked up a pack of sugar, shook its contents to the bottom and prudently tore off the top, so as to not waste any, pouring every granule into the coffee. She repeated this a second time, but then another customer diverted her attention from Jimmy’s coffee. She returned to the partial cup and added two more sugars. But her task was still not complete. Amber grabbed a stir stick and thoroughly mixed the contents. Upon being satisfied with the results, she topped off the amalgamation with more coffee, put on a lid, and presented it to a grateful Jimmy.

She didn’t do any of this begrudgingly or with indifference but with all the care and precision of someone making their own cup of coffee. She was there to serve Jimmy, and she did so happily and without hesitation. Her kindness touched me. Such a gesture was surely not found in the restaurant’s efficiency manual, but it was the right thing to do. Amber’s attitude established the framework for the rest of my day. If her example affected me so much, I can only guess what it did for Jimmy.

I imagine that, when Jimmy woke up that morning, there was no question in his mind where he would go for coffee. I surmise that his morning trek to the restaurant was routine. I suspect, however, that he wondered who would wait on him. He might have said to himself, “I hope Amber’s working today. She treats me like I’m special; my whole day goes better when she gets me my coffee.”

Likewise, I wonder what Amber thought before work that morning. Did she make an intentional decision to have a positive attitude, thereby producing a difference in the lives of those with whom she came into contact? She may have, but I suspect it wasn’t necessary. I think her attitude of cheerfully going the extra mile was so much a part of her that it had become habit. While I was focused on my own needs, Amber’s attitude was to focus on those around her. And what a difference she made, not only for Jimmy and for me but for the other customers and her co-workers as well.

I was challenged by all this. My attitude as I start each day, no doubt, affects how my day goes and has a ripple effect on those around me. Though it’s unlikely I will ever match Amber’s personable, outgoing disposition, I can aspire to her positive, helpful, serving attitude.

Do you have someone like Amber working in your organization? What if all your staff was like Amber? Then customer satisfaction would be exceedingly high, complaints and service problems would be non-existent, and your company would be an even greater place to work.

Whether it’s pouring coffee or doing something else, we all can have employees like Amber – and it’s not hard. All it takes is an intentional effort to have a positive attitude. That positive attitude starts with you, and it can start today!

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.